When most people start to plan their trip to Scotland, they think of the essentials first: Edinburgh, medieval castles, rolling hills, Highland cows, islands and lakes, whisky and last but not least, an umbrella. Of course, Scotland is so much more than that and a seasoned Scotland-expert will tell you that an umbrella in the Scottish rain-wind combination is about as useful as an ice machine in the Arctic – however, there is some truth to this list. There are a few things that can’t be missed on your Scottish journey!

I know many travelers visit Scotland as part of a greater UK or Eurotrip, which often means: not enough time to see it all. If you are under time pressure in particular, but also if you travel by yourself or if you feel uncomfortable with the left hand-side traffic, going with a guided day tour could be your best option to see the bare essentials of Scotland. And really, one day can already give you a great idea of what Scotland is all about. I was invited to join a day trip with Rabbies, one of Scotland’s highest rated tour companies, last December as part of the #blogmanay festivities in Edinburgh. Here is how I saw the best of Scotland in one day.

The Best of Scotland in One Day | Travelettes

The Tour

Rabbies offer numerous one-day tours starting in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but also multiple day trips if you have more time to spare – the 3-day trip to the Isle of Skye looks quite promising! My tour left the city center of Glasgow early on a Monday winter morning. At 9am daylight had only just begun to rise – in the summer you won’t have this problem. However the weather is always unpredictable and we departed in a light Glaswegian drizzle…

The tour was called Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond National Park & Whisky Day Tour and made me tick off a medieval CASTLE, a LOCK or lake, a WHISKY distillery, some traditional Scottish PUB GRUB and the rolling hills of the lower HIGHLANDS off my Scottish bucket list. All in one day – not bad, ey?

Rabbies does its tours in mini-buses of up to 16 seats, which means your group will never be bigger than that. Travelling off season and starting from Glasgow rather than Edinburgh has its perks, as we are only 3 adventure-hungry travelers today.

The Best of Scotland in One Day | Travelettes

1) Stirling Castle

Our first stop of the day is Stirling Castle, a medieval castle that lies at a key position between the Lowlands and the Highlands of Scotland. Because of that it has changed hands between the English and the Scottish numerous times in the Wars of Independence. Stirling is also famous for Scotland’s hero William Wallace and his greatest battle at Stirling Bridge (Braveheart anyone?).

The entrance to the castle is not included in the tour price (although you will get a discount) but I think it’s really worth it. I would even give the castle in Edinburgh a miss (and explore some of the non-touristy parts of town) and go to Stirling instead. Your ticket to the castle gives you access to a guided tour, so you get the most out of your visit. The guides take you around the different parts of the castle and every now and then a little play will be staged by an actor in royal character.

The Best of Scotland in One Day | Travelettes The Best of Scotland in One Day | Travelettes

By far my favorite part of the castle is the Great Hall, which stands out from the rest of the castle because it is painted yellow on the outside. The inside is just breathtaking and the light fantastic. One can only imagine the parties and feasts once held between these walls.

The Best of Scotland in One Day | Travelettes The Best of Scotland in One Day | Travelettes

If you are not interested in the castle at all you could take a stroll through Stirling which is a gorgeous little town or head over to the National Wallace Monument on a hill opposite of the castle hill.

The Best of Scotland in One Day | Travelettes

2) Rolling Hills

We leave Stirling behind and after a quick stop at Doune Castle our tour guide drives us through the rolling hills of the lower Highlands. We enter the Trossachs, the hills that together with Scotland’s largest lake for the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. The road is narrow and windy. It climbs up the steep hills only to force us into a intense downhill movement on the back of the same hills. There are little rivers and streams following the road, and lakes – or lochs as you call them in Scotland – of all sizes. Although we come by smaller villages and farms, it is a few impressive estates on the loch shores that stand out. Our driver tells us that most of them were built back in the days when the English nobility took to the Scottish Highlands and the small railway through the Trossachs was the most convenient way of reaching this wilderness. They used to be hotels and guest houses – today they are turned into luxurious retirement homes or left to decay. The rail way lost its importance to the motorways and tourists are more attracted to the Highlands and Isles up north. What a shame!

On our way to Aberfoyle – our lunch stop – we come across a Highland cow. One more thing to tick off the Scotland bucket list.

The Best of Scotland in One Day | Travelettes

3) Pies & Ales

Next up on the Scotland-in-a-day itinerary: traditional pub food. We take a break in Aberfoyle, a larger town in the national park and starting point for many hiking and cycling trips in the area. On a sunny day, the roads are flooded with cyclists and finding a spot in a car park after 12 noon is less likely than magic. But today, in the cool January drizzle, we are some of just a few visitors. We don’t stick around for too long, but there is time for a traditional Scottish lunch. I head to the Faerie Tree Inn in the center of town and order the pie of the day with baby potatoes and seasonal veg. On a rainy day there is simply nothing better than a good hot pie and a pint of ale for refreshment.

The Best of Scotland in One Day | Travelettes The Best of Scotland in One Day | Travelettes

4) Loch Lomond

Most tours to Loch Lomond approach the lake from the south and drive along its Western shore to Luss and Tarbet. With Rabbies you take the back road to the loch, which leads from Aberfoyle to the Eastern shore of the lake. We drive into Balmaha, a small town by the water. We park the car and continue on foot – our guide wants to show us the view. Considering that clouds are still hanging deep between the hills I’m not so sure how much we will see, but I am up for the challenge. After about 15 minutes straight upwards through a birch forest we reach an opening. The trees give way to  a view over Loch Lomond on all sides. With 22 miles long and 5 miles wide at its widest point it is Scotland’s largest loch. There are 79 islands mostly in the southern part of the lake which can be best explored by kayak trips from Luss or Balloch.

The Best of Scotland in One Day | Travelettes The Best of Scotland in One Day | Travelettes

5) A Wee Dram (or two)

Even though the rain has stopped, darkness is beginning to set in and we better hurry to reach the Glengoyne distillery in time for our guided tour. A wee dram (drink) is the perfect way to end a great day out in Scotland. The Glengoyne distillery is special because it is the southernmost of the Highland distilleries. Cross the road towards the car park and you are officially in the Lowlands. The distillery uses water from a river that is located behind it and on a drier and longer day you could take magnificent walks around the waterfalls and hills behind the distillery. We settle for a Wee Tasting Tour with a dram in the beginning (10 yr old) and one at the end of the tour (18 yr old). In between our guide, who is decked out in Tartan, takes us around the distillery and explains the process of making whisky in all detail.

The Best of Scotland in One Day | Travelettes The Best of Scotland in One Day | TravelettesThe Best of Scotland in One Day | Travelettes

In the dark we drive back to Glasgow. Luckily the distillery is only 40 minutes away from the city, so we reach our destination quickly. Once I come home and recap the day, I’m thinking to myself how incredible it is that you can fit the most characteristic items of a country in just one day. Classics like the Isle of Skye and surprises like the Caribbean-looking beaches of the Isle of Harris might take some more time to explore, but even with just a day, you can get a pretty great idea of what Scotland is all about!

What should you not miss on your Scotland bucket list?

More inspiration for Scotland:

The Travelettes Guide to Edinburgh

The Travelettes Guide to Glasgow

The Scottish Highlands: The best things to do & see

The Sea Kayaking Introduction Course in Oban

Kathi’s 8 Reasons why Scotland is the Perfect Place for Solo Travel

All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.

Disclaimer: I participated in this day trip as part of#blogmanay which is brought to you by Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and is supported by ETAGThe Scottish GovernmentVisitScotlandEdinburgh FestivalsMarketing EdinburghRabbies Tours and co-creators Haggis Adventures. Created and produced by Unique Events. As always, all opinions are entirely my own.