Normally in this section, I would (try to!) focus on the main city centres of a country, but Scotland is a place I have spent a lot of time – and it tops my list as a personal favourite – so placing that limit is nearly impossible.
I have travelled through Scotland by rental car and by public transit, alone and with others – without issue. Scotland is quite small, convenient to traverse, exceptionally beautiful and full of history at each turn. I suggest you try to see it all!
TOP 10 ‘SEE AND DO’ – SCOTLAND
According to the Habitual Runaway
1. Do the ‘Castle Tour’. Drive the route on your own, or book a tour – it doesn’t matter, just don’t go to Scotland without taking in some castles and baronial mansions. Be sure to check out my personal favourites, Craigievar and Dunnottar.
2. Walk the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Every time I am in Scotland I walk the mile. And so should you! Everything about it is magical – in a dark, gothic type way. The architecture is old, the history is brutal, the shops are adorable and the food is generally quite good. There is always something happening on the mile – whether it is a chainsaw-juggling-self-professing-Canadian, a couple of ‘bag-pipers’, or a group of acrobatic flame throwers – you are likely to be entertained.
3. Visit Edinburgh Castle. Though a typical suggestion, the castle is really quite something. You can visit the all important ‘Stone of Destiny’ here – once the seat of many generations of Kings. The crown jewels are here too, and there is much to look at in the various museums that litter the site. There are a heap of regular activities happening at the castle, so it is worth checking to see if anything special is going on while you are on tour.
4. Scare the heck out of yourself in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh. Day or night it is a haunting, creepy place – and a brilliant location to immerse yourself in local history. The shop staff at the Kirkyard are informed, and happy to share some lore with you. You can read about our (awesome!) horrendous experiences in Greyfriars here and here.
5. Visit St. Giles Cathedral and stop in to the Knights room. Though the cathedral itself is quite something – gorgeous intricate stained glass, ornate interior woodwork and so on – it is really the Knights room that is a unique ‘must see’. What’s a ‘Knights room’? Read about our visit.
6. Take a ‘Ghost Walking Tour’ in Edinburgh. Yes, there is an element of ‘tourist trap’ to the companies that line the Royal Mile offering ghost tours, but having taken more than one myself, I found the guides to be well informed, the tour itself fun – and a bit creepy – and the overall cost negligible. Most of the tours are somewhat ‘the same’, as the guides are re-telling many of the same facts, the difference would be whether you chose to go underground through the closes and into the catacombs, or if you chose to remain above ground, exploring the ancient city.
7. Check out Aberdeenshire. Aberdeenshire is the region of much former long term clan strife. It is the primary base for castle tours and is varied in its natural landscape. Touring through the region makes you feel like you have entered a fairytale – particularly if you are a fan of rolling green hills, Scottish farmland and ancient castles and strongholds.
8. If you happen to decide to head to the Loch Ness, as most of us seem compelled to do (it is a big lake with some local mythology attached to it – I am not going to ‘recommend‘ it!), make sure you visit neighbouring Urquhart castle. An impressive ruin, Urquhart played a big role in the Scottish Wars of Independence. There is evidence of visitors to the site encountering a ‘fortress’ as early as the year 500.
9. Visit the Commando Monument. The monument itself is quite spectacular, but what is more stunning is the natural landscape that surrounds it. It was in this region that young men prepared and trained for WWII. Standing at the monument and looking out over the Nevis mountain range is both breathtaking and haunting. I also stood face to face with a very serene (and LARGE) buck in the parking lot here.
10. Walk the Grassmarket in Edinburgh, a focal point of Old Town, with incredible (and horrific) history. A cattle market operated here for almost 5 centuries. Grab a drink in the oldest continuously running pub in Edinburgh – an old haunt of Robbie Burns – the ‘White Hart Inn‘.