If you’re visiting Scotland, you definitely need to include a 5-day Highlands tour as part of your itinerary…if you have the time. While you could rent a car and make your own tour, traveling with a tour company such as Haggis Adventures is a great choice for several reasons.
I’ve always been quite vocal about how Scotland is my favorite country in the world, and that’s primarily because of how gorgeous the landscape is. There are many parts of the country that honestly feel like you’ve left planet Earth. I’m not biased at all, but the Isle of Skye is one of those. I mean, there’s a reason why so many fantasy movies like Stardust and The BFG were filmed on Skye.
If you don’t have a full week in Scotland, you could consider just a one-day Highlands tour, such as up to Loch Ness, or a Harry Potter tour on the Hogwarts Express over the Glenfinnan Viaduct. But all those attractions and many more are included with the Haggis Adventures 5-day Highland Fling.
5-Day Highlands Tour Itinerary
There are certainly plenty of different 5-day itineraries you could put together for a Highlands tour. In fact, you could easily spend five days just on the North Coast 500. Back in 2016, I went on the 5-day Hebridean Hopper Tour with Haggis Adventures, which focused on the Isle of Lewis and Harris and the Isle of Skye. That’s now a 6-day tour, and one I’d do again in a heartbeat!
The Highland Fling Tour covers quite a bit of ground around Scotland. Nights are spent in Oban, Portree, and Inverness. Some of the attraction highlights of the tour include:
- The Kelpies
- Stalker Castle
- McCaig’s Tower
- Glenfinnan Viaduct
- The Old Man of Storr
- Eileen Donan Castle
- Loch Ness
- Culloden Battlefield
- Clava Cairns
- Dunkeld Cathedral
- Whisky Tasting
- And more
Not all tours make the same stops. Some are weather-dependent, seasonal, or based on availability. For instance, the usual distillery on the tour wasn’t available the day we went, so we had the great honor of visiting the Lindores Abbey Distillery where whisky was first recorded in 1494!
Here’s the map of where my tour went. It’s a nice route to follow if you want to go on your own, or even if you’re on the tour and want an idea of where the bus is headed after each stop. Just remember that not every Highland Fling tour will follow this same route.
My Mom’s First Tour of the Highlands
I’ve already been on several dozen tours of the Highlands, both with bus companies and self-guided tours. This one was a bit different. As a back-story, I wasn’t planning on returning to the US in the near future, so I told my mom in Montana that she should come visit me in Scotland instead.
Of course, no trip to Scotland would be complete without a Highlands tour, so I planned to travel around the country for a few days with my mom. These days, renting a car, paying for gas (petrol), and B&Bs are considerably more pricey than in pre-pandemic times, and such a trip was out of my budget.
Instead, I booked three seats for my mom, Vanesa and me on the Highland Fling Tour with Haggis Adventures. But, as is my nature, I kept it as a surprise for both of them. My mom thought we were renting a car and sleeping in B&Bs, while my girlfriend thought we were going to be wild-camping while my mom slept in the car. They only found out about the bus when we arrived at the tour meeting spot. I can’t say my mom wasn’t disappointed when she didn’t see a car, but I believe she liked the tour in the end.
Making Our Way Across Scotland
The first day of the tour was spent making our way across Scotland from Edinburgh to the west coast. The tour departed at 9 a.m. and by 11:30, after a stop at the Kelpies, we were in Callander. That’s a quintessential, beautiful Scottish town known as the Gateway to the Highlands. For lunch, Vanesa and I went to Mohr Bread where they make some of the best Scottish pies.
Our next stop on the tour was the Falls of Dochart, and then onward to Glencoe, one of the most beautiful valleys in Scotland. The bus stopped twice in the valley, once at the Three Sisters Viewpoint, and then at the bottom along Loch Achtriochtan where there’s a beautiful cottage with a waterfall in the background.
Before reaching Oban, we made an impromptu stop at Stalker Castle. I once found this unique small tower castle on an island by accident on a self-guided tour around Scotland. I was quite happy to return with a guide explaining what I was looking at. The last time I went, it was low tide and I could walk all the way out to the castle. This time the tide was high, but I used the drone for some great aerial shots.
An Evening in Oban
Finally, we made it to Oban, our stop for the night. I had only been to Oban once before. It’s a really beautiful little town where you get the ferry to many of the Inner Hebrides Islands. It’s a relatively small town with a mere 8,500 residents. Along the harborfront are quite a few nice restaurants, mostly serving fresh seafood dishes.
Vanesa, my mom and I went to The Oban Fish and Chips Shop as I’d read they were one of the best chippies (fish and chips shops) in Scotland. I’ll admit they were quite good, but I’ve had better. Apparently, the owner split off to start another chippie called Nories down the street, which was later recommended to us as the better shop.
After dinner, I went up on my own to explore McCaig’s Tower, a folly on the hill overlooking Oban. A folly is essentially a silly structure built on a large estate in Scotland. This one was built by John Stuart McCaig between 1897 and 1902. It was intended to be a recreation of the Colosseum, but his death and lack of funds put an end to the construction after only the outer wall was completed (hence a folly).
It only takes a few minutes of hiking to reach the folly from the harborside, and it’s certainly worth the climb. You’ll great views of Oban, the Isle of Kerrera in the foreground, and the Isle of Mull in the distance. If you go up at the right time, you’ll also get a gorgeous sunset reflecting off the Sound of Kerrera, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean.
Riding the Jacobite Steam Train, a.k.a. Hogwarts Express
Riding the Hogwarts Express across the Glenfinnan Viaduct is certainly the highlight of any trip to Scotland. As I had already been on the train several times, I opted to ride the bus to the visitor center instead and hike up to get to the viewpoint where you can see the train go by.
To be fair, riding the train is a bit overrated if you’re trying to get that perfect photo. Sitting at the back of the train and sticking your phone out the window, you’ll just see a long row of phone-holding hands in front of you. If you sit at the front of the train, then you don’t see the train going over the viaduct. But hey, it’s the experience that counts.
After the train passed by, the bus took us to Mallaig where we met the rest of the passengers and had lunch. Mallaig is another quintessential Scottish village where you can take the ferry to Armadale on the Isle of Skye, which is what we did.
Exploring the Isle of Skye
I’m not biased at all; I just think that the Isle of Skye is the most beautiful place in the world. I’ve already written about the island extensively, including my comprehensive guide to spending 48 hours on the Isle of Skye.
Our tour only spent about 24 hours on the island, but nowadays that’s about all you need and can do with a bus tour, as many of the attractions have been blocked off to large vehicles. It was also fully overcast and a bit rainy our whole time on the island, so we didn’t get the best views. If you want to get to the rest of the highlights on the island, you should rent a car and drive to each at your own pace.
It was my second time on the Isle of Skye since the pandemic started, and there were quite a few changes. Many of the attractions had new paid parking lots and no street parking, the free parking lot in Portree (the capital of the island) is now paid, one of my favorite cafes (Single Track Cafe) is permanently closed, and, as I said, many of the best attractions don’t accept bus tours.
When I did the Hebridean Hopper Tour in 2016, we stopped at several of the best attractions on the island, including the Quiraing, the Fairy Pools, etc. On this tour, we only stopped at Sligachan, Portree, the Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls, and the Museum of Island Life. Still, just those stops were fantastic, and I was just happy that I finally got my mom to the place she named me after!
Leakey’s Bookshop in Inverness
In all the years I’ve been in Scotland, I’ve only visited Inverness a handful of times, and only once did I actually explore the city. Normally I tell people that Inverness is like a mini Edinburgh – anti-climatic if you’ve already been to the capital. As far as attractions go, most of them are outside the city. However, there was one spot that I made sure to visit after our guide dropped us off for the evening.
Leakey’s Bookshop is one of the most interesting bookstores in the world, along with Powell’s World of Books in Portland, Oregon, São Tiago Church bookstore in Obidos, Portugal, the floating Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice, and Carturesti Carusel in Bucharest, Romania. It’s also the largest second-hand bookstore in Scotland with over 100,000 titles in stock.
Charles Leakey started the bookstore in 1979, although the shop moved three times before settling in its current home of the Old Gaelic Church, itself constructed in 1649. The bookshop has a huge fireplace in the center to keep it warm in the winter, which might be terrifying, all things considered.
Understanding the Jacobites at the Culloden Battlefield
The fourth day of the tour was spent visiting several attractions around Inverness, including a cruise on Loch Ness, the village of Beauly for lunch, and two more I somehow didn’t know about.
The first was the Clava Cairns, a 4,000-year-old burial site! There are several cairns built during the Bronze Age you can wander around. Very similar to standing stones in terms of the ancient atmosphere of the place. We just stopped there for a few minutes, and then went on to the Culloden Battlefield, less than a mile down the road.
I’ve been learning about Scottish history since the day I arrived in the country, but there’s just so much to learn. I mean, the country has thousands of years of backstory, and things got really heated in the past millennium. One aspect of the timeline I always struggled to sort out was the Jacobite Uprising. In a nutshell, Jacobites were supporters of James VII of Scotland and II of England, the last Scottish king. Jacobus is the Latin name for James. The uprising was their attempt to put a Scottish king back on the throne.
The Battle of Culloden was the decisive defeat of the Jacobite army, essentially resulting in the dissolution of the clan system of Scotland and the ban against wearing tartan (except in the British army). Of course, the Outlander TV show is also connected to the Battle of Culloden. You can even find a grave for Clan Fraser, although how many members of the clan are actually buried there is hard to determine.
Just a few years ago, the National Trust of Scotland opened a visitor center at the battlefield, reclaiming some of the lands. The fields don’t look anything like the marshes from three centuries ago, but they’ve recreated the layout of the battle nonetheless. The visitor center is also extremely detailed. I particularly enjoyed seeing separate timelines for each opposing force and their unique viewpoints.
Exploring Scotland’s Folk Museum
We left Inverness for the final day of our Highlands tour and first had a stop at Loch Morlich. It was beautiful but drizzling rain. I always say the rain in Scotland just makes the country more magical and mystical, but it also makes it very hard to get a drone in the air. We had a bit of time to grab a latte and some photos of the loch before moving on.
I was completely unaware of the next attraction, even though I had been to the Highland Wildlife Park just a couple miles away. The Highland Folk Museum began initially as a small project on the Isle of Iona in 1935. It moved and expanded several times over the years until 1987 when it settled in its current home. There are three “villages” in the museum, each representing a different period or segment of Scottish history.
The tour guide gave us well over an hour to explore the museum. I split my time between taking photos of most of the building interiors and getting my drone in the air for a lot of aerial shots. Sadly, the third zone of the museum had been damaged by a recent storm, which was the village I wanted to see the most. It’s where they have the old blackhouses which you can also see on the Isle of Lewis and Harris.
Lindores Abbey Distillery
Our final activity on the tour was not a usual stop. Or rather, the Highland Fling always stops at a distillery, but the usual distillery wasn’t available, so we got to visit another one which was super special. Especially as it was at the birthplace of whisky as we know it way back in 1494! A monk named Brother John Cor was commissioned by King James IV to supply the equivalent of 500 Kg of aqua vitae, the Latin words for “water of life,” which was the forerunner to whisky.
Despite having taken numerous other distillery tours around Scotland, including the Glenturret Distillery tour with Haggis Adventures, and the Talisker Distillery tour several times with various friends, I somehow learned quite a few new facts about whisky at the Lindores Abbey Distillery. Perhaps that was because the co-owner of the distillery personally gave us the tour.
Of course, most distillery tours are fairly similar, but Lindores Abbey Distillery is unique for a couple of reasons. First, it’s built next to the ruins of the 12th-century abbey, which you can wander around. And the whole distillery has a very medieval feel to it matching the abbey, which I loved.
Second, it’s one of the newest distilleries in Scotland. To be called a Scotch, or Scottish whisky, the whisky must be aged for three years and a day (that day is to account for leap years) in an oak cast in Scotland. That means a distillery must be constructed, produce a good batch, and then wait for over three years before it can deliver the first bottles. As such, it’s quite an investment to make a new distillery. Lindores Abbey was only constructed in 2017, and the first bottles were delivered in 2021.
Book a Highland Tour from Edinburgh with Haggis Adventures
Haggis Adventures works with their sister company Highland Explorer Tours. At the time of this writing, many of the tours are combined on the same bus. The tours run year-round, and there are some special occasion tours, such as Up Helly Aa and a puffin tour, as well as festivities like the Edinburgh Fringe and Hogmanay.
The Haggis Adventures tag line is “Wild and Sexy”, and Highland Explorers is “Passionate About Discovery”. Haggis clients tend to run to the top of mountains and sleep in hostels, while Highland Explorer clients tend to take photos of the mountains and stay at B&Bs.
It was quite funny that my mom, Vanesa and me were three of the only four passengers booked on with Haggis Adventures, while the rest paid for Highland Explorers. As I was taking photos and drone shots of the tour, the company brought out their “Wild and Sexy” tour bus, and the older ladies on the tour got excited about taking photos of it to send to their kids.
Hours, schedules and pricing do tend to change now and then. Make sure to check the Haggis Adventures website for current information, or book directly with GetYourGuide if you feel like giving me a small commission (at no additional cost to yourself) for your tour.
For more information about Edinburgh and Scotland, make sure to check out the rest of my Scotland articles.
This post may contain affiliate links. These links help give me the wherewithal to continue traveling at no additional cost to you. For more information, click here.