how to see the best of scotland in 3 days by car
FACT: If you don't mind a bit of rain, then there are plenty of places to visit in Scotland.
Throughout the years, I have met countless people of varying nationalities who had seen far more of Scotland than I had. Each person different, but the look of disbelief always the same when I revealed I had never done a road trip in Scotland, never been to the Isle of Skye nor Loch Ness. This was quickly followed by distaste when I confessed I didn't even like whiskey (I know, I'm like the worse Scottish person ever, right?). The truth is, for so long I dreamed of travelling to all these far off countries that I had never even considered exploring my own. I mean, what was there to see in Scotland anyway?
Turns out, there are so many places to visit in Scotland! For the past 26 years I have seriously underrated my own country and the few days I spent exploring the highlands were incredible. As we are a small country, you can see a lot of Scotland in 3 days! Moving to Edinburgh after being away for so long, I am so excited to rediscover Scotland. And it turns out, you don't need to go to Thailand for white beaches, Scotland has them in plentiful. Think you need to go to Sardinia for incredible seafood? Nope. Scottish seafood is just as delicious. Who knew that all along I had epic mountains, sandy beaches, mouth watering cuisine and fascinating culture all on my doorstep?
The one thing which Scotland doesn't have a lot of, is great weather. However, if you are waiting for good weather to travel Scotland then you will be waiting forever. Checking the weather the night before we set off on our trip, it said it would pour down for the full 3 days. Slightly disappointed but not entirely surprised, our accommodation was already booked and bags were packed, it made little sense to cancel now so we decided to go ahead as planned, even if it was in the rain. And you know that "constant rain" we had been advised of, it was only a few showers and the rest of the time the sun was shining! That's the thing about Scotland, the weather can change so fast that relying on weather apps is pointless. It can go from hailstones to sunshine in 5 minutes.
Therefore, tip number one... don't rely on weather apps when in Scotland!
We decided to spend 3 days over Easter exploring Scotland by car and I have outlined our itinerary below.
day 1 - Bruar falls & ullapool
We decided to spend our first day and night in a lively little town called Ullapool, which is about 4 and a half hours from Edinburgh. Breaking up the drive, we stopped at the Falls of Bruar along the way which is where Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote the famous poem "The Humble Petition Of Bruar Water". These picturesque falls make for the perfect place to stretch your legs and take a few photos of this local beauty spot.
A couple of hours later, we arrived in Ullapool, a charming little town full of white washed cottages on the banks of Loch Broom. Serving as a gateway to the highlands, this was the perfect place to spend our first night.
best things to do in ullapool
Ullapool is surrounded by roaming hills which means theres plenty of vantage points over offer the town and Loch Broom. There is one particular path leading from the town up to a viewpoint which offers stunning views over the loch.
A short drive from the town you can visit Knockan Crag National Reserve. It was here that one of the worlds greatest geological mysteries was solved in the 19th century, an exposed slice of rock enables you to bridge over 500 millions years of history with you bare hands. The Reserve also offers astounding views and various walking tracks.
Despite the size of Ullapool, it has more than it's fair share of local pubs which have live music most nights. Enjoy a traditional plate of Scottish mussels, or fish and chips in front of a roaring fire while listening to a Scottish folk band. The Ceilidh Place and The Arch Inn were two of our favourite places to grab a bite to eat and a cold beer after a day of walking. We stayed at The Ferry Boat Inn whilst in Ullapool, a cute little place with a country pub downstairs and roaring fire.
For breakfast, we went to the Frigate Cafe which offers incredible views onto Loch Broom. Although a little expensive, the food was great and their selection of cakes even better! We even stopped here again on our way back to Edinburgh for more coffee and cake (the clotted cream is amazing!).
day 2 - sandwoods bay & achiltibuie
After a delicious breakfast in Ullapool, we headed to Sandwoods Bay; a beach rumoured to be one of the most beautiful in Scotland. Although it was about a 2 hour drive from Ullapool, the drive itself was gorgeous. The landscape became more dramatic the further north we went; we passed purple heather coated cliffs, wild stags roaming freely, expansive lochs and snow capped mountains.
We stopped at Kylesku Hotel for an incredible lunch along the way - the views from the restaurant are stunning, and if you are lucky you can see local seals sunbathing on rocks and deer graze on the herb garden! All the produce is sourced locally and the chef really knows how to showcase the best of Scotland on a plate.
Arriving at Sandwoods Bay, you need to ditch the car and walk for about 7km on a well marked path, past little lochs and roaming hills. Finally the path opens up in front of you and it suddenly becomes this endless landscape of towering sand dunes and dramatic cliffs. It felt like stumbling up on a secret slice of paradise. How could this be Scotland? We struggled up and clambered down the sand dunes, taking in the views as we went before finally relaxing on the beach, enjoying the sound of the crashing waves.
From Sandwoods Bay we headed to Achiltibuie (pronounced Ah-Kilt-A-bui-ee), a sparsely populated little town which encompasses everything you would expect of the Scottish Highlands. There is a one tracked road into the town which promises to keep you on your toes, however the views from this little place are more than worth the drive. With panoramic views out to the Summer Isles, Achiltibuie is undoubtably one of the most beautiful places I've visited in Scotland.
Here we stayed at The Acheninver Hostel which has been a hostel for almost 80 years and is one of the coolest places we've stayed. Once you've parked the car, you need to plonk your bags into a wheelbarrow and negotiate your way down a dirt track and across a little river - definitely one of the most unique welcomes I've ever had! The staff at Acheninver are super friendly and although basic, the place is really clean and the views which surround you are better than most 5 star hotels I have stayed in.
Achilibuie is famous for it's seafood, in particular its scallops so make sure to try some when you are here. There are a few restaurants in the town, The Summer Isles Hotel is renowned for its fine dining if you want something special, or I would also recommend the seafood at Peet's. For breakfast, then look no further than Achiltibuie Piping School Cafe, a locally ran cafe with the most incredibly delicious homemade cakes and probably the best view from a restaurant you will ever get.
The Piping School Cafe with views out to The Summer Isles!
day 3 - hiking stac pollaidh
On the third and final day of our road trip we decided to hike Stac Pollaidh, a short but steep 4 kilometre climb which rewards you with breathtaking views out to the stark wilderness of the Scottish Highlands. With 360 degree views from Loch Broom to The Summer Isles, this was the perfect way to spend our last day and epitomised the stark beauty of this region of Scotland.
Although 3 days isn't a long time, it is enough to give you a taste of not only how beautiful Scotland can be, but of how diverse this country is. I absolutely loved exploring the Scottish highlands, from it's wild beaches to it's craggy mountaintops and I can't wait to see more!
Have you ever travelled Scotland? Or rediscovered your own country after travelling abroad?
All photos taken with my Sony Camera