Our trip to Scotland was a special one. Instead of just the two of us taking off an expat adventure, we met my parents in Edinburgh and the four of us hit the road to explore more of the Highlands and Isle of Skye.
We’d been to Scotland and the Highlands before, so we were super excited to have more time to explore even more of this beautiful part of the UK. My dad’s family hails from Scotland, so he was excited to see the motherland. Lucky for us our timing was excellent in that it was lambing season! Baby lambs greeted us everywhere as we drove through the hills of countryside, filled with sheep families.
To start off our trip, we drove from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye through Loch Ness. We made the most of this road trip, stopping along the way to check out some iconic Scottish castles. On our way back, we took the route via Fort William, which I’ll be posting about soon.
We flew into Edinburgh the night before and stayed the night at the Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh Airport. It was close enough that we walked over after our flight. The staff there were super friendly and helpful, the beds were very comfortable and we got breakfast included in the morning (with to-go coffee cups to boot!). From there, it was a quick and free shuttle back to the airport to pick up the rental car.
We rented a car from Sixt and met my parents there. We were off and on the road within fifteen or so minutes. Easy peasy!
Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle
Our route took us through Cairngorms National Park to Loch Ness. Loch Ness adds about an hour or so to the overall driving time, but for me, it was well worth it! I have a distinct memory of watching a special on the Loch Ness monster from childhood and so I was super excited to go and see the lake that inspired this mythical creature.
As we drove along, my dad told us how friends of his had told him they were “underwhelmed” by Loch Ness. This made us all laugh – were they actually thinking they’d see the Loch Ness monster on their visit?! Unclear.
The lake is long and not very wide. Surrounded by hills which fall toward the lake at a steep pitch, the murky water appears dark and it was very choppy on the windy day we drove by. It really did look like the kind of place a monster might hide out! That may make it sound like it’s not pleasant, which couldn’t be farther from the case. I’d call it “picturesque yet foreboding.”
About halfway along the lake are the ruins of Urquhart Castle, a few minutes outside the main town along the lake. We didn’t stop in Drumnadochnit, but it has a few restaurants, hotels and Nessieland! The monster is played up a bit, but not overwhelmingly so, and we passed a few tour buses. We were not alone in our Nessie adventure.
In formidable monster fashion, we arrived to sunny skies and it quickly turned to stormy skies as soon as we walked out to the castle. We’ll call it ambiance.
Set right on the banks of the lake, what remains of Urquhart is enchanting. Dating back to the 13th century, the castle was involved in the Scottish war of independence and in many clan battles over time. You’re able to climb all over the ruins, walking up the tower and down to the banks of the lake.
After touring the castle, we hopped back in the car and I was tasked with finding a spot for lunch. Lucky for me, I found the Redburn Cafe. Located right off our route, this adorable little spot served up delicious lunches for everyone. The loaded jacket potatoes were delicious.
Refueled, we carried on our way. Our next stop was Eilean Donan Castle. Set on a rocky outcrop in a peaceful sea loch, the castle is a striking sight as you arrive.
Eilean Donan was rebuilt in the 13th century. In 1719, it sustained devastating damage during a Jacobite uprising and was abandoned. The castle may have resembled Urquhart over time, had Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap not purchased the castle in 1911. For 20 years, he repaired and renovated it to its current form. The castle is still owned by the McRae’s today, but they’ve opened it to the public for viewing.
Touring the castle is a fascinating combination of history, Scottish pride and family stories handed down over the ages. It is a gorgeous spot to explore. There are no photos allowed inside, so hopefully you can visit!
From there, we drove onto Isle of Skye. The bridge onto the island is testament to how short of a journey it is from mainland Scotland.
Read about our Isle of Skye adventures here!