Travel inspiration can come from a variety of places: friends, blogs, art, religion, books and even wars. The Highlands started beckoning me after binge-watching the series Outlander. Beautiful scenery is always a draw, but for me, a destination has to offer something more: mysticism, romance, adventure, a feeling of being in another time or place. The Highlands checks all those boxes.
Planning a trip to Scotland can feel overwhelming. Everything looks amazing and FOMO starts to set in but choose you must. Although it is only about the size of South Carolina, the roads are narrow and windy and the path from here to there is not always direct, so it takes longer to get places than you expect. We quickly decided our priorities were the Isle of Skye and Inverness.
The “we” here is my husband, me and our three boys: 8-year-old twins and a 5-year-old. My boys are wild and energetic, but they are also paradoxically lazy and don’t like to walk very far. They get antsy in the car, but they are generally very good little travelers who are up for exploring and can tolerate things adults like as long as there’s something in it for them (hello ice cream).
We started our journey on a train from London, arriving in Glasgow at night. We stayed over at the lovely Hotel Voco Grand Central, which is conveniently located right in the train station. After breakfast, we picked up our rental car and began the trek to Skye.
The 200 some miles from Glasgow to Isle of Skye is said to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world. We were absolutely mesmerized by the scenery. Rolling green hills gave way to dramatic green cliffs, vast lochs and sweeping valleys. We pulled over from time to time to take it all in and to snap pictures, knowing that we could never really capture the magnificence of the place. With stops included, it took us just over nine hours to get to Skye, and my fidgety boys didn’t complain once. That should tell you something.
Part of the reason it took so long was that we went a bit out of our way to see the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which is famously featured when the train to Hogwarts passes over it in the Harry Potter movies. As we were approaching the viaduct, we saw the train pass right by our car, which I must say, was rather thrilling; however, we missed it passing over the viaduct by mere minutes, because we did not account for the fact that parking would be scarce. If you don’t want to suffer a similar fate, you will want to arrive 30 minutes before it’s scheduled to pass over. The area is so stunning and so easy to hike that you can easily spend a good hour there stretching your legs and having a little snack at the café before you snap that Insta-perfect photo. I highly recommend this stopover, even if you don’t care about Harry Potter and his magical shenanigans.
Glenfinnan Viaduct - Catch a glimpse of the Hogswarts' Express
When we crossed the bridge into the Isle of Skye, the scenery got even more dramatic. It makes sense that The BFG was filmed here, because it feels like a place made for giants. And fairies and dinosaurs too. And that, my friends, is what makes this a great destination for adults and kids alike. If you like to hike, but have trouble dragging your littles along, hire a great tour guide who can capture their imagination by having them explore the fairy glen and hunt for dinosaur footprints. We used Wilderness Scotland and thought they were brilliant.
Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye
We spent three full days in Skye, staying at the Cuillin Hills Hotel in Portree. While you could do more especially if your clan likes to hike, that felt right for us. Plus, the food is not that great, and you can only eat so much fish and chips, amiright? The weather in Skye ranges from kind of okay to mildly crappy, although you can get some sun. Check the forecast before you go, and always, ALWAYS, bring rain gear, a sweater and midge spray no matter the forecast. We didn’t encounter many midges, but they sound unpleasant, and I feel it’s best to keep a bottle of Smidge in your daypack just in case.
En route to Inverness, we visited the Eilean Donan castle. This is worth a stop even if you skip the tour because you can snap some iconic photos and have a decent bite to eat at the café.
Eilean Donan Castle
In Inverness, we stayed at the Kingsmill Hotel. A key benefit of staying here is that there is a great playground right across the street. It has something for kids of all ages, so you can make your kids happy and let them burn off energy with little to no effort on your part.
We started off by giving the boys a day of their own with a visit to the Landmark Forest Adventure Park, which they thought was brilliant. After that, they were on board with a few tours. It’s kind of corny, but I felt like no trip to Scotland would be complete without seeing the famed Loch Ness. Check out The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition and be sure to book boat ride tickets early if you want to get out on the Loch.
The last day of our trip was an homage to its inspiration: Outlander. We drove to Culloden Moor to learn about the Jacobite uprising and Bonnie Prince Charlie. You can tour the museum and then walk out onto the battlefield itself, and you can really picture the tragedy unfolding. Nearby are the Clava Cairns, the stone formations that inspired Outlander’s Craigh Na Dune stones that sent Claire time traveling. We touched the stones, but the only traveling we did was to the Inverness Airport to fly back to London, tired but happy.
Written by guest author Melissa Birge