by Andrew Yenne
The thing about Scotland is it smells amazing. That’s not usually the first thing you hear when some visits the land of Glens and Lochs. Don’t get me wrong, the scenery is magnificent. It truly is awe-inspiring, but what knocked me out was the fragrant aromas of this magical land. From the juniper lined walkways of Inverness to the fields of wild heather dotting the Highlands, the aroma of fish and chips wafting down cobbled streets or the combination of salt air, dark beer and old wood that seems to hang in just about every Edinburgh pub… Scotland smells amazing.
After spending 10 days in Scotland and Ireland recently I came to one conclusion, I want to go back. Below are my top picks and tips for what to do when (not if!) you visit the land of Nessie.
TODAY’S TRAVEL: SCOTLAND
When I go on vacation I like to immerse myself in the culture as much as possible, walking the streets, eating in cafes. Yes I like to see the sights, but I love just being and living in a place for the time I’m there. With the said, and only 7 days to spend, I didn’t hit as many places as I would have liked. The good news I have a reason to go back!
- Glasgow for an evening. (really just to recover from jetlag)
- Glasgow to Inverness by train
- 3 nights in Inverness and the Highlands
- Inverness to Edinburgh by train with a quick 3 hour stop in Pithlochery
- 3 nights in Edinburgh
General Scotland Tips:
- Get Walking – The best way to really see and feel the pulse of any city is to get walking. Walk down every street, discover things off the beaten path. Ask for directions from locals. Some of my best days were simply strolling the streets, popping in and out of shops.
- Talk to Your Cab Driver – When you’re not walking, talk to your cab driver. They know the true must-sees, the local hangouts to get a pint, and some are more than willing to give you a mini-tour of the area, giving you insights you may not hear from a tour guide.
- Take the Trains Via Scotrail – While I would have loved to drive the countryside, taking the trains was a wonderful way to see the vast landscapes of the country while saving time. Book ahead to save money.
- Take Advantage of Tea Time – I don’t understand why this never caught on in the States, but tea time is awesome. You’ve been walking, shopping, and seeing sights all day, around mid-afternoon stop to reflect on what you’ve done grab a spot of tea, and have a cookie. It’s like having dessert before dinner. Instantly refreshed.
- Go Local – This sums up everything above. While you could go on expensive tours, find your own way. Eat at local shops and pubs. Drink the local real ales. Sample the region’s native malt (that’s the local scotch whiskey). Talk to the locals in pubs. Talk to the bartender. Savour being a part of a new place.
The Scottish Highlands (Inverness)
Inverness being the largest town in the Highlands is a great home base to take day trips from to see more of the Highlands.
- Urquhart Castle – lies just west of Inverness along the banks of the Loch Ness. The ruined castle sits atop the cliffs overlooking the area of the Loch where the majority of the Nessie sightings have happened over the years. So it’s a great two for one. It’s also absolutely breathtaking. Walk among the ruins and learn the bloody history of the castle.
- Culloden Battlefield – lies east of the Inverness city center. It is the site of the last battle on British soil in 1746, part of the Jacobite Rising. The museum itself is one of the best monuments to a specific historic event I’ve seen. Walk the actual battlefield, which has been kept meticulously accurate for the time period with wild heather and thistle covering the entire field.
Best Place for Tea – Leaky’s Bookshop in Inverness. Located in an old Gaelic Church (1793), it’s Scotland’s largest second-hand bookstore. Walk-in past the wood and peat burning fireplace up the spiral staircase to the small café and enjoy a cup of tea overlooking the vast collection of rare books and prints.
Best Place for A Pint or Dram – Hootenanny is a great pub that looks just like you imagine a Highlands pub should. Great selection of scotch and local real ale’s. Try one of the great brews from Orkney Brewery, I especially like the Dark Island. They also have live traditional Scottish Music starting at 8 each night.
Best Place to Grab a Bite – Number 27 was a surprisingly great gastro pub on Castle Street. Fantastic modern interior with a bar up front and dining area in the back. Whatever you’ve heard about Scottish food, Number 27 does a great job of reversing it. Inventive dishes, new twists on Scottish dishes. Try the Haggis, Neaps, and Tatties appetizer. Great Selection of local ales and scotch.
I’ll just go ahead and say it, Edinburgh is my new favorite city. The perfect blend of old and new. It almost feels like two separate towns dissected by a lush park. Built on 7 hills and connected by a series of bridges, there is a lot to explore.
- The Royal Mile – The Royal Mile really is an old town. Connecting the Edinburgh Castle high atop Castle Rock to the Holyrood Abbey far below. The Royal Mile really is one long street with many shops, pubs, historical monuments, buskers and street performers to see. While it is the busiest tourist area of Edinburgh, it’s a must-see with such attractions as:
- Edinburgh Castle – dominating the skyline this castle is a must-see dating back to at least the 12th century during the reign of David I.
- St. Giles Cathedral – The first Presbyterian church in the world, this former Cathedral still holds services and is very much worth a walkthrough for the architecture.
- Cadenheads Bottling – The oldest independent spirit bottler has a storefront low on the royal mile. They take non-chill filtered malt whiskey and create their own blends. Well worth a pop in for the whiskey lesson and sample.
- The Elephant House – Across from the National Museum stop into this small tea shop for a bite to eat or some flat white coffee and see where JK Rowling wrote some of the final pages of the Harry Potter series. It’s easy to see where she got inspiration, with the view overlooking an old graveyard with the Edinburgh Castle looming above.
Best Place for Tea Time – Clarinda’s Tea Shop located near the Holyrood Abbey low on the Royal Mile. This cozy little tea room feels like having tea in your grandmother’s sitting room. A great selection of sandwiches and pastries as well. Try the Brie and Cranberry Toastie!
Best Place for a Pint or Dram – The World’s End. This tiny pub on the low end of High Street on the Royal Mile oozes personality. So named because it is situated on the former outer limits of long ago Edinburgh. It was the place the world ended and Edinburgh began, hence The World’s End.
Best place for Dinner – Creeler’s. Tired of fish and chips and other pub food, get some of the freshest seafood in the world, much of which was in the North Sea earlier that morning. Also fantastic Scotch Smoked Salmon. Get there early or call ahead, because this small restaurant fills up fast.
There is so much to do in these cities and Scotland in general. These are just a few ideas of places to start. My best advice is to get lost, wander, wonder, wear comfortable shoes, and enjoy the fragrant country of Scotland.