• See the Northern Lights

You can potentially see the Northern Lights from almost anywhere in Scotland given the right conditions of a cloudless sky and little light pollution. But your best bets are in the northern isles of Shetland and Orkney, where they are known by the charming name “Merry Dancers.” In the far south of the country, the 373-square-mile Galloway Forest Park is a designated dark sky park and home to the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, where you can marvel at the wonders of the night sky through powerful telescopes.

  • Go Bar Hopping in Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s compact size and easy walkability makes it a great city for barflies. Luckily, the quality of its watering holes more than surpasses what you might expect for its size. Discerning cocktail tipplers should head for Bramble, which often makes an appearance on Drinks International’s World’s 50 Best Bars List, as well as its sister bars The Last Word and Lucky Liquor Co. Whisky drinker? Try Usquabae, The Devil’s Advocate, or Bow Bar. If it’s just a few glasses of good wine you’re after, head for the classy Bon Vivant.

  • Celebrate New Year's Twice

New Year’s Eve, or “Hogmanay” as it is known in local parlance, is Edinburgh’s biggest night of the year. In fact, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay party is one of the world’s biggest New Year celebrations, with four days of festivities—including concerts, street parties, and a fire procession—beginning December 28 and culminating in the “Loony Dook,” (a costumed dip in the freezing waters of the Firth of Forth) on January 1, followed by a much-needed holiday on January 2. If four days of New Year celebrations are not quite enough for you, head north to the Shetland island of Foula to do it all again, albeit on a significantly smaller scale. The island still adheres to the Julian calendar and celebrates New Year (“Newerday”) on January 13.

  • See a Graffiti-Covered Castle

Just south of Largs, the 13th-century Kelburn Castle is distinctly different to the many other castles you’ll likely come across on your trip through Scotland. Seat of the Earl of Glasgow, the castle’s concrete facing was in need of replacing a decade ago and so, at the suggestion of his children, the Earl invited four Brazilian street artists—Nunca, Nina Pandolfo, and the twin duo Os Gêmeos—to paint its walls. The result is a vibrant façade decorated with abstract characters and bright colors.

  • Explore the Country's Viking Heritage

The northern isles of Shetland and Orkney were part of the Kingdom of Norway from the early days of Viking colonization in the 9th century until 1492, when they were pawned to Scotland by Christian I, King of Norway, in lieu of a dowry for his daughter, Margaret. In Shetland, the archaeological site of Jarlshof has the most extensive visible Viking settlement remains in the U.K., as well as ruins from the Bronze, Iron, and Pictish eras. Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney, was first mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga and is home to the magnificent red sandstone building of St Magnus Cathedral, built under Norse rule for Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney, whose martyrdom is recounted in the aforementioned Icelandic saga. The last battle between the Norwegian and Scottish armies took place in Largs in 1263. The quaint seaside town commemorates this event with the annual Largs Viking Festival.

  • See Stone Age Sites

On Orkney’s main island, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to several major historical sites, including some of the oldest buildings in the world. This site includes Maeshowe, a large chambered burial tomb aligned to capture the sun’s rays on the winter solstice; two ceremonial stone circles (the Ring of Brodgar and Stones of Stenness, which date from between 2500 – 2000 B.C.), and Skara Brae, the most complete Neolithic village visible in Europe. In the middle of the site, though not officially part of it, the Ness of Brodgar is a 6.2-acre archaeological site whose significance is unparalleled in Europe. The Neolithic temple complex is currently being excavated by scientists keen to discover the wonders left behind by the ancient people who built it, long before the Egyptian pyramids.

  • Go Whisky Tasting and Gin Tasting

Few would visit Scotland without sampling some of the country’s most famous export. You can visit whisky distilleries up and down the country—throughout the five whisky-producing regions of Campbeltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland, and Speyside—but Islay has the attraction of eight active distilleries all on one island (it may be a good idea to spread your tastings out over a few days). You might come for the whisky, but you’ll be just as likely to find locals sipping a gin and tonic as a Scotch nowadays. Scotland’s gin scene is booming, with dozens of new distilleries—from Shetland in the north to North Berwick in the south—opening up over the past few years. Handily, there is a dedicated gin trail you can follow so that you don’t miss out on any.

  • Take the "Harry Potter Train"

You can recreate a close approximation of famous scenes from several Harry Potter movies—in which the Hogwarts Express was depicted traveling over the 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct in the Highlands—by booking a journey on The Jacobite. This vintage steam train travels a scenic 41 miles from Fort William to Mallaig with stops for photo opportunities—of surrounding lochs and mountains, as well as the Glenfinnan Monument, a memorial to the Jacobite uprising—along the way.

  • Discover the Country's History at the National Museum of Scotland

From Bonnie Prince Charlie’s picnic utensils to a Viking chess set and the stuffed remains of a cloned sheep, the National Museum of Scotland is home to a huge collection of historic artifacts. And it’s free. After you have explored the galleries, head up to the rooftop terrace for panoramic views of the medieval streets of Old Town and Edinburgh Castle away from the crowds.

  • Sleep in a Lighthouse

In 1998, Scotland’s final manned lighthouse on Fair Isle was automated, and the last lighthouse keeper departed. Now a few of those empty beacons are available for much shorter stays for lighthouse enthusiast travelers. On Fair Isle, the aforementioned South Lighthouse offers nightly rates that include all meals. In the Highlands, you can book self-catering accommodations at Stoer Lighthouse, or a bed and breakfast at Rua Reidh. On the northeast coast, the cottages at Covesea Lighthouse are a good option for traveling groups.

  • Visit the Haunting Valley of Glen Coe

Surrounded by mountains, the ancient pass through the valley of Glen Coe is imbued with history and tragedy—it was here in 1692 that 38 members of the MacDonald clan were treacherously murdered by their own guests. Nevertheless, the valley today is more closely associated with its opportunities for hiking and mountain climbing, the nearby ski center, and its appearance in several movies, most memorably the James Bond film, Skyfall.

  • Drink at Britain's Most Remote Pub

If you fancy a drink at The Old Forge on the Knoydart peninsula, on the northwest coast, you’ll need to plan accordingly. The only way to reach Britain’s most remote pub is by a boat from Mallaig or an 18-mile hike. You’ll likely be glad you made the trip, though, when you settle into a cozy chair to enjoy freshly caught seafood, real ales, whiskies, and live music.

  • Sun Yourself on a Beautiful Beach

On a sunny day, the white sands and clear waters of some of Scotland’s best beaches might have you thinking you’ve taken a trip to the Caribbean rather than northern Europe. Arguably the best is Luskentyre on Harris in the Outer Hebrides. You can enjoy the soft sand and (if it’s particularly warm or you are particularly brave) the azure waters while spotting seals and wild ponies.

  • Old Man of Storr - Isle of Skye
dec 4 2017 ∞
mar 24 2019 +