This is a guest post by Ellie Campbell.
There’s more to Scotland
than Irn Bru (delicious), Tunnock’s tea cakes (again delicious) and Haggis (delicious?). To prove why you shouldn’t take a trip there as an excuse to see a big old castle, I’ve picked some of the spots that anyone visiting Scotland should visit to get a true sense of what makes this little part of the world so amazing. I’ve also chosen some locations tied to whether you’ll be staying in Edinburgh or Glasgow.
It all starts of course with ticking the most important location off your itinerary, which just so happens to be arguably the world’s most famous castle.
It has castles, monuments, a thriving arts scene and buildings older than most countries. Roughly 4 million people visit the Scottish capital annually, and when it’s your first time there, it’s hard not to see the charm.
The city has museums galore, two amazing hills you have to climb for the view (Arthur’s Seat & Calton Hill), something of an underrated foodie scene
and of course that big old castle in the middle. You need to spend a little time in the Royal Mile to see some of the tourist spots, but as locals will tell you, you could spend a week in town and go nowhere near the castle.
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Some of the underrated gems I think you should visit include:
Cameo Cinema – a 100 year-old cinema that refuses to change with the times, and all the better for it.
Timberyard – an uber-trendy restaurant located in a former warehouse.
Springvalley Gardens – Bit hard to find, but tucked down a random street is a lane made to look like a Wild West village.
The roof of the National Museum – not fussed for exhibits but love a good view? You can save from buying a ticket to the castle by sneaking up to the usually quiet roof of the museum.
Day trips from Edinburgh
Edinburgh is actually quite a small city once you know your bearings. Unless you’re visiting during the famous Fringe festival
in August, all it takes is a few days, and you could get the gist of the place.
Twenty miles east along the coast is lovely North Berwick. Hikers can get a fantastic day on a sunny day from North Berwick Law high above the town, Tantallon Castle is in surprisingly good condition for castle ruins and walking along a good strip of the John Muir Way is a rite of passage for many.
Oh, and if you don’t mind sitting outside to eat, you have to visit The Lobster Shack
. This tiny shack does the usual fish and chips by the sea, but their half lobster with chips is incredible.
What do Prince William, Johnathon Taylor Thomas and Emperor Palpatine all have in common? They all called St Andrews home at one point in their lives when attending university in the seaside town. And when you take the time to visit, you’ll soon see why people love it so much.
I think part of its charm is the fact that it isn’t easy to get to. The town doesn’t have a train station or any direct link from Glasgow or Edinburgh. The nearest train station is 5 miles out of town, and without a hire car, you’ll be bus hopping your way there.
The town has a notoriety for two reasons; it was the location of Scotland’s first university which continues to be one of the most sought after universities to attend, and of course, it’s where St Andrews golf course is. The course has held the prestigious The Open golf tournament a record 29 times (to be 30 by 2021), and some people refer to the town as the home of golf.
If you aren’t fussed by either, then maybe seeing the ruins of the 12th-century cathedral, walking around St Andrews Castle (also ruins) and breathing in some of the freshest air of your life at West Sands Beach will certainly shake away the cobwebs.
And if you’re a bit of a gin aficionado, the town is also home to Eden Mill, one of the most popular gins in the UK, which of course offer gin tours and tastings
at their facility, making everything from pineapple gin and cask finished whisky to nearly a dozen different types of beer.
Speaking of beer, Scotland’s favourite drink (second if you have IRN BRU first) is made right in Glasgow’s city centre. Tennent’s hasn’t moved from their original location of Wellpark brewery since 1740. Of course, they do tours as well, but there’s so much more to see in Glasgow.
While Edinburgh is the capital, many see Glasgow as the real heart of Scotland, with all the major attractions being here and so much to do.
If you only have a day in lovely Glasgow, I recommend:
Tantrum Doughnuts – Doughnuts in Glasgow? Yes, the city loves them, and this local chain with a shop around the corner from Glasgow Central train station is magical. Riverhill coffee next door is also great but has limited seating.
The Lighthouse – a museum/workshop tucked down a lane off Buchanan Street. If you can manage the walk up the lighthouse steps, you’ll be rewarded with a unique view of the town.
Baked pizza at Taglio – Right across the road from Tennent’s brewery, this low-key looking café does Roman-style pizza slices that take 72 hours to make. Arguably the best cheap eat in the city.
Glasgow Green (and West brewery) – on the edge of the city centre, the large open plan park is ideal for a stroll. It also happens to have a brewery serving St. Mungo, the city’s unofficial trendy beer.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, look up Fraser Suites Glasgow
located in Merchant City, the posh part of town.
Day trips from Glasgow
How many times in life can you go somewhere on a sunny day and wave across the sea to another country? When the weather is sublime and clear, you’ll be able to see Northern Ireland from the coast at Portpatrick.
For anyone who loves a bit of ambling around with ice cream at the end of the walk, Portpatrick is lovely if you’re driving from Glasgow to England and don’t mind taking the scenic route.
While Scotland might seem like a small enough country, getting up to the Highlands isn’t so direct. While the majestic Cairngorms National Park shows off the true untouched beauty of this part of the world, travelling right up the middle isn’t the norm. Many people will reach the Highlands going left from Glasgow or right from Edinburgh, almost straddling along the coast.
One of my favourite spots if you have the time to reach it is Portree. The tiny town on the Isle of Skye is a gorgeous fishing village that encompasses an easy-going lifestyle. The six-hour drive from Glasgow might seem a little long but being able to spend a night there and visiting the likes of Oban and the Trossachs on the way back is a million miles away from the two big cities and helps you see how diverse Scotland’s countryside is.
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