Did you know that in 2017 Scotland was voted the most beautiful country according to Rough Guides?
While it’s no secret that I lived in Glasgow to complete my postgraduate studies – Scotland quickly became home away from home. During my year as an expat, I was fortunate to explore much of this country. I couldn’t resist falling in love with its dramatic landscapes, moody weather, complex history, endearing people, and especially, the late sun in the summer evenings.
1. Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle – Both sites are considered to be in Scotland’s most popular tourist destinations. Parts of the ruined albeit impressive castle date back to the 1200s. Urquhart’s present condition reflects the turmoil it faced during the Wars of Independence. It’s easy to spend a few hours exploring the castle, and it’s surrounding area.
2. Isle of Skye – I’ve visited Skye twice now. Once onboard a tour bus and again with a rental car. If you can – opt for the rental car. Every time I made the winding journey through the highlands, I made a pitstop at Glen Coe. While at Skye, I was able to see the town of Portree, the Fairy Pools, the Storr, Dunvegan Castle, and Caisteal Maol.
3. St Andrews – When I day-tripped this coastal city, it was a rare summer day. While I was at St. Andrews’ Castle, I went into the medieval underground mine and countermine. At 5’1″, I felt claustrophobic and uncomfortable in these mines, but I’m glad I saw such a rare site. Beside the castle is a coastal path, and also the gothic Cathedral nestled within a gravesite. I made a quick stop at the University and also the ‘Old Course’. There are some places that one immediately feels a connection to, and this place did it for me. Upon leaving, I felt some regret at not doing my postgraduate studies at St. Andrews University, but Glasgow was a great experience.
4. Edinburgh – the free art museums, Old Town, Princess Street (and its gardens) with a view of Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile, and Calton Hill/National Monument. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, don’t forget to go to enjoy a coffee from the Elephant Cafe, and check out the graveyard that inspired J.K. Rowling. If you can, go to the annual Fringe Fest during August to experience the wonder of the Military Tattoo. The military show is complete with light displays awash all over the castle and a firework show. If not, try to visit the Christmas Market from November to early January.
5. Glasgow – While I studied at the University of Glasgow, I adored its campus and location in the West End. The Main Building was nearly used for Hogwarts Castle in the Harry Potter movies, and more recently, it was used to film scenes in Outlander’s third season. The West End’s atmosphere is encapsulated by boutique shops, quaint pubs, fairy lights overhanging Ashton Lane’s cobblestone streets, Kelvingrove Park and Museum, and the Botanic Gardens. Much of Glasgow is comprised of sandstone and Victorian architecture, and the shopping in City Centre.
6. Stirling Castle – I spent half a day with my friends touring this stunning castle, which you can read about here. One of my favorite parts was walking along the castle’s wall and enjoying the views of Stirling and the Wallace Monument. The castle offers interactive games, models of the castle, costumes, informative exhibits, movies, and actors.
7. Isle of Arran – Since I’m passionate about Archaeology and Art History, I felt compelled to visit this Neolithic site. Before the standing stones, the site originally had wooden structures and was used for sacred rituals. On a rushed excursion via train and ferry, I visited the Machrie Moore Stone Circles. You can read about our crazy adventure in a previous post.
8. Loch Lomond (& the Trossachs National Park) – The first time I ever saw Loch Lomond was from a small Scottish village called Luss. The area around Loch Lomond promises various hiking trails, but you can also take a boat ride. Loch Lomond is not far from Glasgow and it’s easily accessible by ScotRail.
9. Oban – a quaint fishing village with many shops and harbor views. Enjoy a tour and drink at their infamous Distillery.
10. Jacobite Steam Train – it’s nearly an all-day activity, but it’s a leisure one! It deposits you at Mallaig for a few hours, which provides you enough time to enjoy a coffee or a late lunch, and explore the tiny town. Onboard the train you’re able to buy snacks and various Harry Potter fan items. While riding the train, make sure you’re aware of witnessing the Glenfinnan Viaduct and the island where Dumbledore died. Tickets for purchase are available here.