How to Visit the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness from Edinburgh in a Day-a review of a day tour from Edinburgh visiting the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness with Highland Explorer Tours.
A trip to the Scottish Highlands, the place of myths, legends, heroic figures and stunning scenery should be a part of any visit to Scotland. Most tourists head to Edinburgh, which is in a region Scots refer to as the lowlands. It is easy however easy to get outside of Edinburgh and visit the Scottish Highlands as a day trip. And if it is your first time to Scotland it is well worth it to see some of the majestic Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness.
Can you visit Loch Ness in a Day from Edinburgh?
While Loch Ness itself is about a 3-hour drive from Edinburgh, there is an easy way to visit the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness in a day from Edinburgh- just take a day tour from Edinburgh.
We traveled through the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness before and it is one of our favorite areas of Scotland. On our recent visit to Edinburgh we decided to join Highland Explorer Tours for a day trip to see one of Scotland’s most iconic destinations Loch Ness, also home to the legendary, Nessie, or the Loch Ness Monster!
If you don’t want the hassles of renting a car and driving, or are limited on time, this is a perfect option. It was a bit of a long day (which to be fair they do warn you in advance) and you cover a lot of distance, but the scenery is spectacular! And it is well worth it!
The Route to Loch Ness from Edinburgh
From the moment we departed, we knew it was going to be a wonderful day. Our driver and guide, Gillian, had an entire day’s worth of stories, history, legends, and folk music in store. The music was one of the highlights. So good in fact, I need a copy of the music from the day- the perfect Scottish mix tape for a road trip through the Highlands.
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One of the benefits of a tour is the stories and the history. Even though we had traveled through this area before, getting a reminder of the amazing history of Scotland as you travel through the countryside makes you appreciate the Scottish culture and places some recent events in context.
Learn and See the History of Scotland
England and Scotland have a long history. Much of it violent! In fact, Scotland has a long history of battles. Some of their most revered heroes and kings are those from great battles throughout history. And while the movie Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson is not historically accurate, it does portray the fighting spirit of the Scots.
You pass through some of these historic battlefields and see castles and memorials to some of these figures, including Robert the Bruce and William Wallace, two of Scotland’s most famous heroes. William Wallace, on whom the story of Braveheart is based, led the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England in the 13th Century. The memorial to William Wallace in the town of Stirling is visible from the bus.
At various times in history Scotland has been independent, others it has been under English rule. Today while it is part of Great Britain, Scotland retains its own Parliament. And you may recall in 2014, Scotland had a referendum to vote to leave the United Kingdom. The referendum failed and not much more has been said about it.
The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park
Loch Lomond is Scotland’s largest Lake and Trossachs National Park is the first Scottish National Park. Suffice it to say this is a beautiful area. And in case you are wondering- yes -the word loch is what the Scottish call a lake.
This area has inspired many a song and you will learn about some of them and hear them as you drive through this area.
Some of the lochs in this area appear quite dark blue and murky due to the high concentrations of peat. (The peat is perfect for making all that fantastic Scottish Whisky!)
Glen Coe in the Scottish Highlands
Driving through Glen Coe, which is some of the most stunning scenery in the Scottish Highlands, you might recognize it from movies, including in the most recent James Bond film, Sky Fall.
The West Highlands Way, Scotland’s first and very popular long-distance walks (151 kilometers or 94 miles) runs through this area and you see many people hiking the trail on the short section paralleling the road.
This hike is definitely on our bucketlist and traveling through this area just reinforced our desire to do more hiking in Scotland.
Loch Ness and Fort Augustus
The destination for the day is the town of Fort Augustus and Loch Ness. Scotland’s largest lake by volume, all the water in England and Wales would not even fill Loch Ness! It is a huge lake and very deep!
Visibility is also not good within Loch Ness. Stories of one of Scotland’s most famous characters, Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster are of course from here. The most recent reported sighting is in June 2017. The earliest reports of a monster in Loch Ness date from 565 AD.
You have several choices for how to spend the stop here: a three-course Scottish lunch, a cruise on Loch Ness, or do your own thing.
Since we had been to Loch Ness before, and we love trying local foods, we took the three-course lunch option. (Most of our fellow travelers took the boat ride on Loch Ness.)
Taste of Scotland Lunch at The Lovat Loch Ness in Fort Augustus
Much like the meal we enjoyed at the Amber Restaurant at the Scottish Whisky Experience, the menu is curated by the Taste of Scotland. The Scotland on a Plate is a great chance to sample fresh, seasonal Scottish fare.
Our lunch started with traditional Scottish soup, Scotch Broth, followed by a great tasting plate with Lochaber Smoked Salmon, Cured Great Glen venison, Isle of Mull Cheddar, and apple chutney. It included the prettiest version of haggis with neeps and tatties I have ever seen. A wee dram of Dalwhinnie Whisky and a traditional Scottish dessert of Cranachan finish the meal.
The Lovat Inn is a historic inn, around since 1869, with various names. Service was friendly and efficient which left time to have a wander around Fort Augustus and a visit to the shores of Loch Ness before we departed.
The town of Fort Augustus is very picturesque and home to the River Oich and is located at the end of the 60-mile-long Caledonian Canal and lock system, built by Thomas Telford in the early 1800s. The Caledonian Canal stretches from Fort William to Inverness, providing passage from the east coast of Scotland to the west through an inland water passage. It leverages the natural lochs and has a series of locks across the canal to provide passage between the lochs. In Fort Augustus a flight of 5 locks moves boats from the top of the canal in Fort Augustus down onto Loch Ness and vice-versa. If your timing is good, watch the boats pass through the locks.
Loch Ness to Edinburgh via Pitlochery
On leaving Loch Ness, we drive a different route from in the morning. One of the first items of interest is the Dalwhinnie Whisky Distillery, the highest distillery in Scotland, often also called the coldest, at 1164 feet. It sits in Cairngorm National Park at the heart of the Scottish Highlands. Dalwhinnie Whisky is classified as a Highland malt, but water comes from a tributary of the River Spey.
If you don’t get the chance to visit a distillery (there are none in Edinburgh) you can learn more about Scottish Whisky in Edinburgh.
The Town of Pitlochery
The last stop of the afternoon is Pitlochery for a short comfort break. The town is very quaint and if you want to do a short overnight trip from Edinburgh, it is an excellent choice. Pitlochery is firmly in the middle of the Scottish Lowlands whisky country. Pitlochery provides easy access for visiting a distillery and learning more about Scottish whisky. Visiting Blair Athol and Edradour (Scotland’s smallest) distilleries are easy visits from Pitlochery.
If you go to Loch Ness with Highland Explorer Tours
The day begins and ends on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, so it is easy to find and should be convenient to get to from your accommodation. Highland Explorer Tours offer a full range of day tours including options for visiting a whisky distillery or some of the historic villages, including Stirling, which we drove by on our Loch Ness tour.
The quality of the guide, Gillian, the comfort of the bus, the organization and our overall experience were all very high quality. If you are looking for a nice easy day out of Edinburgh to visit the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness, this is it.
We traveled as guests of Highland Explorer Tours, as always, our opinions are our own.