Days 1 and 2: Edinburgh
Scotland’s capital well deserves its UNESCO World Heritage status. The Old Town is dominated by the impressive Edinburgh Castle, perched on top of Castle Rock. Having faced endless invasions from the South over the centuries, Edinburgh Castle has a captivating history.
Edinburgh is a city for walking. From the steep, winding alleyways of the Old Town to the graceful Georgian terraces of the New Town, there is a pleasant surprise around every corner.
If you have energy to spare, consider walking through the old royal hunting ground of Holyrood Park to the top of Arthur’s Seat, for panoramas over the city, or head south of town to the beautiful Rosslyn Chapel, one of the prettiest churches in Scotland and famed for its appearance in the Da Vinci Code.
The many restaurants, pubs and bars in Edinburgh make for a lively nightlife and if you visit during August you will find yourself enveloped in the carnival atmosphere of the world famous Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Days 3 and 4: Royal Deeside, Speyside and the Cairngorms
On your way north, take a short detour to stunning Stirling Castle, perched menacingly on a hill top on the western edge of town. The views, the architecture and the fascinating history make this a very worthwhile stop.
Another short detour east will take you to both the Angus Pictish Trail, where you can discover the 2000 year old intricately carved stones of the Pictish communities, and baronial Glamis Castle, which lays claim to being the setting of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and was the childhood home of the Queen Mother.
On reaching your base in the beautiful valley of Royal Deeside you will have to choose between the variety of options on offer. If you still have an appetite for castles, there are many to explore here, including the Royal residence of Balmoral Castle and fairy-tale 16th century Crathes Castle, with its formal gardens and extensive grounds.
Alternatively, head north into Speyside, the home of Scottish Whisky, and tour some of the many distilleries in the area.
For something more active, head into the Cairngorms mountains for a bracing mountain walk in striking scenery.
Days 5 and 6: Fort William and Glen Coe via Loch Ness
Scotland’s most famous Loch is much more than just a mythical monster. Enjoy a scenic drive either down the popular western shore of Loch Ness, taking in the spectacularly located Urquhart Castle ruins, or the quiet eastern shore with its pretty loch-side villages.
Arriving in Fort William, you will be surrounded by towering mountains. The self-proclaimed ‘outdoor capital of the UK’ makes an excellent base for exploring the area.
Explore beautiful Glen Nevis, hike to the summit of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain (or, for a more relaxed journey, take the cable car!), or admire gorgeous Glen Coe, the setting of many big-budget movies including Brave Heart and Harry Potter.
To explore the stunning scenery west of Fort William, brave the fantastic roller coaster of a road or take the scenic steam train ride towards the coast.
Days 7 and 8: Isles of Islay, Jura and Colonsay
A tour of Scotland wouldn’t be complete without taking in at least one of its many beautiful islands. Hop on a ferry to your base on the Isle of Islay. There is plenty on offer in Islay to keep you busy for a couple of days. One of Scotland’s most famous whisky producing areas, the distinctive smokey whisky of Islay can be tasted at any one of its 8 distilleries, which all welcome visitors and several can be accessed by bike and by boat tour, as well as by car or on foot.
Other options include good walking trails, lovely sandy beaches, trying to spot some of the 250 bird species or joining a wildlife tour of the coastline or forests. If you want to venture further afield, opt for a day trip to the rugged and remote Isle of Jura or the tiny gem of the Isle of Colonsay, with its 14th century abbey ruins, accessible only at low tide. Back on Islay, enjoy some seafood straight from the sea at one of many restaurants serving unbeatably fresh local produce.
Day 9: Return home
Head back to Edinburgh to drop off your car and catch your flight home or connecting flight.