Our Grand Tour route takes you on a comprehensive journey around Scotland, from the rolling hills and ruined abbeys of the Borders, to the standing stones of Orkney.
The road trip takes you up Scotland's West coast and then follows the NC500 route around the Northern extremes of the Scottish mainland.
The itinerary can be done in 14 days, but we include lots of day trip options so you can use this guide for planning a trip of a much longer duration.
Allow a minimum of 11 days to drive this tour route.
The guide also contains extra day trip suggestions for extending the tour to 3 – 4 weeks.
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Approximately 944 miles / 1520 Km
11 to 21 Days
Discover Edinburgh -
We provide directions for a choice of 3 walking routes for discovering the Capital City. The guide also details a choice of attractions that can be visited around Edinburgh by bus and train.
Edinburgh Day Trips – There is enough to keep you busy in Edinburgh for several days so you can continue to explore the city, but we also supply a choice of driving day trips that cover:
Stopover in Edinburgh
Edinburgh to the Borders -
Head south from Edinburgh to the rolling hills of the Scottish Borders and the country beloved by Sir Walter Scott. The route takes you to the famous Rosslyn chapel and the charming market town of Peebles. For a sense of time stood still, you can visit the oldest continually inhabited house in Scotland and learn the legend behind the gates that have been locked for over 250 years.
Near Melrose, you can visit Abbotsford House, the country home built by Sir Walter Scott. The writer died here in 1832 and his family preserved the main rooms of the house in almost exactly the same state that he had left them in. Our route guides you to his favourite viewpoint over the Eildon Hills and you can also visit his grave in nearby Dryburgh Abbey.
Of course, The Borders is famous for its Abbeys and we give you a tour that lets you visit the religious ruins in Melrose, Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh. By way of contrast, you could also visit Floors Castle, the palatial home of the Duke of Buccleuch and his family. The wealth on display is quite astounding and it is incredible that all of this can still belong to one family,
Driving Distance: ~47 miles to Melrose / ~64 miles to Jedburgh
Stopover in Melrose / Jedburgh Area.
Borders to Oban -
Returning towards Edinburgh, you follow the path of an old Roman Road to the outskirts of the capital. We then guide you to skirt past Edinburgh to pick up the motorway that speeds you across to Stirling and the start of a drive through the Trossachs.
Travelling west, you can break the journey with a visit to Doune Castle, which starred as “Castle Leoch” in the “Outlander” TV show. We also recommend a small detour to the photogenic Falls of Dochart in Killin. Whilst visiting Killin, you can follow our tips to find nearby standing stones and spooky castle ruins.
Continuing along the route of an old Cattle Drover’s road, you arrive at Loch Awe, the longest loch in Scotland. Kilchurn castle is an impressive stronghold that guards the eastern approaches of this historically strategic passage to the west coast. The path to Kilchurn castle is easy to miss, but our directions will guide you to this photogenic ruin.
The day ends in Oban where you can indulge in a tasting session at Oban Distillery followed by a memorable dinner in one of the town’s great choice of seafood restaurants.
Driving Distance: ~162 miles
Stopover in Oban Area.
Oban to Skye -
You start with a drive north to Loch Leven where you may wish to detour into Glen Coe for a photo stop. From Loch Leven to Skye we provide 3 different journey options to get to Skye by either the bridge or the ferry.
OPTION 1: If taking the Mallaig ferry to Skye you can take a short drive via the “Road to the Isles” which will take you past Glenfinnan and the Silver Sands of Morar. You have a good chance of seeing the Jacobite steam train as the railway closely follows the path of the road.
Driving Distance: ~87 miles (plus a ~40 minute ferry crossing) – Oban to Mallaig ferry via Fort William
OPTION 2: The alternative route to the Skye ferry is a longer drive via a meandering road through the wilderness and forests of Sunart and Moidart. The scenery in this area is magnificent and it is all the better for the lack of other tourists.
Driving Distance: ~98 miles (plus a ~40 minute ferry crossing) – Oban to Mallaig ferry via Sunart
OPTION 3: If travelling via the Skye bridge, you don’t need to plan your day around a ferry crossing so you might wish to schedule time for a cable car ride, or a short hike in Glen Nevis. Eilean Donan castle is a “must see” on this route, but we also supply directions for a small detour to one of the best viewpoints in Scotland.
Driving Distance: ~120 miles – Oban to Skye Bridge
Stopover in Skye & Lochalsh area
Day Trips around Skye & Lochalsh -
Skye is a large island with many of the places of interest located at the end of single track roads. As a result, you are limited in how much you can cover in a day and you need to schedule at least a 2 night stopover.
Stopover in Skye & Lochalsh area
Skye Bridge to Gairloch -
We guide you on a route through scenery that we think is the best in Scotland. If you really want to explore away from the “beaten track”, you can follow an alternative longer route around the remote Applecross Peninsula using a road that was only completed in 1975!!! The drive includes a visit to the very pretty village of Plockton and the famous botanic gardens at Inverewe. Despite lying further north than Moscow, the mild west coast climate enables all sorts of sub tropical plants to thrive in this Highland oasis.
The guide gives you directions to find a cozy waterside inn with a restaurant where you dine whilst enjoying beautiful sunsets.
Driving Distance: ~77 miles
Stopover in the Gairloch / Laide Area
Gairloch to Ullapool / Lochinver -
You continue up the West coast through a landscape of magnificent Highland scenery to the active fishing village of Ullapool. Along the route you can explore some great beaches and test your courage by crossing a 200 feet deep gorge on a bouncy little foot bridge.
When you get to Ullapool, you can watch the fishing boat activity in the harbour and then sample the fresh catch in an award winning fish & chip shop.
You can end the drive in Ullapool, but we also provide directions for a visit to Lochinver via the Inverpollaidh Nature Reserve. The landscape of Inverpollaidh is defined by the distinctive peaks of Stac Pollaidh, Suilven and Canisp. These mountains emerge like icebergs from an expanse of wild moorland. If you feel energetic, Stac Pollaidh can be done in ~3 hours, but the last ascent to the true summit of the mountain is a bit too scary and difficult for most.
Driving Distance: ~55 miles (Gairloch to Ullapool)
Stopover in Ullapool or Lochinver
Ullapool to Thurso -
This is a drive through a truly wild landscape where nature rules and you can drive for miles without seeing a house. There aren’t many man-made attractions along this route, but this is compensated for by the geology which has created dramatic mountains, rugged coastlines and some glorious sandy bays.
One of the “must sees” is the impressive cavern at Smoo Cave. It is possible to take guided walks into the caves, but to do this you first need to take a small boat ride.
From Durness, you travel east along the northern coast of Scotland and the landscape becomes gradually flatter as you approach Thurso. This is a region that suffered terribly during the Highland Clearances when whole communities were destroyed to make way for sheep. There are several good museums that tell the story of the people that once lived here.
The drive ends in Thurso, but you could also catch a late ferry to Orkney and we have supplied details of the various ferry services available.
Driving Distance: ~140 miles
Stopover in Thurso or Orkney Islands
Day Trip to Orkney -
If you don't have time to stay a few nights on Orkney you have the option of a day trip visit. The guide provides details of a recommended organised day trip that takes you around the best tourist attractions without the hassle of taking your car.
Stopover in Thurso
ALTERNATIVELY - Stay on Orkney – If you have time, you may wish to spend several nights in the Orkney Islands and we have provided a guide that gives you all the information you need for planning an extended stay. The guide includes suggestions for 4 days trips to explore the Orkney Mainland and the smaller islands of Hoy and Rousay. We guide you to all the famous sites of Orkney (Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe, Skara Brae, Italian Chapel, Old Man of Hoy), plus lots of quieter attractions that the are missed by the mainstream tourist trail.
As always, we recommend walks, picnic spots, the best value attractions and restaurants.
Stopover on the Orkney Islands
Thurso to Inverness -
From Thurso, we guide you across empty moorlands to the North Sea where you turn southwards to follow a road that hugs a coastline of rugged windswept cliffs. The route is punctuated by austere little villages perched above rocky inlets that once sheltered fleets of fishing boats.
Highlights along the route are Dunrobin Castle, the ornate home of the Dukes of Sutherland, the opportunity for a whisky tasting at Glenmorangie Distillery and a wander around the picturesque village of Dornoch with its charming little cathedral and famous golf course.
For the last leg to Inverness, we propose a choice of routes that let you choose between visits to a pretty Victorian spa town where you can sample the mineral waters, OR a short ferry crossing to the Black Isle where you may see some wild dolphins in the Cromarty Firth.
Driving Distance: ~112 miles
Stopover in Inverness area
Day Trips from Inverness -
Inverness is a great base for exploring the Highlands and we supply you with directions for a range of day trips so you can extend the time that you spend in the Inverness area.
Stopover in Inverness area
Inverness to Royal Deeside -
Within a few miles of Inverness you can travel through 4,000 years of history. The route passes the Bronze Age burial cairns at Clava, the 14th century Cawdor Castle, which is still home to the Countess of Cawdor, and Culloden Battlefield, where the tragic events of 1746 changed the Highlands forever.
Travelling southwards, the road passes through the Spey valley where you have options for detours to explore the whisky distilleries that Speyside is famed for. From Speyside, you climb over the Cairngorm mountains. This is a great road with wide open vistas and fast sweeping bends. If you aren't driving too fast, you can keep a look out for Grouse popping their heads above the heather.
After the high plateau of the Cairngorms, you descend to the neat little villages of Ballater and Braemar in Royal Deeside. This region is synonymous with Queen Victoria and still has strong connections with the Royal family. Consequently, Balmoral castle is the obvious place to visit in this area, but there are many more castles here with much longer histories that are worth exploring.
Driving Distance: ~78 miles
Stopover in Royal Deeside
Royal Deeside to Stirling -
A journey of contrasting scenery that starts by following the path of an old Military road that climbs through Glen Shee. As you travel southwards, the landscapes change from the mountains of the Cairngorms to the rolling hills and woodlands of Perthshire.
We suggest a journey break in the picturesque Victorian spa town of Pitlochry where you will find a cluster of interesting tourist attractions such as Blair Castle, the famous Salmon Ladder, the woodlands of Killiecrankie Pass and a couple of Whisky distilleries.
From Pitlochry to Stirling, the route follows the fast main roads to allow you more time for sightseeing. Along the way, you can break the driving with a visit to the romantic ruins of Dunkeld Cathedral which is set in a conservation village of 18th century houses. We also recommend a small detour to a very interesting little castle that most tourists miss. And you could enjoy a very expensive afternoon tea at the luxurious Gleneagles hotel.
The day ends in the historically important town of Stirling, which has been the focal point of two of the most decisive battles in the Scottish Wars of Independence. We recommend that you allow ~2 hours for a full tour of Stirling castle so you may prefer to leave this attraction until the morning of the following day.
Driving Distance: ~115 miles
Stopover in Stirling area
Stirling to Edinburgh / Glasgow -
Depending on your schedule, you may wish to spend a morning visiting the attractions of Stirling (e.g. Stirling Castle, Wallace Monument, Bannockburn Battlefield), OR you can simply take the short drive from Stirling to Edinburgh / Glasgow.
The directions for the return to Edinburgh include the option of a visit to South Queensferry, to get up close to the iconic Forth Rail Bridge, and a small detour to discover a charming little village hidden in the city’s suburbs.
Driving Distance: ~38 miles to Edinburgh / ~43 miles to Glasgow
Stopover in Edinburgh or Glasgow area.
To help you book the best places to stay, we offer a guide to Recommended Accommodation along the route of this tour.
We personally visit all the accommodation featured in the guides and only select places where we would wish to stay ourselves. Read More...
When you "Checkout", you will have the option to buy the Accommodation Guide.
When you buy a Secret Scotland Tour Itinerary you will receive a Discount Code that gets you a 10% reduction on the cost of Car Hire from Arnold Clark Rental.
Simply use the Secret Scotland code when you book via the Arnold Clark website and your car hire discount will automatically apply.
I convinced my other half to get the Scenic Tour 4-5 Days guide (even though he very much wanted to do it all himself), and it was the best experience ever. In fact, ever since this trip, we're trying to re-create the experience. Of course, Scotland can hardly let anyone down, but this guide truly made it an adventure. We found so many hidden and not so hidden gems, and everything was perfectly laid out for us so that all we had to do was decide how much time we had and what we wanted to see next. I can't recommend it enough and wish more guides like this existed!
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Thank you so much.
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