Castles, scotch and all the other must-sees are on this list
One of the youngest cities in Scotland, and designated as ‘European City of Culture’ in the 90s, Glasgow surprises you with things to do. It’s filled with the usual fare of manicured parks (the Botanic Gardens are sublime), and ancient castles. Check out Bothwell Castle, a 13th-century structure made of red sandstone against a lush, green setting. The arts are alive with a spread of galleries—the Glasgow School of Art and Kelvingrove Gallery and Museum are particularly rewarding. Football fans will love the Scottish Football Museum.
The University of Glasgow has lent the city’s nightlife a distinct edge. You can while away evenings at the many tea rooms (try the Willow tearoom) or the odd flea market (Barras on Gallowgate), but it’s at night that the cool and crazy come out to play. King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut hosts some of the best gigs in the city, and drinking in Òran Mór is a memorable experience—the bar was once a church! For a slightly macabre but romantic turn of events, head for a walk at Fossil Grove, and wind around 350-million-year-old fossil trees.
Nairn was once a very important fishing port on the Western coast of Scotland. Today, it’s known more for its seaside resorts and, thanks to some sunny weather, some exceptional golf courses. Looking at the velvet expanse of the 18-hole professional level courses, it’s not hard to imagine how the sport was invented in Scotland. For more sedentary pursuits, Nairn Beach is a perfect getaway where you might catch a glimpse of dolphins. For shopping, head to Paper Bird and Iolaire, both incredible graphic design and stationery stores perfect to pick up souvenirs from.
The city’s excellent weather (more sun, less rain) makes it an ideal venue for a number of festivals. If you head there in August, you will catch the Nairn International Jazz Festival, which attracts the biggest names in the music industry. The cultural stream extends to a widely acclaimed film festival as well, that was started by Hollywood actress Tilda Swinton. For something that goes back in time a little more, try the Highland Games, an event that started in the 1800s, paying homage to ancient practises, like Scottish Athletics, piping, drumming and dancing.
The best way to figure out history is to live it. And the closest you come to that is in Inverness. The Culloden Moor Battlefield has been maintained to allow visitors to live out the epic battle between the Jacobites and British, 250 years ago. There’s also Davy the Ghost Tours, a walking tour of the city with gory tales lighting the way. You get to visit all the macabre spots and haunted spaces, ending up at a haunted tavern. It whets your appetite perfectly for a visit to the Drumnadrochit, to the loch, or freshwater lake for a glimpse of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.
How is a visit to Scotland complete without a sampling of the national tipple? Visits to distilleries are commonplace and there are numerous ones, almost outnumbering corner shops. The Glen Ord Distillery distinguishes itself by being the only distillery that produces single malt Scotch whiskey. Tours include a walk through the ancient process, tastings and if you’ve been very well behaved, a complimentary dram of the legendary spirit as well.
The most iconic structure on the Edinburgh skyline is the majestic Edinburgh Castle. A tour is time well spent, and if you’re lucky at 1 pm, you’ll catch the daily gun salute. Use the Edinburgh Bus Tour to figure out your route of exploring the city and when to visit the Scott Monument, arguably the most impressive physical tribute paid to an author. When in Scotland, dress like Scotsman–head to the Edinburgh Old Town Weaving Co, to watch the looms spew out clan patterns in kilts.
Edinburgh gave birth to the alternative arts and culture with the now incredibly popular Fringe Festival. In its wake the city has some of the best performance venues with top billed shows. Stand up comedy is easy fare here with world class acts. Head to The Stand, one of the most well known spaces, to catch the next Russell Brand. Or you can also head to the Playhouse or Traverse to catch a play. End your night on George Street, where a line of pubs and stylish bars vie for attention.
If you’d like to indulge in a spot of shopping, try Jenners, the oldest luxe department store, or Multrees Walk, where Harvey Nichols, Mulberry and Louis Vuitton will invariably lead you to an afternoon cocktail on their terrace bar. For a more eclectic shopping list, try the West End Village, where the indie shops are overflowing with bric-a-brac. Adventure of a different sort can be found at Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano that you can hike up for spectacular views of the city.
For an authentic pub atmosphere, veer away from the stylish bars and head straight for the Sheep Heid Inn or Royal Oak, where beers are accompanied by folk music. Ditto Sandy Bell and Oxford. If you are up to it, spend the night the Gothic Witchery by the Castle–the moniker points to the fact that witches were burnt at the stake here. You might want to steel yourself with the help of some good old haggis (look for those made by Macsween of Edinburgh – they even have a vegetarian haggis).