Highlights of Scotland Tour: Castles, Loch Ness & Whisky Trail

A 7 day trip to Scotland 
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From the enduring walls of Stirling Castle to the delicate stylings of the High Kirk of Edinburgh, from the wild beauty of the Highlands to the elegant grandeur of Europe’s best hotels, from the serene mornings to the nights of Scottish revelry: while this may be your first vacation to Scotland, you can be sure it won’t be the last.

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General Information

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Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fort William, Perthshire Scottish Highlands – Loch Ness, Inverness, Stirling, Glen Coe

Departure Dates 

Flexible departures

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Arriving in the “Athens of the North”

You touch down today in enchanting Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, the first member of the UNESCO Creative Cities initiative and home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You’ll be escorted by private car from the airport to your perfectly located hotel, that is as elegant as it is accommodating, with beautiful views over the capital and all the modern amenities that you’ve come to expect. After dropping off your luggage and maybe grabbing a quick nap, it’s off to explore the streets of this delightful metropolis. 

Shoppers will certainly want to make for the Georgian terraces and wide sidewalks of the New Town, from the laid-back atmosphere at Princes Street to the high-end boutiques on George Street and Multrees Walk to the eclectic mix of shops, bars and restaurants on Broughton Street. Museum goers, meanwhile, will want to check out the many fine exhibition spaces in the city, from the formal halls of the National Gallery of Scotland to the unique interaction of art and audience at the Fruitmarket Gallery. You can dine this evening in the unforgettable ambience of The Witchery, a tiny and candle-lit restaurant that is located right next to Edinburgh Castle and which offers delicious food, friendly and attentive service, and an impressive wine list.

Day 2: A Tour of the Great Cities of the Lowlands

Today features an excursion to two of the largest and most exciting cities in Scotland, taking in all of the sights, sounds and experiences of life in the Lowlands. Begin by catching a post-breakfast train to nearby Glasgow, one of the most visited cities in the British Isles and a metropolis that highlights the successful transition from center of industry to hotbed of culture. 

Begin at the Central Train Station, noted for its sumptuous interior and a glass-walled bridge that runs above the busy thoroughfare of Argyle Street, before visiting the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Considered the best public museum in the city, it’s filled with all manners of artifacts, from paintings by artists like Van Gogh, Monet, Rembrandt and Dali to fossils, wildlife displays, and even a Spitfire fighter plane suspended from the ceiling. After grabbing a filling lunch of fish and chips at the famous chippery The Coronation, you’ll return to Edinburgh, ready to scale the gentle slope of Calton Hill so that you can catch a glimpse of some of Edinburgh’s most famous memorials – from the terraced tower of Nelson’s Monument to the isolated columns of the still-incomplete National Monument to the Scottish dead in the Napoleonic Wars. You will also encounter a breathtaking vista over the city and the nearby Firth of Forth. Following dinner, the bravest of heart might want to set out on a guided tour of Edinburgh’s ghostly history, a special treat that is unique to this magnificent – though occasionally macabre – capital.

Day 3: Legendary Warriors and Wonderful Landscapes

Today you leave the sophisticated streets of Edinburgh to experience the real Scotland: the bleak yet beautiful heathers and moors of the Scottish Highlands. Start by visiting the imposing battlements and impregnable defense at Stirling Castle, one of the largest and most noteworthy castles in Scotland. Command the balustrade and man the Outer Defences before taking in the impressive structures of the Royal Palace – the first Renaissance palace in the British Isles – and the stunning ceiling and wall hangings in the Great Hall. You’ll also want to visit one or both of the castle’s gardens, which are meticulously cared for and elegantly designed. 

Then discover the true history of the Scottish Wars of Independence at the nearby Wallace Monument, a soaring Gothic tower dominating the landscape that commemorates the efforts of the near-legendary Sir William Wallace, one of the first true Scottish patriots and the inspiration for the Academy Award-winning film Braveheart. At the monument, you’ll encounter a series of busts of famous Scots known as the Hall of Heroes, a 13-foot tall statue of Wallace titled simply “Freedom”, and the alleged sword of Wallace himself (though most experts agree it’s likely a replica). 

Your voyage into the Highlands continues at the spectacular valley of Glen Coe, one of the most beautiful places in Scotland and site to one of the most abysmal moments in Scottish history. Now known as the Massacre of Glen Coe, this heinous act was response to the Jacobite rebellions of 1689 and serves as the inspiration for the Red Wedding in the hit book and television series Game of Thrones. After spending some time in this truly one-of-a-kind corner of the world, you’ll arrive at the gates of the famous Inverlochy Castle Hotel, a former baronial mansion that once hosted Queen Victoria in 1873, and which was named the best hotel in Europe by Travel + Leisure in 2006. The chiseled stone and imposing façade of the exterior belies the incredible luxury and comfort you’ll find within, and with extensive grounds offering a myriad of activities, from fishing to horseback riding, you’ll surely enjoy every second of your stay in these world-class accommodations.  

Day 4: The Highlights of the Highlands

You’ll wind your way through the Highlands by means of the established route along a series of valleys known simply as the Great Glen, linking the important outpost of Fort William to the capital city of the Highlands, Inverness. Your adventure will bring you past some of the best scenery, from the long and murky lochs that fill the spaces between rough ridges and rocky peaks to the crags that break up the honey-colored scene. 

On your way out, you’ll tour the remains of Urquhart Castle, an early medieval fortification that is one of the largest castle complexes in terms of area in Scotland. You’ll marvel at the remains of the “shell keep,” a 13th-century structure that is the oldest remaining portion of the castle and get an imposing view from Grant’s Tower, a solid, square hunk of stone that commands the surrounding area. Once you’ve seen all of Urquhart Castle, it’s time to cruise the waters of the loch the castle abuts, a deep, dark and inky black stretch known as Loch Ness. Plagued by murky waters caused by a high content of peat in the nearby soil, Loch Ness is the largest loch by volume in the country; in fact, it contains more freshwater than all the lakes of England and Wales combined. But this, of course, is not why it is perhaps the most famous lake in the entire world. During your Highland cruise, you’ll learn the history and geology of Loch Ness in addition to learning more about its most famous resident, including the expeditions mounted to find Nessie and the evidence supporting and rejecting her existence. The evening sees you back at Inverlochy Castle in Fort William. 

Day 5: Getting a Taste of Scotland’s Finest

Today is dedicated to uncovering the secrets of Scotland’s most famous export: single malt whiskey. You’ll ride along the famous Whisky Trail, visiting some of the most famous distilleries in the area and getting a chance to taste a dram of this magnificent water of life. Start at Strathisla, the oldest continually operating distillery in the Highlands, where a tour will give you a comprehensive explanation of the art of distillation topped off with the chance to try three of Strathisla’s most popular whiskies, including a 12-year single malt that is truly divine. 

Then stop by the sleek and modern visitor’s center at Glen Grant, the second-largest single malt whisky brand in the world that’s dedicated to churning out the component whiskies of the famous Chivas Regal brand. The distillery tour is engaging and informative, the accompanying Victorian Gardens are as beautiful as they are functional (they help continue the water cycle by which Glen Grant acquires its most important ingredient), and the whisky is certainly top-notch. 

Finish your day at the world famous Glenlivet, a by-word for single-malt Scotch since the 19th century, where you can enjoy a private guided tour, try a piece of delicious whisky cake at the accompanying coffee shop, or even fill your own bottle of liquid love straight from the cask. Cross into Perthshire to get another take on Highland scenery. This region is known for Birnam Wood and Dunsinane Hill, famous locations in Shakespeare’s immortal Macbeth, before arriving at the renowned Gleneagles Hotel, home to four delicious restaurants, the host course of the 2014 Ryder Cup, and even the campus of The British School of Falconry. 

Day 6: Back in Scotland’s Captivating Capital

After an evening of aristocratic elegance at Gleneagles Hotel, you leave the Highlands and return to the winding lanes and wide streets of Edinburgh for one final night in bonnie Scotland. Upon reaching the capital, you’ll want to make the famous walk down The Royal Mile, starting high upon the hill in imposing Edinburgh Castle, where you can visit the National War Museum of Scotland as well as the many excellent exhibits detailing the history of the castle itself. 

Stroll pass shops selling Scottish fudge and wool tartans, Highlands memorabilia, fine home goods and, of course, whisky, before taking in the impressive bell tower of the now-empty Tron Kirk, the former parish church of Edinburgh and one of the most memorable structures in the city. Stop for a visit at The Scotch Whisky Experience and snap a picture of the granite mosaic of the Heart of Midlothian set in the pavement near High Street before ending your walk at the gorgeous Palace of Holyroodhouse. Originally an abbey from the 12th century, it’s now the official residence of the monarch of the United Kingdom while in Scotland. You’ll be dazzled by the opulent Royal Dining Room and the breathtaking furnishings of the 17th-century apartments, and you’ll be impressed by the impeccably-kept gardens that surround the palace, featuring a fountain that is a replica of the one at Linlithgow Palace, the former residence of the monarch of Scotland. 

The evening is spent at your leisure and should certainly include a nightcap at an Edinburgh pub, where you’ll get a great look into the charm and kindness of the Scottish people. 

Day 7: So Long, Scotland

After a typical Scottish breakfast, you’ll be taken by private car to Edinburgh’s airport, ready to return home. After such an incredible week – from whisky to history to culture to cryptozoology – don’t be surprised if you find yourself unable to make it to your flight in time.

Price

Starting Price 

$2,095
This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.