We are pleased to present a new Solo Travel Destination Post from Nadia, to complement an earlier one by Emily. Both are members of the Solo Travel Society: Nadia lives in Canada and Emily lives in South Africa. They each submitted reports on their solo trips to Scotland. Do you have a solo travel destination that you would like to recommend? Submit your description here, along with a few photos, and share it with fellow travelers!
Languages spoken: English
Reasons to Visit Scotland
Solo travel rating: 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult. Please see chart below)
Costs at Destination: Reasonable (local transportation, dining, tours, events, and attractions)
I spent three weeks traveling around Scotland. I stayed in Glasgow, Fort William, Portree, Inverness, Kirkwall, and Edinburgh, getting around using only public transportation. Contrary to what a lot of people had told me, I had no trouble getting by without renting a car.
I booked a day tour in Portree but used the bus the other two days. With some planning, there was no trouble and the visitor center was very helpful. I booked another day tour in Inverness to go to Applecross by Bealach nam Ba and booked a private day tour in Fort William to take me through Glencoe, Glen Etive, up to Mallaig, Glenfinnan, and in Orkney to tour the sites on the Mainland. I ate mostly at pubs, and had the absolute best burger, made from venison and haggis, at the Grog and Gruel in Fort William.
I stayed in the Gleann an Ronnaich B&B in Portree where I received the best service and advice. Never had I seen a breakfast spread like theirs before! Stuart, the owner really puts his all into running the place. He gives you a little kit on arrival with maps and a little book with 40 walks in Skye. The room was clean and spacious and the B&B was maybe a 15-20 minute walk from Portree Square.
The only downside of not having a car on Skye is that the bus service is reduced on Saturdays and nonexistent on Sundays. Everything is closed on the weekends as well, so you may want to visit during the week. I found the same in Kirkwall, and I recommend making reservations for dinner. Everything closes at 5:00 pm except for a few pubs or hotel restaurants, which are frequently booked up, so you may find yourself with nowhere to eat!
Scotland is amazing but Orkney and Skye really got to me. Come prepared: the wind in Orkney can be brutal even on a sunny day. One minute you might think you don't need your jacket, but after five minutes in the wind you'll change your mind! I was prepared, with a hat, scarf, and gloves for when the weather changed, but I saw people in shorts on Orkney who were not quite so lucky.
The Scottish people are very friendly and always willing to help. I have never felt so safe as I did in Scotland–it's simply another way of life.
Solo travel rating: 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult. Please see chart below)
When I arrived in the land of many lochs, glens, and bens, I picked up a zippy little rental, and off I went, armed with a GPS, a ton of brochures, and a prayer to survive driving in a foreign country. I don't know about you, but I generally feel like a learner when driving in another country. Luckily, they drive on the left, like we do in South Africa – woo hoo! But they use miles, instead of kilometers, so I kept underestimating distances!
I detoured via some back roads heading towards a place called the “Scottish Deer Centre” near Cupar (Fife). I fed some deer, was stalked by a crazy-eyed deer, changed my view about otters (they’re crazy little omnivores), learned that stags are quite easily offended, and that there are no more wolves in Scotland. They are busy breeding American wolves to introduce back into the wild. Also, Scotland has the most beautiful cows, aka coo’s… I love them and their bangs!
I’m a big-sky-and-clouds person, so sitting by the pier facing the river Tay in Dundee on a beautiful sunny afternoon while having my lunch was just perfect.
Pitlochry is a gorgeous little town surrounded by green fields and forests. I can only imagine how exceptionally stunning it is when they have their Enchanted Forest Festival around October, where the trees are all lit up. There are loads of lovely B&Bs around there. A visit to the Market Theatre is definitely an experience. My B&B hosts were amazing storytellers, from tales of crazy Scottish sheep attacking motorbikes to Harry Potter’s train station, plus all the castles, churches, and famous landmarks around the area. My host even drew me a map which looked like something out of The Lord of the Rings. Before I left, he also recommended I visit Blair Atholl Castle, outside Pitlochry. You know, to scope it out for my future wedding reception, following my wedding ceremony with Gerard Butler at the church across the road from the B&B! On my arrival at Blair Atholl Castle, there was a smaller castle-like building. I asked the gatekeepers what it was, and they said it was the groundsman’s house. If that's the accommodation that comes along with the job, then I would like to be a castle groundsman too! The tree-lined driveway to the castle is stunning. There was a bagpiper playing for the crowd and the gardens around the castle are beautifully well maintained.
I got a bit lost after leaving the castle, and ended up at a distillery. What’s a visit to Scotland without a visit to at least one distillery? I took the 45-minute tour of the distillery in Dalwhinney, picked up some bottles for my dad, and headed off! So on I went to spot the elusive Nessie, from the famous shores of Loch Ness in Fort Augustus.
Just before crossing Skye Bridge into the Isle of Skye, I came across Eilean Donan Castle, aka the “Highlander” castle, and also that castle from the film, “Made of Honor.” Romance all around, by day and by night – absolutely beautiful and worth a visit. The Isle of Skye is another story.
Heading back to Edinburgh, Glen Coe, aka the Valley of Weeping, is absolutely worth a visit. It’s unbelievably beautiful! One could sit in the rain and just stare for hours.
When I say that the people of Scotland are friendly and helpful, here is another story about their warmth. Outside Stirling, I saw some deer in the bushes, so I stopped to get some pictures. Next thing I know, this guy stopped behind me and (note, I’m from South Africa, so always safety conscious) I was thinking, “Oh, please don’t kill me!”
What does this guy do?
He asked if I was okay. After I mentioned that I was just getting some photos, he offered to wait with me because it was getting dark. I was still a bit wary, but he sat in his car and once I was back in my car and on my way, he drove off with a hoot and a wave.
Some other “stuff” to see while driving about… aside from the millions of lochs you’ll pass, there’s Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK. You’ll pass the railway tracks that the Jacobite Express (Hogwarts Express) takes, visit sites where Harry Potter/Rob Roy/Braveheart movies were shot, visit the real Rob Roy’s grave, hang out with Robert the Bruce at Stirling Castle, and get to sing “The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond” on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.
When you have delusions of grandeur, a stroll up and down The Royal Mile is recommended. You'll find beautiful castles on either end, little shops, hotels, and other interesting places all along the road. At the top is the magnificent Edinburgh Castle, which towers above the city of Edinburgh. On the other end is the fairy tale-like Holyrood Castle, home of the British Royal Family when in Scotland.
The Old Town is beautiful. The architecture makes you feel like you’re in another century. I also had to visit the grave of Greyfriars Bobby’s, the faithful dog, and a favorite childhood story. One can also swing by “The Elephant House” where JK Rowling penned many of the Harry Potter books.
On my last day in Scotland I decided to take a hike up Arthur's Seat. I met some locals with their dogs, and they assured me that it was an “easy” 20-minute hike to the top. Apparently, I am just disgustingly unfit. It's actually a nice walk and you meet many people along the way, as well as some cute dogs. I finally made it to the top, and what a spectacular view it is! At one point on my way down, I decided to take a scenery break, which was a euphemism for “I need to try to retrieve my soul which I may have lost during the hike because I am so unfit!” I saw the cross of St Andrew in the clouds. I just knew then and there that I would be visiting this country often.
What’s not to love about a country that has the Unicorn as its official animal?
Solo Travel Destination Rating System
Safety – 1 (1 very safe, 2 safe in most areas, 3 be cautious at all times.)
Language – 1 (1 English is first language, 2 English speakers easy to find, 3 English speakers rare)
Navigation – 1 (1 easy to navigate by transit or car, 2 poor transit, car necessary, 3 not easy to get around)
Culture – 1 (1 Similar to North America or Western Europe, 2 Different from above but relaxed and easy, 3 Challenging)
Average Rating – 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult)