21 days Scotland

Old Dec 30th, 2023, 07:45 AM
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21 days Scotland

Seeking advice! I am planning a 3 week trip to Scotland for our 30 year anniversary. We are not interested in trying to “see it all” as we get that this would be impossible. Beyond that, we prefer to settle and explore vs bounce from hotel to hotel. We’d prefer 3 separate one week stays, and we are planning the final week to be Edinburgh. Any input on base of operations for the other 2 weeks? We were thinking perhaps ft William area for one and we’re wide open on the other. Any feedback is appreciated.
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Old Dec 30th, 2023, 10:26 AM
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Welcome to Fodors.

Your idea of 3 week-long bases will work -- understanding the the moving day between weeks might be a very long drive.

But just a few ideas ti kick around

I would not stay IN Ft William -- the general area is great - the town not so much. However because of the location even the general area wouldn't work the best . You would pretty much be limited to north / south travel through the Great Glen plus jaunts west towards Skye.

I've stayed a week or more in several places. Three that would work for good hub/spoke day trips would be

The Borders - (Melrose, Galashiels, Inverleithen, Peebles, Coldstream, etc) for visiting the Border Abbeys, Traquair House, Abbotsford, castles, rivers, stately homes, St Abbs Head, lovely scenery, maybe even into Northumberland/Holy Island/Bamburgh, etc

Deeside - (Ballater or nearby) for The Castle trail, the Whisky Trail, coastal scenery, Dunnottar, Stonehaven

The Trossachs - (Callander/Aberfoyle/Loch Lomond area) - For Stirling, Doune, Killin/Falls of DochartLoch Tay//Fortingall, Glencoe/Glen Etive, Kilchurn Castle, Oban, Crieff/Drummond Castle Garden,
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Old Dec 30th, 2023, 10:28 AM
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. . . meant to add -- there are MANY other options - those were just three possibilities .
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Old Dec 30th, 2023, 10:55 AM
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This is great, thank you. I was looking at ft William only because it seemed like a reasonable area for sights in my limited research, and tbh I promised my wife a stay in a castle hotel for at least a few nights and there is one in the area. Going to start looking at your suggested areas today. So nice of you to take the time….thx!
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Old Dec 30th, 2023, 12:08 PM
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For your 'castle hotel'. DEFINITELY consider Traquair House. It isn't a 'castle exactly but the oldest continuously inhabited house in Scotland, and a 'must' tourist attraction in itself. Very highly recommended. Probably not a place I'd stay for a full week but 2 or 3 nights for sure then you could stay somewhere else in the Borders for 3 or 4 nights.
https://www.traquair.co.uk

Here is my trip report when I stayed there (Warning - it is VERY long but the few posts re Traquair House are #'s 53 & 55). Note it was posted 10 years ago (before Fodors current format so no photos and any tiny url links likely don't work). While my only stay was 10+ years ago, I've visited both before and since then - just LOVE the place.

Saddest, weirdest, 'funnest', trip ever
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Old Dec 30th, 2023, 12:17 PM
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I'll assume your castle hotel neatr Ft William is Inverlochy?? Nice place to stay -- a bit expensive for anything but the smallest rooms, but being an anniversary trip probably totally worth it. My main concern would be 'tourability'. Doable for a Skye day trip, and Glencoe/Oban, and Urquhart Castle (Urquhart castle is interesting - Loch Ness - not so much), and some beautiful remote bits along the west coast. Other destinations will be too far/slow. So maybe only stay there for 2 or 3 nights.
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Old Dec 30th, 2023, 04:11 PM
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We stayed several times at Traquair House, once even as guests at a dinner party (we hadn't met the hosts or any of the guests before). It was a fascinating experience just to be overnight guests. What a breakfast! What a lovely setting!
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Old Jan 1st, 2024, 05:42 AM
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Hi, yes the intent was to stay at inverlochy and I agree prices are a bit crazy so only for 3 or 4 nights. I’m going to look at your trip summary today 🙂, I never really gave any thought to anything south of Edinburgh. Everyone seems to mention Skye as “must do” but I’m not sure we want to go travel there unless it truly is…..looks like it’s a good 6 hrs from Edinburgh….thoughts?
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Old Jan 1st, 2024, 08:06 AM
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Did I miss you mentioning when this trip will occur? Can we assume it's sometime between May and September, or are you looking at a more "off-season" visit?

Assuming it is during the spring/summer period, a couple of cautionary notes. First, the entire month of August, and a few days on either side, is festival time in Edinburgh (international festival, Fringe festival, Tattoo, other festivals.) The city becomes crowded, electric, and VERY expensive (and for good reason - it's an amazing time.) So if you can take the crowds and the cost, and are a lover of arts, music, comedy,... that's your place. Otherwise, pick another time.

Second, some of the scenic areas in the Highlands and Islands, most notably Skye, have become so popular that they, too, can become congested, potentially taking away some of the features that make them appealing in the first place.

Third, again especially in the Highlands and Islands, travel along single-track roads (sometimes spent behind vehicles that are difficult to get past) is much slower than you'd imagine given the distances. Sometimes averaging 30 mph (say 50 km/hr) is very high speed, so day trips and excursions almost always take longer than you'd think, not to mention, of course, the need to stop to see all the fabulous scenery.

As for where to base, of course we all have our preferences, but knowing when this would be might help in making suggestions. Some areas, such as Highland Perthshire, are stunningly beautiful in the early autumn. The early spring in the Western Highlands and Inner Hebrides can be lovely one day, then foggy or experiencing horizontal rain the next. And so on.

Absent the timing knowledge, my vote for a "castle hotel" would be one located not far from Oban in Argyll, Barcaldine Castle - Luxury Bed & Breakfast Oban | Barcaldine Castle, Scotland

Now full disclosure, I have NOT stayed there, so unlike Janis with Traquair House, I can't vouch for the place. The reviews (on TripAdvisor) are all stellar, however. What leads me to suggest you look at it is its location. It's a few miles north of Oban, which means it would give very easy access to a number of terrific visitor destinations - Glen Coe, the "Harry Potter" railway viaduct in beautiful Glenfinnan, then (via Oban) the islands of Mull, Staffa and Iona. On other day trips you could visit Castle Stalker (used in one of the Monty Python movies) or the impressive ruins of Kilchurn Castle, or travel an hour south of Oban to Kilmartin Glen, location of hundreds of prehistoric monuments - stone circles, etc. Or to picturesque Inveraray, site of Inveraray Castle, seat of Clan Campbell and Cousin Shrimpy's home in Downton Abbey. The whole area is full of attractions, all easily reached from a base in Oban or Barcaldine. If you haven't already discovered it, Undiscovered Scotland - Undiscovered Scotland: Home Page - is a tremendous resource.

Again, not knowing when the trip would occur, recommending a second "base" is a bit difficult, but if were me I'd probably opt for someplace in Perthshire or Angus, for many of the same reasons - easy day trip access to a number of fab destinations. One place that I tend to recommend is the tiny village of Fortingall, located at the mouth of Glen Lyon, the longest enclosed glen in the country and one of the most beautiful. From Fortingall (with its excellent country hotel) or from nearby villages like Aberfeldy, one can make day trips to areas like the Fife coast (picturesque fishing villages, St. Andrews) or to beautiful and historic Falkland with its royal palace and lovely gardens. Google or use Undiscovered Scotland for the places on this map - https://maps.app.goo.gl/HjrHD4PvZ6Thcu9R9

But again, these are just some personal opinions; you can mount your own research project to determine what's right for you. Be aware, it's an embarrassment of riches.

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Old Jan 2nd, 2024, 03:14 AM
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I don't know if you'll have time, but a thrilling place to go is Stornoway in the Western Isles. You can get there on the ferry.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2024, 09:50 AM
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Hmmmm...well, we love this idea. Our travel dates are definitely August after seeing your feedback on Edinburgh. We love cities, love festivals, etc, so this sounds perfect for us. After reviewing other threads on this site, getting the feedback from Janisj, yourself and others, it's become obvious to us that we'd need months to really see Scotland, so I think we're just going to pick a spot/area for a week and then perhaps base out of Edinburgh for 10-14 days. It's really overwhelming.....

It sounds like Barcaldine would work very well, so we're thinking about 7 nights there or perhaps 5 there and 2 at Inverlochy just to say we did it . I'm assuming there would be no issue filling 7 days from that location w/out spending the week living in the car? We kind of enjoy finding a spot and soaking in the area versus trying to see every sight possible......

For Edinburgh, do you think we could return the car to the airport and take day trips via train (just to St Andrews or something similar) if desired? We'd love any input, including on hotels - seems as if old town is a great base of operations?

Thanks so much.....
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Old Jan 2nd, 2024, 10:29 AM
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". . . then perhaps base out of Edinburgh for 10-14 days. "

Not unless you are (literally) made of money. You really can't fathom how crowded/expensive Edinburgh is in August. A few days - absolutely. But more than that you'll be paying a kings ransom (hotels can easily triple their room rates say in June vs in August. Plus finding a place with 10 day/2 weeks of availability in August will be daunting.

If it was me - and I LOVE the Fringe and LOVE the Tattoo - I wouldn't stay more than 5 days in Edinburgh - and that is max IME. The crowds are just too overwhelming, the restaurants are all crammed, room rates are through the roof, non-Fringe attractions (castle, Britannia, museums, etc.) are much more crowded than normal.

"For Edinburgh, do you think we could return the car to the airport and take day trips via train (just to St Andrews or something similar) if desired? We'd love any input, including on hotels - seems as if old town is a great base of operations?"

Yes EDI is the best place to pick up and drop a rental car. Stirling is a good day trip from Edinburgh by train. However for St Andrews driving is actually better -- there is no train to St Andrews - it is a train to Leuchars 7 miles away than a taxi or local bus to the town. Plus there is so much to see and do in Fife besides St Andrews that it deserves a few days by itself. Falkland Place, the Isle of May, the lovely fishing villages (Crail, Anstruther, Pittenweem, etc). And one of the best restaurants in Scotland - the Peat Inn and the best fish and chips in the country (at two different chippies in Anstruther)

If you were considering 10-14 days in Edinburgh - I'd consider instead say at least four days in Fife, a few days somewhere else nearby -- Angus, or up the coast in Aberdeenshire, or near Perth -- and 4 or 5 days IN Edinburgh.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2024, 10:34 AM
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I posted this photo a couple of days ago on someone else's thread - Its not my photo but is an accurate image of what Edinburgh is like during August. A few years ago I rented a flat up near the castle end of the Royal Mile for 3 nighst and this is exactly the view outside our window from about 10 AM till 11 PM every day.




This is not a special event or rally or concert or anything -- just the daily street scene in Old Town.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2024, 12:20 PM
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Wow!!!! I never dreamed it was like that! I found a couple of airbnbs in August no problem, but not sure we want that much of a crowd…..maybe July….and perhaps not 14 to your point. Going to look at Fife…..thx!
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Old Jan 2nd, 2024, 12:55 PM
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TBH - even outside of August I'd need to have a special reason for staying IN Edinburgh more than 5 or 6 days. Like taking a course at the university or art classes - something like that. But the city is actually pretty small - lots to see and do but easy to see much of it in 4 or 5 days without rushing. 5 days in Edinburgh and 2 or 3 days in Glasgow is all the 'city time' I'd want in Scotland -- there is just so much glorious scenery and history in other parts . . . .
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Old Jan 3rd, 2024, 05:18 AM
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I was originally planning September but it looked like this is the month with the most rain in the highlands so wanted to avoid that, hence July/August (and festival did look intriguing). I do get that there is going to be rain regardless, was just looking to minimize as possible.....
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Old Jan 3rd, 2024, 07:26 AM
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Originally Posted by toddtarantino1183
I was originally planning September but it looked like this is the month with the most rain in the highlands so wanted to avoid that, . . . .
Not sure where you read that but any and EVERY month can have serious rain. Whether June or March or November or any month. IME Sept is as reliably dry as say - June or July. Still possible to have crappy weather or glorious weather or anything in between in Sept. All of the summer/early autumn months average about the same precipitation. Of course - averages are just that -- averages
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Old Jan 3rd, 2024, 08:05 AM
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Meant to add -- If I had total flexibility I personally would always choose Sept over August. Less crowds (by far), cheaper room rates, still some Highland games on the schedule, and far fewer midges.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2024, 08:14 AM
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I don't mean to contradict Janis on the level of crowds in parts of town (mainly the Royal Mile) during the Edinburgh festivals - they can be pretty major - but the photo used to illustrate the point uses a technique or effect called "lens compression," in which a long (aka "telephoto") lens "squeezes" a scene to make more distant elements seem bigger and closer. When the image is taken from a high vantage point (like the example) it can "squeeze" the distance between the people to the extent it looks like they're really on top of each other, when the objective reality is that they're not quite that crammed together.

Here are a couple of examples of my own of this phenomenon (or technique) just to illustrate.

Here's Mount Rainier looming over the city of Tacoma, WA. In the picture it's probably twice the apparent size/height it would be to the naked eye.



And here's a beach scene in Chile, where it looks more insanely crowded than it actually was (it was still insane, just not quite as the picture suggests.)



But back to Edinburgh during the festivals. Yes, for sure, the upper part of the Royal Mile - between the Castle and, say, the Tron Kirk, is going to be packed pretty solid all day long and into the evening, when attendees of the Tattoo on the Castle esplanade replace the street performers et al.

Other parts of the city are crowded, too, but many are still quite navigable and manageable. And there are places in the city where it's hard to know there's a festival going on at all. It's all circumstantial, of course - a place like the marvelous Royal Botanical Gardens might be empty at one minute, and full of folks the next. The mayhem scenes on the Royal Mile are a 20-minute Uber ride from the tiny village of Swanston, one time home of Robert Louis Stevenson, where you can walk past the whitewashed and thatched cottages and find yourselves presently in the heather-covered Pentland Hills. (Not my photo.)



Yes, hotel prices are steep during the festival - a little more than Seattle during the Alaska cruise season or New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and yes, restaurants are crowded, meaning booking ahead is essential, just like it is in most places over most of the year. But the buses are cheap, the trams run all night, and if you stay someplace away from the middle of town, the prices can be markedly lower than for lodgings in the Old Town or New Town. And if it's just for 4 or 5 nights (on which I agree with Janis) maybe the total outlay is okay given the "fringe" benefits, ha ha.

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Old Jan 3rd, 2024, 08:21 AM
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Historic weather records are no guide to weather in the UK especially as Climate Change has torn up the rule books.
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