Having made a fleeting visit to Scotland last year in celebration of my mom’s 50th, I only had the opportunity to grab a short, first impression of the country. This year, it was time to delve deeper into what the country and Scottish culture is all about. And as the trip was organized for the other half’s parents, who have never been to the UK, we knew that it was going to be one heck of an unforgettable adventure!
As with any country, the ‘must’ list of things to do and see can be endless. But whether you are spending a couple of weeks in the country, or just passing by for a few days, there are some activities have earned themselves a special place on the Scotland bucket list.
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Of course a trip to Scotland wouldn’t be complete without stopping by its famous capital city. There is so much to do and to see in Edinburgh, including its famous castle, the Royal Mile, Giles Cathedral, Arthur’s seat... the list goes on. Whether you’re into the arts and history, a food junkie or simply looking for a nice weekend away, Edinburgh has something (and everything) for everyone. Even though the charm of this beautiful city lingers all year long, the best time to go is at the end of the year when you can experience one of the UK’s best Christmas markets (if not THE best!)
Buy something Tartan
Is there anything more iconic of Scotland than tartan?! This originally woolen pattern has been associated with the country across the entire globe thanks to Scotland’s famous Kilts. Although you might look a little odd walking around in a kilt elsewhere in the world, there is an abundance of other tartan items that are definitely souvenir worthy. Scarfs, gloves, jackets, capes/ponchos…you name it, you can probably find a tartan version in Scotland. Plus, if you’re interested in the making of it, you can visit the machines and watch them in action in Edinburgh’s tartan factory.
Listen to Bagpipes
As well as tartan, the bagpipes are also a national symbol of Scotland recognized around the world. Sure, you can have a listen on the internet, but it’s certainly not as impressive as having your ears blasted with the instrument’s drone in real life! If you’re in Edinburgh, head down the Royal Mile away from the castle and you’ll find a talented gentleman demonstrating the instrument in the street. Don’t forget to leave a gesture of appreciation, but if you hang around too long, I warn you it can become just a little bit annoying!
Whisky tasting or Distillery Tour
If you go to Scotland, you’ll notice that whisky is everywhere! Now, I have to say, I’m very uneducated about the drink, especially the process of making it. And I’m certainly not the biggest fan of it. But there’s something about being in Scotland that makes you want to learn a little about whisky and even try a few. Unfortunately, we missed out on taking a tour of the distilleries, but we certainly got to have a few glasses. Even if you’re not a whisky drinker, it’s worth trying at least once, and where else better than Scotland right?
Try the local cuisine
When people talk about food in Scotland, there’s one thing that comes to mind; haggis. And I LOVE the stuff! As with whisky, this Scottish specialty can be found almost anywhere, but will differ slightly from place to place. The best haggis experience I had was in a pub; shaped into balls that were deep fried and served with a whisky sauce. But if you’re a little put off by the idea of eating sheep’s pluck (originally encased in the animal’s stomach,) there is so much more to taste in Scotland. From fish and chips, to Scottish pies, or even an Indian curry, I promise you won’t be disappointed!
Visit a castle
It’s pretty hard to go Scotland and not visit a castle. Especially considering there have been over 2000 of them in the country alone! Some are historic, some are famous, some are impressive, and some are just simply pretty. Either way, castles have become an iconic part of Scottish culture. One which is not to missed out on!
Stay in a castle
Take your Scottish trip one step further and live your fairytale dream! There are many castles across the country that you can actually stay in, having been transformed into hotels. If you are visiting Edinburgh, the Dalmahoy Hotel can be find about 15 minutes from the city center and makes an impressive stay. Further North just outside Aberdeen, The Ardoe House Hotel remains one of my favorite hotels I have stayed in.
Visit the highlands or a national park
Yes, Scotland has some great cities to boast about and to see. But the real beauty lies in all its nature in the outlands of the country. From mountains and hills, to castles and countryside, there’s no other place on Earth quite like it. Of course, it is a haven for outdoor lovers and hikers, and you’ll want to spend most of your trip exploring. But even as a regular tourist, you’ll be especially impressed by the beauty of the landscapes that Scotland prides.
Say hi to the highland cows
Known for their pointed horns and long, shaggy hair, it’s not often you get to see such a unique breed of cows. They are gentle giants, and if you’re lucky enough to see a young calf, you might just fall in love. On their native land of the Scottish Highlands, there’s no better place to meet these cuties!
Watch seals from the coast
As well as the beautiful breed of highland cows, Scotland attracts thousands of seals each year where they make their temporary home. Although the seals come and go at different times of the year, there are plenty of viewpoints along the Scottish coast. A little unique ‘extra’ that Scotland has to offer.
Go to a Scottish pub
Whether you are already familiar with British culture, or you have never been to the UK before, having a pint in a Scottish pub brings a distinctive experience to anyone’s trip to Scotland. It’s not quite the same as drinking (or eating) in an English pub, but that’s mainly due to the presence of men in kilts as well as the large selection of local brews and whisky behind the bar. But even if loud atmospheres and the distinct smell of beer isn’t your thing, there are many up-market, cozy pubs with amazing food that makes a perfect outing for ‘Sunday dinner.’
Take a ride on a steam train
It’s not often nowadays that you get to see a fully functional steam train, let alone actually taking a ride on it. Scotland has quite a few of the locomotives working around the country, including the infamous Hogwarts Express from the Harry Potter films. Seeing (or riding) such mechanical works of art takes you a step back in time, and is certainly an experience not to be missed!
Scotland really is a culturally rich and captivating country. Of course, this bucket list could be a lot longer, and I have some extras to add for the next time I go! For example, I would love to see the fairy pools and visit the Isle of Skye, Inverness and the home of the Loch Ness monster! Why not catch the northern lights too?! But as it goes, these are the experiences that have made an impression and will make my visits to Scotland unforgettable.
What was your favorite Scottish experience? Where would you like to visit? Let us know in the comments below!