Discover the enchanting history and dramatic landscapes of the Scottish Highlands with this 8-day self-drive itinerary. Starting in Edinburgh,  drive north to the rugged highlands, where you’ll explore ancient castles, visit important battle sites, sail Loch Ness, and ride the world’s most scenic railway.

Highlights

  • Discover the charming Old Town of Edinburgh
  • Visit Stirling, Cawdor, and Urquart castles
  • Explore Inverness, capital of the Highlands
  • Take a boat trip across Loch Ness
  • Experience one of the world's most scenic steam train journeys

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Edinburgh Edinburgh
Day 2 Walking Tour of Edinburgh Edinburgh
Day 3 Inverness and the Highlands Inverness
Day 4 Culloden, Clava Cairns & Cawdor Castle Inverness
Day 5 Loch Ness & Fort William Fort William
Day 6 The Jacobite Express Steam Train Fort William
Day 7 Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Glasgow
Day 8 Depart from Glasgow  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Edinburgh

Views across the rooftops of Edinburgh's Old Town.
Views across the rooftops of Edinburgh's Old Town.

After settling into your accommodation, the afternoon is yours to get acquainted with Edinburgh. Explore the cobbled alleys and steep streets of the medieval Old Town, walk the Royal Mile to the looming Edinburgh Castle, or wander the elegant Georgian squares and gardens of New Town.

Day 2: Walking Tour of Edinburgh

Views across Edinburgh from Carlton Hill.
Views across Edinburgh from Calton Hill.

Today you’ll join a private walking tour which takes you back in time, narrating the history of Edinburgh and its relevant landmarks as you meander through the city. You’ll wander the grand halls of Holyrood Palace, explore the hidden 17th century underground street of Real Mary Kings Close, and climb Calton Hill for spectacular views across the city and Arthur’s Seat. In the evening, explore Edinburgh's vibrant culinary scene before ending your night at a cozy traditional pub.

Day 3: Inverness and the Highlands

Inverness, capital of the Highlands, overlooking the River Ness.
Inverness, capital of the Highlands, overlooking the River Ness.

Day three takes you north into the rugged beauty of the Highlands. Leaving Edinburgh, you’ll pass the dramatic clifftops of Stirling Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots was crowned in 1542. Stop for lunch in the gloriously situated town of Pitlochry, take a tour around the Georgian halls of Scone Palace, and end your day in the Highland capital of Inverness.

Driving time: 3 hours
Driving distance: 156 miles (251 km)

Day 4: Culloden, Clava Cairns & Cawdor Castle

Sunrise over Culloden Battlefield.
Sunrise over Culloden Battlefield.

Set in the heart of the Highlands, Inverness is surrounded by crucial sites from Scottish history. Start today with a moving tour of Culloden Battlefield, where the final conflict of the Jacobean Uprising in 1746 changed the shape of the Highlands forever. Nearby Clava Cairns takes you further back in time, with Bronze Age standing stones and cairns arranged in peaceful ancient woodland. Just 15 minutes north lies Cawdor Castle, which holds a hallowed place in both history and literature as the home of Macbeth. After a morning devoted to history, head back to Inverness for the afternoon, where you can visit the area’s many excellent whisky distilleries for impromptu tastings and tours.

Day 5: Loch Ness & Fort William

Castle Urquart overlooking Loch Ness.
Castle Urquart overlooking Loch Ness.

Today you’ll bid a fond farewell to Inverness and head southwest, skirting the mist-shrouded shores of Loch Ness. Stop for an hour’s boat trip around the lake, explore the ruins of Urquhart Castle, and keep a sharp eye out for Nessie sightings. Continue south to end your day in the outdoor adventure haven of Fort William. Set on the calm shores of Loch Linnhe, the town offers spectacular views of snowcapped Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak.

Driving time: 1:45
Driving distance: 66 miles (106 km)

Day 6: The Jacobite Express Steam Train

The Jacobite Express crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
The Jacobite Express crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

Take a break from driving today and hop aboard the Jacobite Express Steam Train. Considered one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world, you'll follow the historic track past rugged mountains, rolling heather, and glassy lochs before reaching the seaside village of Mallaig on Scotland's western coast. Stop for a wander around the harbor and a lunch of local seafood before catching your return train back to Fort William. If the scenery looks familiar, it might be from its starring roles in the Harry Potter films—the Jacobite Express Steam Train is better known as the Hogwarts Express.

Day 7: Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park

Sunrise over Loch Lomond.
Sunrise over Loch Lomond.

The penultimate day of your journey takes you south through some of the Highland’s most beloved landscapes. Take in the rugged volcanic landscapes and brutal history of Glencoe, before stopping for lunch in the delightful coastal village of Oban. Turning east, you’ll pass through the stunning Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, skirting the misty banks of the largest freshwater loch in the UK. Your final stop is Glasgow, Scotland’s vibrant second city. 

Driving time: 3.5 hours
Driving distance: 140 miles (225 km)

Day 8: Depart from Glasgow

Ashton Lane, Glasgow.
Ashton Lane, Glasgow.

This morning you'll head to Glasgow or Edinburgh airports to catch flights home or continue with your travels. Say farewell in true Scottish style:  "haste ye back."

Map

Map of Scottish Highlands Self-Drive Tour: Edinburgh, Inverness & Loch Ness - 8 Days
Map of Scottish Highlands Self-Drive Tour: Edinburgh, Inverness & Loch Ness - 8 Days