Five Scottish gems everyone should visit
While London is my home, Scotland is my homeland, so when Emma asked me to write a short piece on travel for her blog (thanks, Emma!), a little piece on my favourite parts of this special part of the world is what sprang immediately to mind. I’ve been lucky enough to visit some special, beautiful places, but the sights and sounds of Scotland always call me home. Here are five places I think should definitely make your itinerary, should Scotland be calling you too.
The Silver City is one of the gems of the north, a granite delight perched on the northeastern edge of the Scottish mainland. With a wealth of beautiful architecture and plenty to see and do, it’s well worth a visit. Marischal College in the heart of the city is a beautiful piece of architecture and the second largest piece of granite architecture on earth, and the Maritime Museum charts the role of the sea in hundreds of years of Aberdonian history. A trip to Duthie Park will show you a beautiful public space, and the award winning Winter Gardens means there is always warmth and greenery to be found, even in the depths of a Scottish winter!
A short walk to Old Aberdeen will take you to the buildings and main hub of the University of Aberdeen. Both King’s College Chapel and the university’s Zoology Museum are must-sees in this part of town. Just south of Aberdeen and a short drive or train ride away is the pretty town of Stonehaven, where you can visit Dunottar Castle, made famous by the film Hamlet and full of artefacts charting Scotland’s rich history.
The capital of the Highlands is a thriving small city and a beautiful place to spend a few days in. You’ll be welcomed warmly – Inverness is a bit of a hike to get to, but has much to offer tourists! On the top of many visitor’s lists is a trip south to Loch Ness to see if they can spot Nessie, the Loch Ness monster. As well as the lovely exhibition centre there are also companies who offer cruises out on the loch. While in this part of the world, Urquhart Castle is a lovely excursion – this ruined fortress is the second most visited castle in Scotland (after Edinburgh Castle) and it is an image frequently used on Scottish calendars, postcards, and memorabilia.
The city of Inverness is a pretty one, with a wide range of shops, restaurants and pubs. The Botanic Gardens are a lovely spot to wander in and the Victorian market is similarly inviting. To the west of the city you can visit Culloden, site of the 1746 battle which changed the path of Scottish and British history forever. A short drive north will take you to the Black Isle, with distilleries, a brewery, and plenty of opportunities for spotting the Moray Firth dolphins.
While it may be less well-known than other areas I’m writing on, I have to mention Moray as it’s my local area! A small district nestled between the Highlands and Aberdeenshire, it’s known as malt whisky country, and as such there are loads of fantastic distilleries to visit (Dallas Dhu, Glen Moray, Glenfiddich and tiny wee Benromach being some of my favourites).
As well as these delights there are many cultural high points and beautiful places to visit. In Elgin you can visit the ruins of Elgin Cathedral or take a short drive to Pluscarden Abbey, the only medieval monastery in the UK still in use as a working monastery. In and around Forres Logie Steading, Brodie Castle and Sueno’s Stone are all historical attractions of note, and in the spring and summer this pretty town (and frequent Britain in Bloom finalist) is a riot of floral colour. The Moray Firth makes up the northern edge of the area, and this coastline is full of beautiful beaches and seaside towns – Findhorn, a pretty village with miles of sand beaches is a favourite holiday spot of mine. It’s also home to one of the biggest ecovillages in Europe: the Findhorn Foundation is a place worth exploring.
Local tip – for some of the best views across the area, a short drive up to Califer viewpoint is well worth your time (see below). Gorgeous.
A visit to the mountains is a high point (no pun intended!) of any visit to Scotland, and Pitlochry is the perfect base from which to enjoy Highland Perthshire. A beautiful, welcoming town, it offers a great base for expeditions and visits in the area, with beautiful scenery and wonderful wildlife in abundance – if you’re very lucky you may even spot a rare osprey or golden eagle, or catch a glimpse of the timid red squirrels.
As well as getting to know some of the more colourful locals, there are plenty of places to visit and enjoy in and around Pitlochry. From March to October you can visit Blair Castle, nestled amongst the hills and mountains. You can also take a tour of the Blair Athol distillery while you are in this part of world – you’re never very far from a distillery in Scotland! Both Faskally Wood and Killiecrankie offer some excellent walking; for a more challenging walk try summiting pretty Ben Vrackie to enjoy its stunning views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. Also not to be missed is the ‘Queen’s View’, where you can enjoy the same vistas which so delighted Queen Victoria when she visited Pitlochry. Such a great little town for an outdoorsy break.
No Scotland guide would be complete without a nod to the nation’s capital. Edinburgh is an iconic city, and a major hub for commerce, culture and literature. How many other cities have a castle atop a chunk of rock as their centrepiece? Edinburgh Castle is a huge tourist attraction, as are the areas of the Old Town and the Royal Mile. On a fine day a walk to the top of Arthur’s Seat, 251 metres above sea level, is a pleasant expedition offering amazing views across the city and the Firth of Forth.
Other wonderful places to visit are the National Museum of Scotland, the Camera Obscura, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. If you’ve tired of the national tipple, you may enjoy a tour of the Edinburgh Gin Distillery for a change of pace (or should that be flavour?). As well as all this there are more museums, art galleries, and a huge range of shops, restaurants and bars to enjoy. Each summer Edinburgh hosts the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – all are well worth attending, but as the city is far busier at this time of year it’s worth bearing in mind if you’re adding a quick jaunt to the city to a busy itinerary.
As well as the five mentioned above, there are so many places to visit in Scotland, and the country is perfect for exploring, with a warm welcome awaiting. Oban, Stornoway, Wick, Nairn, Skye, Aviemore, Gairloch, Mull, Dundee, St Andrew’s, Perth, Huntly, Glasgow, Stirling. Trust me, I could go on and on….and these are just the places I’ve visited and liked! Whether you’re seeking history, distilleries, culture, or the great outdoors, there’s always something to see and do in Scotland.
Thank you lovely - there is so much more I want to see now! In the meantime, definitely pop over to Country Mouse Claire for more of her favorite adventures.