Scotland has astonishing variety, even within a small area. North Sea to Irish Sea, Highlands to Lowlands, the landscapes of Scotland - lush woodlands, windswept moors, lochs a s deep a sthe imagination - will take your breath away.
This is a country with an exceptional history of fiercely proud warriors, and a unique cultural identity that sets it apart from the rest of Great Britain.
Discover the true nature of the wonderfully warm Scots in the ancient rift valleys of the Great Glens, the granite shoulder of the Grampians, around the tranquil waters of the lochs, and amid the picturesque beauty of the Scottish Isles.
History & Culture
History shows itself around just about every corner. And when we say history, we mean history! The history of Scotland is as complex as it is fascinating, with tribal Celts, Roman conquerors and commanding warrior-royals.
Scattered throughout the Scottish landscape are prehistoric monuments, stone circles and tombs, all providing a tantalising glimpse into a remarkable past. The Orkney and Shetland islands, and the Grampian area are your best places to find these sites.
Of course, castles are found dotted coast to coast, and each is in various states of grandeur or ruin. Scotland's crowning glory is Edinburgh Castle, and is the symbolic heart of Scotland, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh is the official residence of the Queen when she is in Scotland. A number of castles and manors now offer accommodation, so you could live like the lord of the manor, if only for a night or two. Keep your eye out for a haunted castle to spend the night in ... you may just see the spirit of a former owner or servant. If you're castle-crazy, a great idea is the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass, which gives you access to 75 of Scotland's top castles and historic properties and come in either a 3-day or a 7-day pass.
"They may take our lives, but they'll never take our Freedom" cried William Wallace in the movie Braveheart. Wallace was the leader of the Scot's resistance against the English Occupation, and is a national hero to this day. The splendid National Wallace Monument in Stirling overlooks the scene of Braveheart's victory at the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. You'll also find a number of sites and memorials scattered around the country where he either stayed, was imprisoned, or fought: Roslin Glen County Park was the site of the Battle of Rosslyn in 1303; and it is reputed that his arm is buried within the walls of St Machar's Cathedral in Aberdeen after he was executed.
While not your typical island getaway, the isles of Scotland offer remote beaches, forgotten castles, ancient stone monuments and spectacular wildlife. Scotland has approximately 800 offshore islands and there are plenty of them that are large enough to make a trip well worthwhile. Most of the islands are part of Orkney, Shetland, Inner Hebrides and Outer Hebrides. Regular ferry connections run from the mainland to the islands on the west and north coasts of Scotland, and also between the islands themselves. It is also possible to travel to some of the larger islands by plane.
The largest island of the Inner Hebrides, Skye has some dramatic and beautiful places, and covers off on sites for nature-lovers and history buffs. Check out some of the amazing geological features, like the Quiraing and the Old Man of Storr. For outdoor activities, try sea kayaking and horse treks, along with a number of walking and hiking trails. If nature isn't your thing, there's plenty to keep you busy. Visit Dunvegan Castle (the oldest continually inhabited castle in Scotland), or watch the Skye Pipeband (in the Square in Portree every Tuesday evening in summer), wander around numerous arts and crafts galleries or visit charming pubs and bars to try the local whisky.
Getting There: You can drive right onto Skye from Kyle of Lochalsh over the Skye Bridge, or take 'The Road of the Isles’ from Fort William to Mallaig, then take the ferry over to Skye. The ferry takes around 30 minutes.
Mull is the forth-largest of Scotland's islands, and has been inhabited since around 6000 BC. You'll find history galore - castles (no less than six!), ruins of old settlements, prehistoric stones and some interesting museums. A nature-lovers paradise, Mull offers prolific wildlife - think birds (over 250 different species), deer, seals, dolphins and whales - and a variety of scenic walking trails for all skill levels. From Mull, you can take boat trips out to the neighbouring islands of Staffa and Lunga. Don't miss Duart Castle, Calgary Bay, the pretty port-town of Tobermory and the Mull Tobermory Whisky Distillery. There is also the Isle of Mull Railway - Scotland's only island passenger railway. It's only just over 2km long, and takes you to Torosay, where you can visit Torosay Castle. If you're keen, you can walk the footpath from here to Duart Castle (5km).
Getting There: There are three ferry routes that will get you to Mull. The most popular is from Oban on the mainland to Craignure on the eastern coast. This is a car ferry and takes around 45-50 minutes.
This small island is found off the coast of Mull, and has a population of around 120 permanent residents. The island of Iona has a special place in Christianity. Columbia and his followers arrived here in AD 563 to bring the message of the Gospel to Scotland. It is also reputed to be the burial place of 48 Scottish kings, including Macbeth. The scenery on Iona is spectacular, with many excellent walking trails, and beautiful beaches with turquoise seas. Bird-watchers will be in their element, with 12 species of seabirds found here. Don't miss the Iona Abbey, Macleans Cross, The Nunnery, Reilig Odhrain, and beautiful St Columba's Bay. Visitor cars are not permitted on Iona, but there is a local taxi service, and bike hire shops, however it is easy to get around by foot. Many accommodation providers will pick you up from the pier on arrival.
Getting There: You can get to Iona by ferry from Fionnphort in south-west Mull, and it takes around 10 minutes.
The scenery of Scotland looks so different to the rest of the British Isles for a reason – it’s actually a part of the North American continent which broke off and collided with Britain over two hundred million years ago. Its lush, varied scenery has captured the hearts of marauding chieftains, generations of lords, and dozens of artists and poets.
The lochs and tarns of Scotland offer some of the world's most famous landscapes, but you'll have to leave the south, and the cities, behind you. Loch Leven in Fife is Scotland's largest Lowland lake and is noted for abundant bird life. In summer, you can take a steamship cruise on Loch Katrine in the heart of the Trossachs. Loch Lomond is among the loveliest Lowland lakes and offers plenty of water-sport options and bicycle paths that cross the Trossachs National Park. Take the A831 to Balmaha and climb Conic Hill - the view is magnificent. Loch Maree is one of Scotland's most scenic lochs, set against the backdrop of Slioch Mountain.
The city of Stirling is the gateway to the central Highlands, and makes a perfect base from which to venture out and discover the beautiful Trossachs region, which will capture your heart with its tranquil, wood-fringed lochs, rivers and mountains. It's a great spot to explore on foot, bicycle, or by boat.
The Highlands are quintessential Scotland, and are home to the largest national park in Britain, Cairngorms National Park. The city of Aberdeen straddles some of the most breathtaking scenery in Britain, with craggy cliffs and hidden coves on the coast, and the Cairngorms National Park on its doorstep. Glen Torridon, east of Shieldaig in the Northern Highlands, has the finest mountain scenery in the country. The Glenfinnan Monument on picturesque Loch Shiel was erected as a tribute to the Jacobite clansmen - the scenery here will take your breath away.
If you're heading to Edinburgh in August, don't miss one of the most spectacular shows in the world - the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. As day turns to night, experience a spellbinding performance of international pipes and drums at the stunning Edinburgh Cathedral.
Hogmanay in Edinburgh is all about ringing out the old year and ringing in the new. This crazy festival takes place on 30 and 31 December with a street party, fireworks, concerts and a torchlight procession. The festivities end on 1 January with the Loony Dook - but be warned, this is not for the faint-hearted. After a street procession, participants then launch themselves in to the freezing waters of the Firth of Forth. If you're not up for actually participating in these antics, you can still head to the beach to cheer on/laugh at those that were!
Scotland's local products, customs, music and traditional dress - from tartans and bagpipes to tweeds - are known around the world, but there's nothing like experiencing them firsthand. A number of kilt makers in the major cities are happy to sew you a kilt in your clan's tartan - keep in mind that custom kilts are not quick to make. If your shopping favours the traditional, head to the islands of Shetland, Skye and Arran for tweeds, knitwear, woollens, tartan blankets and Celtic silver.
Golf enthusiasts are sure to find many courses to play, with more than 50 coures in the north-east, 24 in western Scotland. Of course, St Andrews is known as the home of golf, but is so popular now that reservations for summer play are required a year in advance. Don't limit yourself to the expensive, well-known greens. Off the beaten track are some good-value, classic courses with striking views, or quirky greens. Look at Royal Troon, Cruden Bay, Westerm Gailes, Turnberry Ailsa and the Boat of Garten.
You can't leave Scotland before tasting some of their famous whisky. Scotland is divided into five areas for the production of whisky - Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Campbelltown and Islay - and each has their own distinctive style. If you don't have time to drive through regional Scotland, never fear, you can still enjoy a tasting or two at the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre in Edinburgh. Be warned, if you're asking for a whisky in a pub in Scotland, don't ask for a scotch, just ask for a whisky ... unless you want to come across as an uncultured tourist.
Points of Interest
Generally, Australians travelling to the UK as tourists for a period of up to six months do not require a visa. However, it is ultimately the prerogative of the UK authorities to determine who is granted entry. Any individual they believe is entering the UK for any non-tourist purpose and does not hold the corresponding visa, may be refused entry. Australians planning to do paid or unpaid work, to volunteer or get married in the UK are required to obtain a visa before they depart Australia. For more information visit - www.smartraveller.gov.au.
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Best Time to Visit
|See a spectacular show of bagpipes, drums and dancers||Edinburgh Military Tattoo held in August|
|Watch some highland jigs and caber tossing||Highland Games around Scotland in August & September|
|Listen to some smooth tunes||Glasgow Jazz Festival held in June|
|See some impressive fireworks and join a street party||Hogmanay in Edinburgh, 30-31 December|
|Enjoy a whisky by the fire||The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, in Dufftown in May|
Scotland offers good transport options, with most of the country well-connected by roads and well-covered by rail services.
Britrail have a range of passes to choose from: the Central Scotland and Scottish Highlands passes feature just these areas, or the Spirit of Scotland covers the whole country. You can also buy a Britrail pass that covers the whole of England and Scotland. These are very easy to use - pick your class of travel, pick your validity, and you're off. You don't always have to pre-book seats, but it is a good idea to do so if you're travelling over peak season.
Car hire is another great way to get around and Scotland's road numbering system makes it easy to navigate, and handy motorway signs like "The North" let you know you're heading in the right direction. It's worthy to note that most lead-in hire cars are manual in Europe, you'll need to pay for an upgrade if you want to hire an automatic.
Food in Scotland is steeped in history, and a rich story lies behind many traditional dishes. From cakes and biscuits to dense traditional fare, the Scottish culinary scene is a lively place to take your taste buds on an adventure.
Once the food of peasants, haggis and black pudding have made a big comeback in Scottish restaurants. Smoked fish is the national specialty, and restaurants everywhere are into the seasonal movement. Look for Angus beef, venison and rabbit in winter and crab, halibut and trout from spring to autumn.
Edinburgh is popular for crystal and clusters of antique shops, especially on St Stephen and Dundas streets. Princes Street is where you'll find the chain stores, like Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and Zara, and at Christmas, the Princes Street Gardens host the Traditional German Christmas Market. Multrees Walk is home to a range of designer labels - think Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Burberry and Marc Jacobs.
Glasgow claims to the best shopping in Britain outside of London's Oxford Street, and Buchanan Street is the best place to start. Buchanan Galleries and Princes Square shopping centres house designer brands and chain stores.
Aberdeen and the north-east are good for malt whisky. Head to the islands of Skye and Arran for knitwear, tartan blankets and Celtic silver.
If you are planning to grab some British bargains, you can claim your VAT back at the airport when you leave - visit the VAT Refunds Website for more info.
What to Pack
Although not a land of extremes, it is always hard to predict the exact weather for your trip. If you are travelling in the summer months, pack the shorts and summer dresses, but make sure you include jeans and a jumper for those cooler nights, and if you are travelling in winter, be sure to pack gloves, scarf and a beanie. Spring and autumn are variable and you are probably best to pack for all seasons!
With so much culture, history and scenery to immerse yourself into in Scotland, you'll be spolit for choice on what to do next - check out some of our favourites below.