Perfect for first-timers, this self-drive Scotland itinerary takes you on a journey exploring ancient castles, wild coastlines, and lush countryside. Your loop starts in the capital, Edinburgh, and passes through the Kingdom of Fife, Aberdeenshire, Cairngorms National Park, Inverness, Fort William, and Glasgow. Along the way, you'll sip whisky at local distilleries, take hikes and boat trips while looking for wildlife, and discover the stories behind the country's most famous monuments and battlefields.


  • Hit the scenic trail from St Andrews to Kingsbarn along the Fife Coast Walk
  • Explore Aberdeenshire's castles and coastal villages with two distinct day trips
  • Get up close to the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a railway made famous by Harry Potter
  • Climb to the top of a volcanic hike called Arthur's Seat for views of Edinburgh

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Edinburgh, Old Town Walking Tour Edinburgh
Day 2 Drive to Stirling, Explore Stirling Castle & the William Wallace Monument Stirling
Day 3 Historian-Guided Tour of Bannockburn Battlefield, Free Time Stirling
Day 4 Drive to St Andrews, Fife Coastal Walk to Kingsbarns St Andrews
Day 5 Drive to Aberdeen via Lindores Abbey Distillery Experience & Arbroath Abbey Aberdeen
Day 6 Full-Day Castles of Aberdeenshire Tour Aberdeen
Day 7 Full-Day Coastal Villages Tour Aberdeen
Day 8 Drive to Aberlour via Cairngorms National Park & Balmoral Castle Aberlour
Day 9 Whisky Tasting at Glenfarclas, Speyside Cooperage, Drive to Aviemore Aviemore
Day 10 Drive to Inverness via Culloden Battlefield & Clava Cairns Inverness
Day 11 Kiltmaking Exhibition, Visit Cawdor Castle Inverness
Day 12 Drive to Fort William via Eilean Donan Castle Fort William
Day 13 Visit the Glenfinnan Viaduct & Monument, Corpach Wreck & Loch Eil Fort William
Day 14 Seal Spotting Loch Linnhe Cruise, Drive to Glasgow Glasgow
Day 15 Drive to Edinburgh, Climb Arthur's Seat Edinburgh
Day 16 Depart Edinburgh  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Edinburgh, Old Town Walking Tour

 Old Town
Explore Edinburgh's colorful Old Town with a history tour this afternoon

Welcome to Scotland! You've landed in Edinburgh, a captivating historic and modern city known for its festivals, thriving arts scene, and friendly locals. On arrival, a private driver will transfer you to your hotel. En route, you might catch a glimpse of Edinburgh Castle, sitting atop an ancient volcanic hill and overlooking the Old and New Town centers. Drop your bags, refresh, and lace up your walking shoes.

This afternoon, you'll soak up the best of the Scottish capital's Old Town with a two-hour history tour that details the most interesting stories. You'll hear about warlocks, witches, local battles and uprisings, public executions, and a few peculiar local traditions still practiced to this day. As you wind across the old cobbled streets, prepare to visit a haunted medieval graveyard, hidden alleyways, wynds, and courts. It will come as no surprise that this city has produced or inspired so many great writers, including Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Shelly, and J.K. Rowling!

Day 2: Drive to Stirling, Explore Stirling Castle & the William Wallace Monument

Stirling Drone pic
Learn how Mary Queen of Scots was crowned at Stirling Castle in 1542

Today, you'll walk through one of the most significant castles in Scottish history. But first, go collect your rental car. Just an hour's drive from Edinburgh, Stirling Castle is where the Great Siege took place in 1304 when Edward I besieged the fortress. He commanded his troops to attack the castle, and after four months of brutality, Stirling was theirs. Wander up to the rocky aerie and explore the Royal Palace, Chapel Royal, and Regimental Museum. Take in the views over Stirling's cobbled main street and countryside.

Afterward, seek out refreshments in town and visit the National Wallace Monument, situated on the Abbey Craig just outside Stirling. This famous landmark commemorates the life of the patriot and martyr Sir William Wallace and overlooks the scene of his greatest victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Read the story of how the battle was fought and won and of his legacy. Then, of course, admire the Stirling Bridge itself, where the 1297 fight took place. Finally, check into your accommodation for the evening.

Day 3: Historian-Guided Tour of Bannockburn Battlefield, Free Time

Robert The Bruce Statue at Bannockburn
Admire the Robert The Bruce Statue found at the Bannockburn Battlefield

On the edge of town, make a visit to the Bannockburn Battlefield, where Scottish leader Robert the Bruce defeated the English in a key clash during the Wars of Scottish Independence. Here a local historian will lead you on a guided walk, following the route taken by the Scots to the English camp on the second day of this famous battle. Learn about the tactical decisions made by Scotland's greatest king, who won Scotland its freedom.

This afternoon is yours to explore as you wish. Drive 20 minutes south to visit The Kelpies in Falkirk, a colossal art installation by Andy Scott. According to Scottish folklore, kelpies are horse-like water spirits that are said to have the strength and endurance of 100 horses. The 100-foot-high (30 m) statues are an ode to the horse-powered heritage of central Scotland. Or, join a tasting tour at Deanston Distillery and sip your way through the core range of whisky. You'll experience rare and hard-to-find whiskies, so take a taxi—or ask for "driver drams" to enjoy later.

Day 4: Drive to St Andrews, Fife Coastal Walk to Kingsbarns

St. Andrew coastline
Check out the ruins of St Andrews Castle, then walk along the coastline

After breakfast, make your way 90 minutes east to the coastal town of St Andrews, famous for being the birthplace of golf and home to Scotland's oldest university, founded in 1412. Park the car, lace up your walking shoes, and set off for a half-day hike along a lovely section of the Fife Coast Path. You'll pass unspoiled beaches and rocky shores and venture inland along a river and over farmland on this 8.5-mile (13.5 km) walk, which takes around three or four hours. Note that the section near Buddo Rock is tidal, so plan your walk to avoid high tide.

Finally, you'll reach Kingsbarn. From here, you can take a 25-minute bus back to town, but since there's no rush—and you don't have to drive—why not drop into Kingsbarn Distillery for a tour and whisky tasting? This relatively new distillery produces award-winning single malts using locally grown barley. Eventually, return to St Andrews, where you'll check into your guesthouse for the evening and find a cozy pub for dinner.

Day 5: Drive to Aberdeen via Lindores Abbey Distillery Experience & Arbroath Abbey

Arbroath Abbey
Wander the impressive ruins of Arbroath Abbey, founded in 1178

Today's final destination is Aberdeen, but you'll be making two special detours on the two-hour journey. First, you'll join a Lindores Abbey Distillery experience and make your own aqua vitae. If you fell ill 500 years ago, you'd seek out the apothecary at the local monastery for a tincture of herbs, spices, or fruit to cure your ailments. Venture back to the ancient art of distillation with this workshop, where you'll produce your own aqua vitae spirit—a once-in-a-lifetime souvenir to take home.

Find somewhere for lunch nearby, then return to the road. Your next destination is Arbroath Abbey, on the coast 17 miles (27 km) northeast of Dundee. Explore the extensive ruins of this beautiful medieval abbey, founded by King William I to honor his childhood friend, the murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket. Continue to Aberdeen, Scotland's third-largest city. This historic port is known as the "Granite City" and is home to two prominent universities, giving it a youthful, vibrant vibe. Check into your accommodation and use the evening to explore its beautiful parks and streets.

Day 6: Full-Day Castles of Aberdeenshire Tour

Dunnottar Castle
Check out the medieval Dunnottar Castle, dramatically perched on a high cliff at sea

Can you believe there are 263 castles in Aberdeenshire? You can find them nestled in ancient forests, perched along a fast-flowing river, on high mountain passes, among rolling farmland, and set on cliffs some 50 feet (15 m) above the sea. There are more per acre or hectare than anywhere else in the British Isles, due to the turbulent history of invasions and war, rebellion and uprising, independence and occupation that all played out here. Today, a private guide will whisk you to see the best and most interesting castles scattered across the countryside.

Explore the evidence of Iron Age hillforts, visit medieval fortresses, see inside Scottish baronial castles, admire Jacobean mansions, and gaze at fortifications added in the 18th century. These evocative fortresses have inspired famous storytellers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker, Walt Disney, and Franco Zeffirelli—and perhaps you'll be inspired to write a story, too, after today. Return to Aberdeen and find a cozy pub for dinner.

Day 7: Full-Day Coastal Villages Tour

Discover charming villages, such as Crovie, tucked between the North Sea and rising cliffs

Today, on a small-group tour, you'll discover the dramatic northeast coast and charming seaside villages. You'll visit Aberdeenshire's most beautiful fishing villages, learn about its maritime past, influential characters, and heroes, and marvel at the views along the way. The first stop is Gardenstown and Crovie, two coastal villages built into the red sandstone cliffs. Sometimes, you'll see men preparing lobster pots in the small harbor. Next is Pennan, an 18th-century fishing village that attracts film enthusiasts to its red telephone box, which was featured in the 1980s film "Local Hero."

Then, visit New Aberdour, a small beach with limestone caves once concealed contraband smuggled into the northeast by fishermen and businessmen. After, you'll stop at Fraserburgh, named after the Fraser family who built Kinnaird Castle, which became one of Scotland's first lighthouses in 1787. Next, visit Cruden Bay and Port Erroll, where the long pink curve of the bay has been attracting visitors for centuries. Finally, spend some time at Collieston Beach, where tales of smugglers, shipwrecks, and sunken submarines surround the 16th-century fishing town. After, you'll return to Aberdeen.
Plan your trip to Scotland
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 8: Drive to Aberlour via Cairngorms National Park & Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle
Visit the grounds of Balmoral Castle as long as the royal family isn't visiting

Balmoral Castle, nestled within Cairngorms National Park, has been a cherished royal retreat since Queen Victoria's time. Prince Albert bought the property for Queen Victoria, and its granite castle was completed in 1856. So long as the royal family isn't visiting, you can drive into the estate and catch a glimpse of their private world. Wander around the lush, manicured grounds, past pristine lochs, and through the countryside. Nature is at its best here, so bring a picnic to enjoy or enjoy a simple stroll around the iconic residence.

The drive from Aberdeen takes around 75 minutes, and after touring the grounds, you should stop in the quaint village of Ballater for lunch. Use your afternoon to explore more of the wild national park. You could take a short hike, visit the pretty peach Craigievar Castle, or continue to Aberlour, your home for the evening.

Day 9: Whisky Tasting at Glenfarclas, Speyside Cooperage, Drive to Aviemore

Speyside Cooperage
Watch artisans at work at the Speyside Cooperage

It's time to taste one of Scotland's greatest exports: whisky. Drive 5 miles (8 km) down the road to Glenfarclas Distillery, a local favorite that's been in the hands of the Grant family for five generations. Here, you'll join a 90-minute tasting experience where you'll unravel the mysteries of single malt whisky craftsmanship during a tour of the six-still distillery (designated drivers can grab a tasting pack to go). Hear about the family legacy as you relax with a couple of drams in the gorgeous Ship's Room, then choose which bottle is going home with you.

After, if you have time, visit the Speyside Cooperage to experience the ancient art of barrel making. Here, you'll see the highly skilled coopers working at lightning speed, using medieval-looking tools to fix and create the finest casks. Since 1947, this family-owned cooperage has worked with American oak using traditional methods and tools. Later, make your way to Aviemore, a 50-minute drive south. Nestled in Cairngorms National Park, this charming town is a hub for outdoor enthusiasts who flock here for hiking, skiing, and mountain biking.

Day 10: Drive to Inverness via Culloden Battlefield & Clava Cairns

Culloden memorial cairn
Look for the graves of hundreds of clansmen and a 20-foot (6 m) memorial cairn

This morning, visit the site of the final Jacobite Rising, the last and one of the most harrowing battles fought on British soil. On April 16, 1746, Jacobite supporters seeking to restore the Stuart monarchy to the British thrones gathered to fight the Duke of Cumberland's government troops. In less than an hour, around 1,300 men were slain—more than 1,250 of them Jacobites. Make the 40-minute drive from Aviemore to the Culloden Battlefield visitor center, where you can explore interactive exhibits and view artifacts from the battle. An eerie silence often falls on Drummossie Moor here.

After, visit the nearby Clava Cairns, one of Scotland's most important prehistoric sites, where the remains of an ancient cemetery sit above the River Nairn. Thought to be around 4,000 years old, this sacred place provides many clues to the beliefs of Bronze Age society. Explore prehistoric burial monuments and the remains of a medieval chapel, then continue to nearby Inverness. Here, you can visit Inverness Castle, catch a show at the Eden Court Theatre, or seek out the elusive monster in nearby Loch Ness.

Day 11: Kiltmaking Exhibition, Visit Cawdor Castle

Cawdor Castle
Learn how Cawdor Castle is famous for its links to Shakespeare's Macbeth

Today, you'll gain a fascinating insight into the kilt's history, tradition, and culture—from its origins to the present day. Set within a kiltmaking workshop, the Scottish Kiltmaker Visitor Centre in Inverness brings the story of the kilt to life with costume and tartan displays.

From here, set off to explore Cawdor Castle, a 25-minute drive from town. This traditional Scottish castle was built and has been inhabited by the Cawdor family for more than 600 years. The fantastic medieval tower was constructed around a legendary holly tree. You can visit the 14th-century fairy-tale castle and explore the three distinct gardens. End the day back in Inverness with a hearty Scottish meal at a cozy local pub, perhaps topped off with a dram of whisky.

Day 12: Drive to Fort William via Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle
Learn how this castle is named after a small tidal island: Eilean Donan

Today you'll spend three hours behind the wheel, making a major detour to visit the legendary Eilean Donan Castle on the way to Fort William. This 13th-century tower is one of the most iconic images of Scotland. Situated on an island where three great sea lochs meet while surrounded by picturesque scenery, it's little wonder that the castle is now one of the most visited and important attractions in the Scottish Highlands. Inhabited since the sixth century, the first fortified castle was built here in the mid-13th century and stood guard over the lands of Kintail.

Since then, four versions of Eilean Donan Castle have been built and rebuilt as Scotland's feudal history unfolded through the centuries. After your visit, continue to Scotland's "adventure capital" of Fort William for the evening. Check into your hotel, then find someone by the loch where you can try the local mussels for dinner.

Day 13: Visit the Glenfinnan Viaduct & Monument, Corpach Wreck & Loch Eil

Glenfinnan viaduct
See the Glenfinnan Viaduct today, made famous from the Harry Potter movies

Glenfinnan Viaduct is the longest concrete railway bridge in Scotland at a whopping 1,250 feet (380 m) long. While it was made famous by the "Harry Potter" movies, this iconic bridge was actually completed in 1898, and it crosses the River Finnan at an impressive height. The Jacobite Steam Train runs twice a day, so time your visit right to experience the magic of seeing the locomotive cross the 100-foot-high (30 m) arches. The viaduct is just a 25-minute drive from Fort William.

Before or after, explore the Glenfinnan Monument at nearby Loch Shiel, a tribute to those who died fighting for the Jacobite cause. Discover the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the 1745 Jacobite Rising, and climb up the tower for views. Continue on the road past Loch Eil. Stop at the village of Corpach to photograph the Old Boat of Caol, which sits proudly on a stony beach with a backdrop of Ben Nevis, Scotland's highest peak. Finally, return to Fort William for a gentle stroll by the loch and dinner in town.

Day 14: Seal Spotting Loch Linnhe Cruise, Drive to Glasgow

Seal Spotting Loch Linnhe Morning or Afternoon Cruise
Cruise past the Old Boat of Caol on your seal-spotting adventure on Loch Linnhe

Fort William lies by the head of Loch Linnhe, one of Scotland's longest sea lochs, and this morning, you'll set sail with a seal-spotting boat. You'll cruise past the charming village of Corpach, marvel at islands teeming with birdlife, and sail over the entrance to the Caledonian Canal. Admire traditional black houses, peaceful glens, an ancient Caledonian forest, and salmon and mussel farms. Your skipper will provide commentary as you keep your eyes peeled for eagles, otters, porpoises, and—of course—seals. You'll also get close to Black Rock for the chance to see seals and seal pups.

Back on dry land, jump behind the wheel for the 2.5-hour drive to Glasgow. You only have one night in Scotland's largest city, so take a rest then get out on the streets. You could visit a pub to see what the locals like to do and enjoy a hearty Scottish meal or join a folk-music-themed walking tour of the gritty city's oldest and most interesting streets after dark.

Day 15: Drive to Edinburgh, Climb Arthur's Seat

Arthur's Seat view
Climb Arthur's Seat, an ancient volcano walking distance from the heart of Edinburgh

If you rise early today, you can make the most of your morning in Glasgow. Use your free time to join an entertaining bike tour of Glasgow, combining history, culture, and quirky tales. You'll cover more on two wheels than on foot! Or admire an eclectic collection of art and historical artifacts at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Stroll through Kelvingrove Park and visit the impressive Glasgow Cathedral. Find somewhere special for lunch, then jump in the car and drive one hour to Edinburgh.

A few hours before sunset, set out to tackle Arthur's Seat in the capital. Arthur's Seat is a short yet challenging volcano hike that takes you up to the rocky summit, some 824 feet (251 m) high. From up top, you'll admire views over Edinburgh, Holyrood Palace, and out to the countryside around the city. It takes around two hours to complete the 3-mile (5 km) trail. Refresh at the hotel, then set out for your final night in Scotland. Find a local pub for a soul-warming Scottish meal and enjoy a final dram.

Day 16: Depart Edinburgh

Until next time, Edinburgh!

It's time to jump back in the car for one last drive in Scotland—this time to Edinburgh's airport. Arrive with enough time to drop off your rental car ahead of your flight home or next destination. Safe travels!

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Map of Self-Drive Scotland Highlights Tour: Cities, Castles & Countryside - 16 Days
Map of Self-Drive Scotland Highlights Tour: Cities, Castles & Countryside - 16 Days