From city to coastline: an epic Scottish summer road trip

Thinking of staying close to home this summer but hankering after a smidge of adventure? Then a Scottish road trip should be at the top of your list. From vibrant cities to swathes of greenery, rugged coastlines and historic sights that’ll have you feeling like a character from Outlander, Scotland truly has everything to offer. 

Edinburgh – image credit theasis on iStock

Edinburgh

Where better to start your epic Scottish road trip than Edinburgh? Scotland’s capital is bursting with historic sights, vintage shops, Victorian architecture, cute cafes and so much more. Start off with a visit to the imposing and impressive Edinburgh Castle – you can’t miss this standout feature of the city skyline. Occupied since the Iron Age and involved in many historical conflicts, as well as being a royal residence for centuries, this is the ideal entry point into Scottish history. Arthur’s Seat, which stands tall above the city and offers spectacular views, is certainly worth a day-hike and will kick-start your adventure into epic Scottish scenery. 

When it comes time to find a place to rest your head, the apartments at Cheval Old Town Chambers make for a luxurious hotel-style stay with all the freedom of a private residence. The Bonham Hotel sits in a sophisticated Victorian townhouse and blends period features – think open fireplaces and antique furniture – with modern amenities and a central location that will make exploring a breeze. 

Cairngorms National Park – image credit VWB photos on Getty Images

Cairngorms National Park

An hour and a half north of Edinburgh, Dunkeld House Hotel in Perthshire makes the ideal base for exploring the rugged landscapes and wee villages of Cairngorms National Park. Twice the size of the Lake District and bigger than the country of Luxembourg, this vast national park is one for the adventurous. Canoeing or paddle boarding on the lochs and rivers makes a great way to admire the big skies and towering peaks, but those who want something a little more low-key can combine their boating with visits to whiskey distilleries. Experiencing the Cairngorms by horseback is another way to really delve into the scenery – and feel like a 15th-century Scottish warrior while you’re at it. 

Historic sights are aplenty here too, the most regal of which is Balmoral, the Queen’s summer residence. More interested in Scotland’s bloodthirsty past? There are myriad places to visit that will give you a glimpse into Clan culture, including Newtownmore’s Clan Macpherson Museum, and the Ruthven Barracks where, as legend tells it, the ruthless ‘Wolf of Badenoch’ Alexander Stewart played a game of chess with the devil.  

Old Man of Storr, Skye – image credit Mnieteq on Getty Images

The Isle of Skye 

From the fairy pools to the Old Man of Storr, Skye is nothing short of a dream. It’ll be a four- to five-hour drive through the Highlands from Cairngorms, but this is all part of the fun – you’ll be passing the iconic Ben Neivs, Scotland’s highest peak, and meandering down country roads with loch views aplenty. If you need a driving break, take a stop at Invergarry Castle, once the seat of Clan Donald and a strategic location during the years of clan warfare. 

Once you’ve crossed the Skye Bridge, with the Inner Sound’s vast waters to the west and smatterings of islands on the horizon, you’re in an idyllic island playground. You’ll definitely want to climb up to the Old Man of Storr for incredible views, but there’s so much more to keep you enthralled here. Wildlife viewings are never-ending, what with otters playing on the shoreline, boat trips to spot sea eagles and seals, and even whale-watching at Rubha Hunish, the northernmost point of the island. Whether you’re an all-day hiker or a short walker, you’ll find a suitable trail along which to admire rugged coastlines, rock formations and emerald moors. 

Ben Nevis, Glencoe – image credit SinaStraub on Getty Images

Glencoe

Carved out by icy glaciers and volcanic explosions thousands of years ago, the landscapes surrounding Glencoe are nothing short of spectacular. If you want to learn about the area’s geological history, follow the Glencoe Geotrail to find out how it all came to be. For more modern sightseeing excitement, cruise around trying to spot locations from iconic films – including Skyfall and the Harry Potter movies (Hagrid’s Hut once lived here). This is the perfect spot to embark on a climb of Ben Nevis – if you’ve got the legs for it. The hike will take between seven and nine hours, and the summer months are ideal, giving a better chance of clear views and warm weather on your route up and down (though this is never guaranteed).

A stay at SeaBeds Luxury Lookouts makes a wonderful treat after a few days of strenuous exploring. These suite-style lodges are tucked away in a tranquil spot in the town of Ballachulish and boast private loch-view hot tubs for ultimate Highland relaxation. 

Oban – image credit IanGoodPhotography on Getty Images

Oban (and The Isle of Mull)

Hop in your car and drive an hour down the coast, past Loch Linnhe and Loch Creran, and you’ll find yourself in Oban, a town most famous for its whiskey. Tour the distillery to taste the amber nectar and find out how it’s made, or set out to explore yet more epic natural beauty: divers who don’t mind chilly waters will want to head to the Puffin Dive Centre for an unforgettable under-the-sea experience featuring crabs, local fish, octopus and more – if you’re a PADI-certified diver looking to specialise, this is an ideal place to take a drysuit or wreck-diving course. 

If you’d rather stay above water, why not catch the ferry to the island of Mull, home to Tobermory’s brightly coloured houses and quaint fishing town charms. The ferry from Oban takes roughly 45 minutes and will drop you off at Craignure, itself just a leisurely drive along the coast to Tobermory. The rest of the island is well worth exploring, too, with rugged peaks and waterfalls aplenty. 

Loch Lomond – image credit RyanDeanMorrison on Getty Images

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park

There are few better places to finish your Scottish adventure than Loch Lomond & The Trossachs. This national park is both vast and beautiful, with trails for beginner to experienced hikers that offer unforgettable views – the hike to Inchcailloch Summit, accessible by boat from Balmaha, is especially rewarding. Ben A’an, Gouk Hill and Conic Hill also offer lofty loch views with little effort.

If you want to finish off your getaway with a bang, a 4×4 adventure is the perfect way to see the landscapes that aren’t accessible by car, and if you really want to push the boat out, a seaplane flight will give you a whole new perspective on the vast, breathtaking wilderness of the Scottish Highlands before you head home.