One of the best things I’ve ever done was take a road trip from Glasgow to Skye. I was already living in Glasgow, so the flight factor didn’t add into my costs, but even if you have to fly into Scotland before starting your road trip, it’s an incredibly cheap trip without feeling like you’re missing out on any part of the experience.
Skye is incredible (and you can read all about our trip to Skye here), but the road to Skye was equally as incredible and as much a part of the experience as the isle itself. Renting a car for a long weekend can be pretty inexpensive. Tours can get really pricey, and you can’t always see everything you want to see. Having the freedom to stop and go whenever you please for a minimal price is worth every penny spent on gas. The cost of our rental car was £101, split three ways, for the entire weekend.
Winding your way up slowly from Glasgow, the scenery changes from cityscapes to small towns, until you finally hit the quintessential Scottish countryside. The sights are (mostly) free, the experience is priceless.
Here are the best stops on your way up to Skye:
• Loch Lomond: This will be your first stop, so keep an eye out for the little turnoffs and lookouts that you’ll come to expect from a drive into the highlands. You travel around Loch Lomond for a while, so make more than one stop- every view is different and spectacular. The loch is known for its dark color, and on a calm day the surface looks like obsidian. (The lakebed is made of dark silt, giving the impression of dark water.) About halfway through your loch-side drive, you’ll pass into the northern part of the country. Congrats! You’re officially a highlander now.
• Glen Coe: Rain or shine, Glen Coe is a must-see, and one of the most famous views in Scotland. Surrounded by Rannoch Moor (see below!), on a clear day, the Three Sisters- Glen Coe’s iconic peaks- are visible across the green, lush glen. But in the rain, the valley comes to life. You might lose a Sister or two to the fog, but in return you get a sprawling green glen teeming with waterfalls and magic. And let’s face it, it’s Scotland. You’re more likely to see Glen Coe in the rain anyway. The human history of the glen itself is tragic, and it’s hard not to feel a sense of reverence as you peer out into the misty expanse.
• Rannoch Moor: The scenery of many a spooky, wild movie scene (you might recognize it from Outlander, or Harry Potter), Rannoch Moor has a bare, haunted ascetic with a cool historical origin story. This is an ancient place, forged by the melting and reforming of glaciers, carved by time itself. It’s a bog, so if you were planning on doing any exploring deep into the moor, be prepared to track a lot of mud back to your car. It will also stand out because in a land of hills and mountains, Rannoch Moor is eerily flat and alien for the most part.
• Oban: A must see for lovers of quaint seaside towns, and lovers of scotch. This would be an excellent place to stop for a bite to eat, either in a small little pub, or a nicer seafood restaurant, depending on your budget, and explore a Scottish town. Talk to the locals, take in the sights and smells, and stretch your legs after a long car ride.
• Fort Williams: Another great little town to stop for lunch is Fort William. A little further north than Oban, this town has some useful shops- a perfect place to stop once you’ve remembered all the things you were supposed to pack and forgot, and don’t want to waste your Skye time finding proper hiking socks. (Can you tell I’m speaking from experience? My favorite pair of comfy socks came from Fort Williams, and I always wear them fondly, for both the comfort and the memory.)
• Eilean Dolan: I cannot stress this enough. If you only stop in one place on the way up to Skye, stop here. The castle exterior is one of the most outstanding and quintessential Scottish sights, and the inside gives you an amazing insight into Scottish history. You’ll have to pay to get inside, but it’s worth the splurge. Your instinct might be to skip it, because it’s just before Skye and you’ll probably be eager to get to the isle and start exploring, but I promise it’s worth it, even if you just stop to take in the sight of it and not go inside.
• Literally, the side of the road: Peppered along the side of the road leading up into the northern highlands are little areas where you can park your car and just enjoy the view. Sometimes, there are lochs, sometimes mountains. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, there are highland cows. These iconic gentle giants will tolerate an obscene amount of photos, happily munching on grass and ignoring you completely. Stop and say hello (just don’t get too close and bother them), and relish in this one-of-a-kind Scottish experience.
You can do this drive in one long day, or opt for a cheap Airbnb or inn at one of the small towns along the way. We did it in one go, leaving early in the morning and arriving in Skye just as the sun began to set. The cost of the rental car was £101. So for £34 each (plus snacks and lunch), we saw all that I mentioned above (with a bonus stop at Loch Ness on the way home!). Road trips are a classic way of seeing a country, and it’s no different here. It’s the best way to get the most bang for your buck, and this particular road trip was one I would recommend to anyone.