When we talk about Scotland, for all the travelers who have a handful of days in their hands and want to indulge themselves into the culture and dynamics of this country, undoubtedly, the starting point should be the capital city ‘Edinburgh’ (pronounced as ‘Edin-burra’) – A small, old and stunning city offering so much to do for everyone.
Before you visit:
- Get ready for the weather as it’s highly unreliable. In the Highlands, with the prevailing winds, you’ll need a waterproof hiking shoes and a windproof rain jacket as well as a top layer.
- Don’t skip the Glencoe region
- Rent a diesel car instead of booking a tour. Visit on your own for a better experience and flexible planning.
- Make sure to carry cash as some village shops only accepts cash and ATMs are not always available 🙂
The trip begins:
Fortunately, this city was our very first stop in the trip to UK in June 2015, where we had landed straight from New York after a not-so-bad flight of 8 hours & in next 45 minutes we were in the middle of the downtown using a local City bus (No. 100) from airport.
Catching the first glimpse of the city, we decided to walk to our hostel ‘Princes Street East Backpackers’ which was conveniently located at just 0.5 miles from the city center. It has a friendly staff, but wasn’t as good as we had expected including its 77 steps stairwell to climb with our entire luggage…anyways…as soon as we recovered from the jetlag, it was time to breathe the amazingly fresh air of Scotland!
Day 1: Edinburgh
St. Giles Cathedral
It was past noon so we decided not to take any tour and to explore the city on our feet and the obvious choice to start with was the scenic Royal mile which ends up at the iconic Edinburgh Castle which probably is visible from any part of the city.
STOP 1: Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is an historic fortress which dominates the skyline of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, from its position on the Castle Rock. The castle, in the care of Historic Scotland, is Scotland’s most-visited paid tourist attraction, with over 1.4 million visitors every year. The castle is also home to important national symbols, such as the Honors of Scotland (the crown jewels), the Stone of Destiny and the medieval siege cannon Mons Meg. Its long military use continues, and is recognized in the National War Museum, regimental museums, and the somberly handsome Scottish National War Memorial.
STOP 2: St. Giles Cathedral and the Royal mile
Crossing the National Museum of Scotland, with Gothic architecture, ancient cathedrals, cobbled streets and historic buildings, this medieval-like city was peaceful, well-preserved and charming in many ways. One of the best cathedrals – St. Giles was also located on the Royal Mile. Once you reach the castle, there is so much to see and read that depending on your interest, you may spend 2-5 hrs. The entry fees however was 26$/person…fairly expensive; but surely worth the breath-taking views of the city which you get to see from top of the castle. So take pictures…plenty of them!!
STOP 3: Holyrood Park
Next in our list was the Arthur’s seat, a dormant volcano and the main peak of Holyrood park which again offers spectacular bird’s eye view of the Old and new town and is ~1 mile from the castle. In between, you might want to stop at fudge houses, coffee shops, pubs/ restaurants or browse through little shops for cashmere sweaters, scarves or Scottish souvenir. The Scottish parliament, famous for its unusual and sophisticated architecture is also worth a visit.
STOP 4: Arthur’s seat
Arthur’s seat is a great hike, not too long but occasionally steep and windy. Decent footwear would help for sure as it takes about half an hr. to get to the top. But if you don’t have the time or courage to climb up the Arthur’s Seat, then do make the effort to hike up Calton Hill to get beautiful views of the city with lesser effort.
Good thing about visiting this place in summers is sunlight lasts well into the evening, allowing more time to explore nearby places.
STOP 5: Royal Spice Restaurant
After the hike, we stumbled upon an Asian restaurant ‘Royal Spice’ which was one of the best restaurants we had visited in a while with good Indian food…highly recommended!
STOP 6: Grass market
Edinburgh has a great night life and a fancy way to end up your day would be a visit to the Grass-market – one of the city’s liveliest places at night with lots of stores, entertainers, eateries and pubs to suit all budgets. From leisure walks to crazy parties, this place offers something or the other for everyone.
Before going back to our rooms, we took a long stroll across the old town,
George Street, crossing numerous bars and restaurants, experiencing Edinburgh’s fun night life. we had started hating going up to hyped-up locations because we usually are disappointed but not this time. Edinburgh lives up to the hype. Can’t wait to visit this beautiful and lovely city again!
Day 2: Scottish Highlands
No visit to Scotland is complete without a drive through the breathtaking and majestic sceneries of the Scottish lochs, glens & highlands and that’s what we had in our plan for the second day! We had booked a full day (12 hours) tour, well in advance with Timberbush Tours to the famous Loch Ness, Glencoe & the Highlands from Edinburgh and the experience was simply awesome. There are a lot of other options like Viator, Heart of Scotland tours etc. and you might end up paying some 65-70$/person, little expensive but worth it as you get to know a lot in a brief time.
Out tour started early morning at 8 am from the Royal mile with Jamie as our guide. If you are planning to visit Scotland for a short time, you should really book with one of these guys. They are friendly, entertaining, knowledgeable and really know what they are doing. Despite the bad weather, winds and heavy rain, Jamie kept us entertained for the next 12 hours. Traveling northwest, we crossed some villages and Stirling Castle before making our first stop at Kilmahog for refreshments. The place was too busy and we didn’t get much time to browse through the sale items, however there were some highland cows in the adjacent field. This was one of the few places to actually see the Scottish hairy cows and to take pictures with them!
After a scenic drive of two and a half hours, next in the list was Glen Coe. This U-shaped valley is the home to some of the most spectacular mountains in the UK and to one of the worst atrocities aka The Glencoe massacre. Nevertheless, you get to see one of the most stunning views of Scotland here. The region boasts a great collection of high mountain peaks, ridges, rushing rivers and waterfalls. If you’re going to do any walk in the highlands, then do this one! For us, the weather wasn’t particularly kind, but still the views amidst clouds and mist were a delight for eyes.
We clicked some amazing shots before jumping back to the bus for our next destination – Fort William. Fort William is the Highlands’ largest town and is well known for its outdoor activities such as Mountain biking, Fishing, Skiing, Hillwalking and river rafting. We stopped there for lunch and thereafter, continued our journey to Loch Ness passing beneath Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis and the pretty village of ‘Fort Augustus’. On the way, our tour guide gave us an option to choose between the two optional extra packages at discounted rates – ‘Loch Ness by Jacobite’ Cruise (19$) and ‘Loch Ness by Jacobite’ Cruise & Urquhart Castle package (26$). We chose the former one. It was almost 4 past noon when we reached the Urquhart Castle driving along the shoreline of Loch Ness.
With 1,000 years of history – Urquhart Castle offers a dramatic taste of Scotland and stunning views over Loch Ness from the ruins of the greatest castle in the Highlands. However you cannot catch a glimpse of the site without buying a ticket as the whole area is walled from the street. The place is a bit pricey with cafes and gift shops that can be quite busy due to its popularity. Loch Ness on the other hand, is one of the most famous lochs in Scotland, perhaps even the most famous loch in the world, immortalized by the Loch Ness Monster. Virtually everybody has heard the myths and legends about the Loch Ness Monster affectionately known as ‘Nessie‘ which is said to inhabit the deep, dark, murky waters of Loch Ness. Many people think that reports of the Monster date from 1933, and yes, that is when a traveler reported seeing the Loch Ness Monster crossing the road in front of his car. Till date, there are no strong evidences which prove that Loch Ness Monster actually exists. Certainly the photographic evidences have not been overwhelming and some of the photographs produced have been found to be hoaxes. The loch itself is 23 miles long and the second deepest loch in Scotland.
Getting down outside of the bus, we quickly started walking towards the departure point of Jacobite cruise. The views of the Loch from the boat are incredibly photogenic and simply inaccessible by road. The one hour cruise passes through the historic ruins of Urquhart Castle where you will get the best photographs of the castle along with a comprehensive commentary on the history of the castle. Regardless of the weather, the Loch does always look beautiful in one way or another but due to the variable Scottish weather a variety of clothing is always recommended! They say – Every Cruise is a Loch Ness Expedition! And though none of us got to see the monster, the cruise is still a must do! We spent a quality time on cruise before heading towards the city of Inverness.
Inverness is one of Scotland’s seven cities and is situated on the banks of the River Ness. It’s a pretty city lavishly decorated with flowers. Unfortunately, the bus tour doesn’t allow you to spend much time here. So if you want to wander among the stone buildings or over the suspension bridges spanning the River Ness, you have to come by yourself.
After a final halt for refreshments, it was time to sit, relax and listen to the soothing bagpipes tracks in the bus and start back for Edinburgh.
Overall, we just don’t have enough words to describe how beautiful it is there…You have to go there and see it yourself.