Scotland and UK: The United Kingdom, made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is an island nation in northwestern Europe. England – birthplace of Shakespeare and The Beatles – is home to the capital, London, a globally influential centre of finance and culture. England is also site of Neolithic Stonehenge, Bath’s Roman spa and centuries-old universities at Oxford and Cambridge.
Scotland is an unbeatable country steeped in history, culture, nature, architecture and constantly shifting northern light. From royal ships and ancient volcanoes to dockside dining and peaceful canals, here are 10 highlights of Scotland's majestic capital that no first-time visitor should miss. “England's most appealing feature is the aura of deep-rooted history that emanates from almost every corner of the land. Scotland is not just the land of Braveheart, haggis, and sheep herders. It is filled with castles, stunning lochs and mountains, beautiful parks, whiskey, and welcoming locals. If you spend time in the bustling cities, you can visit the University of Glasgow, admire the view of Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat or walk through one of the country’s many museums. But be sure to get out of the cities into the highlands with their rich rugged landscapes. Head west to the islands of Islay, Jura, and Mull. Wherever you are, you’ll find yourself occupied with rich culture and history. Scotland is one of the most scenic and beautiful countries in the world!
Trip Planning: The planning stage of your trip can be instrumental in its success and an enjoyable part of the experience itself. You have a world of options...and plenty to consider.
Entry and Exit formalities: Visitors must hold a passport valid for at least six months & beyond at the time of entering the country. Some nationalities can obtain visa on arrival and for nationalities who requires visa please refer to the UK consulate website: www.ukvisas.gov.uk
Transportation: Figuring out how to get around is one of your biggest pre-trip decisions. Get our holiday expert best advice on deciding between your options. Based on your trip itinerary, our experts will help you choose wisely. You'll also find a wealth of practical travel tips.
Money: Use your money wisely. Know the best time to use cash or card — and how to avoid unnecessary fees either way — as well as tipping etiquette, and how shoppers can take advantage of VAT refunds.
Phones and Technology: Phones and other smart devices can be huge time-savers...or expensive distractions. Get our tips for making the best use of technology during your trip, and for calling home with or without your own phone.
Packing Light: On your trip you'll meet two kinds of travelers: those who pack light and those who wish they had.
Sleeping and Eating: Your hotel and restaurant choices can be a matter-of-face chore…or they can provide rich opportunities to connect with locals and their culture.
Health & Hygiene: Take comfort: Doctors, hospitals, launderettes, and bathrooms aren’t that different. Dealing with them can even be part of the fun of travel.
Sightseeing & Activities: Once you're on the ground, the real fun begins…but it pays to have a thoughtful plan. Our experts will help you get oriented to your surroundings, use your sightseeing hours wisely, and find your way off the beaten path.
Things do & see:
Edinburgh – is a glorious city filled with beautiful cobblestone streets, parks, museums, history, a castle, and maybe even ghosts. I celebrated my birthday here a few years ago and I couldn’t believe how great it was! There’s a lot to do here and, after a long day of sightseeing, spend the evening in a pub, hanging out with great locals.
Drink fine whisky in Islay – Whisky has a long history on Islay. It’s been made there since the 16th–century — first in backyards and then, starting in the 19th–century, in big distilleries. Over the years, whiskey from the island came to be considered a specialty and was used to flavor a lot of other blends on the mainland. My visit here was amazing and, even if you don’t like whisky, there are tons of good hikes and walks throughout this magnificent island.
Taste good pub food – Pub food is often the best in the country, which is why you see many locals eating lunch or dinner here. Since it’s so affordable, it’s also a good way to eat out. Pubs are a great place to try some good beer, food, and even haggis.
Celebrate Hogmanay like a true Scot – Hogmanay (a Gaelic word for the last day of the year) is one of the largest New Year’s celebrations in the world, attracting over 75,000 people for the two-day celebration (December 30-31). Though the Scots have been celebrating this day for centuries, the modern iteration with musical acts, a torchlight procession, multiple fireworks displays, and a large street party dates back only to 1992. It’s an incredible celebration and one you definitely don’t want to miss!
Wander around Glasgow – Glasgow is a busy and growing area, with a university and the River Clyde finding spots at the heart of the city. It is the largest city in Scotland and the main source of Scotland’s industrial needs. With plenty of parks, historical monuments and museums, there is plenty to do here for practically nothing. Don’t forget to walk into a pub or two, if not for the great food, then simply to talk to a friendly local who will tell you the spots you have to hit before leaving town.
Glasgow University – The university houses an art gallery, museum, and dates back all the way to 1451. You can take walking tours and marvel at the architecture.
Puzzle over Rosslyn Chapel – Figure out the Da Vinci Code at this historic chapel with its intricate artwork and symbolism. The place raises a lot of questions: why is there corn on the wall if it wasn’t discovered until centuries later?
See the Cathedrals – The cathedrals in Scotland are marvelous with their unique Gothic architecture and imposing heights. A few of the top cathedrals to visit are: Dunfermline Abbey and Palace in Fife, St. Magnus Cathedral in the Orkney Islands, and Melrose Abbey in the Borders. One of the best is Glasgow Cathedral.
Local Markets – Scotland is full of farmers markets where fresh produce lies at your fingertips. The bigger cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh have several of them, but you can usually find smaller markets in towns outside of the cities as well. Edinburgh has two farmer’s markets on Saturday alone, located on the Castle Terrace and in Grass market.
Play Golf – The Scottish invented golf. If you’re not lucky enough to play around at St. Andrews, there are plenty of immaculate-kept greens to keep any golf player happy. Try to play during the low season (between November and March) if you want the lowest prices.
Try to find Nessie – Visit Loch Ness and try to find the famous monster that is said to be swimming in its’ depths. When you get tired of that, simply cruise around this amazing lake. The hills nearby provide for good hiking too. The best way to get there is to travel to Inverness, from which Loch Ness is close enough to take a day trip to.
Inverness – Inverness is a beautiful, historic, and thriving city with a rich variety of places to visit and things to do both in the city and around. Besides all of the historic buildings in the Old Town, there is a great selection of places to eat and drink, Inverness Castle, the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, and a Victorian Market. Plus, it is close to Loch Ness (try to find Nessie), a bunch of distilleries, and a few golf courses. It also provides a great jumping off point to the Scottish highlands.
Melrose Abbey – Robert the Bruce’s heart is said to be buried here in the ruins of this Cistercian abbey. The abbey was repeatedly destroyed by the English in the 14th century. The ruins are surrounded by beautiful rivers and are also known for their decorative artwork. See the Cuillins – This dramatic mountain range dominates Skye and has attracted walkers, climbers, and artists for centuries. There are two peaks (red and black) and this can be done as a day trip or a longer two-day hike.
Scottish Highlands – Visit the highlands of Scotland for gigantic mountains, rugged terrain, glaciers, lochs, and kilt-clad Scotsmen. For centuries, people have carved out a living here. While the land may be harsh and unforgiving, it’s beautiful landscape and you haven’t seen Scotland until you’ve been here.
Get your history fix in Dundee – Dundee is a bustling student city with a lot of interesting museums. It is known as Scotland’s center of “jute, jam, and journalism.” The jute museum is surprisingly interesting. You can also visit Discovery Point to learn about the famous Antarctic expedition that launched from here on the RSS Discovery, which you can actually board at the visitor center.
Mystical Smoo Cave – The sleepy town of Durness is the access point for Smoo Cave, a coastline cave complex that can be explored on a tour. The cave is eerie and mysterious, and evidence from charcoal samples show that it may have been inhabited over 4000 years ago. It’s not the most impressive cave in the world, but there’s something about it that peaks your imagination. The cave is free to enter.
Head to the Isle of Arran – In the southwest of Scotland, this isle is a popular tourist destination for its charming scenery, good walking trails, and quaint villages. Visit Brodick Castle; go for a hike or a trail ride; keep a look out for seals and golden eagles, and just enjoy the scenery.
London – You can’t go to England without seeing London (especially since you are 99% likely to fly into it!). It’s a city that requires a lot of money to really enjoy it though. Bars, clubs, restaurants, and theater all drain your budget really fast. But, despite its costs, there’s a plethora of free markets, museums, and park and a lot of history to take in. I love London!
Watch the ceremonial guard change at Buckingham Palace – Buckingham Palace, home to the Queen of England, is a fascinating sight and, at 11:30 am, the changing of the guards happens. If you want to check out the palace, admission is 37 GBP, with discounts available for seniors, students, groups, and families. (It’s a bit too expensive for me so I just enjoy the free grounds!)
Tower of London – Here you can see the crown jewels of England, the typical beefeater guards, and check out where England’s most famous prisoners were held. It’s expensive to visit, though, at about 25 GBP and lines are long so plan ahead.
Liverpool – Liverpool has spectacular museums, but the real reason to come here is for the music, or more specifically, for The Beatles. Besides the music, Liverpool has a rich history and fun pubs, so don’t sell it short.
Cornwall – Cornwall is like mini-New England, and coming here makes you see why English settlers felt at home in the new world. Just like New England, Cornwall has rolling hills, beautiful lakes, small towns, wonderful hiking trails, great food and even a winery. It’s one of my favorite places in England.
Chatsworth House – Located in Derbyshire, this amazing home was originally built in 1549 for the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. While there are many beautiful houses and castles throughout the UK, this is one of the most astonishing. There are also a stunning garden and farmyard to walk around.
Stonehenge – Stonehenge, located in Salisbury, is one of the oldest man-made structures in the world (it dates back to 2,500 B.C.!). You can’t go up to the stones anymore, but it’s quite a fascinating site, especially since we still have very little idea how they dragged the stones there. The audio tour is definitely worth getting so you can get some historical context to the stones.
Oxford University – There are many colleges within Oxford and all of them are beautiful. Most cost a few dollars to get a tour during your visit, and you can even see the one where they filmed Harry Potter. I thought they were beautiful, and the tours provided a fascinating history of education as Oxford is one of the oldest universities in the world.
Attend the festivals – England is known for its festivals, especially during the summer. Be sure to check out the famous (and muddy!) Glastonbury festival. There are also a lot of big summer festivals in England, so do your research and check out the lineup.
Summertime in The Lake District – Located in Northern England, this area is perfect for hiking mountain passes and sailing around lakes. It’s very popular (but more crowded) during the summer. Outside of Cornwall, it’s my favorite region in England.
Bathe (or don’t bathe) in Bath – Bath is so named because of the famous mineral baths in the city. It is home to an ancient Roman bath that is marvelously well preserved. It’s pretty much the main attraction in town, though the church and river are also nice to see. Personally, I liked the charm of Bath, even if it was expensive. I found the Roman ruins interesting and the audio guide by Bill Bryson even better.
Brighton– This is a great little town for a weekend trip. There are lots of shops, boutiques, cafes. The streets are narrow, creating an intimate atmosphere as you walk around the lanes. The city is a famous and a popular summer destination for locals who come here to relax on the beach, enjoy the fleeting summer sun, and wander the pier where there are amusement rides and a few carnival style stalls to check out.
Portmeirion – Located on the North Wales coast, this is a quaint little village that was constructed between 1925 and 1975. There’s a hotel and several holiday cottages to stay at, as well as a tiny teahouse and a single restaurant. This is a great place for a weekend getaway, but there isn’t much going on.
Old Trafford – This stadium in Manchester contains a famous club, theater, and sports arena. I highly recommend a visit. The tour is awesome, and takes you below the stadium seating, into the player’s lounge and even the pitch side dugout. A visit to the onsite museum will give you some soccer history as well.
Gaze in awe at Ely Cathedral – Also known as the ‘Ship of the Fens’, this cathedral is visible everywhere in Ely and from miles around. Originally built in the 12th century, it’s renowned for its Romanesque architecture, complete with a stunning entrance and an octagonal lantern tower. The Lady Chapel is the largest in all of England.
Greenwich Park – Considered to be one of London’s largest parks, it is also one of the most beautiful — a perfect escape from the city bustle. There are several historic sights here, as well as a rose garden, excellent pathways, a tea house, the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime museum, a café, and even a deer park. It is the oldest enclosed royal park in London.
Hike Hadrian’s Wall- Declared a Word Heritage Site in 1987, Hadrian’s wall has been standing since the 2nd century. It was used to keep out the Celts from Roman England (it didn’t work so well). While you can make a brief visit to see the fortifications and ancient wall in many spots of the country, if you’re up for it, you can also hike the entire 135km length of the wall itself!
Museum hop – All the museums in England are free, and some of them are considered the best in the world. Get your art and history fill without spending a dollar.