I visited Scotland last year. I intended to stay for a week or two but fell in love with the country and stayed for six. The country captivated my senses. Here are 10 reasons Scotland should be on your bucket list if it isn’t already.
1. The Landscape Will Take Your Breath Away
Hiking some of the mountains may very literally leave you winded, but the rolling green hills are so beautiful I often felt that if God had a paintbrush, he would have created the very scenes in front of me. Movie series like Harry Potter and James Bond have been filmed here for a reason, and it’s worth seeing for yourself. Being out of breath at the top of a mountain will give you even more reason to stop and stare at some of the most beautiful views you’ll ever see. Hiking Ben Nevis and the Cairngorms should be at the top of your Highlands list.
2. It’s The Birthplace Of Scotch Whisky
It’s illegal to call whisky “scotch” unless it’s made in Scotland, so this is, literally, the only place in the world that makes it. I knew before my trip that I’m not a fan of the peatier flavored whiskies, but I didn’t realize how good the other ones are. As a fan of wine tastings, I was giddy being able to sample flights of whiskies in the various distilleries including Aberfeldy, Dalwhinnie, and Oban, to name a few. You can delight in tasting an affordable glass of an aged whisky whose bottle price is more than your flight and come to understand what smooth really tastes like. I had no idea that one of my favorite liqueurs, Irish Cream, has a serious rival in whisky cream! Your life simply isn’t lived if you haven’t tasted it at least once.
3. The Islands Lend Diversity And Fantasy To The Small Country
While I love all of Scotland, visiting the islands added an entire dimension to my experience. From the small town of Mallaig, you can reach some of the most amazing places, of which the Isle of Muck was my favorite. I got a little queasy on my two-and-a-half-hour journey there and the captain gave me a chewable tablet that instantly cured me! (Check the ferry schedule ahead of time and you can avoid the smaller boats by timing your island visits by the days the ferry travels to them.) On the way, I met the woman who would be the next school teacher on this tiny isle of 40 inhabitants with more cows than people. The countryside looked like a perfect postcard in every direction.
The Isle of Skye, a more popular destination, has its own mysticism (and fairy pools!) and you can get lost walking in fields where a lone sheep appearing on your path surprises you out of your thoughts.
Another wonderful surprise is that each island offers its own boat services to even more remote places. During the summer, there are puffin colonies you can visit from The Isle of Skye, and various lesser-known destinations await your discovery, too.
4. You’ll Eat Some Of The Best Seafood You’ve Ever Tasted
There are certainly other places in the world where you can eat fresh seafood. But there must be something in the water, because the taste of Scottish seafood is unmatched. In Oban, I watched it carried from the water to the fish vendors to my plate. I’ve eaten lots of mussels, but when I ate a plate of steamed mussels on the Isle of Skye, they had a texture and creaminess I’ve never experienced. My mouth is watering as I recollect them! The salmon everywhere in Scotland tastes different. It tastes fresher, meatier, and fuller-bodied than anyplace else in the world.
5. You Can Tell Friends You Ate Weird Food
If you tire of seafood, there’s always the haggis, neeps, and tatties. Though it may not sound tasty, it’s delicious, especially when paired with turnips (neeps) and potatoes (tatties), as the name suggests. Better yet, the locals will try to fool you into believing haggis is a wild animal that roams the hills with one leg shorter than the others. (It’s not.) Or, they may tell you that haggis is “awful,” but that’s just their accent. In truth, they mean it’s offal.
6. It’s Easy To Get Around, And It’s Safe
Whether by train, bus, or car, getting around Scotland is fantastically easy. Trains cover most of the country and give you the perfect view of the countryside. One afternoon, my train to Mallaig traveled through thick fog where only a sliver of the green hills was visible. I saw a lone stag standing not far from our train. He looked like an animal guardian securing our safe passage and protecting his land. The setting was so surreal I thought I imagined it. We passed too quickly to get a photo, but the image is still clearly etched in my memory. There’s also a special Jacobite steam train you can ride over the viaduct used in the Harry Potter films. Scotrail lets you easily plan your train journey.
Buses are another option and tend to run on time. You can find bus schedules with one of the four national companies: Stagecoach, megabus, Scottish Citylink, or National Express.
Scotland is also safe, especially for female solo travelers, which is a wonderful feeling. The only danger I faced was falling prey to haggis jokes and misunderstanding the local accent.
7. Heather Grows Freely
I can’t fail to mention that my namesake grows like a weed all over Scotland. While you may have seen small heather plants at a florist shop, nothing compares to seeing them flourish in nature in a rainbow of colors. On a misty day, their color varieties spark to life among the green grass, making the landscape even more beautiful. A company in Pitlochry called Heathergems collects heather and creates intriguing jewelry pieces you can take home with you. I know of no other place in the world where heather is so appreciated or grows so abundantly.
8. Outlander Comes To Life
If you’re a fan of the series, Scotland brings it to life. If you detour to Culloden you’ll even see the Fraser grave. I was curious what locals thought of the books because so much paraphernalia has developed around them. All the Scottish people I spoke with were unanimous in praising the stories and their author. While they appreciate the increase in tourism, they are more impressed by the historical accuracy of each book. They told me Diana Gabaldon has done a great job researching the historical details she describes.
9. The Scottish Are Surprisingly Entrepreneurial
I was delighted to learn that Scotland has a highly creative culture. You can travel around and discover various engineering inventions you didn’t know came from this marvelous country. Penicillin, for example, was discovered by a Scotsman. Other inventions out of Scotland include the pedal bicycle and the first passenger steamboat.
10. The Highland Cows Are The Cutest In The World
Even if you’re not already a fan of cows, Scottish ones will tug at your heart. They’re adorable, especially the wee ones that look like big, walking cotton puffballs. You’ll wonder how they avoid crashing into trees with long hair covering their eyes. The breed is surprisingly lovely and playful and if you can’t enjoy hours gazing at them like I do, they’ll certainly capture your attention for at least a while.
Whether in rain or sun, the Scottish land and people are beautiful to visit. For a small country, it offers so much to see and do — from castles in Edinburgh to hiking the Cairngorms to enjoying the whisky trail (with the gin route increasing in popularity) and even discovering its Celtic past. Scotland offers beauty, discovery, and entertainment at every turn.
Want more to add to your itinerary? Here are seven reasons to visit Fingal’s Cave in Scotland, plus how to visit Hirta, the remote Scottish ghost island.