Central Scotland has it all – castles, coasts and historic golf courses – but here are 9 top spots for a quick, one-week trip.
From medieval castles to moody coastlines – all within a couple hours driving – Central Scotland is the perfect spot for an efficient, action-packed UK road trip. We spent six days driving from Edinburgh to St. Andrews to the Trossachs National Park, then down the coast to the Corsewall Lighthouse and Culzean Castle, before heading back to Edinburgh. (Can I get a woof!?)
We took our Central Scotland road trip in October, and had relatively nice weather (40s-50s Fahrenheit with, of course, some rain – it is the UK after all!). The fall foliage was absolutely on point, and made the drives even more magical.
But, enough with the logistics – let’s get to the good stuff!
1. Loch Lomond: Located in the Trossachs National Park, Loch Lomond is the largest inland stretch of water in Great Britain by surface area. From Lake of Menteith Hotel (our accommodations) it was just a quick drive to catch the A-82 route, which takes you all the way up along Loch Lomond with stop offs galore. As we discovered the hard way, it’s probably best to end the drive during golden hour. Otherwise you’re stuck driving back on pitch black, winding roads… sigh.
2. Culzean Castle: Dramatically perched atop flora, fauna and coastline, Culzean Castle looks like something out of a fairytale. But, once the sun sets, this haunted castle takes on a much eerier, spooky vibe. Skeptics have deemed the ghost stories false, but why take their word for it when you can sleep there and experience it for yourself?
We spent one night in the castle, and while we didn’t find any ghosts (despite our own self-led ghost hunt), we had quite the time exploring the gardens, ponds, forests and coast. And, apparently we’re not the only ones who loved Culzean – Dwight D. Eisenhower loved it so much, he actually spent multiple nights on the premises (and you can stay in his presidential suite!).
3. Corsewall Lighthouse: Take caution – a trip to the Corsewall Lighthouse comes with many a bumpy, unmarked road – but it’s well worth the drive to sleep in a lighthouse! Yes, you heard that right: You can sleep in this stunning lighthouse, then wake up to explore the intense, windy coast before enjoying a home-cooked breakfast. This, my off-the-beaten-path friends, is what dreams are made of. It was one of my favorite nights of the trip.
4. Melrose Abbey: I’m a sucker for an abandoned, ruined abbey. Maybe it’s the dramatic scene as 5’4 visitors gaze up at 20, 30 or 40-foot arches, or perhaps it’s the fact I get to paint the original scene using my own imagination. Or maybe it’s just because, well, they’re just really cool. Whatever the case, the Melrose Abbey was one of my favorites on this trip, and it even has an observation deck for you panorama lovers.
5. St. Andrews: I’ll be the first to admit golf is not (not, not, not) my thing, but that didn’t keep me from visiting St. Andrews. As the birthplace of golf, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for sports lovers, especially if you visit on Sunday, when the Old Course is open to the public. We got to stroll the same spots as the world’s most famous golfers, which – even for a non-golf lover – is pretty darn cool.
Beyond the course, the city of St. Andrews is worth at least one night. It is, after all, where Will and Kate’s love blossomed at St. Andrews University, and it’s no wonder they fell in love – the seaside backdrops and cobblestone streets make Cupid’s job pretty easy…
6. Galloway Forest Park: If you’re looking to hike and pet a deer in the same day (because really, who isn’t), the Galloway Forest Park is your spot. This 300-square-mile park has a variety of trails for all experience levels, and a Red Deer Range where you can feed and pet the free-roaming deer. Our time was short (a theme for this trip…) so we opted for the hike out to Bruce’s Stone, and of course, a stop to pet deer.
7. Stirling Castle: This striking hilltop castle is one of Scotland’s largest and most historic landmarks. The museum is definitely designed with families in mind (read: costumed actors everywhere), but the castle itself is beautiful, and worth the one or two-hour trip.
8. Doune Castle: Calling all Monty Python fans: Doune Castle is where Monty Python and the Holy Grail was primarily filmed. While you won’t see any cows being thrown over castle walls, you’ll undoubtedly be humming “Knights of the Round Table” the entire time.
9. Edinburgh: This goes without saying, but Edinburgh has to be on the old Central Scotland road trip list. Not only is it convenient – you’ll likely pick up/ drop off your car here – it’s also home to an impressive castle, old cobblestone streets and one of my favorite hikes in all of Scotland – the hike up to the scenic Arthur’s Seat. We spent two days here, and I still would’ve liked more!
Take a virtual tour through these 9 stops; check out my Central Scotland video!
And of course, if you’re plotting out your trip, here’s a map with all of the stops above to help you navigate this beautiful country.