Gather round lads and lasses, bonnie old Scotland is the place to be! We’re going to share all the reasons why this magnificent country is back on the radar of trendsetting travellers from around the globe. You may already be aware of Scotland’s highlights, but we’re going to take a look at the lesser-known reasons why adventure seekers have set their sights on the Northernmost country of the United Kingdom.
Trying to describe the sheer, unbridled beauty of Scotland’s vast open reaches is a futile endeavour. You have to stand in the midst of it to truly appreciate the awe-inspiring scope and even then it’s hard to drink it all in. One of the big reasons travellers visit is to marvel at this astonishing natural splendour and the utter restfulness that comes along with it. Scotland’s countryside and rural communities retain a wild, Celtic mysticism and boast a spellbinding variety of unspoiled fauna and flora, including deer, mountain goats, eagles and osprey, as well as whales, dolphins and seals that can be glimpsed along the 6200 miles of coastline. Oh, and the monsters of course! If you can’t spot Nessie, you may want to try and glimpse her sister Morag in Loch Morar.
But then, once you’ve had your fill of peaceful countryside and quiet contemplation, it’s pretty easy to find an entertaining metropole bustling with creative energy and a dynamic social scene. Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow are renowned for their shopping and party venues that include everything from rustic traditional pubs, to trendy fusion bars, all-night discos and even pumping super-clubs. As a university city, Aberdeen is known as the epicentre for live music, while Edinburgh takes top honours for a wonderful calendar of arts and classical entertainment events. Glasgow is the place to be if you want to view Scottish revelry up close.
And we don’t only mean the stalwart bagpipes-and-kilts scene, either! There’s a brand new breed of Scottish artists and musicians who are contributing to a burgeoning art scene in Scotland’s larger cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness, Stirling and Perth. Think inner-city design exchanges where small-scale producers promote everything from sustainable, locally made textiles and fine art pieces to jewellery, furniture and home-grown fashion. If there ever was a time to discover a fresh new Scottish designer or artist and buy an investment piece to take back home, it would be now.
Naturally, the traditional cultural scene is also still very much alive and kicking. You cannot claim to have visited Scotland if you hadn’t immersed yourself at least partially in the country’s particular brand of Celtic folly. After all, the first dauntless clans settled in Scotland in the 12th century already, which means their singular traditions and cultural peculiarities are firmly entrenched in the very fabric of the country’s day-to-day life.
One of the best ways to get up close and personal with traditional Scottish culture is to schedule your visit around the time of one of their celebrated annual festivals. Our top picks include the thrill-a-minute spectacle of Hogmanay that takes place over NYE, and the Edinburgh Festival that overruns the capital for three weeks each year in August, filling the streets with traditional and contemporary music, theatre, dance, comedy, pantomime, children’s show, art displays and opera. Sounds like a blast, doesn’t it? And there’s a lot more where that came from – see our list of Scotland’s best-loved annual events here.
If you care about the environment and your impact on the countries you visit on your travels, you can rest easy in the knowledge that Scotland is a leader in green tourism. What this means in a practical sense is that they incentivise accommodation venues, activity providers and attraction proprietors to make sustainable choices and operate in an eco-friendly fashion. When you choose to support Scottish businesses that bear the Green Tourism mark of approval, you are assured of the fact that your contribution will go towards supporting local communities, conserving natural resources, minimising pollution and safeguarding indigenous culture.
The second-largest of Scotland’s islands and voted the 4th best island in the world by National Geographic. The Isle of Skye (literally, ‘cloud island’) is consistently mentioned as a tour highlight by visitors to Scotland. Set against a rich historical tapestry that features everything from dinosaur fossils and clan warfare to the Jacobite Rebellion and the infamous Bonnie Prince Charlie, you’ll find a 50-mile-long motley of moody moors, dramatic mountain ranges, vast lochs and soaring sea cliffs. The scenery is without a doubt the island’s main attraction, but it also happens to be a world-class destination that offers plenty to see and do, including scenic hiking routes, well-preserved castles, museums, art galleries, craft studios and a veritable glut of pubs and restaurants.
The island’s foremost geological attractions include the Cuillin Mountains, Kilt Rock and the Old Man of Storr.
The Cuillin Mountains, also known as the Black Cuillin, reach 992 metres into the air at their highest point and dominate the island’s skyline. They offer a variety of beautiful hiking routes that can be tackled solo by seasoned ramblers or as part of a guided adventure. Kilt Rock, on the other hand, is said to resemble a tartan skirt with its vertical basalt columns and is also the location of the majestic Mealt Waterfall that free falls off the cliff into the Sound of Raasay below. One of the most photographed landscapes in the world, the Old Man of Storr is a large rock pinnacle along the Trotternish Ridge that is the result of an ancient landslide. Today the area is the location of one of the best-loved hikes throughout the Isle of Skye.
The Scots have always been avid explorers and fearless adventurers, which of course means that quite a few took to the seas to find greener pastures over the centuries. As such, there are vast numbers of Americans, Australians, Canadians, Argentines, Chileans, Brazilians and even South Africans that can trace their ancestry back to Scotland. Due to this widespread lineage, the country has become somewhat of a genealogical hotspot, with people travelling thousands of miles to discover their roots and learn more about the hardy clans from which they stem.
Looking to delve into your family tree during your tour of Scotland? The National Records of Scotland archives hold estate, court and church records dating back to the 12th century, while the National Library houses emigration lists, street directories and online historical maps of every part of Scotland, and an extensive archive network catalogues further historical reference material. For those who are particularly serious about their genealogical efforts, there is also the option of enlisting the services of a professional from the Scottish Genealogists and Record Agents (ASGRA) or Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) to assist in their search. Once you’ve laid the groundwork, you can then follow in the footsteps of your forebears by visiting clan seats, participating in itineraries that take you to places of historical interest associated with your lineage and visiting informative family history centres throughout the country.
We know it may be a tad hard to believe, but there is much more to Scottish cuisine than just haggis and tatties. In fact, the country’s modern-day cuisine is based on an abundance of high-quality, fresh produce that is grown and cultivated on some of the most fertile agricultural lands throughout the UK.
Scotland is famed for its seafood, with rivers like the Tay, Tweed and Spey providing an abundance of salmon and trout, and the oceans along the meandering coastline contributing cod, haddock, whiting, mackerel and herring. Nothing will take the chill out of your bones on a misty Scottish day quite like a steaming bowl of Cullen Skink – a fragrant soup of smoked haddock, potatoes and onions – or a nice piece of herring rolled in oatmeal and pan-fried in butter.
The country’s wide-open spaces also make it the ideal place to raise robust herds that graze on lush green grass and wild herbs, giving Scottish meat a superior taste and texture. With generations’ worth of agricultural experience and a handful of new, unconventional farming methods, the Scots are becoming known for their exceptional Aberdeen Angus and Kobe-style beef. The region also produces truly remarkable pork thanks to the Iron Age Pig – a cross between an ancient Scottish breed and wild boar that results in distinctive gamey pork that is absolutely perfect for an open-air spit roast.
The Scots also have a rather well-developed collective sweet tooth, which means visitors are quite literally in for a treat. Aside from the deliciously buttery shortbread, there’s all manner of indulgent puddings and baked goods to sample – baked raspberry buns; delicious Anzac biscuits (made from rolled oats and lashings of golden syrup). Not forgetting about the whiskey-drenched caramel fudge, apple shortbread pie and spicy gingerbread loaves crammed with fruit! All best enjoyed with a wee dram of whisky, naturally.
As master brewers and distillers with centuries of experience in creating bespoke whisky, beer, ale and gin, the Scots know a thing or two about making some seriously impressive liquor. Aside from informal sampling sessions with rowdy locals, visitors to Scotland can also look forward to a wonderful variety of distillery tours and tastings and whisky-related events. There are even tours that follow the Malt Whisky Trail throughout Scotland – a thoroughly unique angle from which to view the country and its history.
If you haven’t opened a tab to check out tours including Scotland by now, you’re missing out on one of Europe’s most captivatingly charming and uniquely memorable travel adventures! Take our advice on this one and say “Och aye!” to experiencing the awe-inspiring beauty of Scotland in person. Want to start planning your trip? Start right here with our tours that take in the highlights of the United Kingdom, including Bonnie Scotland!