Highlands, Islands, and Unforgettable Cities
Your Scotland Trip Planner
Urquhart Castle ruins on Loch Ness. Photo by Sherbsworld
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Explore this Scotland trip planner to discover both the top things to enjoy on your trip as well as many resources you can enjoy before you leave.
For nature and history lovers, Scotland has over 4,000 miles of coastline, over 900 islands and over 100,000 ancient sites. For those craving urban adventures, its capital is swamped with culture vultures every August when the city is taken over by a month-long arts and entertainment festival; whilst Glasgow is one of the top cities in the UK for live music and nightlife.
For me, Scotland has captured a piece of my heart in numerous ways each time I’ve visited. Kayaking around the wildlife sanctuary of Handa Island, where seals and seabirds were my only company. Dancing in the street amidst the gothic spires of Edinburgh for Hogmanay festival. Being battered by a storm that swept over the Isle of Skye, the night after swimming under an ice-cold waterfall. My experiences of Scotland are never repetitive.
The landscape is dreamy with wide-sweeping glaciated valleys, and dense and dewy woodlands where streams and waterfalls trickle into the lochs. There are rugged beaches, charming harbour villages, sprawling cities, and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with mysterious rocky coves, white sand, and the most turquoise waters you’d never expect. The fresh air and the promise of solitude have allured me since my first visit.
With so much nature, there are endless outdoor pursuits, and you’re never far from water with so much coastline and over 31,000 freshwater lochs.The country’s wildlife includes deer, eagles, otters and passing orca. Conservationists are currently talking about reintroducing wolves and bears. The darkness in the dead of winter and the long daylight hours in the summer, echo the polarized daylight of Scandinavia. Whilst the vibrant cities sparkle with life all night and into the wee hours.
Why plan a trip to Scotland?
When you realise how vast the landscape is, you’ll be glad to have done your research on where to spend your time. Recently I did a trip to the Isle of Skye for two nights. When we got there, we realised 4 nights is the minimum you need to fully appreciate that one island. Driving through the Highlands is always much longer than you anticipate, especially with all the photo stops you’ll want to make.
Restaurants throughout the country offer gastro cuisine and locally sourced fare from land, loch and sea. Knowing what to choose from the menu before you go will give you great foresight into Scottish tradition and heritage.
Scotland’s rich and turbulent history is evident in the archaeological sites and architecture. Knowing a bit about this deep-rooted history has really enhanced my visits. Learning its background before you go will uncover mysteries of the past, help you understand the mentality and pride of Scottish people today, and bring your surroundings to life.
The permeating cultural heritage and the treasury of folklore will ignite your curiosity – it’s what has fascinated me more and more every time I visit. The following resources will give you multiple suggestions and a better mind-map of where you want to stick on your Scotland bucket list.
Your Scotland Trip Planner: What to do before you depart
Cook up a Scottish Feast (minus the sheep’s stomach)
Traditionally, Haggis is made from sheep’s offal, lungs, heart and stomach. It’s known to delight or disgust Scotland’s visitors, depending on your palate. It is so important in Scottish culture that their most beloved poet, Robert Burns, wrote a poem about it, Address to a Haggis.
The poem is read out every Burns Night (25th January) to celebrate and appreciate the Haggis and the late national treasure. A bagpiper accompanies the presentation and plays a traditional tune. The poem is then recited by whoever has the most entertaining and booming voice, before slicing the meat. It’s best served, of course, with a dram of Scottish whisky.
It’s rich and peppery flavour and grainy texture has thankfully, for vegetarians, been incorporated into a meatless option. You’ll see it served all around Scotland as an alternative to the traditional recipe. After a blustery and bewitching walk in the Highlands, this was just what I needed. The whole meal is earthy and filling and is the best dish to warm you up after a hike.
So unless you have a sheep’s stomach lying around, here is a recipe to make a hearty, animal-friendly version. Scottish Scran has heaps of traditional Scottish recipes, and their Veggie Haggis recipe is second to none. If you want to do it the proper way, then you need your side serving of neeps and tatties, aka mashed swede and potatoes, all drizzled with a creamy whisky sauce. Scottish Scran do a great recipe for neeps and tatties, or for a more basic one, you can also follow this recipe from Jamie Oliver.
Snuggle Up with a Great Read
Start with Scotland’s Secret History – The Illicit Distilling and Smuggling of Whisky, by Maclean and MacCannell. For almost 300 years from the mid-17th century, Scotland was a smugglers’ haven. It started with a small parish in Aberdeenshire who illegally produced whisky and smuggled it out of the community to evade hefty tax. Interrelated families used their contacts to smuggle the contraband throughout the country, to the ports, and eventually worldwide. Smuggling whisky across the seas to Europe helped the Jacobites make ally ties with other countries.
This book illuminates this forgotten history through illustrated articles and features on the importance of whisky to Scotland, then and now. The book covers different topics such as ‘The Bard and the Bottle’ and ‘The Dram in Folklore’ by literary and folklore experts.
Scotland – A Concise History by Fitzroy Maclean is a history book that does exactly what it says on the tin. It concisely documents the story of Scotland, from the first written words, the Picts and the Scots, and the coming of the Christians, right through to Mary Queen of Scots, the Jacobite Rising and even up to Brexit.
What’s manageable about it is whilst many history books are dry and difficult to follow, Maclean’s is broken down into bitesize chapters and subchapters. You can read it start to finish, or dip in and out depending where your curiosity takes you.
Anyone who has ever wondered about the windswept and desolate isles of Orkney are in for a poetical, tangible treat in The Outrun by Amy Liptrot. Amy’s account of her return to her native islands after battling with alcoholism and depression in London will make you want to flee the city and reconnect with nature. From roaming the organic sheep farm where she grew up to swimming in freezing cold rivers, Amy gets the healing she longs for and finds part of her soul again on the wild islands. It’s a stunning picture of the most hard-to-reach Scottish isles, documenting the unique wildlife, the constellations of those dark skies, the wild weather patterns, and the sightings of the Merry Dancers – the Aurora Borealis.
Here’s a great article from Wanderlust to fill your imagination with wilderness experiences for your bucket list. For adventure seekers and wildlife fanatics, this piece gives you the best tips on where to go and when. From fine views, epic peaks and thrill-seeking sports, to orca and basking shark encounters, Scotland will charm your wild side.
Feast for Your Eyes
For a real picture of the wild and beautiful scenery of Scotland’s coastline, watch Grand Tours of the Scottish Islands with Paul Murton, available on Amazon Prime and the BBC in the UK. Murton explores life of the past and present and meets characters along the way. His journey connects him to the stunning scenery on the islands around the coast and even inland on the famous lochs.
Rob Roy is Liam Neeson’s depiction of Rob Roy MacGregor, the cattle-rustler and brigand (cattle thief and highway robber to you and me) of 17th – 18th century Scotland. Rob Roy is also remembered as the country’s answer to Robin Hood. He is the muse of the notable Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott’s 19th century novel, Rob Roy. (The most prominent Edinburgh monument, the Scott Monument, is named after this poet/novelist.)
Scottish Tour Guides will tell you that the lengthy drama, Outlander, is more fiction and fantasy than fact, and they would be advising you correctly. But the show has been a huge international hit and the locations are real– many still exist. If you want to lose yourself in some of Scotland’s most dreamy scenery, this is great entertainment based on the story of the Jacobite Rising.
Listen in on the history and folklore of Scotland
In the Stories of Scotland Podcast, two Scots, Annie and Jenny, explore the folklore and history of Scotland through ‘belthering’ – a Scot’s word meaning to talk nonsensically. They travel their homeland ‘prepared to climb into caves, cairns and chaos’ to find stories around this multifaceted country. Scotland’s history is dense, mysterious, dark, and hugely entertaining. This podcast highlights everything from Scotland’s historic sites to politics, nature and stories of ghosts and witchcraft. They enthusiastically delve into misrepresented histories and threats to their unique and fragile environment. The episodes are available to download from their site and also on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
Practical Tips for Your Scotland Trip Planner
Always have waterproofs for Scotland. The west coast in particular is very wet, wild and windy all year round. Remember the golden rule: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!
Midges can be unbearable in the summer months, and last year we appeared to be their main food source when we visited the west coast in August (the worst time for midges). They were so bad that we often had to stay in the van instead of sitting outside in our stunning campsites. The only repellent that famously (and bizarrely) seems to work is Avon’s Skin So Soft.
Download your map and playlist before you set off. The internet in the Highlands and Islands is scarce. Believe me, you won’t want to be connected to anything but your surroundings anyway., but you won’t often get a choice!
Always add about 45 minutes onto your trip than what Google Maps tells you! And check where petrol garages (gas stations) are before you drive as these can be few and far between in more remote areas.
Here’s some of my favorite Scotland destinations for you. I wrote this blog post after asking well-travelled friends and family what were their favourite spots in the UK. The majority of responses were destinations in Scotland, some were cities, others more isolated wilderness. Scotland really does have something for everyone.
Discovering these resources about Scotland has been an inspiring and ongoing hobby. They have not only enlightened me on the country’s rich and timeless culture, but they have helped me understand the uniqueness of the people of Scotland and the intricacies of this monumental nation.
What resources have you used to plan your own trip to Scotland? Did you see some here that you will use in your own travels? Let us know in the comments. Get in touch with me email@example.com if you have any questions about your travel plans to Scotland!