Our lovely, little portion of the UK is ruggedly beautiful. I have really fallen in love with the scenery, accents, and culture of Scotland and I feel it's my duty to share this with the world. ;) Since we haven't had the opportunity to travel much recently, I've had the time to compile a list of places we've visited or want to visit that I think are a must see if you're visiting Scotland.
On getting here: We have two large, international airports in Scotland: Glasgow and Edinburgh. Both cater to a wide variety of airlines so searching both for the better price is an excellent plan.
How to get around: Well, just how comfortable are you with driving on the opposite side of the car, the opposite side of the road, very slim roads, and dealing with roundabouts? If you're feeling that is quite doable, I would recommend you rent a car, for at least part of your trip. (A word of warning to drivers: while Scotland is quite small overall, between speed limits and roads that follow lochs and peninsulas, it will take longer to drive than what we Americans are used to. So enjoy it and bring Dramamine if you get carsick.) Train travel is the easiest and cheapest way to get around, especially in the cities because driving in the cities can be rather confusing if you're not familiar with the area. Check out Scot Rail for more information about trains. If you don't feel comfortable with driving, there is plenty for you to see near the train rails, especially in the cities.
What to see: If you're spending a week in Scotland, you can easily see the big highlights. Luckily for you, I've narrowed it down to what I think is worth your time and money. :) I'm definitely most familiar with the Glasgow and Loch Lomond area, but I'm also working on expanding my horizons.
In Glasgow, I would recommend brunch at Peckhams on Buyer's Road for takeaway (coffee/tea + croissant for a couple of pounds plus plenty of delicious foods/drinks to drool over. They also can pack a hamper if you're interested in something like that!) before you browse up and down Buyers Road (and check out the side alleys!) for some incredibly unique shops. Then you can meander over to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (free) for some art and culture. From there, I'd recommend a late lunch at Kama Sutra before you walk down Sauchiehall Street. (Or catch the bus or take the train from Charing Cross down to the Bellgrove station.) Then head up the hill to Glasgow Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in Scotland, which also survived the Scottish Reformation. If the weather is lovely, a trip up the Necropolis is also a must because it affords one the best views this side of Glasgow. Now that it's probably getting late, I would head towards Buchanan Street for some late shopping/people watching/ or dinner. Our favorite restaurant near Buchanan Street is Topolabamba for some tasty tapas and drinks. Glasgow is a bit of a party town in the evenings and there is usually plenty to see if you're a night owl between movies, plays, or concerts so it's worth checking ahead to see what's playing.
After spending a day in Glasgow, I would suggest renting a car if you can, and driving north towards the Highlands. Loch Lomond is only a half hour drive away and the town of Balloch is small but quaint. Take the A82 North towards Glencoe for some stunning highland views. Since you're probably hungry, grab a tasty lunch from Clachaig Inn (or make reservations to stay the night). Then buckle up for your drive down to the breathtaking Glen Etive (famous for the epic scenes in James Bond's Skyfall). After you've been paralyzed by fear due to the one-lane road, continue the breathtaking experience by driving through Glen Coe and stopping at the scenic stops to take in the scenery. It's well worth your time. I would suggest staying in Fort William for the night at the Lime Tree Hotel and snagging some delicious dessert in the restaurant. We ate dinner at the Grog and Gruel but most recommend eating on TripAdvisor suggests a meal at Crannog Seafood Restaurant which we'll have to try on our next trip north!
From Fort William, you have several options: You could take the A87 up to Skye, spend a day there, a night in Portree, and explore all the Skye has to offer. Word of warning, Skye, while small, is full of peninsulas and inlets so it takes several hours to get from one side of the island to the other. The hiking in Skye is stunning and worth your time if you're a fan of hiking. Or you could head northeast and drive along Loch Ness towards Inverness. Stop by the Urquhart Castle* on the banks of Loch Ness for some stunning views if you have the time! No matter which route you choose, you'll end up in Inverness.
Inverness is beautiful, but it's a definite park-and-walk town. Find some cheap parking and meander around. When we were in Inverness, we were merely driving through, so we grabbed a quick lunch at Morrisons grocery store (don't laugh) but Trip Advisor has some excellent recommendations. You can meander over the River Ness, see the Botanic Gardens, Fortrose Cathedral*, or Brodie Castle. Outside of Inverness is the famous Culloden Moor where the British stamped down on the Jacobite rebellion. If you're a fan of history (or a fan of the Outlander novels) you'll probably want to stop here.
As you take the A9 south, you'll pass through Cairngorms National Park. This park is known for it's scenic beauty and wide variety of animals. Unlike American National Parks, British National Parks were developed around already existing towns so you'll have plenty of small towns to stop in and snag some petrol and food if you need it. You'll eventually hit the city of Perth and then the city of Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is probably going to be the most expensive city you visit in Scotland. The posh air and ancient history are quite costly. :) There is probably something for everyone in this town, but here are my recommendations. Park your car and walk up Princes Street. You'll pass the large Sir Walter Scott Monument and if it's open, you can take the slender, winding stairs up to the top. If the weather is cheery, it will probably be quite crowded. Further down on Princess Street is the National Gallery of Scotland (free!) and well worth a visit, because the collection is quite impressive. If it's a sunny day, walk down through the Princes Street Gardens or if it's rainy, Edinburgh has some (expensive) shopping to explore. Over on the Royal Mile, you have the options of visiting Edinburgh Castle* and Holyrood Palace (where Her Majesty stays when she is in Edinburgh). You'll pass the impressive St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile and it's a very informative, free visit. The Edinburgh City Chambers courtyard displays the handprints of famous, modern locals and it's a neat little stop. Nearby is the National Museum of Scotland (free) and it's impressive collection of Scottish history. Additionally, the rooftop access affords the viewer splendid views of the city and it's generally not crowded. If you want to get away from the crowds, you can hike up to Edinburgh's Folly or all the way to Arthur's Seat or over to see Craigmillar Castle*. Edinburgh is a beautifully picturesque town and there is really so much to be seen, no matter the weather!
If you still have time left, take the train down to the Borders. Scotrail has recently opened a rail line into the Scottish borders and from what I've heard and read, it's a splendid trip. The train leaves from Edinburgh and stops at various towns and villages along the way. There are tours offered or you can go on your own and see Abbotsford House (Scott's house), Jedburgh Abbey*, Hermitage Castle, Dryburgh Abbey* or Melrose Abbey* and really so much more. This trip is definitely on our list of things to do this summer as the weather warms up! This route makes these locations so much more accessible. Additionally, you can drive down to Dumfries and Galloway (home to Drumlanrig Castle and Caerlaeverock Castle*) on the western borders for some more beautiful sights.
If you're looking for even more places to visit especially off the beaten path, I would suggest the town of Oban (on the west coast because it is also home to various ferries that will take you to some of the Western Islands), the Orkney Islands at the very north of Scotland, or the Inner or Outer Hebrides. Getting to these places is a bit more difficult because you'll need to figure out transportation there and back, and a trip to the isles will probably be more costly than staying on the mainland, but it would definitely be a trip to remember!
*And lastly, if you're trying to save money and but still want to see a lot of the historic sites, I marked with an asterisk the Historic Scotland sites where you can get a year long membership. Visiting the most popular (and thereby expensive) sites can add up and this would give you the opportunity to see even more for a set fee.