Scotland tops many people's "bucket lists," and for good reason. It's an incredible country, full of wonderful people, amazing scenery, and incredible cultural sights.
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There are so many reasons why you should visit the wilds of Scotland! From The Highlands to Edinburgh, whiskey to pints, and kilts to high-fashion, Scotland has something to offer any type of traveler.
I first visited Scotland when, planning our first "across the pond" trip after our honeymoon to England, I wanted to go back to England, and my Husband said we needed to branch out. We compromised with a visit to Great Britain, nevertheless, and headed for Scotland! This is/was a completely fair proposal, and we've gotten to go to England plenty of time since, and hopefully many more times in the future!
From the minute I started planning our trip, I fell immediately in love with Scotland, without ever having gone there. I like to prepare for trips with a mix of historical and fictional shows/podcasts/documentaries/audiobooks, etc. and that was incredibly easy to do for Scotland! Even my Harry Potter addition counts as prep! The list is at the end of this article!
In all seriousness, if you are even remotely considering planning a trip to Scotland, I would highly recommend that you go for it. Scotland has the right mix of exciting and fun, while being a very manageable place to travel. Incidentally, if you are an American first-time or nervous over-seas traveler, I would strongly recommend Scotland as a first Europe excursion. Its major cities (Glasgow and Edinburgh) are far more manageable than London, there's no language barrier, there's plenty to do and see without being overwhelming, the trains are easy to use, and the people are welcoming and friendly. Need I go on?
So here we go, lads and lassies! The top reasons you will love Scotland.
Reasons to Love Scotland: Crisp Autumn Air
Our trip to Scotland was my first European trip in Autumn and did I ever fall in love! Scotland could not be more perfect in Fall - with the gorgeous sun, minimal rain, and zero humidity, what's not to love? Oh, and did I mention the lack of crowds? Amazing.
September/October is the perfect time to explore Scotland. It's "shoulder season," meaning there are fewer crowds, and that spooky Scottish ambiance abounds as people start to hunker down for the cozy winter. If you are lucky enough to ride a train, definitely pretend it's the Hogwarts Express taking you up to the Highlands to start the school year on September 1!
Come by the hills to the land where fancy is free
And stand where the peaks meet the sky and the lochs meet the sea
Where the rivers run clear and the bracken is gold in the sun
Ah, the cares of tomorrow can wait ’til this day is done
-Lyrics by W. Gordon Smith
Reasons to Love Scotland: The Romantic History
One of the many things that has continued to draw people to Scotland is its Romantic history. Yes, there's "romance" a la Outlander, but that's not specifically what we're talking about. (Though, incidentally, it is a fantastic show and I would highly recommend it, if you are planning a trip to Scotland.)
Scotland is a land of a strong and recognizable culture, combined with innumerable Romantic and "lost" causes. From the fight for its independence from England to its pivotal and ill-fated role in "the '45," the rising in support of the Jacobite pretender, the son of the exiled James II, the Scots have waged wars among themselves and against their Southern neighbors for centuries, with any range of outcomes, from heroically overcoming stunning odds, to being crushed, shattered, and subjugated.
These battles have been commemorated in films from Braveheart, to Rob Roy, to more recently, Outlander and Netflix's Outlaw King. The tragedies of those wars have marked, and scared the Scottish landscape, from those destroyed castles, to commemorative plaques, to portraits of Bonnie Prince Charlie in pubs in Inverness. Yes, that's real.
Scotland is also a land of legend and myth - the most famous and enduring of which being Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, which is consistently presented in a fun, playful way, while always giving the impression that there are people out there who are genuinely hoping to find her on their walk back from the pub. With a seemingly permanent mist lurking around almost every corner, it's easy to understand why it's a place where the imagination goes wild.
There something of the romance and allure of the place that's difficult to fathom, even when you're in it. It's as though the craggy hills can breath their history; as though around any corner a new legend could be arising. It's enticing and mischievous- the perfect combination!
By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes,
Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond,
Where me and my true love were ever wont to go
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond.
O ye'll take the high road, and I'll take the low road,
And I'll be in Scotland a'fore ye,
But me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond.
-The Bonnie Banks o'Loch Lomond (1841)
Reasons to Love Scotland: Abandoned Castles
We all know I love a good castle. Ruined, intact, in a book, I'm all about them.
I've always found that castles that have been destroyed or abandoned allow us to have different access to the buildings and their former inhabitants, both intellectually and physically. Their lack of a defined story told by their structure allows us to cast the castle in our own image - imagining what befell it, who lived there, what they did, who they loved, in a way that we cannot when we are being shown a perfectly cleaned castled and informed all about the lives of the inhabitants.
Physically, well-maintained buildings are full of ropes, "do not sit" signs, and "employee only" entrances. Whereas a destroyed building allows you to climb and walk where you might otherwise not be allowed, and usually with greater privacy, as I find these castles are generally not crawling with tourists, at least in the same way as maintained buildings. Additionally, they're often in charming, now-out-of-the-way locales that have been left behind as the area moved away from the destroyed building, or as society shifted and left the region behind.
And, of course, there's the reason the castle is ruined in the first place, which is a fascinating piece of any abandoned castle. For example, Urquhart Castle was destroyed by its owners to prevent its use by the Jacobites in an earlier Jacobite Rising (the less famous 1692 rising). Talk about dramatic.
If you love abandoned castled, Scotland is the place for them. We have had the pleasure of exploring the 3 below, in addition to several in-tact castles. Historic UK has a good list of Scotland's to explore, as well.
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, and then forever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.
Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerfu' twinkle lights me;
Dark despair around benights me.
-Ae Fond Kiss, Robert Burns, 1791
Reasons to Love Scotland: The Rugged Landscape
It's impossible to deny that Scotland's geography is stunningly beautiful. From craggy cliffs to snow-capped mountains, to fields and gorgeous coastline, the geographical formations are almost overwhelming. A relatively small country, Scotland's natural diversity is impressive, and caused by thousands of years of weather and physical forces.
That said, enjoying that rugged landscape doesn't also mean necessarily bad weather. Thanks to that handy jet stream, the weather is fairly consistent - never super warm, never terribly frigid (they average only 15-20 days of snow per winter).
Reasons to Love Scotland: Bottomless Drinks
The Scots love a good drink - and they love inviting you to share in the fun. If you like Scotch, obviously there's no better place to sample it, straight from the source. From the most touristy Scotch Whiskey Experience in Edinburgh (touristy, but very fun), to touring individual distilleries across the country, Scotch is definitely the drink of choice for connoisseurs.
Of course, the Scots love a good pint, just like the rest of the U.K. and your first stop in any Scottish town should really be for a cheeky pint at the local pub (ours certainly is). When we visited Stirling, I had a bar tender, in complete seriousness, refuse to sell me a half-pint at 11 AM, insisting that I have a full. Alright, when in Rome!
Hand pulls are my personal go-to (room temperature-ish beer that comes out of a hand-pull, pictured below). Belhaven's and Tennant's are some of the big-name brands, but of course microbrewing is booming!
Reasons to Love Scotland: Easy Travel
From the minute you step off the plane in Edinburgh, travel in Scotland is just easy. A heck of a lot easier than a lot of other places I've visited. Incidentally, Edinburgh has one of my favorite airports - small and manageable, it's a quick drive into the center of the city, without having to deal with navigating a massive hub and complex transit after an icky overnight flight.
Trains in Scotland are plentiful, easy, clean, and safe. And, they can get you anywhere you want to go (sometimes with a bus thrown in!) For more on exploring Scotland by train, check out the full post.
Reasons to Love Scotland: Harry Potter Tourism
A more recent, and specific addition to the reasons to love Scotland is, of course, that Scotland is the birth place of our beloved Harry Potter series! J.K. Rowling was living in Edinburgh in the 90's when she penned the books in a couple cafes, one of which, The Elephant House, should definitely be on your list of places to visit during a stay in Edinburgh! My personal favorite Harry Potter site, however, is Greyfriars Kirkyard, where Rowling, strolling around, came upon the names that she worked into the series. I'm not sure how I'd feel about my name inspiring Lord Voldemort, but there you are!
Books and movies to get you excited about Scotland:
Personally, I think one of the best ways to get excited for a trip is to read/watch/listen to both fiction and nonfiction about the place I'm preparing to visit! Here's my top hits for Scotland! Feel free to drop your suggestions in the comments!
Thanks for stopping by!
No matter what brings you to Scotland, I just know you'll love it. To get you prepped, here are some of my recommendations for films and books to prepare for the trip! I'll update this as I think of more! While you're here, don't forget to check out What to Wear in Scotland!
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