This post is part of our month-long European trip from last August. Check here for our whole trip!
If you go to Scotland, you must see the Scottish Highlands. It’s possible even with a short time frame: we explored the Highlands in one day!
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The whole reason we went to Scotland was for Logan to get a taste of the Highlands. My husband loves the mountains. He’s from the Appalachian Mountains of NC, and something in his soul needs the peaks and vistas. So as we dreamed about our trip, I knew the highlands needed to be part.
Because of time constraints, we ended up only getting one day to explore them. So to maximize our day we signed up for an organized day trip! My travel style is about 70/30 of individually planned trips to pre-booked group tours. Tour groups can get you the best of the area in the most efficient way possible, without having to worry about transportation! My priority in choosing a tour group is the reviews of the guide themselves: they will make or break your trip, every time. One of my favorite memories of my time in Australia was a quick 3 day trip from Sydney to Melbourne, because our guide was so fantastic! At one point he pulled over on the side of the road & flew out of the van because he’s spotted an echidna and wanted to show us something you don’t get to see every day!
But back to Scotland. Point is, I researched lots of tour companies and chose The Hairy Coo. Their “Loch Ness, Glencoe & Whiskey” one day tour fit our needs and was really reasonably priced! The company even offers one tour free, only asking for tips, because they’re that committed to everyone experiencing the Highlands, no matter their budget. We went for the paid one because we wanted to get to Loch Ness, but no matter what you choose, I definitely recommend The Hair Coo. Unbeknownst to us, the company owner ended up being our driver guide that day! Donald was great, a Highlander himself who was full of lore and local color in the area. His commentary included tidbits that were often unexpected: anything from tales of growing up there to a primer on Scottish clans to what foods you need to try on your visit!
On a 12 hour round trip, the variety of scenery we saw blew me away. In ten minutes we would go from quaint village to rolling fields to craggy mountain passes. Throughout our trip, our guide would tell us what clan claimed this particular area, what famous battles were fought here, or who double-crossed whom while resisting the British. We stopped at Glencoe, famous for a historic massacre and as filming sites in Skyfall and Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban.
True to any Highlands tour, a distillery visit was part of the day. Deanston Distillery operates out of an old mill along a river, so the scene looks like something out of an old movie. The tour shows how they make whisky, and had a few interesting differences than American whiskey! Such as they can’t taste it mid-process for legal reasons, so everything’s pretty much done by experience rather than taste! Did you know that the water used changes the taste of whisky pretty significantly? So Deanston whiskey tastes unique to its own River Teith. I’m not a huge whiskey person, but I loved learning about it!
No drive through the Highlands is complete with a look at the hairy coos! Yes, you read that right. Highland cows are enormous shaggy natives of Scotland and give the impression of being goofy yet hardy animals. If you’re near Applecross, there’s a few to be petted (and fed, if you buy some snacks at the tourist shop nearby)!
The main event was a boat ride around Loch Ness. While the weather had been messy off and on all morning, we managed to get bright sunshine for our hour on the water. If you go, head straight through the boats interior to the stairs. Best seats are on the top deck!
If you’re interested in Loch Ness Monster lore, you may want to make your way downstairs. A guide tells more about Nessie’s history and sightings! Plus, there’s sonar screens where you can try to spot her underwater. We opted to sit in the windy warmth of the top and take in the scenery directly, but there were no sightings that day anyway, so I don’t think we missed much. 😉
Scotland is stunning. The skies felt open in a different way than the expansive skies of the US plains. I think it had something to do with the contrast of the lush wilderness of the mountains. Any time in the highlands is time well spent!
Our guide kept us entertained on the long drive back to Edinburgh, regaling us with tales of the worst poet in Scotland and the most evil man in the world. I won’t spoil the stories for you, but they both have ties to Loch Ness, and are worth a listen.
We arrived back in rainy Edinburgh about 12 hours after leaving, happy with our whirlwind day exploring. Don’t let a tight travel schedule deter you: no trip to Scotland is complete without a taste of the Scottish Highlands!
For more on planning your time in Edinburgh, check this post to see our highlights of the city!