A warrior spirit and a heart marked by Gaelic, Nordic, and Saxon heritages mould the Scottish culture, proud and singular. The kilt, the bagpipe, the intimidating sight of a plate of haggis accompanied by a glass of whiskey: everything is so treacherously picturesque that it becomes easy to fall into the mountainous stereotype of rocky hills and cloudy mountaintops. All these facets are there to be seen and tasted, just as much as there are many more panoramas to be discovered within the land of Scots.
If already in the UK, it would be a pity not to get a glimpse of the kingdom’s northern counterpart. The easiest to get to Scotland from London is to fly from Heathrow to either Glasgow or Edinburgh airports. By land, the most cost-beneficial way is by train via the UK National Rail, operated by Virgin, ScotRail, and EastCoast. As of April, temperatures start to rise and prices begin to fall. In July and August, the increasing heat allows for more time to be spent outdoors. From September to December, the summer crowds are already gone and the colours of autumn create attractive tonalities along the squares and parks.
As a trampoline, almost mandatory stop for everyone coming to Scotland, Edinburgh causes a heck of a first impression. The charming and serene capital city, with its Medieval Old Town and gray houses surrounded by sheer rocky walls and arboreous avenues, undergoes an intense transformation for a few weeks in the end of summer, when it hosts the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. There, one may find one of the world’s most dynamic and rich cultural events: cinema, performing arts, theatre, music, street artists and multimedia installations dot the streets (and pubs) of Scotland’s capital for an entire month. But, as the stronghold of the Scottish identity, Edinburgh also offers much history in its magnificent castle, museums, palaces, world-class galleries and, of course, an uncountable number of pubs.
To counterbalance the city life, breath fresh air, and meet awe-inspiring sceneries, a well-deserved trip to the Scottish Highlands should be considered. It is easiest to rent a car and set off from Edinburgh, through the A-90, towards Perth (around 70kms). From then on, it’s a matter of choosing which castles and sites to visit and then tracing the best route. For centuries, the Gaelic people were pushed towards the north of Great Britain, in a clash for the survival of their identity and culture. Their last refuge were the valleys framed by mountains and grey lakes: sometimes bathed by the sun that irradiated over the low turf, others buffeted by loaded clouds. The Highlands formed a region full of breathtaking (and daunting) landscapes and rich history, where it’s possible to hike up UK’s tallest peak (Ben Nevis), search for traces of the Loch Ness monster, experience the unpredictable climate and eye-watering beauty of Isle of Skye, or follow the route of the malt whisky.
Most importantly, before leaving Scotland be sure to have chatted with the locals, felt their sincerity, warmth and humour – core traits that unite such mettlesome nation. This is the land of Adam Smith and Graham Bell; of Sean Connery and Andrew Carnegie; of the explorers James Clark Ross and David Livingstone. Scotland is just that: a land of people who conquered the world, which conquers the hearts of those who dare visit her.