DAY 1 - Edinburgh to Loch Ness via Dunkeld and Cairngorms National Park
Welcome to Edinburgh Contiki fam! We won't hang around today, as we're headed north to Perthshire, or the ‘Big Tree Country’. (We wonder how it got that name...) But don't worry, we'll be back. See ya soon Edinburgh.
Along the way we'll stop at the beaut cathedral town of Dunkeld on the River Tay. Then we'll continue along the (big) tree-lined gorge at Killiecrankie. Few options here: you could wander the woodlands and feel at one with mother nature, or opt to throw yourself off the Garry Bridge on the UK’s only fixed point bungee (and feel at one with gravity).
Cairngorms National Park
Need to calm your nerves? A wee dram at a Highland Whisky Distillery is just the ticket. Then it’s onwards through the Cairngorms National Park. Bronze-age standing stones. Burial chambers said to be the inspiration for Craigh na Dun in Outlander. The site of the last major battle on British soil...Is it just us, or is this place a bit eerie? Seriously beautiful, though.
How could we not visit the famous, monstrous (see what we did there?) Loch Ness. Opt for an early evening cruise and keep your eyes peeled for Nessie, or choose to experience Highland hospitality first-hand in the local bars and restaurants during our night in Fort Augustus.
DAY 2 - Loch Ness to Orkney
Rise and shine! We're continuing north today, following the eastern side of the North Coast 500 (Scotland’s answer to ‘Route 66’) Along the way, you can choose to check out the fairy-tale Dunrobin Castle and stroll some seriously impressive gardens, if you wanna live our your Laird and Lady dreams. Further north, the epic sea stacks at Duncansby Head will blow your mind, before we arrive at the most northerly town on the UK mainland, John o’ Groats. Go on, take a pic at the iconic sign. It'd be rude not to.
All aboard the ferry across the Pentland Firth. Trust us, it's worth braving the wind on deck to spot dolphins, whales, and even the occasional Orkney Orca. I bet you didn't think you could see THAT in the UK. In Orkney, we check out the Italian Chapel, built by prisoners during WWII. It's a special wee place with a great story. As the night draws in we can enjoy an optional beach feast with open-fire cooking, bread-making, storytelling, crafts and games. Oh, and it'll be led by experts on Vikings. And they're dressed like Vikings. Don't you just love Scotland?
DAY 3 - Orkney
Today we're headed to Skara Brae, an INSANELY well-preserved Neolithic village. Get a glimpse at domestic life between 3,200BC and 2,200BC and wander around the homes in the settlement, complete with Stone Age beds and furniture! Orkney’s coastline is stunning: the perfect place to breathe in fresh air and feel zen as you watch the endless waves crash on the shore. If you're eagle-eyed you might even spot puffins. Back in Kirkwall, we gather for a Contiki Clan dinner, either in the cosy social area of our hostel or at one of the brilliant local restaurants.
DAY 4 - Orkney to Ullapool
See ya Kirkwall. Today we're headed to the south end of Orkney. On the ferry we'll admire stunning beaches, cragged cliffs, and some seriously impressive landscapes and rock formations in this UNESCO Geopark (the first in Scotland). And boy do we have some cool experiences to choose from today. Enter into the chasm of Smoo Cave in Durness, fly through the air on the Golden Eagle Zipline, or just kick back and soak up all that stunning scenery.
Woah, what a day of adventures. After taking a breath, we'll head over the Kylesku Bridge towards the fishing port of Ullapool, our final destination. Search for live traditional tunes, local ale and fisherman with many a tall tale to tell...
DAY 5 - Ullapool to Stornoway
We’re off to the Isle of Lewis & Harris. Yep, you guessed right. Another spectacular ferry crossing awaits (with more marine life to spot). Spotted something cool? Why not download the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust app to report your sightings? Hopping off the ferry we've got a day of sightseeing awaiting us on Lewis. First up: the 5000-year-old (woah) Callanish Standing Stones. Then we'll jump forward through time to the Iron Age and the impressive broch of Dun Carloway. History lovers will be in heaven in Ullapool. Everyone else can just enjoy filling their feeds with more spectacular sights.
Closer to modern day, but still back in the 17th century (Scotland's pretty old, eh?) we'll get acquinted with the island way of life at Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. The Atlantic coastline feels like another planet, or the very edge of the Earth, and the Butt of Lewis (hehehe), is the most dramatic of all. Watch the waves crash against the isolated lighthouse and pretend you're the main character in a moody detective drama. Back in Stornoway, stroll around the harbour and sample fresh seafood for dinner. This is the life.
DAY 6 - Stornoway to Portree via Harris
See ya Lewis, we're headed south towards Harris.
You may have heard of Harris tweed, and today we'll meet local crofter who practices the ancient skill of making tweed on a manual loom, using wool from his own sheep! You’ll also be introduced to his dogs with jobs, a group of collies who know how to handle a flock and will show you their skills. On islands like these, the beach is always calling. And there’s no better place dip your toes into some seriously turquoise waters than Luskentyre: a pure white beach that looks like it's been plucked out of a Mediterranean postcard. Scotland really does have it all. Then we'll head back to Tarbert, the hub of Harris, to visit the award-winning (and socially responsible) Isle of Harris Distillery. Go on, buy a bottle for your mam. (And if you end up drinking it with your Contiki clan she'll never know.)
Another ferry, this time bound for the magical Isle of Skye. You might recognise it as the place that always comes up on Instagram and makes you rub your eyes, thinking "that place can't be real." Well it is, and no photoshop is required to make this place look more stunning than it is. We'll waste no time exploring Skye’s fairytale landscapes, heading straight for the Quiraing. You can hike to the Old Man of Storr and soak up the coastal scenes at Kilt Rock and Lealt Falls, or explore the colourful harbour during our overnight in Portree. Not bad choices, to be honest.
DAY 7 - Portree
It's been an action-packed 6 days, so let's take an opportunity to kick back. Today we'll take Portree at our own pace. You can set off into the hills for a long hike if you want to keep the adventures going, or just relax by the sea and watch the world go by. Oh, and there's also a shuttle bus to the Fairy Pools and wildlife cruises which depart from the harbour. Dolphins, whales and sea eagles are there for the spotting. If you’re feeling more hardcore, there is the option to go canyoning down hidden rivers or to follow in the pawprints of Bear Grylls by abseiling down into the remote Spar Cave. Today's a much needed rest day for your trusty driver and Trip Manager (they need to recharge sometimes), so the experiences up for grabs today are optional, and it's up to you to arrange them.
DAY 8 - Portree to Edinburgh via Mallaig
It's been emotional Portree. But today we're headed to the south of Skye to check out Armadale Castle, before our final ferry crossing over to the fishing port of Mallaig. Byyee Skye, we'll never forget you.
If you booked your trip with the option to ride on the iconic Jacobite Steam Train then you'll be waved off from Mallaig Station. Voted the best train journey in the world by Wanderlust Magazine three (!) times over, this spellbinding journey crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct (you know the one...from Harry Potter. With the flying car? Yep that's it). For those of us who didn't, we'll hang out in the bustling port of Mallaig while the others finish their steam train ride. Then it's all aboard the coach as we head to Edinburgh.
More cool sights on the way to Edinbrugh. See if you can spot Ben Nevis, the UK’s tallest mountain, before we stop at in the mind-blowing Glen Coe. Then we'll take in the wild expanse of Rannoch Moor, the Trossachs National Park, Stirling, and The Kelpies: the world’s largest equine sculptures. We arrive back into Edinburgh at around 8pm. Anyone for a wee dram?