Few people get out of Edinburgh and Glasgow when visiting Scotland. While these are the two largest cities, and great to visit, ask any Scotsman and he’ll tell you that the “real” Scotland is only to be found up in the Highlands. Scotland’s history and its soul can be found there, where its clans fought the Vikings, each other, and the English over many centuries, while forming close-knit communities and loyalties that continue to the present day.
Our Highland Highlights tour takes you to the essence of pure Scotland. We visit three of its islands, we spend time in “The Capital of the Highlands”; of course we’ll have a whisky tasting, and in total, you’ll experience the “true” Scotland like few other visitors ever do.
We have been offering tours to Scotland for 15+ years now, and they are one of the favorite tours among our readers, with some coming back two or three times to repeat the experience. This tour combines a few “familiar favorites” and adds new destinations and experiences, so whether you’ve been with us to Scotland before or not, you’ll be sure to see plenty of fascinating places and sights.
We include breakfasts and a couple of dinners (a welcome and a farewell dinner). For the other meals, we allow you the flexibility to pick and choose where, what and how you eat. Perhaps you’ll want a pub meal, maybe some fine dining, or something lighter. Maybe you’ll simply go to a nearby supermarket, select some local food items and have a snack type meal in your hotel room or outdoors in a local park. Whatever, whenever, wherever – you’re free to choose, exactly as it suits you. You’re not stuck to meal schedules and menus as you would be on a “normal” large-group tour with a large tour operator
We’ve designed this tour so you can conveniently add time elsewhere in Scotland or England or Europe both before and/or after our one week tour experience. The dates also fit in with our Loire Valley Land Cruise which starts immediately after.
The tour starts in Fort William, Scotland, when we meet at their train station at 10am on Saturday 14 September.
To be at the Fort William train station at 10am, you should probably either make your way to this town on Friday and stay overnight, or take the lovely brand new overnight sleeper train from London on Friday evening. This arrives into Fort William on Saturday morning in time for the tour start.
We also have a mini-touring option for people who aren’t taking the overnight sleeper train – see immediately below.
If you are traveling from the US, that would mean flying on Thursday 12 September (or earlier), so as to arrive into London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, or wherever else on Friday (or earlier).
The tour ends late afternoon on Friday 20 September, when we arrive in Glasgow by coach. You can leave us at the airport (shortly after 4pm), or at the Glasgow Central train station (about 4.30pm). At that point, you could either take a train over to Edinburgh (an hour away) or to London (4 1/2 hours or so) and of course, there are plenty of other places you could travel to.
Many of us will spend that night in Glasgow and then the next day fly over to Paris (2 hours nonstop, longer with connections) to join the Loire Valley Land Cruise pre-tour option. Or stay another day or two and then fly to Paris later during the pre-tour option or in time for the main Land Cruise (which starts on Tuesday 24 September).
If you’re wondering how to spend a few days in Britain prior to the start of the tour, we have several suggestions. If you want to stick to Scotland, then a few days in Edinburgh and Glasgow would be most enjoyable.
If you fly in to London, then who can’t and doesn’t enjoy a few days in London. This could possibly be supplemented by a few days in beautiful York, a short two hours away on the main rail line up to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
We can help you with pre-tour suggestions to meet whatever you might wish to do and enjoy and experience.
To get to Fort William, there are three main ways to do this. Take the overnight sleeper train on Friday evening 13 September from London, take our Friday tour from Glasgow to Fort William and overnight in Fort William, or make your own arrangements any other way you wish.
The Caledonian Sleeper Train
We expect most people will want to experience the new sleeper train (detailed on its own website, here). At the time of writing, it hasn’t yet started service, but will do so in June, so it is a very new service, and the result of an almost £150 million investment by a combination of the Scottish Government and private enterprise, and is the first purchase of new sleeper carriages in Britain for over 35 years. Leading train-focused website, Seat 61, describes the overnight journey from London to Fort William as the best train (ride) in all of Britain.
The new overnight train (the Caledonian Sleeper) offers single and double/twin cabins, with or without ensuite shower and toilet for the ultimate in comfort and convenience. Of course there’s a restaurant and bar on board; there’s something very convivial about being on an overnight train and we expect more whisky than normal might be enjoyed by all!
The train is available for boarding at London’s Euston Station from 8.30pm and departs at 9.15pm.
You’ve time to enjoy some fellowship on the train, then have a good night’s sleep, get up and shower, eat breakfast, and enjoy some of the beautiful Highland scenery prior to the train arriving at Fort William at 9.57am.
You could also board the train in either Edinburgh or Glasgow (Queen St station) but the train goes through those stations at somewhat inconvenient times (4.50am and 5.48am). This would make for a very long day.
It might be better, if not taking the sleeper train from London to go up to Fort William on Friday and stay overnight there. We have a special touring option for that, discussed next.
Alternate Mini-Pre-Tour Option
As another way of getting to Fort William, we are offering a lovely day of touring and sightseeing on Friday 13 September, starting in Glasgow that morning, and then traveling via Falkirk (to visit the Falkirk Wheel and see The Kelpies), stopping in Stirling for lunch (and possibly to tour Stirling Castle).
Stirling, considered “the gateway to the Highlands” is a former capital of Scotland and due to its strategic location, some of Scotland’s pivotal events (ie battles for independence) have happened in the area immediately around Stirling.
After lunch we continue on to Fort William, possibly visiting the National Wallace Monument and maybe even Doune Castle (as featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and more recently in Outlander).
This full day tour/transfer is $100 per person. Lunch and admissions (if any) would be extra. Please see the day by day itinerary page for more details of this day.
The Main Tour
The main tour starts when the train arrives in Fort William at 9.57am on Saturday 14 September. We’ll be met by our large luxury coach (plenty of room for everyone!), and then travel around the Highlands as detailed on our day by day itinerary page.
A feature of the tour is that we have designed it to give us two night stops at each of our destinations – Inverness, Tobermory, and Tarbert, so as to minimize the hassle of checking in and out of hotels.
Our tour started with the optional sleeper train journey from London to Fort William. It ends with a similarly distinctive experience, when we take not just one or two but three different ferries on the journey from Tarbert back to Glasgow. In total, we have seven ferry rides, and visit three or optionally four islands (Mull, Iona, (Staffa), Bute).
We expect to be at Glasgow Central station about 4.30pm on Friday 20 September.
This tour has been timed to end immediately before the start of our lovely Loire Valley Land Cruise. You could fly over to France on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday and join this “land cruise” type tour in either Chantilly or Paris.
Alternatively, you can of course continue your travels independently – in Scotland, elsewhere in Britain, or anywhere at all. Let us know if we can offer suggestions or assistance.
We’ve balanced the opposing concepts of including lots of activities and also allowing you free flexible time on this cruise/tour.
Perhaps the most distinctive thing about this experience are our two night stops at each of the three places we visit. Not only does this reduce the number of hotel changes, but it gives you the choice of enjoying our local touring days, or simply staying put in the towns we stay in, and seeing/doing things at your own pace and preference.
We’re also reasonably flexible about adding to or varying the tour ‘real time’ as we are traveling. As long as the group as a whole agrees and the schedule allows, we’re happy to make changes to enhance the experience for all group members, and have often done so in the past.
Some of what the tour includes comprises :
On the Coach
- Large nearly new luxury coach so there’s always at least 1.5 seats per person, giving you best views and comfort while touring
- Bottled water available for purchase on board at modest price
- On-board rest-room, reclinable seats, plenty of space for carry-ons and purchases
- David Rowell (the ‘Travel Insider’ himself) as tour leader
- Local driver to give you the full Scottish experience on and off the coach
- Plenty of commentary as we tour around the countryside
Where we visit
(See our daily itinerary page for more information)
- Fort William – a popular tourist town, at the head of Loch Linnhe, with the Caledonian Canal starting on the outskirts of the town, and Britain’s tallest mountain (Ben Nevis) immediately behind the town
- The Road to the Isles – considered one of Scotland’s most beautiful drives due to the changes in scenery from mountains to lochs to beaches
- Glenfinnan – The memorial, visitors center, and lookout to see the Jacobite train cross the Glenfinnan viaduct
- Mallaig – Small fishing village
- The Jacobite (“Harry Potter”) Steam Train – not just the experience of a vintage steam train ride but also considered one of the world’s best train journeys
- Fort Augustus – beautiful village at the foot of Loch Ness, fascinating flight of locks on the Caledonian Canal
- Loch Ness – possible home of the Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster
- Urquhart Castle – one of Scotland’s best-loved castles, largely in ruins, on the shores of Loch Ness
- Inverness – the “Capital of the Highlands”, a lovely city where we spend two nights
- Beauly – a lovely traditional Scottish town that time has passed by, with beautiful abbey ruins
- Glen Ord Distillery – need we say more
- Oban – major ferry terminal for ferries to many of Scotland’s Hebrides Islands
- Isle of Mull – possibly our favorite of the Inner Hebrides islands
- Tobermory – picture postcard perfect little town with beautiful buildings along the waterfront where we spend two nights
- Isle of Iona – a magical and mystical place, with 48 Scottish kings, 8 Norwegian kings and 4 Irish kings buried in the abbey
- Mull Scenic Drive – we think this is possibly the most beautiful drive in Scotland, certainly among the least known
- Staffa/Fingals Cave (option) – take a motor launch from Iona to distinctive Staffa
- Kilmartin Glen and mysterious stone circles – several different prehistoric things, smaller than Stonehenge but just as mysterious
- Dunadd – the former capital of ancient Scotland
- Lochgilphead – nice town close to the outlet of the Crinan canal and at the head of Loch Gilp.
- Tarbert – a tiny but beautiful fishing village, we suspect no American group has ever spent two nights here before
- Campbeltown – once a major center of the whisky industry, now a sleepy fishing town
- Southend – Where St Columba came ashore in 563AD, bringing Christianity to Scotland If the weather is good
- Isle of Bute – Another of Scotland’s islands with a royal connection to Prince Charles
- Rothesay – A beautiful castle, largely ruined, and a nice town for lunch
- Glasgow – Our final destination and Scotland’s largest city
Food and Drink Inclusions
- Breakfasts every morning
- Welcome cocktails the first night
- A group welcome dinner on the second night to accelerate the getting to know each other process, with a drink or two as well (of course)
- At least one distillery visit, possibly an additional or alternate al fresco whisky tasting
- Group farewell dinner – a sad experience for sure, but we try to make it as convivial as possible, and, yes, of course there’ll again be a drink or two on offer
Of perhaps equal importance in understanding the distinctive and special nature of this tour is not just what the tour includes, but also what it omits.
What the Tour Proudly Does NOT Include!
- NO Early starts
- NO Crowded coaches (maximum group size 24 people on a 49 seater coach)
- NO Characterless hotels on the outskirts of cities
- NO Checking in and out of multiple hotels
- NO Series of long days of endless travel on a bus
- NO Huge groups being rushed through tourist trap after tourist trap
- NO ‘Shopping opportunities’ at over-priced trashy souvenir shops
- NO Group meals, at fixed times, with limited fixed menus, in generic cafeterias
- NO Regimented inflexible schedules and mandatory events
- NO Obnoxious inexperienced ‘out of their depth’ first time travelers
- NO Crowded schedules leaving no flexible free time
As we generally do with our tours, we’ve created variable pricing depending on how many people come on the tour. With the small-sized groups we offer, but with full-sized coaches, the cost per person is quite sensitive depending on the people traveling, so rather than set a price that is unfairly high or unrealistically low, we set it fairly for all sized groups.
To keep it simple, we have a range of prices, shown immediately below. We will not operate the tour with fewer than seven people, and normally would not accept more than 24 in total (but if you had a last-minute extra person who wanted to come along with you, we’d probably make an exception for that – with a 49 seater coach we’re a long way from filling it up).
So encourage your friends to come, and not only get the special savings (mentioned next) but also bring the tour price down for everyone.
(Our past several tours to Scotland have tended to be in the 15 – 25 people per tour, so we expect the tour price should end up in the $1795 – $1995 range).
- $2195 if the group is 7 – 9 people
- $2095 if the group is 10 – 13 people
- $1995 if the group is 14 – 16 people
- $1895 if the group is 17 – 20 people
- $1845 if the group is 21 + people (We currently have 20 people who have joined the tour)
(This does not include the sleeper train from London to Fort William. That would be from $150 per person depending on your cabin choice.)
Why not bring a friend or two with you, for more shared fun and fellowship.
To encourage you to do this, and your friends to travel with you, we’ll offer a 1% discount for each extra person you bring with you (other than anyone you are sharing your room with to start with).
Bring another couple, and they get a 2% discount – and you get the same discount too! Bring two couples and all of you get a 4% discount, and so on (up to a maximum of ten people and 10%).
Tiny Single Supplement
We are so very pleased to be able to offer our many single travelers this tour with a very modest $195 single supplement.
We hope that helps encourage you to come along. Our groups are always very friendly and welcoming, and have a large number of singles, so you’d immediately feel at home equally a part of everything.
We’re staying at modest rather than deluxe hotels, because the small towns we’re visiting simply don’t have deluxe hotels. But within the hotels we use, there are some larger upgraded rooms, and/or with better views, and if you’d like to upgrade from their standard rooms to better rooms, we’ll see what we can do.
The actual cost will vary, but as a rule of thumb, plan on these upgrade amounts
- One level of upgrade + $199 (per person share twin)
- Two levels of upgrade + $299 (per person share twin)
Shorter Tour Adjustments
As is always the case, you are free to join and leave any Travel Insider tour on any day at all. If you’re not doing the complete six night tour then you get a reduction for each night not taken. This is $200/day.
Application to Join
Terms and Conditions
Our standard terms and conditions apply to this tour.
In addition, please note these extra terms :
1. Your confirming deposit of $500 per person is required within seven days of your participation being confirmed. Full payment is due on or before Monday 10 June, 2019. Please note that pricing includes a 3% cash/check discount, if you’d prefer to pay by credit card, we ask you to accept the passed on extra 3% cost for us to process your credit card charge.
2. US, Canadian, and many other citizens require a current passport that will not expire until after the date of their planned return from the UK in order to be admitted to the UK, but do not require a visa. Citizens of other countries should check with the airline that will transport them to the UK to determine what passport and visa requirements may apply.
3. There’s plenty of room in the coach’s luggage bays for as much luggage as you choose to bring. Note that airlines charge massively for extra luggage so we recommend being prudent, but from our point of view, bring as much as you like.
4. Tour price is based on a wholesale UK/US exchange rate in the range of 1.26 – 1.32 (as shown, eg, in Yahoo Finance/Money – on 7 Feb 2019 the rate was 1.29). If the exchange rate moves outside this range, and prior to full payment having been received by you, we will adjust the price up or down to reflect the change in underlying tour costs. If the tour price increases by more than 10%, you may cancel without penalty and receive a full refund of your deposit. Tour price is locked in place once full payment has been received.
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For more information about travel insurance than you probably ever thought you’d want to know, please click the link to read our three-part series on the subject.