As temperatures dip and the leaves begin to turn, Scotland beckons with untamed beauty, vibrant traditions, and fascinating history along every cobblestone street and winding mountain road.
Head north from London Heathrow Airport by train or by car and you’ll soon be swept away by the beauty of the changing landscape. Bustling cities give way to long tracts of wide, open land dotted with secluded farmhouses, and gently rolling hills with sleepy villages nestled between them. As the hours — and the scenery — slip past, the hills turn into mountains covered in bristly Scots pine, the valleys deepen, and the surrounding sights become more dramatic. You’re entering Scotland, and the further north you travel, the more otherworldly the landscape becomes.
If you love iconic castles, charming cities, warm hospitality, and plenty of outdoor activities, a visit to Scotland should top your fall travel list. This time of the year, the weather is brisk, the foliage is a tapestry of vibrant red, yellow, and orange, and you’ll have beat the summer crowds (September and October are considered shoulder season for tourism in Scotland).
The more time you have to explore, the deeper you can dive into this beautiful and fascinating destination. However, you can easily fill just a few days with exciting discoveries if you arrive with a game plan. We’ve outlined a quick and easy three-day itinerary to help you get started, along with recommendations on what to see, what to do, where to eat, and where to stay.
Day 1 - Edinburgh
Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo: Connor Mollison.
What to do: Start your Scotland getaway in one of its oldest and most vibrant cities — Edinburgh. It’s been Scotland’s capital since 1437, and its rich history is evident everywhere you look. Wake up early and spend some time wandering the city’s winding cobblestone streets, making sure to visit Edinburgh Castle. Then head to the nearby Writer’s Museum, which spotlights Scottish literary icons, or the fascinating Museum on the Mound, which features exhibits on money, banking, and commerce. If you’re up for a scenic hike, make the trek to Arthur’s Seat, a promontory located within Holyrood Park. The hike is about 40 minutes and yields some of the best views of the city.
Where to eat and drink: Edinburgh is home to a great food and bar scene. Along the Royal Mile you’ll find Monteiths and The Devil’s Advocate, both known for their crave-worthy cocktails and tasty fare. The latter is housed in an old Victorian home, and scores top marks for atmosphere. If you’re craving something a bit more traditional, head to The Golf Tavern, a golf-themed pub founded in 1456. And if the weather is nice, you can grab a pint in the beautiful beer garden at The Blackbird, which also serves up a head-spinning menu of global cuisine and an extensive craft cocktail list.
Where to stay: Tigerlily Edinburgh was dubbed the city’s “most talked-about boutique hotel,” and for good reason. It's whimsical and eclectic decor (think bold prints, dreamy color palettes, and lots of texture) is a visual feast, and it’s located strutting distance to some of the city’s top attractions. Even if you don’t spend the night, you should definitely grab a drink at the bar — the menu is a seemingly endless list of options. Another great place to stay is the Moxy Fountainbridge, a playful spot with a sleek, industrial aesthetic. It’s also home to a lovely rooftop bar called Rooftop 51 that serves tasty dishes, creative cocktails, and beers on tap along with stunning city views.
If you have more time: Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, is just an hour west of Edinburgh by car. If you have an extra day, pop on over to explore its many parks and gardens (it has more green spaces per capita than any other European city). Spend a night at the cool and laid back Moxy Glasgow Merchant City or the chic and luxurious Kimpton Blythswood Square Hotel.
Day 2 - Inverness
Inverness, Scotland. Photo: Getty Images.
What to do: Push further north on Day 2 of your Scotland escape, into the highlands toward the charming city of Inverness. Along the way, make sure to stop in Urquhart Castle for a bit of history and folklore — the beautiful ruin overlooks the iconic Loch Ness. Before heading to your hotel in Inverness, stop by the Great Glen Distillery, Scotland’s smallest distillery and producer of some truly world-class gins. If you have a designated driver, enjoy one of the distillery’s free gin tastings, or purchase a bottle to enjoy back at your hotel after a day of exploration. Once you arrive in Inverness, use the remaining hours of daylight to explore the city’s Old Town, home to the 19th-century Inverness Cathedral and the earlier Old High Church. For handcrafted souvenirs and unique clothing finds, head to the Victorian Market. And make sure you squeeze in a stop at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery for a lesson in Highland history.
Where to eat and drink: The Mustard Seed Restaurant on Fraser Street serves a delicious lunch and dinner, with rotating delicacies like honey-glazed goat’s cheese, pan-fried Scottish salmon, and marinated Ardgay venison. It even won the Traveler’s Choice Award for Best Everyday Dining: United Kingdom & Channel Islands. Afterwards, drop by The Malt Room, Inverness’s first whisky bar, for a taste of some of the region’s best-loved scotches. Wrap up your evening at Hootananny, a classic pub that hosts live music every night starting at 9:30 p.m.
Where to stay: For a traditional taste of the Scottish Highlands, book a room at the Heathmount Hotel. Quaint and cozy, this family-owned boutique hotel boasts an unbeatable location close to the heart of Inverness and some incredible, locally sourced food and drinks. If you’re more of a hipster at heart and just looking for a basic yet trendy place to crash, you’ll love the kitschy disco balls, video game motifs, and nostalgic memorabilia at the budget-friendly Pentahotel Inverness.
If you have more time: Inverness is a great starting point for exploring the Isle of Skye. If you can swing it, opt for an overnight stay at Kinloch Lodge in Sleat, home to an award-winning restaurant and a stone’s throw from some of the island’s top sights. For a stay that’s a bit more budget-friendly yet just as idyllic, book a room at the Tingle Creek Lodge, a bed and breakfast that puts you within driving distance of Dunvegan Castle, Eilean Donan Castle, and the Attadale Gardens.
Day 3 - Braemar
The Fife Arms Hotel, Braemar, Scotland. Photo: Courtesy of hotel.
What to do: Your last day in the Highlands brings you south to Braemar, a vibrant village located in the stunning Cairngorms National Park — the largest in the UK. Outdoor enthusiasts will find endless opportunities to soak up the surrounding natural beauty here, from scenic hikes to wildlife-watching to skiing during the winter season. Ramble through Mar Lodge Estate, made up of more than 29,000 hectares of pine forest, rugged mountains, and heather-covered moorland. Join a wildlife-watching adventure with Dan and Rachael, the husband-and-wife team behind top-rated tour operator, Wild Discovery. Or play a round at the Braemar Golf Club, the highest 18-hole golf course in Scotland.
Where to eat and drink: The village of Braemar bustles with lively pubs and restaurants. Savor local produce cooked on a char grill and paired with a dram or a pint of traditional Scottish Ale at The Cairn Grill. Indulge in artisan pastries, homemade quiches, and savory pies at Hazelnut Patisserie. Sip refreshing stouts and seasonal ales brewed on-site at Braemar Brewing Co. Or end your day with an authentic and hearty Scottish dinner at The Flying Stag, located at the Fife Arms.
Where to stay: When visiting Braemar, it doesn’t get any better than the aforementioned Fife Arms. Each of the hotel’s 46 guestrooms and suites were decorated to tell one of the region’s many colorful stories, from the Croft Rooms (inspired by the traditional Scottish croft house) to the Scottish Culture Rooms, inspired by leading local figures in literature, astronomy, exploration, and beyond.
If you have more time: If you’re a golf aficionado, tack on a few extra days to visit St. Andrews — the birthplace of the sport. Stay at Rufflets, a romantic country house turned hotel that’s been managed by the same family for three generations. It’s a quick drive away from several top local golf courses. Serious golfers who don’t mind a splurge might prefer a night at the Old Course Golf Resort & Spa, located within driving distance of the world’s finest links courses.
Whether you visit for a weekend or a full week, you’ll find it’s impossible not to fall under Scotland’s spell. No matter what you’re most interested in — food, history, sports, or the scenery — you’ll be glad you planned a last-minute fall escape to this one-of-a-kind place.