The Ultimate Scottish Bucketlist
Bonnie Scotland... beautiful wilderness, vibrant cities and quirky wildlife. There's enough here to fill hundreds of trips, but here is our list of must sees that you don't want to miss.
See a Highland Coo - with their shaggy orange coats, tousled fringes and long horns, these iconic, adorable cattle are such a recognisable symbol of Scotland. In fact the photo we took of a coo with Loch Lomond behind it is one of our favourite shots we've ever taken!
Search for Nessie - take your binoculars and head to Loch Ness -book a cruise one of the
boat companies that tour the loch and keep an eye on their radar screens!
Eat Haggis - Tasty, hearty and warming after a day's hiking in the Highlands, Scotland's national dish is delicious! Served with traditional mashed neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes), vegetarian options are often available as well.
Swim in a loch - wild swimming is not only good for your health but also a great way to literally immerse yourself in the beautiful Scottish outdoors. We'd recommend wearing a wetsuit and not going too far from the shore, even in summer the water of Loch Ness is only about 5 degrees C!! That is exceptionally cold.
Visit Balmoral - the Queen's holiday home and owned by the Royal Family since Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought it back in 1852. While technically a castle. the grey granite property seems cosy compared to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle and can be visited from April to July, until the Queen turns up in August for her summer hols.
Tour a whiskey distillery - from peaty smoky Islay to the sweeter notes of Speyside, Scottish whisky is world renowned. Many of the top names like Glenlivet, Auchentoshan and Talisker offer tours of their facilities and guided tastings. We visited Dalwhinnie Distillery where we enjoyed a guided tour followed by the chance to try four different whiskys, each paired with a complimentary chocolate - really fab and only £16 per person! Bear in mind that the drink drive limit in Scotland is lower than elsewhere in the UK, so be prepared to get a taxi or nominate a designated driver - not to worry, the driver can still taste the whisky, but the full measure is put into little bottles for you to take away and drink later.
Hike in the Cairngorms - get back to nature and explore the largest national park in the UK. Full of gorgeous lochs, forests and mountains, it felt like we were in Canada or Scandinavia.
Visit Edinburgh - one of our favourite cities in the UK. Outstanding history, a world famous summer theatre festival, the castle, the nightlife... oh and book a ghost tour to the Edinburgh vaults! One of the scariest things we've ever done...
Spot a red squirrel - Once common in the UK, these adorable little bundles of fluff are now only found in pockets of Northern England, Anglesey in Wales and Scotland. Much smaller than the more common grey squirrel (which was introduced to the UK in the 1800s and caused havoc with the red population), with tufty ears and big bushy tails, seeing one while out walking is a real privilege.
Go to the Isle of Skye - drive across the (free) Skye Bridge to explore the breath taking wild landscapes of this special Hebridean island. From Fairy Pools to stunning hilly hiking and fresh seafood, you can drive around the island in a couple of hours, but it's well worth a few days stay in its own right!
See a man in a kilt- Far from being a tartan skirt, the kilt has been the traditional dress of Gaelic men since the 16th century and is an immediately recognisable symbol of Scotland. Today they are more typically worn as formalwear at weddings, official functions and military ceremonies rather than out shopping. The look is usually completed with a sporran (a large belt pouch worn at the front a bit like a bum bag - kilts don't have pockets!), knee socks and leather lace up shoes known as 'Ghillie Brogues'.
Look for dolphins in Aberdeen - Head to the busy harbour and catch a boat out to look for Bottlenose dolphins. Aberdeen is one of the best places in Europe to spot them!
Climb a mountain - while Ben Nevis is the highest peak in the UK, it also can get INCREDIBLY busy! We'd recommend heading to it's slightly smaller cousin in the Cairngorms, Ben Macdui. Only 30m shorter, it's much quieter and a beautiful hike. Very steep at times, it's never-the-less a walk up mountain, no scrambling required, and very achievable!
See the national rugby side at Murrayfield - experience international rugby and be welcomed into this quintessentially Scottish stadium. Worth noting, it's usually more affordable to bag a Six Nations ticket here than London's Twickenham or the Principality in Cardiff.
Listen to bagpipes - nothing is more Scottish than the haunting sound of Bagpipes drifting through the air. Your best bet to find a piper is in Edinburgh, either busking along the Royal Mile or on Waverley Bridge. If you're visiting around the New Year celebrations of Hogmanay or Burns Night in January your odds will increase further!
Explore some castles - from the ruins of Urquhart overlooking Loch Ness to the historic Royal fortresses of Edinburgh and Stirling, Scotland has its fair share of castles. Choose from tiny Braemar or Macbeth's Glamis (said to be the most haunted in Scotland), dramatic Dunnottar or photogenic "Pink Palace", Drumlanrig Castle - Scotland has more than 1500 to choose from!
Discover ancient Orkney - Catch the ferry north to these special islands and step back in time. You can see Iron Age settlements, stone circles and the Stone Age village of Skara Brae, as well as local handicrafts, charming seaport towns, seasonal seabird colonies and achingly beautiful rugged coastlines.
Drive the N500 - Up there with the Pacific Coastal Highway in California and the Icelandic Ring Road, this route of just over 500 miles is one of the world's most beautiful roadtrips. Glorious wild coastal scenery of the Northern Highlands, mountains, lochs, puffins, blustery white sand beaches, whisky distilleries and castles - from the Castle of Mey (the Queen Mother's favourite) to the dramatic cliff top ruins of Girnigoe Castle.
Stand on top of the world (or atleast the UK) at Dunnet Head - While you're up there, head to the remote peninsula of Dunnet Head. Contrary to popular belief, the nearby tiny village of John O’Groats isn't the most northerly point of mainland UK, this headland is. Be sure to also visit John O'Groats and it's famous sign post, pointing back the 874 miles to Cornwall's Landsend in the south - the longest distance between two British inhabited points. Buy local handicrafts, spot seabirds on the cliffs (and if you're lucky, minke and killer whales out to sea!) and look out towards the Orkney Islands from the coastal path, only 6 miles away.
Take the high road or the low road in Scotland's other national park, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs - 3 hours south of the Caingorms, the Trossachs are famously scenic. Loch Lomond is the UK's largest expanse of fresh water and one of 22 lochs (and one lake) found in the National Park. Head to Balmaha to climb Conic Hill for staggering views over the water (and perhaps a close encounter with some Highland Cattle), or Balloch, the gateway to the National Park with its paddle steamer and annual summer folk festival.
Shock the folks back home with a "guess where we are?!" text from Gretna Green - When an English law passed in 1754 giving parents the right to veto the marriage of under 21 years olds if they didn't approve, Gretna Green (the first easily accessible village by road) from England, became the romantic destination of young lovers who skipped over the border in order to marry without their parents consent. Today the English minimum age of marriage is 16 with parents' permission, 18 without, and technically youngsters can still elope here. The town's romantic reputation means that some 5000 couples of all ages marry here each year!
Wild Camp - thanks to Scottish Parliament passing the Land Reform Act (2003), wild camping is legal in Scotland on most unenclosed land. This means, unlike in England and Wales where you need to book a campsite, in Scotland, you can pitch a tent in the great outdoors! There are some exceptions, a seasonal byelaw means that you need a permit to stay in four of the most popular areas of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, but this still leaves 96% of the park free all year round! If you're planning a wild camping trip to Scotland, please read and follow Scotland's Outdoor Access Code to keep the wilderness beautiful for everyone!
Have we missed anything? Which of these would you most like to do in Scotland?