There’s a reason that Scotland‘s national animal is the unicorn (yep, that’s right, a unicorn!) and it’s because of this… Scotland is a place of mystery, ancient folklore and pure wonder. From its cities that appear to be stuck in time, to its looming highlands, to its lochs with infamous monsters and to its quaint coffee shops where mystical stories are written, it’s undeniable… Scotland is magical, plain and simple.
We had the pleasure of hopping on a easy flight from the newly-deemed New York Stewart International Airport, just 70 miles outside of Manhattan, to Edinburgh. It’s always nice to have another option that is a little less hectic than than JFK and Newark! And now that Norwegian Air is a new carrier at Stewart, hopping to the UK is easier and more affordable than ever. Win-win.
Upon arriving in Scotland’s capital, it became very clear… beyond the tartans, bagpipes and whisky ideals that many of us hold on to, there is so much to the country than meets the eye. Scotland, a gem of the northern corner of the United Kingdom, tickled our love for all things ancient, mystical and magical. Here are some of our “must-do’s” while exploring Scotland!
A place so mysterious, you’d expect Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde to appear at any moment! Edinburgh’s stoney facade feels so stuck in time, it’s incredible. After checking in to the absolutely sleek and charming Principal Hotel, perched on the banks of Edinburgh’s ports, our first hours of adventure started with traipsing around the historic and beautifully kept Leith district.
While getting acquainted with the area, it was time to tour the The Royal Yacht Britannia. Imagine all the fabulous guests Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal Family would host while exploring the world on this gem! The ship sailed almost one million miles – which is literally the equivalent of going around the world once a year. Mind blown! Getting to learn about the ship’s rich history while getting to see the beautiful details The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh hand selected was so special. To top it all off, and send our minds into absolute imaginary delight, we finished our tour of the ship on lunch on the Royal Deck. Getting to imagine having tea with the Queen on this gem was a real treat!
Afterwards, and feeling very posh, we began trekking to the towering and mysterious Edinburgh Castle, the crowning sight atop the Royal Mile on Castle Rock. Exploring the nooks and crannies of this ancient castle, as well as ogling at Scotland’s Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny was pure magic. You could absolutely imagine yourself in the Medieval Ages looking out from the top of the castle windows.
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A quaint, seaside town on the eastern coast of Scotland that is so charming! St. Andrew’s is now best known as the place where Prince William met Kate Middleton while in college, but it’s also stocked with some fabulous architecture and beautiful scenery. The ruins of St. Andrews Castle, with its medieval bottle dungeon, are not to be missed! And if you’re a golf fanatic, this might be THE place to go since it has been titled the “home” of golf. Active gals will love its gorgeous shoreline and hiking path.
Our days that followed were filled to the brim with cultural tastes of Scotland’s best. Scotland’s fourth largest city and coastal town, Dundee, was oh so delightful. Some highlights include learning all about the city’s art and design galleries, like the stunning Dundee Contemporary Arts complex filled with galleries, print studios, movie theaters and coffee shops, wandering the V&A Museum’s design-focused one stop shop for inspiration and discovery, and the fascinating McManus Museum, an old Victorian, Gothic building that houses Dundee’s 400 million year old collection of art and culture.
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Aberdeen, lovingly titled the “gem of the northeast,” was nothing but charming. Our time here really allowed us to learn all about the whisky culture Scotland is world-renown for. It was so amazing to learn about the process that each whisky goes through before it touches our lips! After touring the Arbikie Distillery, where barley and water is sourced from an underground lagoon and filtered through 400 million year old rocks (crazy right?!), it’s pretty easy to say that our time in Aberdeen was educational and also incredibly intoxicating!
And finally, the Dunnottar Castle, the romantic, evocative, powerful, ruined castle perched on the edge of the wild North-Sea. Do words ever do this place justice? This ancient fortress is a history-lover’s dream, a romantic’s fantasy and a feast for the eyes. The secrets this castle must have housed! To not become completely enamored with the rich history of this site is beyond our imagination. As our tour guide told us, “once seen – never forgotten.”
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Other Gems To Explore
The cultural hub of Scotland with oh so much to offer. This port city is set on the River Clyde in the western Lowlands, and is best known for its Victorian architecture. Walking around Glasgow feels like walking through history. The amount of opera houses, ballets, theaters and museums in this city is astounding.
Isle Of Skye
Best known for its craggy mountains, epic landscapes, quaint fishing villages and medieval castles. The Isle of Skye is a gem of a place to be astounded. The town of Portree, an awesome place to call “home” while on the island, has a ton of adorable pubs and shops. Make sure to explore the Dunvegan Castle, Armadale Castle, stand in awe of the Old Man of Storr, and the shores of the island filled with sea creatures.
The perfect base before you jet off to the Loch Ness and the Highlands. This historic “city” is considered to be the capital of the Scottish Highlands and features an old Victorian Market and an amazing 18th century church and cathedral. Perhaps our favorite aspects of Inverness is its visitor center at Culloden, where the final battle between the wild Jacobite clans and the British government clashed and the Urquhart Castle overlooking Loch Ness.
One word – scotch. Islay is the island off the west coast of Scotland where some of the best scotch is made in its numerous distilleries. If you have a love and fascination for the peaty single malt whiskies, this is your place!
Wherever you end up exploring… enjoy magical Scotland for all it’s worth!