We’re particularly partial to the Highlands, with abundant opportunities for hill walking, wildlife watching, and whisky tasting. Here are some of our favorite spots:
Scotland’s capital city Edinburgh (the locals will tell you how to pronounce it correctly) sits atop a series of extinct volcanoes that rise from rolling hills. The city meshes iconic history and culture with striking beauty and a cosmopolitan vibe.
A dynamic array of sights and places beckon visitors, including the world-famous Edinburgh Castle, Old Town Edinburgh with its labyrinth of cobbled streets and hidden courtyards, the orderly New Town with its broad streets and Georgian architecture, and the Lothians, the city’s picturesque rural surroundings with rolling hills, country towns, and historic ruins.
The city’s world-famous Edinburgh Festival of Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, “defying the norm” since 1947, and taking place for three weeks every August. Each year, thousands of performers take to hundreds of stages all over Edinburgh to present shows for every taste. In 2015 there were 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues!
With its rich, centuries-old literary history, Edinburgh was declared UNESCO’s first “City of Literature.” The designation has inspired the city to creatively promote an enlightened approach to literature at home and across the globe.
The Highlands are, literally, the highest lands in Scotland and the United Kingdom—a vast region of big skies and looming heather-clad mountains. Formed by the action of tectonic plates, the “Highland Boundary Fault,” running from Helensburgh in the southwest in a northeast direction to Stonehaven, separates the country into the Highlands in the north and west and lowlands in the south and east.
Beyond geology and geography, it is the sweeping beauty that comes with the territory that draws travelers: the pristine lochs, wild mountains, small towns, architecture, history, and, of course, the people. Hill walking here is an elevated artform.
Cairngorms National Park, Highlands
Cairngorms National Park is one of two national parks in Scotland and the largest national park in Great Britain. You’ll find a diverse range of landscapes and land uses here (including villages and sheep farms), with lots of open space and welcoming countryside to walk and hike. Trails follow around quiet lochs, to the peaks of treeless mountains, through woodlands of birch and Scottish pines, and across heather moorlands, peatlands, and wetlands.
The Cairngorm Mountains are the most massive mountain range in the UK, with Ben Macdui being the tallest peak in the range, at 4,296 feet. You’ll likely see red deer, and the birding can be grand.
Isle of Skye
Isle of Sky – or simply Skye – is the largest and most northern island of the Inner Hebrides, an archipelago that stretches off the west coast of Scotland’s mainland and encompasses 75 small islands, just under half of which are inhabited. The region runs for 50 miles north and south, and includes a series of peninsulas radiating out from a mountainous center. Historically, the archipelago was accessed by ferry, but more recently the Sky Bridge brings people to the area. The Skye Bridge was built in 1995 to offer road access from the mainland, and has had a significant effect on the region over the years. While some were for the bridge, pleased that it would make it easier for people to get to the archipelago, the bridge was also controversial for its environmental impact and cost to build.
There are many towns and villages to explore, including the ferry landing of Armadale on the southern Sleat Peninsula, Isleornsay, once the region’s largest fishing port. The Cuillin mountains dominate the southern half of Skye, and on the north end of Skye lies the Trotternish Peninsula, marked by sheer cliffs, pinnacles, and pillars. Of course, you’ll also find the requisite castles in the area around Skye, six to be exact!