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  • Janis Nunez

Scotland: Edinburgh, Pitlochry, Inverness, Glenfinnan, Fort William, Glencoe, Stirling, Doune

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

This was supposed to be our 2020 family travel destination, but as you know things changed that year and we had to put it on hold. We were beyond excited to finally get to explore Scotland!

Trying to decide where to go is difficult as there is so much to see in Scotland. We finally settled on these destinations that made a small loop through Scotland.

It stays light until very late (most nights after 11pm), so that gives more time to check things off your list. Some days we even headed back to the hotel and took a nap, then ventured out again.


ADAPTER: You will need an adapter to plug in your electronics while you are in Scotland. Click here to view what we used. We usually each have our own. You might need it at the airport if you need to charge while you are waiting for your flight home, so keep it in your carry-on bag.

Another thing to find out (ladies) is the wattage of your flat iron or other electronics you will be taking. I found that getting a universal wattage flat iron saves me the hassle of worrying if I need an adapter AND converter. Most hotels and Airbnbs provide a hair dryer, so just make sure whatever you bring has Worldwide Voltage, or you will also need a converter.

PHONE: Contact your cell phone provider to see what is included. T-Mobile gives unlimited data and texting, but charges $0.25 per minute per call for us. I have read other companies require you to get a SIM card, so contact your provider for details.

CONTACT YOUR BANK AND CREDIT CARD COMPANIES: It's important to let the bank know when you will be out of town so that you won't have any problems withdrawing your money when you get to your destination. You also may need to notify your credit card company of the travel dates.

WHERE TO STAY: If you have points saved up, now is the time to use them. Scotland is not a cheap stay. We were able to use points and stayed the first two nights at the Doubletree by Hilton Edinburgh City Center. We had a room with two double beds that was huge! This hotel has air conditioning, comfortable beds, warm showers, lots of space and a great staff who go above and beyond. Luggage drop-off was easy. Our flight came in at 8:50am and the check-in wasn't until 3pm. They texted when the room was available (1pm), and we were able to get in early. There is also an onsite restaurant. The staff here are excellent. The food was very good, and it was nice to start the day with a full belly to venture out to explore the city. The placement of this hotel is great. It's only a few blocks from the Grassmarket area where you can get meals, visit pubs, or walk through on your way to Victoria Street or other areas. When we checked out of the hotel, we were able to do a late checkout and also leave our bags until our next hotel check-in was available. (The only reason we went to another hotel was because this one only had 2 night's stay available.)

Our next hotel was Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh City West. We stayed here because it was out of the Old Town area, and we were renting a car the next morning from the airport to start exploring the Highlands. We spent a full day in Old Town and checked in here fairly late. Very clean hotel. Nice large beds, hot showers, great free breakfast. Only criticism here is the staff is not very attentive. We used points to stay here, and it served its purpose. There is also a grocery store very close, so it's a good place to stock up on snacks, drinks, and we got spray for midges here before we left for the highlands.

Our next stay was through Airbnb at Birch Hollow. We wanted to stay in the Fort William area after leaving Edinburgh with stops in Pitlochry and at Urquhart Castle. It was a great spot to get us to the Glenfinnan Viaduct in the morning without another long drive. The cottage is sparkling clean. Great shower, quiet location, attentive host, and you can hear the sheep on the next farm over when the door is open. Such a great little spot. You can read the review I left if interested in staying here. (We used our Airbnb credit here without issue.)

After exploring Fort William, Glenfinnan, and Glencoe we headed to the Holiday Inn Express Stirling to sleep. We used points for this hotel. It's not in the main old town area so I think it's best if you have a car to stay here. The staff was very welcoming and accommodating to us. Rooms did not have two double beds, only double bed and sofa bed. It was okay for a one night stay but would probably get really crowded if staying longer. The shower was a little spotty with hot/cool water, but it is an older building, and it did serve its purpose. The free breakfast was very good, and we headed out in the morning, so didn't really do much else but sleep here.

Our last booking was at the Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh Airport Hotel. We chose this because we had a somewhat early flight and wanted to return the rental car the night before leaving. There is a shuttle to the airport and free breakfast. Unfortunately, this place was a letdown. Upon arriving to the room, we found out there is no air conditioning in the hotel. The room was very uncomfortable (temperature-wise), and the window only slightly cracks open. There is no breeze, so it really doesn't cool off, especially if it's raining out. We were beyond disappointed. I would not recommend this hotel. The hotel itself is pretty outdated. The breakfast that was included was very good. We were able to take the bus/shuttle to the airport in the morning without issue. If you want to be at an airport hotel the night before your flight, I would definitely look elsewhere.

CAR RENTAL: We usually rent through Costco. It's almost always the best deal and if something happens and you can't make it for some reason there is no penalty cancelling the car. On this trip we rented directly through Hertz using the app. Best deal and had no issues during our trip.


CURRENCY: You can find an ATM at the airport or wait and find a bank in the city (which is what we did). Check fees and be sure you take out the lump sum of what you need, so that you don't get hit with multiple fees from Scotland, your bank, and exchange rates. The Scots use the British Pound. You can download the currency converter app on your phone to help you convert to dollars to keep spending in check.

TRANSPORTATION: If you plan to stay in the city center there really is no need for a car. You can walk most places or take uber/taxi all over the city for little cost. For Car rental we used Hertz with pickup and drop-off at the airport. Very easy and no issues.

NO COVID RESTRICTIONS: Thankfully all of the restrictions previously in place for traveling outside of the US have been dropped. No need to take a test when returning to the United States. No need for masks on the planes. If you feel more comfortable wearing a mask you can do so, but there were no requirements while in Scotland to wear a mask.

LEAVING THE AIRPORT: I don't usually add this section, but when leaving Edinburgh give yourself plenty of time. If you have to check a bag the lines are unbelievably long. We were glad we only took carry-on bags. The lines to get through the security checkpoint can be just as long as bags are constantly flagged to get checked by hand. Out of the 4 of us three were flagged! My husband got flagged for sanitizer, my son got flagged for sunscreen, I got flagged for fudge! Just allow a LOT of time. I'd say 3 hours at least.


Day 1: We took an uber from the airport to the hotel to leave our bags while waiting for our room to be available. We started by walking over to the Grassmarket area. This is your fist chance to get a glimpse at Edinburgh Castle! We got a bite to eat at Cafe Jacques before starting our exploring of the Old Town. Everything was delicious and the staff was so welcoming.

After eating we headed to the Royal Mile. There will be lots of steps and uphill walking, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes. It also rains off and on, so have your rain jacket with you at all times. We started near the castle and headed east for a day of exploring. Tip the bagpipers if you have coins in your pocket. They were out playing daily.

Be sure to head down the closes as you explore. Some have some amazing things to see, some are dead ends, some are shortcuts to other streets. It's really fun exploring. And if you are and Outlander fan, be sure to go down the Bakehouse Close to see where they filmed Jamie's printshop.

I made a list of several things I wanted to see along the walk down the Royal Mile. I suggest you do the same so that you don't miss anything. There is so much to see, lots of shops for shopping, and plenty of places to stop for a bite to eat or a drink. One of the places not to be missed is St Giles Cathedral. The fist photo shows the statue of David Hume. He has a shiny toe because people rub it on the way to court for good luck. In front of the cathedral is a statue of John Knox. He was the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. You can visit the John Knox House Museum for more information.

There are lots of things that you could pass by without noticing. One is the Heart of Midlothian that is right outside of the St Giles Cathedral. This spot is where "justice" happened. They used to do public executions, hangings, and burning of witches. Behind the cathedral you can see the Mercat Cross. This octagonal monument has a unicorn holding a flag at the top with the cross of St. Andrew. Royal proclamations have been read here since the 14th century.

Walking around the old town you are bound to run into the old wellheads. This is where people used to come to get water for their homes. The oldest wellhead is in front of the John Knox house. Just past The Real Mary King's Close you will see a row of arches with flags. Go through the first arch and you can look for JK Rowlings handprints. If you are a Harry Potter fan this is a must see. Make a stop at the Canogate Church. You can go inside if it's open. There is a reserved pew for the Queen. If you go around the side to the kirkyard you will be rewarded with stunning views of the Nelson Monument (not pictured) on Calton Hill, as well as the Old Royal High School. The last photo shows the Political Martyrs' Monument next to the Governor's House. This house is all that remains of the Calton Jail, which was the largest prison in Scotland.

FOOD: The food in Edinburgh was delicious. We couldn't resist their traditional Scottish breakfast, fish and chips, scotch egg, meat pies, haggis, sticky toffee pudding, bacon butty, fudge, venison burgers, tea, scones, pizza, ice cream, local candies, local beers and iron brew. There is so much to try here. Be adventurous. We loved it all. We ate at the following in Edinburgh: Jaques Cafe, Oink, The World's End Pub, No 1, The Albanach, and The Black Bull pub for drinks. With such a filling Scottish breakfast we really ate just two meals a day.

When we got the call that we could check into our hotel room. We decided to head back and take a nap. The good thing about Scotland is that it stays light out until around 11pm. You can do a ton of things in a day. We napped and then headed back out to have dinner and to explore more of Edinburgh.

Here are a few more spots for the Harry Potter fans. If you aren't a fan, these are still areas that are worth exploring. Our first stop was into the Greyfriars Kirkyard. Here you can look for a number of names on tombstones that inspired JK Rowling's characters in the books. We found a McGonagall plaque and Thomas Riddle's tombstone. Look up other names that were her inspiration online to find here. You can also find the Greyfriars Bobby gravesite here. Look up the lore about this faithful dog. Notice people bring sticks to his grave.

Just past the Greyfriars Bobby Fountain on the corner of Chambers Street, you will find The Elephant House. This is the spot where JK Rowling wrote most of the first book. The cafe is no longer open due to a fire, but the spot has a plaque to read and it's a great stop along the way.

Victoria Street is known for being an inspiration for Diagon Alley. This curved cobblestone street also has a couple of Harry Potter themed shops. We stopped at Oink to have a pulled pork sandwich one day and were not disappointed! You can get haggis on it as well if you haven't tried it yet on your trip.

Day 2: We had a full Scottish breakfast at the hotel restaurant before heading toward Edinburgh Castle. Be sure to book the places you really want to see online as sometimes they do sell out. We booked tickets the day before online but couldn't get at time slot into the castle until noon that day.

We walked past the castle and over to see the Scott Monument while we were waiting. The canon was going off at the castle (as it does on the hour), and we got a great view of it. It began to rain, but we had our jackets so continued to the monument. We will be coming back to the Princes Street gardens after visiting the castle.

Edinburgh Castle: When we arrived at our time slot, they were doing the changing of the guards. We observed this before going inside.

Inside Edinburgh Castle...

We walked through Princes Street Gardens on our way to Calton Hill. Here we saw the Ross Fountain, great views of the castle, Royal Scots Greys Monument, Floral Clock, David Livingston Statue, Scotts Monument, The Call 1914 statue, and the Soldier Bear Statue.

Next, we headed to Calton Hill. Here you can view the National Monument, Observatory, Dugald Stewart Monument, Nelson Monument, and a view of Arthur's Seat.

Day 3: The National Museum of Scotland is free to visit. This museum is huge and well worth exploring. We also enjoyed the cafe and the rooftop 360 view of the city.

Before going to our next hotel, we headed over to Dean Village. The Dean Village is a tranquil green oasis on the Water of Leith, only a five-minute walk from Princes Street.