Your big Scottish guide: the best walking holidays, whisky tours and island escapes

Rosie Fitzmaurice
·6-min read
Island idyll: the Lagavulin distillery on Islay, the “Queen of the Hebrides” (Getty Images)
Island idyll: the Lagavulin distillery on Islay, the “Queen of the Hebrides” (Getty Images)

Good news (finally): the bonnie braes and craggy coastlines of Scotland are back on the agenda for English travellers and we couldn’t be more thrilled. The country is consistently voted one of the most beautiful in the world and for goodreason. With dramatic landscape to rival that of New Zealand, swathes of unspoilt wilderness, abundant wildlife and, of course, haggis and the finest single malts — it pretty much covers all bases for a well-needed escape from the city.

Here’s how to have the perfect staycay in Scotland this summer.

Hit the road

The best way to explore Scotland? A magnificent roadtrip which takes you through unparalleled landscape at your own pace — and Scotland’s answer to Route 66 has just opened in time for summer 2021. Kintyre 66, or K66 as it will be known, is a 66-mile circular loop that takes you through Argyll, one of Scotland’s most scenic and unspoilt peninsulas. Expect plenty of heritage sites en route, as well as pretty harbours and white sandy beaches to rival the Caribbean. Located on the west coast, which is swept by the warm Gulf Stream, the region inspired Paul McCartney’s Seventies hit Mull of Kintyre. The team behind the new route say it was created to encourage tourists to “slow down and explore the area at their leisure”. It can be done by car, campervan, bike or, for hardy hikers, on foot. Extend the trip by taking a short CalMac ferry to the islands of Gigha, Islay and Jura to the west and Arran to the east. Download the K66 map and visitors guide at wildaboutargyll.co.uk.

Kintyre 66 is Scotland’s answer to Route 66
Kintyre 66 is Scotland’s answer to Route 66

The Clyde Sea Lochs Trail is a stunning 65-mile route between Dumbarton and Arrochar Village that takes you through the south-west of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park (lochlomond-trossachs.org). Spend an afternoon kayaking or canoeing on the loch, which is home to 22 islands and27 islets, or go hillwalking in the Munros before enjoying a seafood lunch by the glistening loch. The route takes you through gardens, castles and offers plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities along the way. Head to visitscotland.com for more roadtrippin’ inspo.

The Glen Grant distillery in Speyside
The Glen Grant distillery in Speyside

Follow the whisky trail

Partial to a wee dram? Silly question, you’re in Scotland! There are five whisky-producing regions: Campbeltown, Highlands, Islay, Lowland and Speyside — the latter of which is the most densely populated whisky region in the world, home to half of Scotland’s distilleries — with around 50 — including Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Glen Grant. Speyside single malt whiskies are known for their sweet, elegant, yet complex flavour. For the ultimate scotch experience, take on the The Malt Whisky Trail (maltwhiskytrail.com), a guided tour of nine historic distilleries in Speyside. Be sure to call in advance as most are in the process of reopening in line with current guidelines.

Those serious about their scotch should then check into The Station, a whisky-themed hotel in the town of Rothes, which makes an ideal base for exploring and resting a weary head after a day of tastings. Or simply carry on the fun, and prop yourself up at Toots Bar for a night tucking into the “whisky wall” of over 500 blends and malts (stationhotelspeyside.com, opening May 17). Leave some time to discover the rolling hills, nearby castles and world-famous River Spey, either on foot or bike.

The luxury log cabins at Eagle Brae are pup-friendly
The luxury log cabins at Eagle Brae are pup-friendly

The Highlands hideaway

Blow away any last lockdown cobwebs with long walks and slap-up meals at a cosy Highlands retreat surrounded by dramatic scenery — it’s escapism at its best. The Fife Arms is a luxury converted coach house in the village of Braemar, within the wild and beautiful Cairngorms National Park. A treasure trove of antiques and artworks, treat yourself to a night in one of the decadent suites, featuring freestanding roll-top baths, velvet chaise longues and walnut four-poster beds - read our full review here. Rooms start from £230 per night (thefifearms.com, opening May 17). The hotel can provide hiking and cycling routes — and will pack you a hearty picnic. Or opt for guided walks and off-road safaris with nearby Braemar Highland Experiences (bhe.scot) — be sure to request an alfresco whisky tasting is thrown in too. History buffs should visit the Queen’s holiday residence, Balmoral, just a few miles up the road — its grounds and gardens have reopened to the public until August 2.

Walnut four poster beds at The Fife Arms
Walnut four poster beds at The Fife Arms

On the edge of the national park, the luxury Glenshee Treehouses are perched on hilltops surrounded by the mountains, forests and moorland of Perthshire and kitted out with smart tartan interiors, with each boasting a private hot tub (from £565 for three nights, dalnoid.co.uk). Pup and nature lovers, meanwhile, should book a luxury (and dog-friendly) log cabin at Eagle Brae (eaglebrae.co.uk). Hidden away on a remote hillside in the heart of The Highlands overlooking magnificent glens, each cabin has been hand built using sustainably-sourced red cedar logs and features hand-woven soft furnishings and intricate Himalayan wood carvings inside.

Island hopping in the Hebrides

You could spend days or weeks exploring the Inner and Outer Hebridean islands off the west coast. Skye, the largest of the Inner Hebrides and the best known Scottish island, is hugely popular with walkers and climbers thanks to its rugged coastline, rocky mountain range and roaming wildlife — expect to catch glimpses of sea eagles, otters, seals and dolphins off the coast (myskyetime.com). The Cuillin have two ranges, red and black — the latter being the UK’s most challenging. Don’t forget sturdy hiking boots. After a long day of rambling, tuck into a hearty feed of fresh local produce and sink into superkingsize beds at Kinloch Lodge (kinloch-lodge.co.uk), a former hunting lodge of the Macdonald Clan that dates back to the 16th century (it’s still family run).

Islay and Jura make a great pair of islands to combine. Islay, known as the “Queen of the Hebrides”, is the southernmost of Scotland’s Inner Hebrides. An official whisky region and home to nine working distilleries, it’s renowned for its smoky peated drams and diverse wildlife, including more than 200 species of bird. To really escape it all, Jura — with a population of 200 inhabitants who are far outnumbered by the estimated 5,000 roaming red deer — is one of the wildest of the Scottish isles, and where George Orwell wrote 1984 (islayjura.com).

Make a day(and night) of it

Looking for your next city break destination? While the stunning setting of Edinburgh Castle and the city’s cute cobbled streets are always tempting, particularly if you usually frequent the Fringe festival that’s due to return this year, culture vultures should also consider Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, which oozes just as much charm, with an edgier vibe. After a year of no gigs and limited retail therapy, the city is teeming with vintage shops, cafes, pubs and clubs, yes clubs, this summer. For art-lovers the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is an absolute must, as is a stroll around the Botanic Gardens. If it’s great watering holes that tickle your fancy, Òran Mór is an iconic pub in a converted church in the heart of Glasgow’s West End that puts on comedy nights and live music by flickering candlelight (once we’re allowed inside). Plus, if you decide to make a weekend of it, Loch Lomond is only an hour away so you can combine city buzz with countryside chill.

Read More

10 of the best Scottish road trips

The cool adults-only campsites to book now

Seychelles or Scilly Isles? Find your UK staycay doppelgänger

Under the Radar: Isle of Islay, Scotland