We went to Scotland for 9 days in July/August 2022 and had a gorgeous trip. Here’s how it went:
Day 1: Flew into Edinburgh
Day one does not count because nobody ever sleeps enough on those flights to function but we wandered around a bit and had dinner at Under The Stairs, which had come recommended. We tried to go to Mary’s Milk Bar for ice cream, but it was closed that day, so we picked up some baklava from Levant Sweets for the adults and grabbed some popsicles for the kids at the Tesco by our AirBnb then slept our faces off…
Day 2: Edinburgh
… And terribly overslept! Had not planned to miss 1/3 of our only full day in Edinburgh, but we made the most of it. Our friends had left us coffee and croissants, however, before tiptoeing out. We started with a wander up the Royal Mile, then we’d bought tickets (successfully the evening before, phew) for Camera Obscura, which the kids loved. We got wonderful fish and chips for lunch from the nearby Fish & Frites Anstruther truck. We walked around some more and had to crash for a bit back at the house due to jetlagged children who had not slept until 11am. We had dinner at The Scran & Scallie in Stockbridge, which has a small playroom that 100% increases how much the adults in the room get to enjoy their steak pies with embedded bone marrow. Walked through Dean Village after and found a tiny playground before calling it a day.
Day 3: Edinburgh to Forres
Why Forres, a town best known for a commune? Because a friend fell in love with the town after living there years ago and wanted to visit friends, and we are always up for an adventure. After packing up at our AirBnb in Edinburgh, we picked up our rental cars and plotted a few stops for along the drive. I learned that the Shortbread House of Edinburgh on the map is a wholesaler, not a bakery although they’re very friendly when you ring the bell as it seems to happen frequently. We got cheese scones from Mimi’s Bakehouse and headed north. We tried to stop at ARAN Bakery in the adorable town of Dunkheld, but it closed in the few minutes between our friends’ and our arrival, leading us to conclude that they must have heard we were coming. Our next stop was the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd. We’d missed the 11am and 2pm walks up the mountain got to see the few they keep in the corrales at the base. It’s very kid-friendly and we learned a lot about antlers. (Ask me anything!) We had dinner outside at the Kimberley Inn (no kids in pubs after 8pm, good riddance, plus the kids had so much fun playing by the water) and it was easily everyone’s favorite meal of the trip; please do not miss the langoustine tails; the steak pie was great, too. We stayed at the very castle-y Ramnee Hotel.
Day 4: Forres
We took a walk up Cluny Hill to Nelson’s Tower with our friends’ local friends. I looked but could not find the landing strip for flying saucers for extraterrestrials I’d read had been set up by early founders of the local commune. We had an excellent lunch The Bonnie Beastie and then watched a Forres Mechanics game.
Alas, they didn’t win but my children learned some new words! We got a babysitter to hang out with the kids at the hotel and went out with local friends to Mosset Tavern. They showed us The Witches Stone, a rather gruesome memorial from 1040 AD, and then we had a nightcap back at the hotel.
Day 5: Forres to Isle of Skye
Haunted by witches or hungover? Our luggage that had fit in the car on the way to Forres now did not! Eventually we got everyone and thing in the car, swung by a store to buy essentials (bug spray, fruit to snack on, pens and notebooks to keep kids busy) and headed to Culloden. I highly recommend the 45-minute tour; we learned so much. Had a great, easy lunch next to Loch Ness at the The Dores Inn. Should you wish to take a dip to find Nessie, you can do so from the parking lot next to it. We had a gorgeous drive to Skye and even got to meet some Highland coos grazing by the side of the road, a trip highlight. The kids played at the playground in front of the Sligachan Hotel, while we checked in and then we had dinner at the pub next door.
Day 6: Skye to Oban
Wandered around a little; the Sligachan Old Bridge is right across the street. Alex read if you dip your face in the water under the bridge for seven seconds, you are rewarded with eternal beauty, which is more in my budget than a lifetime of La Mer so I had to try it. Alas, I only splashed it on and you’re to do a full-body plank or it doesn’t count so back to Cerave for me. We’d hoped to see the Fairy Pools but ran short on time; wouldn’t skip them next time, however.
Should you find yourself driving from the Isle of Skye to Oban and your Google Map has a boat icon along the way, don’t be like us and please note it before you are 9 minutes out. There *is* a ferry that will take your car across but it might not be for another 3 hours, so you might need to turn around to go the bridge route.
Our next stop was Glenfinnan, where you can see viaduct that Jacobite Steam Train runs over in the summer months, made even more famous in Harry Potter. We did not plan our trip to include a ride on the train but I did have tinges of regret over this; I hear it’s wonderful. We swung through Glencoe, but it’s mostly for hiking, which was not on our agenda, but I did fall in love with a hand soap and lotion at a hotel we ducked into to use the restroom. We had dinner at Cuan More in Oban and found the store that sells it two doors down, which seemed an auspicious sign. We stayed at the No. 17 The Promenade hotel for three nights; it’s gorgeous.
Day 7: Oban
We needed an easy day after all of that driving and location hopping. It’s was raining and windy so we ducked into Perle Oban to warm up the Scottish way, whisky for adults and hot chocolate for children. We tried to make some plans for Day 7 and found, which was becoming a theme, that we’d waited way too long to book car ferry, seal watching, or scotch tasting tours. Whoops! When the rain cleared a little, we climbed to McCaig’s Tower and Battery Hill and felt that we penguin-walked back down (it’s steep!) We had a very pub-y dinner at Markie Dans, mostly because we hadn’t made other plans (whoops again!) and called it a day.
Day 8: Isle of Mull
Had oat porridge with whisky honey for breakfast and all was right with the world again. We took the ferry (as seated passengers) to Craignure, Mull and then a 45-minute bus to Tobermory, a cute little down with a namesake distillery. We had at Tobermory Bakery & Tea Room and then were able to send the kids for ice cream while the adults went to a Tobermory and Ledaig whisky tasting. We had a couple hours before our bus and ferry back — please take a look at timetables for both if you go this route as they’re on different, infrequent schedules — but enjoyed visiting almost every shop in the town and buying some chocolate. We picked up a perfect hit-the-spot dinner from Marmaris Kebab House and took it back to the hotel. It went well with gin and tonics, trust me.
Day 9: Oban to Glasgow to Edinburgh
We stopped in Auchindrain, a preserved historical village, and enjoyed the iPad tour as well as the chocolate chip shortbread we bought at the shop. Inveraray is the closest town; we didn’t end up stopping but it looks very cute. I am a little obsessed with the color of the castle. Our first attempt at lunch was Loch Fyne Oysters; unfortunately many others had it first and we moved onto Cattle and Creel in Helensburg. It was so good. If you do not order the Loch Fyne langoustines grilled in garlic and butter (I did not but everyone else did) you too might regret it forever. We stopped briefly at Loch Lomond; if you listen to a few versions of the The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond, a folk song, along the way, you can hum it under your breath for the rest of the day! We wandered around Glasgow for a bit and got ice cream at the University Cafe. We had several dinner recommendations [Ashton Lane, Two Fat Ladies, Gloriosa, The Gannet, Tantrum Donuts, The Crab Shack, The Pot Still, Ubiquitous Chip] but weren’t hungry after our late lunch. We stayed at Carberry Tower Mansion House, a castle-hotel outside Edinburgh. We chose it because it was closer to the airport, and to avoid the extra crowds from Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which had begun in the days we were away.
On planning: We found Scotland more challenging to plan than any of our big international trips we’ve taken with our co-family in crime (Portugal, Spain twice, and Iceland) or those we’ve taken solo (London, Ireland). Some of this is due to Scotland’s size, limiting how much you can see in one- or two-day trips, plus we know the drives (on the “wrong” side of the road, often single lane in two direction, just to keep it fun) can wear ye out. But I suspect it was more summer 2022’s great wave of travel, filling everything past the brim. Our way of traveling — booking flights and hotels months out, but leaving the details of the days to the relatively last minute, so we can adjust to current energy level and interest — just didn’t work. We were finding restaurants booked for dinner nearly two months out, hotel rooms disappearing as we booked them, ferries booked, tours full… we had a good laugh about it but I’d be remiss and not give you a heads up that you might want to be a better planner than we were.
Midges: As someone who took her coffee to a park bench two weeks ago and got 7 mosquito bites in 5 minutes (two through my leggings!) [“Is it because I’m so sweet?” “No, it’s because you’re full of…” is a running joke in my marriage], and whose daughter is equally beloved by biting things, I took warnings of us being in Scotland in midge season almost excessively seriously. Short of one swarmy moment in Skye, it wasn’t an issue and we only used bug spray that night. It might have been timing (I’d read that it was more of a June-July concern), location (it’s a bigger deal in Western Scotland), or the weather (we were told they don’t bother you when it’s breezy and it was quite often that) but it wasn’t for lack of preparation. We brought some bug spray and wipes home but bought Smidge while there as it came recommended.
On the food: Did you know that burgers can only be ordered well-done in Scotland? With sadness, we now know too. On a brighter note, we had incredible seafood, both the aforementioned langoustines and small, sweet mussels. We are likely 50% fish and chips by now, and my kids also loved the scampi, which are breaded and fried like nuggets. We had potato scones with breakfast most days and some members of our party also ate the haggis and black pudding on the full Scottish breakfast plate. I have many more names of suggested restaurants, but as I haven’t tried them, I cannot attest to whether they’re worth your time, so I’m not sure if it’s much better than a Google search.
What we might do differently: If we had more time, we might have spent an extra day or two in Edinburgh at the end, only because we we were too jetlagged to take it in fully the first day and a half. We’d probably skip Skye and spend more time getting to a other places, maybe a stop in Ullapool or trips to other isles such as Arran, Staffa, outer Hebridges, or up to the Orkneys. But, we had a great time and were thrilled to see and do so much in under two weeks.