With some of the world’s most spectacular scenery, fresh cuisine, rich history and friendly locals, Scottish road trips are a treat that will relax, inspire and thrill. There are so many wonderful drives to choose from but here are five of Scotland’s best drives chosen by Curious Travel.
1. Loch Lomond to the Isle of Skye
From the ‘bonnie, bonnie banks’ of Loch Lomond to the staggering landscape of Skye, this takes you through some of Scotland’s most iconic scenery and is one of Scotland’s best drives.
Loch Lomond and Glen Coe
Your starting point in Loch Lomond is easily accessible from the major cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Located in the heart of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National park, the Loch straddles the Highland border. Travel north on the A82 along the Loch’s west bank. As the Loch narrows you move from the open, gentler lowland terrain into the glacier ice-age trench that heralds your ascent into Scotland’s famous Highlands. 900m mountains tower over the winding road as you climb through the villages of Crainlarich and Tyndrum. The phenomenal mountain terrain on this stretch of the road includes the Munro ranges of Ben More to the West and Ben Lui to the East.
As you leave the National Park the landscape widens. The road cuts a straighter path through the wilderness of Rannoch Moor. Vast stretches of peat bogland, dotted with innumerable lochs and fringed with epic mountain ranges give this part of the drive an otherworldly feel. And then comes Glen Coe. No matter how many times you’ve seen this famous mountain pass it never fails to catch your breath. Formed from an ancient super-volcano, imbued with the ghosts of a grisly history, the sheer grandeur, scale and beauty of this U-shaped glen is hard to beat.
Loch Leven to Portree
The next stretch of road is all about the Lochs. As you leave Glen Coe you pass Loch Leven. At its centre stands a forbidding fortress castle where Mary Queen of Scots was held captive in 1557 before making a daring escape. The road now clings to the banks of Loch Eli as you head for Fort William. From Fort William, you’ll pass Ben Nevis, the British Isles highest peak before joining the charmingly name Loch Lochy for the final stretch of the A82.
At Invergarry Castle, you’ll join the A87 for another stretch of grand scenery. Sweeping through the ‘mini-alps’ of Glen Sheil, up the north coasts of Loch Garry, Loch Cluanie and Loch Duich and Loch Alsh before arriving at the Skye road bridge. Over the bridge, the A87 continues to Portree, Skye’s main town. From here you can explore the spectacular Isle of Skye. This drive is one of the most stunning Scottish road trips.
LOCH LOMOND LOOKING TO BEN LOMOND By Ross Elliott Photo
2. The Isle of Arran
The charming Isle of Arran is often overlooked by tourists. The 7th largest of Scotland’s Islands, Arran is known as ‘Scotland in miniature’ due to its spiky granite peaks in the north and the lush, undulating lands of the south. Arran is only a 1-hour drive and a short ferry hop from Glasgow. The second of our Scottish road trips is perhaps less epic, but no less captivating.
The A841 circumnavigates the whole island and has the distinction of being the only circular ‘A’ road in the whole of the UK. At only 90km it’s an easy drive, leaving plenty of time for stops along the way. The ferry arrives at Brodick from where it’s a short trip to the baronial Brodick Castle and estate. From here head north along the serene coastline toward Lochranza. You will pass Goat Fell, the highest point on the island and, at 2866ft, falling just short of Munro status. Admire the pretty village of Lochranza with its imposing castle ruin before heading down the West coast. Dotted with clear sandy beaches, verdant forest and with wonderful views across the Kintyre Peninsula this quiet stretch is a wonderful, contemplative drive down to the village of Blackwaterfoot.
Standing stones and caves
Take a short detour to visit the Neolithic Machrie Moor Standing Stones and the King’s caves, a series of waterfront caves with storied carvings. The landscape becomes gentler in the south of the island, winding through little-wooded valleys. Through the villages of Whiting Bay and Lamash where you will come across an unexpected Tibetan Buddhist community. The road then takes you back to Brodick, through lush green forest and field, to complete your circuit.
ISLE OF ARRAN, SCOTLAND By Sam Spicer
3. Ullapool to Durness
Part of Scotland’s North Coast 500 – Scotland’s answer to Route 66, this Scottish road trips takes you up the jagged and remote North West coast. Where you’re as likely to see sheep on the road as another car and the scenery is as harsh as it is beautiful.
The charming town of Ullapool sits on the banks of Loch Broom and acts as a gateway to the Summer Isles and the Outer Hebrides. Head north on the A835 towards the resort village of Ardmair with its white sand beach. The road takes you slightly inland across the Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve, sweeping up through open pasture land until you join the A837 heading north.
Softly rolling hills and pine forests, dotted with lochs and soft highland hues lead you to up to Loch Assynt and the allegedly haunted ruins of Ardvrech Castle. Taking the A894 north toward the pretty village of Scourie before looping back inland through rockier terrain. The road weaves through seemingly endless lochs before crossing Laxford Bridge and into the flatter, softer landscape leading past the beautiful Kyle of Durness. Whilst in Durness we recommend taking a 5 min drive out to the cavernous Smoo Cave.
NORTH COAST SCENIC ROUTE 500 By D K Grove
4. Fort William to Mallaig
Romantically titled ‘the road to the Isles’, this is one of the prettiest Scottish road trips. Fort William sits at the southern end of the Great Glen, next to the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. Heading west on the A830 along the lush wooded northern coast of Loch Eli. Once past the Loch, the scenery opens up to the craggy mountains of Glenfinnan at the mouth of Loch Shiel. The majestic Glenfinnan viaduct carries trains along ‘Scotland’s most beautiful train journey’. Described by Michael Palin as “the work of man and nature in perfect harmony” and further popularised by its appearance in the Harry Potter films, it is a spectacular highlight of the drive. Further west you come to the Prince’s Cairn on the banks of Loch Nan Uamh, where Bonnie Prince Charlie fled Scotland, never to return.
The town of Arisaig offers spectacular views of the Isles of Eigg, Rum and Skye. The old coast road leads you to the White Sands of Morar, a perfect white, sandy beach on the coast of Loch Morar. Cutting through rocky terrain decorated with vivid purple heather you arrive at the busy fishing port of Mallaig.
ARISAIG VILLAGE NEAR MALLAIG, SCOTLAND By Mike Charles
5. Stirling to Inverness
Starting from Stirling, this Scottish road trips takes you up the middle of Scotland along the A9, ‘the spine of Scotland’. Past the imposing National Wallace Monument which commemorates Scotland’s famous national hero, William Wallace. The road leads you up through Scotland’s smallest ‘city’, Dunblane, out into soft, green lowland pastures that stretch for miles.
As you approach Gleneagles the landscape becomes more mountainous as the road passes through the Ochil Hills. Golf enthusiasts will no doubt want to stop off at Gleneagles famous course. Carry on up to the beautiful town of Perth on the banks of the River Tay. Take a stop at Scone Palace, the magnificent historic castle where Scotland’s Kings, including Macbeth and Robert the Bruce, were crowned. Further north you enter the Cairngorms National Park where the landscape is particularly spectacular. You will pass the famous Dalwhinnie Malt Whisky distillery and travel up through the Daviot forest before arriving at Inverness.
STIRLING CASTLE, SCOTLAND By Cornfield
Scotland’s Best Drives
We hope this article has peaked your curiosity about the variety of fabulous self-drive Scottish road trips available. At Curious Travel we can arrange self-drive trips where we arrange the vehicle and accommodation. We also include fascinating and fun day trips and activities along the route.
Contact us if you are interested to discuss this idea. Curious Travel can also assist with tailor-made, self-drive trips around the world. Some of our favourites include Namibia, Malaysia, Portugal and Australia. We design and operate trips by working closely with the best local suppliers that fully respect and work with these communities. Contact us below to request a conversation or further information.
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Sam Roberts is a creative content writer, web designer and travel enthusiast currently based in Malaysia.