I chose the West Highland Experience day tour with Highland Experience tours. I was looking for a day trip from Edinburgh that would allow me to meet other travelers and explore the parts of Scotland that I couldn’t easily reach without a car. The tour costs £45 for adults and £42 for concessions (i.e. students and retirees). It runs 4 days a week during the summer, and legitimately lasts all day (8:00 AM- 7:30 PM). I chose Highland Experiences for this tour because it was a small-group tour company with good reviews. At the time I booked the tour, I really didn’t know anything about the destinations and this meant that everything was a gorgeous surprise!
My tour was led by Neil, and we took a small (but comfy) minibus. If you’re very tall, you may be more comfortable on a larger bus. The Cafe Nero meeting point gets very hectic, so I would recommend getting there early to make sure you find your group. The guide will have a list of names, but you also need to have your ticket ready. After we were all collected, it was off on an adventure!
While the tour stops in Glasgow to pick up more passengers, the real first stop is the village of Luss on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond (yes we played the song on the bus). Overall, this was my least favorite of the stops, but that might have been because I was still mostly asleep and the weather was rather grey. Luss has a beach, coffee and souvernir shops, a cute church, and beautiful views of the rolling highland hills. The deep greens and blues in the highlands are unreal! While Loch Lomond is pretty, I do wish we had spent less time here so that we could have spent longer on the later stops.
Loch Lomond is the largest freshwater body in the Great Britain and it’s a part of the Trossachs national park. It’s an easy drive from Glasgow, so if you’re doing this trip on your own it’s a great place to start the trip!
St. Conan’s Kirk
As we drove on along twisty roads, I struggled to stay awake. Morning just isn’t my time of day! I’m sure the views were stunning, but sleep’s siren song is almost impossible for me to resist in a moving vehicle. Luckily, our next stop was stunning enough to make up for missing some views! We were at St. Conan’s Kirk, an enchanting medieval style stone church built on the banks of Loch Awe. While the church looks ancient, it actually opened in 1930! The inside of the church was too dark to photograph well, but it follows the medieval style of the outside. The church definitely gives a magical feeling. Definitely worth a stop to stretch your legs and take a few (okay a lot) of photos! After that, it was on to Kilchurn Castle, one of the stops I was most excited for.
I’m sort of obsessed with Castles, and definitely obsessed with ruins so it’s not a surprise that I fell completely and utterly in love with Kilchurn Castle, seat of Clan Campbell of Glenarchy. As we approached it, Neil explained the game-of-thrones-esque history of the Scottish clans. Hearing his stories was one of the things that made this tour so worth it to me. On my own, I could have appreciated the beauty of the highlands, but I wouldn’t have understood their wild history.
The West Highlands tour stops across Loch Awe from Kilchurn Castle, and the view is absolutely stunning. As we were across the Loch, there’s no opportunity to go inside the castle, but I think the improved view definitely makes up for that. Be aware, the ground around the Loch is very squishy and I ended up completely covered in mud from running to take pictures. Fun fact: jumping over puddles doesn’t work very well if there’s mud on the other side. We saw campers around the Loch and I was very jealous of their morning views! Must be nice 🙂
I think I could write love letters to Oban. The seaside town is absolutely adorable, and I’d happily spend a week (or more) here. As you may have noticed, I love boats (and taking pictures of them) so I loved the large, in-town harbor. I was thoroughly charmed by Oban’s colorful buildings, cafes, and colosseum-like tower. Oban is a launching point for exploring the Hebrides Islands, which I’d love to visit on a later trip. I never thought I’d end up at the beach in Scotland, but hey, I guess the Sea just calls to me.
Like many seaside towns, Oban is famous for fish and chips. Despite my general dislike of Seafood, I couldn’t resist trying fish and chips at the Waterfront Fishouse. It was part of their 2 course daily menu (with fried Brie <3), which was surprisingly affordable for a restaurant in such a prime location. The Waterfront Fishouse has massive windows that look right out over the sea loch directly on the harbor. Service was fast and friendly and the food was delicious! I’m sure there are other great restaurants in Oban, but I’d 100% recommend this one.
After lunch, it was time for a mad dash up to McCaig’s Tower (AKA: Scotland’s Colosseum) to check out the amazing views. This is where I definitely wished for more time, because I literally ran up the side of the hill to get to the tower. On a tour, getting left behind (or holding up the group) is always a worry! The tower itself is sort of odd and I’m not sure what its purpose is/was, but the views are incredible. Scotland, you’re so beautiful! Luckily, I only spent a somewhat unreasonable time taking pictures, and I made it back to the bus on time. Then, it was on to Inverary!
Inverary Castle, home of Clan Campbell is almost to beautiful to be real. It gave me a real fairytale, Disney feeling, and I almost felt like it looked out-of-place in the wild Highlands. I didn’t pay to go inside (we wouldn’t have really had time to see it) but it’s worth making the walk up from town to see it. Unfortunately, I missed the best view of the castle (which was from the bridge pictured above). So if you visit, make sure you walk out that way!
The town of Inverary itself was very cute, but I didn’t fall in love with it in the same way as I had in Oban. Maybe if we had gone their first? I can definitely give a thumbs up to their Ice Cream shops though! Yum! 🙂
Was it Worth It
Yes! I absolutely loved my day with Highland Experience tours and I’d absolutely use them again. They were professional, knowledgable, and had selected a great route for the tour. As a solo traveler, tours are an amazing place to meet other travelers. On my tour, there were 4 other solo female travelers, and I loved getting to hear their stories (and have someone to eat lunch with). As far as value for money goes, I think this tour is a great deal. On my own, I couldn’t have visited all of these places without renting a car (impossible). If you want to visit independently, the train to Edinburgh to Oban costs around £60 for a return ticket and takes around 4 hours.
Thanks for sharing your beauty Scotland!