Scotland has some of the most beautiful scenery in the UK. And now that its borders have reopened to travel from England and Wales, it’s the perfect time to start planning that Highlands road trip you’ve always wanted to do.
It’ll be worth it. Rough Guide named Scotland the most beautiful country in the world in 2019, noting the “wild beaches, deep lochs and craggy castles” of the Scottish Highlands are among the world’s most beautiful spectacles.
From the iconic Glencoe, to the rugged Highlands themselves and passing through the University town where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge met, here are 10 of the best Scottish road trips to add to your UK bucket list.
1. The best day trip
From Edinburgh, follow the Forth Valley Route which follows the Forth Bridge and the Antoine Wall - both of which are World Heritage Sites.
Veer off the beaten track a little and head to Kincardine, the start of the Fife Coastal Route. This route will give you the best of the glittering Firth of Forth coastline as you pass through the beautiful fishing towns in the East Neuk and historic St Andrews – where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge met.
This route will end on Newport-on-Tay where you can turn around or continue onto Dundee.
2. The best highland route to channel your inner Jamie Fraser
Last year Visit Scotland CEO hailed TV show Outlander as “the new Braveheart of Scottish tourism” and it’s not hard to see why.
While Claire and Jamie Fraser’s relationship is the central theme of Outlander, the highland scenery is the real star of the show.
For the best highland scenery, look no further than Scotland’s answer to Route 66, the North Coast 500 which was launched in 2015 and was named as one of the best coastal road trips in the world soon after.
It brings together 500 miles of gorgeous highland scenery, with ancient castles, sandy beaches and a touch of heritage around every corner.
3. The best for Harry Potter fans
Any Harry Potter fan worth their salt will recognise the Glenfinnan Hamlet in Scotland, home to the bridge the Hogwart’s Express uses.
While you can take a ride across the bridge yourself on the Jacobite Steam Train, driving through the hamlet is just as beautiful and will give you the chance to stop and take photos.
To get there, start in Fort William and follow the road up to Glenfinnan. You can either make it a day trip by heading back to Fort William or carry on to Mallaig where you can catch a ferry to the Isle of Skye.
4. The best for iconic scenery
No road trip around Scotland is complete without a visit to Ben Nevis and Glencoe. Starting in the heart of Loch Lomond, visit An Ceann Mor, a viewpoint that will give you a sense of the sheer size of this Loch.
From there, drive along the Argyll Coastal Route via Loch Gilpheap to Kilmore and Glencoe. Ending in Fort William, this town is nestled right next to Ben Nevis – Scotland’s tallest peak.
This is the perfect route for people who want unparalleled scenery, seafood, sea air and stunning sunsets.
5. The best for gorgeous beaches
While Scotland is not typically known for its beaches, in summer they can be a stunning sight. Starting in Dundee follow the Angus Coastal Route which links Dundee and Aberdeen.
On the way you will pass through a number of charming towns, beautiful nature reserves and will enjoy incredible views of the Grampian Mountains and the North Sea.
6. The best to find the Loch Ness monster
Scotland’s most famous loch is shrouded by mystery – thanks to the monster hiding below its surface. As legend goes, Loch Ness is home to the Loch Ness Monster, or ‘Nessie’ as she is more affectionately known.
The first reported sighting of Nessie was in 565AD and there have been numerous “sightings” since, averaging around 20 per year.
While there is no conclusive proof that Nessie exists, why not go and have a look yourself? Starting in Fort William, follow the Caledonian Canal north along the banks of Loch Lochaidh and Loch Oich until you reach Loch Ness. Keep your eyes peeled for Nessie as you drive along to Inverness.
7. The best to pretend you’re in a Harry Styles music video
When Harry Styles dropped his debut solo single, Sign of the Times, the first thing we Googled was ‘Sign of the Times filming location’ closely followed by ‘Harry Styles hanging from helicopter’.
Styles shot his video on the Isle of Skye, up in the North West of Scotland. The best way to get to Skye is to take the ferry from Mallaig over the sea to Skye or to drive up from Glasgow via Glencoe and the Eilean Donan castle (as detailed below).
Once there you can drive up to Portree, the main village in Skye and then on to Staffin where Sign of the Times was filmed. However, you will need to bring your own helicopter.
8. The best for castle spotting
The Highland Tourist Route is perfect for lovers of Scottish history. Starting in Aberdeen, the route takes you through the lush Cairngorms National Park to Inverness.
On the way you will see no less than four castles as well as the Culloden Battlefield and many museums.
Once in Inverness you can take your chance at spotting Ol’ Nessie at Loch Ness.
9. The best for lush landscapes
Another route that takes you through the Cairngorms National Park, the Deeside Tourist Route starts in Perth and continues through to Aberdeen.
On the way you can visit the Royal Lochnagar Distillery (to try some of Scotland’s famous whiskey) or visit Cambus O’May Cheese Co if cheese is more your thing.
Of course, there are many castles to visit along the way too, notably Drum Castle which was granted to William de Irwyn by King Robert the Bruce in 1323. While there, visit the Garden of Historic Roses and take a stroll through the ancient oak woodland in the Old Wood of Drum.
10. The best for James Bond fans
If you have seen the James Bond film Skyfall, chances are you have an intense longing to visit Scotland.
This is in large part thanks to the scene where Judi Dench and Daniel Craig stand in front of a mist-filled valley. This valley is called Glen Etive and is situated in the Highlands.
To get the full James Bond experience, drive from Glasgow up to Loch Craignish which was featured in the 1963 James Bond film, from Russia with Love. From there drive to Oban where you can ferry to the Isle of Mull and visit the Duart Castle.
Get the ferry back to the mainland and drive to Glen Etive, the iconic valley featured in Skyfall. Then on to Glencoe, which has also featured in a number of Harry Potter films.
Top off your James Bond experience by driving north to the 13th century Eilean Donan, one of Scotland’s most recognisable castles and that also served as the headquarters of MI6 in The World Is Not Enough.
And since you’re now so close to the Isle of Skye, you may as well continue your road trip around Scotland.
Check out Visit Scotland for more road trip ideas, information and maps. roadtrips.visitscotland.com