My roommates and I came across a 5-day weekend and decided to head to Scotland off-season for a winter road trip around the country.
In Scotland I saw contrast: dark, strong, jagged structures in a land of seemingly endless rolling hills and winding roads. The winter weather was harsh and unforgiving but strangers were warm and inviting. In between its extremes sits a stark beauty.
Scotland was a place I’d heard called peoples’ “favorite” more than once. For me it was a place that reminded me of home (or close to home- Western Washington State, to be exact). Here’s what we did in our few days there:
Day 1: Arrival in Glasgow in the evening. We picked up our rental car then had dinner at Shilling Brewing Company (my rating: 3.5 – hipster vibes, cute bartender, decent beer, good pizza) downtown before driving about 1 hour to Edinburgh. We stayed one night at Budget Backpackers in Grassmarket.
Day 2: After a quick exploration of the Royal Mile and breakfast bagels at Brunch Edinburgh we began our “2-3” (but actually 5) hour drive through Cairngorms National Park. We took the scenic route which lead through rolling hills and brought us to the top of a VERY windy peak. There were goats, sheep, horses, cutie cows…but no unicorns were spotted.
We made our way to Aviemore and stayed at the Youth Hostel there. Cairngorm Brewery had quite decent beers (I loved the “Black Gold” stout. Lots of seasonal options. Some varieties had risky names)! We had dinner at The Winking Owl (review: cozy feel, good local beer selection, homey food and beautiful desserts- plus a bit of yummy homemade fudge with your bill!) The weather reports called for strong wind and snow so we got a good night’s rest and woke up early the next morning (before sunrise) to get on the road.
Day 3: After two hours in the car we pulled off next to Loch Ness which had white cap waves thanks to strong winds. It looked like a monster lived in there 😉
Next stop was at Eilean Donan Castle which was closed for the season so we couldn’t go inside but we could walk across the bridge to the island and around the structure. I was glad to be wearing my Hunter boots on this rainy day! Finally we arrived on the Isle of Skye. Unfortunately the weather was changing quickly but we made a drive out to Portree (sadly we couldn’t get to see any more sites before dark) and arrived safely at Skye Backpackers Hostel in Kyleakin literally five minutes before a massive hail storm. The evening consisted of whiskey drinking (I liked Drambuie) and waiting to see what the storm would leave behind the following morning…
Day 4: snow!!! The driving was slow and a bit risky without snow tires but the day was sunny and we took a walk through the woods near Loch Lomond & The Trossach’s National Park. On the last night we stayed in Glasgow at an Airbnb. We ordered food and relaxed before our flight home the following morning.
Some takeaways which may be useful to future travelers:
- Driving stressed me out a bit (it generally does). Besides driving on the other side of the road, roads are narrow and winding. The weather was dynamic- we’d see snow and ice then wind and sun then rain and hail…all in one day! Tip: Plan on doubling your estimated drive time. Take frequent stops- there’s no need to hurry! I wouldn’t recommend trying to drive more than 3 or 4 hours per day.
- Eat cheap! The Co-op is a good grocery store and picking up snacks/meals here will save you $$$. We loved the selection of cheeses and they had yummy yogurt, tea and shortbread cookies. When I did eat out I always ordered the soup of the day. It’s usually vegetarian and around 5 GBP. Get a beer to fill you up and call it a meal!
- Pack/outfit plan in layers. Changing weather = changing wardrobe. Having layered tops was especially helpful as we changed climates and situations throughout the day. I was also very glad to have wool socks and rain boots! although they are bulky and not usually something I bring I packed in a carry-on roller and personal item bag for this trip since we had the luxury of having a car the whole time.. and luxurious it was ❤
- Note: in winter it is only light out from around 8:30 am – 3:30 pm. Plan accordingly..
P.s. I would like to thank my friend Peter for providing the route information for this trip. He didn’t let us down and I can’t thank him enough! So much territory covered in just three full days of (winter) driving – amazing! Thank you.