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gianmarco

Scotland castle tour -- Any advice/recs welcome

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Looking to head to Scotland later this year and spend a few days.  Tentative plan is to arrive in Edinburgh, spend a couple days, then rent a car and drive around visiting castles, finishing up in Glasgow for a day.  Total time for the above is 5 full days (arriving on a Wednesday morning and departing Monday morning). 

Has anyone here done anything similar?  Still in early stages of planning so open to all suggestions and ideas.  Places to visit?  Hotel or AirBNB?  Food?  Time in each city?

Surprisingly a search doesn't show any threads about this.

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Oh, I did this about 3 years ago and it was awesome.  

Obviously budgeting will play a factor in Hotel vs AirBNB.  It was a 15 year anniversary trip for us, so we splurged and did almost entirely hotels (two bnbs were nice but they were in England, not Scotland).

I'll have a more in-depth post later.  

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Posted (edited)

I did this back in 1999 so my memory is a little hazy

I went in August and there was some big festival. Maybe they called it a tattoo. I went to that castle and it was cool. 

Im going to google and Ill edit this post if I can find it

Here it is 

https://www.edinburghfestivalcity.com/festivals/royal-edinburgh-military-tattoo

Edited by AcerFC
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Okay, I’ll preface this by stating I am by no means an expert in visiting Scotland.  And of course, preferences vary from person to person greatly.  For me, one of the best parts of the trip was planning the journey.  And I got absolutely lucky with the weather because it hardly rained at all the entire time we were there which made driving a lot quicker and allowed us to tackle more than I thought we would be able to do.

Edinburgh is fantastic.  If you are flying in there, I think you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not staying there at least a few days.  There is a ton to do, and well of course there is a castle https://www.edinburghcastle.scot/. But I mean the town is walkable if you stay in the city and plenty of great pubs, and good restaurants.  I can’t recall the name of the hotel we stayed at but there are plenty of varying prices (we stayed at a 5 star hotel and it was great).  Parking is at a premium however and expensive.

If you are doing a castle tour on a limited time basis, I would recommend just not going to Glasgow at all unless you are planning on attending a Rangers match.  It’s kind of a dump, and I think you’ll have much more to do in Edinburgh, but again, that’s just my humble opinion.

As you drive north there is a whole lot of nothing as far as cities go until you hit Inverness.  You’ll obviously want to go to Loch Ness.  Spend some time in Inverness as it’s a nice, quaint town.  For my money the best castle is https://www.eileandonancastle.com/  and after that http://www.urquhart-castle.co.uk/urquhart-castle/. It takes a while to drive to these and you can knock out touring them in a few hours – they are not super big, but they are both beautiful.  You’ll probably get a lot of suggestions for https://www.glamis-castle.co.uk/ and it is nice, but I felt a bit touristy -  I mean someone lives there right now I think.  And of course you’ll probably want to knock out https://www.stirlingcastle.scot/ too. 

If it were me, I’d splurge on a nice hotel in Edinburgh proper.  Look for airBNB in the highlands and spend a few days up there.  Oh, almost forgot, you probably would be best served checking out https://www.dunnottarcastle.co.uk/ too. 

A lot is going to depend on the weather since it is quite a bit of driving.  There are tons of castles, I think we saw 2-3 more but for I liked Eilean Donan (castle from Highlander), Uquhart and Dunnottar most.  Loch Ness was also nice and I liked Inverness.  I’ll definitely be hitting Scotland back up again. It was tons of fun, nice people, good drink (bonus if you love scotch which I happen to) and the food, well, not every place is perfect.  I’ll try to recall other tidbits later.  But do have fun planning it all out and have at least a few contingencies set up, just in case.

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Mini golf at St Andrews was awesome

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I think Madonna got married at one so if you are into history you should try to find that one.

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:blackdot: I'll try to get back with an update later.  Been three times, loved it.  Has been awhile though.

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Isle of Skye definitely looks worth visiting if you can, but it's way the heck up north.  I went to Scotland six times for work and regret not going up there. 

While you're in Edinburgh, I definitely recommend climbing Arthur's Seat.  It's maybe a one hour hike up a small mountain in the middle of the city.  There are no trees, so the view is great the whole way up.

If you go to Edinburgh in August when the Festival is going on, the population of the city supposedly doubles and there's a lot more going on than normal - shows, music, etc.

Someone above suggested skipping Glasgow.  I only spent part of one day there, so I can't really say from experience, but former co-workers who were from Glasgow insisted that it's unfairly maligned - more of a "real" city vs. a "tourist" city (Edinburgh) - lots of food, arts, entertainment...but also bigger, dirtier and generally grittier.

 

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Black dot. There’s a guy on YouTube that has a neat travel channel and I remember him having a good Scotland video.  One thing to keep in mind over there is that they will likely have manual rental cars. I’ve only driven automatics, so that was a concern for me. 

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Drink lots of whisky. And start hiding wives

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4 hours ago, guru_007 said:

Okay, I’ll preface this by stating I am by no means an expert in visiting Scotland.  And of course, preferences vary from person to person greatly.  For me, one of the best parts of the trip was planning the journey.  And I got absolutely lucky with the weather because it hardly rained at all the entire time we were there which made driving a lot quicker and allowed us to tackle more than I thought we would be able to do.

Edinburgh is fantastic.  If you are flying in there, I think you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not staying there at least a few days.  There is a ton to do, and well of course there is a castle https://www.edinburghcastle.scot/. But I mean the town is walkable if you stay in the city and plenty of great pubs, and good restaurants.  I can’t recall the name of the hotel we stayed at but there are plenty of varying prices (we stayed at a 5 star hotel and it was great).  Parking is at a premium however and expensive.

If you are doing a castle tour on a limited time basis, I would recommend just not going to Glasgow at all unless you are planning on attending a Rangers match.  It’s kind of a dump, and I think you’ll have much more to do in Edinburgh, but again, that’s just my humble opinion.

As you drive north there is a whole lot of nothing as far as cities go until you hit Inverness.  You’ll obviously want to go to Loch Ness.  Spend some time in Inverness as it’s a nice, quaint town.  For my money the best castle is https://www.eileandonancastle.com/  and after that http://www.urquhart-castle.co.uk/urquhart-castle/. It takes a while to drive to these and you can knock out touring them in a few hours – they are not super big, but they are both beautiful.  You’ll probably get a lot of suggestions for https://www.glamis-castle.co.uk/ and it is nice, but I felt a bit touristy -  I mean someone lives there right now I think.  And of course you’ll probably want to knock out https://www.stirlingcastle.scot/ too. 

If it were me, I’d splurge on a nice hotel in Edinburgh proper.  Look for airBNB in the highlands and spend a few days up there.  Oh, almost forgot, you probably would be best served checking out https://www.dunnottarcastle.co.uk/ too. 

A lot is going to depend on the weather since it is quite a bit of driving.  There are tons of castles, I think we saw 2-3 more but for I liked Eilean Donan (castle from Highlander), Uquhart and Dunnottar most.  Loch Ness was also nice and I liked Inverness.  I’ll definitely be hitting Scotland back up again. It was tons of fun, nice people, good drink (bonus if you love scotch which I happen to) and the food, well, not every place is perfect.  I’ll try to recall other tidbits later.  But do have fun planning it all out and have at least a few contingencies set up, just in case.

Thanks for all this. Awesome info.

In your opinion, what's a reasonable number of castles you can see in one day? 

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Posted (edited)

Haven’t read the thread yet but my first and best suggestion is to not go in the winter when it gets dark at like 4:30.

ETA - will post more later 

Edited by AAABatteries

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11 minutes ago, gianmarco said:

Thanks for all this. Awesome info.

In your opinion, what's a reasonable number of castles you can see in one day? 

Tough to say, a lot will be determined by which castles you really want to see.  As well as what type of castles you are looking at.  Some castles are more like ruins and you can really get through it all in 30-45 minutes.  Others have went through extensive renovations and are rather large and require guided tours (such as Glamis if memory serves).  I think you can easily get through 3-4 in a day (some areas even more).  But it is a lot of driving as some of these castles are quite remote and off the trodden path.  

And yes, it does get dark relatively early in the north and a lot of these castles close early too, so keep that in mind.

 

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6 minutes ago, guru_007 said:

 it does get dark relatively early in the north

 

Only in the Winter.  In the Summer, it stay light out super-late, so you have more time.  From what I remember it's light until about 10 in Edinburgh in June.

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We are going at the end of September. I've marked about 12 castles all around and figured a loop to get to them. Each day would involve 3-4 hours of driving total. Was wondering if getting in 4 castles in a day was feasible (i.e. average of about 1 hour per castle to get through an 8 hour day). Seems like that might work.

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PM @chet.  You can prolly stay at his.

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Posted (edited)

Here's an initial itinerary I came up with.  Open to feedback:

Wednesday -- Arrive in AM in Edinburgh, spend day here.

Thursday (driving map)
  AM -- Edinburgh (until lunch)
  PM -- 1 hour drive to Stirling castle (1-2 hours) (leave by 3:30pm)
          30 min drive to Drummond castle (1-2 hours) -- Arrive by 4pm, closes at 6pm)
          1.5 hour drive to Crail for dinner and overnight stay. (stay in B&B)

 

Friday (driving map)
  AM -- 20 min drive to St. Andrews cathedral, castle, grounds (2-3 hours) arrive by 9am
          1.5 hour drive to Pitlochry (lunch) arrive by 1:30pm
          1 hour drive to Braemar Castle (1-2 hours) closes at 5pm
          10 min drive to Balmoral Castle (not open in Sept, but can see the outside)
          1.25 hr drive to Aberdeen for dinner (stay in B&B)

 

Saturday (driving map)
  AM -- 30 min drive to Dunnottar Castle (1-2 hours) opens at 9am then lunch, leave by 11:30am
           30 min drive to Castle Fraser, Garden, Estate (1.5 - 2 hours) arrive by 12pm, leave by 1:30pm - 2pm
           2.5 hr drive to Urquhart Castle (1-2 hrs), closes at 6pm
           30 min drive to Inverness for dinner (stay in B&B)

 

Sunday (driving map)
  AM -- 1.5 hr drive to Eilean Donan Castle (1 hour) opens at 10am, leave by 11am. Grab quick lunch
           3.5 hr drive to Inveraray Castle with short stops at Glen Coe and Rannoch Moor view on the way (closes at 5pm), arrive by 3pm
           2 hr drive to Glasgow with stop at Finnich Glen/The Devil's Pulpit on the way

Monday -- Glasgow in AM, Fly out after lunch

Edited by gianmarco
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Posted (edited)

Edinburgh Castle was awesome - we did a nice dinner after but don’t remember the place.  I think you can do the self-guided tour or a guide.  That was the only castle where I considered a guide as it had a lot to look at - we ended up not doing because I was young and poor but I would consider it.

We ended up doing about 5-6 castles and I think your plan seems doable.  Get authenticate fish and chips once.  We did it a few times over the length of our trip and it was outstanding. 

Its been so long since I went that I don’t remember a lot of details other than it’s absolutely gorgeous and driving was an adventure.  

Edited by AAABatteries
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I'd recommend getting the headphone tour for Edinburgh Castle -- not too expensive and it has a lot of good info.  Stirling Castle was interesting.   Also saw Doune Castle on same day as Stirling.  Doune is mostly a ruin. 

I think you might want to scale back a little bit, everything seems to take a bit longer than you would think.   

Also, are you only interested in castles?  Lot of interesting things in Scotland besides castles.  I saw three very different castles and was about castle'd out.

In August the Fringe Festival and the Tattoo Military show are happening, but looks like you will be after those are over.

 

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Ran across this article on Eigg and thought of your thread and thought it looked pretty damn cool, even if it's not a castle. 

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:blackdot: Just booked my flight for the middle of September. Staying 12 days, starting in Glasgow and we hope to skip over to Ireland, too. 

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28 minutes ago, Plorfu said:

:blackdot: Just booked my flight for the middle of September. Staying 12 days, starting in Glasgow and we hope to skip over to Ireland, too. 

Maybe we'll be passing each other!

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5 minutes ago, gianmarco said:

Maybe we'll be passing each other!

I'm getting there the 17th and leaving the 28th.  

I'm also curious about things like whether or not I should make sure to have cash, tipping culture, getting around (train, car, etc.)

We do plan on using Air BnB experiences a couple of times. There's one where a life long musical Dubliner will take us around to off the beaten path pubs to listen to traditional music. Haven't started exploring that in Scotland yet.

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14 minutes ago, Plorfu said:

I'm getting there the 17th and leaving the 28th.  

I'm also curious about things like whether or not I should make sure to have cash, tipping culture, getting around (train, car, etc.)

We do plan on using Air BnB experiences a couple of times. There's one where a life long musical Dubliner will take us around to off the beaten path pubs to listen to traditional music. Haven't started exploring that in Scotland yet.

We're getting to Edinburgh the 26th and starting to drive the 27th.

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Posted (edited)

I was in Scotland for a few weeks last summer.  I would think one castle a day is plenty, unless you're just driving past them.  It really does take a lot of time walking around inside them.  And lunch isn't the drive through eat in the car convenience.  I wouldn't drive around in Edinburgh.  It's very congested and has a lot of one way streets.  There are free car parks on the outskirts with cheap buses that will take you right in the city.  I'd stay a couple days in Edinburgh, then rent one for the rest of Scotland.  Most cars are standard and on the other side.  It's not a problem, but it is different.  Also, the round-abouts slow down your itinerary.

Edited by desert rose

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Couple weeks away. Have a few distilleries on tap as well. Open to any last minute recs.

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4 hours ago, gianmarco said:

Couple weeks away. Have a few distilleries on tap as well. Open to any last minute recs.

Wear your HR monitor.

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Ended up with a fantastic itinerary. Will update when back home but it did not disappoint at all. Really excellent destination.

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the wife and i are just starting to plan a british isle trip for 2020.  we are leaning towards ireland, but may try to work in some scotland as well.  can't wait to hear about your trip!

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On 10/1/2019 at 4:19 PM, DA RAIDERS said:

the wife and i are just starting to plan a british isle trip for 2020.  we are leaning towards ireland, but may try to work in some scotland as well.  can't wait to hear about your trip!

I realized I hadn't updated this thread.  I'll try to summarize as best I can.  Overall, it was a great trip, a great country to visit, and the time we spent in each spot was perfect, IMO. 

Day 1 -- Arrived in Edinburgh around 9am.  Took an Uber to our hotel (Courtyard Marriott) which was in an excellent location.  After a quick lunch here at Oxtail, went to Edinburgh Castle where we spent a couple hours.  Of note, if anyone decides to go and is looking at doing at least Edinburgh and Stirling Castles (the 2 main castles in Scotland), then I suggest picking up the Explorer Pass.  It covers the cost of entry to those 2 and anything else is free.  Got to walk around some more of Edinburgh after the castle and then back to the hotel.  Went for a little run, then had dinner here at the White Horse.  Food was excellent although a little overpriced.  After that, hit a walking tour of Edinburgh called Ghostly Underground.  Great tour, had some whisky at the end and then a good night's sleep after powering through the day.  This helped to not have any jet lag for the trip.

Day 2 -- Excellent breakfast at the Edinburgh Larder and then did a hike to Arthur's Seat.  Fantastic recommendation and totally worth it.  If anyone considers doing this and reads this review, ignore it even though it's hilarious.  By lunch, we checked out of the hotel and got our rental car to start our drive around the country.  First stop was Stirling Castle, about an hour away.  Wonderful castle and in much better condition than Edinburgh Castle.  Probably spent an hour and a half which was plenty, and left close to 4pm.  Our stop for the nigh was in Crail.  What an awesome little town on the water.  Stayed in a little B&B called the Hazelton which was really nice.  The town is tiny and there's only like 3 restaurants.  Ended up having the best fish and chips of the whole trip at Crail Fish and Bar.  Up early in the morning for a great run through the town and out to the beach and back.  Then we were off for some more destinations.

Day 3 -- After heading out from our breakfast, the next stop was St. Andrews which was less than half hour away.  This was pretty awesome.  There's a cathedral in ruins, the castle, and overall just a neat area.  Also visited the university.  Ended up spending close to 3 hours here with a bit of hustle toward the end.  Hopped in the car and had lunch in a cute little town caled Pitlochry.  Ended up there just before our distillery tour at Blair Athol.  Fantastic tour, great price, and sampled some great Scotch.  It's a smaller distillery but really neat to see what they do.  From there, drove to our destination for the night at Stonehaven, another city by the sea.  Bigger than Crail but still pretty small.  Had a fantastic dinner (probably my favorite of the trip) at Six Degrees North.  Food was top notch (and overall pleasantly surprised with the quality of food in Scotland in general).  Stayed in an apartment there right on the water.   Great little town.

Day 4 -- Left mid morning to hit Dunnottar Castle which was about 5 minutes away.  Probably my favorite castle of the whole trip.  This was outstanding and a can't miss.  From there, drove to Glenlivet Distillery, the complete opposite of Blair Athol, as they are the largest in Scotland.  Another awesome tour.  After finishing in the afternoon, we headed toward Inverness and stopped at Urquhart Castle right on Loch Ness.  Probably my 2nd favorite castle.  Another can't miss.  Stayed the night in Inverness at Strathness House.  Beautiful location right on the river and near the downtown area with tons of bars and restaurants.  Much larger city than anything else we'd visited except Edinburgh. 

Day 5 -- After a solid breakfast at the B&B, hopped in the car for the final day of driving.  A long day at that mostly going through the countryside on our way to Glasgow.  Hit Glen Coe valley on the way, Rannoch Moor, and the Devil's Pulpit of note.  Our one castle on the way was Inveraray Castle, a 17th century "castle" that is still inhabited.  Arrived in Glasgow that evening and had a solid dinner at Ox and Finch.  The next morning, did a little sight seeing, hitting the Botanic Gardens, The University of Glasgow, and the shopping area before flying out. 

Full days throughout without feeling rushed.  Every area we hit was different than the others.  Happy to answer any questions or feedback if anyone considers going in the future.  Definitely worthwhile as a destination.

Edited by gianmarco
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