History and haggis: the cultural heights of Scotland

Your first day in the notoriously independent country of Scotland will immediately dispel any doubts about whether it’s worth travelling up to the northernmost country in Britain.

From the accents, to the food, to the proud culture and history, Scotland provides an experience which is completely unique compared to its English neighbours in the south and an absolute must for any travellers visiting the UK.

Edinburgh
The first point of call for most travellers to Scotland is the stunning capital city of Edinburgh.

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Edinburgh's Old Town is a vast expanse of cobblestones and spires, filled with centuries of history

Between the imposing medieval structures of the Old Town and the graceful, leafy Georgian New Town, the city oozes charm.

Countless walking tours are run throughout the city, and for good reason. The city is compact enough to explore easily on foot, and the abundance of beautiful architecture and sheer volume of important historical sites means that every cobblestoned street hides a new discovery.

Specialist tours are available, covering everything from the ‘dark side’ of Edinburgh, to royalty, or even famous writers and poets who have inhabited the city over the years.

Once you have a feel for the city, it’s time to visit the main attraction which looms over the capital – Edinburgh Castle. Once home to the infamous Mary, Queen of Scots, the castle is beautifully preserved, and still functions as an active military base.

Entry is ticketed, but it is full of sights and activities including the Scottish crown jewels, a military museum, Scotch whisky tasting and a restaurant from which you can view the daily firing of the one o’clock cannon.

Make sure to include a visit to the phenomenal National Museum of Scotland, and a traditional lunch of roast pork and haggis in the Grassmarket.

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The imposing Edinburgh Castle is a major heritage attraction with interior walls built to dazzle

Glasgow
Less celebrated than Edinburgh but no less important to visit on a tour of Scotland is the wonderful city of Glasgow. This city has a vibrant culture with an abundance of live music venues, traditional pubs, and an eclectic mix of old and modern architecture. It’s the less tourist-y major Scottish city, and you’ll often hear the locals describe it as the ‘real’ Scotland (the fierce rivalry between the two cities may have something to do with this).

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Derelict for over 50 years, Glasgow's Clock Tower is now a central boutique suite and bistro

Glasgow is a fantastic place to take advantage of the ‘hop-on, hop-off’ bus tours you’ll find in most places in the UK. As most of the sights are quite spread out, this is the most efficient and economical way to get around, and the commentary reveals layers of history to the city which greatly add to your appreciation of a town which has grown and redefined itself countless times over the past century.

Use the tour as a jumping off point to explore different areas in greater detail, such as Templeton on the Green (previously a carpet factory designed to look like the Venetian Doge’s Palace), the soaring Glasgow Cathedral and the city’s artsy university sector.

While you explore the main sights, keep an eye out for the contemporary art dotted throughout the city in most public places, and the hidden bars and restaurants down little side streets.

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Templeton on the Green's beautiful architecture has been lovingly maintained since the building's construction in 1892

Beyond the cities
If you have time to explore beyond the two major cities, hiring a car to explore the Scottish Highlands is a fantastic way to round off your holiday. Stunning scenery, Roman and Celtic ruins and medieval castles abound, making travel between famous sites like the Isle of Skye or Loch Ness just as fascinating and enjoyable as the destinations themselves.

While Scotland can be visited at any time of year, the Northern Hemisphere summer is the most ideal time.

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The Isle of Skye is the ultimate in picturesque scenery, perfect for a relaxing day out

You may be lucky and land a week of sun, but even if it’s overcast, the slightly warmer weather and extended sunlight hours (from 4.30am to 11.00pm at its peak!) coincides with some of the key events in Scotland – the Highland Games in May and June, and the Edinburgh Tattoo in August.

Regardless of when you go, or what kind of traveller you are, Scotland is friendly, beautiful, and a truly unique destination.

Have you been to Scotland? What was your favourite area to explore?

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Image credits: Casey Ventura; Evenfh, Angela N Perryman, ExFlow, Kay Roxby, Yuri Fineart / Shutterstock.com.

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