View over Salisbury Crags, just west of Arthur’s Seat, towards the city center of Edinburgh.
Be careful when you drive through the Scottish countryside.
Whether you’re in the lush lowlands not far from the big cities of Edinburgh or Glasgow, or on the rugged Highland slopes dotted with sheep, the vistas are so amazing you’re apt to forget the road. It’s that beautiful.
Just as the people of Scotland are inseparable from their land, the country is a natural draw for anyone who appreciates the outdoors: It’s a mecca for hikers (or walkers as they’re called here), anglers (the fishing in rivers and lochs is excellent) and photographers (you’ll want an extra memory card). And considering the U.K. has been working hard to improve its food scene over the past decade, and that Scotland’s No. 1 product — really good whisky — is everywhere, it makes the country a seriously fun destination.
A couple stop to admire the view from Calton Hill in Edinburgh, looking west to the Castle and the Old Town.
Since you’ll be flying into a big city like Edinburgh anyway, it makes sense to explore it for at least a couple days. Set up camp in this capital city at a centrally located hotel like The Scotsman, housed in the former offices of the newspaper of the same name. Luxe rooms, burnished wood and marble everywhere and a first-rate restaurant (North Bridge Brasserie) are enough enticement. (Or for a more hip experience, check into Malmaison in the waterside Leith district.)
You can experience the past in all its glory at Edinburgh Castle, built into a lofty volcanic rock formation originally known as Din Eidyn, around which the city was formed. It’s a wonder to behold just by wandering around, but you can get a more detailed, not to mention interesting, take on the Castle with a handy audio guide. Stroll and go back in time with the ancient cannons (Mons Meg), royal chambers, the half-moon battery, even a tiny dog cemetery.
Contemplating history, of course, makes one thirsty so it’d be advisable at this point to head to the Scotch Whisky Experience, just down the street from the Castle. If Disney World did booze, it might be like this: You step into a little barrel and ride through an illuminating introduction to Scotch – the process of distillation, a bit of history, and then a discussion of the regional differences in malt whiskies (including a tasting, natch).
Sheep grazing near Glen Coe in the Highlands of Scotland.
Thus fortified, you may wish to head for Arthur’s Seat, one of more rewarding hikes you can do in a major city center. It’s the remnant of a volcano that erupted 350 million years ago, and stands 823 feet above sea level. A 40-minute shlep gives way to inspiring, panoramic views of the city below.