It just took a pandemic and quarantine for me to sit down and write this. Be prepared, it is long!
It wasn't without challenges, but we managed a successful 16 night trip around Scotland with 6 adults and 3 kids, ages ranging from 7 to 57. We were pretty economical with our lodging (average of 140 USD per night for each family), but everything was clean and comfortable for our family of 3. The family of 4 was a bit cramped at some of our accommodations. We purchased the Historic Environment family pass. I had penciled out our planned itinerary and it was financially beneficial. Of course, our planned itinerary and actual itinerary were two different things. I never went back to see if it financially was still a good call. It didn't really matter at that point and I figure it's for a good cause anyway. I purchased a pre-planned itinerary from Secret Scotland to use as a template. They have lots of good suggestions and routes, well worth the money.
My family (2 adults and a 7 year old boy) flew from Los Angeles to Edinburgh on British Airways. We had 1hr and 20 min layover in Heathrow, which is plenty of time especially if you pay attention and use the tram. It's clearly marked, we just didn't realize exactly how far it was on foot...definitely our bad. In comparison, we had an hour layover on the way back. My husband left his cell phone on the plane during our first flight, so he had to go out of the airport, get the phone at lost property, and go back through security...he still made it in plenty of time using the tram.
June 28, 2019 (Edinburgh): We landed in Edinburgh at 7pm and hopped on the tram to our hotel (Premier Inn York Place). The tram stop is directly across the street. We were checked in and looking for a place for dinner by 9pm. We lucked out and got a table at Asti, a great little Italian place an easy walk from the Hotel. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and a glass of wine then went back to the hotel, popped some melatonin, and crashed.
June 29, 2019 (Edinburgh): We originally were going to eat breakfast at cafes located near our hotel. But once we realized kids ate free at the Premier Inn and thought about the challenges of getting 9 people seated every morning at small restaurants, we decided just do have breakfast there. It was perfectly fine, nothing spectacular.
Our friends were arriving today, so we figured we would go see the Royal Yacht Britannia and get back to the hotel close to when they would arrive. One family (2 adults/2 kids) flew from O'Hare to Glasgow. It took them less than 2 hours from landing in Glasgow to arriving in Edinburgh, so everything is very efficient...and faster than I expected because we didn't get back until close to noon. We did the 2 day pass for the hop on hop off bus through Edinburgh Tours. With the amount of time we had in Edinburgh, I figured this would be the most efficient way to see the main sites. Overall, it worked out fine. It just took a little longer to get places than I expected and I wish the buses ran longer hours in the summer. In hind sight, it may have been better to figure out Edinburgh's public transport systems. We enjoyed the Yacht, our son loved listening to the audio guide. We made it on the bus by 9:30 or 10, did the entire tour of the yacht, and got back to our hotel at around noon. By then the final travelers (a couple, no kids) had made it to the hotel without complication. The other family was not able to check in to the hotel, so they went to Princes St Gardens. Somehow we managed to find them with minimal cell service, finished the walk around the Gardens and hopped back on the bus to go to the Royal Botanic Gardens.
We had lunch at the restaurant there, which was overall good (they have an excellent lemon tart.) The Botanic Gardens were beautiful and I could've spent more time there. Our travel companions were all exhausted and a light rain had began, so they wanted to go home. I had hopes of making it over to Dean Village, but it didn't happen. We went back to the hotel. Some of the group went to bed and the rest went to dinner at Taste of Italy, a great little italian restaurant/pizza place right down the street from our hotel
June 30, 2019 (Edinburgh): We ate breakfast at the hotel and made it to the first bus of the morning off to Edinburgh Castle, which was magnificent. We arrived at opening time, so the crowds weren't too bad. We spent close to 2 hours there, which was plenty for everyone in our group. After the castle, part of the group went to the Scotch Whisky Experience and some went to Camera Obscura. I was with the group that went to Camera Obscura and we all (kids and adults) loved it. We then went to get some lunch at Makars Gourmet Mash Bar. Very good food, but a little bit of a challenge with our picky American kids as they don't have a real kids menu. They can make most of their Mash's kids sized, so if you don't have a picky kid it's great. We made our way to St. Giles, Canongate Kirk, and Dunbar's Close stopping for some souvenir shopping on the way. Holyrood was closed because the Queen was in residence. At this point, we should have hopped on the bus to go to Holyrood Park but it was pretty close so we walked. We didn't make it up to Arthur's Seat, but did make it to Anthony's chapel. I would have loved to do both. By the time we were finished, the buses had stopped running. So, we walked all the way back to the hotel. Over 17,000 steps total on this day. It was a great day, but I could've done a better job with the logistics. We ate at Taste of Italy again and everyone was more than ready for bed.
July 1, 2019 (Edinburgh to Cromdale): We took the tram over to Edinburgh Park and walked across the street to the Arnold Clark Sighthill rental to pick up our cars. I went through Celtic Legend. I generally avoid 3rd party vendors, but the price difference was significant enough to make it worth the risk for me. It all turned out great and would not hesitate to use them again. I did contact the office to confirm they had a record of our reservation. For whatever reason, we could add an extra driver to each car at no cost and didn't have to pay until we picked up the cars (it cost extra to add a driver and you had to pay at time of rental through Arnold Clark.) We added sat nav for both cars and excess insurance for one (the one our friends were driving...turned out to be a great call.) Our cc covers rental cars, but from what I understood in the UK we would have to pay the deductible and then get reimbursed from our cc later. I was fine with that for our car, but thought I might get annoyed dealing with it we weren't the drivers. My husband drove the entire 13 days (I can't drive a stick and the person we put as the extra driver absolutely would not drive.) He spent a year in Australia and we did a vacation in Australia a few years ago, so he was somewhat accustomed to driving on the opposite side of the road. The drivers in the other car definitely had more of an adjustment, despite one living in the UK for a few years. It was definitely intimidating for them and even a bit nerve wracking for me in the passenger seat, but so worth it. It didn't take long for the main driver of the other car to get the hang of it and she was driving like a pro within the first few days. (She did bang the side mirror and hit one curb hard enough to cause a flat tire once, but it was all handled.) The secondary driver on her car never really settled into it, but he did fine.
The entire process of getting the cars took a little over an hour. I had hopes that we would stop at Linlithgow Palace or Blackness castle, but we didn't get on the road until after 11. Nerves were running pretty high, so we thought it best just to get on the freeway.
Our first stop was Falkland Palace and Gardens. Such a lovely place and well worth the detour in my opinion. They had a scavenger hunt for the kids (finding little Lego people hidden around the palace and in the garden), which we all actually enjoyed. It was a perfect, sunny day and we all loved wandering around the property. We stopped for lunch at Campbells Coffee House and everyone enjoyed their meal.
We got back on the road and headed to Scone Palace. We didn't get there to mid afternoon, so we opted to just get tickets for the gardens. So, no idea about the Palace but the gardens are 100% worth a stop. It was probably one of our highlights of the entire trip. We spent around 2 hours there and definitely could've spent more time. They have the most amazing maze (Murray Star Maze.) Everyone had a blast and we were all giggling like kids trying to find our way out. It was a much needed stress reliever for our first time UK drivers!
It was getting close to 5 by the time we left. We were still quite a distance from our Airbnb in Cromdale, so part of the group just wanted to get there. I had really wanted to stop and do the Hermitage walk and maybe at least see Dunkeld Cathedral, but neither worked out. I also had Blair Castle on my list, but it didn't occur to me until just a few weeks before we left that I should probably check opening and closing times. Most places had last entry at 4:30 or 5pm, so it would have pretty much impossible to make it to Blair without cutting out the other stops.
We found our Airbnb with only one car having issues. It was a great space (and listed on TA also, The Hazels) and an amazing price. This was the only stop that we were all staying under one roof and we had plenty of room. It wasn't walkable to anything really (other than some hikes that we didn't do), but it was an easy drive into Grantown on Spey. I had wanted to stay in Grantown, but couldn't find anything to accommodate our group. By the time we got the cars unpacked it was after 8pm. I had hoped to stop somewhere on the way for dinner, but with 2 cars and minimal communication because of our wireless providers, that didn't happen. We called nearby restaurants and no one had availability for 9 people. We wound up going into Grantown to the Wee Puffin and the wonderful gentleman there took pity on us and got us seated at 2 different tables. We should've eaten here every night we stayed at Cromdale, the Fish and Chips were amazing as was the Apple crumble with custard. We all thoroughly enjoyed our meals and then headed back to the house for a night cap.
July 2, 2019 (Cromdale): We were up at at Maclean's coffee shop by about 8:30am. Delicious rolls and hot chocolate, very good coffee. We ate here every morning and were always satisfied. I'm not sure if there is another option in town actually, we never really looked after finding this place. (The restaurant part doesn't open until 8:30am).
Our first stop was Findhorn Beach, which we loved. There was some on and off light rain, but it cleared up for a while. It was pretty windy there, but still could've spent an hour just listening to waves crash on the rocks. We probably had 30-45 minutes there before the rain came back with a vengeance and we moved on. Luckily, the rain didn't last long.
The next stop with Elgin cathedral, another spot enjoyed by all. Really breathtaking ruins with a roof top deck on top of one of the towers (the one to left when you walk in). Definitely worth a stop. We then went on to Spynie and with some comical misturns by both cars we found it...only to find a note saying it was closed because of staffing issues. Next time, Spynie.
Pretty late in the planning, I decided we should do a proper distillery tour. Everyone seemed interested, so I went with Glen Moray Distillery mostly because the timing worked out. 2 of the adults opted out at the last minute and I wish I would've done a more scenic distillery. It was still interesting and the staff was great. I don't like Whisky, but the ones who do enjoyed their tasting. Our timing had gotten off, so it was near 2pm by the time we finished up and we still hadn't eaten lunch. The 2 people that didn't do the tour ate at the cafe there while we were touring the grounds. It wasn't my plan, but we just opted to eat there too since it was convenient. I was quite pleasantly surprised by the really tasty tomato soup and cheese scone. I had other things I had wanted to do, but again half the group just wanted to go home. The definite downside of traveling with a big group! We headed back to the airbnb through the speyside whisky trail and it was beautiful. We got home, freshened up, and headed back out to dinner.
We weren't sure what time we'd be back to eat, so didn't set up a reservation with the Wee Puffin and they were totally booked. We went to the Bay Leaf, which has a really big space right on the main street and it was virtually empty. I was hesitant, but we really didn't have any options. It was good Indian! We ordered several different curries and they were all enjoyable. The kids loved their chicken nuggets (they barely looked like chicken to me, but I wasn't eating them.)
July 3, 2019 (Cromdale): Breakfast at Maclean's again, we figured if it's not broken don't fix it. Then we were off to the Cairngorm Reindeer Center. It's a little pricey, but so much fun! The couple without kids opted not to do it and just hiked around the area while the families played with the Reindeer. This was our first run in with midges, and they really are horrible little devils. I hadn't realized they'd be an issue in this area, so I had left my spray at the house. I packed it with me every time from this day on. My husband bought a bottle of spray at the visitor center. Once we got up the hill to the reindeer we were in the clear. The guides were wonderful and you definitely get up close to the reindeer. We all had a blast. The guides brought several bags of food, so everyone had multiple opportunities to feed them. When you were done, you were free to go at your leisure. The hike up to them was also beautiful.
I had wanted to stop for lunch after the reindeer, but again part of the crew wasn't hungry so we went on to Loch Eileen. This turned out to be a mistake, but only because of timing. Loch Eileen is well worth a stop. It's an easy walk around the lake and the castle is so pretty. We stayed longer than anticipated and missed the lunch service at the nearby restaurants. Druie Cafe was kind enough to offer their bbq menu and their food was outstanding. The sandwiches and soups also looked delicious. And one of my biggest regrets of the trip is not ordering one of their cakes. So if you find yourself there, please just order a piece of cake! The kids (and most of the adults) had really wanted to do the Treezone obstacle course. Here's another snafu on my part, the last time slot is 3:30pm. I should've prebooked, but was apprehensive to have too many set times for activities. Live and learn. I have no idea if we would've gotten a spot if we had stopped for lunch earlier.
I had wanted to do the Highland Wildlife Park or Folk Museum, but that didn't work out. The Folk Museum was closing and part of the group didn't want to do the Wildlife Park. So, off to Ruthven Barracks we went. Another interesting ruin. It's free and you just wander in and out as you please.
We then made our way back to the house and then back out to dinner in Grantown. I had thought we might stop in Aviemore, but since we ate lunch so late no one was really hungry. We stopped by the Wee Puffin to see if they had any reservations. He could seat us at 9. It was close to 8 at this time, so we took it and then went to see if Bistro No 7 could seat us. Mistake. They could. I had a seafood chowder that was quite good, but no one else enjoyed their meal at all. The service was also very unfriendly. On one hand, I'm sure a table of 9 is a bit of a pain. On the other hand, you're going to sell quite a bit of food. Anyway, this was probably the worst meal we had in Scotland. We went back down to the Wee Puffin for dessert, so at least we ended on a good note.
July 4, 2019 (Cromdale to Uig, Isle of Skye): This was a bit of a rough day for the group. We started with Maclean's, which was good as usual then headed to Culloden Battlefield. The exhibit was very interesting and the battlefield still has an eeriness to it. I would put it on the must see list. My plan was to then go to Clava Ciairns, drive down the coast of Loch Ness, stop for lunch near Loch Ness and do some of the touristy things (kids wanted to), stop at the Eilean Donan view point, go to the Fairy Pools, and then to our pods at the Cowshed Boutique Bunkhouse in Uig.
This was an aggressive plan on my part, and neither the weather nor 1/2 of our traveling companions were on board. So we drove to Drumnadrochit (our car had some navigation problems) and had lunch at Fiddler's Highland Restaurant (amazing chili). One person in our group pretty much refused to stay longer for the kids to check out any of the Nessie tourist trap stuff, so off we went with the plan to stop at the castle view point and Fairy Pools. There was a pretty decent rain at this point, so the other group aborted the plan and went straight to the Cowshed. We received the message about the view point but not about the Fairy Pools.
The drive through Glen Shiel was beyond beautiful, btw. It was around 6pm by the time we got to the Fairy Pools and the rain was still coming down. We only hiked down to the area of the first waterfalls as there was a pretty fast moving (small) creek we would've had to wade through to make it any further. It was doable, but since it was my husband and I with 3 kids (2 of which were not ours) in a rainstorm we decided not to. From my observation of the road going in, it would very difficult to navigate on a busy day with good weather. It's single track and had lots of construction going on, though I couldn't tell what they were doing. It was virtually empty when we went (late in the day and raining), so we didn't have any issues but there were many places with large ruts from people going off the side of the road. It's become a very popular spot and I can't imagine making it down that road with traffic. Just food for thought.
We decided to stop for dinner on our way out since we had over an hour to get to Uig. We stopped at a lodge with a restaurant (Skye Lodges?), mostly because it was the first thing we saw that was open. It was fine.
We made it up to Uig and found the Cowshed without incident. The turn off is near a curve, so it can be hard to see. The driveway up is also quite steep. Our other half was already there with the key to our pod. They had made dinner in the communal kitchen, which is very well stocked and extremely clean. I loved the Cowshed Boutique Bunkhouse. We stayed in the pods, which was perfect for our family but a bit cramped for the family of 4. Some of the group were surprised how small the pods were...I mean they're called pods, it's not going to be a large space. I'm going to mention the cleanliness of this place several times, every area was spotless. The bathroom in the pods were tiny, as clearly shown in the pictures on their website. You shower with the toilet. The water was warm and had great pressure. Part of our group decided to use the bathrooms in the hostel, and after they raved about them I did too. They were huge, had heated floors, were very private, and once again absolutely spotless. I'm not sure how many they had, but no one ever had any issues finding one open. The staff was also so friendly and helpful. I really loved this place, BUT be forewarned there really isn't anything in Uig. I did 'know' this going in, as pretty much everybody recommends staying in Portree. I generally like staying off the beaten path when I can, and was completely charmed with the notion of the Cowshed, so I took the risk. I'm ok with the decision overall, but I won't say I didn't second guess myself.
We ate at the Pier restaurant a couple times and it was ok, but pretty much the only option in town. Although we didn't try The Galley Cafe. After having a truly horrendous breakfast sandwich at Sheiling Cafe I decided to just stick with what we knew was ok rather than trying a different cafe. I had wanted to try the Uig Hotel restaurant, but we never made it because of our large group.
July 5, 2019 (Skye): We’d had a pretty packed itinerary, so today we had a bit of a break. We didn’t leave Uig until after lunch. (At the Pier Restaurant). I had planned to go out to Neist Point, but part of the group didn’t want to do that so we didn’t. We went to Coral Beach, which was a pretty area. The kids and adults liked combing the shore for shells and coral.
Next, we headed to Dunvegan Castle and Gardens…and ran into midges again but were prepared. There was a scavenger hunt for the kids, which is always a hit. We did a quick walk through the gardens as the midges were bothering my husband even with the spray.
I had made a reservation at the Old School Restaurant in Dunvegan and that turned out to be one of my best decisions. It was probably our favorite meal in Scotland, and we had a lot of good meals. Their fresh baked rolls are ridiculous. I bought a dozen for us to have for breakfast the next morning. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their dinners. They served the best sticky toffee pudding we had in Scotland.
July 6, 2019 (Skye): This was another rough day for our group, but somehow it all worked out. It started on a good note, with everyone enjoying the rolls I had purchased at Old School Restaurant for breakfast. Our plan was to head to Duntulm ruins first thing, which I guess we technically did. The slight problem was the other car got a flat tire. We pulled over (only later did we realize we actually pulled over right next to Duntulm…we just couldn’t see it) to deal with the flat to find there was not spare tire and only the patching fluid stuff. We got that figured out and it seemed to be holding.
We decided to head on to Quiraing, not appreciating how far it was off the main road. The tire pressure reading was still ok, but once we parked we could see the fluid actually bubbling out of the slash in the tire. The driver had hit a curb a wee bit hard, apparently. It was clear the fluid wasn’t going to hold the tire and we had managed to get ourselves up on a mountain. There was a tow truck taking another car down while we were there, so that gave me some hope. Although who knows how long they had waited for the tow truck. The pressure was still reading ok, so we decided to continue on this little single track road as it did cut directly back into Uig. We knew we needed to get to Portree thanks to a nice gentleman selling tea back at Duntulm, but really didn’t know if we could make it. We went to the Uig gas station to call Arnold Clark to figure out what to do. They were amazing. They called the service shop in Portree to confirm they could change the tire and then let us decide if we wanted to drive there or get a tow truck. Surprisingly, the pressure was still holding despite all the bubbles so we opted to drive on.
Now, during this time my husband was on the phone and I was getting some snacks with my son, my friend was playing tag with the other kids in the parking lot. She slipped on some gravel, fell, and went face first onto the pavement. She immediately got sick and had some pretty good scratches on her head and arm. We tried to convince her to go to a doctor, as we were all pretty sure she had a concussion, but she refused. We decided to keep caravanning as a group to Portree there was a better chance for some type of urgent care there than Uig.
We made it to the service station right before they were closing and they had our tire changed within 15min of arrival. Arnold Clark handled it all. My friend was adamant she was fine and insisted we press on. (She survived the trip, btw. Though she does now agree she definitely had a concussion and should’ve gone to a doctor.)
Since it was lunch time and we were in Portree, we decided to check out the town. Definitely a lot more going on than there was in Uig. My family went to Café Aribe as they had a table for 3 available, the rest ate at a fish and chips stand. Our food was fantastic and also had some good coffee, which I had been missing. The others enjoyed their fish and chips. We walked around the town and visited a few shops. I’m still not convinced I would’ve rather stayed in Portree over Uig, but definitely a lot more options for food.
My friend insisted she did not want to go back to the Cowshed, so we continued our loop and went on to Old Man of Storr. We had a few minutes to enjoy the astounding beauty of the entire peak before the clouds moved in and covered it. Part of the group did the first portion of the hike, which was not terribly difficult. We would’ve liked to have done more, but didn’t want to keep our friends waiting too long.
We had planned to do Brother’s Point, but with the injured party we skipped it and went on to Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls viewpoint. It’s an easy walk and was picture perfect Scotland. We spent a fair amount of time here, just relaxing and taking in the scenery before continuing on. We stopped at Columba 1400 for dinner. Kind of an interesting place and we all had a perfectly ok dinner.
July 7, 2019 (Skye to Harris): Our ferry to Harris wasn’t until afternoon, so we had plenty of time to pack up and have lunch before we had to go. We had lunch at the Pier restaurant again and again it was ok. I had gone by the ferry offices a couple days before to make sure I had all the paperwork in order. They were very nice and even stapled everything in the correct order for us.
The CalMac Ferries are very comfortable and efficient. I think all the adults took a nap while the kids played cards. We arrived at Tarbert without incident and The Harris Hotel was just down the road from the terminal. We managed to miss it the first time, but the other car found it without any problem.
The Harris Hotel is a quirky old hotel, with lots of random hallways and stairs. It was dated but comfortable. We had a huge space, basically our bed a small hallway with the bathroom and then another room with 2 chairs that folded out into cots. They had one prepared for our son. The family of 4 actually had a smaller room than us but a huge bathroom.
When I had confirmed our rooms, the staff member had suggested I make a reservation at their restaurant since our party was so large. I did and we all quite enjoyed the food.
July 8, 2019 (Harris): Harris Hotel Breakfast was delicious. It was made fresh to order and included fresh coffee or hot chocolate.
When I was planning this trip, I asked my son what he’d like to do in Scotland. His answer: see puffins. The only slight problem with this was that none of the areas we were staying had puffins. We had several options with boat trips to see them though. We eventually decided on using Isle of Harris Sea Tours as it worked best with our itinerary. We did a half day tour out to the Shiant Isles, and man did we ever see puffins. So many puffins. It was pricey and only my family did it, but it was one of our favorite things we did. Our son loved seeing the puffins. And we literally got to sit with them on a little island, they were close enough to touch. It’s a father/son operation and they were both so knowledgeable. We also saw a few Sea Eagles and a golden eagle. They served tea and the most delicious homemade orange cake on the way home. The weather was absolutely perfect, sunny and mild.
Our friends went to the Isle of Harris Distillery and Luskentyre beach. I had hoped we would make it over to the beach, but it never worked out. They loved it and the pictures looked beautiful, more like a beach in the Caribbean than Scotland.
We got back around 3pm and found our crew enjoying beverages in the Harris Hotel garden. We decided that was a great idea and got some ciders for our selves. We had pizza at the pub adjoined to the hotel, which was actually really good.
July 9, 2019 (Harris and Lewis): Scotland’s weather finally caught up to us today. It was a consistently steady rain all day. We were prepared, so we pretty much stuck with the plan for the day.
First stop Calanais Standing Stones, which were a must see for me and definitely glad we made it. They are truly a sight to behold. There are no barriers, so you can touch and wander all you want. There are two sites and we only made it to the first one, again the trials of traveling with a large group.
Next we went to the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. It was interesting, but there was a large tour bus there at the same time we were and one of the houses was closed off for them. We explored a bit then hit the road for the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse. Definitely worth the trek, in my opinion. The scenery is so beautiful with the cliffs and ocean. It was raining pretty hard by the time we got there and I think we would’ve stayed longer to explore and take in the beauty had the weather been a little better.
I actually can’t remember if we stopped for lunch anywhere, but I don’t think we did. We just went back to the hotel and had dinner, part of us at the hotel restaurant and part at the pub for pizza.
July 10, 2019 (Harris to Glen Coe): We took the early morning ferry as the only other option was mid-afternoon. Again, very efficient service at CalMac. We left around 7am and were at Uig by around 9. They served a pretty nice and reasonably priced breakfast on the boat. We were able to see some more puffins on our way out. I had booked the 1pm (ish) Armadale-Mallaig ferry as I wasn’t sure we could make it to the one leaving about an hour earlier. Turned out we could’ve, but it would have been close. We asked if they had room for 2 more cars, but they were sold out so we went and had some coffee and cake at the Armadale Castle visitor center until it was time for us to leave.
My plan was to stop at Mallaig for lunch, but again only one car stopped. We had a tasty but very slow lunch at Chlachainn Inn. We were there close to 2 hours, so the other car probably made the right call this time. I had hopes of seeing the “Harry Potter” train go over the viaduct, but I really don’t know what time you would’ve had to gotten there to see it. The other car tried to park a good 1.5 hours before the train was set to pass, and the lots were all full. We got there right before it was passing and of course didn’t stand a chance. It was complete chaos. We were able to see it from the road though, so that made the kids happy.
The other car did Neptune’s staircase, or at least part of it, and old Inverlochy castle. We just went to the guesthouse. I somehow missed the sign on the door saying ring the bell and just walked in, Katya was cleaning and I think I scared her half to death. My bad. We were staying our final few days at Strathassynt Guest House In Ballachulish and it was a great way to end our trip. The owners were wonderful and the rooms were clean and comfortable. It was also right across the street from The Laroch restaurant and bar. We all loved this place. We were never able to sit in the restaurant, but the bar served the same menu and they served really outstanding food. (Make sure to ask for a kids menu.) We ate here every night we stayed at Strathassynt and it was always on point. I had really wanted to try Loch Leven seafood, but my husband and I were the only seafood eaters so it never worked out.
July 11, 2019 (Glen Coe): We started our day with a phenomenal breakfast at Strathassynt. After many full Scottish breakfasts, I opted for Katya’s pancakes and they totally hit the spot. Everything was made to order and delicious. After filling up our bellies we hit the road for another day of exploring.
First stop was Castle Stalker. It was an easy walk over to see the castle and then back in the car and off to Dunstaffnage Castle and Chapel. We explored the ruins and the kids liked running around in the forest. Both were worth the stop, but I wouldn’t go out of your way to see them.
Then we went to Oban and walked around McCraig’s tower before exploring the town. Our first stop in Oban was Oban Chocolate Company. We decided just to have our lunch be cake and chocolate today. It was so decadent and delicious. Our travel companions wanted to do some souvenir shopping so we spent a couple hours walking around the shops in Oban. I’m not much for souvenir shopping, but they enjoyed it.
Our next stop was supposed to be Arduaine Garden, but we weren’t sure we could make it much before they closed so we opted not to go. One car was already en route when this was decided, so we inadvertently took two different ways back home. Our car went by St. Conan’s Kirk, but unfortunately did not stop. We then drove by the Lost Valley and did actually stop at one of the car parks. We didn’t know exactly where we were, but it was absolutely breathtaking. We walked a little ways down the trail and decided we had to come back the next morning to do more of a hike with the entire crew.
We met back up with the rest of our companions and had dinner at Laroch again. The couple was able to get a table in the restaurant and the two families with kids ate in the bar again. My husband ordered the Scottish Beef and it was so tender and delicious.
July 12, 2019 (Glen Coe): Our first stop today was the Lost Valley. We got directions from Strathassynt for a kid friendly hike, but we totally messed it up and wound up on the 3 sisters hike. It was absolutely breath taking, but not really suitable for youngish kids, or for our travel companions that were still nursing previous injuries. They stayed back while my husband and I hiked further. We would’ve liked to have gone further, but again felt bad leaving everyone else (including our kid) behind.
Next up was Kilchurn castle. Definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area. There’s kind of a mini petting zoo on the way in and some Hairy Coos. It’s a ruin and you can just wander about on your own.
Then we were off to Inveraray. Inveraray castle and gardens were very interesting. Only part of the castle is open to the public since the family still uses it. I had wanted to check out Inveraray jail also, but no one else wanted to spend the admission charge. So we went to lunch at Brambles instead, which was quite tasty. After that, we did some more souvenir shopping. There’s a little souvenir shop right down the street from Brambles that had some pretty well priced Scotland hoodies, if you’re into that kind of souvenir.
Then it was back to the guest house and dinner at Laroch. Myself and one other person got the Scottish beef and all agreed it was the best thing on the menu…which is saying a lot because we thoroughly enjoyed everything we ordered there.
July 13, 2019 (Glen Coe to Edinburgh): We had breakfast (sad for it to be our last time having Katya’s pancakes) and packed up the cars. One family was flying out of Glasgow and two were flying out of Edinburgh. The Glasgow family had decided it was worth going out of their way a bit to see Doune and Stirling, so that’s what we did.
Doune castle was probably my favorite castle we visited. It had a great audio tour with Monty Python’s Terry Jones narrating and also Outlander specific options with Sam Heughan (Jamie Fraser) narrating. There wasn’t any type of scavenger hunt for the kids, but they all still loved going through the castle.
Then it was off to Stirling castle, which is also quite a site to behold. It was midday by the time we got there. The first car was turned away from the parking lot because it was full. We were maybe 10 minutes behind them and they let us park. We had the other car come back, and they got in this time. It was a very warm, sunny Saturday so it was packed. We spent close to 2 hours and decided we should head to our hotels for the night. The castle and gardens were beautiful and we enjoyed them, it was just the last day of a long holiday and we needed to get the cars back to Edinburgh by 5. I would’ve liked to have seen more of Stirling, but it wasn’t to be this time.
We dropped the family at the train station to catch a train to Glasgow and we drove the cars back to Edinburgh. I briefly contemplated stopping at Linlithgow Palace or Blackness Castle on the way back in, but decided it was best just to get the cars back together. We were staying at the Edinburgh Park Premier Inn near the airport, which was perfectly fine for the night. It’s a fairly new hotel right by the Park station, so it would be doable for an Edinburgh hotel if someone was on a tight budget. I prefer staying close to city centers and the Premier Inn’s closer to the city weren’t that much more. I chose this one because of the proximity to the airport and tram, not realizing we needed to be at the airport before the trams start running. Not a big deal, the cab ride to the airport was less than 10gbp.
We found the hotel without issue. The husbands turned the cars in while the wives checked into the hotel. It was about 5:30pm by the time my husband got back. We had skipped lunch, so we were starving. My family decided to hop on the train and get dinner somewhere better than the hotel restaurant. We stopped at Haymarket and ate at Khukurri, a tastey little Nepalese restaurant. Excellent food and service. We asked at the end of the meal if there was an ice cream shop near by for our son. Our server said unfortunately not, but he would bring an ice cream for our son that we could take with us. Such an unexpected thing and we didn’t notice until we got back to the hotel the ice cream was in a cute little ceramic bowl. Our friends did enjoy their dinner at the Premier Inn.
July 14, 2019 (Edinburgh to LAX): We called a cab from the hotel and they were prompt. Easy drive to Edinburgh airport and it’s an easy airport to navigate. As mentioned in the beginning, my husband had to go pick up his phone at Heathrow so we weren’t sure he was going to make it. He did and we had an uneventful flight back to LA.
It was a trip with some ups and downs because of the number of people/personalities we had. But Scotland is such a magical place that we all had an excellent time. I truly hope to make it back sometime in my life.