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If you're into nature....
See the Highlands. Some of Scotland's most beautiful scenery is located in their famous Highlands. Unfortunately this area is not accessible by public transportation. You have to either get there by renting a car or taking a Scottish Highlands tour. I went the route of the tour for my first trip to the Highlands. I booked with a company called Highland Experience Tours located in Edinburgh. I did the 1 day highlands tour titled Loch Ness, Glen Coe, and the Highlands. Prior to my trip, I researched some of the most beautiful sights in the Highlands and this specific tour incorporated a lot of that. Loch Ness and Glen Coe are the definite highlights of the trip. When you get to Loch Ness, they offer a boat tour for about 14 pounds. It's absolutely worth it, I promise you. Initially I wasn't up for spending the extra money, but you get to see so much more of the Loch Ness lake on the boat ride. There may or may not be a Loch Ness Monster, but you'll just have to visit and find out for yourself.
My main disappointment with the Highland Experience tour was the lack of time spent at some of these areas. I especially would have liked to spend more time at Glen Coe to take in the scenery. I'd say though for your first time to the Highlands, it's nice to have a tour, but if you go again, I'd rent a car and go at your own pace. The two places I didn't get to see on the tour but are still on my list to see are Ben Nevis mountain and the Isle of Skye. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles, with a height of 1,345 meters, and it's also listed as one of the best sights in Scotland. The Isle of Skye is located high up in the north of the country, so you have to go for at least several days. Highland Experience Tours offers a 3 day overnight tour of the Isle of Skye, which had I had more time, I also would have taken advantage of. Everyone I talked with who went there said it's incredible. The tours for this company meet up right in the heart of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, so they are easy to find. Be prepared for a long day, but again, it's totally worth it.
If you're into castles....
There's plenty to choose from! There are many castles in Scotland, and they make sure to maintain them well. The two main castles that were home to Scottish kings and queens were Edinburgh Castle, located in Edinburgh and Stirling Castle, located in Stirling. Because these were the main castles that the Scottish royalty resided in, they also are the busiest when it comes to tourists. At Edinburgh Castle you can see the crown, sword, and scepter used by Mary Queen of Scots when she was crowned. It's crazy to think about the fact that she was only 6 days old when she was crowned, so it's also kind of funny to think of this tiny newborn baby with a giant crown, sword, and scepter being crowned queen of a nation.
The cool thing about Stirling Castle is that you also get to explore the small Scottish village of Stirling as you walk up to where the castle is. I recommend checking out the Darnley Coffee House after visiting the castle. It's a nice place to grab a meal and something to drink. It's even more perfect on a rainy day, which is usually the case in Scotland. For those interested in Scottish history, this cafe was built in the 16th century and was the former home of Lord Darnley, who was the second husband of Mary Queen of Scots and the father to King James I. There are much more things to do at Stirling Castle and is more interactive than it's Edinburgh counterpart. They have actors in costumes portraying either royalty or castle servants. They also have games and displays for kids to have a hands on approach to learning about different aspects of royal life in the Middle Ages. Naturally I had to check it out myself too. After all, I am practically the same height as most kids, so I just blend in.
Another castle that I think is an absolute must to see is Tantallon Castle, which was the home of the Douglas Clan of Scotland. The great thing about this castle is that you get to not only see a castle with a lot of history, but you also get to see one right on the coast as well. Tantallon Castle is located right on the coast in North Berwick, which is one of the sunniest regions of Scotland. North Berwick is also a small seaside village that is really fun to check out. If you're lucky enough to be there in early August you can also see the Scottish Highland Games here as well. The great thing about Tantallon Castle is that there's not nearly as many tourists as Edinburgh or Stirling. If you get there early enough in the morning, there are maybe just several other people there. This castle is much more low key, so you get to really walk throughout it and even up to the top and look out over the scenery. It's so beautiful and surrounded by grass in the front, and then in the back is a small lawn of grass and then the ocean. It was genuinely my favorite thing I saw in Scotland. They even had benches where you could sit and take a moment to soak it all in.
If you decide to check out multiple castles while visiting Scotland, I recommend purchasing the Explorer Pass prior to your trip. They have different deals depending on the length of your stay. I purchased the 3-Day Explorer Pass, which allowed me unlimited visits to any castle throughout Scotland over the course of 3 days, and the days didn't even have to be consecutive. So even though I only managed to see 3 castles, I could have seen more. This 3-Day Explorer Pass only cost $27, and also made things easier when I got to the castles since I didn't have to wait in line to buy tickets. Be sure to check the website for any price changes or updates though.
If you're into food and drinks...
It is a must to have both a Guinness beer and whiskey while in Scotland. I'm not a huge fan of beer, but I fell in love with the Guinness there. I swear it's more fresh over there or simply made better. Whiskey is not my forte', but it's worth it to say you at least tried some while in Scotland, They are known for having some of the best whiskey in the world. During the Highland Experience Tour that I took, we were able to sample some delicious Scottish whiskey. If you're into food, some local food to try is a dish called Haggis. It reminded me of meat loaf. The UK in general is big on meat and potatoes, so you can always go smaller on portions since the food is so filling. Another dish to try is Fish and Chips, although not local to just Scotland, it is popular in the UK. Just be sure to order the small fish, which is already huge to begin with.
So what about the weather in Scotland?
During my stay in early August, the weather was constantly changing. I never experienced a heavy rain in Scotland, but the weather seemed to go from sunshine to clouds to a light rain within an hour. It's also pretty chilly there even in the summer, so a warm scarf will go a long way. If you don't bring one, you can easily find numerous ones to purchase for as low as about $10. If you do visit Scotland in the summer, I managed great with tennis shoes, sweaters, and a spring jacket with a hood. At least if you don't have an umbrella, be sure to have a coat with a hood. Because I was limited on space, I didn't bring a pair of boots, which is probably the one thing I wish I would have brought, especially for my time down in London as well when I got stuck in a non-stop rainstorm.
I hope that when looking at destinations for your next trip you consider Scotland. This country is so beautiful, and the people are very friendly. It's also easy to get around to see other towns with such a great public transportation system. Los Angeles, you need to step it up. Small villages in Scotland have more frequent bus routes than LA. I loved Scotland though. It was easily one of the best countries I've ever visited.
Next up on the blog, Merry Ol' London!
Jill Zwarensteyn is a television producer, writer, and comedian who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com