Highlands Day Trip Itinerary from Edinburgh
We loved spending time in Edinburgh, but the highlands are such a beautiful part of Scotland that you must explore! There is so much to see and one day absolutely cannot do it justice, but if you have limited time, you can make one big day trip.
The only way to get to the best areas of the highlands is to drive. From Edinburgh, we took the tram to the Edinburgh airport (about 35 min ride) and then rented a car. There are also rental car options in downtown Edinburgh, but they can be more expensive, and driving in downtown is definitely the more difficult compared to the highlands.
There are definitely pros and cons of tours.
Pro: Getting up to the most iconic sights in the highlands takes a lot of driving, and can be a really long and tiring day if you don’t like driving. It is also difficult if you’re not used to driving on the left side of the road. Tours will save you all the driving and will take much less energy.
Cons: Tours will tend to stop at places where they make commission. So you may be spending your time at shops, restaurants, or monuments that you wouldn’t prioritize on your own. You also get to chose your own timing, food stops, and go at your own pace.
You can check out these options from Get Your Guide.
We started at 7am since we wanted to make it up to the Glenfinnan Viaduct to see the Hogwarts Express come by at 1:20 PM. This definitely rushed the morning part of our trip, and a lot of the good coffee shops and breakfast spots weren’t open yet.
Trossachs National Park:
We drove into this beautiful park and explored the many lakes in the park. We were a little rushed so we just sat by the lakes for a bit and walked around. My favorite area to explore was the Trossachs Pier. There are boats at the pier and a little coffee shop. You can hike from here or rent bikes.
Rannoch Moor Viewpoint:
This is a beautiful viewpoint on the road trip route I’ve mapped out. You might also recognize it from the Harry Potter movies when the Death Eaters stop the Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.
Next, drive through the Glencoe Valley (Road A82) for breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys. We mostly drove through and admired the landscapes from the car. There are also 3 recommended stops to take in the views:
- Etive Mor
- Parking lot with view of Etive Beag
- Parking lot of the 3 sisters
The Glenfinnan Viaduct is famous because it is the best viewpoint of the Hogwarts Express! I have a whole blog on the details of seeing the Hogwarts Express from this viewpoint!
This is a sleeply little town that mostly acts as a homebase for travellers exploring the highlands. We met people that were just finishing the West Highland Way and many people that had gone to see the Hogwarts Express. We went to The Crofter for lunch and then The Wildcat for coffee. I’d highly recommend The Wildcat. It has tons of vegan and gluten free offerings, and the coffee was amazing.
Fort Augustus (Loch Ness):
This was by far my favorite stop of the whole day! Fort Augustus is a cute little town at the tip of Loch Ness. We parked in the visitor lot and walked into the tiny downtown area. We hiked along the inlet where the boats are parked out to this stunning viewpoint of the lake. That was the best part of the town, just the lake view. There are also some restaurants, shops, ice cream, etc.
We were told that Pitlochry literally translates to “tourist trap.” It is just a little town on the way to the highlands with a few things to see. It is notably known for Edradour Distillery, the smallest operating whiskey distillery in Scotland. It is so small in fact, that they shut down tours of the distillery. We came all the way here and ended up buying Edradour Whiskey in Edinburgh. There are plenty of shops and restaurants in the town to explore, but things close early. Beyond that, there’s not a lot to do.