16 Stunning Views on an Incredible Scottish Isles Road Trip
If there’s one thing you’re guaranteed of on a trip to Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, it’s stunning views no matter which direction you take or what time of year you visit. Certainly, the weather will play a big part in the vibrancy of the landscape – from bright and expansive views in summer to moody and eerie sights in winter. The Isles of Mull, Skye and Iona are particularly popular, and the best way to explore these islands along the west coast of Scotland is by motorhome.
Day 1: Glasgow to Luss — 40 miles
We arrived in Glasgow in the wee hours after a red eyed night flight. By noon we were ready to go, having been transferred to pick up our motorhome and given a full overview of the vehicle. Although we are native Britons and driving on the ‘other’ side of the road is nothing new to us, after a night flight and with heavy jet lag we had planned to only do few kilometers this first day. It was a good decision. Waking up early the next morning, we were up and gone while others slept.
The quaint little harbor village of Luss sits on the shores of Loch Lomond with lovely views of the lake and surrounding hills, and is the perfect stopping point to lose that jet lag.
Day 2: Luss to Oban — 80 miles
Continue north along Loch Lomond looking for places offering boat trips on the Loch.
1. Falloch Falls
Just 20 miles from Luss on the A82, Falloch Falls is on a popular walking route and a pleasant excuse to get off the road and stretch your legs for a few minutes. There is a small parking area – easily accessible for small motorhomes – just off the road. The falls are only a few steps from the parking lot and are not difficult to access.
2. Kirk of St. Conan
Parking is very limited (vehicles park on the side of the road); it will test your driving skills but worth it. The church – Scottish for “church” – sits on the shore overlooking Loch Awe. It may not look like much from the outside, but once you walk through the door you will be amazed by the splendid interior. The pillars, the beautiful ornate stones, the stained glass windows and the small cloister take you back 500 years, but all is not as it seems…
3. Kilchurn Castle
Kilchurn Castle offers the quintessential Scottish castle view. A short walk from a large car park, the castle stands on a hill overlooking Loch Awe. Although the castle is currently undergoing renovation (access to the interior is not possible), the classic views of one of Scotland’s most photographed castles remain intact.
4. Dunstaffnage Castle
Just 5km from Oban is one of Scotland’s oldest stone castles, Dunstaffnage Castle. The castle and chapel ruins offer an interesting history dating back to 1240.
Day 3: Oban to Fionnphort, Isle of Mull – 61 miles
A short one hour ferry crossing from Oban to Craignure brings you to the Isle of Mull. Pre-booking ferry crossing tickets is highly recommended – in fact, some crossings require this.
5. Chateau Duart
You will spot this castle from the ferry as it overlooks the water. For a closer look, take a long, winding single-lane road to a large parking lot. Owned by the Clan Maclean, Duart Castle doesn’t open until 10 a.m., but come early and play by the waters edge before the crowds arrive.
A bit off the beaten track, take the single track road to the head of Loch Buie where you can immerse yourself in serenity. At the end of the road is a small car park with an entrepreneurial cafe selling welcome coffee and wonderful homemade cakes. Sit back and eat lunch overlooking the loch as the sheep graze carelessly. Make your way among yellow kelp-strewn rocks to an expansive beach, spot the castle nestled at the foot of the looming mountains, and listen to the water babbling over the rocks all the way to the beach. Before leaving, stop at the small church of St. Kilda.
7. Three Lakes
It is a place where you can see three (small) lochs together. It’s not a big deal, but since it’s on the side of the road, it’s become a favorite with tourists.
8. Loch Beg Bridge
Just off the A849 road is the Loch Beg Bridge. A small stone bridge with two arches might not be particularly extraordinary on its own, but in this vast open landscape, it offers an Instagram-ready opportunity.
Family-run Fidden Farm is a great campsite in the far south-west of Mull with beach access and even a quick dip in the Atlantic. There’s plenty of room and although there are no hook-ups the shower rooms are spotless. Watching sunsets over the water is just the perfect end to a day.
Day 4: Fionnphort to Tobermory — 58 miles
Leave the van behind at Fionnphort and take the 10 minute ferry to Iona. This small island was made famous by Saint Columba, who landed here around 563 AD and brought Christianity to the UK. Immerse yourself in history as you explore the superbly restored abbey and retrace the route taken by thousands of pilgrims to this holy place over the centuries.
Day 5: Tobermory to Portree, Isle of Skye, via Glenfinnan — 140 miles
Briefly return to the mainland to take in two iconic vistas before heading to Mallaig to sail to Skye.
10. Glenfinnan Monument
The hamlet of Glenfinnan is located at the northern tip of Loch Shiel. At the water’s edge stands the Glenfinnan Monument, a testament to the members of the clan who perished in the Jacobite rising of 1745. For the best views, climb the short distance up the hill from the car park for spectacular views of the memorial which overlooks the Loch.
11. Glenfinnan Viaduct
A stunning railway viaduct in a magical setting, the viaduct has become a major tourist attraction since appearing in the Harry Potter series featuring the Hogwarts Express heading north. Check the train times to catch “The Jacobite” which runs twice a day from May to October. It’s a 40 minute walk – mostly uphill – to the best lookout, but again, well worth it. Get there early to get a good seat – there were over 200 enthusiasts on a recent Monday morning in early September.
Day 6: Portree to Dunvegan, Isle of Skye – 85 miles
12. The Old Man of Storr
One of Skye’s most famous landmarks, the stone outcrop is visible for miles and heavily traveled. Even at the beginning of September, we couldn’t find a place to park. A better view is to look over Loch Leathan from the east side before reaching Storr.
13. Neist Point Lighthouse
Skye’s most westerly point, it’s an absolute must for photographers. The lighthouse itself is accessible via a concrete path, but frankly the best views are from the top of the hill a few hundred yards to the right as you come out of the parking lot. It’s a very popular spot – especially at sunset – so be prepared to park on the road and walk along the road the rest of the way. Don’t forget to bring a flashlight!
Day 7: Dunvegan to Glencoe — 146 miles
14. Sligachan (Skye)
While Sligachan’s Old Stone Bridge is definitely a draw for photographers, watching people dip their faces into the river is perhaps a more entertaining sight. Legend has it that immersing your face in ice water for seven seconds without drying it will bring you eternal beauty!
15. Eilean Donan Castle
Possibly one of Scotland’s most photographed castles, if you ignore everything else on this list, don’t skip this one. There are plenty of parking spaces available but in the summer I expect the parking lots to be full. Exit the car park and walk along the road bridge. Look from both sides – the view of the castle with the loch behind is spectacular and from the other side the colorful house in the village of Dornie is often missed but beautifully photogenic.
Day 7: Glencoe to Glasgow — 128 miles
The most famous of the valleys, running through Glencoe, offers endlessly beautiful scenery – heather-covered moorland bordered by towering mountains, water dropping into peat bogs where cattle graze.
16. Loch Etive
This slow single track road winds its way for around 10 miles to the end of Loch Etive. The best scenery, frankly, is before you get to the end. There are a number of spots where the water cascades down the side of the mountain into the valley below, but unless you’re on foot you’re likely to miss them. There are no parking spaces, and it is strictly forbidden to park in places of passage. Out of season, we were able to stop off trail after discovering a particularly beautiful waterfall. Within minutes we were joined by a number of visitors, all with cameras in hand!
In 8 days we traveled 750 miles, took five ferries and stayed at a different site each night. We stopped in frequently and other than to spot “The Jacobite” we didn’t feel rushed or stressed about being in a particular place at a particular time. The spectacular landscapes of the Highlands and Islands are inexhaustible and we will return, this time planning a few “walking only” days.
Pro tip: choose the right motorhome
Before you rent your 40-foot hotel on wheels, beware. Most of the roads in the small islands are single-lane narrow lanes with several crossing points. There are long stretches of two-way roads on the popular Isle of Skye, but away from these main roads it is mostly single carriageway.
The Isle of Mull is almost entirely single track. Fortunately, there are passages every 200 meters or so. My wife and I rented a 19ft Peugeot Boxer which was perfect; it easily accommodated everything we needed, was very manoeuvrable and handled the narrow single-track with ease. Also note that inter-island ferries charge based on vehicle size, and our 19ft house stayed in the lowest price category!
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