18 Day Trip to Scottland

Old Jan 2nd, 2015, 02:58 PM
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18 Day Trip to Scottland

Hello! My husband and I are planning an 18ish day trip to Scotland in 2016. We are looking at leaving 12 May and returning by 30 May and would love to have some advice! I think we would definitely prefer it to be warmer rather than rainy/cold, if possible, so not sure if that is too early in the year.

Background on us/our trip thoughts:
We live in Utah, USA and have no preference for arrival or departure airport in Scotland (Glasgow/Edinburgh).

We will be renting a car for the entire trip (unless not needed for periods of time, though we like to have the ability to drive wherever whenever.)

We are most interested in the country side, seeing the islands, the lochs, a few castles, and yes some of the cities! We love doing things like underground tours and walking through old cemeteries, seeing things that are so unfathomably old that our American minds are blown!

We are okay to have drives around, even if driving the entire day to get from one area to the next, then spending a day or two (or three) to explore an area before moving on.

We prefer to stay at Marriott properties, because we have points that we could use, but it's not required. We prefer nice hotels or bed and breakfasts, when possible (if no Marriott brands are available.)

I have gone previously for about 5 days, and centered my trip around Edinburgh (staying in that Marriott-renovated castle outside of town, which was lovely), plus Loch Ness (of course!) and a tiny bit of driving around north of Edinburgh, before venturing south into Wales. My husband has never been to Europe. I would love for him to be able to explore Edinburgh with me again, then go on perhaps a Whisky tour around various regions, and explore more of the northern region (I drove very briefly though Inverness, but literally was only there an hour before turning east). We also really love tiny, old "hole in the wall" type places, really neat things with character to explore, as we are not big on brands (except Marriott, haha).

We do not have mobility issues outside of my arthritis which just means I don't like climbing mountain sides day after day, but walking is great.

I look forward to any suggestions you may have!!!
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Old Jan 2nd, 2015, 03:32 PM
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I have two trip reports with photos that may give you some ideas.

First one is Glasgow - focusing on cafes, bars, galleries, markets and parks.


Second one is the highlands and islands which will give you your lochs and castles fix.


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Old Jan 2nd, 2015, 05:39 PM
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>>I think we would definitely prefer it to be warmer rather than rainy/cold, if possible, so not sure if that is too early in the year. >We prefer to stay at Marriott properties, because we have points that we could use, but it's not required.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2015, 01:18 AM
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Reiterating Janis point, you won't need a car for either Glasgow or Edinburgh and there is a good train service between the two. While in Glasgow you will love th Necropolis which is described as one of the most significant cemeteries in Europe.

May is a good time to visit as there is good day length and the weather is usually warm by then. You miss the May Day Bank holiday at the beginning of the month, although the last few days may be busier as schools will be on their half term break then.

When you say castles do you mean ruined castles or those that are still lived in? There are plenty of ruined castles in Scotland. Don't miss Craigmillar castle in Edinburgh, do-able by bus.

Stirling Castle
and Linlithgow Palace can be done by train from Edinburgh.

I also love St Andrews with its ruined castle and cathedral.

The nearest islands to Glasgow are Cumbrae (popular as a day tour and reputedly the sunniest place in the UK), Arran (good rugged scenery and less popular than Skye with Lochranza castle
and the Isle of Bute. This is gentler and very pretty, and can also be done as a day tour with a car. At the southernmost tip is the ruined St Blane's Church in a delightful rural setting.

For Lochs there is Loch Lomond which is on everyones list. Loch Tay is also very pretty.

When people say Scottish Islands they usually mean Skye or Mull. The Western Isles - Harris and Lewis in particular are my favourite but are a bit further to get to.

Cal Mac run the ferry service. The 2016 service won't be on the web yet, although times don't cvary much from year to year. Depending on what you want to do, the island hopping ticket may be the best. It is advisable to book with a car.

Finally if you haven't already found it, the Undiscovered Scotland website is a fantastic resource.
Use the map pages and then click on the links to go to the information pages with lots of pictures and information.
You may find the driving tours useful for ideas;
As Janis knows, I do plug this website but it really is good and I use it to plan all our Scottish holidays.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2015, 07:22 AM
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Arran is a very scenic island and very easy to get to from Glasgow and has its own distillery (but a visit to Lochranza Castle - an uninteresting ruin - shouldn't be the reason for visiting there). The people on Arran are wonderful - I have relatives there so have been introduced to the island. The area around Loch Torridon (north of Glasgow) is delightful. With having limited time you need to focus on a particular area ie Glasgow/Edinburgh and an area for scenery and distilleries.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2015, 06:54 PM
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Wonderful ideas and links, looking forward to devouring them thank you all so much!!
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Old Jan 3rd, 2015, 07:05 PM
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Oh, a couple questions were asked. I prefer ruined castles, but am happy to see/explore any, though we don't want 16 days of castles or museums non-stop.

As far as islands go, would love to go to Islay (favorite type of whisky for me, not for husband, haha), and northern islands.

Also totally understand about Marriotts being limited to the three cities, and looking to stay city centre rather than the Dalmahoy again.

Mostly we just want to experience life there. Thank you again!
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Old Jan 3rd, 2015, 07:28 PM
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Just a quick note. I'm a great fan of Isle of Arran especially for those with limited time, but you have 18 days which gives you enough time to travel further afield. I suggest you get a map of Scotland and a basic guidebook. Any will do...Fodor's, Frommers, Lonely Planet or my favorite Footprint: Scotland Highlands & Islands Handbook. Also access to a good travel planer is absolutely necessary. I like www.aaroadwatch.uk for Scotland. Be sure and add another 30% to their estimated travel times.

Distilleries can be found almost anywhere in Scotland, castles around almost every corner and there are plenty of lochs in the Highlands. Marriotts, as janisj said, no so abundant.

With your listed interests, I would look at traveling to Aberdeen then along the River Dee for castles. Going north from there toward Inverness, the area around Speyside or River Spey has some of the best distilleries in Scotland. I don't particularly recommend Inverness as a stopover but there are plenty of places of interest nearby. From Inverness you could travel to Ullapool and take the ferry to Stornoway on Lewis, see the sights on Lewis then ferry to Uig on Skye. Tour Skye then head back to Glasgow for another city, drop off car and take the train back to Edinburgh if flight departs from there.

Of course the scenery along the way is quite incredible.
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Old Jan 4th, 2015, 03:57 AM
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Last fall, my daughter, her Scottish husband, and two other couples from the town where they live in the US spent a week in Islay alone visiting distilleries and drinking malt whisky. Oops, they took an overnight to Skye to go to the Talisker distillery.

My point is that you could spend months doing even smallish bits of Scotland, so decide whether you want the full regional sweep or to do bits intensively.

I think many people who post here would recommend not staying in Inverness, despite its being well-known, and most Scots would suggest giving Dundee a miss. Unless you are a climber, Ft William has little to offer except a convenient location.

Scotland is amazingly empty away from the big cities, and some sections, like some areas in Utah, are strongly religious. Shops and restaurants may not be open on Sundays, and the sale of alcohol used to be labyrinthine, though that may not have changed. It may take perhaps twice as long to get from place to place as you might allow at home, important if you are trying to make a ferry.

It is a wonderful country, very different from England, with wonderful people, if you can understand them!
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Old Jan 4th, 2015, 05:28 AM
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In 18 days Islay plus the Northern Isles (by which I assume you mean Orkney and Shetland) could be pushing it for time as they all require a bit more effort to get there. You might need to consider cutting out one of these. All three are very different and have magnificent scenery.

Our pictures of the Northern Isles are here:

Orkney (particularly the island called Mainland) is the best for prehistoric remains. Follow the links off here:
There are stone circles, Burial mounds and the neolithic village of Skara Brae. There is a lot to do and see and it is worth planning to spend several days in Orkney.

You can get the ferry from Aberdeen which leaves late afternoon and gets you to Orkney between 10-11pm. Don't worry accommodation providers are used to this. Coming back get the late night ferry back to Abderdeen (book early to mke sure you get a berth) which gets you in at breakfast time.
This saves driving up to the northern tip of Scotland - unless there are things you want to do/see there.

The ferry continues on to Shetland, arriving at breakfast time. This is very different to Orkney and again merits several days. Inter-island ferrues are good and if you get this far it is worth visiting some of the other islands, especially Unst, the furthest north.

You could link the northern Isle with some of the distilleries in Speyside. Details of the Speyside Whisky Trail here:

There are plenty of ruined castles in this part of Scotland and there are some ideas here:
There are also a few nice stately homes.

Fort George near Inverness was built after the Jacobite uprising to control the highlands. It is an amazing fortress with ramparts and ditchesand well worth visiting if you get to that part of Scotland.
And more information and pictures here:

Our favourite is Ballindalloch Castle which has lovely grounds to explore as well as an excellent and very cheap tea shop.
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Old Jan 4th, 2015, 06:38 AM
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Before we confuse things (emensely) we need to clear up what you mean by the 'northern' islands. Do you really mean all the way to Orkney and Shetland? Or did you mean places like Skye or the outer Hebrides. While both Shetland and Orkney are wonderful, they usually aren't on the radar for first time visitors.

18 days would be very rushed for Edinburgh, Shetland, Orkney, Islay and the bits in between.
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