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How to plan a Scotland road trip [in 2019]

How to plan a Scotland road trip [in 2019]

North Coast 500

Planning a road trip around Scotland

Thinking of planning a Scotland road trip? Me too! It’s my favourite way to travel. I love the variety, I get to see everything and road-trippin’ soothes a serious case of itchy feet. If you are planning your itinerary for your road trip in Scotland, here is how to do it.

This post contains affiliate links (marked with a *) which I may receive a small commission from

Step 1. Decide where to road trip around Scotland

So where in Scotland are you going to go?

The North Coast 500 – The most popular road trip in Scotland is the North Coast 500, which takes you on an epic journey around the far north coast of Scotland. 

  • Starting in the Highland capital, Inverness, the North Coast 500 will take you to the very top of the UK, spotting dolphins and visiting amazing castles along the way. 
  • You will then drive right along the far north coast of Scotland – before driving otherworldly landscapes of Lochinver and Assynt and drive along a coastline pepper-potted with incredible white sand beaches with turquoise blue seas to Wester Ross.
  • Finally, you will drive through the huge Torridon mountains, past fiord-like lochs to the beautiful Applecross Peninsula where you end your trip driving the famous Bealach na Bà.

However, if you don’t have time to do the full 500 miles, why not choose one of my other Scotland road trip itineraries: 

More Scotland Itineraries

  • Central Scotland – Discover the best bits of central ScotlandIf you only have a short time in Scotland but still want to get a taste of the ‘best bits’ then this Scotland itinerary is for you. Starting in Edinburgh and taking in Stirling, Loch Lomond, Glencoe, Loch Ness and Highland Perthshire over 6 days, this tour of Scotland takes in some of my favourite parts of Scotland. Let’s go on a Scotland Road Trip!
  • The west coast & islands – Ferry hop on Scotland’s west coastwith spectacular white sandy beaches, soaring mountains and beautiful islands it’s no wonder that Scotland’s west coast is the first place many people think of when planning a trip to Scotland. Explore the best bits of the west coast of Scotland on this itinerary ferry hopping from the Isle of Skye, Ardnamurchan, Mull and Oban before returning to Glasgow.
  • Wester Ross – Head to the far north to visit Wester Ross – with over 3000 square miles of soaring mountains and atmospheric glens, ancient Caledonian forest and wild beaches set against a backdrop of fjord-like lochs; Wester Ross is one of the world’s most remote, regions and probably the most beautiful part of the famous North Coast 500. Explore with this road trip. 
  • Explore Angus – Explore the beautiful Angus Coastlike so much of Scotland missing from the ‘things to see in Scotland before you die’ lists, the Angus coast between Aberdeen and Dundee is underrated and crying out for you to visit. With beautiful beaches, the spectacular Dunnottar Castle, and as much fresh fish as you can eat – Scotland’s northeast coast is as beautiful, wild, and as rugged as the west. 
  • The East Neuk of Fife – Discover the villages of the East Neuk of Fife – the ‘East Neuk’ or eastern corner of the ‘Kingdom of Fife’ is one of Scotland’s hidden gems. Stretching from the villages of Elie & Earlsferry to Crail and Kingsbarns, the East Neuk was once the heart of the east coast of Scotland’s fishing trade. Fancy a lobster roll, spotting some puffins and a stroll along a beautiful beach? Here’s how to road trip the East Neuk of Fife

Read more: 10 epic road trips in Scotland

Watch: video guide to road trips in Scotland

Step 2 – Plot your Scotland road trip

Want to plan your own road trip? Have a list of places you want to visit? Here is how I plan my road trips in Scotland. My first step is to work out my road trip area -Visit Scotland has a handy travel map of Scotland, click on the ‘region’ tab.

I then start plotting & planning my road trip. To do this I use an online road trip app. My favourite is Google Maps*. The benefits? It’s free and the app is integrated with GPS so you can use it offline and whilst you are actually road tripping.

I start by adding the main places I want to visit on a new google map:

  1. Log in to Google Maps and click on the menu on the left-hand side.
  2. Click on ‘your places’ and then ‘maps’ and then ‘create map’. A new map will pop up.
  3. Search for your first destination. Try ‘Eilean Donan Castle‘.
  4. A pop-up box will appear above the pin. Click ‘add to map’. Your destinations will appear as pins on the map.
  5. Save your map as ‘Scotland Road Trip’ – and you will now have a rough idea of your road trip area!

Planning a road trip

Step 3 – Find the best places to visit on your Scotland road trip 

Once I have my Scotland road trip area, I work out where I want to stop – be it a great little town like Plockton for a wander, a fabulous view of a loch, or a great place for a seafood lunch. I save all the options on my Scotland Road Trip on Google Maps by using the ‘stars’ function. 

  • Open up Google Maps, either online or on the app.
  • Search for the place and a box will appear (online – left, the app – below) and a pin will also appear on the map.
  • Click on ‘save’ or the ‘star’ in the box and a star will appear on your map.
  • Your destination is now saved. Simple! 

All your stars should now be giving you an idea of your road trip! Another benefit is that all the stars will appear in the app when you are travelling around.

Planning a road trip

Step 4 – Choose your stopping points for the night 

Here is how to find where to stay in Scotland:

Check out my map of my favourite places to stay in Scotland, from B&Bs to cottages and glamping, to fancy hotels…

Why not stay at one of my favourite campsites in Scotland, or search for a campsite on Cool Camping. I use Booking.com’s map search* to find accommodation in my road trip area and Airbnb is also useful as a search tool to find areas to stay. Walkhighlands have links to hostels in Scotland or stay in a mountain bothy!

Before booking anything follow my road trip accommodation tips: 

  • Be ready to change your road trip direction based on what accommodation is available.
  • Try to stay for at least two nights at each place (unless it’s a really special hotel or a treat) after all that driving you will need lie-ins! Two nights also gives you a full day to explore the area and have time for a relaxed meal without having to drive the next day.
  • If you can, book early on a website with free cancellation policies such as booking.com*. Especially if it is a popular place. You can always cancel if your route changes.
  • Don’t forget to check for music, arts and other festivals taking place on your dates. This will help you discover if prices might be higher or if there will be low accommodation availability. You might also want to plan your route so you can go! Have a look at Visit Scotland’s Events page.
  • I also search for foodie destinations such as for ‘seafood in Scotland‘ ‘craft beer’, ‘burgers’, ‘best restaurant in Applecross’ (or whatever you are into!) as I like to stay in the heart of the action. You don’t want to be driving to for a meal when you arrive at your road trip stop.
  • I also recommend you join the VisitScotland iKnow Community – browse the posts and ask for recommendations. We are very helpful!

Have a look at my where to stay in Scotland section – there might be a perfect hotel, cottage or campsite for your trip! 

Step 5 – Plan your Scotland road trip route

I plan my road trip route using Google Maps route mapping tool.

  • Open up Google Maps, either online or on the app.
  • Below the search box is an ‘add directions’ option. Click it and a new box will appear on the left-hand side with the option to add new places.
  • Using this box add each place as A, B, C etc. A route map will appear. Magic!
  • Keep adding destinations until your route is complete.
  • To see timings, click on the 3 dots on the right of the box and click ‘step by step directions’.

Here is one Scotland road trip I prepared earlier, just to give you a road trip planning example.

*Disclaimer, there are other route planning apps out there, you may have another favourite, let me know!

Your road trip planning should now be now complete, so here are some tips for your journey!

Road tripping Scotland tips!

  • Know the speed limits, road signs and general driving advice – in Scotland, understand how to drive on a single track road!
  • I recommend that your stops are no more than 1-1.5 hours apart unless much of the journey is on a motorway or you know the rules of the road. 2 hours on mountain roads will exhaust even the most patient of drivers. If you are island hopping in Scotland, remember to add in the journey time for ferries!
  • You don’t need a satnav – you can use your mobile phone. On a smartphone, GPS works without using data. Plot your route with Wifi before you leave the hotel and you can follow it. Note, as the driver you can be fined for using your phone as a Sat Nav – so this is only an option if you have a passenger to direct you.
  • Don’t drive hungry (or thirsty) as, like most people, it can get a bit nippy especially if you get lost. So use check-ins and outs to your advantage – enjoy your breakfast and always arrive somewhere strategically for lunch! 
  • If you want to go to a very popular attraction (say Eilean Donan Castle) think about staying nearby so you can get up and go first thing before the crowds arrive and you head off to your next stop.
  • Always be honest with the driver about how long the drive will take, remember they will probably have no idea of where they are going!

Where to visit in Scotland

Finally, remember road tripping isn’t all about the driving, so make sure you get out of the car too! Take a look at my guide to where to visit in Scotland for things to get up to or have a look at this guide to a week in Scotland. Don’t forget to allow time to squeeze other activities, why not go whale watching or rib boating on Loch Ness? For walks along the way, I use both Walkhighlands and the 40 favourite walks books; they mean I never miss out on an amazing view!

My best tip for road tripping? Keep stopping, Scotland’s scenery is spectacular…

Want more? Check out my Scotland Road Trip Itineraries

Tried & tested – Places to stay in Scotland

 Love from, Scotland x

 

 

 

Thinking of planning a road trip around Scotland? Thinking about driving the North Coast 500? Here is how to plan your itinerary for Scotland.

21 Comments

  • lifeasunusuals 15/08/2016 at 10:34 am

    Visiting Scotland has been on my travel bucket list for ages! My husband is from there and we’d love to visit together at some point. Out plan is to do a long Scotland trip when we come back to the UK as we’re currently living in Belgium. Although, we’d be going by bike rather than car, since we don’t own one and I prefer my bike. The thing I love about Scotland is the opportunity to wild camp rather than stay in campsites – that’s a great way to save the pennies when travelling.

    ~ K

    http://www.lifeasunusuals.com

    • lovefrom 15/08/2016 at 11:29 am

      Welcome & thanks for visiting! Will you be doing it by push bike or motorbike? If you are doing it by cycling, wow! Have a wee look at my North Coast 500 page, there are loads of tips from people on places to go and see! http://www.lovefromscotland.co.uk/north-coast-500

      • lifeasunusuals 15/08/2016 at 11:33 am

        We’ll be going by bike. We’ve got no set plans at the moment it’s more of a “I’d really like to do that”plan 🙂 will definitely check out that page, thanks!

  • oregongirlaroundtheworld 15/08/2016 at 11:58 am

    WOW. This is an amazing resource. And to be honest, you had me at gin. I am definitely pinning for later as this is on our short list of trips – looks amazing and this is the perfect place to start planning. Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin #MondayEscapes

  • bevchen 15/08/2016 at 11:59 am

    Excellent advice! Now I want to go to Scotland again. 6 years ago I did a tour of Great Britain with my boyfriend and a friend but sadly there wasn’t much Scotland on there – just Edinburgh and Fort William with a quick stop at Loch Lomond on the way back to England.

    #MondayEscapes

  • darwinontherocks 15/08/2016 at 12:11 pm

    I did a similar road trip last summer and i wish I had knew some of these tricks 🙂

  • Elizabeth 15/08/2016 at 1:06 pm

    We just got back from a Road Trip around Scotland with the littles. We had a great time and these are great tips for those planning their adventure! #MondayEscapes

  • Tanja 15/08/2016 at 2:25 pm

    great tips!:)

  • California Globetrotter 16/08/2016 at 7:57 am

    What a great and comprehensive guide! We’ve always wanted to do a road trip around Scotland! I’ve just saved this! #MondayEscapes

  • Trish @ Mum's Gone To 16/08/2016 at 8:58 am

    Well this is a very timely blog post! We are heading off to Scotland very soon for a road trip around Dumfries and Galloway. My hubby is from Edinburgh so we have had several trips north over the years but neither of us know this bit of the country. Very excited about our trip.
    #mondayescapes.

  • mytravelmonkey 27/08/2016 at 11:52 am

    One of the best trips we ever had was a road trip around Scotland including Torrindon. Some really great tips! #MondayEscapes

  • Tyler Ward 08/11/2016 at 9:09 am

    Wow! Putting stars on the map is a great way to make sure you get to see everything on your list! Great photos.

  • Sam Sampson 08/02/2017 at 9:57 am

    What a great blog…..my hubby & I are going to Scotland in April with our Campervan & the dogs…..thanks so much for all the tips…this should be such a help!

  • Beth 18/08/2017 at 9:46 am

    And always leave extra time for the wiggly roads! It took us as long to get from Glasgow to Clachtoll Beach up past Ullapool as it does to get from Glasgow to London!
    Great blog, by the way, I love the fell walking posts, by the way.

  • Michelle Renee 19/08/2017 at 12:45 am

    I just got into your blog and I’m loving it! This is great. We just returned from a 16-day road trip around Iceland and the West fjords and in 2018, we are so doing the North Coast 500. Epic road trips are the way to go!

    • Love from, Smidge 28/08/2017 at 12:00 pm

      Hullo! Thanks for popping by, we are looking forward to doing the NC500 early next year – so hopefully i’ll have lots of more tips 🙂

  • Anthony 23/12/2017 at 3:28 am

    This is great. We are planning on doing this. You can get a non stick shift car? Also can you do your route in 8 days? Or is it possible to cut length down?

  • Lynne Hopkins 13/07/2018 at 3:04 pm

    Fab advice. Thank you. Just started some research in anticipation of a road trip taking in the islands, his is a great start.

  • […] west coast is a roadtrippers dream, however, the best section – if you ask me – is not on the North Coast 500. Instead, […]

  • Ursula Jung 10/09/2019 at 5:41 pm

    We´ve been to Scotland 5 years ago and we knew we have to come back. On 9th July we started with the ferry from IJmuiden to Newcastle upon Thyne. From there we drove to Perth for the first stop. The following day we started the NC 500. It was really amazing and we never thought that we could see so much on the tour, besides all the fantastic castles and beaches. We were in Inverewe Gardens as well. Then we did the Bealach na Ba before going to the Isle of Skye for four days. Really not to describe how fantastic this was. We stayed in a B&B in Woodend near Portree. Then we visited Dornoch and Highland Titles Nature Reserve before getting to Loch Lomond for three days. Duck Bay was also a great place to stay at. At the end we stopped for one night in Morecombe before getting to our twin town Lichfield. All in all we had a twenty-days-trip. And it is really true that it was one of our best trips ever. We will come back! Definitely.

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