36 Hour Itinerary - Glencoe
15th January 2021
Glencoe is the most famous place in the Scottish Highlands and it is on my ‘must see’ list for anyone planning a vacation in Scotland. A tour of Glencoe will show you our best wildlife, towering mountains, serene lochs and an atmospheric moor. And you will hear great tales from Scotland’s turbulent history.
A day and a half is a good amount of time to spend in Glencoe if you would like to see the main highlights and leave half a day to do some walking. Many visitors travel to the area to climb to the top of one of Glencoe's rugged mountains. However, you would have to set aside a whole day for this… and don’t plan too much for the day after; these mountains are as tough as they are beautiful! In this itinerary I have instead suggested a variety of more manageable walks which will allow you to really enjoy the beauty of Glencoe at a more leisurely pace.
Although this itinerary recommends different places to visit in Glencoe, the area itself is one big outdoor art gallery. There are several car parks along the main road through Glencoe where you can stop off to admire the many viewpoints. ‘The Wee White House’ sitting all on its own at the foot of the mountains is a favourite stop for many. I would recommend taking your time on this part of your tour, allow yourself the space to park up and marvel at the stunning scenery all around.
We visit Glencoe in many of our tours including our 7 Day Best of Scotland Tour.
Day 1 Morning
A vast eerie, moor welcomes travellers heading into Glencoe from the South. It looks like the setting of a mystery novel; a place where someone could easily be stolen by the beautiful, wild landscape, never to be seen again. It is a place that sparks your imagination. Take some time here to really enjoy gazing out across the moor. If you happen to be travelling into Glencoe from the North and leaving the same way, it is definitely worth driving the short distance down the road to visit Rannoch Moor.
Next, make your way through Glen Etive which is accessed via a long, winding, single track road leading off from the main Glencoe road. This road takes you through a spectacular valley ending with Loch Etive - a great place to spot the local red deer. It is a slow but rewarding drive. James Bond’s Skyfall was filmed here and the location was surely chosen for the dramatic scenery - brooding mountains, cascading waterfalls and foaming rapids on the River Etive. The return trip to Glen Etive will take you about 90 minutes including some time to wander around and take photos.
Day 1 Afternoon
Lunch at the Kinghouse Hotel
For lunch I would recommend the Kingshouse Hotel, situated across the road from the entrance to the Glen Etive Road. The food is excellent (especially the burgers) and the hotel itself is a lovely building. Try and get a seat near the big glass windows where you will get an excellent view of the iconic Buachaille Etive Mòr mountain. Or better yet, if you are visiting in the summer, have your lunch outside on the terrace.
The car park of the Kingshouse Hotel is also a great place to meet the local red deer. Of course, it is better to see them in a more natural setting, but it is definitely entertaining to watch them wondering around as you are eating your lunch. Please do remember that they are wild animals. You may see others petting and feeding them but we advise strongly against this as the stags have been known to charge at people who have offered them food. Generally, they are lovely animals so don’t be scared of them, just take your photos from a safe distance.
Glencoe Folk Museum
“Set within traditional 18th century heather-thatched cottages, Glencoe Folk Museum holds an eclectic array of objects celebrating local heritage and providing an insight into the history of the area and its people.” - https://www.glencoemuseum.com/
If you are interested in Scottish history and love visiting traditional country cottages, the Glencoe Folk Museum is a great way to spend an hour or two of your day. It tells the story of the saddest day in Glencoe’s history, the Glencoe Massacre, which took place on the 13th of February 1692. Around 30-40 of the MacDonald clan were murdered for taking too long to declare their allegiance to the new monarchs, William III and Mary II. Many others died in the freezing winter conditions after being driven out of their homes. The story is a tale of terrible deceit and cruelty - the group of soldiers, led by Campbell of Glenlyon, who carried out the attack, had been staying as guests of the MacDonalds for over a week. The MacDonalds had welcomed the men into their homes, believing they were there on official duty collecting taxes, but after 12 days of their hospitality the Master of Stair (a government official) gave the order to "to put all to the sword under seventy".
There are plenty of other collections and artefacts which give you an insight into life in Glencoe and the Western Highlands of Scotland throughout the centuries. The museum is open April to October, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm.
The folk museum is situated near the mouth of the stunning Loch Leven - there is a circular drive around the loch passing through Kinlochleven and back to Glencoe. This drive offers a great view over to the Pap of Glencoe (real name ‘Sgorr na Ciche’). It is smaller compared to many of the hills in the area but its distinctive shape means it is a well-loved landmark. You can of course climb to the top of the Pap - it is one of Glencoe’s most popular walks - but it is a steep, tough hike and takes around 5 hours. If you do have the time, the view from the summit is well worth the effort.
You will also be able to see over to Eilean Munde or ‘Graveyard Island’. This little island has been used as a cemetery by a number of the Scottish Clans. Gravestones of the ancestors of the MacDonalds, Camerons and Stewarts stand peacefully amongst the overgrown grass.
Day 1 - Evening
After a long day taking in all the wonderful sights of Glencoe, you may well be ready for a hearty dinner and an early night. If you do still have some energy left, I recommend a visit to Glencoe’s best pub - the Clachaig Inn. They have a great selection of fine ales and Scottish Whiskies and there is usually a live band playing traditional Scottish music.
Day 2 Morning - Walking
I would always recommend finding some time for a walk in Glencoe, allowing you to relax and enjoy the scenery away from the main road which can often be busy. Below are a few suggestions which can all be done in a morning. You should also check out our 7 Day Best of Scotland with Walking tour.
The 3.1km Woodland circular walk from the Glencoe Visitor Centre is very popular and it is on easy terrain. This a great place to spot local wildlife such as deer, pine martens and red squirrels. There are other paths and a small hill you can climb nearby if you’d like to get an even better view of your surroundings. The Visitor Centre is also a good place to stop for a morning coffee.
Another low-level woodland walk is the 2.5km Glencoe Lochan Trail from the Glencoe Lochan car park. This walk offers great views out across Loch Leven and Beinn a’Bheithir - one of Glencoe’s spectacular mountain ridges.
You could consider the Signal Rock and An Torr walk which is also around 2.5km. It is said that Signal Rock is the place where the Campbells were given the signal to begin the Glencoe Massacre. Prior to their tragic fate, it is where the head of the Glencoe MacDonalds would address the rest of his clan. The start is near the Clachaig Inn.
If you are feeling up for something a bit more adventurous, take on the 4km hike to the Lost Valley (Coire Gabhail). This is another site of historical interest; it is said that the MacDonald clan would ‘rustle’ (steal) cattle from their neighbours and then hide them in this secret spot. This walk isn’t the easiest underfoot - it is steep at points with loose rock, so you will need good footwear and a reasonable level of fitness.
I have visited Glencoe countless times over the years. Despite this, every time I drive through Rannoch Moor into the mountains, it takes my breath away. It is a place I will never tire of visiting, and I feel there are so many nooks and crannies I’ve still yet to explore. I hope this blog has you feeling inspired and excited about visiting one of our most beautiful areas, writing it has me dreaming of taking a drive there myself…….
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