Scotland had been on my travel wish list for quite some time, so when my mom suggested that we travel to Europe together and mentioned Scotland as an option, I said, “Yes! Let’s do it!” We planned a slow trip that would include (of course) lots of historical sites and hiking but also respect the needs of everyone in our group of 6.
My mom and I combined our efforts to plan the 2.5 weeks: I knew I wanted to spend a few days on the Isle of Skye and 2-3 days in Edinburgh, while my mom wanted to stay in a quaint village. She consulted her Scotland-loving friends (a bunch of writers who visit Scotland regularly — lucky them!) and decided on Falkland, which one of her friends claims is her favorite village in Scotland.
If you’re looking for a 2-3 week Scotland itinerary for a family or for those who want to travel a little slowly, this is for you. If you’d like to see and do more, you can still use this itinerary for your bases and add on more day trips plus 3 days in Inverness.
For travel planning help, check out my favorite guidebooks for Scotland:
Day 1: Arrive
We arrived in Edinburgh in the evening, got our rental car (easily booked through Auto Europe) and headed into the countryside for a 45-minute drive to Falkland. Fortunately, it stays light pretty late at night in the summer, and the drive there was easy.
For tips for driving in Scotland, see my post on tips for renting a car in Scotland.
Regarding getting to Scotland, we found that there weren’t many convenient or cheap options from here in California. While the low fares to London tempted us to fly into London and then take the train up to Edinburgh, we opted to fly into Edinburgh. It wasn’t a fast or easy trip from here in California.
For those of us on the west coast of the U.S., consider this a reminder to always get a non-stop flight to Europe. The convenience of having one long flight is big here — it means the chance to get a longer stretch of sleep and an airplane that actually serves food. Plus, if you have to do a layover, you may as well do it in Europe (unless you get stuck in a passport check line, which can happen. More info on that here.).
Days 2-5: Falkland
We loved everything in Scotland so much that I couldn’t choose a favorite part of the trip, but if I had to, it might be this little village tucked in the hills of Fife, just north of Edinburgh.
The first conservation village in Scotland, Falkland has many houses that are more than 300 years old and a couple dozen National Trust buildings. The town centers around High Street and the main square with Falkland Palace and the cathedral, as well as an old hotel and pub, cafes, and shops. The town’s medieval layout means that with narrow streets, or “wynds” branch off from the square, making it easy to wander and get a feel for local life. Just a few minutes from the center of town is “the Hidden Place” and miles of walking trails that are maintained by a local estate.
What to do in Falkland:
The following activities each need a half day, so plan accordingly based on the weather. For us the ideal itinerary was doing an outdoor activity for the first part of the day, then lunch, and then a leisurely activity like shopping in town or walking the alleyways in the afternoon (when it was more likely to rain), followed by a long walk after dinner.
“Outlander” filming locations
The series “Outlander” was filmed partly in Falkland. The town stands in for Inverness in the 1940s. If you’ve seen the show, you’ll easily recognize the fountain where the ghost of Jamie stood watching Claire in the window of her hotel room. Above, you can see the fountain and hotel where she and Frank stayed for their second honeymoon. Nearby are the shop where Claire eyed a vase and a few other places shown in the series.
Climb East (and West) Lomond
Climbing to this peak is a fun thing to do when you have a couple of hours and decent weather. East and West Lomond are a pair of small mountains just outside of town, and both provide excellent views of the surrounding countryside and toward the coast and the Highlands.
We climbed the 1440 feet up East Lomond one morning, and despite getting lost on the way back, we loved the challenge of the climb and meeting the Lomond sheep on the way down.
Detailed descriptions of this walk here.
Visit Falkland Palace & the gardens
Falkland Palace is the most important building in Falkland and is an excellent example of Renaissance castle architecture in Scotland. Falkland Palace was built by James IV and James V in the 16th century and served as the hunting residence of the Stuart royalty of Scotland. If you come with kids, they’ll get a scavenger hunt to complete inside.
Several expert guides are on hand to tell stories from the royal apartments and the part of the palace that was destroyed by fire. Outside the gardens are beautiful — definitely worth a stroll — and lead to the oldest tennis court in the world (built here in 1541!).
Nearby the gift shop is a giant checkers board and the palace’s plant selection. Take time to cross through the raven gate to the grass where you can access croquet and other games to play.
Take the Maspie Den hike
These trails were originally part of the Falkland Estate in the 19th century and have been well maintained in recent years. Allow a few hours to do the entire walk, especially if you’re like us and end up taking wrong turns and chatting with people along the way. The highlight of the walk is two waterfalls located in the forested hills above the town.
Detailed information about this route here.
Lunch at Pillars of Hercules plus a forest walk behind the restaurant
This cafe serves vegetarian food made with ingredients grown on their farm. Besides the soups, cheese plates and delicious baked goods, the cafe also sells their produce, local dried fruit and nuts, and a variety of healthy food items. Across from the cafe is a wooded area with paths to walk — keep an eye out for the details, including hidden messages of peace and love and sculptures made from tree branches.
Afternoon shopping in Falkland
Make time to walk the wynds of Falkland and pop into the shops: Fayre Earth on the main square for coffee and beautiful handmade gifts (“Outlander” fans will recognize it), the quirky violin/antiques shop on the square and the Cottage Craft Centre located in an old weaver’s house on Sharp’s Close.
Evening walks behind town
Perhaps the nicest part of staying in Falkland is taking advantage of all their beautiful walking trails. For a quick walk in the evening, check out the trails that go behind the town past a bubbling creek and fields of grazing sheep.
Day 6: A day trip to St. Andrews
St. Andrews is an easy day trip from Falkland and one definitely worth making. This university town is on the water and is also home to one of the most interesting castles we visited. Even though it’s completely in ruins, the bottle dungeon and underground mines provided fascinating glimpses into what it really meant to live during those times. The attached museum is also informative for learning about local Scottish history.
Just down the road from the castle ruins are the ruins of a once-huge cathedral and a large historic graveyard. The small museum contains ancient headstones and other carvings. Save time to climb the old bell tower for a bird’s-eye view of the town.
Where to stay in Falkland:
The Fountain House! This old house is located right on the main square between a charming cafe/restaurant and the old church. Bruce Fountain and the rest of the main square are right outside the front door, and because the town is so quiet, we found the house to be very peaceful.
Click here to save $40 on your first booking on Airbnb.
Tips for getting to and around Falkland:
You can walk everywhere in the town of Falkland, but you’ll need a car or to take the bus to visit anywhere outside of town. I recommend renting a car at the Edinburgh airport so that you can easily drive here and have a car at your disposal for picking up groceries and taking day trips.
Day 7: Drive to the Isle of Skye
Want to do more? Add 3 days in Inverness on the way to Skye.
From Falkland (or Edinburgh), expect the drive to take about 5-6 hours. The route goes through the Highlands and some of Scotland’s most striking landscapes. But it was pouring rain both on the drive there and, one week later, on the drive back, so I missed the views of the mountains and lakes.
Day 8-12: The Isle of Skye:
For much more information on what to do on the Isle of Skye, see my blog post of 30 things to do on the Isle of Skye. Here are some of the highlights that you should schedule time to see:
Hike to the Old Man of Storr
This experience was probably the highlight of my trip to Scotland. It’s a strenuous hike if the trails are wet or slippery, but it’s still totally doable with kids. See my post for information about how to hike to the Old Man of Storr with kids.
Get to know Portree
Stop at the Isle of Skye Baking Company for a meal and to shop the artisan items in the art gallery/shop upstairs.
Scorrybreac Circuit walk:
Take this 1-hour walk around Portree Harbor for incredible views. The walk starts with a mostly flat trail but continues with a pretty strenuous climb before descending past farms and back into town.
One half day: visit Dunvegan Castle, the Fairy Bridge, and the town of Dunvegan
One of the most interesting sights on the Isle of Skye is Dunvegan Castle, the home of the MacLeod clan for hundreds years. The interior houses the famous fairy flag, which was given to the clan by the fairy wife of the clan chief (see the Fairy Bridge below for more info).
Besides the interior, you should visit the castle gardens and take the walk out to the end of the jetty that sits across the water from Dunvegan Castle. To do so, simply leave the gardens and walk down toward the place where the seal viewing boats leave. If you’re not up for taking the boat tour to see the seals, then continue walking a couple more minutes until you reach the end of this strip of land for some nice views of the surrounding area and the castle.
After visiting the castle, eat at Lochside Crafts in Dunvegan for good food and a waterfront view of the MacLeod Tables.If you’re with kids, save time for them to play at the very nice playground on the water next to the restaurant. Before leaving, visit the ruined Dunvegan Church where clan chiefs, musicians and other clan members were buried.
The Fairy Bridge
Legend states that the Fairy Princess said goodbye to her husband, a MacLeod clan chief, here before returning to the fairy realm. This site was also an important meeting place for clan members.
Drive around Trotternish Peninsula:
This is a day well spent, especially if you have decent weather. Here are some highlights:
Stop at Uig Pottery, where they make everything they sell while enjoying views of the water right outside the shop windows.
Spend an hour or two at the Island Life Museum to learn about how people traditionally lived on Skye, and walk up the hill to visit Flora MacDonald’s grave at Kilmuir graveyard.
Visit the ruins of Duntulm Castle.
Hike at the Quiriang (we never had the weather to do this, unfortunately).
Stop at Kilt Rock and see Mealt Falls.
Day trip to Eilean Donan Castle and the Sleat Peninsula
Eilean Donan Castle
Located just before the bridge that connects the mainland to the Isle of Skye, the small castle of Eilean Donan has one of the most famous views in all of Scotland. But what you see here is actually not the old castle that you might expect. The original castle was built in the 13th century but was destroyed in retribution for the Jacobite uprising and was left in ruins until the early 20th century. If you come with kids, get the booklet for kids at the ticket office.
Tip: Come early. This place is small and gets crowded, especially with tour bus groups.
Armadale Castle and museum
Armadale Castle is actually in ruins after suffering a fire, but the huge castle gardens are worth the visit. What surprised us here was the Museum of the Isles, which has the best exhibition of Scottish history that we saw on our trip. If you come with kids, save plenty of time for them to play at the obstacle course playground not far from the entrance.
Walk at Loch Sligachan
Where to stay on the Isle of Skye:
Bayview Croft: One of my favorite vacation rentals ever thanks to the view (of the Old Man of Storr and Portree’s bay!), the minimalistic decoration inside, the spacious bedrooms, the large windows, and the peaceful surroundings. If you need a house with two or more bedrooms on the Isle of Skye, I highly recommend this one!
Day 13: Drive to Stirling and Edinburgh
On the way to Edinburgh, save a couple of hours at minimum to visit Stirling Castle (better yet, save a few hours to visit the town, too). Stirling Castle is one of the country’s best-known castles thanks to its size and historical importance. The castle dates from the 15th to 17th centuries, and the interior has been beautifully restored to show what the Renaissance interior would have looked like. If you visit with kids, you should know that this castle has very kid-friendly exhibits!
Day 14-16: Edinburgh:
You’ll need at least a couple of days in Edinburgh to see the highlights and ideally several days to get a good feeling for this bustling historic city. The highlights for our family of four included the following:
The Royal Botanic Gardens: A wonderful way to spend a nice half-day, plus it’s free (except for the glass houses)
The Royal Mile: Of course any stay in Edinburgh includes a stroll up and down the Royal Mile, but look beyond the souvenir shops and duck into the closes, the tiny alleyways that branch off High Street. Catch a drink or dinner in one of the traditional pubs, and if you’re with kids, check out the street performers — my kids adored their tricks!
St. Giles’ Cathedral: A gothic cathedral from the 14th-century, this stunning church is often referred to as the “Cradle of Presbyterianism.” Don’t miss the ribbed vaulting of the ceiling and the detail in the Thistle Chapel, and note that you can take a small group tour to the roof for a bird’s-eye view of the historic center of Edinburgh.
Edinburgh Castle: The main attraction in Edinburgh is its huge castle, but beware! It’s crowded! We opted for a late afternoon visit and found out that you can reserve tickets online in advance to avoid waiting in line. If you come with kids, get the castle quiz for them to take while they tour the grounds.
Scotland National Gallery: See some world-class art at the Scotland National Gallery, located just below High Street. Once there, take a stroll through the Princes Street Gardens.
Camera Obscura: If you’re with kids, I think this museum is a must. My boys loved it, but I honestly was not a fan. It’s located right next to the castle and is open in the evening, making it a convenient stop after an afternoon castle tour.
Where to stay in Edinburgh:
In my book, this is the perfect hotel to stay with kids in Edinburgh. Here’s why: large rooms with a play area and a sectional sofa, games and toys in the room for the kids, a little welcome package for each child, and a child’s size table and chairs for easy drawing, eating, playing, etc. Plus, the hotel ticked all my boxes: quiet, clean, contemporary, and right in the center of town. Bonus: one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had!
Click here to search Booking.com for the best rates on hotels in Edinburgh.
Tips for getting to and around Edinburgh:
If you drop your rental car off at the airport, like we did, you can take the tram into the city center. It’s easy and fast and drops you off in the center of town. The same is true for getting from the center back to the airport — we opted for an Uber because it was pouring rain the morning we left, but the drive took so long thanks to the old city streets that are often closed for construction or are just too small for big city traffic.
Once you’re in the center, most of the attractions are within walking distance. But if you can, take one of the double-decker city buses. We took the bus to the Royal Botanic Gardens, got a seat at the front on the second floor, and had a blast with our kids watching the city go by from above. So fun.
So that’s how we spent 2.5 weeks in Scotland in June. We can’t wait to go back! What suggestions or questions do you have for a two or three week family trip to Scotland?
Recommended sites for more information about travel in Scotland:
“How to Hike to the Old Man of Storr (with kids)”
LARETOUR Scottish travel blog
Auto Europe for easy rental car bookings
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