Uncover the Mysteries of Scottish Standing Stones with 7-Day Itinerary

ring of brodgar

Embark on a captivating journey through Scotland's ancient past with our immersive 7-day itinerary. Uncover the mysteries of standing stones and standing circles in Scotland as you explore breathtaking landscapes and delve into rich historical narratives. Experience the magic and intrigue of these enigmatic structures firsthand.

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The Scottish Standing Stones hold a captivating and mysterious allure that has fascinated historians, archaeologists, and tourists for centuries.

Standing stones and circles scattered throughout the rugged landscapes of Scotland, serve as silent witnesses to a bygone era.

Standing proudly against the test of time, stone circles in Scotland have become emblematic of Scotland’s rich history and cultural heritage. From the iconic Skara Brae to lesser-known sites like Callanish on the Isle of Lewis, each standing stone carries its own unique story waiting to be unraveled.

Stone circles in Scotland are believed to have served various purposes in ancient times. Some theories suggest that they were used for religious or ceremonial rituals, while others propose their astronomical significance in marking celestial events.

Regardless of their original purpose, one cannot deny their enduring impact on Scottish culture.

Visiting these stone circles in Scotland offers an opportunity to connect with Scotland’s past and immerse oneself in its mystical ambiance.

Standing amongst stone circles monoliths evokes a sense of awe and wonderment, allowing visitors to contemplate the lives and beliefs of those who erected them thousands of years ago.

Moreover, the standing stones and stone circles in Scotland also play a crucial role in attracting tourists from all over the world.

They serve as iconic landmarks that showcase Scotland’s natural beauty and historical significance. Stone circles presence not only contributes to local economies, but also fosters an appreciation for preservation efforts aimed at safeguarding these ancient treasures for future generations.

This 7-day itinerary is aimed at people who would like to self-drive in Scotland. It can start in Edinburgh or Glasgow, then follow the route to Inverness and the North of Scotland. Additionally, spend 2 nights on Orkney, famous for its standing stone circles that are a hub of Scottish history. The journey concludes by driving back to either Edinburgh or Glasgow through Aberdeen-shire, known for its ancient stone trails.

Here's a teaser of what a 7-day itinerary in search of standing stone circles in Scotland might look like

Day 1 Edinburgh to Inverness (overnight Inverness)

This morning you’ll hire your rented car. There are a few pick-up locations to choose from. The most popular is the city centre (the main hub for rental cars is Waverley Station) and then Edinburgh Airport. I would recommend picking up a car from Edinburgh Airport as you drop it off there as well, so you’ll avoid a one-way fee. Alternatively, pick up the car in the city centre or the closest branch to your accommodation and then drop it off at Edinburgh Airport. The car rental company can apply for a one-way fee. Filter by unlimited mileage and fuel to fuel. Compare car rentals here or here

Time to hit the road!

Driving the route from Edinburgh to Inverness takes 3 hr 25 min (156 miles)via A9 without stops.

Croft Moraig Stone Circle is a bit of a detour from the main road you’ll be travelling to Inverness, so I leave it as optional.

Stirling Castle and Kelpies are also on the same route, so I listed them here in case you would like to see something different than megalithic sites

Kelpies
Kelpies

Table of Contents

Map

Begin your morning exploring Cairnpapple Hill – nr Linlithgow (free)

Like 5,000 years ago (around 3000BC), our Neolithic ancestors decided to build a henge here.

It was a fancy stone circle with a deep ditch that was about 1 meter deep, and they surrounded it with an earth bank that was like 1.2 meters high.

My guess is they wanted to keep the inside all secret and hidden from prying eyes. Within the ditch was a ring of 24 large wooden posts.

The completed henge would have kinda resembled the stone henge at the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney. However, since wood doesn’t last as long as stone, the wooden posts are gone now, leaving behind only the holes where they once stood.

More information here

Approach from the Beecraigs road off W end of Linlithgow main street. Go past the Beecraigs turn-off and continue for 3km. Cairnpapple is signed.

If you are interested in the largest equine sculpture in the world make a short stop at Kelpies and Felix Park (1h-2h) (Free)

The Kelpies’ name reflects the mythological transforming beasts that possess the strength and endurance of 100 horses; a quality that’s analogous to the transformational change of the area’s landscapes, the endurance of its inland waterways and the strength of its communities

Take Kelpies Tour  Bookable tour times are 1100, 1130, 1330 and 1430. The Tour starts at the Visitor Centre and lasts 25 minutes. Book tickets here.

Before you continue up the north, explore the charming historic town of Stirling and its castle

Stirling Castle (paid) (Historic Scotland) is one of my favourite castles to visit. The castle was a favourite residence of kings and queens, especially Stuarts and Mary Queen of Scots. It had a strategic position also during the Jacobites’ war. (1h -2h)

Near, there is a Wallace Monument – Stirling’s famous landmark. It marks Sir William Wallace, a 13th- and 14th-century Scottish national hero. (1h)

Continue your journey to Croft Moraig (free)

If you decide to visit Croft Morag, the driving distance from Stirling Castle to the site is approximately 1 hour and 17 minutes, covering 48. 7 miles via A822 (through Crieff and Aberfeldy)

Don’t be fooled by its location near the village of Dull or its outwardly unimpressive looks – Croft Moraig is an ancient stone circle, similar in many ways to Calanais and Stenness.

Don’t judge a book by its cover! This ancient structure is a complex site that was built in multiple phases.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the mysterious grey stones have mythic associations with the sun and moon, while others believe the site was the dwelling place of a priest, witch doctor, or shaman.  It is places such as these that inspire books like Outlander and Harry Potter!

Check more here 

There is a small area in front of the stone circle where you can park a car. Please be considerate of those living nearby and do not block driveways or farm access tracks.

 

Croft Moraig
Croft Moraig@Martin McCarthy, Theasis Photography @https://www.ancient-scotland.co.uk/

After grabbing a bite to eat from one of the local cafes in Aberfeldy is time to head north towards Aviemore and the stunning drive through Cairngorms National Park

Aviemore Ring Cairn and Stone Circle (free)

This stone circle in Scotland is estimated to have been built around 4,000 years ago. This is a Clava-type cairn, named after the site of Clava in the nearby Nairn Valley.

Excavations at similar claims have unearthed fragments of burnt human bone, showing that these sites were places of communal burial activity.

However, recent excavations conducted at Clava suggest that the cairns served a further function, acting as the focal points for religious rituals based around the setting of the mid-winter sun It seems to be of little interest, so I just advise a circle of stones in the middle of a housing estate.

To find it, drive into the small village of Aviemore. Turn into Muirton Road at the Fire Station; it is the first left past the Fire Station, though it is not signposted apart from a small sign by the Fire Station. Murton, Aviemore, PH22 1SF

Day 2: Inverness to Thurso (overnight Orkney)

Distance 2 hr 59 min (135 miles) via A9 without stops. In the late afternoon/evening, the ferry to Orkney.

Start your day off right by checking out these famous places.

Clava Cairns (Free)

Before you continue up the north, explore the historic and Outlander location of Clava Cairns. The cairns are a series of round-chambered tombs and standing stone circles dating back to at least 2000 BC.

The Clava Cairns are about 4,000 years old and were built to house the dead. The cemetery remained a sacred place in the landscape for millennia and provides many clues to the beliefs of Bronze Age society

You can add the Culloden visit (paid), which is just 3 miles away from Clava Cairns

The Battle of Culloden (; Scottish Gaelic: Blàr Chùil Lodair) was the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745. You can visit the battlefield and the visitor centre or join a guided walk. Find out more here.

Clava Cairns
Clava Cairns
A journey up the North!

Before you continue up the East Coast, explore the charming historic town of Dornoch discovering some of the lesser-known hidden gems

The Witch’s Stone

In a garden of a cottage in Littletown, on the way to Dornoch beach, stands a small stone marked with the year 1722. This is known as the Witch’s Stone and marks the spot where the last execution in Scotland for witchcraft took place.

The year marked is wrong, it was 1727 that Janet Horne met her fate on this spot. She was accused of using witchcraft to turn her daughter into the devil’s pony- The reason for being accused however, may have been the fact that Janet’s daughter had a deformed hand.

Dornoch Cathedral

The first service was held in 1239 and it continues today as a parish church. Originally Roman Catholic rites were observed, but since the Reformation, it has been an art of the Church of Scotland.

The Cathedral has many interesting features, not least the gargoyles on the exterior. The Cathedral is open every day and visitors are welcome.

From mid-May to mid-September volunteers are on hand to welcome visitors and tell them about the Cathedral, Monday to Friday from 10.00 am until 4.00 pm.

After grabbing a bite to eat from one of the local cafes in Dornoch is time to head towards north and spend the rest of your afternoon checking out the awesome sights!

The Grey Cairns of Camster - nr Wick (free)

The cairns are instantly identifiable near the road and impressively complete. The ‘horned cairn’ is the best in the UK. In 2,500 BC these stone-piled structures were used for the disposal of the dead.

Stand among two of the oldest stone monuments in Scotland – a pair of Neolithic tombs originally built more than 5,000 years ago. Although they have been reconstructed in modern times, the Grey Cairns of Camster provide a fascinating insight into Neolithic funerary practices.

5m north of Lybster on the A99. Monument situated 5m along unclassified road. Parking available

There are many other sights signed off the A9/99 but also exciting and nearby are:

Hill o’ Many Stanes - nr Wick (free)

Place with an extraordinary number of small standing stones; 200 in 22 rows. They were erected about 4,000 years ago, possibly for gatherings and religious ceremonies. Large arrangements of stone rows like this are rare, and comparable sites are only found in a few places in Europe

At Mid Clyth, 4m northeast of Lybster on A99. View the Hill o’ Many Stanes on a Google map

Achavanich-standing-stones
Achavanich standing stones@Photo Caithness and Sutherland_Stone Circles Scotland

Achavanich standing stones (free)

Achavanich standing stones are around 4,000 years old with views over Loch Stemster. It is unusual in that it is a horseshow shape and the stones are at an angle.

A burial mound is nearby and is marked on OS maps as a Chambered Cairn.

Achavanich is easy to find, and visit when travelling north on the A9 road to Thurso, turn off at Achavanich, just past Loch Rantag, and drive a short distance past the car park area for Loch Stemster, where you will find a small car park area, a layby, next to the stones.

NOTES

If you plan on taking the last ferry, I suggest grabbing an early dinner before leaving the mainland. Otherwise, check with your accommodation if they still offer meals that late. Pub kitchens tend to close around 8:30 pm, so make sure you have a place to eat sorted out.

You have two ferry options for getting to Orkney: Northlink Ferries, which crosses the sea from Scrabster to Stromness, and Pentland Ferries, which crosses the sea from Gills Bay to St. Margaret Hope.

You can combine your journey by taking the Northlink Ferry one way and the Pentland Ferry on the way back. I also recommend taking a long overnight ferry on the way back; see the notes on Day 5.

NorthLink Ferries timetable – evening crossing at 19.00. Book your tickets here

MV-Hamnavoe-sailing-past-the-Old-Man-of-Hoy-in-Orkney

Pentland Ferries’s – the evening crossing is at 18.45. Book your tickets here

Day 3 Orkney (overnight Orkney)

Take this morning at a more leisurely pace, relax, and enjoy a hearty breakfast while getting ready for a day of prehistoric site visits.

Orkney is home to numerous Neolithic sites and Skara Brae is the most famous. The Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness and Maes Howe – all of them UNESCO World Heritage Sites – offer a glimpse into our extraordinary past.

Skara Brae (Historic Scotland) (paid)

Step back 5,000 years to explore one of Europe’s best-preserved prehistoric settlements, a neolithic village older than the Pyramids of Giza. It was first uncovered during a storm and most of the houses, including furniture, are still standing exactly where they were built. You’ll need to buy tickets in advance to gain entry. Book it here on the Historic Scotland page. 

Notes: If you plan to visit more than 2 attractions from Historic Scotland then consider buying a 7-day Explorer pass which saves you some money.

A 7-day pass is valid for use on 7 consecutive days. Your pass will activate on the date of your first visit. Multiple sites may be visited in any one day and only one visit per site is permitted

There are other perks included in the passes, e.g. skipping the line, discounts in the cafes or free parking.

You may also want to combine a visit to

The Ring of Brodgar (free)

A near-perfect circle makes up one of the most spectacular and largest henge monuments in the British Isles.

Originally 60 stones of which 27 still stand. Archaeologists still puzzle over its original purpose – lunar calendar, ritual ceremonial site or 5000-year-old community party venue! 

Ring Of Brodgar is stone circles Scotland’s absolutely beauty. Crowned one of the most spellbinding prehistoric monuments in the British Isles, this brooding stone circle and henge is another star in the Heart Of Neolithic Orkney.

As a ceremonial site once used by ancient peoples for worship, the area hosts at least 13 burial mounds and over 30 gigantic standing stones.

Remarkably, the circle is thought to have originally boasted 60 of these enigmatic rocks. In 1846, Scots geologist Hugh Miller referred to the Ring Of Brodgar as ‘an assemblage of ancient druids, mysteriously stern and invincibly silent and shaggy’.

Day 4 Orkney (overnight Orkney)

Maes Howe

We hope you had a relaxed evening – this morning we will take you to continue exploring the historic sites off-route!

Visitors must book Maes Howe (paid) in advance, according to Historic Scotland.

Maes Howe is a truly monumental 5000-year-old chambered tomb

Praised as one of Western Europe’s finest burial chambers, Maeshowe is a Neolithic design masterpiece within the Heart Of Neolithic Orkney.

Concealed within the grassy mound is the enormous cairn thought to be over 5,000 years in age. In an incredible display of masonry and craftsmanship, massive standing stones await inside the atmospheric main chamber, which features cells that branch off in different directions.

During the 12th century, Viking invaders broke into the tomb and left their mark in the form of graffiti runes.

Perhaps most amazing of all is that the entrance passage was designed to align with the winter sunset.

A resplendent spectacle, the beaming rays perfectly illuminate the chamber and nearby Barnhouse Stone for three weeks before and after the shortest day of each year.

The Stones of Stenness (free)

This is a ceremonial stone circle in use around 3100 BC, making it one of the oldest in Britain. It originally consisted of 12 standing stones of which 4 large monoliths still survive. Excavations in the 1970s revealed a central hearth which may have been the focus for rituals important to the Neolithic people of Orkney.

ring of brodgar
Ring_of_Brodgar@Photo_orkney_com_Stone Circles Scotland

Unstan Cairn (free)

One of the oldest tombs in Orkney, in use around 3500 BC, it is unusual as it features both stalled and chambered burial areas within its walls.

During 19th-century excavations grave goods consisting of pottery bowls were found which have given their name, Unstan ware, to a specific design of round-bottomed Neolithic bowls. The tomb also contains Viking graffiti.

Enjoy a dram in good company and spend an evening in the local pub

 

Day 5 Overnight ferry Kirkwall to Aberdeen (all day in Orkney)

Notes:For that day, you have two options: You can come back to the mainland by choosing either the Northlink Ferry or the Pentland Ferry, and then continue your journey south along the East Coast as per the itinerary below. Alternatively, you can add more days and continue sightseeing via the NC 500 route.

If your plan is to travel south towards Edinburgh or Glasgow, I would highly recommend taking an overnight ferry with NorthLink Ferries (giving you extra time for sightseeing). The ferry leaves Kirkwall (Orkney) at 23.45 and arrives in Aberdeen at 07 a.m. You have a choice of cabins, pods or recycling seats, so it fits every budget. Book it here. Please note that this ferry does not run every night. Check-in opens 120 minutes before departure. 

If you’ve decided to take an overnight ferry, we have some sightseeing suggestions that will take you on an off-the-beaten-path adventure to discover hidden gems!

St Magnus Cathedral

St Magnus Cathedral is Orkney’s most loved building and the resting place for the bones of St Magnus, the patron saint of the islands. Built in 1137 of warm red and yellow sandstone, it is one of the finest examples of Romanesque and early Gothic architecture

The Orkney Museum

In the heart of Kirkwall, situated in a 16th-century building, this museum provides a vivid introduction to Orkney’s history from the Neolithic to the Vikings and on to the present day. The museum holds regular exhibitions relating to Orkney’s life.

The Italian Chapel

The Miracle of Camp 60 – Created from concrete and scrap metal, the Italian POWs created a place to worship. Two Nissen huts were lined with plasterboard and creatively converted into a beautiful chapel.

italian_chapel-_orkney_
Italian_Chapel-_Orkney_@kenny_lam-_visit_scotland_2

Sheila Fleet Kirk Gallery

In a picturesque setting overlooking Mill Bay in Tankerness, this refurbished church features a newly opened workshop and cafe that presents the work of one of Orkney’s international jewellery designers.

For the overnight ferry, check-in opens 120 minutes before departure

Day 6 Aberdeen to Dunkeld

Arrive early morning in Aberdeen, and before you continue down the south, explore the Aberdeenshire Prehistoric Trail

Found almost exclusively in Aberdeenshire, more than 70 examples of Recumbent Stone Circles have been recorded in the region

Click here for the PDF version 

Here are just a few examples  

East Aquhorthies Stone Circle - nr Inverurie

A circle of pinkish stones with 2 grey sentinels flanking a huge recumbent stone set in the rolling countryside of the Don Valley.

4km from Inverurie. Signed from B993 from Inverurie to Monymusk

Loanhead of Daviot Stone Circle - nr Inverurie

The site is 500m from the top of the village. An  impressive and spooky standing circle of 11 stones and one recumbent from 4,000/5,000 BC. An unusual second circle adjacent encloses a cremation cemetery from 1,500 BC. The remains of 32 people were found here.

Head for the village of Daviot on B9001 from Inverurie; or Loanhead, signed off A920 road between Oldmeldrum and Insch.

Tomnaverie Stone Circle - nr Tarland and Aboyne

Less visited or even known than the above, so here you are likely to take in its mystery and the panoramic view of rural Aberdeenshire and distant Lochnagar without distraction. An easily imaginable circle from 2,500 BC. Leave A93 near Aboyne Academy for Tarland, 6km just before the town, 300m uphill walk from the car park.

Spend the rest of your afternoon exploring the charming, historic town of Dunkeld.  I would recommend spending the night there, as it is relatively close to Edinburgh Airport if you plan to leave Scotland the next day

Day 7 Edinburgh

Is a time to say goodbye to Scotland, but

If you would like to prolong your stay for a day or two, check out our suggestions below:

Add a day in St Andrews and Culross

After breakfast in Dunkeld make your way towards the delightful seaside town of St. Andrews. Known for its prestigious university, golf, and charming streets, St. Andrews is sure not to disappoint.

 Spend the morning wandering around the town,

Visit the St. Andrews Cathedral.

This 12th-century cathedral is primarily in ruins, but it is still a captivating place to visit in St. Andrews. The cathedral was built in 1158 and quickly became the center of the Medieval Catholic Church in Scotland. It later fell into disuse and ruin after Catholic mass was outlawed during the 16th-century.

You will also find the ruined 13th-century St. Andrews Castle nearby.

Visit the historic village of Culross.

If you’re a fan of Outlander, you might recognize Culross. The Mercat Cross in Culross embodies 17th and 18th century Scotland, and that’s most likely why it was chosen as the setting for the village in season 1.

Whether you’ve seen the series or not, a walk through Culross is sure to be remembered. The cobblestone streets, old stone buildings, and quaint squares make it one of the most beautiful villages in Scotland

Culross
Culross

Arrive at Edinburgh.

Arrive in Edinburgh in the early evening! Enjoy a short stroll around the medieval Old Town and have dinner of your choice in the city. Plus, Edinburgh looks exceptionally gorgeous when it is lit up at night! The clock tower and castle shine bright, casting light down upon the cobbled streets. It’s impressive

Edinburgh city panorama.
Edinburgh panorama- view from Calton Hill

OPTIONAL: Edinburgh

Edinburgh,  is arguably the most beautiful capital city in the world. We recommend following our self-guided walking tour to uncover the best of Edinburgh along with several hidden gems along the way.

After the walking tour, we also recommend visiting the Sheep Heid Inn for dinner and drinks. It’s rumored to be the oldest pub in Scotland, established back in 1360. It’s very cozy and traditional and offers excellent views of Arthur’s Seat and the surrounding landscapes.

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About me
Scotland Itinerary planning

My name is Kate and I created Scotland Itinerary Planning to give you those life-changing experiences right in the beautiful country I call home.

I’m proud to live in Edinburgh, Scotland, one of the world’s most beautiful capital cities. Living in Edinburgh has provided me a base to explore extensively around this magical little country.

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