1). Edinburgh Castle, a fortress perched on an extinct volcano, dominates the Scottish capital. See the Honours of Scotland, the nation’s Crown Jewels; tour the rooms of the Royal Palace and see where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son James ; watch the One O’Clock Gun being fired each day (except for Sundays) as it has been since 1861, when it was a signal for ships in the Firth of Forth and the port of Leith – and coinciding with the Time Ball, a large white ball which is raised above the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill, and drops at exactly 1300 hours.
2). Visit a whisky distillery: there are over 40 open to the public, large and small, on the mainland and on the islands. You can follow the Malt Whisky Trail through the Highlands, or the Whisky Coast Trail along the west coast and islands from Mull to the Isle of Skye. If you don’t have time to explore those areas learn about it at The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh.
3). Watch or play a round of golf: with more than 550 courses in Scotland, the “Home of Golf”, you certainly won’t have a problem finding one to play on! There are courses in all parts of Scotland, and aimed at different levels of skill, including championship courses like the Old Course in St Andrews, to Turnberry on the west coast and Gleneagles near Perth, venue for the Ryder Cup in 2014.
4). Traquair is the oldest inhabited house in Scotland, dating back to 1107. Originally built as a hunting lodge for Scottish kings and queens, it was later a refuge for Catholic priests, and the family supported Mary Queen of Scots and the Jacobite cause. Mary visited Traquair with her husband and baby son James in 1566 and the baby’s cradle, her bed and some other possessions can still be seen in the house. The Bear Gates outside the house were installed in 1738 and after Bonnie Prince Charlie visited a few years later, legend says the Earl vowed they wouldn’t be opened again until a Stuart was crowned in London – so they have been closed ever since. Drink in all the history along with a pint from Traquair’s own brewery!
5). The Royal Yacht Britannia has played host to some of the most famous people in the world, as well as being home to HM The Queen and the Royal Family. Now you can tour the ship in its permanent mooring in the revived port area of Leith in Edinburgh.
6). Scotland with Style – Glasgow. Scotland is the city of the unique designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Follow in his footsteps on a Mackintosh Trail, to include the Glasgow School of Art, refreshments in the Willow Tea Room and The Lighthouse, one of Mackintosh’s earliest buildings (originally designed as offices for the Glasgow Herald newspaper) brought to new life with a modern extension.
7). Loch Ness is famous for the monster Nessie. You may not be guaranteed a viewing but the loch is well worth a visit: Scotland has over 500 freshwater and saltwater lochs, and Loch Ness is the second largest, behind Loch Lomond. Make sure to visit the half ruined Urquhart Castle, perched above the loch.
8). Ghosts: like Nessie, visitors to Scotland aren’t guaranteed a sighting of (or hearing) a ghost but there’s no shortage of tales of hauntings at castles such as Glamis, and Fyvie – and even without the spirits, they are great castles to visit!
9). Get active! Scotland is a great destination for activities, whether they be kayaking, cycling, walking or more extreme sportssuch as river bugging in Perthshire!
10). Visit an island: but which one, there are so many! From the Shetlands in the north, via the Outer Hebrides to the Inner Hebrides and down to Arran, named “Scotland in miniature” the Scottish Islands are a must-see for any visitor.
11). Take in an Edinburgh Festival – and in case you thought there was just one, think again! As well as the Edinburgh International Festival, and Fringe Festival, there are book, jazz and film festivals, in the summer, as well as the fun-filled Hogmanay Festival at New Year.
12). Eat Scotland! If you want some good food to accompany the whisky, you won’t go here. Yes you can try the traditional haggis, but there are many other mouth-watering offerings – try them out at the weekly, award-winning Edinburgh Farmers’ Market, or at cafes and restaurants around the country.