Rick Steves' Best of Scotland in 14 Days Tour, Day by Day
On our Best of Scotland tour along mossy mountains, windswept isles, mysterious lochs, and heathered glens, you'll discover a land and culture that are strongly persistent…and persistently lovable. Starting in underrated Glasgow and ending in royal Edinburgh, you'll wander over the Isles of Iona and Skye; explore the rugged Highlands; ponder lochs Ness, Lomond, and Tay; try a wee dram at a whisky distillery; shake paws with a sheepdog; study the fairways at St. Andrews; and time-travel about the castles of Edinburgh, Stirling, and Urquhart. Let's go…
Days 1 & 2: Welcome to Scotland
We'll meet at 4 p.m. at our hotel in Glasgow for a "Welcome to Scotland" get-together. Then we'll take an orientation walk through our neighborhood and get introduced to Glasgow's metro system, before getting acquainted over dinner together.
The next day, our local guide will take us on a walking tour of Scotland's often-overlooked largest city. Famous for its architecture, Glasgow boasts Victorian facades, bold new construction, and beloved works by hometown visionary Charles Rennie Mackintosh — who gave Art Nouveau a Scottish burr. Along the way, we'll learn about the city's history and contemporary life, with stops at Glasgow Cathedral, bustling George Square, and thriving Merchant City. This afternoon you're free to explore Glasgow's world-class museums and the leafy parks of the West End. Tonight, find a local pub and enjoy some live music — trad or mod — in Scotland's music capital.
Days 3 & 4: Stirling, Oban, and Iona
We'll begin our day with a visit to the famous castle of the Stuart kings, Stirling, with its commanding views and royal apartments. After lunch we'll drive along the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond on our way to the scenic coastal town of Oban, the "Gateway to the Isles." After an orientation, the evening is yours to hike up to McCaig's Tower for a sweeping harbor view, wander the quaint lanes and scenic promenades, or simply relax over a pint and some fresh-caught seafood.
The following day is for Scottish island-hopping: We'll ride a ferry and board a local bus for an entertaining trip across the island of Mull to the windswept Isle of Iona, the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. We'll visit the 800-year-old abbey, where monks created the remarkable Book of Kells — a rare bright spot in Europe's Dark Ages. We'll then set you free to explore or find a spot to meditate on this tiny, spiritually charged island. We'll return to Oban, and our own century, in time for dinner.
Days 5 & 6: Into the Highlands
This morning we'll head north into the fabled Highlands, stopping at the "weeping glen" of Glencoe — the hauntingly beautiful site of Scotland's most infamous massacre (Campbells and MacDonalds, leave your daggers on the bus). Then we'll continue through a rugged landscape along the historic "Road to the Isles." We'll stop along the way for lunch and to ogle the craggy views before arriving at our hotel, where we'll enjoy dinner together.
We'll hop aboard our coach the next morning and drive over the sea to the Isle of Skye, with some of Scotland's most dramatic scenery (and a fitting name that means "misty isle" in Old Norse). We'll get an early start with a winding drive along Skye's ruffled coastline, rocky peaks, and rolling fields, including the Trotternish Peninsula, with its cinematic pinnacles and cliffs. We'll also have time to explore the Skye Museum of Island Life, which re-creates traditional "crofting" (farming) lifestyles of the 1800s, and the picturesque harbor town of Portree. Tonight we'll return to the mainland to enjoy dinner together.
Days 7 & 8: Castles, Cruises, and Culloden
Today we'll experience more of the Highlands, beginning with the evocative ruins of Urquhart Castle, strategically situated above Loch Ness. After exploring its stony towers and expansive lake view, we'll take a panoramic cruise of Loch Ness (monster sightings not guaranteed). Then we'll continue on to the capital of the Highlands, Inverness, where we'll take an orientation walk and set you free for dinner on your own.
The next morning we'll tour the powerful Culloden Battlefield — the "Scottish Alamo," where Bonnie Prince Charlie's defeat in 1746 marked the beginning of the end of the Highland clan system. The remainder of the day is yours to explore Inverness' pedestrian-friendly downtown or stroll the lovely parks and promenades along the banks of the River Ness. Tonight is a great opportunity to enjoy some traditional music in one of Inverness' many fun-loving pubs.
Days 9 & 10: Sheepdogs and Whisky
Today we'll drive through Speyside, famous for producing Scotland's favorite drink: whisky, of course. We'll tour a cooperage to watch master coopers build oak casks and learn about the importance of cask aging in the flavor of Scotch whisky. After lunch, we'll visit Rothiemurchus, a Highland estate at the heart of Cairngorms National Park with one of the largest areas of natural forest in Britain. With a ranger as our guide, we'll learn of land and animal conservation efforts, including "hairy coos" (shaggy Highland cattle) and red deer.
We'll begin the next day at a working sheep farm, where we'll watch talented sheepdogs in action and learn about Scotland's wool industry. After a quintessential Scottish lunch together, we'll tour a whisky distillery to sample a wee dram and get the inside story on this iconic Scottish industry. This evening, we'll enjoy dinner together and then meet a Scottish bagpiper for some music and a lesson on this unusual instrument's history.
Days 11 & 12: Crannogs, Storytelling, and St. Andrews
This morning we'll tour a reconstruction of Scotland's unique crannogs — prehistoric, thatched-roofed defensive huts built on piers out over the lochs — and learn about the Iron Age people who first farmed these lands. Then, we're off to the picturesque village of Dunkeld on the River Tay, where we'll visit its medieval cathedral before having a free afternoon to find lunch, poke around town, or relax along the river. We'll regroup for dinner together and an evening of traditional Scottish storytelling.
The following day we'll visit St. Andrews, Scotland's oldest university town and a mecca for golfers worldwide. You'll have time to explore the ruins of St. Andrews' medieval cathedral, watch duffers playing the Old Course — considered the birthplace of golf — and enjoy lunch. Then we'll cross the famous Firth of Forth on our way into Edinburgh. After settling into our hotel, we'll take an orientation walk of Georgian Edinburgh, before setting you free for dinner on your own.
Day 13: Conquering Edinburgh
Today we'll wind our way through the Gothic streets of Edinburgh's old town, seeing the best of the city on foot. Our walking tour will take us up the Royal Mile — with its wealth of historic buildings, quaint shops, narrow lanes, and hidden courtyards — then onto Grassmarket and Greyfriars Cemetery. This afternoon, visit imposing Edinburgh Castle at your leisure to see the Scottish Crown Jewels and Stone of Scone and to soak up the dramatic views from this military stronghold and birthplace of the city. Tonight, we'll share memories of Scotland and toast new friends at our final dinner together. Slàinte!
Day 14: Tour Over After Breakfast
Breakfast is provided, but there are no group activities today. Edinburgh's airport and train station are easy connections from our neighborhood. Glasgow is one hour away by train; London is 90 minutes by air. For those tempted to continue their trip, Edinburgh is a great jumping-off point to Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam, and many other exciting destinations. Turas math dhut! (Happy travels!)
Learn more about Rick's Best of Scotland in 14 Days tour.