Scotland Travel Guide
Travelling very roughly south to north ...
More about the Scottish Borders >>
EdinburghThe capital of Scotland, and one of the most famous historic cities in the world. The core of old Edinburgh lies between two historic buildings; the royal palace of Holyrood, and Edinburgh Castle. Between the two monuments is the Royal Mile, a warren of winding lanes and historic buildings such as the where John Knox once lived. Here also is Edinburgh Cathedral, and more shops selling Scottish woollens and tartan regalia than you can imagine. Edinburgh is said to be one of the most haunted cities in Europe, and if you have the stomach for it you can join one of the popular ghost tours. Princes Street is the most famous thoroughfare in Scotland, where all the smart shops - and shoppers - can be found.
More about Lothian >>
Five Red Herrings), Dumfries and Galloway takes in the area south of Glasgow stretching from the Solway Firth to the Firth of Clyde. At the centre of the region is old city of Dumfries, famous for its association with Robbie Burns, who called it 'Maggie by the Banks o' Nith'.
Travel on to nearby Sweetheart Abbey, founded by Devorguilla Balliol, who also founded Balliol College, Oxford. When the good lady died in 1289 she was buried with the embalmed heart of her husband, in a silver casket. The picturesque fishing village of Kirkcudbright is famous as a centre of the arts, with schools of painting, weaving, and pottery. The Dumfries Forest Park covers 300 acres making it the largest forest park in Scotland, offering a wide range of outdoor activities for visitors.
Dumfries and Galloway >>
GlasgowThe largest city in Scotland, at the heart of the largest urban area in the country, Glasgow has a long history as a shipping and industrial centre. But in recent years Glasgow has done much to emphasize the arts and its architectural heritage. As a result there are now a range of excellent museums and galleries for visitors to enjoy.
Argyll and Bute
Travel west from Glen Coe to some of the most beautiful islands in Scotland. Here is Iona, where pilgrims come in their thousands to visit the shrine of St Columba. A modern monastery marks the site where missionaries from Ireland established the first Christian presence in the north of Britain in the 7th century. A short boat trip from Iona leads to Fingal's Cave on the isle of Staffa, where you can see fabulous rock formations carved by centuries of wind and water action. Further south is the hill fort of Dunadd, capital of the old 6th century kingdom of Dalraida, the first truly Scottish kingdom.
Ayrshire and ArranAn old legend tells that when God had finished making Scotland, a few bits and dabs were left in his (her?) mighty apron. God gave the apron a flick, and these fragments fell into the sea to form Argyll and Bute. Whatever its provenance, this one of the most spectacular regions in a country blessed in wonderful landscape. This is Burns Country; the poet Robbie Burns was born at Alloway, near Ayr, where the whitewashed cottage owned by his family can be visited. The Burns National Heritage Park is a starting place for visitors to explore the life and times of Scotland's most famous poet.
Travel to the Isle of Arran, which has been described as 'Scotland in Miniature', for here you will find both high peaks and lowland scenery enough for all to enjoy. Arran is a glorious island accessible by ferry from Ardrossan or Tarbert. Brodick Castle is the major recognisable attraction, but there are numerous prehistoric sites dotted about the island. Walkers come to enjoy the challenge of Goat Fell, the highest peak in western Scotland, or the Coast Way, a circular 60 mile route that follows the coast. A short ferry journey leads to Holy Island, where a Tibetan Buddhist community runs a Peace Centre open to all.
More about Strathclyde >>
FifeThe 'Kingdom of Fife' is bounded on the north by the River Tay, on the south by the Forth, and in the east by the North Sea. The area is a study in contrasts; the inland, the countryside is given over largely to agriculture, but the golden coastline is dubbed the 'Scottish Riviera' for its miles of sandy beaches. Visit the mecca of golf at St Andrews, a magnet for golfers the world over. Beyond the 'Royal and Ancient' golf club are the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral. Travel south to Perth, where you will find the palace of Scone, the very heart of Scottish nationalism. Here for centuries Scottish rulers were crowned on the Stone of Destiny (sometimes called the Stone of Scone).
More about Fife >>
StirlingshireThe city of Stirling packs more history into a small space than anywhere in Scotland. The old city walls enclose an area rife with historic buildings. The most instantly striking aspect of Stirling is the high cliff upon which the old medieval castle looks out across the Forth river valley below the city. The castle was built in the 12th century, and over the years has been a royal palace and military fortress. A few steps below the castle gates is Argyll's Lodging, a beautifully preserved 17th century townhouse once owned by the Earl of Argyll. The old Church of the Holy Rude is one of the most few surviving medieval churches in Scotland. Here in the churchyard you can see a gravestone bearing the marks of musket balls received during the siege of Stirling in 1650. Across the wide plain formed by the River Forth is the Wallace Monument, dedicated to William Wallace, whose military exploits at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1296 raised the banner of Scottish nationalism.
The TrossachsTravel west and north from Stirling and you enter the Trossachs, a land of lochs and glens, deep valleys and striking peaks. This is Rob Roy country, the home of the 18th century outlaw who defied English and Scottish authorities alike. Rob Roy MacGregor's tomb is in the churchyard of the old ruined kirk at Balquhidder, but reminders of his life and exploits are to be found everywhere in these hills; from Factor's Island in Loch Katrine, where he hid a captured factor of the Duke of Argyll, to Rob Roy's View, overlooking Loch Lomond at the far western end of the Trossachs. Much of the region is contained within the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, and walking trails abound.
But there's no need to stick to dry land; take the steam ship Sir Walter Scott for a journey down isolated Loch Katrine, or take a power launch from Port Menteith to Inchmahome Abbey, situated on an island in the middle of Lake Menteith - the only 'lake' in Scotland. Here the young Mary, Queen of Scots was brought for protection in 1547. Visit Callander, the largest town in the southern Trossachs, and a centre for outdoor activity, or Killin, the northern gateway to the region, where the picturesque town is built around the Falls of Dochart. On an island in the middle of the river is the ancient burial ground of Clan MacNab. There is so much more to see, but everywhere you look, it seems, you will find the ghost of Rob Roy MacGregor, for this is his country. More about The Trossachs >>
More about Central Scotland >>
Angus and DundeeOne of the loveliest areas in Scotland, set just south of the Grampian mountains, Angus contains some of Scotland's best castles. The most famous is fairytale Glamis Castle, former home of the Queen Mother. A royal residence since 1372, Glamis was used by Shakespeare as the setting for his play 'Macbeth'. The shores of Angus boast some of the best golf courses in Scotland, the most famous being Carnoustie, but beyond the links stretch miles of lovely sandy beaches. Inland from the shore there are secluded glens such as Glenisla, Glenesk, and Glen Clova.
Perth and KinrossRoughly synonymous with the old counties of Perthshire and Kinross, this area is largely agricultural in the south, but rises up in the north to meet the most southerly hills of the Highlands. The most popular historic attraction in the area is Scone Palace, ancient place of coronation of Scottish kings, and now a wonderful historic house. In Kinross is Loch Leven, an inland loch with an ancient castle on a small island in the loch.
More about Tayside >>
Aberdeen and Grampian HighlandsThe old 'Granite City' of Aberdeen is the capital of the Grampian region, and one of Scotland's major urban areas. In the days before oil was discovered in the North Sea, this region of Scotland depended on farming, fishing, and the textile industries. But these were but ways to feed and clothe the body, food for the soul and Scots spirit was distilled from barley. For this is whisky country, and there are distilleries offering a variety of regional drinks. Most distilleries offer visitor 'tasting tours'.
If you can still stand upright after visiting the distilleries, take in some of Grampian's castles. In no particular order are Cawdor Castle, Darnaway, Fyvie, Dunnottar, Kildrummy, and more. But if historic buildings aren't your cup of tea, er, whisky, why not take in the Highland Games at Braemar? Here you can see athletes competing in traditional Highland sports of strength and agility such as tossing the caber, and listen to traditional Scottish music. Nearby is Scotland's newest national park, The Cairngorms, which is building a reputation as a winter activity centre.
More about Grampian >>
- Skye and Lochalsh - perhaps our favourite part of the Highlands
- Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
- Inverness and Loch Ness - does a monster lurk in the depths of Loch Ness?
- The Road to the Isles - follow in the footsteps of Bonnie Prince Charlie
- Caithness - the northernmost region of mainland Scotland
- Sutherland - remote, and gloriously beautiful
- Wester Ross - marvelous mountain landscapes and coastal beauty
That's hardly even an overview, so lets find out more about The Scottish Highlands >>
You could also include Orkney and the Shetlands with the Highlands, but we'll treat them separately here:
Here is the Iron Age village of Skara Brae, hidden beneath a protective layer of sand for over a thousand years. Here is the Broch of Gurness, perhaps the best preserved broch in Scotland, and the massive chambered tomb of Midhowe, so large that it became known as the 'Ship of Death'. Here is the medieval cathedral of St Magnus in Kirkwall, where it is said the bones of the Viking martyr lie within a stone pillar. Beside the cathedral is the medieval Bishops Palace, and a few steps away, a ruined 16th century Earl's Palace. Here are chambered cairns, like Maes Howe, where the midwinter sun aligns perfectly with the entrance and sends a shaft of light inside the mound to strike the back wall of the inner chamber.
But Orkney is not just about the past; here is some of the finest unspoiled coastal scenery anywhere. Take a walk along the spectacular cliffs at Yesnaby, where sea stacks like The Castle showcase the power and beauty of nature. Or watch for seals sunning themselves on the rocks at Birsay. If you are a birdwatcher, you've landed in heaven; no matter where you turn there are opportunities to spy gulls, skuas, fulmars, kittiwakes, razorbills, guillemots, shags, sandpipers, turnstones, dunlin, and on, and on.
I put off visiting Orkney for several years after the Britain Express family moved to the UK. I wish I hadn't waited, and I can't wait to return.
More about Orkney >>
The most famous Shetland exports are woollen garments, and you can buy hand-knitted woollens direct from the weavers themselves. The landscape is superb. but come in mid-summer and you can enjoy it practically around the clock, as the sun seldom dips below the horizon. Or come for the traditional festival of Up Helly Aa, when a Norse galley is carried through the streets of the largest city, Lerwick, and consumed on a bonfire.
More about the Shetland Islands >>