Landscape view of Quiraing mountains on Isle of Skye, Scottish highlands, United Kingdom

Top road trip destinations in Scotland’s wild west

Scotland’s west coast has everything that’s magical about Scotland – from highlands and islands to castles, distilleries, movie locations and more. With legendary roads cutting through rugged wilderness, begin your adventure by sailing into Cairnryan with Stena Line. Travel through Ayrshire and join the Argyll Coastal Route, before hitting the North Coast 500 all the way to Durness. Once you reach the top of Scotland, it’s up to you whether you turn back or just keep on going!

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Culzean Castle, Ayrshire
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Dating from the 18th century, Culzean Castle was built for the Kennedy family, one of the oldest clans in Scotland whose ancestry can be traced back to Robert the Bruce. Meeting the brief of maximum impact, it enjoys a clifftop setting surrounded by opulent gardens. Inside the castle, the lavish oval staircase is unlike anything you will have seen before. If your kids need to let loose after too many antiques, head to the Adventure Cove and Wild Woodland playparks on the estate.

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Culzean Castle in Scotland perched on a mountainside near the water
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Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park
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Britain’s largest inland stretch of water, Loch Lomond is a perfect place to enjoy a walk and explore picturesque villages such as Luss. For the best views, head to An Ceann Mòr viewpoint at Inveruglas. To experience the loch up close, waterbus services can take you from pier to pier – and you can even bring your bike on board. There are plenty of hills to climb here too - maybe it’s time to bag your first Munro? 

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Reflections of Loch Lomond, Scotland
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Loch Fyne, Inverary and Kilmartin
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The longest sea loch in Scotland, Loch Fyne stretches 40miles inland from the Sound of Bute. Head to Inverary to discover the loch’s magic, as well as checking out Inverary Jail and Inverary Castle. Nearby at Kilmartin Glen, discover ancient Bronze Age remains. For more history, the seat of Scotland’s Pictish kings and the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dalriada is believed to have been at Dunadd Fort. 

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The ancient site of Temple Wood at Kilmartin Glen, Argyll, Scotland. In use since the Neolithic, or Stone Age from about 5,000 years ago.  The ring of standing stones around a cobbled area an inner marker stones surrounds a central cist or stone lined burial chamber.
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Oban and the Western Isles
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The gateway to the Isles, Oban is a fishing town and ferry hub for those travelling to the Hebridean isles of Mull, Coll, Barra and Islay. Great for seafood, it is a popular holiday spot in the summer. Get a grandstand view of the coastal surroundings from McCaig’s Tower, visit Dunollie Castle – the ancestral home of the McDougall clan, or ferry hop to island communities such as Jura or Iona.  

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Scenic View over Oban in Scotland
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Glencoe, Fortwilliam and Ben Nevis
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Marketed as the outdoor capital of Scotland, Fortwilliam is the place to come if you want to go higher. Overlooked by Ben Nevis, there are many Munros here to tempt trekkers. Seasonal skiing and mountain biking are available at Nevis Range Mountain Experience, and if that sounds too energetic, you can always take the 15min gondola ride up to the top of Aonach Mòr.  
 

Although not as high, some would argue that the mountains and valleys of Glencoe are prettier – especially the village itself. But wherever you base yourself, there are plenty of ways to get active. The wider area is also a popular filming spot, with the James Bond movie Skyfall being filmed nearby. And don’t leave without stopping at the Glenfinnan Viaduct if someone in the car is a Harry Potter fan – this is where the Hogwarts Express takes its scenic journey from Platform 9 ¾ to Hogwarts! 

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Ben Nevis from Corpach, Lochaber, Scotland
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Wester Ross and the Isle of Skye
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From Fortwilliam, it is just under 100miles to the stunning Isle of Skye across the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh. If you’ve ever wanted to visit the Old Man of Storr or Talisker Distillery, this is your opportunity. Back on the mainland, stop at Eilean Donan Castle before joining perhaps the most famous stretch of the North Coast 500 - the twists and turns of Bealach na Bà on the way to Applecross. It’s an unforgettable drive that gives clear views of the Isle of Skye, the islands of Rum and the Outer Hebrides – if the clouds have lifted! But be warned, this road is not suitable for motorhomes, caravans or inexperienced drivers.

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Mountain panorama with sun in Scotland, Isle of Skye - Old man of storr
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Beinn Eighe and Gairloch
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The magnificent Torridon Hills jut into the Scottish sky without apology. Explore them from Beinn Eighe National Park in the heart of Wester Ross. Home to ancient pine forests, intimidating ridgelines and golden eagles, gentler walks will take you through the trees and into the village of Kinlochewe.  
 
Further north, Gairloch has beautiful beaches such as the aptly named Big Sand, views over The Minch to the Hebrides, and a museum safely based in a nuclear bunker. It is also the start of the Hebridean Whale Trail – an initiative to encourage accessible, low-impact whale-watching from land.  

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View to Beinn Eighe, Highlands, Scotland
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Durness and Sutherland
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Making up a large portion of the North Coast 500, Sutherland is full of winding roads, jagged landscapes and empty beaches with clear turquoise waters. Durness is a great spot to head to, with plenty of coastal walks and the geological vastness of Smoo Cave nearby. On your way north, you may want to check out Britain’s highest waterfall - Eas a’ Chual Aluinn. It’s a tough hike up, but the views of Assynt are spectacular.

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Durness Beach, Lairg, Highlands, Scotland
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Inverness and Cairngorms National Park
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From Durness, how you get back to Cairnryan is up to you. You could retrace your steps, or take the quicker route via Inverness, the Cairngorms National Park, Stirling and Glasgow. It is a fair trek – 275miles to be exact – but with places along the way such as Loch Ness, Aviemore, Balmoral and Stirling Castle, we think you’ll find it worth the drive! And if you really want to extend the holiday, you could also take the North Coast 500 route from Durness, through Caithness and John O’Groats to Inverness before eventually heading home.

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Ruins of Urquhart Castle by Loch Ness
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Distance from Cairnryan to Culzean Castle

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Distance from Cairnryan to Culzean Castle
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It's 53km from Cairnryan to Culzean Castle

Distance from Cairnryan to Fortwilliam

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Distance from Cairnryan to Fortwilliam
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It's 294km from Cairnryan to Fortwilliam

Distance from Cairnryan to Durness

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Distance from Cairnryan to Durness
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950km, taking in the destinations mentioned in this guide.

Best season to go

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Best season to go
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Summer brings tourists and midges, but winter brings heavy weather and many attractions close from November to March. If you love mountain sports and come prepared, there’s plenty to do all year round.

Know before you go

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Know before you go
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Parts of this route take you on the North Coast 500. It's important to plan ahead and expect challenging driving conditions and harsh weather at any time of year. And book your accommodation well in advance!

Selected destinations for this guide

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