Scotland Road Trip: Hiking Ben Nevis and Exploring the Scottish Highlands by Car

Our first trip to Scotland was completely ad-hoc. Although we had the return train tickets and car rental booked, we didn’t have a clue where exactly we were heading to and where we were going to stay until a day before we were about to leave for the trip! We only knew one thing: we wanted to conquer the highest mountain in the UK: Ben Nevis. That’s all! Other than that, we were not prepared. To make the matter even worst, we went at the wrong time: the Easter weekend, and of course, everyone went to Scotland during Easter! 🙁

But that did not stop us from having a memorable road trip around the Scottish Highlands! The weather was surprisingly perfect – bright and blue sky for the entire duration we were there. Locals told us this kind of weather in spring was rare for Scotland. What a lucky bunch we were! 🙂

I decided to put together the full itinerary for our Scotland road trip in this blog post. I have also included a map for each day in the itinerary, which comprises of the driving routes and some places of interests. I listed down all of our expenses and some tips related to this trip.

The 5D4N Itinerary

DAY 1 – London to Glasgow

We took a train from London to Glasgow. It was our first long-distance train ride in the UK. It took more than 6 hours and we did not have any seats booked. As we left on Thursday evening (a day before Easter Friday), we had to stand for almost half of the journey. So pro tip: always, always reserve your seat if you take a train.

The return ticket was not exactly cheap and I was wondering why I didn’t check the flights. It could have been much cheaper and faster. Oh well, that’s how unprepared we were. Being unprepared is sometimes nice, as you are often surprised with many things

DAY 2 – Exploring Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park

We picked up our rental car from Glasgow Airport, which cost less than £15 Uber ride from the city centre. It was slightly cheaper than taking an express bus which costs £8 per person (faster and more convenient). It took about 15 minutes to reach the airport — such a smooth ride!

Loch Lomond & Conic Hill

Our first destination was the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. It was the closest national park from Glasgow and I thought it would be a good idea to do a warm-up hike before our big hike up to Ben Nevis the next day. So on our way to the national park, I spent most of our journey browsing the internet, trying to find the best moderate hike around the Loch Lomond. After a bit of researching, I decided that we should climb the Conic Hill in Balmaha.

Halfway towards the Loch Lomond, we stopped in a town of Bearsden (just outside of Glasgow) to have breakfast and buy some snacks for our hike.  We found a nice café called Rose & Grants Café Deli serving Indonesian fried rice (what are the odds?!). It’s easier to find Malaysian foods in the UK than Indonesian foods so I was surprised by that menu! It turned out that the owner just came back from a trip from Indonesia and decided to sell the dish in the café. Of course, I didn’t order the fried rice because I knew I would be sceptical and completely critical of my people’s foods.

Scottish Highlands

Just before we were about to turn into the town of Buchanan, we were stopped by the police. Unfortunately, Conic Hill was not reachable by car. The road that leads to Balmaha was closed as there were no parking spots left. Despite the fact that it was still 7 kilometres away to the destination, the police did not allow anyone to enter the road unless you live in the vicinity. So the plan was scrapped! We had to continue driving towards the direction of Trossachs.

Trossachs & Ben A’an

Thankfully, as we drove deeper into the national park, the scenery became more and more cooling to the eyes. And thanks to my super quick browsing skill (self-praise is a must sometimes! :D), we managed to find another hiking spot, which is probably a much better option than Conic Hill, in terms of view and (less) crowds.

Ben A’an is a hill in the heart of Trossachs. Its elevation is only 454 meters, but the trail to reach the top is quite steep. The hike took about 3 hours return. Nevertheless, it has become one of my favourite hills to climb. The summit is largely treeless with several rock outcrops and cliffs. During clear days, the 360-degree panoramic views are unbeatable! Lochs, hills, and mountains can be seen as far as your eyes can see! It was indeed an amazing summit to chill and relax and we were lucky that the sky was clear. Well… it was slightly cloudy. But as long as it does not rain, I’m happy!

Ben A’an is equipped with a car park, located opposite the start of the trail, on the banks of Loch Achray. It is also close to the Trossachs Pier (around 1.8 kilometres from the car park), which we did not manage to go. The Brenachoile Trail starts from the pier along the beautiful Loch Katrine. If you have enough time after the hike, do check out this trail and visit the cafe around the area!

Towards Connel

Once we came back from a few hours of hiking in Ben A’an, we continued driving around the beautiful Trossachs National Park, towards the village of Connel. The view was magnificent and I could not stop admiring the scenery around me. I wish I could stay longer here and hike more peaks!

Since we were going to hike Ben Nevis the next morning, Fort William is the best town to stay due to its close proximity to the mountain. However, due to the Easter break, we did not manage to get affordable accommodation there. Every hotels and hostel I called in and around Fort William are fully booked. Thankfully, we found a nice Airbnb room to stay in the small village of Connel, which is located an hour away from Fort William.

Route Map & Vlog for Day 2

Anyway, the map below shows two routes: the route that we took to Connel and the recommended route to Fort William.

…and here is our vlog for today!

DAY 3 – Hiking Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis

We woke up early in the morning to get ready for our exciting hike at the highest mountain in the UK. We had our breakfast (which was provided by our Airbnb host) and started driving at around 7 AM. We arrived at the Visitor Center of Ben Nevis at around 8.45 AM and unfortunately, we did not have enough change to pay for the parking. So we waited until 9 AM for the Visitor Center to open and paid for the parking ticket.

Starting the hike at Ben Nevis

By the time we started walking, there were already a lot of people around the Visitor Center. A lot of them have also started the hike earlier than us. It was a bright sunny day, so I was not surprised that there was a huge turnout. Just like any other hikes around the UK, we passed through some private lands and farmlands. Contrary to what I imagine, the hike was not so strenuous at the beginning, which allowed me to warm up before the next challenge hit.

After hiking for at least 2 hours (and we still could not spot Ben Nevis yet after climbing a few hills!), we met an intersection. One trail was more obvious and it was the official one that a lot of people take, but it went around a hill, passing through a lake. The other trail cut through a steep hill with a lot of loose rocks. We decided to follow the unofficial trail as it looked much faster and I did believe that we cut half the time. We ended up near the waterfall, where the two trails rejoined. I think it would not be a good idea to pass through this trail when it rains as it can get very wet and slippery.

One hour before we reached the summit, the ground was covered with ankle-deep snow. The sun had disappeared as clouds and mists covering the horizon. The weather got colder and the wind blew stronger. The difference in the weather at the basecamp and near the summit was quite insane! We had to take out our jacket to cover ourselves from the cold. On our (supposedly) final summit push, I could see many people slid down on their way back from the summit. Just when we thought we almost reached the summit, there were a few hills that we still had to hike. It felt endless! But finally, we made it to the top of Ben Nevis!!! The highest mountain in the UK. No matter how many mountains I’ve conquered in the past, it still felt surreal to conquer a new one, no matter how low the mountain is. Wohoo!

Ben Nevis Summit

The summit ground was surprisingly very huge, despite hundreds of people resting there. We had lunch, took some photos, enjoyed the gloomy view of many mountain peaks around us, and then started to our journey down. It was quite cold and the sun was nowhere to be found, so there was no point of staying too long there. Going back was quite tough for my knees, so we took it slowly and followed the official trail all the way down.

Ben Nevis Summit

After a total of 7 hours of hiking, we finally reached the Visitor Center, where we started the hike. In general, I think it was a great hike, in terms of the trail — it was a good training ground to hike a higher mountain (thinking what’s next :P), as it was quite steep and strenuous in some parts (which is a good thing, coz most UK trails aren’t that challenging :P). The hike started almost at the sea level, so it was in fact a true ascent. One thing I did not like about Ben Nevis was the number of hikers around me. Due to the Easter break, there were too many people, trying to conquer the same thing, using the same trail. There was no rain, though, so that was a big big plus!

Since we got what we wanted, it was time for an early dinner, so we decided to head for Fort William to celebrate our achievement today.

Fort William

Due to its close proximity to Ben Nevis and other nearby mountains, Fort William has become a popular tourist town. The good thing is, there are a few restaurants (and pubs) to choose from. We decided to have lunch at The Tavern, which is located in the centre of the town. I am not sure if we were hungry at the time, but the food was really good! I ordered steamed seabass and I really loved it. Highly recommended!

From Fort William, we drove to Mallaig, checked into our hotel, and had a good night sleep.

Route Map & Vlog for Day 3

You can see how we climbed Ben Nevis and the condition of the trail in this vlog:

DAY 4 – Mallaig, Glenfinnan, and beyond

Mallaig & Wildlife Cruise

We started our day having a nice vegetarian breakfast at West Highland Hotel (Booking.com | Agoda), where we stayed at for the night. The restaurant had a nice view of the town and isles around it.

We then explored the town area and proceeded with our first (and last…) paid excursion of the day: wildlife cruising! This was my husband’s idea and he really wanted to see wildlife, especially whales. I was not really into this cruising thingy as it was not a guarantee that we were going to see the whales. But I went along, of course!

To me, the one-hour long cruise was just meh. We were not able to see much, except for some seals and birds. It was nice to see slightly different scenery, otherwise, it’s passable.

Glenfinnan

We wanted to go to Glenfinnan to spot the Jacobite train, otherwise known as the Harry Potter’s train. The train and its route passing the Glenfinnan Viaduct were famously used for the filming of Harry Potter.

For the best view of the viaduct and the approaching train, go to the Glenfinnan Viaduct View Point instead, which is located on the left side of the car park. We went to the wrong viewpoint (called Glenfinnan View Point), which is located on the right side of the car park. We could see the train and the viaduct, but not as near as I thought it would be.

The Jacobite train does not operate all year round. Check out the timetable for the Jacobite train here. Make sure you left Mallaig before the train departs and arrives at least 30 minutes before it arrives. We left Mallaig when the train was leaving. We did not manage to find a car park in Glenfinnan as it was completely full, so we had to park by the side of the road (but thankfully, off the road) and climb the nearby hill to wait for the train to pass the viaduct.

By the way, this is the view of Glenfinnan from the hill. Not bad at all.

The view of Glenfinnan from its viewpoint
The view of Glenfinnan from its viewpoint

Enroute to Kenmore

Driving from Fort William to Kenmore was very nice, as you’ll be spoilt with a beautiful view of rivers and lochs, complete with a picturesque background of Ben Nevis. We stopped by a few times to enjoy the view.

River Spean with the background of Ben Nevis

The route to Kenmore passed through the edge of the Cairngorms National Park, before cutting through a small empty road towards Tay Forest. Thanks to the GPS, though! We wouldn’t know that this road existed! It also seems that our car was the only one that drove through this road! The area was quite beautiful, especially during the golden hour. It was perfect for photographs!

After passing several villages, we finally made it to Kenmore. We checked into Kenmore Hotel (Booking.com | Agoda) and was surprised to find that the restaurant was fully booked for dinner. What a disappointment. We tried to find other restaurants in front of the hotel, but none opened. So we went to our hotel’s bar and asked for dinner to be served there. Dinner was not bad at all.

I planned to explore the town in the evening (after dark), but was too lazy that I decided to rest and sleep straight away 🙂

Route Map & Vlog for Day 4

Here’s our vlog for Day 4 (and a bit of Day 5):

DAY 5 – Kenmore & Loch Tay

Kenmore

The pretty village of Kenmore, Scotland
The pretty village of Kenmore, Scotland

We planned to have breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant in the morning. But unfortunately, the buffet did not have much vegetarian or seafood option. So we went out to the other side of Kenmore to check if anything was opened. Unfortunately, a lot of restaurants were closed. Nothing seemed to open in this town early morning!

The river that cuts through the village of Kenmore was really nice — so we explored a bit of the riverside and took some photos. We wanted to go to the nearby Tay Forest Park but realized that we didn’t have much time left. We had to go and find a decent breakfast. So, off we go to Killin!

And of course, we had to stop for this view, overlooking Loch Tay!

Killin

Killin was surprisingly a bigger village with a few things going on. There were a lot of people and cars for such a small village. We found the Shutters Cafe by accident and decided to give it a try since it seems that they serve good breakfast, judging by the number of people sitting there. It was probably the cheapest meal I’ve had in Scotland and it was quite a good deal!

River Lochay in Killin
River Lochay in Killin

Back to Glasgow and London

Unfortunately, we had to go back to Glasgow Airport to return our car. I wish this trip could extend further to Inverness and Isle of Skye! Oh well, I need to go back to Scotland again next time. Such a nice place to travel, except with the weather 😛

We took a train from Glasgow back to London. Unfortunately, the Virgin Train was not available at the time, so we had to catch a train to Edinburgh first (see how reliable the UK trains are?!). Due to the changes in train schedules, trains to London became so, so packed! We could not get a seat anywhere, that we had to stand in between the coaches. It was terrible. By evening, some young passengers got drunk, passed out, and made out. It was like a jungle! Not a good experience to be back to London, I have to say!

All in all, I am happy to be back and reminisce the memorable side of this Scotland road trip! 🙂

Route Map & Vlog for Day 5

Useful Tips

Getting into/out of Scotland

Scotland’s main cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, have their own international airports and budget airlines like EasyJet, RyanAir, and Germanwings fly to these destinations. The cost varies from as cheap as £30 to £150 return.

If you are planning to explore the two main cities and the Highlands, I would suggest getting into either Glasgow or Edinburgh and getting out of Scotland from Inverness.

If you are coming from different parts of the UK and are not interested to visit the two main cities, then I would suggest to check out some airlines that fly directly to Inverness, which is conveniently located in the Scottish Highlands near major attractions, from Loch Ness, Ben Nevis, and Cairngorms National Park. It is also not too far from the famous Isle of Skye.

Trains can be a good option and they depart from different parts of the UK to Scotland’s cities and towns. It may not be the cheapest option, as the prices may fluctuate, so it’s always best to check other modes of transports. Major towns like Fort William and Inverness are served by trains. For this trip, we took the train all the way from London to Glasgow and

Renting a car

Renting a car is the most convenient and fastest way to explore Scotland, especially if you are visiting the off beaten paths. Scotland’s cities and main towns are connected by railways but their schedule is not that frequent. So I was happy that we decided to rent a car instead of taking public transports.

When it comes to renting a car, it is safer to choose from well-known rental companies like Enterprise, Hertz, Sixt, Europcar, or Budget. It is worth comparing prices for different pickup locations within the city. In most instances, an airport can be a cheaper pick-up option than a city centre. For our car, we picked it up from Glasgow Airport, which was a £15 Uber ride from the city centre (compare that to an express bus that costs £8 per person).

It is also important to check and record every single damage and scratches of the car before you agree to take it. This includes the four rims and the roof of the car (my friend was charged with a damage fee on the roof the car, which was ridiculous!). For a piece of mind, I would recommend adding the excess damage insurance on top of your car rental as these car companies (regardless of how well-known they are) try their best to suck money out of you.

Unfortunately, we opted out of the excess damage waiver and we were charged for £145 for small scratches on two rims of the car. We did not pay attention to those rims before we took the car. We also did not have any evidence to prove that we did not damage them. So we had to pay for it 🙁 So lesson learned: take the insurance!

Where to stay

It is best to book your accommodation in advance, especially when you are travelling during the UK school holidays or public holidays. The prices tend to fluctuate during these holidays. It was hard for us to find an affordable empty room in Fort William or anywhere near Ben Nevis due to the Easter break, that we ended up staying at the Airbnb in Connel, a small village located one hour away by car from Ben Nevis (if you are new to Airbnb, you can become a new member and get £25 off your booking by clicking this link). The Airbnb where we stayed was very nice but I would not recommend staying in such a faraway place, especially if you are planning to hike Ben Nevis the next day or if you are looking to stay in a vibrant town! Go to Fort William instead!

Fort William

Fort William is a major tourist town, due to its close proximity to Ben Nevis, Glen Coe, and other mountains. It is the best place to stay before or after the hike on these mountains. The town has a number of restaurants, shops, and pubs and it is quite lively.

There are plenty of accommodation choices in Fort William, ranging from the high end to the budget ones. If you are planning to hike Ben Nevis, then I would highly recommend Glen Nevis Youth Hostel (Booking.com | Agoda), as it is literally nestled at the foot of Ben Nevis, near the Visitor Centre, where the hike starts. The hostel is equipped with both dormitory and private rooms. Other options within the vicinity of the Ben Nevis Visitor Center are Ben Nevis Inn & Bunkhouse and Achintee Farm Guest House (Booking.com | Agoda). Achintee is a more expensive option than the other two hostels.

If you would like to stay in Fort William itself, then look for Back Street Lodge (Booking.com | Agoda) and CityHeart Fort William (Booking.com | Agoda). Do note that staying in the centre of the town requires you to walk for at least 30 minutes or 1.8 miles to Ben Nevis Visitor Center, where the hike starts.

Some hotels that are quite affordable in Fort William are Alexandra Hotel (Booking.com | Agoda) and The Imperial Hotel (Booking.com | Agoda).

Mallaig

Mallaig is a traditional fishing village located on the west coast of the Highlands. Ferries run from this port to the isles of Skye, Rùm, Eigg, Muck, and Canna. Although it is a small village, it has a few hostels, e.g. The Mission Bunkhouse (Booking.com | Agoda) and Mallaig Backpackackers Lodge, guesthouses, e.g. Seaview Guest House and The Steam Inn, and affordable hotels, like West Highland Hotel (Booking.com | Agoda) and Springbank (Booking.com | Agoda).

We stayed in the West Highland Hotel (Booking.com | Agoda) which has a beautiful panoramic view of the harbour and isles beyond from its restaurant. The breakfast was really nice and our rate included the breakfast as well!

Loch Tay – Kenmore & Killin

When it comes to accommodation options, I consider the accommodations around the villages of Loch Tay are the most expensive. There are no hostels, so your best bet is to stay in a hotel, lodge, or an apartment.

The cheapest hotel and best value for money in Kenmore is the Kenmore Hotel (Booking.com | Agoda), located at the main square itself! (yes, we stayed there!) It has one of the most beautiful glass-panelled restaurants overlooking the River Tay. The hotel is thought to be Scotland’s oldest hotel, and it is housed in an old-looking building next to the entrance of the Taymouth Castle.

The Kenmore Club by Diamond Resorts (Booking.com | Agoda) was unfortunately fully booked when we were there, otherwise, it could probably be one of the best places to stay for families, as it is equipped with a swimming pool, a tennis court, and a children’s playground. Its price is not too expensive, especially if you are travelling in groups.

The village of Killin, which is located on the other side of Loch Tay, could be a good option to stay as well. The village has more choices of affordable hotels like The Old Bank (Booking.com | Agoda), The Courie Inn (Booking.com | Agoda), The Falls of Dochart Inn (Booking.com | Agoda), and many more. When we were there, the village looked more lively than Kenmore and there were more choices of restaurants and pubs around the village, including the Shutters Restaurants where we had our brunch.

Where else to go

If I had more time, I would definitely go to the Isle of Skye. It was so near Mallaig, but we could not go as it needs another 2 days (at the very least) to explore the most famous isle in Scotland. I would definitely go here next time and perhaps, explore some other lesser-known isles in Scotland.

Budget Breakdowns

When it comes to foods, Scotland can be quite expensive, especially if you stay in a secluded town with only a few choices of restaurants (with the exception of hotel restaurants which can be pricey). The prices of foods are generally almost the same as or even more expensive than the ones in London. When we were in Kenmore, we did not have any decent choices but to eat at the hotel’s restaurant as everywhere else was either fully booked or closed. We also did not have the luxury to cook as we stayed in a hotel rather than a hostel. All hostels were fully booked during the Easter break, which caused our expenses dramatically increased.

For a 5 days 4 nights trip, in total, we spent around £1,045, which is approximately £522 per person. We could definitely bring the cost down by more than half if we were to stay in a hostel and cook our own food.

Here is the breakdown of the costs:

  • Transportation
    • Train from London Euston to Glasgow (return) – £195.50 for two persons
    • Uber ride from Glasgow to Glasgow Airport – £14.76
    • Car rental from Hertz
      • Rental charges: £139.97 (for 4 weekend days, without any excess insurance)
      • Damage charge & admin fee: £145
    • Fuel (petrol) – £53.17
    • Parking
      • Bearsden – £1 for 2 hours
      • Ben A’an Parking – £3 for 3 hours
      • Ben Nevis Visitor Center – £4 for a day
      • Fort William – £2 for 3 hours
  • Accommodation – prices below are based on a double bedroom for one night
  • Excursions – prices below are for two persons
    • 1-hour wildlife cruise with Western Isle Cruise in Mallaig – £24 (£12 per person)
  • Food – prices below are for two persons
    • Brunch at Rose & Grants in Bearsden, Glasgow – £17.65
    • Dinner at Falls of Lora Hotel in Connel – £28.55
    • Lunch at The Tavern in Fort William – £31.85
    • Afternoon tea at The Tea Garden in Mallaig – £9.40
    • Dinner at Kenmore Hotel – £39.95
    • Breakfast at Shutters Cafe in Killin – £28.75
    • Snacks – £20

Our Vlogs

Here are our vlogs during our Scotland Road Trip. Do subscribe to my husband’s channel for more travel contents 🙂

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