When you think of Scotland, you probably first think of movies that you may have seen. Outlander, Harry Potter, Skyfall and of course The Highlander. There are iconic sights from these and other movies all throughout Scotland, but there is so much more.
Scotland is the land of activities. There is something for everyone and not just in the summer. In fact, I would highly suggest going during the off season or during the shoulder seasons of fall and spring. The crowds are less and the midges (small biting bugs of the west) are sleeping.
There are many regions in Scotland. For simplicity, we can divide them into the Highlands, the Lowlands and the Islands.
The Lowlands are in the south of Scotland. There is a new tourist driving route that makes it easy to navigate to the most interesting places. Of course, you will also want to stop and just gaze into the distance and the scenery, while breathing in the fresh air. A visit to the birthplace of Robert Burns in the morning can lead to castles or even golf in the afternoon.
The Islands are a diverse landscape. The Southern Hebrides are green and have beaches that rival Hawaii. The distilleries on these islands make up some of the famous brands such as Bowmore, Ardbeg and Lagavulin. Kayakers may see puffins and other marine birds and sea life. The pace is slow and the coos are big, so be careful when driving on these small roads.
The Outer Hebrides can be reached by ferry or plane. They are located well out into the Atlantic and the crossing can be cause those who are sensitive to motion to be uncomfortable. The trip is worth it, though, as these islands house some of the friendliest Scots and amazing views. You can easily island hope up or down the chain on local ferries. There are stone circles, hiking, locally produced food and cultural history. The island of Harris is the birthplace of Harris tweed and the largest island of Lewis has the standing stones of awe-inspiring age.
Finally, the islands of Orkney and Faro to the north, were home to Vikings. There are ancient settlements to explore on these wind swept islands.
The famous Scottish Highlands begin in Edinburgh and head north. Inverness is the un-official capital of the Highlands. Inverness makes a good home-base for day trips to Loch Ness, Speyside distilleries and the north coast 500 driving route. If you choose to visit the island of Lewis, the ferry comes into Ullapool, just an hour west of Inverness. A favorite spot for many travelers is Oban. Not only is it home to the Oban distillery, but it is the gateway to the isle of Mull and Iona. You can also take day boats to Steffa to see the sea life on this rocky island. The views of the bay here are stunning and there is plenty to keep you busy for at least 3 nights.
Scotland has walking and hiking for every skill level. There is everything from short, flat rambles along the riversides to bagging a Monroe, which is to climb a small mountain. There are day hikes along part of the system of distance trails or you can complete a longer hiking in multiple days. The combinations can keep you coming back year after year.
If you aren’t a DIY hiker, there are companies that will move your luggage, and guide you along the trail. The van can even pick you up, if you get too tired. Pubs abound and the local innkeepers are a friendly lot.
If you don’t think of movies, when you think of Scotland, perhaps you think of whisky. They whisky of Scotland is famous around the world. There are different flavors and techniques to distilling whisky that makes it mandatory that you should try more than one. the ingredients of barley, yeast and water are the same, but distillers will tell you that the individual water source makes all the difference.
The whisky made in the islands is make by smoking the barley with peat. This gives the whisky a smoky taste as well. The first whisky I ever tried was from the Tobermory Distillery on Mull. I thought that I had swallowed a fireplace. Since then, I have tried many types of whisky and I can now appreciate some of the smokier varieties. For beginners, Speyside distilleries in the north part of the highlands, east of Inverness, make a great starting place. These whiskys do not typically use peat to dry the barley, so the flavor can be less intimidating.
For many travelers, Scotland is a self-drive destination. The use of automatic transmission cars, can help the learning-curve of driving on the left, but typically after 24 hours, even those who choose a standard transmission car driving like locals. A rental car gives you the flexibility to explore the less travelled roads and regions.
If this is just too much for you, the rail, ferry and bus system can combine into a complete transportation system of the country. You would want to pack lightly, as some buses have limited luggage capacity. ScotRail and Calmac Ferries have come up with several passes that can help you navigate regions or the whole country with public transport.
For those travelers who just want to go and not think about where to go next, a small group tour or escorted coach tour might be the option that you are looking for, There are many suppliers from those based in the US to those local suppliers that can do one-day excursions to multi day trips in smaller group vans.
Scotland has something for everyone. Whether you are in search of Claire and Jamie or the Harry, castles or whisky, scenery or cites there is something for you and your travel companions in Scotland. Contact us for help planning your trip.