When you think of Scotland, what comes to mind? For me, it’s always been the history of the Jacobites and green, rolling hills. For all the daydreaming I’ve done of seeing the Highlands, I never could’ve imagined just how enchanting they are in person. If you’re planning a trip to Scotland shortly, I urge you to leave Edinburgh or Glasgow and explore outside of the bigger cities. If you’re limited on time, don’t worry! There are plenty of short tour options that offer a first taste of the Highlands. You can even see Loch Ness from Edinburgh in one day! In this post, I’ll be telling you all about what I consider to be the best one-day Scottish Highlands tour.
Being a travel blogger, I typically am very independent when it comes to planning my trips. While this can be great at times, it can also be stressful and overwhelming to do all my travel preparation alone. For me, I chose to travel with Rabbie’s tours because they provided me with a happy middle ground. You see, Rabbie’s takes care of all of your transportation and general itinerary. However, unlike other tour options, they make sure to provide their guests with flexibility along each step of the way. Especially when you’re visiting an area for the first time, it’s nice not to have to worry about planning. I loved that my guide gave me background on the history of each location, but let me explore on my own!
Okay, well, which tour?
Rabbie’s offer multiple tours leaving from Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Inverness. These tours span from day trips to a 17-day Island Hopping Extravaganza tour. If I had been able to spend more time in Scotland, I think I would’ve opted for the Isle of Skye trip. However, this time around, I knew I only had three days total in Scotland and was determined to get to the Highlands. My priority was finding the tour that would let me see the most of this region in the shortest amount of time. With this in mind, I researched Rabbie’s one-day tour options from Edinburgh and chose the Loch Ness, Glencoe, and the Highlands tour. Later, I’ll tell you why I think it’s the best one-day Scottish Highlands tour.
Loch Ness, Glencoe, and the Highlands
Rabbie’s describes the Loch Ness, Glencoe, and the Highlands tour as “the best way to see Scotland in a day”. I decided to take their word for it, and I’m SO glad I did. In one action-packed day, I was able to tick off most of my Scottish Highlands bucket list items. Plus, it was a great way to see the region and become familiar with the areas that I’d like to revisit later when I have more time! So, let’s get to it: what exactly did we get to see?
Here’s a map of all the stops you’ll make on this tour.
You’ll begin your tour by meeting at Rabbie’s Café Bar in the early morning. Even just by having us meet at a café, you can tell that Rabbie’s considers their guests’ needs. I often find myself running out of the hotel with no breakfast to make earlier tours, so I loved being able to grab a snack before hopping into the van. After meeting your guide and getting comfortable in the 16-seat Mercedes mini-coach, you’ll be off! I think one of the coolest parts of this trip for me was getting to experience the change of landscape from the Lowlands to the Highlands. Within just a few hours of driving, you feel like you’re in a completely different country.
Your Highlands adventures begin!
Although you’re in for a long day, it promises to hold all sorts of exciting Scottish adventures. On the way to your first stop, you’ll even pass by Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. As the drive continues, your guide will tell you stories of the sieges of Stirling Castle, the tragic tales of the Highlanders, and even of the Scottish hero, William Wallace, as you make your way to Callander. Now, it’s hard to bring up William Wallace without mentioning Braveheart! My guide, Ciaran, kept us on our toes with trivia and fun facts. For example, did you know that Scots didn’t paint their faces for battle during Wallace’s time? I think we all have this image of the iconic blue face-paint in Braveheart when in reality, this was a long-forgotten tradition of the Scottish Picts.
As I’ve said before, Rabbie’s does a fantastic job of prioritizing guests’ needs. You can tell they’ve been at this for a while because the schedule is fine-tuned and there are plenty of potty breaks (we can all appreciate that, right?!). Before reaching Glencoe, you’ll make a quick stop in Callander for a snack. The little town of Callander was made famous by none other than Queen Victoria. In the 1860s, the Queen skyrocketed Scottish tourism after her doctor recommended that she travel to the Highlands to “get fresh air”. Of course, this later became a trend among the wealthy. While on your short break in Callander, I recommend trying the steak and haggis pie from Mhor Bread.
Glencoe and the Great Glen
Glencoe was, for me, the most memorable part of the tour. Looking out into this famous valley, everything felt so natural and untouched. An ice age glacier actually formed the glen! When we arrived at the Great Glen, I was completely blown away. This green fault line was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Luckily for us, there was even a Scotsman playing the bagpipes at this attraction. Relaxing at the Great Glen with bagpipe music in the background almost felt like being in a movie! It was an unreal experience. When it was time to leave this area, I felt my heart tugging at me to stay. I can genuinely say that Glencoe is where I fell head over heels for Scotland.
Loch Ness and Fort Augustus
Have you been to the Highlands if you haven’t tried to catch a glimpse of Nessie? On this Rabbie’s tour, you’ll have the option to take a cruise on Loch Ness and try your luck. If you’re a “believer”, this destination is one of the best places to visit in the U.K.! Even if you’re not keen on Scottish folklore, Fort Augustus, the “wee” town next to Loch Ness, makes for a lovely place to pass the afternoon. We stopped here for a few hours and were able to eat lunch, shop for souvenirs, and watch the boats pass by on the Caledonian Canal.
The Highlands and returning to Edinburgh
You may think that heading back to Edinburgh means that the sightseeing is over, but that’s not the case! You’ll be returning by a different route, passing through the Grampian Mountains and Highland Perthshire. You’ll also have the chance to learn more about Cairngorms National Park. Just in this one-day tour, you’ll have technically gone to both of Scotland’s National Parks! With regards to visiting these parks, the country has an unusual legal policy called the “Right to Roam“. This means that residents and visitors are permitted to enjoy all Scottish lands and waters if they agree to behave responsibly. For example, this translates into hikers being able to make their path through whatever part of Scotland they wish, no matter who owns the land. Of course, the “Right to Roam” has certain restrictions, which you can read about here.
One of the significant advantages of having a flexible tour is that your Rabbie’s guide will do his/her best to make sure you see everything you want to see. For me, in particular, I requested to stop at a big field of sheep to take a photo. Ciaran didn’t hesitate to help me make this happen! You can see the photo evidence below.
What made this tour so great?
Let’s do a round-up of the reasons I think the Loch Ness, Glencoe, and the Highlands tour is the best one-day Scottish Highlands tour!
- This tour includes major Scottish Highlands bucket list experiences.
- The flexibility is critical. Although it’s a lot to see in one day, you won’t feel rushed.
- Plenty of photo opportunities.
- A lot of driving is involved; however, there are many stops along the way. You won’t get tired of sitting!
- The bathroom and snack breaks are very well planned.
- Built-in time to shop for souvenirs as well.
- Guides are open to requests.
All in all, I don’t think I could’ve had a better first impression of the Highlands. Rabbie’s indeed went above and beyond to guarantee that all guests had an optimal experience. Now I’m ready to go back and do one of their more extended tours!