- Tour the medieval landmarks of Edinburgh
- Drive to towns and rivers in the Scottish Highlands
- Take a boat ride on Loch Ness and visit Urquhart Castle
- Enjoy a whisky tasting on the Isle of Skye
- Visit castles and national parks in southern Ireland
|Day 1||Arrive in Edinburgh (Scotland), History Walking Tour||Edinburgh|
|Day 2||Drive to Inverness via the Cairngorms||Inverness|
|Day 3||Loch Ness Cruise & Urquhart Castle Tour||Inverness|
|Day 4||Drive to Portree, Optional Activities||Isle of Skye|
|Day 5||Explore the Isle of Skye & Whisky Tasting||Isle of Skye|
|Day 6||Drive to Trossachs National Park||Trossachs National Park|
|Day 7||Fly to Dublin (Ireland), Walking Tour||Dublin|
|Day 8||Drive to Cork via Kilkenny, Blarney Castle & Kinsale||Cork|
|Day 9||Drive to Killarney, Guided Killarney National Park Walking Tour||Killarney|
|Day 10||Drive to Birr via the Castles of the Hidden Heartlands||Birr|
|Day 11||Drive to Dublin & Depart|
Day 1: Arrive in Edinburgh, History Walking Tour
Welcome to Scotland! Your first stop on this Celtic sojourn is the capital of Edinburgh. This metropolis, which is known for its Gothic splendor, boasts not one but two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The first is its historic Old Town, whose cobbled streets and famous Royal Mile leads to the hilltop Edinburgh Castle. The second is its New Town, an enclave filled with stately Georgian architecture.
Upon arrival at Edinburgh's airport, you'll pick up your rental car and drive to your hotel in the city. After checking in, head right back out and meet a local guide to embark on a walking tour of the city's historic landmarks. Highlights of this two-hour jaunt include Old Town, the aforementioned castle, and the infamous Underground City of 18th-century subterranean vaults. At the end of the tour, you'll have the rest of the day free.
Day 2: Drive to Inverness via the Cairngorms
In the morning, you'll leave Edinburgh and hit the road on a four-hour drive north to Inverness. On the way, you'll stop at the edge of Cairngorms National Park, located in the heart of the Scottish Highlands. At 1,748 square miles (4,528 sq km), it's the largest park in the UK. Once here, you'll visit Pitlochry, an 18th-century village on the River Tummel. This charming town is also the site of one of the most beautiful vistas in Scotland, the "Queen's View." You'll want to snap a lot of photos.
You'll also visit Killiecrankie Gorge. Though it may look like a storybook river canyon, it's actually the site of one of the goriest battles in Jacobite history. While there, admire the views and marvel at the 18-foot-wide (5.5 m) Soldier's Leap, a rock from which a British redcoat soldier leaped across the River Garry while fleeing from clansmen. You can learn more about the area's history, geology, and wildlife at the visitor center. At the end of the afternoon, you'll continue to Inverness and check into your hotel.
Day 3: Loch Ness Cruise & Urquhart Castle Tour
After breakfast, visit the famous Loch Ness for a one-hour boat ride along the water. During the cruise, your local skipper will impart knowledge of the region, the lake, and, of course, the legend of Nessie. It's a scenic adventure, too, as the windows in the boat's cabin offer 360-degree views of the lake.
Later, you'll discover rich history on the shores of Loch Ness at the ruins of the 13th-century Urquhart Castle. Once one of Scotland's largest castles, Urquhart saw great conflict during its 500 years as a medieval fortress. Control of the castle passed back and forth between the Scots and English until the last government troops garrisoned here during the Jacobite risings blew it up. However, Urquhart's iconic ruins remain, offering glimpses into medieval times and the lives of its noble residents.
There are many things to do here: admire the idyllic setting of Urquhart, which sits on a rocky promontory with views up and down Loch Ness; tour the castle and learn about its history via an audio guide; see the Great Hall, which hosted massive banquets during the Middle Ages; and see the full-size trebuchet, a massive catapult once used to lay siege to castles. Return to Inverness at the end of the day.
Day 4: Drive to Portree, Optional Activities
Today you'll make the three-hour drive west out of the Highlands to the Isle of Skye. Your eventual destination is the island capital of Portree. Created as a fishing village at the beginning of the 19th century, Portree is surrounded by hills—Ben Tianavaig to the south and Fingal's Seat to the west. The name derives from the Gaelic for "King's Port," which this harbor town earned after a visit by King James V.
Upon arrival, you'll check into your accommodation and will have the day free to explore. One of the most pleasant ways to pass the time here is to stroll the main Bank Street down to the harbor, where the waterfront is lined with beautiful pastel-hued houses. Later in the day, feel free to visit one of the island's cozy pubs for a bite.
Day 5: Explore the Isle of Skye & Whisky Tasting
Today is yours to get to know this enchanted island at your own pace. Renowned for its dramatic landscape, the breathtaking coastline with coves and narrow lochs radiates out from the rugged Cullin Mountains at the island's heart.
Begin with a drive to the impressive rock pinnacle Old Man of Storr before continuing to the 200-foot (60 m) Kilt Rock Waterfall. As you drive farther along the Trotternish Peninsula, discover the spectacular Quirang—a volcanic wonder and one of the most beautiful places on the island. Take time to explore the stunning scenery before heading to Neist Point—a landmark destination for landscape photographers, famous for its lighthouse and superb views. Continue west to visit the gardens of the 13th-century Dunvegan Castle, home to Clan MacLeod for the last 800 years.
After touring Skye's highlights, stop for a well-deserved whisky tasting at the Torabhaig Distillery. This producer has been on the island for over 200 years and makes fine single malts. Later, you'll have your choice of many great dinner options. Skye is a place for foodies, from seafood shacks to Michelin-starred country hotels.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 6: Drive to Trossachs National Park
Bid farewell to Skye this morning and board the ferry to the mainland. Then you'll hit the road on a four-hour drive southeast to the famous Trossachs National Park. On the way, stop to snap photos at the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct. This concrete railway viaduct was built at the turn of the 20th century and runs 1,000 feet (304 m) amid stunning Highland scenery. From here, continue driving and enjoy views of the stunning mountain region of Glen Coe, where you can stop for more pictures.
Eventually, you'll arrive in Trossachs National Park. Take time to drive around its numerous lochs, forests, and mountains and enjoy the dazzling scenery. Stroll the historic village of Luss on Loch Lomond and discover the rushing Falls of Dochart in the charming village of Killin. Perhaps visit Arrochar, nestled high in the mountains on Loch Goil, before driving to Aberfoyle on the banks of the River Forth in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. At the end of the day, you'll check into your accommodation in the park.
Day 7: Fly to Dublin (Ireland), Walking Tour
After an early breakfast, you'll drive 1.5 hours east to Edinburgh and drop off the rental car at the airport. Then you'll take a one-hour flight to Dublin. Congratulations—you've made it to Ireland! Pick up your rental car at the airport then drive to your hotel in the city.
Once you've checked in, you'll meet a local guide for a walking tour of the city. This two-hour excursion begins in the city center on O'Connell Street and finishes at the 16th-century Trinity College. In between you'll stop at historic landmarks and renowned cultural sites like the General Post Office and 15th-century Dublin Castle, plus impressive Gothic cathedrals like Gothic cathedrals like St Patrick's and Christ Church.
Day 8: Drive to Cork via Kilkenny, Blarney Castle & Kinsale
Get behind the wheel this morning for the three-hour drive to southwest Ireland and Cork. There's no need to rush, as this scenic route is filled with some of the Emerald Isle's most gorgeous scenery. You'll make several stops along the way, starting with Kilkenny. Originally a monastic site, this historic town is surrounded by medieval walls and is famous for its cobbled streets, traditional pubs, and crafts scene. During the stop, you'll want to visit the impressive Kilkenny Castle, which dates to the 13th century.
Afterward, you'll drive to the Rock of Cashel. Set on a dramatic limestone outcrop in the Golden Vale, this iconic ecclesiastical site boasts possesses the most impressive group of medieval buildings in Ireland. Highlight structures include the round tower, a high cross, a Romanesque chapel, a Gothic cathedral, and the Hall of the Vicars Choral. The next stop, Blarney Castle, needs no introduction. Dating to the 15th century, millions of pilgrims have flocked to this fortress and climbed the tower to kiss the famous stone. Supposedly, it endows the kisser with the gift of eloquence.
The last stop before arriving in Cork is Kinsale. This colorful coastal town is regarded as the gourmet capital of Ireland due to the number of fabulous restaurants here (a handful are Michelin-starred). Besides the cuisine, Kinsale is famous for its colorful houses and Charles Fort, one of the largest military fortresses in the country. It was built in 1670 to defend the harbor and is remarkably well-preserved today. After Kinsale, you'll drive 30 minutes north to Cork and check into your hotel.
Day 9: Drive to Killarney, Guided Killarney National Park Walking TourToday's drive takes you a little over an hour east to the medieval town of Killarney. Sitting on the shores of Lough Leane, it lies at the doorstep of Killarney National Park. This region is filled with natural wonders, which you'll discover on a guided walking tour. During this two-hour adventure, you'll hike to the world-famous Lakes of Killarney and possibly stop exotic wildlife such as red deer. You'll also hike along hidden paths in ancient woodlands—some of which Queen Victoria herself once walked. At the end of the tour, you'll return to town, where you'll overnight.
Day 10: Drive to Birr via the Castles of the Hidden Heartlands
Today's destination is Birr, located 2.5 hours north, but you'll take your time along the drive as you explore Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. This remote and unspoiled region feels as far from fast-paced living as possible. Its windswept hills and fairy-tale pools, threaded by empty roads, make it a road trip utopia. There are castles upon castles to discover as you drive. Wander the halls of the 19th-century Kinnitty Castle, or walk through the lush forest of Slieve Bloom Way to the imposing ruins of Glinsk Castle.
Also, your local expert will arrange a guided tour of the 13th-century Leap Castle. Located in County Offaly, it's said to be Ireland's most haunted castles thanks to its savage history of battles, murders, and in-fighting among the O'Carrolls of Ely clans. A member of the Ryan family, the castle's current owners, will tell some fun tales of ghost sightings in the area and explain their current preservation efforts. Continue to Birr to get checked into your accommodation, then spend your final night in Ireland however you please.