Travel to Scotland

Travel to Scotland

The lone strain of a bagpipe over a sleepy coastal hamlet, the peaty fire of a decades-aged Scotch, the roll of mist across brooding mountains—Scotland is an entrancing land apart.

The wild crown of the British Isles, Scotland calls to the romantic in all of us. The great old cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow define the country’s political/cultural and industrial/financial poles, respectively. Edinburgh, the capital, harbors many historical sights (such as the monumental Edinburgh Castle) as well as world-famous cultural centers and celebrations, including the University of Edinburgh and the Fringe festival. Down-to-earth Glasgow is no slouch in the artistic department, either, hosting as it does institutions such as the Scottish Opera, the National Theatre of Scotland, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. A visit to a Scotch whisky distillery—or two or three—offers an unforgettable introduction to that venerable and cherished libation, which you might consider using to toast (while quoting, of course) the national poet Robert Burns. Scotland’s landscapes rank among the most divine in Europe, from the rugged Highlands to the sea caves and coastal cliffs of the remote Hebrides.

Historically, Scotland has often been culturally divided by the Celtic culture of the "Highlands and Islands" and the more Anglo-influenced culture of the "Lowlands," which borders England. Until somewhat recently (historically-speaking) the Highlanders and the islands primarily spoke in Scottish Gaelic, and it is still in use in some areas of Scotland. The Lowlanders on the other hand mainly spoke Scots, a language that evolved from Old English.

In modern times, while the vast majority of Scots today primarily converse in English, the country does have three official languages: English, Scots, and Scottish Gaelic. Scotland is also considered one of the six modern Celtic nations (along with Wales, Ireland, Cornwall, Brittany and the Isle of Man). It is interesting to note that 8th-century Norse (Viking) invaders also left their mark on Scottish culture, particularly on the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands. In both island chains, many residents still celebrate their Scandinavian cultural traditions, which is no surprise as some – like those on the Shetlands Islands – are actually closer in distance to Norway than to Edinburgh.

Scotland has given the world some of its best thinkers, philosophers, writers, musicians, artists and actors. Its universities are some of the oldest in the world, like the University of Edinburgh, which was founded in 1583. The Scots gave us Peter Pan, Treasure Island, The Wealth of Nations, Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter – just to name a few. Scottish artists like the Glasgow Boys and the Scottish Colourists made important contributions to 19th and 20th century art. Literary giants that hail from Scotland include Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns, J.K. Rowling, George MacDonald, Sir James M. Barrie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Scotland has also produced world-renown actors like Sean Connery, Deborah Kerr, Ewan McGregor, Billy Connolly, Robert Carlyle, Robbie Coltrane, Kelly Macdonald, Ian McDiarmid, Gerard Butler, Alan Cumming and Kevin McKidd – and musical acts like Franz Ferdinand, Shirley Manson, Annie Lennox and Susan Boyle. Despite the existence of many genres of music in present-day Scotland, the country's rich tradition of folk music is still going strong. Scottish folk music, which features the use of instruments like the bagpipes, harp, tin whistle, guitar, fiddle and accordion, has been spread throughout the world by Scotland's emigrating population.

If you are interested in hearing unforgettable music while on vacation in Scotland, consider attending the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Edinburgh, which takes place annually during the month of August. It is one of many incredible festivals that Edinburgh hosts throughout the year. Others to check out include the Jazz & Blues Festival, the Edinburgh Art Festival, the International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Scotland's beautiful capital city is also home to many impressive museums, castles and art galleries.

Interesting cultural attractions: the National Gallery of Scotland, the National Museum of Scotland, Culzean Castle, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse

When one thinks of Scottish food, images of haggis, fish and chips, porridge, black pudding, cranachan, buttery shortbread, and meat pies naturally spring to mind. While it is true that the Scots do love their traditional comfort foods, Scotland's high-end dining scene is getting better and better, and today Scotland is home to 16 Michelin-star restaurants. When dining in Scotland you can expect to find the classics, sophisticated twists on those classics, chic restaurants with impressive wine lists, and a great variety of international cuisine. Today's Scottish chefs have a wealth of game and fresh, locally-grown produce at their fingertips. Cheeses in Scotland are excellent – as are fish, oysters, mussels, lamb and roast Aberdeen Angus beef.

The Scots have also always had a strong tradition of baking, so if you take afternoon tea during your vacation you are likely to feast on fruity scones, shortbread, butteries and tasty cakes. And concerning local beverages, while Scotland's beer is very good, its whiskey is legendary, and many distilleries throughout the country allow visitors to learn about the production methods – and then have a wee dram or two.

Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland is a country that – along with England, Wales and Northern Ireland – forms part of the United Kingdom. With vast stretches of coastline, its only land border is shared with England. Scotland possesses a terrific variety of unspoiled landscapes. Its picturesque North is home to the iconic Scottish Highlands and alluring islands like Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles. The highest mountains in the United Kingdom are also found in northern Scotland – in the magnificent Grampians range. The southernmost region, the Southern Uplands, is largely rural and rife with lochs, moors, hills and forests.

Despite the fact that central Scottish cities like Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dundee are highly-developed, economic cities with relatively large populations, much of Scotland is still defined by its wild, natural beauty. Visitors seeking exquisite nature, fresh air and active pursuits have their choice of dense forests, dramatic massifs, rivers, rich woodlands, lochs, canals, glens and rolling hills. Green-thumb-inclined travelers will find that the Scots are very fond of horticulture, and their country is absolutely bursting with marvelous gardens and parks.

A special mention must also be made of Scotland's coastline (almost 7,000 miles) and islands (almost 800). These areas are extremely rich in cultural heritage, wildlife and natural beauty. While the vast majority of the islands are uninhabited, some Scottish islands are home to incredible castles, historic Christian pilgrimage sites, and traditional Scottish whiskey distilleries. For nature lovers, the islands serve as the perfect escape destination due to their amazing wildlife and vegetation. Visitors can enjoy white, sandy beaches, visit nature reserves, explore pleasant walking paths, and partake in fantastic views of whales, dolphins, sea otters and seals. Scotland's islands are also among Europe's best places for birdwatchers.

Other outdoor pursuits that are easy to feature on a vacation to Scotland include hiking, cycling, mountain biking, climbing, surfing, sailing, kayaking, horse riding, fishing – and of course golfing. The modern game of golf originated in Scotland, and for many avid golfers, playing a round in Scotland represents a tick off the ole' bucket list. Though roughly the same size as the state of Maine, Scotland is home to over 550 courses, some of which are approaching 500 years old – like the legendary Old Course at St Andrews in Fife, which was established back in 1552.

Scotland has two wonderful national parks: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park and Cairngorms National Park. Those visiting the latter can base themselves in Inverness while exploring the Scottish Highlands.

Largest cities: Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen

Scotland has a colorful history to say the least. Its proud inhabitants have included the Celtic-speaking Picts, Gaels and Britons – as well as Viking and Angle invaders. While they certainly tried, (unlike in England and Wales) the Romans never managed to establish rule in Scotland. Instead, the wild north of the island of Great Britain was composed of independent, unruly clans, many of which belonged to different language groups. The longstanding linguistic and cultural differences between the Celtic-dominated north and the more Anglo-dominated south are still evident today in Scotland. And if that does not sound like enough of a melting pot, the northern Scottish islands of Orkney and Shetland were under Norse rule until the 15th century.

Scottish history has seen waves of Celtic Irish immigrating to Scotland, and then the reverse centuries later. Frequent alliances with the French, constant battles with the English, prevalent clan infighting and Protestant-versus-Catholic religious warring all played a significant role in Scottish history. While it is difficult to do justice to Scotland's fascinating history in this small section, we must point out that some of history's most interesting characters hail from Scotland including Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, Andrew Carnegie, Adam Smith, and John Knox.

Scotland has served as a fascinating historical backdrop to the mighty Kingdom of the Picts, the Wars of Scottish Independence, the Protestant Reformation, the Scottish Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. There are infinite historical sights to visit throughout Scotland including prehistoric archeological sites, castles, abbeys, monasteries, convents and palaces. It is also worth noting that due to mass emigration of Scottish people to North America, many travelers to Scotland go in search of family history. The Clan Donald Visitor Centre on the Isle of Skye is an interesting place to start!

Interesting historical attractions: 15th-century Rosslyn Chapel, Edinburgh Castle, Scone Palace, Glamis Castle, and the Culloden Battlefield

Scotland Vacations

London & Edinburgh
London, Edinburgh & Dublin
Scotland Fly & Drive
Edinburgh & Dublin

Not Included