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The Perfect 2-Day Glencoe Road Trip

The Perfect 2-Day Glencoe Road Trip

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Glen Coe is arguably one of the most beautiful and dramatic glens in Scotland; it’s little wonder that it’s such a popular tourist location! Driving through the glen is a breathtakingly bizarre feeling, as if you’ve descended into another world. Craggy mountains, weatherbeaten and black, tower over you as you go deeper into the valley.

One of my favourite drives in Scotland is along the A82 through the Glencoe Valley. We visit Glencoe regularly; at least once a year we take a family hiking trip, spending a night away from home, and the Haggis often takes our tour guests here on a day trip.

In this blog post, I’m sharing one of my favourite itineraries with you, so you too can plan the perfect Glencoe road trip!

I’ve also included some of Glencoe’s most interesting history, including the tragic story of the Massacre of Glencoe.

On this road trip to Glencoe, you will drive past three iconic castles, several lochs, and small islands. There is a lot to see and do on this route, and if you want to stop and explore every attraction in this itinerary, rather than driving by, I recommend adding a few more days to your itinerary. But if you had limited time like we did, there is still plenty you can see from the car!

The Three Sisters

The History of Glencoe

Before you visit Glencoe, I think it’s super important to have a basic understanding of the history of the area.

To avoid confusion, ”Glen Coe” is the name of the glen, and ”Glencoe” is the name of the village. Many people refer to both the glen and the village as Glencoe, however!

Aside from its utterly breathtaking beauty, Glen Coe was made famous by its residents, the MacDonalds of Glencoe.

glencoe village in the scottish highlands

Glencoe village

Glencoe was gifted to the MacDonalds in the 14th century by Robert the Bruce, as a thank-you for their loyalty during the Scottish Wars of Independence. Previously, the land was inhabited by the MacDougalls, who had sided with Robert The Bruce’s rival, John Balliol.

Things remained peaceful until the 16th century when the Glencoe MacDonalds began having conflicts with the Campbells from Argyll. The Campbells made several attempts to extend their lands, while the MacDonalds took to raiding and rustling their cattle.

The MacDonalds and the Campbells often found themselves on opposing sides; the MacDonalds were loyal to the Scottish Royalists, while the Campbells sided with the government. This proved to be deadly for the MacDonalds of Glencoe.

The Three Sisters: Always a highlight on any Glencoe road trip

The Massacre of Glencoe

In the late 17th century, King William III of England offered a pardon to all Highland clans who had fought against him or raided their neighbours. The Highland Clans needed to pledge their oath of allegiance before a magistrate by 1st January 1692. If they failed to comply, they would be sentenced to death.

Alasdair MacIain MacDonald, the clan chief, reluctantly agreed to take the oath, but mistakenly went to Inverlochy in Fort William instead of Inveraray near Oban. He finally reached Inveraray on January 6.

MacDonald believed because he swore allegiance, that he and his clan were safe, but what happened next can only be described as barbaric. The King decided to make an example of MacDonald’s tardiness and gave orders for the Campbells to exterminate the clan. The force was led by Captain Robert Campbell of Glen Lyon.

Visiting Scotland for the first time? Make sure you read my guide on planning a trip to Scotland!

Campbell asked for his soldiers to be accommodated at Glencoe and used the guise they were there to discuss clan business. The MacDonalds fed and entertained the Campbells for 10 days.

On the morning of February 13th, Campbell received orders to kill all MacDonalds under seventy years of age. The MacDonalds were slaughtered in their own homes, including MacIain and his wife. Those who escaped fled into the highlands, many of them dying of exposure due to the harsh winter conditions.

The fact that the MacDonalds were on friendly terms with the Campbells made this an act of treachery, and once the truth was exposed about this heinous act, the Campbells responsible were shunned.

MacIain was buried on the island of Eilean Munde in Loch Leven.

Eilean Munde

The surviving MacDonalds eventually returned to Glencoe, however after the Highland Clearances, clan life ended, and so did the MacDonalds’ hold over the land. The first road was built through the glen in 1785.

To avoid Glencoe from being exploited for commercial use, the National Trust for Scotland purchased the land in 1935. This is why there are very few hotels, restaurants and buildings in the glen, so it can be enjoyed in its natural state.

Don’t want to drive? We have an epic Glencoe tour you’ll love! Visit our website Kiwi and Haggis Tours for more information.

Day 1: A scenic drive & hiking in Glencoe

We left Edinburgh early, stopping at the supermarket to pick up some snacks for the day ahead.

Our plan for day one of our Glencoe road trip was to hike to The Lost Valley, one of my favourite things to do in Glencoe.

We admired the Kelpies and Stirling Castle from the car window as we headed towards the glen, but didn’t stop: we wanted to maximise our time in Glencoe.

Hiking to The Lost Valley

start of the lost valley hike looking up to the three sisters

The beginning of the hike to The Lost Valley

The main reason we planned our Glencoe road trip was to hike to The Lost Valley, a valley tucked between two of The Three Sisters, some of Scotland’s most iconic mountains.

The Gaelic name of the valley is Coire Gabhail, and it was the area the MacDonalds of Glencoe used to hide their rustled cattle.

The hike is 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) long and takes between 2-3 hours. You will climb almost 350 metres to reach the valley, following a dried-up river bed. The hike is rated as moderate, or a 3 out of 5 difficulty.

We had spectacular weather the day we hiked to The Lost Valley, which made the hike a lot easier.

There are narrow pathways with sheer drops down the side of the river in some areas, so I can see how it could be a dangerous hike when it’s wet or snowy.

There were also some areas that required a small scramble, and we had to get on our hands and knees when there were no footholds. The walk up to the valley was easier than I anticipated, and we saw kids from as young as seven to people in their 60s along the way!

Read More: 50 Travel Tips for Scotland

hiking the lost valley in glencoe, scottish highlands

A wee climb!

The Haggis halfway to The Lost Valley

When we reached the valley, it was the perfect climax. The path widens, and you know you are getting close when the rocky terrain turns grassy. You can’t quite see the valley just yet, it’s not until you reach the top of a small hill that you cast your gaze down into the valley. Rocks the size of houses litter the valley floor, and only the bravest trees are scattered across the natural amphitheatre.

Flashes of colour were dotted around the flat bottom of the valley; it’s also a popular place to spend the night for wild campers.

the lost valley glencoe scotland

This is a lovely spot to enjoy lunch- and this is precisely what the Haggis and I did. We talked about the people who passed through the valley seeking to hide rustled cattle, or themselves.

After the Glencoe Massacre, some MacDonalds escaped to The Lost Valley, however many died due to the harsh winter conditions.

As we began our descent, we had a lovely view of Aonach Eagach, Britain’s narrowest ridge, across the glen.

Overall, the hike to The Lost Valley was a fun challenge, and the views were certainly worth it!

hiking to the lost valley in glencoe

Looking towards Aonach Eagach on the way down

Tips for hiking to The Lost Valley

  • Check the weather forecast before you go. I suggest checking the Met Office website.
  • We arrived in Glen Coe at 1pm, which in hindsight, was a big mistake! The car park fills up quickly and is busiest during the middle of the day. My best tip is to arrive as early as possible so you can find a parking space.
  • Wear good quality hiking boots. Trust me on this one! The path is rocky in places, with some rocks being smooth and slippery. The path can be dangerous when wet, so make sure you have sturdy footwear.
  • Bring some food for a picnic once you arrive at The Lost Valley.

Scotland’s most scenic pub: Clachaig Inn

clachaig inn in glencoe scotland
Clachaig Inn: A must-stop on any Glencoe road trip

We celebrated our efforts by stopping for a drink at the Clachaig Inn, which has spectacular views of Aonach Eagach.

The Clachaig Inn is one of my favourite pubs in Scotland– it’s encased by mountains, and they serve hearty, traditional Scottish food!

They also have basic accommodation; I personally love staying here because it’s family and dog-friendly, and the atmosphere is so much fun. Back in the day, the Clachaig Inn was a popular climbers and hillwalkers hotel.

If you fancy a short walk, the filming location for Hagrid’s Hut is across the road and up a small hill. There is no hut to see, but you can see the location where filming took place!

Signal Rock, where the order was given to begin the Glencoe massacre, is just a few hundred yards west of the Clachaig Inn on the north bank of the River Coe. This is another lovely, easy hike.

Read more: 25 tips for sustainable tourism in Scotland

Accommodation in Glencoe

Accommodation in Glencoe is expensive- but you get what you pay for in one of the most beautiful destinations in the world!

Sometimes people ask if it’s better to stay in Fort William– my answer is no. When you visit Glencoe, you really do want to spend the night here because it will be one of those experiences you’ll always remember. Accommodation in Fort William pales in comparison!

👉 My top recommendation: Clachaig Inn. The hotel is plonked right in the middle of the glen, surrounded by mountains. They have three pubs and a restaurant, so there is no need to venture out once you’ve finished your day exploring (and you can have a dram and not worry about driving!). Staying here is really fun- it’s a great place to meet other climbers and hikers, it’s family-friendly, and dogs can stay too! The accommodation is fairly basic, and I recommend upgrading to a Glencoe view room.

👉 Affordable hotel: Ballachulish Hotel. We have also stayed at the Ballachulish Hotel. It’s had a refurbishment since we stayed, and it features a restaurant and bar. I recommend booking a room with a view of the loch.

👉 Luxury: Glencoe House. For the ultimate luxury, you can’t beat Glencoe House. Glencoe House is a sprawling mansion, and was once home to Lord Strathcona. There are a variety of suites to choose from, sleeping between 2-4, and self-catering lodges for two. Fun experience: You can book a three-course dinner by candlelight in your suite!

👉 Self-catering: Bluebell Cottage. This self-catering property sleeps four, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. It also comes with a hot tub so you can unwind after a day exploring Glencoe. This property is great for a family or two couples travelling together.

👉 Hot tub accommodation: Riverbeds. Imagine unwinding in the hot tub, surrounded by woodland, after exploring one of the most beautiful places on earth. This is why you should treat yourself to a wee lodge at Riverbeds. Perfect for couples- stay here and your partner will thank you for it!

If you’re planning a trip to Scotland I highly recommend my Planning A Trip to Scotland Course. It includes 70+ short videos that walk you through planning your itinerary step-by-step. It will help you save time, money, and plan the best possible trip for you!

planning a trip to scotland course

Day 2: Exploring lochs and castle ruins

Scenic drive to Loch Awe

On our way back to Edinburgh, we decided to take a longer, scenic route continuing around Loch Linnhe to Connel, and then east along the A85 passing alongside Loch Etive before reaching Loch Awe.

We passed many cute, white country cottages, and the view across Loch Linnhe was spectacular: mountain upon mountain stretched the length of the loch.

Castle Stalker

Our first stop was Castle Stalker, a tall, narrow castle that sits on a tidal islet on Loch Laich, within Loch Linnhe.

This castle once belonged to the MacDougalls, but they lost it when they were defeated by Robert the Bruce. The castle and the lands were then passed to the Stewarts. Its ownership changed hands several times, from the Stewarts to the Campbells of Airds.

The Campbells continued to live there until around 1800. They built a new house on the mainland, which still exists today, and the castle was turned into a storehouse.

King James IV of Scotland stayed here on several occasions, using the castle as his base for hunting and hawking.

Loch Etive and Loch Awe

Loch Etive

There is plenty to see on the A85 that sweeps past Loch Etive and Loch Awe, two lochs that give Loch Ness a run for her money.

Loch Etive is one of the most attractive lochs in Scotland and was a filming location for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One (the scene where Ron, Hermione and Harry set up camp while on the run).

Two incredible pieces of architecture sit on the banks of Loch Awe: St Conan’s Kirk and Kilchurn Castle.

St Conan’s Kirk

St Conan’s Kirk

St Conan’s Kirk is a relatively young church that features a mix of architectural styles, including Gothic, Norman Celtic, and Saxon designs. It was built by Walter Douglas-Campbell in 1907 for his elderly mother, who found the journey to the nearest church in Dalmally difficult.

Walter Douglas-Campbell was a man with a love for all things beautiful. He chose not to adhere to a single architectural style; instead, he selected elements he admired from various styles, ultimately creating a unique and remarkable building that showcases some of the best examples of architecture in Europe.

He repurposed items from other historical buildings and objects for the kirk; the large oak beams in the cloister garth were taken from two famous 19th-century battleships, the Caledonia and the Duke of Wellington, and a lovely clear-glass window in the Bruce Chapel was originally in St. Mary’s Church, South Leith, which was built in 1483.

It is free to view the Kirk, but donations are appreciated to help maintain this historic marvel.

Kilchurn Castle

Kilchurn Castle

One of Scotland’s most iconic castles sits at the north-eastern end of Loch Awe: the dramatic ruin of Kilchurn Castle.

Kilchurn Castle was built in the 1400s by Sir Colin Campbell, the 1st Lord of Glenorchy.

Combined with its location on the loch and the peak of Ben Cruachan peering out from behind the castle, Kilchurn Castle is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland.

I’ve seen a lot of castles in Scotland, and this one is spectacular! I’ve marked the best place to get photos of the castle on the route map below (there is parking available here on the side of the road).

Read more: 10 Must-Sees in Scotland You Can’t Miss

Kilchurn Castle

Before long we finished our loop around Argyll and found ourselves back in Tyndrum, and continued home to Edinburgh. My suggested place to stop for lunch is Mhor Bread & Store in Callander. They sell the best pies I’ve ever tasted in Scotland!

Book recommendations

Before I visit anywhere in Scotland, I like to read a mixture of fiction and non-fiction based on each area. Here are my recommendations for books about Glencoe.

👉 Witch Light by Susan Fletcher

👉 Glencoe: The Story of the Massacre by John Prebble

👉 Walking Ben Nevis and Glen Coe by Ronald Turnbull

Glencoe Road Trip Itinerary Map

On this map, I’ve indicated the route we took from Edinburgh on our Glencoe road trip, and a few attractions you can see along the way. For this itinerary, you’ll want to make your way to Glencoe as quickly as possible, with one or two stops.

If you’re driving to Glencoe from Edinburgh, you will pass The Kelpies and Stirling Castle and you’ll be able to spot them from your car window. The Green Welly Stop in Tyndrum is also a good place to stop and stretch your legs, and buy some snacks if you’re hungry.

I’ve also marked parking spaces, suggested food stops, recommended accommodation, and all the attractions mentioned in this article.

Vlog of our Glencoe Road Trip

We made a vlog about our road trip to Glencoe, watch it below!

Do you have any questions about this itinerary, or visiting Glencoe?

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