The best part of a cruise should be the shore excursions. Here in Scotland we have a wealth of magnificent scenery and interesting cultural highlights, and our aim here at Exquisite Scotland is to share the best of them with you.
Our closest port is Invergordon, but we are happy to go to any other Scottish port for a small additional fee. We will pick you up in Leith or South Queensferry [for Edinburgh], Greenock [for Glasgow], Oban, Portree [ Skye], Stornoway [Lewis] and Kirkwall, [Orkney] Our tours cover not only the best known places, but also lots of beautiful and fascinating stops in between; and we make a point of arriving at the most popular destinations when the car park is not full of fifty seater coaches. Nothing spoils visiting a fine castle or a panoramic viewpoint more than finding the place overrun by people from your ship.
Better value for money
Bus tours as sold by the cruise companies are a rip off – up to US$200 per person per day for a very limited number of stops, and 50 fellow passengers mean that there’s a crowd everywhere you go. We stop upon request, offer a personalised service for a maximum of 8 passengers, regale you with all stories of the places you visit, take you to the best places to eat, or bring a picnic to eat somewhere scenic, stop at the ideal locations to take the best pictures, show you places guaranteed not to be on the big bus routes, and all for a fraction of the prices charged by the big bus tours. Better tours for less money…no wonder the cruise lines hate us!
Invergordon is only 26 miles from home, the other ports come in about £60 – £120 per day more, but that’s only to pay for the extra fuel plus ferry and accommodation costs. By the time you share that between 6 or 8, the difference becomes negligible, and a great day out is guaranteed.
Our pricing system starts at £190 for two people, but it’s much cheaper per head if the mini bus is full – only £50 per person ex Invergordon. Don’t worry if you are part of a couple, and you don’t have another 6 people in your party. Contact us, we’ll call you back and sort out what you most want to see and do. Then you advertise your day tour on Cruise Critic or a similar forum, (you are allowed to, we are not) and within day or two the other 6 seats are filled with like minded people. You even get to vet the applicants. If you have made first contact, you call the shots, it remains your tour, the others are simply tagging along.
It is pushing it a bit to see everything on any of the lists here in a single day without skimping or rushing, so you need to prioritise. We also like to accommodate special requests, within reason.
* denotes admission charge
Your gateway to the Highlands. From here four basic routes are available:
- North: Alness, a pretty village with excellent flower displays, a monument to one man’s magnanimity and many men’s pig headed stupidity, a short woodland walk and a box canyon gorge with Harry Potter film connections, 6 castles, a desolate upland road, 2 magnificent viewpoints, highland cows, wild goats, seals, oystercatchers, waterfalls with jumping salmon, Dunrobin Castle* with its amazing falconry displays, beautiful gardens, museum and artefact packed rooms, Carn Liath, ( a 2,300 old dwelling / fortress), Dornoch and its lovely cathedral, two castles, town hall/courthouse and jail and pretty main street. Possibility of visiting a distillery – 4 to choose from Clynelish Glenmorangie, Balblair or Dalmore*.
- South West: Alness, a pretty village with excellent flower displays, a monument to one man’s magnanimity and many men’s pig headed stupidity, a short woodland walk with a box canyon gorge, seals, Beauly with its ruined priory, a bridge where jumping salmon are easily observed, Glen Affric (the prettiest in Scotland), Plodda Falls (59 m high in a fantastic setting), a beautiful house destroyed by a rich and spiteful neighbour, a 4,000 year old burial chamber, an esoteric viewpoint, Loch Ness, Urquhart and Aldourie Castles, Inverness.
- South East: Alness, a pretty village with excellent flower displays, a monument to one man’s magnanimity and many men’s pig headed stupidity, a short woodland walk with a box canyon gorge, seals, a strange well and its associated superstition, Cawdor Castle*, Kilravock Castle and arboretum, Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns [4,000 y.o. burial complex], a beautiful railway viaduct, a panoramic view of Inverness and surrounding area, Inverness, a short walk around town, maybe some shopping, Loch Ness, Urquhart and Aldourie Castles.
- West: Alness, a pretty village with excellent flower displays, a monument to one man’s magnanimity and many men’s pig headed stupidity, Strathpeffer ( a very beautiful Victorian spa town), Rogie Falls with jumping salmon, Corrieshalloch ( a 71 m deep gorge with 45 m high waterfall), the Destitution Road – a very scenic drive with many amazing viewpoints onto the mighty Atlantic, islands, lochs, mountains and two beautiful beaches, Inverewe Gardens* (amazing sub-tropical gardens at 57° of latitude), Loch Maree – much better than Loch Ness!, Glen Docherty viewpoint.
Greenock near Glasgow
It’s 25 miles from Glasgow and birthplace of James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine. There’s enough in the area to fill a busy week, but here are some options.
We usually start the day with a drive up Lyle Hill to take in the magnificent panoramic view, which includes sea, mountains, islands and your ship. We then go by Newark Castle and take in views of Dumbarton Castle across the river before we get down to the day’s business:
North, scenic and cultural tour: Luss [conservation village], Alexandria Motor Works, Loch Lomond, Loch Long, Inverary smokehouse [ purveyor of fine seafood to the best restaurants in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Paris & London], Inverary village, jail* and castle* [baroque masterpiece], scenic roads, lots of small lochs, a road skirting the sea, Loch Awe, Kilchurn Castle [picturesque ruins], Falls of Falloch, Erskine Bridge twice.
East, cultural tour: Newark Castle, Erskine Bridge, Dumbarton Castle, Stirling city and castle*, Wallace Monument, Dunmore Pineapple [ quirky building with lovely gardens], Falkirk Wheel [the first wonder of the 21 st century], The Kelpies – 30m high stainless steel horse head sculptures by Andy Scott, Glasgow highlights – Necropolis, cathedral, George Square, University and cloister, Kelvingrove Museum.
South Queensferry or Leith near Edinburgh
From Leith you can catch a bus into town [£1.50 one way or £3.50 for a day pass] and from South Queensferry it’s less than £5 for a day return on the train into the heart of the city. From there you can wander round the old and new towns at random – it’s all gold.
However if you want a personal guided tour of the outskirts and the city centre we’re more than happy to oblige. We include the Old Town, the New Town [which is not that new at almost 300 years old], Fettes College, Stewart Melville’s and other amazing looking schools, Queen’s Drive and Arthur’s Seat for the more energetic – it’s an 11 minute climb to the top of an extinct volcano, and the best view in town, Calton Hill [ the second best view in town], a fascinating, haunted cemetery, Holyrood Parliament and palace, plus some fascinating closes not apparent as you stroll down the Royal Mile, and Roslyn Chapel.
For those wishing to visit the golfing Mecca of St. Andrews, we can also squeeze in a few of the picturesque East Neuk fishing villages, Falkland village and palace, Hopetoun House plus a stroll around St. Andrews, its university, ruined cathedral and castle with lovely views up the coast.
From port it is also possible to visit Stirling and its castle, plus Dunmore Pineapple, the Falkirk Wheel and the stunning village of Culross, with its very chequered history, atmospheric architecture, palace*, ruined cathedral and delightful church. This village is a must for all Brazilians, Peruvians, Chileans and Greeks since it is the birthplace of Thomas Cochrane, the liberator of all your countries. His father’s house is still inhabited. Portuguese, Spanish, French and Turkish visitors might wish to skip this part, since he was a thorn in the side of all your navies.
Our favourite island. It’s all amazing – a geologist’s paradise. The seascapes are breathtaking, the mountains are stunning, and with lots of wonderful human stories. What we do depends very much on the weather, but trust me you will not be disappointed. Even if the weather is wet, it makes the waterfalls even more interesting and the ruins more atmospheric.
Our biggest island is full of contrasts. Highlights include Ness Point where you see the waves crashing against the cliffs far, far below, Arnol black house*, Garenin preservation village, Dun Carloway, Callanish standing stones – the second most important neolithic site after Stonehenge, Tarbert, the Golden Road [ like a lunar landscape with standing water], Rodel church, Traigh Mhor and Luskentyre beaches. The latter is often justifiably quoted in the top ten most beautiful beaches in the world. Just don’t think of going swimming unless you’re very hardy.
These islands were the apogee of European civilisation 6,000 years ago. A day pass can be bought that allows entry to most of the must see places on the main island.
Highlights include: Maes Howe, Stenness standing stones, Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae, Skaill House, Brough of Birsay, Gurness Broch, St. Magnus Cathedral and the Italian Chapel.
There are two panoramic viewpoints over this pretty coastal town. A fascinating day tour is up the single track road through Glen Orchy [pretty river, lots of waterfalls and jumping salmon in season] and over Rannoch Moor, through Glen Coe, home to some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country, and site of the infamous massacre in 1692, Kinlochleven, Ballachulish – scene of a major miscarriage of justice, then back along the coast taking in the seascapes and a superb view onto Castle Stalker. It makes for a day of contrasts and some very dramatic scenery, and the chance to hear the worst bagpiper in Scotland.