Scotland is a beautiful country that had been on my travel list for years. It is roughly divided between the lowlands, which include Glasgow and Edinburgh (Scotland’s capital), and the highlands, which include Inverness (nearby to the famous Loch Ness) and most of the Scottish isles.
My two-week journey around Scotland would begin in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. Despite it’s size, Glasgow is pretty walkable, and most of the major attractions can be seen in a day or so. If you’re not up or walking, there is a very convenient metro line, which runs in a circle (so don’t worry about getting on in the wrong direction). One of the most interesting places to visit in the city is the Glasgow Cathedral. A dark and imposing Gothic structure, it’s one of the few Scottish cathedrals to survive the Reformation. Glasgow Cathedral is worth a good hour to wonder around, and there are often guides inside who will give you a free tour if you want to learn more about its history. After visiting the cathedral, be sure to check out the necropolis next door, which dates from the 19th century.
Another highlight of Glasgow is the Kelvingrove Museum. The building it’s housed in is a work of art itself, and inside you can find interesting displays ranging from ancient Egypt to natural history to paintings from Van Gogh and Monet. After visiting the museum, don’t miss the opportunity to take a relaxing stroll in the nearby Kelvingrove Park.
Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital and arguably its most beautiful city, is a mere 1.5 hours from Glasgow by train. Despite its slightly smaller size, Edinburgh is packed with interesting things to see and do and is easily worth a good 3 or 4 days. Probably most popular on this list is Edinburgh Castle, which is the most visited attraction in the UK outside of London (and you can tell by the huge crowds). Built on top of Castle Rock, one of several extinct volcanoes within the city limits, Edinburgh Castle is steeped in history. It was the site of numerous uprisings against the English at various points in time during which they occupied Scotland. In addition, it is home to a number of interesting artifacts, such as the one o’clock gun (fired every day at, you guessed it, one o’clock) that was historically used to allow nearby sailing ships to sync their clocks, and the Stone of Scone, which is used in the Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey for the coronation of new monarchs. It also houses St. Margaret’s Chapel, which dates back to the 12th century and is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh. Edinburgh Castle is absolutely massive, and has several interesting museums onsite, so you should allow a good 3 to 4 hours to explore it thoroughly.
For me, one of the most interesting sights in Edinburgh is Mary King’s Close. This is a residential street that dates back several hundred years. As the city was built up vertically over the centuries, May King’s Close is now underground, and many of the buildings on the street are still intact. What makes this attraction so fascinating is that it is a rare opportunity to see how the middle and poorer classes really lived during this time. Traditionally, only residences of the rich are preserved, like castles and palaces, but Mary King’s Close allows you to see the tiny quarters and unsanitary conditions under which the majority of people in Edinburgh lived during the Middle Ages. Keep in mind that you can only visit by guided tour, and it’s best to book at least a day or two in advance since most tours usually sell out. Also, photographs are not allowed.
While in Edinburgh, don’t forget to explore the spectacular natural surroundings. The city is built on not one, but two extinct volcanoes. Aside from Castle Rock, there is Arthur’s Seat, which you can hike up in an hour or or two for fantastic views of the city. Just make sure you bring plenty of water with you, as it’s a fairly steep hike and they actually had to send a crew to rescue someone when I was there.
Also, be sure to check out Edinburgh’s “other” castle, Craigmillar Castle. Located on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Craigmillar Castle is a short and easy bus ride from the city center, and, unlike Edinburgh Castle, it was practically deserted when I visited. One of the best-preserved medieval castles in Scotland, Craigmillar Castle was home for a short time to Mary, Queen of Scots. Take your time exploring the ruins and enjoy the peace and quiet from the hustle and bustle of nearby Edinburgh.
While visiting the lowlands, there are at least two worthwhile day trips that can be easily done from either Glasgow or Edinburgh.The first is to Loch Lomond, the largest lake in Great Britain and the gateway to the highlands. Loch Lomond is set within of of Scotland’s 5 national parks. There are several islands within the loch, and if the weather is good, you can take a boat ride out on the lake, or just take a leisurely stroll around its shores.
The other day trip is Stirling to visit the famous castle as well as the William Wallace Monument. Stirling Castle has historically been one of the most important castles in Scotland, due to its strategic position between the lowlands and the highlands. It was involved in both wars of Scottish independence, and has strong ties to William Wallace, whose army defeated the English at the nearby Stirling Bridge in the 13th century. The castle is beautiful and imposing from the outside. However, inside it is sparsely furnished and looks like it was just given a new paint job, which does detract from its authenticity somewhat. While you’re in town, be sure to also check out the towering William Wallace Monument, which contains interesting displays about Wallace and his contributions to Scottish history, as well as a fantastic view of Stirling from the top of the tower.
After you’re finished exploring the Scottish lowlands, head north to the highlands to experience the rugged natural beauty that Scotland is so famous for.