Beginner’s guide to visiting Scotland
Where to go in Scotland – some early planning tips
Ok Neil, help me, where in Scotland should I be going for the best bits?
Some of my customers know exactly what they want and need from me, others haven’t a clue. So this is a familiar question in my inbox. Here’s my attempt at joining the early dots for some of the most popular reasons for coming to these shores.
“…..then I plan to spend the weekend in ‘the Highlands’.” Ah yes, but beware, this could mean just about anything. The Highlands are a vast, vast area. Often inaccessible, hugely diverse, remote and more. There is no one place to go in the Highlands and the choice depends on an awful lot of variables. If you only have a couple of days, the Southern Highlands includes some of the most stunning landscapes (particularly Glen Coe) in the world and are relatively easy to reach from the Central Belt. For those with more time and flexibility, the likes of Skye, Mull and Torridon are rightly well-loved bases. That’s not to say you can’t have outdoor adventures in the cities as well however.
Speyside has by far the biggest concentration of distilleries. If jumping between these factories of liquid gold is your thing, this is probably the region to focus on. Equally, your taste buds may have a preference for the peatiness of Islay malts in which case you can join the long line of those on a pilgrimage to this particular area. It is not the most accessible spot in Scotland though so have a plan in mind for getting there and back and how it fits with the rest of your itinerary. My whisky guide can help you with more specifics in this particular realm.
Castles and historical ruins
These are everywhere in Scotland so wherever you go you will have options. There is a terrific concentration of stately home castles in the North East while for ruins, Southern Scotland is littered with the carnage of conflicts from centuries past. Castle hopping in both regions is much easier if you have your own wheels. You can see some of my favourites here and if you want to find more clifftop ruins in the Dunnottar mould, you might enjoy this. A nod to Shetland and Orkney highlights as well that boast a stunning insight into Scotland’s Viking-influenced past.
With over 550 courses to choose from, you’ll want to know where to go in Scotland to play golf. Many will head straight for St Andrews or Ayrshire and you could do a lot worse. I love the courses of Perthshire and Fife myself as I like a game but am prone to the occasional swing at fresh air and there are plenty of clubs in these areas that a bit more laid back about guest that are prone to a little bit of dire.
With a whopping 283 mountains over 3000 feet (Munros) in Scotland this is a tough choice for first time visitors. The expert climbers don’t need me, they know where they are going and what their target peaks are. But most Munro baggers that contact me have their eye on one or two easy to moderate hikes that offer superb views but that are not too remote from the central cities. Those around Loch Lomond in the west and Perthshire in the east are my suggestions. Hikes like Ben Lawers, Schiehallion, Ben Lomond and Ben A’An are amongst the best for those that are novices but are up for a challenge.
Great Scottish food and drink
Both Edinburgh and Glasgow are bursting with world class restaurants. I’ve personally yet to see the West End of Glasgow beaten for diversity and concentration. Have yourself a Glasgow curry and off you trot to heaven. Outside of the cities, for fish and seafood work your way up the west coastline and revel in fresh produce of the highest calibre. The likes of Loch Fyne Oysters, The Applecross Inn and The Three Chimneys are amongst the most legendary but there are many, many more. Special mention too for the famous Arbroath Smokies on the east coast.
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