Must Go in Scotland
‘The Highlands’, is renowned for its breathtaking lochs (Loch Ness, Loch Maree), magnificent mountains (Ben Nevis) and tranquil glens (Glen Coe). This beautiful northern region has plenty to offer sport enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. From skiing/snowboarding down the slopes of CairnGorm Mountain to discovering Scotland’s native birds and fauna – capercaillies, red deer, Scottish wildcats – at the Highland Wildlife Park.
If the great outdoors isn’t your thing, then visit the region’s ancient castles such as Eilean Donan, made famous in cult film, “Highlander”. Alternatively, head over to the Black Isle and take a tour of one of the local distilleries or organic breweries.
Scotland’s largest and liveliest city, Glasgow is the place to visit for shopping, art galleries, restaurants and nightlife. The city is also famed for its energetic live music scene ranging from traditional Celtic music to twee indie pop. Make sure you catch a gig at one of Glasgow’s iconic venues.
St. Andrews may be the “Home of Golf” but there’s a lot more to this seaside town than the Old Course. This royal burgh boasts one the oldest universities in the English-speaking world, as well as a clifftop castle and gothic cathedral ruins.
Wander through St. Andrews’ cobbled streets and narrow alleys and explore the university’s stunning old stone buildings and quadrangles. Once finished in the town centre, indulge with an ice-cream from award-winning Gelateria ‘Janettas’ (try Scottish specialities, Irn Bru sorbet or the tablet ice cream) and take a stroll along West Sands beach.
Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh is a bustling hub full of culture and history. Known as the ‘Athens of the North’ because of its striking neo-classical architecture, this cosmopolitan city features an array of art galleries, museums, grand cathedrals, 17th-century tall houses, and of course, Edinburgh Castle, perched high on volcanic rock.
As Edinburgh is a very compact it is best explored on foot. Get lost amongst the city’s winding streets and close passageways within the medieval ‘Auld Town.’ The more touristy sights are here such as Mary King’s Close, John Knox’s House and St. Giles Cathedral.
Then head to the Grassmarket for a look round the many quirky independent shops (‘Armstrongs’ is a must for vintage lovers). Venture down to the bohemian neighbourhood of Stockbridge, where you can sample Scottish produce at the Sunday market. Bring the evening in with a drink along the Leith shore, home to some of the city’s finest restaurants, bars and pubs.
Must Do in Scotland
Attend one of the capital’s many festivals
Edinburgh is the world’s leading festival city, playing host to twelve major festivals annually. The biggest of which is the Edinburgh Fringe in August, attracting thousands of performing artists and even more spectators, to the capital.
The Fringe has thousands of shows, ranging from cabaret to children’s theatre and many free events such as street performances on the Royal Mile. Other highlights of Edinburgh’s festivals include Science Festival (April), Film Festival (June), the Book Festival (August) and the International Festival (August). Whether you’re a film fanatic or a bookworm Edinburgh’s festivals offer something for everyone.
A ceilidh (pronounced ‘kay’lee’) is a social gathering, where people come together to participate in traditional Scottish country dances, accompanied by a local live band. Don’t worry if you have two left feet, the locals will be sure to keep you right!
‘Hogmanay’, which takes place on the 31st December, is the Scottish equivalent of New Year’s Eve. In Scotland’s main cities, i.e. Edinburgh, Stirling, Aberdeen and Glasgow, this is celebrated with large-scale street parties which include live entertainment and stunning midnight firework displays.
Elsewhere in Scotland, Hogmanay is marked in a more traditional manner with local events such as bonfires and torch processions; reel balls; and informal get-togethers. This is the perfect time to try a wee dram of whisky and sing-along to ‘Auld Lang Syne’! However you wish to ‘bring in the bells’, it will no doubt be an unforgettable experience.
Must Eat in Scotland
The humble haggis may seem like an obvious choice but there are plenty of different ways that this Scottish staple can be enjoyed! This is a savoury pudding, made of offal with oatmeal, onions and spices, and prepared in a sausage casing (originally in a sheep’s stomach.
Traditionally it’s served with turnips and potatoes “neeps and tatties.” Modern alternatives, however, include haggis burritos, pakoras and deep-fried in batter, served with chips “the haggis supper.”
The perfect dish for a wintery Scottish day. Cullen skink is a rich, creamy soup made of smoked haddock, potatoes, onions and shellfish.
Scotland is well-known for its assortment of sugary delicacies, stodgy puddings and desserts. One of my personal favourites is Cranachan – a lighter, truffle-like dessert, made up of fresh raspberries, whipped cream or ‘crowdie cheese’, honey and toasted oats and whisky.
Cultural Tips for Travel in Scotland
Be respectful. Scots are generally known for being friendly and welcoming. That said, it is important to be mindful when referring to nationality so as not to cause offense – “English” is not synonymous with “Scottish”.
Tips for cheap travel in Scotland
Buses are generally cheaper than trains between towns. For further savings on longer journeys try budget coach services such as Megabus.
Of course, Airbnb is cheaper than a hotel and much more authentic. Here’s an entire apartment in Glasgow for $49 a night and here’s a three-bedroom cottage with a hotub for $87! If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking.
Thanks so much for sharing, Sarah! I’m sure there are plenty of Scottish readers – what would you guys add to this list? Any other Scottish travel tips?