Scotland wows its visitors with its unique history, fiercely protected heritage and some of the best single malts in the world. Expect craggy peaks, pretty glens, dark-water lochs and purple heather-clad mountains (called bens), but Scotland has so much more in store! The country packs in salmon-filled rivers, characterful towns and cities, remote castles, goosebump-inducing bagpipes and hardy Highland cattle with their shaggy red coats and fearsome horns.
This sparsely populated country north of the English border has a storm-battered coastline with over 790 offshore isles. It is home to more sheep than people, with just over 5 million residents who speak with a broad Scottish dialect. From ancient border towns to Gaelic-speaking Highland communities, visitors will find a warm welcome in Scotland, whatever they choose to see and do.
Edinburgh and Glasgow
Edinburgh is the classy capital city of Scotland with its landmark UNESCO-listed castle set high on the rim of an ancient volcano. Tours of this 12th century royal stronghold reveal its many secrets but the pièce de résistance has to be attending the stirring Edinburgh Military Tattoo, worthily nicknamed “the greatest show on earth”.
From the castle, stroll down Royal Mile with its museums, galleries, tartan shops, Michelin-star restaurants and Gothic architecture. Alternatively, head to the New Town (circa 1765!) and enjoy shopping on Princes Street where you’ll find Harvey Nichols, Jenner’s and Marks and Spencer’s occupying beautiful Georgian buildings.
In August the city is abuzz during the three-week long Edinburgh Arts Festival. Every theater, pub, hall, coffee shop and public square becomes a stage for emerging actors, comedians, dancers, musicians and performers to showcase their talents at this internationally-acclaimed festival.
In contrast to Edinburgh, Scotland’s second city, Glasgow, is slowly shaking off its gritty shipbuilding past to reveal an artsy city of Gothic monuments and Art Nouveau gems designed by Charles Rennie Macintosh.
Further north, Aberdeen, Inverness and St Andrews add their own unique individuality and charm. Dumfries is the home of Scotland’s famous poet, Robert Burns. This delightful town with its red sandstone buildings boasts the Burns Museum, Burns House, his mausoleum and even his regular pub, the Globe Inn, all open to visitors.
Unique Things to Do in Scotland
Scotland is one place you need to dress for cool, showery weather at any time of year – anything else is a bonus. Its mist-shrouded peaks and windblown landscapes offer excellent outdoor pursuits include hill walking, mountaineering, salmon fishing and cycling. You can climb one of Scotland’s 282 Monros (mountains over 3,000 feet in elevation), go skiing in the Cairngorms or enjoy a relaxing cruise on one of Scotland’s many scenic lochs. You are sure to see plenty of birds and wildlife and you may even spot the legendary Loch Ness monster!
St Andrews is the home of golf, with the Old Course dating back to 1574. Visitors can play on these hallowed links which frequently host the Open Championships, the Walker Cup and other major events on the international golfing calendar. Other golf courses of distinction include Gleneagles, Carnoustie, Muirfield, Balcomie and Royal Troon, so you may want to pack your golf clubs along with your umbrella!
The Scottish Highland Games at Braemar are frequently attended by members of the royal family from the Queen’s favorite residence, Balmoral Castle. Entertaining cultural Scottish activities include tossing the caber, hammer throwing, tug-o-war, track events and piping.
Other highlights of Scotland include the tartan shops where you will find the finest wool woven into colorful plaids. Each Scottish clan has its own tartan design so you can search your family name or even design your own tartan and have it made into a traditional pleated kilt, sash, shawl or perhaps a jaunty tamoshanter (beret).
Another well-known Scottish export is Scotch whisky (note whiskey is from Ireland; whisky is from Scotland). Take a tour of one of the independent distilleries and learn what makes Scotch malt whisky so special. A whisky-tasting will help you compare different ages and brands of this popular spirit.
Wherever you find yourself at the end of a busy day’s sightseeing in Scotland, there’ll always be a roaring log fire and hearty food at a nearby pub or restaurant. It’s worth trying tasty haggis and neeps (the national dish), smoked kippers (herring) and Lorne sausage. Leave room for the rich Cranachan dessert made from whipped cream, raspberries, honey, toasted oats and a “wee dram” of whisky, and you’ll dine like a king in Scotland!