travel musings

Exploring Scotland & The World Virtually With Google Street View

I don’t know about you, but I am addicted to maps.

Whenever Ash finds me perusing Google Maps, he basically sighs and leaves me to it, knowing that he’s lost me for another evening.

And lately, it hasn’t just been maps – it’s been Google Street View as well. I never used to like the idea of using Street View to explore places I’m going to be visiting, but in recent years I’ve found it really useful for planning walking routes to hostels, or working out whether driving a specific route would be scenic enough to be worth it.

And during lockdown, while we’ve been stuck in our own cities, it feels like Street View is one of the best ways to explore the world virtually.

I do sometimes look on Street View if I need to find somewhere in Edinburgh too

As you know from my last post, we’re planning a whole load of staycations over the next few months, and even where we won’t be staying overnight, I have tons of road trips and day trips planned too.

As a member of several Facebook groups where people post beautiful photos of Scotland, my wishlist of viewpoint-visiting has skyrocketed and some of these have been implemented into my plans. The thing is, quite often, I’m not sure exactly where those viewpoints are.

I’m usually quite happy to go to the area and have a nose around to sniff out the best places, but with no way of doing that at the moment, I thought I’d have a mooch around virtually so we don’t miss them when the time comes.

Bealach Na Ba

Of course, you can generally only explore via roads, and a lot of my favourite viewpoints are from hikes or paths off-road – or they’re behind trees, so you can’t see them from the road on Google maps.

Anywhere, here are a bunch of views around Scotland that I’ve discovered either by perusing Street View, or looking for viewpoints I’ve seen photos of, as well as some of my favourite views re-visited.

Look for viewpoint markers on the map

This is just beyond Torridon – gutted I missed it last time we were there, but it really is out the way you’d never really think to go! I just happened to see a photo sign of a viewpoint while looking around Torridon (see the preview in the bottom left).

Ratagan

Someone posted a photo of this viewpoint and actually I think this kickstarted my obsession with finding them on Google street view. You can’t get right to the edge for the full view – but you get the idea. Again, this is somewhere I would NEVER have found on my own, as it’s a bit off the main road!

While “there”, I continued along the road to the bottom, and found an equally delightful view. And so this is definitely an area we’ll need to explore (it’s near Eilean Donan Castle but on the opposite side of the loch).

I’ve also seen some amazing photos ABOVE Eilean Donan Castle, and discovered on my Street View explorations that there’s actually a road along there. I was expecting it to be a hike!

I think you’d have to stop somewhere to get off the road for a better view, but it’s still cool that you can see this from the road at all!

Expand the preview to look around more

Oh my God, it took me SO LONG to find this one. I saw a photo of this little house with a mass of amazing scenery in the background, and helpfully someone in the comments asked where it was. “Loch Inchard” was the reply… well, that’s useful. After much clicking, I still couldn’t find it and I was getting really frustrated (this is where it comes in handy doing this virtually too, otherwise I would have been driving around aimlessly in real life, too!).

Well, if you hover over the preview in the bottom left, you can expand the preview across half the screen, and drag the little man anywhere around! This has made things so much easier.

Read more: Photo Friday: 40 Amazing Views From The NC500 Road Trip In Scotland

Look for places you want to visit to get an idea of them

I decided to have a look at the Isle Of Lewis & Harris earlier to put some of its famous places into context. Above is Luskentyre beach – a slightly different view to the ones you see in the photos, but it gives you an idea of what to expect when you get there: single track roads, cemeteries and horses.

I took a look at the Callanish Stones too, and had no idea they were right next to a road.

This is where I feel like looking it up beforehand kind of makes the places lose their magic – I know exactly what to expect now, whereas I’d rather turn up and find out in real life.

This is what boredom and cabin fever does to you, though!

I also had a look at Loch Etive to check out whether there’s anywhere to park and potentially camp… and well, holy granola!

I think one thing I love about Street View is it’s really good quality. Like that just looks like an incredible photo. (Or maybe that’s just Scotland’s scenery for you!)

Revisit places you love

Glencoe

Up the road from Glen Etive is one of the best parts of the country, and I’m not gonna lie – I miss these views so much.

Here is a series of screenshots to capture exactly why the A82 is the best road in the UK.

Man, I can’t wait to get out and drive through Glencoe again, even if it is one of the most touristy parts of the country (clearly it’s for a good reason!).

From there, I had a look around Kinlochleven just to see how the views compare to real life.

In true Scotland style, it’s raining.

Briefly, anyway.

The other thing is sometimes views that you’ve absolutely loved in real life don’t look as good on Google maps, so there are some places I’ve probably found on Street View that I haven’t noted but I’ll be blown away by them in real life (and vice versa, I suspect).

The above view spawned one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken:

Kinlochleven, Glencoe, Scotland

Shows that weather can change everything!

To be fair, once again, the quality on Google Street View is still phenomenal.

Sometimes the best views are just off the road

This view is pretty amazing anyway, but there’s a far better view above the road looking over a much further area, too.

And one of my favourite places in Scotland doesn’t look great on Google Maps – I mean, it still looks scenic as hell, but –

Glenfinnan loch & monument, Scotland, UK

Just seeing the view from Google Street View might not have made me stop there, if I didn’t already want to visit Glenfinnan or know about the views above!

Find your way around cities too

Outside of scenery, I usually use Google Street View for cities, and to find where a place is so that I know where I’m going. Edinburgh is great for this, although living here I don’t need to use Street View to actually explore. I do use it sometimes if I need to go to a place and I’m not sure where it is.

However you can actually find some of the best views in Edinburgh from the road!

Read more: 50 Photos To Make You Want To Visit Edinburgh

I’ve been using Street View quite a bit recently for Glasgow, as there are a whole bunch of street art murals I want to find on our next visit. Again, in normal times I would just go and wander, but as we can’t at the moment, I’ve been enjoying searching them out virtually instead.

Plan an upcoming trip

Although I generally try not to use Street View too much as it takes away from the adventure, especially on a road trip, I’ve been planning out a route around Assynt for our trip in May, as it’s now going to be cut slightly short for family reasons. I’ve been clicking through lots of different roads to find where would be best to make the most of our time there.

Above is my favourite scene in Assynt from my previous trip:

North Coast 500, Assynt, Scotland

Read more: A Camping Guide To The North Coast 500 In Scotland

Bonus: You can find Nessie on Google Street View!

Okay guys, here’s a really fun secret: go to anywhere around Loch Ness, and boom! Your little yellow man turns into a NESSIE!

Pros & cons of using Street View to plan a trip

As above, I try not to use Street View *too* much when planning a trip, purely because half the fun is discovering it when you’re there.

I also think overplanning in general can end up ruining the trip, because things do go wrong, and if you have no flexibility or try to pack too much in, it can end up just being stressful instead.

However, it’s good if:
a) you’re short on time and need to plan a solid route
b) you want to check whether somewhere actually looks worth visiting, or
c) you’re never actually going to go – it’s actually incredible that you can explore virtually instead.

In the past, I’ve used it for cities like New York City too, as it’s just massive and not really the sort of city you’re going to be aimlessly wandering in, either. You want to see things – planning a route on Google Maps or exploring virtually on Street View is so much easier.

I’ve also used it to check out some roads in Italy for a potential road trip in September – one place that’s been on my list forever is the Stelvio Pass near the northern border. And holy shit does it look good on Google Street View!

I have been addicted to maps since I can remember. But now I think I might be addicted to Street View too!

Do you find yourself browsing Google Street View to explore virtually? Where do you like to explore?

8 thoughts on “Exploring Scotland & The World Virtually With Google Street View

  1. I LOVE that the little person turns into Nessie around Loch Ness! You learn something new every day 😅 I’ve never used Google Street Maps to explore somewhere virtually… maybe I should, seeing as holidays are still a way off!

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  2. I’ve been obsessed with Google Maps since I started solo traveling, but it hasn’t been until recently that I started using its Street View feature to check places out. I still am somewhat reluctant to fully use it due to privacy reasons, but I admit it’s a good start to checking out sites that you otherwise can’t visit at the moment! PS Not all sites will allow you to use Street View, due to legal issues. For example, I can’t check out the Hollywood Sign nor Antelope Valley Poppy Fields, due to them being touristy sites for visit; it goes to show that, sometimes, you just have to go in-person to see them for yourself!

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  3. I find Google street maps so useful! Particularly when navigating a new city and trying to get from station to accommodation – I navigate much better from landmarks than street names and compass directions! Plus I get to check out the nearby pubs and restaurants 😂😂😂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love street view because my mind just doesn’t compute maps into reality so I need a ‘real life’ image for things to make sense. As I’m married to a soldier I also use it obsessively to check out new places when we are posted. Love the Nessie tip, it’s a lovely touch!

    Liked by 1 person

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