From ancient castles to whiskey distilleries and Highland Games (not to mention a mythical monster in Loch Ness), there's a reason bonnie Scotland is awash with "Outlander" fans. At roughly the same size as South Carolina, Scotland is small enough to explore the highlights in one week. However, you'll need at least two weeks to explore the mainland and one or even two extra weeks to take in the major islands.

Planning Your Trip to Scotland

Given Scotland's relatively small size, you can cover a lot of ground, assisted by the excellent transport infrastructure, even to the furthest Hebridean and other islands. For example, if you want an essential "Scotland 101" experience, a four- or five-day visit can provide a good immersion in Scottish culture, including one or two days to get a flavor of Edinburgh, Scotland's capital. With one week, you can roam much of the highlands, and 10 days would allow you to explore both the Lowlands and Highlands in depth. And two weeks would give time to explore the Isle of Skye or one or two of the other whiskey-scented islands. 

You may also want to plan your length of stay around any special interests you may have. For example, you can tackle the sensational North Coast 500 by car, motorcycle, or campervan in three to five days if road trips are your thing. Hikers are in their element in the Scottish Highlands, with almost 300 Munros (mountains above 3,000 feet) to bag. Then there are dozens of world-class golf courses, scores of ancient castles, Neolithic and Viking sites, and more than one hundred whiskey distilleries. 

If driving, know in much of the Highlands, many roads are single lane (or even single track), with "Passing Places" every 100 yards (91 m) or so. Hence, reaching your destination may take much longer than you may think. In winter especially, there's also the potential of snowbound roads and other delays caused by inclement weather, such as rough seas causing temporary halts to island ferry service.

Scotland in 5-6 Days

A view across the Green Loch (An Lochan Uaine) in Glenmore forest near Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands.jpg
A view across Green Loch in Glenmore forest near Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands

With only five or six days, and assuming you arrive in Edinburgh or Glasgow, it's best to begin with these cities, then explore nearby regions.

For example, Scotland's North Coast 500 scenic route is an excellent way to see the Highlands. Starting with the Highland capital of Inverness, follow a clockwise loop around the entire north coast of Scotland. First, head west to the fishing port of Poolewe, then turn north through the North West Highland Geopark nature reserve. On day three, you'll reach windswept Durness and head east the next day along the northernmost shore to John O'Groats. Finally, en route back to Inverness, you can stop for a private tour of Glen Ord Distillery and the Black Isle Brewery (designated drivers can take samples for later).

Winter can be an unforgettable time to visit Scotland. This exciting six-day itinerary combines five days of guided hiking in and around the Cairngorms with wildlife viewing, whiskey tasting, and personally-tailored activities. You'll even walk with a reindeer herd in the Highlands, plus hike a section of the Speyside Way, with a tour and tasting at a local distillery. And while walking the old Drovers Road on day five, you'll enjoy a hearty lunch in a historic bothy (a rustic shepherd's hut) in the Glenmore Forest.

Scotland in 7 Days

Eilean Donan Castle is at its most romantic at dusk

Scotland is compact enough that you can cover a lot of turf in one week. Or take time to indulge more deeply in a preferred activity or region.

This week-long road trip combines urban sightseeing in Edinburgh with touring some of the country's most scenic locales. After private food and photography tours of Edinburgh, you'll drive to Inverness and explore the Culloden battlefield site of the Jacobean Uprising of 1746. Then cruise the Caledonia Canal and Loch Ness, visiting Urquhart Castle, before heading to the Isle of Skye for two days. Here you'll experience gourmet dining, a tour of a whiskey distillery, a visit to a traditional sheepskin tannery, and a seaweed spa treatment. Finally, return to Edinburgh for a historical walking tour.

If you love active adventures, another option is to spend three days hiking in Cairngorms National Park—a wilderness mountain region that is the UK's largest protected area. To round out your experience, you'll first explore Edinburgh's top attractions before venturing north. Enjoy a boat trip on Loch Ness and the Caledonia Canal, visit a whiskey distillery while hiking the ancient Highland trails of Speyside, and check out such sites as Blair Castle and the Blair Athol distillery around the resort town of Pitlochry. You'll then continue south through scenic Trossachs National Park to return to Edinburgh. 

Scotland in 9-10 Days

The Isle of Skye is renowned for its stunning beauty

You can really begin to cover multiple bases in 9-10 days, adding in various regions.

For example, this 10-day self-drive itinerary explores some of the Hebridean islands and the Highlands. Foodies will appreciate a private food tour while in Edinburgh, where you'll also enjoy a private historical walking tour. Then head north through the Cairngorms to Inverness and visit Culloden, plus cruise the Caledonian Canal. Next, you'll drive to the Isle of Skye for two days of gourmet dining, visit a traditional sheepskin tannery, and tour two whiskey distilleries before a boat tour of the Coast of Mull from Oban. Lastly, you'll fly to the Isle of Islay to delve more deeply into the world of Scotch whisky before returning to Edinburgh.

This perfect 9-day Scottish Highlands itinerary extends with an added day in Edinburgh. You'll begin amid the rolling hills of Perthshire before heading to the Cairngorms and the Spey River Valley, with its many whiskey distilleries. Then it's west through the Highlands to Torridon—a good base for adventure activities such as mountain biking and hiking. You'll then head south to Applecross and over the Bealach na Ba switchback for Loch Ness and Fort William, at the foot of Ben Nevis, which you might be inspired to climb. Finally, you'll tour Glencoe and Trossachs National Park to end your adventure in Edinburgh.

Scotland in 2 Weeks

Sunrise at Portree, Isle of Skye

With two weeks, you're blessed. You can see Scotland's leading attractions plus a couple of off-the-beaten-path stops. Or in addition to the main points of interest, you can see more of Scotland through rounds of golf and plenty of whiskey tastings.

A "best of" Scotland trip takes in the top highlights, covering all points of the compass. From Edinburgh, you'll take a train to the Scottish Borders and visit Melrose Abbey and Abbotsford. Next, head north via Stirling Castle to Perth and lovely Pitlochry, the Cairngorms, then Inverness and Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness. For two days, you'll also take a scenic railway journey through the Highlands before heading to the Isle of Skye, with time for hiking. Other highlights include a ferry ride to Mallaig to catch the "Hogwart's Express," hiking on Ben Nevis and around Glencoe, plus time to explore Glasgow—Scotland's cultural capital.

Lovers of golf and whiskey will like this epic 14-day itinerary that includes trekking in the Highlands. Begin your tour by driving to St. Andrews to play the Carnoustie Championship Course before heading to Bannockburn for a guided tour. Then tour Glen Coe to hike over the Devil's Staircase, the highest point on the West Highland Way. Then it's off to the Isle of Skye for visits to a whiskey distillery and traditional sheepskin tannery; and the Isle of Raasay for a tasting of artisanal chocolates. You'll then explore the Cairngorms by 4x4 and play the Spey Valley Championship Golf Course before returning to Edinburgh.