I will admit, when we first visited Scotland, we went to Edinburgh and I was not obsessed. I know that is shocking and offensive to so many people, but I think maybe it is the fault of those people that I didn't love it more because they set my expectations so high. I was also hoping to find Harry Potter inspiration all over the city, but "A Harry Potter scholar wrote his dissertation on why he thinks this road MUST HAVE been the inspiration for Diagon Alley because it has shops on it and is kind of crooked" was just not convincing to me.
The countryside was a different story. Without much in the way of expectations, I was floored by our road trip through the highlands and to the Isle of Skye. Perhaps the most magical aspect was that we were virtually alone the entire time. Where was everyone? I think the weather is supposed to be bad there just about always, but we were also blessed with clear and sunny skies (and then cursed with super shadowy pictures as a result). I only wish we had more time, because I had a few more things on my list that we didn't make it to! And now, my list (sorry I don't have great lodging or food recommendations here, but I think the reason to go is for what you can see!):
WHAT TO DO IN THE ISLE OF SKYE
- The Old Man of Storr (photos 1, 4, 5, 11, 12, 21) is that super cool rock formation at the top of a mountain, which looks really amazing from down below, but is even better from above. We weren't even prepared to hike (I was wearing a wool turtleneck, but luckily I did have sneakers on), but it was pretty easy to get up there. It is steep but short, and we did get risky and walk past the "do not go beyond this point" sign for the view. Worth it.
- Fairy Glen (photo 19) is where the fairies live, I guess! There are a bunch of grassy hills that make up a lovely little landscape that is also a bit bizarre. It kind of looks like a cartoon, or something out of a movie.
- Neist Point Lighthouse (photos 9, 10) raises the bar for all other lighthouses. The setting is so incredible as it sits at the tip of a rocky peninsula on the western edge of the Isle of Skye. You will get incredible views from the car park all the way out to the lighthouse itself. I recommend turning right just before the trail that starts down to the lighthouse and walking along the cliffs that way to get the most amazing view of the entire peninsula with the lighthouse off in the distance. So gorgeous.
- Kilt Rock (photo 6) is RIGHT off the road, which is always a bonus in my book when you don't have to hike (I know, I'm lazy and only a little bit embarrassed about it)! There is a waterfall pouring off of the edge of a cliff into the ocean, and it should definitely not be missed, especially for how easy it is to get to!
- We missed the Fairy Pools, which I was really sad about, but we ran out of time. I am including them on my list anyways because I think anyone who can make it there should go. I think it is a bit of a longer hike from the car park (maybe half an hour?), but the beautiful blue pools against the setting of the Scottish countryside make for a very magical setting where it seems fairies might be more likely to pop out than at the Fairy Glen.
WHAT TO DO ON THE WAY TO/FROM SKYE
- Glen Coe (photos 8, 13, 20) is what Glen Co Co from Mean Girls must have been named for, right!? We drove through this stunning valley on our way to Skye and pulled over many times because it was so beautiful. We didn't do any hiking here, but did get out at that spot where I am wearing the striped sweater above to climb up the hill for the best view of our whole drive. I was huffing and puffing but in reality I think it took something like three minutes. Go there!!
- Glenfinnan Viaduct (photos 14, 15) was a trip highlight for me because the Hogwarts Express was there! We were foolish and didn't plan our stop for when the train was coming through, but I felt its spirit nonetheless and was moved. According to this site, the train rolls through at 10:54am and 2:52pm. So go ahead and get a better photo than I got!
- A trip to Scotland wouldn't be complete without a castle (or two). Kilchurn Castle (photo 3) sits on Loch Awe and is such a pretty setting on the lake with lambs on lambs grazing in the nearby fields. We definitely felt like we were trespassing to get a view of it though, but we made it out alive.
- Eilean Donan Castle (photo 17) was the prettiest castle of the two we saw, in my opinion, also sitting on a lake, also surrounded by hills. Maybe it was the sunset timing that made it a bit more special to me, but I think they are both worth a stop.