There really is no place more suited to self-drive holidays than Scotland. A country that evokes feelings of awe, wonder, and affection at the mere mention of its beautiful, “bonnie” countryside, Scotland is a unique place in the world. It is a land where the biting wind and horizontal rain fills you with the same feeling of passion as the still lochs and fascinating history. And let’s not forget all of those romantic Scottish hotels just waiting for you to stay in!
The vast and uninhabited lands of the highlands make up a huge majority of the country, with 98% of Scotland being deemed as “rural” land. This perfect remoteness means the huge wilderness of Scotland is perfect for one thing: epic road trips on the mainland and touring Scottish islands by car!
With so many sights to see, so much fascinating history to hear, and more lochs than you could visit in a lifetime, there are a huge number of different Scottish self-drive tours to choose from. So straight from the mouth of a local, here are the top four road trips in Scotland that you must do before you die.
The Heart 200
One of Scotland’s newest, up-and-coming road trips is the central route of the Heart 200. Based on the central belt of Scotland, this 200-mile route will take you around the highlands and lowlands of Perthshire, an area that is home to some of Scotland’s most important history.
The best thing about the Heart 200 compared to other Scottish road trips is just how accessible it is. One hour from the city center of Glasgow and you are on the southern route of the Scottish self drive road trip.
This central location means that you can easily break down the Heart 200 road trip into multiple weekend trips from Glasgow, or simply smash the road trip out in one week visiting only the best sights on the route.
Sights not to be missed
Some of the top sights that cannot be missed on your Heart 200 road trip include the fascinating history of Stirling Castle and the view from the city’s Beheading Stone. From Stirling city center, the unmissable outline of the Wallace Monument is just a short drive away and should definitely be next on your list.
The Self Drive Scotland Route
Driving north from Stirling, the Heart 200 route takes you through the sleepy towns and villages of Perthshire such as Dunblane, Crieff, and Dunkeld. These villages all have hugely significant historical buildings, such as the Dunblane Cathedral, which dates back to the 13th-century.
Continue north towards Pitlochry and stop off at the small village of Killiecrankie for the best adrenaline rush in Scotland, a 40m bungee jump over the River Garry with Highland Fling Bungee. Once your heart has settled and you’ve soaked up the (albeit upside-down) views of River Garry, it is time to continue north.
The next sight that you cannot miss out on is the ancient building of Castle Menzies. This beautiful construction that has been the seat of the Menzies Clan for more than 500 years. Other sights in the area include the Falls of Dochart and the Birks of Aberfeldy.
The last stop on the Heart 200 before you finish off in the city of Stirling is the outer-worldly Devil’s Pulpit, found in Finnich Glen. This 60ft gorge transports you to another world, where the walls absorb all outside noise and the water runs red with blood.
North Coast 500
The most popular road trip in Scotland for self drive tours lies along the northern tip of the country and is known throughout the world as the North Coast 500. This 500-mile road trip combines the towering mountains and ancient landscape of Scotland with the unbelievable beaches that the country has to offer.
Since this Scotland self drive tour is a lot longer than the others, the best way to tour the North Coast 500 road trip is over a week-long road trip of Scotland, either by car or campervan. Camping is a hugely popular method of accommodation for this road trip, due to the choice of beautiful, beachside campsites available.
The Most Interesting sights
Some of the most interesting sights to see along this route include the towering Duncansby Stacks, located off the coast of John O’Groats on the “edge of the world”. This collection of sea towers reaches as high as 60m from the rough and treacherous waters of the North Sea.
Further to the west on the north coast of Scotland lies the ancient cave network of Smoo Caves. Just outside the small town of Durness, this collection of caves is believed to have at one point been used as storage for Viking longships.
Visiting this cave, it is possible to take a boat tour of the inside of this network of caves, where you will be told the fascinating history of this ancient part of the world.
To finish off the road trip, the climax of the NC500 road trip is the winding, white-knuckle drive of the Bealach na Ba pass. This road leading over the mountains towards the town of Applecross is the third highest road in Scotland and features the steepest incline of any road in the UK.
Named “Pass of the Cattle” in Gaelic, this was once the only route to the town of Applecross and was used by farmers to drive their livestock to market. Now it is a popular driving route for Scotland self drive tours, small cars, and motorbikes and delivers spectacular views of the Isle of Skye from the top.
Isle of Skye
If someone was to ask me to choose one specific part of Scotland that summarises its harsh weather, fascinating history and jaw-dropping beauty, it would have to be the Isle of Skye.
Also known as the “Misty Isle” Skye is one of the rainiest parts of Scotland, a trait that is both good and bad for visitors to its stunning countryside. On the positive side, it is thanks to the micro-climate generated by the towering Cullin mountain-range that has helped forge the rugged landscape that it is so famous for.
Between this and the ancient geological events that happened on Skye millions of years ago, the Isle of Skye features some of the most dramatic mountains and cliffs in the whole of the UK. Geographical phenomenons such as the Fairy Glen, the Quariang, and the Old Man of Storr are all the result of huge landslides.
Some of the other sights that cannot be missed on your Isle of Skye road trip are the Fairy Pools, Neist Point, Sligachan Bridge, and Kilt Rock.
The Isle of Skye is the embodiment of Scotland’s wondrous beauty, all condensed into an island that can easily be explored in just one day. Pack some warm clothing and a waterproof and you are ready as anybody to discover the beauty of the Isle of Skye.
As the famous Scotsman, Billy Connolly, once said, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing”.
Loch Lomond to Glencoe
Our final epic road trip in Scotland isn’t an official route, however, it is one that we have developed and perfected throughout the years that we called Scotland “home”. It stretches from the civilization of West Glasgow, along the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, through the wilderness of Rannoch Moor and finishes at the remote town of Glencoe.
This route has literally everything a good road trip should have, from stunning views to fascinating history, jaw-dropping mountain ranges to crashing waterfalls. The route starts at the southern tip of Loch Lomond, before tracing the western banks north through the Trossachs National Park.
The sights that you cannot miss on this driving route through Scotland include the cute town of Luss, the crashing Falls of Falloch, the towering Buachaille Etive Mor, and the beautiful lochside views of Glencoe.
The Scotland Self Drive Route
Starting the trip at Loch Lomond Shores, the 70-mile road trip takes you along the winding roads that hug the loch until you reach Luss. This small fishing town has a pier overlooking the calm water of the loch that is perfect for a quick stroll and some gentle reflection on the beauty of the landscape.
Continuing along the loch, you will eventually reach the Inveruglus Visitor Centre, where you can once again get out to stretch your legs. Walk up the hill beside the visitor center to find the 8-meter tall Inveruglus Pyramid, a newly erected monument that offers the best view of Loch Lomond if you climb to the top.
The next top is to the north of Loch Lomond and is the roadside waterfall known as the Falls of Falloch. This beautiful watering hole is a popular swimming spot for locals on a warm summer day, with a deep plunge pool and even some ledges you can jump from.
Further to the north, the civilization of Southern Scotland begins to fade away as the countryside becomes wild and barren. You are now entering one of Europe’s last remaining wilderness areas known as Rannoch Moor. Take your time as you drive along these roads, not because they are dangerous, but because the view is absolutely breathtaking.
As you pass the Glencoe Ski resort on your left, your gaze will undoubtedly be drawn to the intimidating outline of the towering Buachaille Etive Mor mountain. This marks the start of the Glencoe pass, one of the world’s most beautiful roads.
Prepare to be humbled as you drive between the sleeping giants of the Glencoe mountain ranges. The winding road that leads along these great glens is a constant reminder of our place in this world. Our lives are but a mere blip on the screen in the lifetime of these ancient mountains.
Final Thoughts about Scotland self drive tours
The endless beauty of Scotland has always been an escape for us. A way to remove ourselves from the daily grind of work, university, or whatever else we have going on, and escape into the wilderness. There is something magical about the way these beautiful landscapes can take whatever troubles you may be facing and shrink them down into easily digestible chunks.
The unbelievable history, beauty, and remoteness of the highlands of Scotland have a place in all of our hearts, it just takes one visit for us to realise it was always there. There is no exaggeration when people say that after one visit to the bonnie highlands of Scotland you will be hooked for life.
Gemma and Campbell are two Scots on the run from a 9-5 lifestyle.
After years of planning, they finally quit their jobs and set out to find their place in this beautiful world.
Currently, in Australia, they are living in a camper van and touring the epic Australian coastlines, which shows just how much they love adventure travel. They love promoting this kind of travel to their fellow wanderlusters on their blog highlands2hammocks.co.uk.
Sunday 19th of July 2020
Oh wow, the photos are magnificent.
I'd be going to Scotland soon, and this write up would definitely help me with some of the traveling plans.
Love this blog, hope to be back soon. :)