This tour combines beautiful scenery, historic towns, palaces and castles, quaint fishing villages, the homes of Robert Burns—that is, everything you want to discover in Scotland. If you have the time for some extended Scottish travel, this itinerary is a great add-on to “Scotland in 1 Week” or “Scotland in 2 Weeks.”
Day 1: Arran
With its forests, glens, moors, and rocky coasts, the little island of Arran is often called “Scotland in Miniature.” Remote and otherworldly as the island can seem, it’s only a 45-minute ferry crossing from the west coast port of Ardrossan, 33 miles southwest of Glasgow. Arrive in the morning, settle into Brodick, and spend the rest of the day enjoying the 60-mile circuit of the island. The road skirts pebble beaches along quiet bays where you’ll want to pull over. Some other stops along the way are Glenashdale waterfall; Arran distillery, next to the bay at Lochranza; and Brodick Castle, a grand Victorian hunting lodge.
Days 2 & 3: Ayr & Wigtown
On the morning of Day 2, take the ferry back to Ardrossan, then follow the West Coast south on A78 and A77 for 24 miles to the resort of Ayr. The poet Robert Burns was baptized here in the Auld Kirk, and the humble cottage where he was born and a memento-filled gallery are part of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, 2 miles south. You can pay homage to the “ploughman poet” at the grandiose Burns Monument. From Ayr it’s a 50-mile drive, about 1.5 hours on A77 and A714, to Wigtown. This quirky little place, officially known as Scotland’s National Book Town, with bookshops and book-lined pubs, is a good base for exploring the mountains and coasts of the Galloway region. You should arrive in time for a late afternoon stroll through the surrounding wetlands.
On Day 3, a nice outing begins with a drive 10 miles south to Whithorn and the nearby Isle of Whithorn, where St. Ninian established a beachhead of Christianity in 397, and a now-ruined pilgrim’s chapel and monastery have weathered the centuries. A drive back north through Wigtown takes you into Galloway Forest Park. Cross through the vast tracts of forests on A712 then drop down to Kirkcudbright, a seaport and artists’ colony. Painters set their easels up on the salt-tinged wharves; the works of their famous predecessors, colorists known as the Glasgow Boys, hang in the Tolbooth Art Centre. The A72 heads 40 miles west back to Wigtown, but make one more stop just west of Kirkcudbright at the Marrbury Smokehouse to pick up some smoked scallops. Total length of this Day 3 drive is about 100 miles.
Day 4: Dumfries into the Borders
Leave Wigtown on the morning of Day 4 and make the 54-mile drive east on A75 to Dumfries. Spread out along the banks of the River Nith, Dumfries was the longtime home of poet Robert Burns, who is still very much in residence, in spirit at least. His statue stands above High Street, and you can visit his home, grave, favorite pub, and a museum devoted to the author of “My love is like a red, red rose” and other memorable verse. It’s only fitting that a town so wholeheartedly immersed in poetry should have an outlying castle as romantic as Caerlaverock; this picture-perfect compilation of red sandstone ruins rises amid wetlands along the Solway Firth 8 miles southeast of town. Now drive 20 miles north of Dumfries to Moffat, a bucolic country town and onetime spa. Make a 5-mile detour north up A701 toward Peebles to a viewpoint over the Devil’s Beef Tub, a sheer-sided hollow in the hills where cattle rustlers who raided farms across the English border would rest and water their stock as they traveled north to Edinburgh. Storied and scenic as the spot is, even better scenery lies ahead: Backtrack to Moffat, then take the A708 route toward Selkirk, past moody moors, stark hillsides with jagged outcroppings, and patches of woodland, making this one of Scotland’s most scenic drives. Grey Mare’s Tail, one of Britain’s highest waterfalls, tumbles down a mountainside about 10 miles north of Moffat, then the road skirts St. Mary’s Loch, said to be so deep it has no bottom. From Selkirk, 35 miles northeast of Moffat, the A7 and A6091 lead the remaining 9 miles into Melrose, a lovely little town and a good base for exploring the Borders region.
Days 5 & 6: Melrose & the Other Abbey Towns
At the edge of town, Melrose Abbey reposes in splendid ruin (the British laid waste to this and other nearby, once-thriving monastic communities in the 15th and 16th centuries). On a morning visit on Day 5 make sure to climb the narrow, stone spiral staircase for a view over the town, meadows, River Tweed, and surrounding Eildon Hills. It’s a pleasure to stroll around the shop-filled town square, then down country lanes to the banks of the River Tweed, where the narrow Gattonside Suspension Bridge sways above the torrent. The Tweed also flows past your next stop, Abbotsford House, the baronial manor that Sir Walter Scott built 2 miles upstream in 1821; the rich interiors are a fine tribute to the author, who romantically evoked his beloved Scotland in verses and novels. Scott is buried in Dryburgh Abbey, on the river bank 4 miles east of Melrose. This is your final stop for the day. Surrounded by yew trees and cedars of Lebanon, the mossy old stones and crumbling walls stand in splendid isolation and invite some quiet contemplation, perhaps continued over a pint in the Dryburgh Abbey Hotel, an atmospherically faded country house next door.
Another day, another abbey or two: Day 6 takes you first to Kelso, at confluence of the River Teviot and River Tweed 15 miles east of Melrose. Towers, turrets, and buttresses suggest the onetime might of Kelso Abbey, the largest and richest of the Border abbeys, and visits to two grand estates at the edge of town show off secular wealth: Floors Castle, at the center of a 21,000-hectare (52,000-acre) estate, is Scotland’s largest inhabited castle, while golden-hued Mellerstain is the best work of 18th-century father and son architects William and Robert Adam. There’s one more abbey to visit, the best preserved of them all, in Jedburgh, 12 miles south of Kelso on the A698. While in town, step into the Mary Queen of Scots’ Visitor Centre, a short-term residence of the young queen, whose turbulent life unfolds in the informative galleries. Melrose is 13 miles north of Jedburgh on the A68.
Day 7: East Neuk Fishing Villages
Edinburgh is just 37 miles northwest of Melrose. Whether you’re heading home from the capital or nearby Glasgow, enjoy one more look at scenic Scotland by making a short excursion out to the coast of Fife and the country’s most beautiful and unspoiled fishing villages, known collectively as East Neuk. In Elie, the westernmost village, 45 miles northeast of Edinburgh, step-gabled houses surround a picture-postcard harbor. You might even be tempted to take a swim from one of the golden-sand beaches, but don’t linger too long, because you want to be in Pittenweem, 4 miles east on the A917, before the morning fish market shutters (Monday through Saturday); this is where, according to the song, Pittenweem Jo “guts the herrin’ doon by the quay, and saves her kisses just for me.” Anstruther, just 1.5 miles east, is a good spot for lunch, followed by a visit to the Scottish Fisheries Museum, down by the harbor, and a seaside walk over to the tiny hamlet of Cellardyke. The stop for the final night is Crail, another 4 miles northwest, where you can cap off the day with a harborside stroll and a dinner of fish and chips. From Crail, it’s 53 miles back to Edinburgh.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.