All You Need to Know about Scottish Highlands Tours from Edinburgh
Few travel experiences are as magical as a Scottish Highlands tour. It’s a visual treat – a journey through lush green valleys, misty mountains, and countless lakes that offer breathtaking views. But, that’s not all. There are castles, quaint villages, rugged islands and coastlines, wildlife, and of course, whiskey!
With so much to see, planning our Scotland itinerary was a real struggle. We researched extensively about all available Scottish Highlands tours from Edinburgh. However, we were short on time so we finally settled for a 1-day Scottish Highlands tour – Edinburgh to Loch Ness via Glencoe.
And all along, we kept wondering if a day would be enough for a taste of the Scottish Highlands.
By the end of this post, you’ll definitely learn the answer to that. In addition, this post will answer some of the most important questions about a Scottish Highlands tour from Edinburgh – how long you might need, the most popular itineraries, how to reach, and the best time to visit. Plus, a rundown of what to expect on a 1-day Scottish Highlands tour with Grayline Scotland.
Scottish Highlands Tours from Edinburgh: How Many Days Do You Need?
Scotland isn’t a huge country. However, its diverse landscapes and twisting stretches of undivided highways (that include single-track roads in some places), don’t allow for speedy driving.
So, you’ll need more time to get from point A to point B than usual. For example, a drive from Edinburgh to Loch Ness (169 miles) will require around 3.5 hours. That means 7 hours for a round trip.
Scottish Fact: In Gaelic (the language of Scotland), valleys are called “glens,” hills are called “bens,” and lakes are called “lochs.”
The most popular 1-day itineraries for Scottish Highlands tours from Edinburgh are:
- Edinburgh => Stirling Castle => The Trossachs => Loch Lomond => The Kelpies => Edinburgh
- Edinburgh => Rannoch Moor => Glencoe => Great Glen => Fort Augustus => Loch Ness => Edinburgh
A classic 2-day itinerary for a Scottish Highlands tour would include:
Edinburgh => Pitlochry => Cairngorms => Inverness => Loch Ness => Great Glen => Glencoe => Edinburgh
If you want to include the Isle of Skye in this route, you’ll need a minimum of 3 days. And if you want to cover a few more places such as the Isle of Mull and Iona, you’ll need 4-5 days at least.
However, it’s worth mentioning that even 5 days in the Scottish Highlands barely scratches the surface. So, if you have the time (and money), I’d definitely recommend spending a few days in each of the places on your route.
If you need some more ideas for road trips in Scotland, check these out:
- A 9-Day road trip through Scotland starting and ending in Edinburgh
- A 10-Day road trip through Scotland starting in Glasgow and ending in Edinburgh
Best Time to Visit Scottish Highlands
There isn’t a single best time to visit the Scottish Highlands because each season offers something special. Each season also has their own unique characteristics, so choose your time of visit keeping these in mind.
Scotland experiences summer between June and August when the temperature is pleasant and the days are sunny. However, it’s also the peak season for tourists so you can expect most places to be booked.
Spring (March to May) and fall (September and October) are the shoulder seasons so you can expect lesser crowds. However, the temperature will tend to be cooler so remember to pack enough layers.
Winters (November to February) are harsh in Scotland and many businesses close for the season. However, you can manage to get great deals at this time and ski resorts are still open.
Also, the weather is quite unpredictable all year round and it can rain anytime. So, make sure that you have adequate warm clothes (as the rain causes temperatures to dip further) as well as an umbrella or raincoat.
Why We Chose a 1-Day Scottish Highlands Tour
It all started with an innate desire to visit the Isle of Skye (owing to a picture I’d seen). Skye is an area of outstanding natural beauty – with its gorgeous rugged landscapes, coastlines, and picturesque villages that’ll take your breath away.
So while planning our Edinburgh itinerary, I was looking for a way to squeeze in an Isle of Skye tour somehow. However, we only had 4 days in Edinburgh – one of which we wanted to keep unoccupied (for my birthday) and two to explore the city.
But for an Isle of Skye tour from Edinburgh, we would’ve needed 3 days at the very least. That’s when I began looking for Scottish Highlands tours from Edinburgh that could be done in a day.
Do you enjoy day trips? Check out this amazing tour of Lacock, Stonehenge, Bath, and Windsor Castle from London.
How to Reach the Scottish Highlands from Edinburgh
If road trips are your thing, look no further than Scotland. This is a country where the journey is as good as the destination (if not better). To get to the Highlands, you can rent a car from Edinburgh and explore at your own pace.
However, if you’re like us (short on time and can’t drive), you can also choose from a variety of coach trips to Scotland. Grayline Scotland offers a variety of Scottish Highlands tours from Edinburgh that you can choose from. You can choose to visit Loch Ness, Glencoe, and the Highlands or the Doune Castle and Loch Lomond.
They also offer a Scottish Whiskey experience which gives you a tour of some of Scotland’s finest distilleries. And if you’re a Harry Potter or Outlander fan, they offer some amazing day tours that’ll take you to their filming locations too.
Planning a trip to the UK? Here are 26 amazing destination options for your England itinerary.
Edinburgh to Loch Ness, Glencoe, and the Highlands with Grayline Scotland
The Scottish Highlands tour was probably the most notable highlight of our Scotland trip. And for that, we can’t thank Grayline Scotland nearly enough. We loved Edinburgh (especially given the huge Harry Potter fan that I am). However, the invitation from Grayline Scotland to be a part of their Highlands tour made our trip even more special.
The Scots are known to be one of the friendliest bunch of people and we got to experience their hospitality first-hand through this tour. Grayline had sent us the invitation at least a good two months before our actual trip. And at the time, they told us that the driver already had our names on his list for the tour date we’d selected.
True to their word, they contacted us a few days before that date to confirm our travel plans and reiterated the pick-up location and time. Our pick-up point was a five-minute walk from the hotel we stayed at. On the day of the tour, they picked us up at around 8 am.
Our tour guide (also the driver of the coach) Brian, was a really friendly person with a great sense of humor. Before starting off, he took a few moments to make sure that all the passengers were comfortable. He even conducted a quick ice-breaker session so we could get to know each other a little better.
Throughout the 12-hour journey (yes, it’s a long one), Brian’s enthusiasm didn’t diminish even a little bit. He took us through a magical journey with his stories about Scotland and each of the places we passed. Along the way, he played us some lovely Scottish music too.
As soon as we left the city limits and entered the Highlands, the surroundings underwent a dramatic transformation. If you want to experience greenery in its purest form, you need to visit Scotland.
You’ll rarely see the sun out here. However, the cloudy skies and the occasional downpour create an ethereal setting along with the winding roads and the gorgeous landscapes on either side.
We stopped for breakfast at Callander, a little town in the Stirling region of Scotland. It marks the eastern gateway to The Trossachs and Loch Lomond and is a popular pit-stop for tourists visiting the Highlands. There are a number of cafes, eateries, and souvenir shops here. We tasted some local ice-cream before moving on.
We continued our journey through Rannoch Moor (an expanse of marshy moorlands that consist of countless streams, lakes, and are surrounded by lofty mountains) towards Glencoe.
Our guide Brian shared some very interesting stories about the Highlands along the way. We got to know that when it rains for a few days at a stretch, countless waterfalls are created which you won’t see normally.
Soon, we reached Glencoe where we stopped to take photos. When we got down from the coach, I stood still for a few moments, awestruck and spellbound (forgot all about the photos). The scenery before us was unreal. It was the most spectacular view I’ve ever seen.
In all honesty, photos don’t do justice to such a place. My camera couldn’t quite capture what my eyes did. So while Brian continued to tell the story of the massacre that took place here in 1692, I was too dazed to even follow.
Unfortunately, we had a long road ahead of us, and so we had to move on. But I’ve left my heart behind there (I know you will too, once you visit).
We continued onwards through Ballachulish and stopped for lunch at Fort William, a small town situated on the banks of Loch Linnhe. Fort William marks the gateway to the highest peak in the UK, Ben Nevis. Afterward, we continued our journey through the Great Glen, following the Caledonian Canal.
Fort Augustus and Loch Ness
Soon after, we arrived at the town of Fort Augustus, located on the shores of Loch Ness. As you can imagine, the legend of the Loch Ness monster (Nessie, as the locals call it) makes this place a major tourist attraction.
Fort Augustus has the usual charm of a quaint Scottish town and the lake is huge. However, I personally feel that the Loch Ness tour is a tad overrated and there are countless more gorgeous lakes in Scotland.
You can choose to go for a Loch Ness tour on a cruise (which takes around an hour and will cost you extra) or explore Fort Augustus on your own. We chose the cruise (a poor choice) which later seemed like a waste of time and money (GBP 14.50 per person).
When we got back from the cruise, there was hardly any time for us to explore the town or even stop for photos. So, I’d recommend skipping the cruise unless you’re really keen on going Nessie-hunting.
Since we made good time, Brian surprised us all with an extra photo-stop at Loch Laggan. I couldn’t be more delighted (having missed photo opportunities at Fort Augustus due to the cruise and at Glencoe from being too awestruck).
Loch Laggan is beautiful and serene – a place where you can spend hours doing nothing. It’s also the filming location of the British TV series, Monarch of the Glen.
Our final stop on our Scottish Highlands tour was the beautiful Victorian resort town of Pitlochry. We stopped for a quick bite here (yeah, we did that a lot on this tour) before moving on towards Edinburgh.
Highlights of the Tour
We loved how professional Grayline Scotland was and how efficiently they managed the complete tour. They provide a pick-up service from the hotel (or nearby location) but they’re supposed to drop you off at the Edinburgh city center.
However, our driver was sweet enough to drop us all off at our hotels. He was really knowledgeable and his stories about the local history and culture made our tour even more enjoyable.
The only thing we would’ve loved more is a little more time at each of the places we visited. It felt a little rushed and we didn’t get as many photo opportunities as we might have liked. Especially where we stopped for meals (Callander, Fort William, and Pitlochry), we hardly had any time to explore these places.
So, my recommendation to you all would be to focus more on the journey than the destinations on this tour. Scotland is unlike other places where there isn’t much to look forward along the way (so don’t doze off happily).
This tour is a great way to cover a really long route in a short time – especially if you want to avoid the trouble of renting a car and figuring out the way yourself.
Book this tour: Loch Ness and the Highlands of Scotland.
Duration: 12 hours (8 am to 8 pm approximately).
Inclusions: Hotel pick-up, guided tour with an experienced driver/guide, Edinburgh city center drop-offs.
Exclusions: Entrance Fees, Gratuities, Meals, Hotel drop-off service.
Is 1 Day Good Enough for a Scottish Highlands Tour?
Absolutely! Of course, if you have more time on your hands, go for a longer tour or spend a few days in the gorgeous little towns of Scotland. But definitely, don’t miss out on experiencing a flavor of the Scottish Highlands if you just have a day. My recommendation would be to book some coach trips to Scotland so you can make the best use of your available time.
What did you think of our Scottish Highlands tour with Grayline Scotland? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
This is a sponsored blog post, however, all opinions expressed are entirely my own.