Don’t even begin to talk to me about Scotland.
What I mean is, don’t even begin to talk to me about Scotland unless you are trying to fill an hour or two. I have a tendency to go on and on about the things I experienced in this beautiful land. On more than one occasion, I have launched into a discussion (ok, more like a monologue) about my trip only to snap back into reality and see the person’s eyes across from me glazed over. So I have learned for the most part, when people ask me about my trip to Scotland to reply with the simple answer of, “it was awesome!”.
I will admit I have been putting off writing this post. After all, how do you put into words a place you have come to love so much? Sometime if you are lucky enough, you may take a journey to a place that will speak to you. It’s almost magical and difficult to describe simply to someone who just wants to know the basics of your trip. How do I paint a picture of the emerald green rolling hills of the Highlands or the intricacy of the University of Glasgow? The rich history and melodic Scottish accent that still rings in my ears? The bagpipes and kilts, sweeping, windswept hilltop views. Shoot, I even loved the cows. You see? It is very difficult to summarize your magical place into a few mere words. I suppose your best bet is to take your own trip to Scotland in order to understand its full richness and beauty. And hey, if you ever need someone to go with you, I’m your girl!
So here goes…whew…where to begin?
I had the privilege of spending nine days in Scotland with my best friend, a.k.a, my Mom. Although I am a bit ashamed to admit this, we planned a tour. Now when I say we planned a tour, we didn’t just plan any old “hit the highlights of Scotland” tour. We planned an Outlander, Mary Queen of Scots tour. There, I said it. I know I shouldn’t be afraid to admit I am a freaky Outlander fan, but I know I need to be careful admitting certain things out of fear of scaring people off. However, confessions being made, I am a die-hard fan. I’ve watched all the show’s seasons on tv, read most of the books (give me a break, I’m trying to get through them but at 1,300 pages a piece they are quite a commitment), own the mugs, mousepads, memorabilia, etc. And as for Mary Queen of Scots, her story is simply fascinating. And yes, I was also introduced to her through a show (Reign), but really, who wouldn’t want to see first-hand where all of her drama went down? And truth be told, my mom is just as much of an Outlander nerd as me (sorry mom, if I’m going down, you’re going down with me). So we planned a Thelma and Louise-style trip in search of Jaime, Claire and the standing stones of Scotland.
How we did it
We looked into booking tours with many different tour guides. Most were group tours and we ultimately decided that if we were going to take this once-in-a-lifetime trip, we were going to do it right. So we booked a private tour through Edinburgh Tour Guides. Sam, the owner, was our guide. She drove, booked our lodging, and is just as much an Outlander fan as us. Yay! We could all be geeked out together! After a lot of research and going back and forth, we agreed on an itinerary that would keep us pretty busy. Don’t worry, I won’t give you a list of the 38 stops on our tour with commentary on how they may or may not relate to Outlander. But, if you are a fan, you can always check out my Facebook page. Just click this link: All things Outlander to see photos of the show and book locations.
How we got there
We flew in and out of Glasgow. At the time, the flights were cheaper than Edinburgh. The two airports are only about 45 minutes apart so really either would be fine to use as a home base.
Where we stayed
Night 1: Glasgow. The Argyll Hotel. We had a super cute plaid room that was just big enough for us to sleep. But it was plaid (and did I mention super cute?) so I was very forgiving about the size. The bathroom was also small. Breakfast was provided and it was good. The location of the Argyll was very central and we were able to walk to most places.
Nights 2-5: Edinburgh. Alba House Bed and Breakfast. A charming old house that has been converted into a B&B. Our room was large, clean, and had a decent-sized bathroom. Breakfast was good, but I was disappointed there was no option for porridge after all isn’t that what you are supposed to eat when you are in Scotland? Cath, the host, was very kind. We felt relaxed and at home. I would highly recommend Alba House. The only drawback is, it is a bit of a hike to The Royal Mile. Perhaps a mile each way.
Nights 6-8: Inverness. St. Ann’s House Bed and Breakfast. I’ll give this location a 6 out of 10 rating. It was just ok. The room was large and clean. Funny story. My mom and I could not figure out how to turn on the water in the shower. We tried everything. The only thing left was to push a red button outside the bathroom door. We figured it would either turn on the water or signal the fire department so, with one eye open, we tentatively pushed it. Voila! No sirens, only water. Woo hoo! And I’m glad too since my mom was wearing nothing but a towel.
What we ate
If you like steak and ale pie or fish and chips, you will love the food in Scotland. We typically opted for more Western fair and for the most part, it was pretty good. Of course, I stuffed myself with scones and clotted cream every chance I got. They were so good! Make sure you try some whiskey, but I would avoid the haggis and blood pudding. Gag!
It is sooooo hard to choose which things will make the cut!
We only had one day to explore the city and I wish we had more time as the city itself was very pretty.
The Botanic gardens. Have an afternoon cup of tea and scone with clotted cream. Mmmmm!
The University of Glasgow. The architecture alone is stunning.
The Glasgow Necropolis. Who knew a graveyard could be so cool? The author of Wee Willie Winkie is buried here
The Glasgow Cathedral. This building will take your breath away. As a bonus, when we were there we saw Chris Pine!! I still can’t believe it! We may or may not have stalked him for about an hour until he left the cathedral, but I’ll never tell.
This is my favorite city in the world! I could easily spend a week wandering up and down the Royal Mile and enjoying a pint in a local pub.
Edinburgh Castle. Walk the cobblestone steps where Mary Queen of Scots spent much of her reign.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse. This is where the Queen of England stays when she visits Scotland. Take the audio tour and listen to the fascinating story of the murder of Rizzio, Mary Queen of Scot’s secretary. Don’t miss walking the grounds through the beautiful Holyrood Abbey.
The Royal Mile. Shop, shop, shop! Make sure you buy some sort of plaid and some shortbread!
World’s End Tavern. Stop in for a pint at this iconic pub.
I had high expectations for this city. Thoughts of old buildings tucked into the hills of the Highlands were not exactly what we found in this city. Still, it was a nice central location for exploring the Highlands which were incredible!
Here you will find picture-perfect Scottish scenery. Bring a camera! I could not believe the expansive beauty before me was real. Loch Ness. Try to spot Nessie while enjoying a dram of whiskey.
Culloden Battlefield. A sobering place. Walk the field where the battle took place that changed the history of Scotland forever.
Clava Cairns. An old Druid burial ground. The standing stones are quite impressive! Try as we might, we couldn’t time travel through the stones. Sigh.
Urquhart Castle. The site where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised the Standard and began the Jacobite Rebellion. Plus you can hike a bit and see the train tracks from Harry Potter.
Doune Castle. A pretty impressive castle and film location for some pretty important shows and movies. Outlander, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Game of Thrones.
The Isle of Skye. It is possible to take a day trip to Skye, but I wish we had longer. This island was my favorite place in Scotland and there is a lot to see. We spent much of the day in the car and I would have preferred to get out and explore.
Highland cows. They are just so darn cute!
The Fairy Glen. I looked, but didn’t find any little magical creatures 😦
The Quiraing. Sweeping views of the island. A great place to take a hike and really take in the beauty of Skye.
Portree. Stunning seaside cliffs and waterfall.
Other places to see
Culross. A charming little town. If I could pick anywhere in Scotland to live, it would be here. It is just so stinking cute! Cobblestone streets, old buildings, and small shops richly add to its character. Walk through the gardens of Dunfermline. It is stunning.
Drummond Castle Gardens. I would call this the Versailles of Scotland with beautiful manicured formal gardens.
Midhope Castle. For all you Outlander fans out there, this is Lallybroch. And we were the ONLY people there!
Thoughts and Things
- Currency: British Pound
- 220v currency. Check the plugs and bring adapters.
- No visa required for U.S. citizens
- Tipping is customary
- Weather: Chilly. Can you say layers? You will become an expert on them by the time you leave. And who doesn’t love layers? They allow you to get away with eating more scones! Often times rainy but the weather can change in the blink of an eye.
- We were there in June and the locals were in a tizzy because they were having a heat wave. It was 70 degrees.
- Driving. Scots drive on the left (or as I say, wrong) side of the road. Something to consider if thinking about renting a car. I certainly would have killed us if I attempted to drive!
- Midgies. Little biting flies, or as I like to call them, hell on earth. Do your research, and bring bug spray. These little guys are nasty, especially in the highlands.
Other trip ideas…for my subsequent visits 😉
- Take a tour of a whiskey distillery. It is fascinating to see how the delectable amber drink is made.
- Visit a castle, or 100. The choice is yours and you have literally thousands to choose from. Pace yourself!
- Take a ghost tour. Trust me, with a history like Scotland’s there are plenty of ghost stories.
- Spend a week in the Hebrides. This will be included in my next trip to Scotland. The quiet beauty of the islands looks unparalleled to anywhere else in the country.
- Plan a themed tour. Some possibilities could include: Harry Potter, Jacobite Rebellion, Clans and Castles, etc. The choices are endless. And don’t worry if you are a woman traveling with her husband who wants to go on an Outlander tour. There is enough cool history and sites to entertain even the manliest of men. So you are free to get your Jaime fix at the same time he is learning about some war, whiskey, or whatever else floats his boat.
I hope at this point your eyes haven’t glazed over! As you can see, we made the most of our 9-day tour, and still only scratched the surface of all this lovely country has to offer. My mom had to drag me onto the plane when it was time to leave. Scotland is my magical place. It has become my dream destination (for a vacation, or to live) You can take your tropical island and white sandy beaches. I will take the windy hills of the Highlands over any other place on earth, and am already planning my next trip back!