When you hear the word Scotland your first thoughts are often of towering castles, clans clad in tartan and perhaps a glass of delicious golden whisky. Whilst these are indeed what Scotland is well known for, and quite rightfully so, there is also so much more on offer to those wishing to visit this spectacular country.
A holiday to Scotland is an outdoor adventure. There are over 790 offshore islands to visit, two inland national parks, geoparks and glens and more than 30,000 lochs. It is impossible not to stand in awe of the stunning and spectacular scenery from the soaring mountains to the sparkling beaches. A feast for all the senses, Scotland also offers world class produce such as game, grass fed beef and seafood.
There are seven cities to soak up art, architecture and learn more about Scottish greats such as Mary Queen of Scots, the poet Robert Burns and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness make for fantastic city breaks. The Scots are undeniably passionate and friendly – it is well worth coming to celebrate Hogmanay with the locals, for a New Years with a twist.
The Central Belt
Edinburgh is not just the capital city of Scotland, it is home to a UNESCO world heritage site and is also the world’s leading festival city. Between the Edinburgh Film Festival, Book Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe and of course the Edinburgh Military Tattoo you will be spoilt for choice. Edinburgh also has many free attractions to keep the bank balance happy. Most of the museums, galleries and the Royal Botanic Gardens are free to visit and September brings the “Doors Open Days” festival which gives free access to thousands of venues across both the city and the country. The city is split across the medieval Old Town, Georgian New Town and sprawls into quirky districts like the bohemian Stockbridge and cosmopolitan Leith. There are also some fantastic beaches and harbours dotted around the Edinburgh and East Lothian coastline.
Between the striking architecture and the promise of a warm welcome, Glasgow is an excellent city break or base for your visit to Scotland. Glasgow is the chic and stylish sister, well known for its excellent shopping, night life and culinary scene and has many distinct neighbourhoods each with their own personality. Outside of the city centre there are many spectacular lochs and reservoirs within easy reach of both Glasgow and Edinburgh, which offer walking trails, boat rentals for fishing and the chance to see a wide variety of flora and fauna. Glasgow means ‘dear green place’ and boasts over 90 parks and green spaces.
Inverness is a cosmopolitan city where the river Ness meets the Moray Firth. There is a pretty Old Town and many sites of great historical interest nearby. Perhaps the most well known is Culloden battlefield, the site of the bloodiest and final battle of the Jacobite Risings in 1746. Inverness also has a great geographical position, with the Highlands right on its doorstep. A visit to Inverness inevitably brings you to the infamous Loch Ness where you can take a loch cruise in search of the elusive Loch Ness monster – will you be the first to really see it?
Aberdeen is a fantastic granite city on the north east coast of Scotland. There are plenty of attractions from museums to parks and gardens, as well as excellent beaches – there is even a resident pod of dolphins in the harbour. Aberdeen is the perfect place to try your hand at some Doric – the local Scots dialect that you will hear spoken often out and about. Driving out from the city there is even more to explore, a highlight being the Malt Whisky Trail covering the Moray Speyside region. The Cairngorms National Park is within easy reach and there are many excellent golf courses. Aberdeenshire is also known as “Castle Country” with over 300 castles, ruins and stately homes all within easy reach. So much to explore, you will need to come back!
The Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands and the Hebrides
The Orkney Islands form an archipelago just off the northern coast of Scotland. Distinctive with over 6,000 years of history, the Orkney Islands are both beautiful and fascinating, with Neolithic sites. There are storm-battered cliffs, sea stacks and prehistoric treasures. Mainland, as its name suggests, is the largest of the islands and is where you arrive. From here it is easy to get in a bus, ferry or rental car to explore here and the other islands. As the Orkney Islands sit at the same latitude as Stavanger in Norway, the Northern lights often make their spectacular appearance in the winter months.
The Shetland Islands are pure rugged beauty and seclusion. Another archipelago made up of around 100 islands, 16 of which are inhabited, the Shetland Islands are about 100 miles from the Scottish mainland and have a delightful blend of Scottish and Scandinavian culture. The natural topography of the islands is spectacular, from sea lochs to rock formations to the heather clad moorlands. The wildlife is abundant here, more than just the famous Shetland pony. Visitors can see otters, seabirds, Puffins, whales (it is arguably the best place to spot Orca) and farm animals. Like the Orkney Islands, Shetland has an equally rich heritage and history, but this time with extra Viking influence, and it is also possible, in the winter months, to witness the Northern lights. Activities on offer include walking, diving, angling, kayaking and of course sea safaris.
The Hebrides is a group of islands tracing the western coast of Scotland. Subdivided into the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the more well known islands are Lewis and Harris, Benbecula and Barra in the Outer, and Skye, Mull, Jura, Islay and Iona in the Inner.