Come and visit Edinburgh and Glasgow. Scotland is most famous for its cultural icons, the tartan and the kilt. Close behind are the friendly people, haggis, whiskey and beautiful mountains. Even with all that to attract you, there is so much more to see. It doesn’t matter if you like adventure, food, relaxation or that most famous alcoholic drink, Scotland has something for you.
This post will talk about what are highlights or must do activities or sights whilst on a visit to Edinburgh and Glasgow. However, in no way can the diversity and the beauty of Scotland be covered in the words I have available. Do some research on Scotland for there are many hidden gems which you will want to include.
A later post will explore a ten day tour by car of the western coast which highlights some more of the great places to visit in Scotland.
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Along with Wales and Northern Ireland, Scotland has its own devolved government system and its parliament is situated in Edinburgh. St Andrew’s Day is celebrated on the 30th November, this is the National Day of Scotland.
Population and geography
The population of Scotland is around 5 million people with the greatest density of population to the south of the country. The country is 154 miles at its widest point from west to east and 275 miles longest point from north to south. There is a central spine of mountains interspersed with lakes (lochs) including the famous Loch Ness.
Scotland has a large number of populated islands immediately off its mainland coast such as the Isle of Skye, Isle of Arran and the Shetland Islands. The Isle of Skye can be accessed by bridge, but the remainder are serviced by ferry or aircraft.
Temperature ranges from about 2c to 6c in winter and about 12c to 19c in summer on average, but it can be much warmer at times. Don’t be put off by the cold. An old Scottish saying goes “there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes”. So dress for the weather and you will enjoy your visit.
Where to Stay
As we are limiting our visit to the southern portion of Scotland, you can choose to stay in either Edinburgh or Glasgow or any point in between as the cities are not that far apart. We chose to base ourselves in Falkirk as it is halfway between Edinburgh and Glasgow. The train is a short journey to either destination and any car journeys out to points of interest are more easily accomplished without having to tackle major city traffic at the start and end of each journey. Another benefit was that the accommodation was of equal standard to the cities but cheaper (and we like saving money).
Edinburgh and Environs
This is one of my favourite cities in the UK. The architecture of central Edinburgh is wonderful, make sure to walk along George Street. Aside from Edinburgh Castle, the city is famous for its cultural events of the Edinburgh Tattoo and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Both are fantastic but if you want to see Edinburgh without the crowds, then visit when these events are not on.
This is far from a complete list of Edinburgh’s historic sights. There are the normal guided walking tours and the unusual such as night time ghost tours. I prefer to see the city using a Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) bus service. If you like a walk, I suggest you start at Edinburgh Castle as its all downhill from there.
One of the more unusual tours of Edinburgh
The Royal Mile and Edinburgh Old Town
Tenements of the Old Town
At its centre, Edinburgh Old Town has the Royal Mile. At the higher end of the Royal Mile is Edinburgh Castle and at the lower end is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, each a great place to visit. Along the length of the Royal Mile are numerous historical sites, beautiful architecture and lots of places to eat and drink. There are narrow cobbled alleyways and staircases off to the side to explore. This walk is best done as a stroll so you can take it all in and not miss a thing.
During your stroll, divert down to the Grassmarket area to see what was once a medieval market place. If unusual and eclectic shops are to your liking, then Grassmarket has something to interest you. The views of Edinburgh Castle from here are stunning. There are several historic pubs including The Last Drop and the White Hart Inn that are well worth stepping in for a quick drink.
Edinburgh Castle atop Castle Rock
Dominating the Edinburgh skyline atop Castle Rock is the ancient Edinburgh Castle. The highest point in the Castle is occupied by the oldest surviving building on the site, the tiny St. Margaret’s Chapel, dating from 1140. Entry to the Castle is from the Royal Mile through the Portcullis gate. The castle and grounds are reasonably large. Not all areas are accessible to the public although it is not an active royal residence. There is plenty to see throughout the buildings and grounds. The views of Edinburgh from the ramparts are superb. Make sure to see the Scottish Crown Jewels and the quaint dog cemetery. If you can manage it, try to be there for the firing of the one o’clock gun from the ramparts. This is a great piece of British pomp and ceremony and has its historical basis on setting the time for ships in the harbour.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse
Palace of Hollyroodhouse
The Palace of Holyroodhouse is located at the lower end of the Royal Mile and overlooked by Arthurs Seat. This is the Queens official residence in Scotland and dates from the 16th century. The interior of the Palace is very opulent and areas open to the public include The King’s Bedchamber, the Royal Dining Room, the Throne Room and Privy Chamber. Perhaps the most famous former resident is Mary, Queen of Scots. Her bedchamber is in the oldest portion of the Palace. Take a walk in the extensive Palace gardens and check out the ruins of the 12th century Holyrood Abbey. Its optional to do this either before or after entering the Palace itself.
The Scottish Parliament Building
Interior of Parliament building
The Palace and the Parliament are close by to each other but there is a very sharp contrast in architectural styles. The Parliament is an ultra-modern design of steel, oak and granite. The theme continues into the interior of the building with spectacular oak beams, glass and steel all combining to form angles and curves throughout. You will not likely have seen a building similar to this.
Museum of Scotland
Main Hall of Museum of Scotland
The Museum claims to be the most popular attraction outside of London and I would believe it. There is a wide range of world class galleries and exhibits including Scottish history, natural world and science and technology. One of the unusual attractions is the Millennium Clock which you need to watch strike the hour. It is a wacky contraption about 40 feet high with lots of action to see.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
The gallery building is a Victorian era construction in the neo-gothic style (it looks a lot older than it is). This is a shrine to Scotland’s heroes and heroines and the Gallery displays hold to this theme. The building’s interior is magnificent and has a palace theme with elaborate embellishments on walls, columns and ceilings. The paintings are of famous Scots such as Robert Burns, Mary Queen of Scots and Sir Walter Scott to name but a few.
Established in 1913, the zoo has over 170 species including the very popular giant pandas, penguins, koalas and chimpanzees. Situated on the side of a hill, the Zoo has views over Edinburgh. There is a walk-through aviary and various animal enclosures set out in a natural landscape for the species enclosed. We like any zoo really and this one is a good one where you can spend a full day and the children will be kept busy as there are activities for them.
Royal Yacht Britannia
Onboard HM Britannia
You will need transport to the quayside as this is not a stroll from the city centre. Local buses are available to get you there cheaply. Originally commissioned in 1954 and decommissioned in 1997, the Royal Yacht has been maintained in pristine condition. All the clocks on board are stopped at 3.01 as this was the time the Queen was piped off for the last time. There are 5 levels to the yacht and all are open for inspection. You enter the yacht via the bridge and from there head through the rest of the yacht including the State Apartments, crew’s quarters and the engine room. There was a crew of 220 to staff the ship. As you move around, take a close look at the craftsmanship and quality of the build of the ship. It is a work of art.
Glasgow and Environs
With a population of just over 600,00 people, Glasgow is famed for its Victorian and art nouveau architecture. It’s a thriving city that has an energy to it. With a compact city centre, it is easy to get around on foot.
As with larger cites, there is a HOHO bus service to get you to some of the sights that are not within the city centre. Make sure to visit the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel and Glengoyne Distillery.
An added attraction for Glasgow is it is ideally situated for day trips. Here are five personal favourites.
Yes it is a beach! At Luss, Loch Lomond
A short trip to the north of Glasgow are the shores of Loch Lomond. Situated in the Trossachs National Park, the Loch and mountains in the background are picture perfect. Make sure to head to the historic and picturesque village of Luss. You can stroll around taking in the beautiful cottages and then onto the shores of the Loch. Sit on the beach and eat an icecream and take in the vista. Make sure to take a speedboat ride on the Loch to view the shoreline in otherwise inaccessible places.
Entrance to Stirling Castle
Also to the north of Glasgow is Stirling Castle. This was the home of the Stewart Kings and Queens. The Palace within Stirling Castle is lovingly restored and preserved. It is widely regarded as one of the best-preserved examples of a Renaissance building in the UK. The actors dressed as people from the history of the Castle make this a more interactive visit.
William Wallace Monument
Visible from the Castle is the Wallace Monument. Well worth a visit and a climb up the stairs to the top for grand views across the surrounding countryside and back to Stirling Castle. Be prepared though as there are 246 steps to the top. There are some interesting museum galleries to view within the Monument as well as the scenery awaiting you at the top.
Falkirk Wheel Boat Lift
Head west to Falkirk and the Falkirk Wheel, a piece of engineering wizardry that raises and lowers canal boats some 115 feet between the differing levels of the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal. You may be lucky enough to see it in action.
Edradour is based just outside Pitlochry, which is about a 2-hour drive north east of Glasgow.
Wherever you travel in Scotland, there is a whiskey distillery and samplings are widely available. The locals will take offence if you don’t ask to taste their favourite export. Edradour is famed as the smallest distillery in Scotland and dates back to 1825. Being such a small distillery means that the product is an artisan style, and much sought after by whiskey connoisseurs the world over. If you have a whiskey lover in your life, they will be forever grateful if you bring them a present from here.
Isle of Arran
The Isle of Arran deserves its “Scotland in Miniature” title
To the south is Ardrossan, where you can catch a ferry to Brodick on the Isle of Arran. This is an unusual destination but well worth the time and effort. You can take a vehicle across or bicycles if you are energetic. There is a road network around around the island and a cycle tour is a full day. During your time on the island, there are plenty of things to do including nature walks, a visit to Brodick Castle, the Isle of Arran Distillery and Taste of Arran based in Brodick. We recommend The Taste of Arran as it is a delight for food and drink lovers. There is accommodation available on the island if you wish to stay a while.
We never tire of visiting Scotland as there is so much to see and do. Our visits have always been relaxing and we have met many wonderful locals. With fresh local produce always to hand and cooked beautifully, eating is another treat to be enjoyed.
If you would like more information on the south of Scotland and its many attractions, take a look at the official tourist site https://www.visitscotland.com/
For another short break you may enjoy, check out our Isle of Man article.
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We are the authors of our travel blog. Wayne is semi-retired and travelled quite extensively during his working years. Cally is a freelance business consultant who has also travelled widely. Both of us love to travel and we get away as often as our finances will allow us.
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