Where to go in West Scotland: a 2-week road trip itinerary
It’s 100% true: Scotland is filled with dramatic craggy mountain ranges, miles of open road and dozens of white-sand beaches that really do rival those found in the Caribbean (trust me, I used to live in the Cayman Islands). Wondering where to go in West Scotland? A road trip around the west coast is a wonderful way to soak up the nation’s most outstanding locales, sample some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever taste, and immerse yourself in a little Scottish history. Driving is a pleasure in this part of the world, with spectacular views at every turn. Not got the time or the budget to spend a month island-hopping around the entire Outer Hebrides? This shorter two-week route takes you on an adventure around a chunk of the Highlands and two incredible isles.
You’ll want to choose when you go carefully. Too early in the year and you’ll be hit by stormy weather, ferry crossing delays and a lack of places to dine (many venues, especially on the islands, close in the winter). And while mid-summer may bring the warmest climes, it’s also prime time for midges. Spring or September are your best bets.
Day 1-3 – Loch Lomond and Inveraray
Day 3-6 – Glencoe, Fort William, Fort Augustus and Glenfinnan
Day 6-10 – Isle of Skye
Day 10-14 – Harris and Lewis
Day 1-3 – Loch Lomond and Inveraray
Beginning your trip in Glasgow? It’s an easy drive north-west to the bonnie shores of Loch Lomond. Scotland’s largest loch is a playground for outdoor lovers and you’ll have no trouble filling a day or two with activities.
Things to do in Loch Lomond:
- Balmaha on the east side of the loch is a must-visit for water sports. Catch the small local ferry across to Inchcailloch island (takes just 10 minutes) to explore its wild, untouched interiors and charming coves.
- Alternatively, hire kayaks or paddle boards from Balmaha House and explore Milarrochy Bay, just north of Balmaha.
- If the weather’s decent, there are heaps of hiking trails. Complete a section of the West Highland Way or tackle the lofty heights of Ben Lomond.
Where to stay: Rowardennan Lodge Youth Hostel
Set off early and head around Loch Lomond’s western shores, stopping off in Luss for a mid-morning coffee. The small village is extremely photogenic with its traditional stone cottages and vast beach. Continue north, taking in the stunning loch views, and then turn off at Tarbet towards Arrochar.
To get to Inveraray, you’ll drive along the dramatic Rest and Be Thankful Road (aka the A83). Make sure you pull in at the car park at the viewpoint for a photo op. When you reach Loch Fyne, you’ll find the road traces the shoreline. Make a pitstop at Loch Fyne Ales at the northernmost tip to pick up some locally-brewed beer before continuing to Inveraray.
Things to do in Inveraray:
- Tour the interiors of grand Inveraray Castle (which has been featured in several films and TV shows) between April and October.
- Alternatively, explore the castle grounds for free. If you have time, walk up to Dun Na Cuaiche (takes about 90 minutes) for epic vistas across Loch Fyne and beyond.
- Head into Inverary Jail (one of Europe’s best-preserved 19th-century jails) to explore its courthouse and cells.
- Stroll around the town centre to admire its black and white Georgian buildings.
- Feeling peckish? Check out Brambles Café for a mix of hearty Scottish and global food, including plenty of seafood. There’s also The George for pub grub or the FYNE Fish and Chip Shop.
Where to stay: Inveraray Hostel
Day 3-6 – Glencoe, Fort William, Glenfinnan and Fort Augustus
After breakfast in Inveraray (Ocho Inveraray if you’re feeling fancy, Campbell Coffee if you prefer a simple caffeine hit), head north on the A819. After 20 minutes, you’ll come across the ruined Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe. Stretch your legs by wandering around its exterior and then make a minor detour to the wonderfully ornate St Conan’s Kirk. Even if you’re not a fan of churches, this lochside one is pretty spectacular.
Afterwards, retrace your steps to Kilchurn Castle and head west on the A85 to Tyndrum. The town’s mountainous, tree-lined scenery is reminiscent of Canada and there’s a quirky diner called the Real Food Café that’s ideal for lunch. From there, it’s only a 40-minute drive along a truly stunning stretch of road to Glencoe.
Things to do in Glencoe:
- Visit the Glencoe Mountain Resort and catch the chairlift up to the summit for a walk or to admire the views. The lift is open all year round, not just during ski season.
- Pop into the Glencoe Visitor Centre (note it’s £4 to enter the car park) to discover more about the area’s history and geography.
- Pull on your hiking boots and trek one of the many trails in the area. The Glen Lochan Trail is a nice easy pick that traces the Loch Leven shoreline. Or, you could trek through lush Glen Coe itself to An Torr and Signal Rock.
- Take a drive down the Glen Etive Road that was made famous in the James Bond film Skyfall. Keep your eyes peeled for red deer and stags.
Where to stay: Glencoe Youth Hostel
After a morning exploring Glencoe, journey north to Fort William. As well as its historical significance during the Jacobite Rising during the 18th century, it sits in the shadow of Ben Nevis – the UK’s highest mountain.
It’s also the jumping-off point for several brilliant day trips. Harry Potter fans will want to journey 25 minutes west to Glenfinnan to see its impressive viaduct. There’s also Fort Augustus further north which sits on the shores of Loch Ness.
Things to do in and around Fort William:
- Tick Ben Nevis off your hiking bucket list – there are two major routes up this now inactive volcano, with the more straightforward one leaving from the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre.
- Check out the Caledonian Canal on a hike, a bike ride or by hiring kayaks/canoes. This 60-mile-long waterway was built in the 1820s and cuts through a trio of lochs between Corpach (just outside Fort William) and Inverness.
- Soak up some local history at the West Highland Museum. It might be small but it’s got some excellent displays about the clan wars and the Jacobites.
- Visit Glenfinnan to snap pictures of the Glenfinnan Viaduct. You can then walk the well-signposted trail to its vintage train station. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a steam train on the tracks!
- There’s also the Glenfinnan monument on the shores of Loch Shiel which commemorates the Highlanders who fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie during the Jacobite Rebellion.
- Drive 30 miles north to Fort Augustus to glimpse the legendary shores of Loch Ness. The Caledonian Canal also passes through the town and there are lots of cafes overlooking its impressive tiered lock system.
- Seek out the WWII Commando Memorial near Spean Ridge (en route to Fort Augustus) for epic vistas of Ben Nevis.
- There are various other walking trails in the local area. Why not walk a part of the West Highland Way or trek up to Steall Waterfall – the second-highest waterfall in the country?
Where to stay: There are several hostels in Fort William. The Glen Nevis Youth Hostel is ideal if you want to wake up early and tackle Scotland’s highest peak.
Day 6-10 – Isle of Skye
You could spend a week on Skye and still not do it justice. A few days is just enough time to get a taste of this magnificent island – from its abundance of natural beauty spots to its intriguing heritage sites and countless places serving tasty local cuisine.
There are two ways to reach the Isle of Skye from Fort William: by road via Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye Bridge or by ferry from Mallaig. The first option is free and gives you a chance to stop off at Eilean Donan Castle – one of the most photogenic castles in Scotland.
Things to do in Skye:
- Visit the iconic Fairy Pools for a hike. If you’re brave enough, pack your swimming stuff and take a dip in one of the bright blue (yet absolutely freezing) plunge pools. Stop at nearby Café Cuil afterwards to warm up with a coffee and cinnamon bun.
- Seek out the town of Dunvegan in northwest Skye. Its handsome castle overlooking the sea is owned by the MacLeod clan and it’s worth the entry price. They organise seal-watching trips on good weather days, too. Afterwards, check out the Dunvegan Pub for tasty local food and a great choice of Scottish beer and cider.
- Drive beyond Dunvegan Castle to Coral Beach. It’s about a 20-minute walk from the car park to the small cove which gets its name from the crushed pink and white coral sand along its shore.
- Head to Carbost on the west side of the island. It’s home to the Talisker Distillery (which has a very cool visitor centre) and The Oyster Shed – a rustic market and dining spot serving fresh oysters, soft-shell crab and other local seasonal seafood.
- You can’t visit Skye without glimpsing the Old Man of Storr. Located a short drive north of Portree, the craggy hill is insanely picturesque and offers up brilliant views across the Sound of Raasay. Further along the coast is the Quiraing, another epic destination for a hike.
- Go for a walk around the enchanting Fairy Glen. Its hilly landscape is like something out of a fantasy novel.
- Potter around Portree, Skye’s main town, for a few hours. Its harbour is lined with colourful buildings and there’s a wide selection of places to eat, from fish and chip shops to vegetarian-friendly bistros.
- Got some time before your ferry? Stop into the Isle of Skye Brewing Company shop in Uig to pick up a few local ales and stouts.
Where to stay: Portree has plenty of hostels and is within easy distance of the Uig ferry port.
Day 10-14 – Harris and Lewis
Despite their separate names, Harris and Lewis actually form two sides of the same island. They’re part of the Outer Hebrides and are a once-in-a-lifetime destination to visit thanks to their wild landscapes, including plenty of idyllic beaches.
The pace of life is slow and it’s not uncommon to have to stop to let wildlife – whether that’s herds of sheep or the odd furry Highland cow – pass by. Getting to Tarbert in Harris is easy by ferry from Uig in Skye and takes under three hours (you might even spot dolphins swimming alongside the ship).
It’s worth booking your ferry well in advance, especially if you’re bringing a car, as spots are limited.
Things to do in Harris and Lewis:
- Visit the Isle of Harris gin distillery in Tarbert for tastings and gifts. There’s also the Harris Tweed shop opposite if you want to buy a tartan-themed souvenir.
- Go beach hopping along the west coast of Harris. Luskentyre is the most famous (and for good reason – it is simply stunning), but don’t skip Seilebost, Sgarasta Mhor or Nisabost.
- Brave the windy single-track road (don’t worry, there are plenty of passing places) to Hushinish. The remote beach is truly breath-taking, with turquoise water and soft white sand that’s flecked with wildflowers during the spring and summer. There’s also a small, unmanned visitor centre with hot showers if you want to take a dip in the sea or stay overnight in a campervan.
- Hike from Hushinish to a secret beach. Secluded Traigh Mheilein is one of the most stunning sandy beaches in the Hebrides and you’ll likely have the entire thing to yourself. The walk there is an adventure, too – wear sturdy shoes and watch out for wandering sheep.
- Visit the Callanish Stones in Lewis. There are at least five different ancient stone circles scattered around the Callanish area. The most intact lie right next to the visitor centre, although if you drive north down the B8011 for a few minutes, you’ll spot the Callanish 4 stones on your right.
- Do a loop around Harris (takes about an hour) to admire the rocky moon-like landscape. If you’re driving at dusk, keep an eye out for seals playing in the shallows along the shore.
- Enjoy a scenic drive around Lewis’ east coast to seek out coastal beauty spots like the glorious Garry Beach. Alternatively, the desert-like Uig Sands beach is a 30 minute drive from Callanish.
- Treat your tastebuds to some of Harris and Lewis’ best food truck grub. Highlights include:
- Crust – perhaps the most remote pizza takeaway in Scotland located en route to Callanish.
- Lorna’s Larder – serves scallop-stuffed rolls and other seafood delights at Tarbert Marina.
- Island Bites – also in Tarbert and perfect for picking up ciabatta sandwiches before catching the ferry back to Skye.
Where to stay: If you’re travelling in a campervan, you’ll find plenty of scenic spots to pitch up for the night. There are also a few excellent campsites, especially on Harris.
If you’re not extending your trip to include the rest of the Hebrides, hop back on the ferry at Tarbert to Skye. To break up your return journey, you could always stop off in Fort William for a night (it’s roughly halfway to Glasgow).
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