One word comes to mind when we think about Scotland, WOW! It is such a magical, wonderful, and mysterious land full of amazing vistas and friendly people. From the green, expansive lowlands, to the stunning, cloud shrouded highlands. Everywhere you go in Scotland will look like it is right out of a postcard. There’s a lot more to this land than Loch Ness, kilts, and bagpipes!
Getting To Scotland
From the East Coast of the States, flights to Scotland are usually fairly short overnight flights. The primary airports visitors fly into are in Edinburgh or Glasgow. Many airlines will connect through London but there are some direct flights available from select US cities. If you arrive in Edinburgh, there are buses available to transport you directly into the city center. If you fly into Glasgow, take a day to enjoy this up and coming city. From there, you can easily take a train directly to the center of the Edinburgh.
You can take the train to many other destinations in Scotland as well; however, we feel that the best way to see the gorgeous countryside is to rent a car. Scotland is the perfect landscape for road-tripping, and provides some of the best scenery that you can possible see by car.
It’s important to remember that they do drive on the opposite side of the road than we do in the States, and the driver seat in the car is switched too (which is really freaky). It takes a little getting used to, but you will be surprised how quickly you will get the hang of it. And if you do not know how to drive a stick shift, which is the norm, then be sure to request an automatic transmission from the rental car agency.
Our Scotland Favorites
A visit to this historic city is not to be missed! Be sure to check out the Castle, with it’s stunning views perched on top of the hill. Enjoy a stroll down the Royal Mile, have a fried Mars bar (or about any other kind of fried candy bar!), enjoy the museums, and take a guided tour through the ancient (and creepy) vaults below the city. We took the tour of Mary King’s Close, and it does not disappoint. Lots of history, and some scary stories being told while we were in the pitch dark, far beneath the city.
Historic “Old Town” is where most of the action is at and it’s a great part of town to make your home base. However, take some time to venture outside the area to newer parts of town to experience the lively vibe of modern Edinburgh. For a great view of the city, and a bit of a workout, you can take a hike to the top of “Arthur’s Seat” – a nearby dormant volcano that rewards hikers with a spectacular view of the city. Another popular site is the Britannia, once the Queen of England’s personal mode of transportation all over the world for decades.
Our favorite part of Scotland are the Highlands; absolutely mesmerizing! We’re suckers for a good ol’ road trip, but driving through the highlands is a truly memorable experience. The exact boundaries are not necessarily defined, but the area is more sparsely populated and the Highlands have a number of mountain ranges, including Ben Navis, the highest in the UK. Historically, the Highlands and Lowlands had two distinct cultures and languages.
For many, a trip to the Highlands isn’t complete without trying to catch a glimpse of the mysterious Loch Ness Monster. Legend has it that this creature lurks in the depths of Loch Ness (Loch stands for Lake); therefore, the lake has a number of tourist attractions and lake cruises are available.
Loch Ness is by no means the only lake in the region. There are many other gorgeous and peaceful Lochs to explore. Plan to spend at least a few days driving around and exploring the highlands. Driving along these waterways with the constantly changing cloud formations around the mountains made for a mystical experience. And especially when the shifting clouds exposed an ancient castle in the distance; the ever-changing views in this area are simply breathtaking.
We also recommend taking lots of breaks and exploring the little towns that you drive through. Locals are so warm and friendly in this area. Pop in somewhere for a cup of coffee, and you are sure to make a new friend who will be chatting your ear off before you know it!
Personally, we loved Loch Leven, and especially the town of Ballachulish. It is set along a gorgeous drive through the Glencoe Valley, famous for it’s landscape with stunning mountains. It is not only a beautiful drive, but there are many hiking trails in the area so you can get out and enjoy nature.
We stayed at the Ballachulish Hotel; a comfortable, historic, and moderately priced hotel. The hotel provided with great service, a fantastic restaurant, and stunning views! If you stay here, be sure to make a reservation at the restaurant; partly because there aren’t many other places to dine in the area and EVERYTHING seems to close early, so do not miss dinner! For more information about the hotel, you can visit their website here.
If you are a golfer, or just enjoy golf history, then you simply must visit the home of this ancient sport. This is a picturesque town with a young, university vibe. The University of St. Andrews is Scotland’s oldest University, and the buildings are spread out across a good portion of the town. Everywhere you go you will see college students and golfers, sometimes walking side-by-side. It is a pedestrian-friendly city, but parking can be challenging to find.
The Old Course at St. Andrews is right in the middle of town, bordering the sea. It’s extremely difficult to get a tee time on this famous links-style course, and be prepared to prove that you are good enough to play there (PGA certification verifying your handicap). But if you are not a serious golfer, that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the game in it’s hometown.
The Himalayas putting course is located right next to the Old Course, 18 holes scattered among rolling hills. Playing this course only costs a few Pounds, no reservation is needed, and you don’t have to be a pro. The course is enjoyable to play, and you are literally playing right next to golfers on the Old Course — it’s practically the same grass! Full story is coming soon about golfing in St. Andrews. Stay tuned.
If you are not into golf, there are still plenty or reasons to visit St. Andrews. This historic city is full of beautiful architecture, ancient ruins, museums to visit, beaches, and luxurious spas. We even took some time one evening to do some Geocaching in some neighborhood alleys just before sunset.
Overall, we just love Scotland. The people, the scenery, the history, and the atmosphere. We just can’t wait to go back! Cheers!