In this post we cover the basics of what to do in Scotland if you’re visiting for the first time. From trying the local delicacies to felling like royalty for one night in a castle hotel. Read more and start daydreaming of your trip to Scotland now.
Discover the closes in Edinburgh’s city center
Some of Edinburgh’s charm comes from its particularly small alleyways and courtyards (named Closes and Courts in Scotland) with tall buildings on both sides. Be adventurous and explore the many closes by the Royal Mile (Edinburgh’s main street).
Visit Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh’s castle is a world famous icon. The oldest building within the castle is Margaret’s Chapel which dates from the 12th century.
There are many things to see and learn during your visit. But some of our favorites are the Crown Jewels of Scotland, the Great Hall and the Prisons of War Exhibition (the recreation of the prisons and the life of the prisoners in the castle during the 18th century).
You’ll be provided an audio tour to enjoy the castle at your own time or you can also take the hourly tours with a guide.
If you don’t know what Haggis is then stop reading now. Taste it before you judge it. It is a scottish delicacy!
The National dish combines meat, oatmeal, onions, salt and spices. That’s seems like a typical dish!, you might think.
Well, what makes Haggis special is: the meats are mainly sheep’s heart, lungs and liver. And the mix is traditionally cooked in the sheep’s stomach.
It might not be the first thing you want to try when you arrive to Scotland. But once you embrace the scottish culture (and after a few sips of scotch) you will probably give it a go.
If you’re still not convinced by then, try it in a sandwich as the soft and moist texture is perfect in a bun. Or in a Mac & cheese Pie!
Learn the scottish accent
The scottish accent can be hard to understand at times. But the more you talk with the locals, the easier it gets. Scottish people are very open and friendly so take every opportunity to speak with locals. Ask for advice on restaurants, pubs or listen to some lesser known stories of the country.
Don’t miss the Whisky Experience
When in Scotland… you have to learn everything about Scotch whisky!
Book the Scotch Whisky Experience in the city center, where you are guided through a replica distillery and in the end, taste a dram or more of Scotch Whisky.
If you have more time in your trip, we suggest following the Malt Whisky Trail and taking a tour in a real distillery.
Go to the beach – if it’s sunny
But don’t bring your swimsuit – it’s probably not that warm anyway.
Scotland’s beaches are the perfect getaway to avoid the crowds. You can take a walk by the sea, have picnic on the sand or explore Castle ruins nearby.
Learn at the National Museum of Scotland – if it’s raining
Scotland is also known for its rain. Whether you’re visiting for 2 days, 2 weeks or 2 months, be sure to bring a rain coat!
Check the local weather close to your trip and on those days of mild or heavy rain, take refuge in the multiple free museums around the city.
The National Museum is our favorite! It was recently renovated (2011) and there you can learn everything from Scotland’s ancestry to natural history, culture and space.
The Museum has 9 floors (including underground and level-zero) where the many collections are in display. It’s so large it would be impossible to see everything in just a couple of hours. So pick your favorite collections and start exploring.
Stay in a Castle
Yes! You can stay in a Castle in Scotland (and in many other parts of the UK). Be surrounded by Scotland’s beautiful landscapes and feel like royalty.
While you’re there make sure you find out more about the Castle’s History.
Learn how to dance Ceilidh
Pronounced ‘Kay-lee’, is a social gathering with plenty of folk songs and dancing. Book dance lessons or attend a Ceilidh happening in town. You can even learn the steps beforehand in this interactive experience to surprise your family and friends on the dance floor.
Go on a spooky tour
Discover the darkest secrets of Edinburgh in a spooky walking tour around the city – over AND underground. The scariest part will be touring the underground vaults with just the light of a candle to guide you.
The vaults were built in 18th century and were used as taverns, cobblers and even as family houses.
This tour ends in a cellar with a glass of whisky (or other drink of choice) to help you recover from the ghost stories of Edinburgh.
Hike Arthur’s Seat
For the best view of Edinburgh and some physical activity during your trip. The hike takes on average 1.5-2 hours, depending on your fitness level (and weather conditions – it can get very windy up there!).
Even if you don’t hike or workout regularly, this will be a very enjoyable experience to do solo or in a group. Don’t forget to pack snacks (trail mix, granola or chocolate bars, fruit) or bring a sandwich for a mini picnic at the top!
Book a tour of the Highlands
And make it a multi-day tour (if you have time). That way you can explore the Lochs, the mountains and the castles at your own pace.
The Loch Ness, the city of Inverness and the Stirling Castle are some of the most popular areas but there are many other breath-taking locations to explore.
Watch the sunrise at Calton Hill
In Calton Hill you will also get some of the best views of the city without much of the physical effort. Find iconic Scottish monuments like the National Monument or Nelson’s Monument.
We highly suggest getting up early to watch the sunrise at Calton Hill. But don’t forget to check sunrise times beforehand because during British Summer Time the sun rises as early as 4.30am!
Go full tartan
You will see tartan (aka plaid) everywhere in Scotland. That’s because Scottish kilts almost always have tartan patterns. Tartans originated in woven wool but now you find them in many other materials and in every souvenir shop around Scotland!
We suggest going to the large shop right by the castle to buy your own tartan scarf (or kilt!). There are a thousand choices from 100% Cashmere to 100% wool or Cotton.
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