Scotland may be more than a third of the land area of Great Britain, but it has a population of just 5.4 million. The Highlands are spectacular, but most Scots live in the Lowlands, which contain the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
This itinerary begins in one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe, Edinburgh, whose sites you can see by touring on foot: Edinburgh Castle, where the crown jewels are housed, and the Edinburgh Zoo, home to the only giant pandas in the United Kingdom.
Once in the Highlands, you’ll journey by car along the highest mountain road in Britain to admire the beauty of the Highlands and then experience one of the world’s great train journeys, the Jacobite Steam Train. Round out your trip with a relaxing day in Glasgow.
Our itineraries are for your inspiration. Please contact a travel advisor to customize this itinerary to fit your needs.
Arrive into Edinburgh and make your way into the city center. Edinburgh, sometimes referred to as the “Athens of the North” is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It has two distinct areas: the Old Town, dominated by a medieval fortress, and the neoclassical New Town, dating from the 18th century. The harmonious connection of these two contrasting historic areas, each with many important buildings, is what gives the city its unique character and the reason it was awarded World Heritage site status by UNESCO in 1995.
Edinburgh is a compact city for tourists and many key and hidden attractions are best accessed on
foot. Check into The Balmoral, a luxury property in the truest sense of the word. While many Edinburgh hotels claim to have the city’s landmarks on their doorstep, few can say their own doorstep is a landmark.
Explore the city on your own. Visit Edinburgh Castle, known as the “Jewel in Scotland’s Crown.” From its volcanic rock, it towers over the city, every inch a mighty fortress and defender of the nation.
Wander into the Jewel House to see the “Honours of Scotland,” the Scottish Crown Jewels. Learn how the oldest crown jewels in the United Kingdom were secreted out of the castle and hidden from Oliver Cromwell, only to be rediscovered and returned in 1818 by the author Sir Walter Scott.
Then head next door and visit Camera Obscura. From inside this mysterious Victorian rooftop chamber, see live moving images of Edinburgh projected onto a viewing table through a giant periscope and explore a variety of optical illusions.
Visit Dynamic Earth, Scotland’s only 360-degree full dome film theater, and journey through time to witness the story of planet Earth.
Then perhaps visit Edinburgh Zoo, home to the U.K.’s only giant pandas. The zoo is also famous for its Penguin Parade, which takes place every day.
Travel north and watch the scenery change as the Lowlands give way to the Highlands.
Possible stops on the way include:
Scone Palace: 1,500 years ago it was the capital of the Pictish Kingdom and the center of the ancient Celtic church. In the intervening centuries, it has been the home of parliaments and the crowning place of kings.
House of Bruar: A country clothing store known as the Harrods of the North.
Blair Castle: An elegant baronial mansion that was the ancestral home of the Clan Murray and historically the seat of their chief, the Duke of Argyll. It is now home to the Atholl Highlanders, a Scottish ceremonial regiment in the private employ of the Duke of Atholl. It is made up of about 80 friends and estate workers and has been called Europe’s only private army.
Continue north to your home for two evenings, which is located in Nairn, on the Moray Coast, near Inverness. Once described as “the most beautiful Regency House in Scotland,” Boath House is set on 22 acres of well-tended lawns, walled gardens, woodlands and streams. A series of well-kept paths connect with the house, enabling guests to explore the gardens and rest and relax in secluded seating areas or on sunny terraces.
The fine-dining restaurant, perhaps most well known for owners Don and Wendy Matheson rejecting the establishment’s Michelin star, offers fabulous views over the lawn to the lake. The hotel’s kitchen gardens provide much of the organic fruit, herbs and vegetables. The focus is on creating dishes and combining these with produce of local, artisan growers, breeders, producers and foragers.
This is an area noted for its key history, culture and scenery. Highlights include:
Cawdor Castle & Gardens: Discover why this private 14th-century fortress was built around a holly tree.
The Clava Cairns: This Neolithic burial site and standing stones are believed to be about 4,000 years old.
Culloden Battlefields: Enjoy a wander on the battlefields where, in less than 60 minutes in 1746, the Jacobites of Scotland lost to the armies of the British throne.
Fort George: Built by George II after the Jacobite Uprising, it was the mightiest artillery fortification in Britain, if not Europe.
Johnstons of Elgin: This company has been creating exquisite woolen and cashmere cloth since 1797. Watch for yourself as the cashmere is dyed, teased, carded, spun and hand-finished by the latest generation of Elgin craftsmen.
The Moray Firth Route: From the clifftops, see the internationally renowned wildlife that includes the most northerly population of bottlenose dolphins, swooping seabirds and migrating whales.
Leault Sheep Farm: Bottle feed the lambs or watch up to eight dogs working as a team as they maneuver sheep and ducks through various obstacles.
In the afternoon, drive to the shores of Loch Ness, Scotland’s most famous stretch of water. Embark on a memorable voyage as you step aboard a motor research vessel with a capacity for just 12 guests.
Admire the spectacular scenery, including impressive Urquhart Castle, dating back to the 13th century. Once one of Scotland’s mightiest strongholds, it is now nothing but atmospheric ruins overlooking the dark waters.
Head north via Inverness which, despite being the largest city in the north, is more like a town in atmosphere. Through the center of the city flows the River Ness; in the summer it is typical to see fishermen fishing for salmon along its banks. The Scottish Kiltmaker Visitor Center lies a stone’s throw from the river. Here, one can gain insight into how world-renowned tartans are produced and how the Scottish national dress – the kilt – is crafted.
Continue to Wester Ross, a spectacular Highland wilderness punctuated by dramatic mountain ranges, fjordlike sea lochs and a succession of secluded coastal towns and villages.
Arrive at the Torridon Hotel. Situated on 58 acres of wilderness at the end of a magnificent sea loch, this property sits in one of the most spectacular and idyllic locations on the west coast. With just 18 bedrooms, it retains a feeling of intimacy and charm.
Here, in the most picturesque of locations, the opportunity for activities is vast. If you would like a stroll, take a walk with a guide, perhaps at dawn, sunset or a full half day. Feeling adventurous? Perhaps scale great heights with either abseiling or rock climbing.
Additional offers include archery, shooting and gorge walking – not for the faint of heart. Step it up a gear in the hills with mountain biking, or back on the waters with sea kayaking or open canoeing. Activities can be hourly, half day or full day — all with expert instruction on hand.
Leave Loch Torridon behind as you head southward. Take the Bealach na Bà, the highest mountain road in Britain, and experience the stunning views and breathtaking beauty of the remote Highlands. This road has been named alongside America’s famous Route 66 as “one of the world’s greatest car journeys.”
The Applecross Peninsula was accessible only by boat until the 20th century. Known as A’ Chromraich, Scottish Gaelic for “The Sanctuary,” its simple unspoiled charm and character promote an ambience of peace, a world away from the bustle of modern-day life.
Take lunch in the Applecross Inn and taste the freshest seafood and fine local seasonal produce before walking along the silver sands. Admire the views across to Skye and marvel at the sand dunes, which can reach over 70 feet high.
Continue over the architecturally stunning Skye Bridge onto what is unquestionably the area’s most popular isle, the Inner Hebrides. Skye is rich in history and romance, famed for its natural beauty, traditional charm, breathtaking scenery and wildlife.
Your home for the night is Kinloch Lodge, a hospitable 15-room hotel contained within two appealing whitewashed buildings, one of which is an 1680 hunting lodge on the water’s edge at the base of pine-clad Kinloch Hill. Fine dining is available at the excellent Kinloch Lodge restaurant.
This morning, make the ferry crossing back to the mainland.
Step aboard what has been described as one of the world’s great train journeys, the Jacobite Steam Train. It will take you over the 21 arches of the Glenfinnan Viaduct; here, admire views toward Loch Sheil and the Glenfinnan Monument, a poignant reminder of the final Jacobite Rising.
Your route continues along a beautiful stretch of Highland coast where, on a clear day, the enchanting Small Isles of Muick, Eigg and Rhum are visible.
This renowned property was built in 1863. In 1873, Queen Victoria visited the area, spending a week sketching and painting. She wrote in her diaries, “I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot.”
The 3AA Rosette restaurant delivers a dining experience to savor, with a menu featuring modern British cuisine. (Note: Jackets are required to be worn by gentlemen in the dining room in the evenings.)
Begin with the Silver Sands of Morar, which you passed aboard the Jacobite the previous day. The journey by road, however, is as scenic as via train, but allows for more stop-offs. Perhaps pause at Arisaig, which lies at the southern end of The Silver Sands of Morar. The coastline is sublime. The Prince’s Cairn marks the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie finally embarked for France in September 1746 after evading the government forces that had been trying to capture him since Culloden.
Other area highlights include beautiful Loch Linnhe, on the banks of which you may enjoy a picnic or experience some of Scotland’s best wildlife including porpoise, common and gray seals and maybe even a golden eagle. It is also an ideal location from which to admire Ben Nevis.
From the Ben Nevis visitor center, a variety of hikes and walks are available, catering to all levels of fitness and activity.
Travel south through spectacular and eerie Glencoe, site of the infamous massacre of Clan Macdonald of Glencoe by government troops in 1692. The bloodbath saw 38 members of the clan pursued and killed, and a further 40 women and children died of exposure after their homes were burned.
Continue to the Isle of Eriska Hotel. Accessed via a bridge on its own private island, this property enjoys a truly idyllic location. Dating back to 1884, it is intimate in size, with only 34 sumptuously appointed bedrooms. It has been carefully restored to its former glory and is a blend of old and new, complete with spa and swimming pool.
Perhaps spend a relaxing day enjoying your location. Try your hand at a round of golf on the 9-hole course or, if simply looking to practice and perfect your swing, try the driving range.
Take time to indulge in the spa, swim in the pool or reinvigorate yourself in the Jacuzzi or sauna. To complete the day, perhaps enjoy afternoon tea on the lawn.
Begin the day by visiting the substantial ruins of Kilchurn Castle, dating back to the 15th century. Located at the end of Loch Awe, the views are inspiring.
It was built around 1450 by Sir Colin Campbell, the first Lord of Glenorchy, and it began as a five-story tower house with a courtyard defended by an outer wall. By about 1500 an additional range and a hall had been added to the south side of the castle. Further buildings went up during the 1500s and 1600s.
Next, travel to the town of Oban, meaning “little bay” in Gaelic. It was established in the early 19th century as a popular Victorian resort. Today it is known as the “Gateway to the Isles,” with many sailing boats and ferries departing for both the Outer and Inner Hebrides.
This thriving community boasts one of the most picturesque settings to be found, with houses clinging to steep hillsides surrounding the calm bay. Dominating the skyline is McCaig’s Tower, a monument that rewards visitors with outstanding views across Oban Bay to the Isles of Kerrera, Mull and Lismore.
Perhaps head to the waterfront and visit one of the noted restaurants for lunch. Overlooking the working harbor, they provide an authentic setting and are particularly noted for seafood. Currently, the town has the well-deserved reputation of being the seafood capital of Scotland.
You might also like to visit the Oban distillery, which dates back to 1794, for a tour and tasting of what is affectionately known as the “water of life.” The 14-year-old malt is described as having a rich and smoky nose.
Today, charter a boat, which will allow you to make the crossing to the Isle of Mull. The island is the third largest in Scotland. It has a coastline of more than 300 miles but is just 3 miles wide.
In the south, visit Duart Castle, the ancestral home of the Clan Maclean. It stands high on a clifftop guarding the Sound of Mull and holds one of the most spectacular and unique positions on the west coast of Scotland.
In the north, see the picture-perfect place of Tobermory, with its brightly painted buildings along the main street to the pier and the high woodland-fringed hills surrounding the bay.
Mull is an island of sweeping moors broken occasionally by picturesque clearings. Spectacular wildlife including otters and whales. Additionally, white-tailed eagles are known to frequent its shores.
This is the perfect setting in which to enjoy a gourmet picnic.
Continue to the city of Glasgow and check in to the elegant Blythswood Square. Standing in the heart of the city, this spa hotel seamlessly combines the history and tradition of a landmark building with innovative modernity and luxury.
The spa offers a plethora of relaxing amenities, including two relaxation pools, a thermal suite and a café area. The Salon on the first floor is an excellent place to grab a pre-dinner drink, and Bo & Birdy is a delightful modern brasserie infused with traditional Scottish influences.
Make your way to Glasgow Airport and return your rental car before boarding your flight.
Contact a travel advisor to book your custom itinerary. Fill out the form or call (630) 734-4610.