Scotland is a wild and untamed country, stretching from rolling farmlands in the south and east to dramatic highlands and islands in the west, where the craggy coastline is honeycombed with beautiful beaches and rises up to rugged mountains divided only by shimmering lochs and deep rivers. This ancient land has a brutal, interesting history and is studded with ancient castles and strongholds.
Although still part of the United Kingdom, Scotland is a fiercely independent and proud nation. Scotland has its own legal system and its own parliament, and is developing into an economic force in its own right - Aberdeen is the hub of the North Sea oil industry, and Edinburgh is the UK's largest financial centre after London.
Scotland is the home of golf and whiskey, a land with a multifaceted cultural heritage from the festivities of the clans, to the poetry of Robert Burns. Scotland's rich traditions can be best experienced over the summer months at the cutting-edge Edinburgh Arts Festival or at one of the many, more low-key Highland Games events.
A land of unparalleled raw natural beauty, outdoor and wilderness enthusiasts will delight in Scotland's open spaces and its excellently managed national parks.
Scotland is a treasure trove for lovers of the outdoors, despite the notoriously damp, chilly and changeable weather; in fact, mist and cloud often seems to add extra drama to the rugged landscapes of the country. Natural attractions include the famous Loch Ness, and Ben Nevis, the highest peak in Britain. Amongst all this natural beauty, ancient archaeological sites add to the mystery and intrigue: Skara Brae, on the main island of Orkney, is one of the best preserved Stone Age villages in Europe; Orkney also boasts Neolithic monuments like chamber tombs and stone circles; and the Antonine Wall, once the northwestern frontier of the Roman Empire, dates back to about 140 AD. Scotland is also famously rich in romantic old castles, with favourites including Stirling Castle, Edinburgh Castle and Balmoral Castle.
Although Scotland's long history is celebrated, the country also boasts some wonderful modern attractions. Edinburgh is a gorgeous mixture of Gothic mystique and fashionable modernity, with great restaurants and shopping as well as museums and historic attractions, and Glasgow is fast establishing itself as a fun and feisty alternative to the capital for travellers. The many whisky distilleries, islands, fishing villages and golf courses also attract droves of tourists to Scotland.
There are plenty of hiking, running and cycling trails dotted in and around Aberdeen, and outdoor fanatics will have no shortage of things to do during their time in the city. Kirkhill Forest, Gight Wood Reserve and the Bin Forest are just three of the many outdoor havens located near Aberdeen, and each offer magical walks and cycling trails of varying degrees of difficulty.
Royal Deeside Tours and Hillgoers are two companies that offer guided walking and hiking tours of such reserves. They're ideal options for visitors that are wary of taking on new landscapes on their own or who are traveling without a hired car, as most of these areas are best reached by vehicle. For snow sport enthusiasts, Lecht 2090 is a slope that towers above the Eastern Cairngorms and is a popular ski spot during the winter. Fraserburgh Beach is a surfing and water sport paradise during the summer time.
With courses stretched out over rambling beaches, or hidden within castle-dotted forests, Aberdeen is likely to tempt even the most unenthusiastic of golfers to a round. Some of the world's greatest golf tournaments have taken place in the area. The Royal Aberdeen Golf Club having hosted the Scottish Open in 2014, and the Trump International Golf Links in Balmedie wears the title of Best Modern Golf Course in Great Britain and Ireland.
The UK's highest golf course is housed at Braemer, which straddles the majestic Cairngorms National Park, and it is even possible to attempt a birdie at the royal's summer retreat, Balmoral Castle. Come summer time, when this northern area gets twelve hours of sunshine, it is possible to enjoy a full day of the favourite Scottish pastime, before retiring to a nearby country pub to enjoy one of the region's many fine whiskies.
The imposing castle that stands on the craggy mound of an extinct volcano in the heart of Edinburgh is not only the city's top attraction, but a proud and lasting symbol of the Scottish nation. The castle rock has been inhabited since 800 BC, but today most of the remaining structures date from around the 16th century (with the big exception of St Margaret's Chapel, Edinburgh's oldest building, dating from the early 12th century). Of all the things to see and experience at the Castle, including the spectacular view of the city, the favourite for visitors is the Crown Room, which contains the Scottish crown jewels and regalia of state. Also on view here is the legendary 'Stone of Scone', upon which all the monarchs of Scotland have been crowned.
The castle also still functions as a military headquarters, and is the site of the spectacular military tattoo, which is world-renowned and held each August. At 1pm each day, except Sunday, the 'one o'clock gun' is fired, traditionally to allow ships in the Firth of Forth to check their chronometers. The gun is also fired at New Year to mark midnight during the Hogmanay celebrations. Tickets should be pre-bought online to avoid queuing on arrival, especially if visiting during the summer months.
The Palace of Holyrood was originally an abbey, built in the 12th century, and later the home of Mary, Queen of Scots, notorious for her turbulent reign and dramatic life. Today the palace is the official Scottish residence of Queen Elizabeth II, and is used by the Royal family for state ceremonies and entertaining, but much of the imposing baroque building is open to visitors. A great audio guide (included in the admission cost) steers visitors around the grand royal apartments, the Throne Room, the Great Gallery, the apartments of Mary Queen of Scots and her husband Lord Darnley and their bed-chambers linked by a secret staircase.
A plaque on the floor marks the spot where Mary's Italian secretary David Rizzio was murdered in 1566. The rooms feature splendid plasterwork ceilings and magnificent furnishings and tapestries. The tour ends with the ruins of the old abbey, still attached to the palace, which are glorious in and of themselves. The gardens can also be enjoyed in the summer months, but are closed in winter. A visit typically takes at least an hour and a half, but those who want to explore thoroughly should allow substantially longer.
Not just any garden, the Edinburgh Botanic Garden is acknowledged as one of the finest in the world. The garden features six percent of all the world's known plants, the most tender being cosseted in elegant Victorian glasshouses. Visitors can admire vegetation from 10 climate zones from tropical palms to arctic tundra, and see some of the world's oldest plants in the orchid and cycad house. There are also several restaurants and cafes, and a gift shop.
The garden was established in 1670 as a physic garden in Holyrood, was later moved to Leith and was firmly planted in Inverleith in 1820, where it has remained a top attraction ever since. It is now one of the top-ranking attractions in Edinburgh according to tourists. Although the garden is at its best and busiest in the summer months, the impressive greenhouses are worth visiting at any time of year, making the botanic garden immune to the seasons to some extent. The views of Edinburgh Castle from the garden are some of the best in the city. The plants are very well labelled, and route maps can be picked up at the visitor centre.
The National Gallery of Scotland is situated in the heart of Edinburgh and is home to Scotland's greatest collection of European paintings and sculpture from the Renaissance to Post-Impressionism. The museum opened to the public in 1859 and includes works by Botticelli, Cézanne, Van Dyck, Pisarro, Monet, Raphael, Rembrandt, and Titian. The Gallery also boasts the most comprehensive collection of Scottish painting in the world. Regular temporary exhibitions bring exciting art works to the gallery. Internationally recognised as having one of the best fine arts collections in the world, the National Gallery is a must for art lovers in Edinburgh.
The Scottish Portrait Gallery can be found nearby at 1 Queen Street and includes great paintings of Scots rather than by Scots. The gallery takes visitors through Scottish history by introducing them to the characters that have shaped the country's history and captured the national imagination. Both museums are housed in impressive buildings, but the wall murals in the Portrait Gallery are one of the most striking features of the museum, making it worthwhile to pop into the foyer of the gallery even if you don't have time for a thorough exploration. Both galleries have good cafes on site.
Glasgow's top cultural attraction was donated by the shipping magnate Sir William Burrell in 1944. Over his lifetime, Burrell amassed more than 8,000 works of art. The collection includes hundreds of sculptures, drawings and paintings from the 15th century to the present, some notable medieval European tapestries, as well as artefacts from Arabia and the Orient. The collection is housed in a functional, purpose-built building set in the sedate surroundings of Pollok Country Park.
Although it may seem unassuming, the building was meticulously designed to showcase the collection and complement the natural landscape. Within walking distance of The Burrell is Pollok House, which contains a fine collection of Spanish paintings including works by Goya, Murillo and El Greco. The Edwardian house is the ancestral home of the Maxwell family, who donated the house and the collection to the National Trust in 1966.
Currently undergoing extensive renovations, the Burrel Collection is set to reopen in 2020. The changes to the museum will increase its floor space fourfold, allowing 90% of Burrel's collection to be on display at any given time.
Located in a former Grecian-style mansion near George Square and Buchanan Street, the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) displays Glasgow's extraordinary range of post-war art and design. Opened in 1996, the gallery includes works by Niki de Saint Phalle, David Hockney, Sebastiao Salgado, Andy Warhol and Eduard Bersudsky as well as Scottish artists such as John Bellany and Ken Curry. GoMA is Scotland's most visited modern art gallery, and is conveniently located in Royal Exchange Square, in the heart of the city.
The permanent collection tends to divide visitors, with hugely varied reviews of the museum from tourists, with some visitors finding it fascinating, inspiring and edgy, while others lament the lack of 'real art'. The statue of the Duke of Wellington with a traffic cone on its head, just outside the museum, has become rather iconic. There is free internet access in the museum and an impressive library, with an extensive collection of art and design books and a simple cafe. The gallery hosts special events and exhibitions throughout the year; check the official website to see what is on during your visit.
Glasgow's principal art gallery and museum, the Kelvingrove is one of Scotland's most popular free attractions. This imposing red sandstone building, opened in 1901, houses a superb collection of paintings by old masters such as Botticelli, Rembrandt, Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso, as well as an impressive display of European armour, military weapons and prehistoric relics. There are 22 themed galleries containing an incredible 8,000 artefacts and objects from all over the world and covering extremely wide-ranging interests and subjects, ensuring that every visitor should be able to find something that genuinely interests them in the museum.
For many people, the main attraction of the permanent collection is a room dedicated to the works of the 19th-century architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who studied at the Glasgow School of Art and designed many of the city's great Art Nouveau buildings. The museum also hosts regular temporary exhibitions, for which visitors are usually charged a small entrance fee. There is a pleasant restaurant at the museum, and a shop for souvenirs. Kelvingrove is one of the top attractions in the city and generally receives rave reviews from tourists.
Loch Ness is situated in the Great Glen that links Inverness on the east coast to Fort William in the west. The most famous lake is 24 miles (39km) long, half a mile (1km) wide and 700ft (213m) deep and is home to the legendary Loch Ness Monster (affectionately called Nessie), which many claim to have glimpsed from the shore, despite the ongoing scepticism of scientists. There are fine walks around the mountains and glens that surround the loch and many head for the scenic ruins of Urquhart Castle or the Nessie exhibition at Drumnadrochit.
The four lochs that make up the Great Glen are linked by the Caledonian Canal, which was built in the early 1800s to enable ships to pass from the North Sea to the Atlantic without having to navigate Scotland's harsh north coast. The most traditional and comfortable way to travel along the glen is by boat, and a flotilla of canoes, yachts and cruising boats are available for hire in Inverness and Fort William. The more energetic may opt to walk or cycle along the 70-mile (113km) Great Glen Way. The walk will take four to seven days. Whether for the enticing mystery of the monster or the stunning natural beauty of the area, travellers relish a visit to Loch Ness.
Beyond Inverness and the Great Glen, Scotland stretches away in a spectacular fusion of wooded glens, sweeping moors, rugged coasts, towering mountains and welcoming villages. The Northern Highlands includes both the rich farmland of the Black Isle and the precipitous sea cliffs of Cape Wrath. The traditional crofting communities of North West Sutherland, the busy towns of Easter Ross, the historic fishing villages of Caithness, the wooded hills of Mid Ross, the popular beaches of East Sutherland and the majestic mountains of Wester Ross are all contained in the Northern Highlands.
Due to its remoteness, this huge area is largely overlooked by tourists despite having some of the most dramatic landscapes in all of Europe. The Northern Highlands are a paradise for those seeking out solitude and active outdoor pursuits in breath-taking landscapes. There are ancient archaeological sites and a number of quality heritage centres around Caithness and along the northern coast, dealing with the rich clan history and Viking heritage of the region. The Northern Highlands seem designed for walkers and hikers and the patchwork of beautiful lochs in the northwest attract fishermen. Golf, cycling and water-sports are also popular activities, with a number of great boat trips exploring the rugged coastline.
The Grampian Highlands area is famous for its delicious malt whisky, and the best way to explore this long-standing tradition is by following a whisky route to eight different distilleries, including the Glenfiddich Distillery that was founded in 1886. Visitors can learn about the age-old process of coaxing different scents, tastes and colours from a mixture of yeast, barley, peat and water. Most distilleries offer tours and tastings but some can only be visited with advanced bookings.
Glenfiddich, the most famous and popular, is worth visiting alone if you don't have time for a full whisky tour. The renowned distillery offers three different tours. The Classic Tour, which is a fantastic introduction to the art of whisky making, takes an hour and includes tastings, it is free of charge with no advance booking required. The Explorers Tour takes an hour and a half, including a more extensive tour and tasting session, this tour should be booked in advance. The Pioneers Tour, lead by the senior guide, provides a four-hour immersion in the world of the distillery and will delight connoisseurs, affording the chance to taste whiskies up to 30 years old.
Created by Lady Elizabeth Duthie in 1881 to commemorate her uncle and brother, Duthie Park is beautifully situated on the banks of the River Dee and draws hundreds of visitors to its colourful floral displays and 44 acres (18ha) of well-maintained grounds. The park is famous for its Winter Garden, an indoor garden with a spectacular array of tropical plants and cacti. The Rose Garden with over two million plants and the stylish Japanese Garden are not to be missed. There is also a boating pond, plenty of winding walkways for a romantic stroll, children's playgrounds and a restaurant. The park is great for picnics and often hosts concerts and other fun events.
It's a great spot for those wanting some exercise, with joggers traversing the paths, and people playing cricket on the lawns. Although the gardens are most popular in the summer months, the indoor gardens ensure that it is worth visiting in any season. Other 'green lungs' worth exploring in Aberdeen include Hazelhead Park, the Union Terrace Gardens and the Johnston Gardens.
Built from granite and sandstone, the single-arched Brig o' Balgownie, stretching over the River Don, dates back to the 13th century and was completed in 1320 during the Scottish War of Independence. Although part of the bridge has never changed, it was extensively renovated in the 1600s after it had fallen into disrepair. It is a very picturesque structure and these days its main allure is purely aesthetic, but for five centuries the bridge was strategically vital as the only means of moving large armies quickly along the east coast of the region. It also formed part of an important trade route to the northeast of Scotland.
The bridge stretches for 39 feet (12m) and offers beautiful views of the river. It is only open to pedestrians and bicycles and is popularly used by students as a fun place to jump into the river during the summer months. The area around the Brig o' Balgownie is rather charming, with some quaint cottages, making it a lovely place for a stroll. The modern Bridge of Don is only a 15-minute walk away from the Gothic original, and the lovely Seaton Park is also just a stroll down the path from Brig o' Balgownie. There are plenty of pretty picnic spots located near the bridge or alongside the river, making this a wonderful activity to undertake on a balmy summer's evening or a crisp, wintery afternoon.
Situated on historic Shiprow, with spectacular views of the busy harbour, the Aberdeen Maritime Museum proudly exhibits the city's strong maritime history and its close connection to the sea. It is an award-winning museum and is housed partly in Provost Ross's House, built in 1593, which justifies a visit all by itself for lovers of architecture. The city's significance in the North Sea oil industry is explored, as well as the importance of fishing, shipbuilding and sailing in the development of the area.
Displays are aimed at allowing visitors the chance to investigate the working environment and duties of workers on offshore oil platforms, and include collections of photographs and plans from major Aberdeen shipbuilders, and various naval paintings. Some interactive exhibits ensure that the museum is modern and that children should be entertained by the content, making it a good stop for families. A pirate mascot called Granite Jack guides kids through the museum and there are quiz sheets designed for specific age groups for younger visitors to fill out as they explore. There is also a café and gift shop at the museum for souvenirs and refreshments.
The Aberdeen Art Gallery was first opened in 1885, and more than a hundred years later, continues to be one of the city's most popular attractions. The gallery has a large permanent and changing collection, housed in an impressive 19th-century building with an exquisite marble interior. Highlights include collections of Modern Art, the Scottish Colourists (including artists such as Leslie Hunter and Francis Cadell), and the Post-Impressionists. The collection spans from the 15th century to the present.
There is also a collection of local applied art and crafts, including fine examples of Aberdeen silver. The collection of the Aberdeen Art Gallery is extremely varied, ensuring that art lovers of all kinds should find something to delight them. The gallery also hosts a full programme of temporary exhibitions, lectures, concerts and other events, details of which can be found on the official website.
The Aberdeen Art Gallery reopened in November 2019 after undergoing major renovations, with the revamped facility housing more galleries and significant improvements to social spaces, such as a new top-floor cafe bar and roof terrace. The work took two years longer than expected and cost around £5m more than the original £30m budget.
No trip to Scotland is complete without a visit to one of its magnificent castles, and Balmoral Castle - set on the banks of the River Dee - is one of the best known and most prestigious. The castle, with its fairy-tale turrets, is set on 50,000 acres (20,234 ha) of spectacular grounds, and the Royal Family has preserved the surrounding wildlife, buildings and scenery since it was bought by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1852. A visit to Balmoral includes access to the gardens, some exhibitions, the ballroom (the largest room in the castle) and the grounds, but the Queen's Rooms are out of bounds. Many beautiful works of art and royal treasures are on display despite the limited access. The Balmoral Castle and its estate are set within the Cairngorms National Park and offer breath-taking vistas of the Highlands. An audio guide in English, German, French and Italian is included in the entrance fee. It is recommended that visitors allow at least one and a half hours for a visit to Balmoral, and are advised that entry will not be allowed after 4.30pm.
Get to grips with the mystery and magic of the ancient city of Edinburgh at the museum dedicated to its history, from prehistoric times to the present day. The Museum of Edinburgh contains important collections relevant to the city's history, from pottery to documents, shop signs to silverware. The building in which the museum is housed is also of interest, dating from the 16th century, it has a chequered history of ownership and tenancy by a variety of people from aristocrats to common workers. There is a gift shop on the ground floor, and although there is no food or drink allowed, there are a number of great pubs and restaurants nearby.
If you enjoy the Museum of Edinburgh, and have a fascination for the history of this old and atmospheric city, another attraction worth visiting is The People's Story Museum. The museum has an emphasis on the personal, exploring the lives of ordinary people in Edinburgh from the late 18th century to the present. The exhibitions immerse visitors in the everyday home and work lives of Edinburgh's population using personal possessions, newspapers and the recreation of a number of rooms and offices to illustrate the changes over the decades. Like the Museum of Edinburgh, the People's Story Museum is free.
Alongside Edinburgh Castle, visitors can enjoy a 'wee dram' and uncover the secrets of brewing Scotland's famed malt, grain and blended whiskies, known to the locals as 'the water of life'. The whisky tour includes a barrel ride through the history of whisky, a tutored tasting, and a chance to meet a resident ghost. The bar offers the chance to choose from about 270 different whiskies, and a restaurant serves up traditional Scottish cuisine.
The interactive tour promises fun for the whole family, although of course only adults are permitted to sample the wares. There are several different tours on offer: The Silver Tour is ideal for families; The Gold Tour offers a more in-depth experience; The Platinum Tour is perfect for the confirmed whisky lover; The Taste of Scotland offers a mixture of whisky tasting and Scottish food; and the Morning Masterclass is crafted for connoisseurs. Although booking is not required it is recommended that visitors book in advance to secure a tour; for the Morning Masterclass pre-booking is essential. The guides are experts in their trade and do a fabulous job of educating visitors and keeping them entertained.
The famed Royal yacht, Britannia, is the pride of the Ocean Terminal in the port of Leith, Edinburgh's recently developed waterfront shopping and leisure area. Numerous illustrious passengers, including Sir Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela, have trod her decks, not to mention the British Royal Family themselves, who used the ship for 40 years. Now visitors can board this vessel on a self-guided audio tour (available in 22 languages), cruising through the fabulous state apartments, the crew's quarters and the gleaming, polished engine room. Most of the accoutrements on board are original, and there are some surprises too: like the Queen's bedroom and one of her shiny Rolls Royces.
A number of framed photographs of the Royal Family on board the ship make the visit seem all the more intimate. At the Visitor Centre, you can learn about celebrity life on this luxury ship, and browse through the souvenir shop. Having a bite to eat, or at least something to drink in the tearoom is a must. The Royal Yacht Britannia is the top attraction in the country according to VisitScotland, and the tour consistently receives rave reviews from tourists.
Made famous by the conclusion of the exciting novel (later turned movie) The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, this 15th-century Gothic church has become a touristic site of pilgrimage, just six miles (10km) south of Edinburgh's city centre. Known among the clergy as the 'Collegiate Chapel of St Matthew', the church was founded in 1446 and features the famous Apprentice Pillar, and remains a working church with regular services on Sundays. Rosslyn Chapel is a beautiful place of worship and features a wealth of sculptures and interesting Gothic features.
Regular introductory talks on the history of the chapel are given by guides throughout the day, which are free of charge and can be attended by anybody who has paid admission. These talks are conducted almost upon the hour from Monday to Saturday, and at 1pm, 2pm and 3pm on Sundays. No photography or video is allowed inside the chapel, but there are no restrictions on photography of the exterior of the building. There is a lovely coffee shop stocked with fresh produce and baked goods from the community in the visitor centre, with great views over the grounds, and a small shop selling souvenirs.
The Edinburgh Festival Theatre is used primarily for musical events and touring groups, and it is one of the main venues for the annual summer Edinburgh International Festival, as well as being the year-round venue for the Scottish Opera and the Scottish Ballet. This historic location is Edinburgh's oldest continuous theatre site: there has been a theatre on the site since as far back as 1830. After decades of illustrious but tumultuous performances, in 1963 the theatre became a bingo hall for nearly thirty years, but was still occasionally used as a festival venue.
It re-opened in June 1994 with a glass-fronted structure as the new entrance and a dramatic mix of art nouveau, beaux-arts and neo-classicist architecture, and now has adequate acoustics, serving all the artistic requirements of the community, and seating nearly 2,000 people. There are frequent children's plays and performances at the theatre, making it a good option for families. The Edinburgh Festival Theatre is supposedly one of the city's many haunted buildings, stalked by a tall, dark spectre rumoured to be the famous illusionist Sigmund Neuberger (The Great Lafayette), who was one of a number of performers burnt to death in a stage fire at the theatre in 1911.
An essential activity for travellers in Edinburgh is a stroll along the Royal Mile, a succession of streets forming the main thoroughfare of Edinburgh's Old Town. Fittingly, the Royal Mile is approximately one Scottish mile long, running between two historic attractions; Edinburgh Castle at the top of the Castle Rock and Holyrood Abbey. This is Edinburgh Old Town's busiest tourist strip, rivalled only by Princes Street in the New Town. The streets that make up the Royal Mile include Castle Esplanade, Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Strand.
The Hub, at the top end of the mile, plays host to the Edinburgh International Festival, and holds integral information on all the Edinburgh festivals. Its gothic spire, which is the highest point in central Edinburgh, towers over the adjacent castle and surrounding buildings. During the Festival the Royal Mile comes alive with entertainers and visitors. It would be quite an achievement for any sightseer in Edinburgh to manage to not walk the Royal Mile at some point as the stretch is riddled with many of the city's best and most popular attractions, as well as being the most photogenic amble in Edinburgh. There are many wonderful restaurants, pubs and shops along the Royal Mile, and tourists often choose to find accommodation nearby.
Like the London and York Dungeons, the Edinburgh Dungeon gives a graphic and spine-chilling look into Edinburgh's history. The dungeon employs every trick in the book to scare the life out of its visitors, and it does a pretty good job of it. But behind the scary masks and gruesome make up, it also offers an educational and interesting look at history, which makes it a fun way for children of all ages to learn. The Dungeon is a thrill-filled journey through a thousand years of Scotland's most dramatic and bloody history, and is very funny as well as frightening. The tour takes about 80 minutes and includes 11 live shows and two underground rides as well as incredible sets, disturbing sounds and disgusting smells. Visitors will come face to face with some sinister characters, including serial killers Burke and Hare, cannibal Sawney Bean and Scottish hero William Wallace, among others. Although a huge highlight of a visit to the city for kids, Edinburgh Dungeon is also very popular with adults and nobody will judge you for showing up without children. Booking online not only gets you a discount, it allows you to bypass the often-lengthy queues at the entrance, and is therefore highly recommended.
Featuring a wonderful variety of cute and exotic animals, children will be absolutely thrilled with a visit to the Edinburgh Zoo. It also offers younger visitors a Kids Zone where they can do puzzles, meet new additions to the zoo, find out about wildlife in their own back garden and more. A must-see is the penguin parade, held each day at 2.15pm. Another huge attraction of the Edinburgh Zoo is its Giant Panda enclosure, but note that visitors must book a time-slot to see these magnificent animals as they are kept largely out of the public eye. More than a thousand animals are housed in the zoo, in a lovely parkland setting.
For those young visitors keen to meet some marine life as well, Deep Sea World, Scotland's national aquarium, is located just 20 minutes outside the city, and is the perfect place for a fun-filled family outing on a rainy day. Children can view marine life such as sharks, eels and rays from one of the world's longest underwater tunnels, watch seal pups play, and even get to watch a shark-feeding session. There are a series of shallow 'touch pools' for younger tots to touch and handle some of the sea life, such as starfish and sea urchins.
When travelling to Edinburgh with children, a trip to the Museum of Childhood is an absolute must and a favourite with both adults and children. It contains wonderful displays, featuring toys from the past and present from all around the world, as well as displays about other aspects of childhood, including school, sports, health and holidays. The toys fill five floors and all the classics are here, including model railways, hundreds of dolls and exquisite doll houses. There are also more original and unexpected toys, including ones made at home when money was too short to buy.
While children enjoy playing with the toys, adults will enjoy the feelings of nostalgia at seeing their favourite childhood playthings. Many of the antique toys are kept safely behind glass, but there are some fun interactive exhibits including a puppet theatre, Lego, books and a dress-up section. There is also a delightful museum shop filled with toys, books and games. There is no restaurant or cafe in the museum, but there are many lovely places to eat nearby as the Museum of Childhood is on the Royal Mile.
Situated at the foot of Edinburgh's beautiful Salisbury Crags, this science centre is a fabulous attraction for children of all ages and adults alike, and aims to educate and inspire visitors to think about our planet and its evolution. Our Dynamic Earth takes visitors on a journey through planetary events like the Big Bang, the history of Earth with dinosaurs and prehistoric landscapes, fascinating natural phenomena like the magical Aurora Borealis and volcanic eruptions, and current important issues like climate change and population growth.
Featuring a number of changing exhibitions, there's always guaranteed to be something new to discover upon each visit to Our Dynamic Earth. Most of the attractions are interactive and many are positively thrilling as well as educational. Take a spin in the G-Force space ball, and explore the many wonders of the world in which we live. Our Dynamic Earth will delight adults as well as children, and is a wonderful Edinburgh attraction for a rainy day.
The tallest of the seven hills that form Holyrood Park at 822 feet (250m), Arthur's Seat is actually an extinct volcano that overlooks the city of Edinburgh. There are the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, with several grassy plateaus that make for pleasant stopping points on the way up. Described by poet Robert Louis Stevenson as 'a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design', Arthur's Seat is popular for hikes, and the view from the top over Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside is well worth the climb.
There are many different walking trails and the hill can be climbed from almost any direction, though the easiest and most popular route is from the east. The climb is not difficult but does get steep at the end so sensible shoes are recommended. Those who are less fit can drive half way up the hill before beginning their walk. There are many ideas for how the hill got its name, among them the famous legend of King Arthur and his half-sister Morgan Le Fay; the hill is sometimes suggested as a possible site for Camelot, but the suggestion is seldom taken seriously. Traditionally, the young women of Edinburgh wash their faces in the dew on the slopes of Arthur's Seat every May Day to make themselves more beautiful.
One of the city's premier tourist spots, the Glasgow Science Centre is a captivating attraction that will appeal to visitors of all ages. Located in Glasgow's Clyde Waterfront Regeneration area, the Science Centre has been awarded a five-star ranking from VisitScotland, the country's official tourist board. There is much to see and do in the Glasgow Science Centre. The heart of the Centre is its Science Mall, which features hundreds of interactive exhibits spread over three floors.
The Science Mall includes fun, hands-on experiences focused on how the body works, perception and illusion, powering the future and quantum technologies, to name a few. The Glasgow Science Centre is also home to an IMAX theatre and Scotland's leading planetarium. A world-class attraction, a trip to the Glasgow Science Centre is a must for visitors to this Scottish city, and an absolute godsend for those travelling with kids. Put aside at least three or four hours to take it all in.
The history of the city of Glasgow is intimately linked to that of the Glasgow Cathedral, as it was the city's patron saint, St Mungo, who oversaw its original construction. The Saint's remains are buried in the cathedral's crypt, and the cathedral itself continues to form a vital part of the religious life of the city of Glasgow. The church has now been in constant use as a place of worship for a remarkable 800 years and its age is palpable. The cathedral's age is all the more remarkable considering how many of Scotland's churches were destroyed during the Reformation.
The impressive medieval building, which dates back to the late 12th century, is one of the best examples of Scottish Gothic architecture you'll find anywhere in the country, featuring vaulted arches, stained glass, and spires that have been beautifully blackened with age. A highly recommended activity for tourists in Glasgow, take about an hour to explore the Cathedral's quiet, serene and splendid interior. Guide books in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish are available at the cathedral and simple leaflets are available in 12 different languages. Guided tours can be arranged, although this service is more limited in the winter months.
The highest peak on the British Isles, Ben Nevis, affectionately known as 'The Ben' among locals, is an extremely popular destination for serious mountaineers and intrepid hikers alike. Located near the charming town of Fort William in the Scottish Highlands, the imposing igneous cliffs of Ben Nevis dominate the skyline and offer an irresistible challenge to active types looking to conquer Britain's most intimidating climb. The cliffs of the mountain are ideal for climbers and are also one of the UK's best ice climbing sites. There are two main routes up the mountain: the Mountain Track, which is geared for experienced climbers, and features a thrilling ascent up craggy 700 metre (2,300 feet) cliffs on the mountain's north face; and the gentler Glen Nevis route, which is suited to fit hikers, and follows a steep track up the mountain's south face. On the summit of Ben Nevis, the ruins of an old observatory (abandoned since 1904) can be found, and the views are immense, rugged and spectacular. At the foot of the mountain, the famous and popular Ben Nevis Distillery can be found near Victoria Bridge (a little ways north of Fort William), providing an interesting excursion for malt whisky enthusiasts.
Linked to the mainland by the Skye Bridge in 1995, the Isle of Skye is the most scenic and easily accessible of Scotland's many islands and attracts thousands of visitors on holiday each year. The weather is unpredictable, but when the sun shines there are few more beautiful places in Europe. It is an island of rough textures, soft colours and fine light that whispers of romance and escape.
It was from the Isle of Skye that Flora Macdonald helped Bonne Prince Charlie escape to France and it is said that they had a short relationship. There is a display on the escape at the Skye Museum of Island Life, and Flora Macdonald's grave lies nearby. Towards the west of the island is Dunvegan Castle, home to the chiefs of MacLeod for over 700 years, and the Isle of Skye's most famous historical landmark. It has some fascinating exhibits, lovely gardens and a restaurant. Despite a rich and cruel history, which includes Viking invasions and bitter clan feuds, the Isle of Skye has retained its strong traditions and has a thriving Gaelic culture; the majority of the population still speak Gaelic as their first language. The Isle of Skye lies on the northwest coast of Scotland, about 250 miles (402km) by car from Edinburgh.
Sitting on the shores of Loch Linnhe, Fort William is the gateway to some of the Highlands' finest natural attractions and is a natural stop-off for those heading up to the north of Scotland. Ben Nevis is just to the south of the town and at 4406ft (1,344m) is Britain's highest mountain. It is a very popular challenge for walkers, but should not be taken lightly. Although the mountain is not massive by international standards, the walk starts near sea level.
Climbers should also be prepared for the unpredictable Scottish weather that can quickly turn to sub-arctic temperatures at any time of year. The striking scenery of Aviemore, Cairngorm and Glencoe is nearby; in winter, the area opens for skiing for those happy to brave the regular blizzards. Fort William is also a good starting point for the West Highland Way, a footpath that runs along the West coast down to Glasgow. Another outdoor activity popular in the region is mountain biking, and there are some renowned downhill tracks near Fort William.
As the name suggests, Fort William also has a rather tumultuous military history.The town is now a peaceful summer holiday retreat that offers a selection of hotels, cafes, shops and restaurants.
Scotland has a temperate climate, like the rest of the United Kingdom, with extremely changeable weather, and generally the coolest, wettest and cloudiest weather in the UK. Despite this, Scotland is warmer than other places on similar northern latitudes because it is warmed by the Gulf Stream of the Atlantic. January, which is mid-winter, is the coldest month, with temperatures averaging between 31°F (-0.2°C) and 41°F (5°C). July, which is mid-summer, is the warmest month, with temperatures averaging between 49°F (9°C) and 62°F (17°C). Rainfall is plentiful in general but actually varies widely across Scotland, with the western highlands one of the wettest places in Europe, whereas the east of the country is comparatively dry. The wettest months are October through January, but rain is possible at any time of year. Snowfall is also common, especially on higher ground, with parts of the highlands getting up to a hundred snow days per year. The north and west of Scotland tend to be the windiest regions.
The best time to visit Scotland is in the summer months, between June and August, when the country is at its warmest and driest. May is also a pleasant month to visit, as it is the sunniest month.
Some of Edinburgh's top restaurants are to be found not in the city, but by the sea. In the historic port of Leith just a short bus ride from the city centre you will find Britannia Spice, three-time winner of the British Curry Awards and the 'Best Restaurant in Scotland' accolade for the BIBA restaurant awards. Traditional cuisine from India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Nepal is served up in a large, immaculate, nautical-themed dining room. The restaurant prides itself on fresh ingredients, perfected flavours and fantastic service. Open Mondays to Saturdays for lunch and dinner and Sundays for dinner.
Arguably Edinburgh's most renowned restaurant, Witchery has been operating in a historic 16th-century building at the gates of Edinburgh Castle for so long that it has become part of the scenery. Numerous celebrities as well as local fans dine in Gothic splendour on a delicious menu featuring traditional Scottish classics, including beef, lamb, game and seafood dishes. Some of the most popular items on the menu are hot smoked salmon with leeks, Angus beef fillet with smoked garlic broth and Scottish oysters.
The atmospheric dining rooms and 'secret garden' can be savoured just as much as the food. Witchery offers lunch and dinner, with an á la carte menu. Even those on a budget can enjoy lunching at the Witchery, which offers a reasonable set price for a two-course meal.
Small and intimate, it is wise to book at La Bruschetta because it is Edinburgh's most popular authentic Italian restaurant, particularly at lunch time when its bistro menu is available. The owner, Giovanni Cariello, is also the chef and is a master of his craft. Specialties usually involve Scottish fish. La Bruschetta is open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and supper from 12pm to 2pm and 6pm to 10.30pm.
No visitor to the United Kingdom worth his or her salt can leave the islands without indulging in a traditional fish and chip supper, and in Edinburgh the Clam Shell on the Royal Mile may be the best 'chippy' in town, although there have been some mixed reviews. A veritable emporium of tasty delights, the Clam Shell doesn't just stop at battered fish and crispy fries: there is a whole range of food including local specialties like haggis, black pudding, a range of tasty sausages and deep-fried mars bars on offer.
Positioned above the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, Tower restaurant offers spectacular views of the castle and cityscape along with some of the city's finest cuisine. A high point for dining in more ways than one, the Tower has a chic, glamorous interior, excellent service and a vast menu, covering everything from oysters to moreish steaks.
Specialities include seafood, notably Scottish lobsters. The Tower is also renowned for its huge award-winning wine list of about 150 varieties. The outside terrace, which seats 70 diners, is extremely popular in summer and arguably offers the best view of the city to be had anywhere. The Tower is open daily from 10am to 10pm, open until 10.30pm on Saturday and Sunday.
Formally known as Centotre, this Italian café and restaurant is much less formal than its facade suggests. A chic café and bar style inside, Contini serves simple and light Italian dishes. Although Centotre originally focused on Italian staples, Contini puts a greater emphasis on creativity, balance and showcasing the quality of their produce. Their menu has evolved to include dishes that can be shared and diverges from the standard format of starter, main and pudding. The front is ideal for brunch and light lunches; downstairs is more suited for intimate diners. Reservations are advisable except at the café and bar.
The Corinthian in Glasgow is one of the most popular venues in the city. A bar/restaurant/nightclub, situated in a stately former Bank of Scotland building with fully-restored Victorian style, it's a truly impressive location. The menu is full of local specialties, including Aberdeenshire steak, Ayrshire corn-fed chicken, Loch Fyne mussels, and Gruth Dhu cheese. The venue is always hopping, and it's best to make a reservation ahead of time.
For good, local Scottish food in Glasgow, many head to Fanny Trollope's. The decor and service are both old-fashioned and welcoming, and the menu is constantly adjusting to what produce is in season with new and old favourites like Glenfarg lamb, ox cheeks, Cullen skink, and orange marmalade. As a bonus, the kitchen has a reputation for being accommodating to vegetarians. Fanny Trollope's is open Tuesday to Thursday from 5pm, Friday to Sunday from 12pm (closed 2pm-5pm).
Beside the seashore, on the edge of Loch Dunvegan on the picturesque Isle of Skye, lies the Three Chimneys and its welcoming guest house, the House Over-by. The restaurant has been delighting guests who find themselves in this wondrous part of Scotland with impeccable fine dining since 1985. Recently refurbished, with renewed vigour and a fresh perspective, this bistro still takes immense pride in Scottish cuisine and celebrating local ingredients. Having received international acclaim and multiple awards for culinary excellence, the Three Chimneys is well worth a visit. Open every day of the week, excluding annual closure from mid-December until Mid-January.
With a Michelin star under its belt, The Kitchin utilises the best of seasonal Scottish produce while influenced by French cooking techniques. Run by husband and wife team, Tom and Michaela Kitchin, the service is known to be close to flawless, with great attention to detail shown in every aspect of the experience, from decor to wine. The restaurant's philosophy: 'From Nature to Plate', shines through in their delectable menu, with dishes that are fresh, creative and packed with flavour. Due to high demand, make sure to book well in advance. Open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday to Saturday.
The historic city of St Andrews is home to one of the most famous golf clubs in the world, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. Often referred to as 'the home of golf', St Andrews and the British Golf Museum will be enjoyable for any enthusiasts of the sport. With 500 years of golfing history, the museum will take visitors on an exciting journey through the sport's heritage and provide an introduction to the world's golfing legends.
Golf aside, St Andrews is an attractive, historic city and is also home to the prestigious University of St Andrews, the oldest university in Scotland and the third oldest in the English-speaking world. Students make up a third of the population during the academic term, giving the old city a youthful energy and fun nightlife. Once the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland, the city's famous and ancient cathedral was destroyed during the Scottish Reformation and now lies in ruins. However, many other historic buildings remain intact and St Andrews prevails to be an atmospheric city with a rich cultural life as well as some of the world's best golfing opportunities.
Known as the 'Queen of the South' and birthplace of both world-famous poet Robert Burns and James Barrie, author of Peter Pan, the quaint and picturesque town of Dumfries may not be as large as some of its neighbours, but it is warm, welcoming and beautiful. In 1997 Dumfries was voted the best place to live in the UK, and is still considered by many to be just that, due to its mild climate, lovely setting and the exuberant charm of the locals.
Most of the buildings in Dumfries are built with local red sandstone, which comes from Locharbriggs, giving them a unique character and the city a distinctive look and feel. Around town, visitors with an interest in Dumfries' most famous resident, Robert Burns, can visit no end of sites associated with the poet, including Burns' House, Burns' Museum, Burns Street, Burns' Mausoleum and even his regular corner pub, the old Globe Inn.
Other attractions include the Bridge House Museum, the magnificent triangular Caerlaverock Castle and its nature reserve, New Abbey and the Solway Coast. Scotland's seventh largest river, the River Nith, which runs through the centre of Dumfries, creates a picturesque setting and offers fabulous fishing opportunities right on the town's doorstep. Hit the links and enjoy a round of 18 holes on one of 30 of Scotland's finest golf courses, including Thornhill and Stranraer. Alternatively, put those hand-tied flies to good use when casting for brown trout in the nearby Lochmaben, which has a couple of good fishing lochs; or try for salmon, sea trout and trout from the banks of the River Nith. Just out of town, take a walk along the nearby coastline or high above on the cliff tops where waves crash below and the cool North Atlantic sea breeze invigorates you.
One of the most impressive castles in Scotland, Stirling Castle has a famous history of clashes between British troops and Scottish revolutionaries. Its bridge is the site of one of William Wallace's major victories, and the field of Bannockburn was the venue for the triumph of Robert the Bruce. Stirling Castle was also home to generations of Scottish monarchs, including Mary Queen of Scots. The views of the surrounding countryside, including the famous Wallace Monument, are spectacular.
Free guided tours run throughout the day and there is an excellent audio guide available in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese for a small extra cost. The fascinating history of the castle makes it worthwhile to hire an audio guide, or at least do some research beforehand, as past events bring the sprawling castle and surrounding area magnificently to life. Even without the audio guide, there are exhibitions and displays offering some information about the castle and the important battles fought there. Although some of the castle is in ruin, other areas have been carefully restored to give visitors a sense of how it must have looked during its glory days.
The Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat-lift located near the town of Falkirk in central Scotland, is an unlikely but extremely popular Scottish tourist attraction. The Wheel, which was built as part of an initiative to rejuvenate Scotland's canals and waterways, is a tremendous feat of engineering. Visually spectacular, the Falkirk Wheel has an overall diameter of 115 feet (35m), and features two 45-foot (15m) mechanical arms, shaped like double-headed Celtic axes. A landmark in Scottish engineering, the Falkirk Wheel features on the obverse of the country's £50 note.
An increasingly popular day excursion from Edinburgh, visitors to the Falkirk Wheel can enjoy 50-minute boat rides on the Union Canal that feature an exciting 'lift' on the Falkirk Wheel. Kids will also love the Waterwalkerz Activity Zone found at the site, and the whole family can enjoy the four miles (7km) of woodland walking trails that surround the area. Bicycles can also be hired. The Falkirk Wheel hosts some special events, including some deals for Christmas and similar occasions. A fun and educational day out with the kids, a trip to the Falkirk Wheel is highly recommended for family vacationers in Scotland.