With 4 days ahead in Scotland, we were looking forward to spending time in Glasgow, Inverness and Stonehaven, meeting long-lost relatives and of course attempting to find Nessie! So, who’s Nessie? She’s the famous Loch Ness monster some people say they have spotted in one of the largest and deepest lakes in the UK. Here’s what we did in Scotland and tips for your trip.
- You’ll need a car to get around the beautiful Scottish Highlands
- Book a car when you book your flights, SO much cheaper than booking separately
- Finnieston is a good area for eating in Glasgow and close to Kelvingrove Art Gallery
- Stonehaven is a beautiful, lesser known beach and place to stay
- Do a cruise on the Loch Ness for a better chance of spotting Nessie!
- There are castles everywhere in Scotland, allow more time on your road trip to explore them
- Book restaurants in advance
Thursday – Exploring Finnieston in Glasgow and meeting extended family
An early morning flight to Glasgow with Easyjet meant that we had the whole day to explore. We knew we had a great car hire deal when Europcar asked if we wanted to upgrade to a BMW with leather seats and internal GPS for JUST an extra £15 per day. We didn’t take them up on their offer and waited 10 minutes for the car we’d actually booked for a TOTAL of £18 per day. Turns out it was a brand new Volvo with 6 miles on it and it came with leather seats and an internal GPS! Win!
Tonight we were staying with extended family on my partner’s side that we had never met before. I was feeling ‘poorly’ (English way of saying ‘sick’) so we suggested a night in. We drove our little red Volvo to their place, parked it out front and took the train into town for a day of exploring. Like most people on a Thursday, they were at work. They’d given us the local tip to explore Finnieston, a popular part of town with great food. And that we found! Porter and Rye on Argyle Street served up a delicious beef brisket and beef burger and we could see what all the fuss was about. Normally you have to book but given it was Thursday lunchtime, there were tables available. We celebrated our long weekend with a glass of wine and planned our afternoon adventures.
First was Kelvingrove Art Gallery, still in Finnieston. The building itself is beautiful and that was our main reason for checking it out. It’s free to get in though so we ventured inside. We had a look through the section on Egypt because when we travelled to Egypt around this time last year, we learned that a lot of their artefacts are on display in museums across Europe.
Afterwards, seeing as my other half hadn’t been to Glasgow before, we headed back towards the main part of town. To wake us up we stopped in at Steamie for a quick coffee break. Cute cafe! Yummy looking cake too but no chance of squeezing that in. Instead we walked off our lunch at The Lighthouse in the city where to get to the top, you have to climb many, MANY stairs. Mackintosh is a Glaswegian architect that designed The Lighthouse, along with several other buildings across Glasgow you can see from the top. Not only can you see the buildings that made it to creation, you can even see the models of the building designs he submitted that did NOT get built. Very interesting, worth a visit and also free.
Needing a break from art, we took a seat in George Square and watched the pigeons sleeping on the ground until people walked close to them. It’s a beautiful square perfect for people watching and putting your feet up. Merchant Square is nearby and there are loads of bars and restaurants to choose from. But, back to art! GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art) was next on our list and while interesting, was not as much my cup of tea as it was for my partner. His words “I love an art gallery, it makes me relaxed”. So if you’re the same, add it to your list of things to do. It’s also free. I preferred taking a photo of the Duke of Wellington statue out front because of the orange traffic cone hat that you think some hooligans put up there the night before. Believe it or not it’s a permanent feature that is considered art and plastered all over Glasgow souvenirs and postcards.
It was time to catch the train back to where we were staying for the night. When we arrived, we were greeted with a celebratory prosecco and spent the night eating delicious home-cooked food and swapping stories to get to know each other. Somehow it was midnight before we realised we should probably go to sleep. We sipped a hot toddy which was made with whiskey, honey, lemon and water and joined the cat sleeping in our bed.
Friday – Drive to Inverness, snow ball fights and sleeping in a 17th century Scottish mansion
Well! We were QUITE unwell today. Turns out on this occasion us Aussies were unable to match the Scots in alcohol tolerance. So much for a quiet night at home. We pulled ourselves together and after a quick goodbye hug, a lovely engagement present and some breakfast we were on the road to Inverness.
The drive takes just over 3 hours but took us well over 4 with stops along the way. Are you a planner or spontaneous traveller? Ever decided to just follow the tourist signs? We followed one on the side of the road to a waterfall called the Falls of Falloch and it turned out to be beautiful and great fun! There were lots of pathways to explore both natural and man-made and the waterfall itself was a decent size.
Just outside Glencoe, we found a different natural wonder – snow! We were told before our trip to Scotland that it had been snowing. Well, they were right. There was so much snow we felt it crunch under our feet and up to our mid-calves. It is so beautiful there. The air is so fresh and the green grass of the highlands was poking through some parts of the snow. Before we left we threw a few snow balls at each other because we could.
Glencoe is a good place to stop for lunch. After a tasty pub lunch at Claichaig Inn last time I visited Scotland in 2013, I headed back there in the hope of something similar. Unfortunately the food wasn’t as good this time so I’m not sure I would still recommend it. It IS dog friendly though so they get a few points for that. And if you do decide to give it a try, expect to drive past the turn off at least once! It’s well hidden.
Our accommodation choice in Inverness was an old country house called Bunchrew. We found it on Booking.com and locked it in after seeing photos of the peach-coloured castle style house, the location along the water a short drive from town and included breakfast. If you regularly use Booking.com like us you’ll also qualify for the Genius discount which is generally around 10% and sometimes even includes freebies like a drink upon arrival.
The beds were extremely comfortable and we – were – knackered. Nap time! Unfortunately one of us (not me!) was still feeling ill from last night so instead of exploring Inverness at night, we got takeaway and watched TV inside our fairytale castle. Goodnight!
Saturday – Cruise to find Nessie and fish and chips at Stonehaven
Feeling much better after a good night sleep and a delicious hearty breakfast with the most amazing view out onto the Beauly Firth (water), we took a walk around the grounds. Looking out onto the water reminded us that it was time to go and find Nessie.
Check out the times for Loch Ness cruises before you arrive to avoid waiting around. They change depending on the season and so does the departure point. We chose to go with Jacobite Cruises and were just in time for departure! We paid £14 each for a 1 hour round trip, viewing Urquhart Castle from the boat. If you want you can pay another £10 or so to stop and explore the castle. You’ll just need to add an hour to your cruise time. It looked interesting and we would have chosen this option if it wasn’t so cold!
There’s not much going on in town in Inverness (unless we missed something) so don’t plan on a long stay there. It is quite pretty though so if you’re happy to explore without a packed itinerary, adapt your stay accordingly. One thing we DID miss were some nice looking restaurants including The Kitchen Restaurant because they were fully booked. So another tip is to book lunch or dinner in advance to secure a table. Admittedly it WAS Mother’s Day weekend so extremely busy. Sadly, we got to ‘hangry’ stage then chose a Turkish cafe along the water where we shared an average-tasting pizza. Can’t remember the name. Other than that we walked around an indoor market with a train cruising around on tracks above our heads. It seemed quite old and the kids were fascinated.
Next stop – Stonehaven. Have you heard of it? It was a picturesque 3 hour drive from Inverness. We were originally booked into the Bayview Bed and Breakfast which we were really excited about but unfortunately on Friday were advised the room was no longer available. They did however organise for us to stay next door at Beach Gate House and arranged a box of chocolates for our arrival. Our alternative accommodation was homely. Kind of like an old beach house. It was a shame we didn’t have a balcony (one of our favourite things in the world) but instead we walked all of a few metres across to the beach and explored the rock pools. The sky was reflecting shades of pink and orange onto the beach and it almost felt like we had it to ourselves as the sun slowly disappeared.
Sunday – Dunnottar Castle
We had a pretty perfect start to the day. Breakfast served by the cutest elderly lady on the planet. She was impeccably dressed and excited about a late Mother’s Day lunch in the afternoon with her son. In the meantime she was serving US breakfast and I couldn’t help but feel extremely grateful. The menu was quite fancy and we indulged in waffles and salmon as we sipped our drinks from fine crystalware.
Before leaving Stonehaven, we went for a final walk on the beach. The sun was shining so we found a few dogs to pat, skipped some stones along the water and splashed through a few puddles. We set off to see Dunnottar Castle before making our way to the airport. Dunnottar Castle is absolutely stunning and I highly recommend stopping there. You can take a tour of the castle which involves some steep stair climbing, or like us you could marvel at it from afar. Picture a castle on what is almost like it’s own island, connected by narrow pathways to the mainland that are covered in green grass. Seagulls soaring above in the wind. I still couldn’t believe the weather! It truly was a beautiful sunny day, SO different to the snow only a few days beforehand. It was a 2.5 hour drive to the airport and we were cutting it fine so we drove as efficiently and safely as possible with minimal stops along the way to get there on time. Which we did!
Well, from snowball fights to sunshine, our long weekend was quite the mix! Meeting extended family, seeing lots of art for free, admiring and staying in different kinds of architecture, eating delicious and not so delicious food and travelling by plane, car, train and boat, we were content with our exploring efforts and wish we had time to do more! Maybe next time we’ll find Nessie?