Kyle and I recently took a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland for 5 days. We knew we wouldn’t need the full 5 days to explore the city of Edinburgh and decided to start looking into some options for easy day trips from Edinburgh to nearby attractions.
Our first thought was to rent a car. We’ve know people who have rented cars in the UK before and they have said driving on the “wrong” side of the road isn’t as difficult as it looks. Even Rick Steves says you get used to it!
After much contemplation, Kyle and I opted for a private guided tour through a company called Hearts of Scotland and I am so glad we did.
Once we arrived in Edinburgh, it didn’t take long to realize we made the right choice in not renting a car. The city center is relatively busy, with lots of signs we didn’t recognize or understand. Had we have rented a car, we probably would have been so focused on directions and driving that we would have missed all the beautiful cities on the way to see all these sights.
We chose to book with Hearts of Scotland after reading many reviews online and getting recommendations from others who had visited. While we didn’t book with them, Rabbie was another popular recommendation. They also appear to have a range of tours.
I got in contact with Hearts of Scotland, and I cannot say enough about how responsive and easy to get in touch with they were. They easily replied to each of my emails within 12 hours or less, which was great considering the time difference. I reached out to another company that took 4 days to respond!
Hearts of Scotland has a variety of group and private tours you could pick from. Kyle and I opted for a private tour because we wanted the flexibility to deviate from the schedule, should we see somewhere we wanted to stop.
Kyle and I reviewed the tour options available and settled on the West Highland Lochs and Castles tour. The main reason we picked this one was because, in preparation for our trip, we started watching “Great Estates of Scotland” on Amazon Prime. This is where we saw Inverary Castle, which was also included as a stop on the West Highland Tour, so we knew this was the one for us!
On the day of the tour, we were greeted at our hotel by our tour guide Keith. Keith was a fabulous guide. He provided us with a wealth of information that we would not have gotten had we rented a car and done the trip on our own. For example, he told us fish and chips were actually invented by the Italians, a fact Kyle will now never forget!
Not only was Keith Knowledgeable, but he was flexible. When the weather didn’t go in our favor (it rained pretty hard the whole afternoon), he offered us some alternative options to keep us out of the rain.
Private Driving Tour from Edinburgh
This one should be familiar to those of you who saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It was also featured in Outlander and Game of Thrones. We arrived early, before the crowds, but also before it opened. We took photos from the outside, but it is open to the public to tour.
Callendar & Highland Cows
On our way to our next stop, we drove through the adorable town of Callendar. This would be a cute place to stop to grab coffee! On our way out, we stopped to see some Highland Cows, my new favorite animal!
Next stop on our day tour in Scotland was Loch Lubnaig. A Loch, for those not familiar means Lake, and Scotland has THOUSANDS of them. Some are inland, and some connect to the sea. Our guide Keith said in this loch, you can often see people swimming in the summer. It boasted beautiful views of wooded hills.
St Conan’s Kirk
This is a quaint chapel located in the village of Loch Awe. Our guide Keith pointed out the interesting architecture and varying styles throughout the chapel. While it was built in the 1880’s, it feels as though it is much older as it takes on almost more of a medieval design. This was definitely and interesting place to pop into on your tour!
This castle, located on a beautiful peninsula at the end of Loch Awe, is in ruins now, but was once the home of the powerful Campbell clan. On a dry day, you can walk out to the castle and wonder around and imagine what this castle must have been like before it fell out of use in 1770.
Inveraray Castle and town
Next stop on the Scottish West Highlands tour was Inveraray. Inveraray Castle is one of the more unique ones we have seen with its beautiful green exterior almost matching the trees and surrounding gardens. This castle may also look familiar to you from its guest appearance in the popular Downton Abbey series. Half of the home is open to the public, while the other half is occupied by the Duke of Argyll and his family, who you may even see! We spotted the Duke walking up the driveway with grocery bags in hand, believe it or not!
Inveraray is situated close to the shores of Loch Fyne, Scotland’s longest sea loch with a quaint town that is worth a stop. We popped into the George Hotel to grab lunch at the Pub, which was everything you imagine a Scottish pub to be. Afterwards, we wondered into an art shop, where we picked up some artwork featuring the Highland cow, or “heeland coo” of course!
Rest and be Thankful
I have to be honest, I think this was one of my most favorite stops on the tour. A stone was placed at this spot to commemorate the completion of the military road constructed in 1750. On the stone, the words “Rest and be thankful” were inscribed. Our guide Keith told us that the legend says once the soldiers were complete with the building of the road, he gathered them there and told them to rest and be thankful. And on that spot, they all stopped and had a wee dram of whiskey, which is now a tradition for visitors.
Our guide Keith offered us a dram of whiskey, which we enjoyed in the car, as it was raining pretty steadily at this point. I can only imagine the scenery and views you can get from this point on a clear day!
Loch Lomond & Luss Village
Luss village is located on the banks of Loch Lomond. Luss village is filled with picturesque little cottages and darling shops. We parked and took a stroll through the town, down to the banks of Loch Lomond. This villages claim to fame is from the Scottish TV series Take the High Road, where it was the main outdoor location. It was a quick stop, but worth visiting!
Unfortunately, when we arrived at the castle, they had closed an hour early (probably due to the poor weather) so we weren’t able to see inside the castle, or really even get a photo. I wish we had more time to go back and take a look, but this should definitely be a stop on your tour, or a trip of its own.
The castle dates back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. After doing some research, it also appears that this castle was one of the most used Scottish Royal Residencies until the union with England. Additionally, it was the site where many Kings and Queens were crowned including Mary, Queen of Scots.
Our last stop was a drive through Queensferry, located on the shore of Firth of Forth. Here we took a brief stop to admire the three bridges that have been built to carry traffic and trains across from Edinburgh. While we weren’t here long, this looks like it could be a very cute town to pop into for a bite to eat.
Not far from here are two stately homes (I would basically call them mansions) that are at times open to the public, Binns House and Hopetoun House, which might be worth a visit! Definitely check their websites for more information on hours before visiting.
That wraps up our 10 hour private tour of the West Highlands. While it was a bit expensive, we really did enjoy every minute of it and love how customizable the experience can be.
If you are looking for something a bit more economical, check out Hearts of Scotland group tours. These tours are still small enough where you can ask questions (16 people), but are less expensive. They also have a large variety of group tours to choose from.
Day trip to St Andrews
Our last day in Scotland, we decided we would take the train from Edinburgh to St Andrews (Leuchars is the train stop). This turned out to be easier to figure out… as well as more confusing than I had hoped… all at the same time, ha! Let me explain…
Google does an excellent job of telling you how to use multiple modes of transportation to get somewhere, which makes it really easy to know what train to take or what bus to take (see screenshot below). This made the trip easy because we knew what to look for and what to buy tickets for.
But there were a few things that made it confusing. When we got to the train station, there were two kiosks to purchase tickets from. After we purchased the tickets, we realized each kiosk was for a different train line… which wasn’t very clear at the time of booking the ticket.
The other part of the train that caused some confusion was the seating. We only realized after we got on the train and sat down that there was the option to book an assigned seat ahead of time. There is a small screen above each seat that indicates whether or not a seat is free.
Once we arrived in Leuchars, it was very easy to find the bus stop where we waited for the bus to St Andrews. After a few stops, you arrive in the town of St Andrews!
St Andrews Golf Course
There are a few things that you can do in the town of St Andrews, most notably would probably be to visit the golf course. On Sundays, they close the old course and open it to the public, so you can walk along the course that so many famous golfers have played. While I’m not particularly into golf, I did actually enjoy walking the course and taking in the views of the sea.
Once we finished walking the old course, we headed to Criterion for lunch. I would definitely recommend stopping for lunch here and ordering one of their award winning meat pies. Kyle inhaled it as soon as it was put down in front of him!
St Andrews Castle
After we finished up lunch, we explored the town a bit, walking along the coast until we stumbled upon St Andrews Castle. Most of the castle is in ruins, however, there are still some aspects of the castle full intact like the underground mine and dungeon.
After we went through the castle, we meandered back towards the golf course and ended up stopping into the Macdonald Rusacks Hotel for a drink while we waited for the bus. The bar had great views of the golf course and also offered what looked like a delightful full tea service!
We left Edinburgh at 9:00am and returned about 4:00pm, so we spent about 4-5 hours in the town of St. Andrews and I feel like during the fall, this was plenty of time! If it were a warm summer day however, you may want to allow for more time to enjoy the coastal views.
All in all, when planning any day trip, make sure to do your research and read reviews! This will help to make sure you have an enjoyable experience and get the most out of your trip.
For more info about what to do in Edinburgh, check out our last post – What to do When Visiting Edinburgh!
We hope that you find this post about easy day trips from Edinburgh helpful when planning your own trip to one of our new favorite countries, Scotland!
Allie & Kyle