Scottish Highlands Travel Guide

Phoebe Laine

Phoebe Laine

· 5 min read

I just got back from a week exploring the Highlands of Scotland and I was absolutely blown away. Here is a summary of my favourite spots in this area as well as some tips for helping you plan your adventure!

7-Day Itinerary:

We had 6 nights in Scotland and we packed the week full. Our primary goal was to drive the NC500 with visits to Orkney and the Isle of Skye added on. We started and ended in Inverness. Read my post for a detailed 7-day itinerary to hit the recommended spots.

Things to do

NC500

This is a 500-mile road trip that starts and ends in Inverness and goes all along the coastline of the Highlands (Northern Scotland). The drive is full of spectacular sea views, beaches, mountains, lochs, rolling peat bog, forests... basically every landscape you could ask for! There are thousands of things to see along the route. You could do it all in three days or take three weeks.

We broke it up into about three days and it was quite a bit of driving each day, but it was definitely manageable. I planned it out by doing research and picking three or so sites and hikes I wanted to do that stretch (and pinned them on Google Maps). Then as we were on our way to those places, we pulled off whenever our hearts told us to. It was so much fun. The landscape changed every time we crested a hill or turned a bend.

I recommend driving counterclockwise starting from Inverness. That way the views get progressively more amazing. The stretch from Tongue to Ullapool was my absolute favourite: you'll see rolling hills of purple peat bog, craggy grey mountains, and Caribbean-like white sandy beaches. Truly AWE-some.

Orkney

Off the very top of Scotland is an archipelago called Orkney. These windswept islands are lush and full of 5000-year-old Neolithic ruins. If wild sea cliffs, rolling green hills, puffins, or standing stones and ancient burial sites are your thing. You should check this out.

Here is an article I wrote about my one-day visit to Mainland Orkney!

Isle of Skye

You've probably already heard of the Isle of Skye and I can confirm that it is worth the hype. I visited at the end of May and got beautiful warm, sunny days and low crowds. This is an absolute haven for hikers and nature lovers. Check out this article for my top recommendations on the majestic Isle.

Places to Stay

NC500

The Highlands is not very densely populated, so there aren't a ton of options for places to stay. Which is why it is important to book accommodation early. I booked three months before the trip and there was almost nothing left in Skye or the northwest stretch of the NC500. Booking early helps you have more options and enables you to stick to your budget better.

A unique part of the experience was that many of the places we stayed were B&Bs hosted within local homes. It was so lovely to have breakfast provided nearly everywhere we stayed and to have some chats with the hosts. I was so impressed by the Highlands' hospitality. Nearly everyone we chatted with was very warm and friendly (very refreshing for this Londoner). We mostly stayed in Airbnbs but had a lovely experience at the Dundonnell Hotel. It is nestled right into the mountains beside a gorgeous loch and it is literally on the NC500 road.

The average price for our stays around the NC500 route was about $100 a night for two people.

Skye

We had the most amazing Airbnb in Skye (here's the link). It was a private cabin with a view of the Quiraing. I could have stayed for a whole week. Skye is one of the most popular places in the Highlands, and subsequently the most expensive for accommodation. This was the nicest place we stayed in, but also cost about $250 a night (more than double our other stays).

Orkney

A unique stay if you are going to Orkney, is on the NorthLink Ferry boat itself. You can book a cabin and breakfast for only £40 a person. It was cheap, comfortable, and fun! Just like a mini cruise. I can't recommend it enough. You book directly on the NorthLink Ferry site.

Top Tips:

  • Download the map beforehand: There is limited/no service in most areas and having the map downloaded will allow you to navigate no problem. On Google Maps you can download huge sections of the map. I downloaded everything above Loch Ness and it worked great the whole trip.
  • Follow your heart: the most memorable and hilarious moments of any trip are the unplanned ones. If something catches your eye or calls out to your heart -- stop and do it!
  • Book well in advance: this area is popular and accommodation is limited. Booking in advance gives you the most options at the best price.
  • Use Passing Places correctly: a quick web search will teach you how to use these essential spots correctly. Hint: never pull into the passing place if it's in the other lane, just wait next to it and let the oncoming car pull into the spot.
Phoebe Laine

About Phoebe Laine

Always planning the next adventure!

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