The most underrated travel destination ...
Ever thought of visiting Scotland? If the answer is yes (and trust me it should be a yes) than you’ll want to keep on reading. With the Easter break coming up, meaning there was not one but two bank holidays, it would have been extremely foolish for me not to plan an adventure! Admittedly I left it quite last minute, and was left shocked by the exorbitant flight prices, so I decided to look at a more local destination. Now I’d been to Edinburgh before, but never before explored beyond the Scottish capital. So, much to my delight I stumbled across very affordable train tickets and a tour with Haggis Adventures, through the famous Scottish Highlands. Safe to say, my fingers pressed Book Now, faster than I could even blink!
Getting to Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a well linked city, with international flights, frequent train services across the UK in addition to numerous coach routes. Haggis Adventures are based in Edinburgh, with all their tours (single or multi-day) departing from their store on the Royal Mile. So, if you’re thinking about signing yourself up for one of their tours you’ll need to make your way to Edinburgh.
Got some extra time in Edinburgh? Check out my 24 hours in Edinburgh Guide (coming soon)
My preferred method of transport to Edinburgh would be with the super-fast and efficient Virgin Trains service. With services just about every thirty minutes from London Kings Cross Station to Edinburgh Waverley, your journey will be an absolute breeze. Plus, there’s no stuffing about like at the airport and you arrive straight into the city centre!
Travel time: 4 hrs 30 mins
Depending on when you book prices tend to sit between £70-£90 return
Tip: Don’t purchase on the day of travel unless you want to pay £155 for a single journey!
Note: If you’re eligible, sign up for a rail card for significant discounts on your rail travel (I saved £30)
This will be your most flexible option, and if you’re planning to drive to Edinburgh, then you may as well drive all the way through the Highlands too.
Depending on when you book you can find some really great prices for flights between London and Edinburgh. If you’re travelling from outside the UK, flying will likely be the best, if not the only option for you.
If you’re flexible with time and want a cheaper alternative to the train journey, you might be looking at taking a coach.
Travel time: Between 10 hrs and 14 hrs route dependant
Tickets can be as cheap as £21 depending on when you book
Top Highland Locations
For those of you planning a self-drive exploration of the Scottish Highlands, if you don’t fancy reading about the tour I did, I’ll summarise my favourite and must-see locations across the area here for you.
Eileen Donan Castle
Old Man of Storr
Glencoe Mountain Resort
Let the Adventure Begin …
Wanting to make the most of the Easter break, my friend Kellie and I headed straight for the train station after a full day’s work ready for our adventure. But there was one tiny detail that we forgot … everyone else had the same idea as us! The station was extremely busy and the train was beyond packed! The tickets we ended up purchasing were flexible tickets, permitting us to travel at any time, but as such we could not reserve seats. Now any other time this would not be a problem, but on the Easter weekend, this was a really bad idea. We were lucky to actually make it onto the train, but we spent the first two hours of the train journey ‘packed like sardines’ to quote one of our fellow passengers. We literally stood, as if we were on a rush hour tube journey, lacking any form of personal space for two full hours! With two and a half hours to go, we managed to get a little more space, enough so, that we could sit in the aisles. Definitely not the train journey either of us had in mind. By the time we reached Newcastle, with only an hour or so left to travel, we managed to get ourselves a seat. And boy it never felt so good to sit on a chair!
We arrived into Edinburgh Waverley at 11:30pm and made our way to our hostel, Kick Ass Hostel, a short 15-minute walk away. And much to our delight we caught a glimpse of the stunning Edinburgh Castle.
As much as the train journey was an adventure in itself, it was time for the real adventure to begin! We walked to the meet up location, with a detour via the Edinburgh Castle (definitely worth extra the stairs) where we met up with our tour mates and local guides, Fiona and Joe.
Leaving Edinburgh, we drove up the Royal Mile and left the city behind, heading for the Highlands. Stop number one, placed us in the town of Dunkeld, an hour and a half north of Edinburgh. We visited the Dunkeld cathedral, where according to legend, those willing could rub the helmet belonging to the Wolf of Badenoch to gain fruitful fertility. The town is also home to Aran Bakery, an artisan bakery owned and run by Great British Bake-Off semi-finalist, Flora Shedden.
Back on the road, we took a detour to Killiecrankie to enjoy a walk through the wilderness. Starting at the Killiecrankie Bridge, a bungy jump location for any adrenaline junkies, we walked along the river through stunning scenery ending at the Killiecrankie Visitor Centre. Before we knew it, we were entering the highlands and were greeted with a light flurry of snow, so naturally we danced around in the snow. It would have been rude not to!
With our first taste of the highlands it was time to immerse ourselves into some Scottish culture – Whisky tasting. The tour stopped at the Tomatin Whisky Distillery where we got the opportunity to learn about the production of whisky and taste samples.
Making one final stop before calling it a night in Inverness, we made a visit to the Clava Cairns. This site features well preserved bronze age burial chambers showcasing Scottish history dating back over 4000 years. Arriving into Inverness, we checked into our hostel for the next two nights, Inverness Youth Hostel.
Well rested but with an early start, we headed out for another full day of adventure across the highlands. Leaving Inverness behind we drove along the western banks of Loch Ness keeping an eye out for the illusive Loch Ness Monster, Nessie. With an extremely scenic drive, we admired the beauty of Scotland as it showcased its breathtaking landscape of lakes, snow capped mountains and castle ruins. The drive in itself was a treat! Our first port of call for the day was Eileen Donan Castle, termed by some as Scotland’s most beautiful castle. This thirteenth century castle sits on an island which is met by three great lakes, Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh. A definite highlight of the trip, a visit to the castle is one not to miss!
Next up, Isle of Skye. An island blessed with breathtaking landscape, castles and plenty of faerie tales. Mesmerised by the scenery its easy to think that you’re on another planet. The surrounding landscape very much reminded me of my time in New Zealand and Iceland, two places that I least expected Scotland to remind me of. As we drove along, we passed some Hairy Coos, a local breed of cattle, known for their wavy haired coats. Pulling over on the side of the road we met two lovable coos, Hagrid and Fergus, and even got the chance to feed them some delicious carrots, which they very much enjoyed.
Tummies rumbling, we pulled into Portree, the island’s capital, for a spot lunch. Fancy something from the bakery? Head to MacKenzie’s or head on down to the local fish and chip shop by the harbour just beware of seagulls. Otherwise, do as we did, and bring a packed lunch and set up a picnic on the harbour side. You can’t go wrong with smashed avocado!
With more of Skye to see, it was back to the bus and off we went. Driving further north, we stopped by the base of the Old Man of Storr hike. Being on limited time, we were unfortunately unable to climb to the summit, but it just gives us the perfect excuse to come back for another visit to Skye.
One more stop up north before heading back towards the mainland, Kilt Rock. Any one ever been to Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway? Remember the Giant tales, well Kilt Rock is the other side of the Causeway built by the giants.
Check out my Northern Ireland Blog post to help plan your adventure there.
My absolute favourite stop in Skye was our last, and we nearly didn’t stop there. One more faerie story before leaving the mythical isle, and the location, Sligachan Bridge. Sitting by the riverside, with the narration of our guide Fiona, we acted out the legend surrounding the magical waters. With three of us, myself included, dipping our faces in the freezing cold waters, we hoped that like the legend portrays, that we would end up with eternal beauty. Fingers crossed it works, hey?
Driving back to Inverness, we made a quick stop of the banks of Loch Ness to see if we could meet the famous Nessie. Time for some more culture, this time in the form of traditional folk music, at Hootananny’s.
Starting the final day early, we headed towards Glencoe, this time driving along the Eastern shores of Loch Ness. The eastern bank would definitely be the more scenic in my opinion and the roads, although very windy, were much less frequented. Saying goodbye to Loch Ness we drove towards Scotland’s highest peak, Ben Nevis. We enjoyed a clear view of the great mountain from the Commando memorial, a view, which is only visible for roughly fifty days of the year.
Watching the scenery change throughout the day, we entered into the famous Glencoe. Known for being the backdrop to numerous films, including Harry Potter and James Bond (Skyfall), this natural beauty is one not to miss. Difficult to find parking, we nearly didn’t get the opportunity to stop and appreciate the vast beauty of the sight. But thanks to Joe, we managed to park, albeit double-parking and blocking about 5 cars. We climbed up a hiking trail to be rewarded with undisturbed views over the Glen. Whilst we admired the spectacular landscape, our guides also taught us the history of the region and the bad blood between the MacDonald and Campbell clans.
On our way to our next stop, lunch, we stopped briefly to meet and feed some wild deer. An experience that none of us expected to be having. Thanks to the spectacular weather, and our great local guides, instead of stopping for lunch at a service station, we took the opportunity to enjoy lunch on a snow-capped mountain with iconic views. For all of £6 we rode the ski lift at the Glencoe Mountain Resort and were rewarded with unforgettable lunch views. It made our harbourside lunch in Portree look rather boring, which it most definitely wasn’t.
Now of course, if you go up a snowy mountain, it would be a darn shame to not build a snowman, now wouldn’t it? Especially if your friend had never made one before, right? Cue the birth of Scotty, the snowman, wearing his tartan and all.
With our highlands adventure nearing to an end we had one final stop to make, Stirling. Anyone seen Braveheart? Well this is the location of the original event. We climbed up to the Wallace Monument and took in the town, castle and surrounding landscape.
After a whirlwind three-day adventure through the highlands, we were back in Edinburgh and it was time to go home. Haggis Adventures definitely showed us the very best of the Scottish Highlands and more and I know now that I will 100% be back to explore more of this incredible country!
Company: Haggis Adventures
Name: Easter in Scotland (Skye High tour is rather similar)
Cost: £155 (+accommodation cost approx. £45)