Category Archives: Edinburgh Daytrips

What’s New In Edinburgh

If you’re looking for something new in Edinburgh here are a few of the most recent additions to the city to tempt your senses on your vacation.

edinburgh

New Edinburgh Venue 

The Annexe – What makes this such a trendy and popular new venue is the big smoking garden. The night club is attached to The Liquid Room and partiers tend to move from one venue to the other.

New Edinburgh Café

Loudons – If you’re looking for class and quality then this is the café for you. Located at 94B Fountainbridge it is best known for the artisan bakery, breakfasts, special selection of tea and excellent coffee. The café has been mentioned in the Guardian newspaper. The café and bakery also makes gluten free and dairy free goods and can cater to those with allergies and intolerances.

Café on the Corner – This is a community café and part of the Autism Initiative charity. The café at 24A Hill Street is reasonably priced and has a selection of sandwiches, salads, small meals, cakes and drinks. Adults with autism are offered the opportunity here to learn new skills in a real work environment.

Café Republic – Situated in Gyle Shopping Centre it is aimed at families with kids and babies. There is easy access for prams, helpful staff and food to suit all members of the family big and small. All the baked goods are made fresh every morning on the premises. The coffee has won several awards.

New Edinburgh Restaurant

Field – Gordon Craig and Richard Conway formerly of the Michelin starred Plumed Horse have opened their own establishment in Newington where the Home Bistro used to be. The restaurant serves fine cuisine in a bistro environment.

The Panty – Situated in Stockbridge this restaurant serves a range of dishes at reasonable prices from breakfast to dinner. It is a farm shop and kitchen, the food is fresh, locally sourced, seasonal and delicious. The shop/restaurant aims to bring authentic Scottish cuisine from the rural areas into the city. You can buy their products and take them home or eat on the premises.

New Edinburgh Attraction

Gallery TEN – Opened in November 2012 this West End gallery specializes in prints and studio glass, there are works by studio glass makers and guest artists. The gallery is run by Paul Musgrove and Gill Tyson who aim to promote contemporary emerging talented artists.

Britain from the Air – A free outdoor street gallery with 100 huge photo images of aerial views of Britain. The photos were taken by the country’s top photographers. This exhibit is so new it will be open from 22nd March to 20 May 2013.

New Edinburgh Hotel

B+B Edinburgh – Open for under a year this is a 22 room hotel in an elegant historic building on Rothesay Terrace. The hotel has wood paneling, period furniture and a view of the Drumsheugh Gardens.

5 Country Getaways in Scotland

While Edinburgh is great, getting out of town is always a good thing.  Few tourists choose to wander off the well-worn cobblestones of the city, and those that do tend to stick to rather predictable routes up and down the motorway towards (in)famous sites like Loch Ness – beautiful, but not the most picturesque by any means.

Heading to the west or north allows you to get some fresh air, stretch your legs, and also expand our horizons – Scotland’s intriguing history goes far beyond the old Edinburgh City walls.  Take a look at train and bus maps, or rent a car, pick some Scottish holiday cottages to rent, and you might not want to come back home!  Here are 5 of my top suggestions for some interesting country getaways in Scotland, both for Edinburgh daytrips or for overnight and longer stays.

 

scotland country getaways

Not far from Pitlochry, but far far away from it all…

Pitlochry

If I could move to the highlands, I’d probably move to Pitlochry.  It has a superb network of well-marked and rather lengthy (or short, if you prefer) walking routes.  It is the most picturesque place in the world come autumn, and along with a couple of nice pubs it is also home to some lovely B&Bs, hotels and other nice shops.  Can’t think of a better place to be.  Easy to access on the train or by car and while you can do it for the day, I do suggest overnighting here.

Crieff

They say that there’s never much “goings on” in Crief, but perhaps that’s part of its charm.  Tourists mostly know the area as home to the The Famous Grouse, a popular whisky, while most locals are more familiar with the Crieff Hydro, a sort of “retreat hotel” that plays hosts to girlfriend getaways, family weekends out and the like – I’d definitely recommend it.

Campbeltown

Campbeltown feels like it is so remote that it hardly be considered mainland; in fact, you drive *around* an island to get there, and then down a peninsula which at the end you can see Northern Ireland across the sea!  You obviously won’t want to drive back that night, and why would you – something about the air in Campbeltown makes you sleep well.  Honestly, I didn’t believe it until I tried it and confirm it was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time.  Lots of scenic walks in this area too.

Killin

Killin is a rather small wee village, unremarkable except for the fact that the magnificent Falls of Dochart run right through town – less waterfalls and more like a river rapids.  The unremarkable-ness makes it a great place to unwind, with a couple of exceptional hotels and fine restaurants.  This is a good place if you have a car, as there are some breathtaking views and really enjoyable old railway walks in this area.

Abroath

When you mention Abroath, most Scots will think “Abroath Smokies,” a fantastic fish delicacy from the area.  So delicious even my mouth waters thinking about it!!  Abroath is situated along the coast, and from here on north is nothing but castles, B&Bs, scenic views and interesting sideroads to allow you to explore.  There’s everything from haunted spots to traditional pubs.  This is a side of the country many pass over, but it’s well worth it to slow down and enjoy.

For more country getaway ideas, check out Sykes Cottages for destination ideas and accommodation info.

Portobello: Edinburgh’s Seaside Escape

Tourists don’t tend to come to Edinburgh to go to the beach. Much of the cities international appeal comes from the gothic Old Town and the grimy history in which it is steeped. As a result the coastal areas of Edinburgh tend to be a bit overlooked. Which is a shame as they are some of the most charming areas of the city in my opinion.

Portobello is located to the east of the city centre on the Firth of Forth estuary. It was originally an independent seaside town, a resort popular with holidaymakers from Edinburgh and Glasgow during the 19th and 20th Centuries.The town has been engulfed by the city and is now considered an Edinburgh suburb. In many ways though it retains the small town feel and its sense of community.

Portobello is very accessible to travellers. The number 26 bus goes from town (convenient stops include Haymarket and St. Andrews Square) to Portobello Town Hall every 10 minutes Monday-Saturday and every 15/20 minutes on Sundays. For live updates of bus times check the Lothian Buses website.

The Beach

Portobello Beach stretches for miles with clean sand and a gorgeous view over the estuary and out to sea. The wooden groynes that hold the beach in place only add to its classic British seaside charm! One of the best things about Portobello Beach is how sheltered it is, making a walk along the beach in the winter is just as pleasant as in the summer. (Wrap up well though!) The promenade is popular with locals. At any time of year you’ll find dogs and owners pottering around, children of all ages playing in the sand and couples out for a stroll. The pace of the town is slow, and the waves are calm. However if it’s a lively atmosphere that you’re seeking, why not stop in at The Dalriada Bar on the Beach for a pint and to enjoy the live music shows that they host. The bar also has a beautifully maintained garden looking out to sea, a picturesque setting for a spot of lunch and perfect for children- complete with model pirate!

Besides the beach the town has some other unique selling points. The Old Turkish Baths in Portobello have been well maintained are still much used by the locals, and are an invigorating way to unwind, The town has some well groomed parks and greens for when you get sick of sand. The high street especially is well worth a wander, made up of an eclectic mix of shops and eateries.

Food

Annie Belle cafe

Portobello town is a foodies dream! There are a number of privately owned cafes and restaurants, which sell honest, homemade wares and very reasonable prices. Some of my favourites include ‘Annie & Belle Cafe’, a modern cafe with an old fashioned soul! Delightful home baking, artistically presented and served with genuine hospitality. Original and dainty selection of gifts/trinkets on sale also. ‘Popeyes’ is also a charming spot of a refuel. It is a strange marriage of the greasy-spoon and a Cath Kidston shop, with the most motherly and charismatic owner who could cheer up even the gloomiest of spirits!

If wanting to shop for dinner rather than eat on the go, I would recommend a visit to Findlays Butchery, which has an extensive range of quality meats, award winning sausages and very knowledgeable staff.

Post-Beach Treats

Favours

After a long day of sandcastle-building and attempted tanning everyone likes a treat! So why not pop in to Favours Candy Emporium, an old fashioned little sweetie shop, for an ice cream or a bag of colourful delights! If you’re after something savoury or have a more mature palate (or have just already overdone it on the ice’s!) just next to Favours is Victor Hugo’s Continental Deli, which is a wonderful place to stock up on anti pasti favourites including olives, marinated artichokes, cheese, cured meats and all sorts of interesting preserves. They also offer a range of home baking including their decadent Baklava. Guaranteed to satisfy the sweetest tooth!

Time for a day out!

Portobello has such a different feel from the rest of the city. It provides a great day out on its own accord, and also a chance to escape the crowds and to breathe some of the fresh Firth of Forth air. So pack your bucket and spade, your appetite and your shopping basket, a day at the seaside is waiting for you!

Daytripping Through History in Linlithgow

Although Edinburgh’s bustling city centre is laced with monuments and relics of Scotland’s long and illustrious history, there are equally intriguing pieces of history just a stone’s throw away, in nearby Linlithgow. While the true heyday of the small Royal Burgh was admittedly in the days of Scotland’s Stuart Kings and Queens, the town is visibly seeped in history, ranging from the age of Independence all the way to the rebellion of “Bonnie Prince Charlie.

If based in Edinburgh, Linlithgow proves a short but charming daytrip, as it’s a mere 20 minutes away by rail from Waverly Station. You emerge just on the outskirts of the small town’s bustling centre, filled with a wide range of locally owned shops and artisans that are now too rarely found on the High Streets of Scottish cities. The main attraction within the tiny town, however, is without doubt the towering ruins of Linlithgow Palace.

Just a few minutes’ walk from the High Street, you’ll find yourself standing in the shadow of what was once one of Scotland’s more impressive feats of architecture. Nestled on the coast of a tiny loch, the awe-inspiring Linlithgow Palace stands proudly next to the gorgeous 13th Century St Michael’s Parish Church – both of which offer great insight into dozens of chapters of Scotland’s turbulent history.

 

With a history of occupation dating back to Roman-occupied Britain, these two monumental buildings have visibly seen their fair share of war and misfortune. While the current ruins of the palace sprand from the ashes of David I’s original royal residence there in 1424, St Michael’s Church played a pivotal role in Scotland’s war for independence. When Edward I of England invaded Scotland in 1296, he chose Linlithgow as a foothold, and used the nave of St Michael’s in order to store supplies for his army – much later in history, Oliver Cromwell did the same. Yet peace has reclaimed the Church, from its tiled floors to the vaulted ceilings, and it proves a peaceful and thought-provoking visit. Restoration work and additions have created a fusion of both the anceint and contemporary – as evidenced by the striking work of art that adorns its towering enterance. Admission into the Parish is understandably free of charge, and the staff within the quiet Church are more than happy to share tales of its dizzying volumes of history.

 

Literally next door, the majestic royal palace beckons visitors with its intimidating façade. Historically, the residence was considered a ‘pleasure palace’ along the royal commute between Stirling and Edinburgh castles – that is to say, a decadent weekend residence. Yet some of Scotland’s more colourful monarchs were indeed raised within the ruins, including for James V, Mary Queen of Scots and Princess Elizabeth – also referred to as ‘the Winter Queen’. When the royal family moved to London in the early 17th century, the palace fell into decline, followed by a fire in 1745, that gutted the ghostly ruin into its current state.

 

That being said, the delicate state of the palace does not prevent you from being able to wander through its twisting passages and battlements. Admission is £5.50 per person, and tours are available if you should wish to be regailed with stories of the palace’s former glory. Yet the visit proves most thought-provoking wandering through on your own – winding through the deep dungeons, the awe-inspiring skeletons of its great halls, and standing in its towering fire places. Indeed, the best part of Linlithgow Palace is just how hands-on visitors are able to get in order to fully connect with the site’s historical value.

 

The visit itself of these two sites can take anywhere from one to three hours – yet if it’s a nice summer day, there are plenty of activities along the adjacent loch to keep you busy. Afterwards, be sure to wander back up towards the High Street for a traditional Scottish meal in one of the town’s many charming pubs. The train station is just a hop-and-a-skip away, and will then take you back into Edinburgh’s busy centre. Yet Linlithgow is indeed a vital location in Scottish history, and a short – and indeed, very cheap – day-trip to the Royal Burgh is definitely a must.

Day Trips from Edinburgh: Alloway and Brigadoon

As the birthplace of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, Alloway is quintessential visiting territory for anyone wishing to experience Scotland’s rich artistic and cultural heritage outside of the capital.

Often overshadowed by the larger, historic Ayr in which it’s situated, Alloway is a secret cultural treasure of the West coast of Scotland. The village is most famous for its 15th century single-arched Brig O Doon – the setting for the climax of Robert Burns’ most famous poem Tam O’ Shanter and an iconic image of Scotland.

How to get there

You can get to Alloway from Edinburgh by bus or train depending on your budget, though travelling by train is of course quicker. A seat on a bus ranges from £12-20, whilst a train ticket is usually more expensive, averaging at £23. Journeying to Ayr will almost always involve changing at least once at Glasgow and the journey overall takes between two and three hours. Once you arrive at the train or bus station in Ayr, it’s just a medium walk or short bus-ride to Alloway.

What to see

Auld Kirk Alloway

The Auld Kirk is one of the most famous churches in Scotland and is the scene of the gathering of witches and warlocks in Tam O’ Shanter. Parts of the church date back to the 13th century though the building is dated 1516. Kirk Alloway fell into disrepair in the late 17th century and had been left to crumble to ruins perfect for Burns’ setting of night-time sorcery and rituals a century later. Today the ruins remain as eerily atmospheric as they would have done with the church standing as a hollow, roofless box containing a pair of iron mortsafes used for locking graves to protect them from grave robbers. Grave robbing was a popular pastime in Scotland during the Victorian era, most famously pursued by the notorious Burke and Hare who, tired of body-snatching by moonlight, cut out the middle man and murdered victims to sell their bodies on for medical research.

The Kirk yard contains the grave of Robert Burns’ father, William as well as an interesting selection of pictorial grave stones. If you look closely, many of the gravestones show a carving of an hour-glass; if this is upright, the person buried underneath died a natural death, if on its side the circumstances would have been much more mysterious.

Brig O’ Doon

Built in the 1400s, the bridge over the River Doon provided the main entrance and leaving point for Alloway until the 19th century when a wider and stronger version was built nearby downstream. The bridge is the final stop on the pilgrim route for Burns’ fans, being the climactic setting for the end of the poem when Tam manages only just to escape the witches, leaving behind his poor horse’s tail. The bridge provides great views over the Burns monument and the Memorial Gardens and, if you check your wallet, you might find a £5 note with an image of it on the back.

Burns Monument and Memorial Garden

The Burns monument was built to commemorate the famous poet just after his death and was designed by Sir Thomas Hamilton to the tune of around £3300. Standing at 70ft high you can climb the winding stairs to the top for a fantastic photo-opportunity of the bridge. During the summer, the gardens are in full bloom and offer a charming summer stroll leading to Statue House which contains a series of life-size statues of characters from Burns’ poems.

Burns Cottage

Blink and you’ll miss Burns Cottage which sits right on the main road of Alloway. From the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum you can walk the Poet’s Path lined with a series of weather-vanes telling the story of Tam O’ Shanter. The cottage was built in 1757 by Robert Burns’ father and the poet was born here on the 25th January 1759. It’s tradition in Scotland to celebrate Burns’ birthday with a festive Burns Supper of haggis, neeps and tatties accompanied by bagpipes and ceilidh dancing. The interior of the cottage gives you a good sense of what life would have been like for the young poet and the inspiration behind his pastoral, working-class poetry. Tickets for the cottage and Birthplace Museum can be bought here for a reasonable £8 (adult) and concessions for families are available.

Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum was opened by the National Trust for Scotland in 2010 and is a great starting point to a tour of Alloway and the story of Burns. The new and very swish building has a detailed and informative museum tracing the life and works of Robert Burns’ (the largest in Scotland) as well as the history of Alloway itself. Quotes from Burns adorn the walls and floor, and there are some interactive exhibitions for children. The museum is just opposite the Auld Kirk and has a decent café too.

What to eat/drink

Speaking of cafés, Alloway isn’t known for its cuisine but, as a picturesque village, it has the expected scattering of picturesque pubs serving traditional Scottish food and drink. The Brig O’ Doon House Hotel in the heart of the Memorial Gardens has an impressive restaurant with fantastic views over the river and reams of tartan everywhere. A menu of innovative takes on traditional Scottish food can be devoured for between £20-40 per head. If you’re not looking for pub grub, Saffy’s Brasserie on Dalbair Road is run by award-winning chef Douglas Smith who uses local produce to create a Mediterranean-inspired menu.

Alloway is a fantastic example of a traditional Scottish village that has managed to retain much of its historic charm while opening itself up to visitors and fans of Robert Burns from all over the world. It’s also a great chance to see a different side of Scotland and start your exploration of the West coast.

Inverness: Hidden Gem in the Highlands

When people think of the north of Scotland, they might picture a rainy, desolate place that not many venture to for fun. Other than seeing Loch Ness and possibly spotting Nessie, what else could there be to do up there? Surprisingly, a lot. It may not be a metropolis like its more southern counterparts, but the Capital of the Highlands certainly knows how to hold its own.

The city exudes the small-town charm typical of waterfront locales but there’s plenty to do! On a sunny day, there’s nothing better than taking a nice little stroll along the River Ness. With seagulls everywhere and the sound of the flowing water, it really feels as though you’re right by the seaside. While you’re there, why not take a walk to the Ness Islands? Just across the bridge and along the river, you’ll come about the banks of these islands which, on a nice day, can be the perfect place for a picnic.

In town, there are a variety of historical buildings to visit. Inverness Castle is definitely worth a look, sitting on a low cliff. Although it’s not open as a tourist attraction, serving as a modern court, visitors are still able to get a good look from the outside, as well as see the original well that was once used at the site. From the top of Castle Hill, you can get a good view of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, which is a stunning site to behold.

Inverness’ shopping is also nothing to be ashamed of. From the indoor Victorian Market, selling the likes of jewelry and souvenirs, to the antique shops scattered around town, chances are you’ll find what you’re looking for.

Inverness Castle

Inverness is home to a good number of traditionally Scottish pubs and also boasts a large number of award-winning restaurants. Popular pubs include Johnny Foxes (Bridge Street; live entertainment at night), Blackfriars Pub (Academy Street; live music most nights), and Hootananny (Church Street; regular live Scottish music). Inverness is so small that it’s easy to just walk from your hotel around town to see all that’s on offer.

Sometimes, the best decisions you make are in the spur of the moment so don’t necessarily plan on going to any particular pub or restaurant. Just have a wander and see which ones are looking more alive and take a chance on those. Most people go to Inverness with the intention of seeing Loch Ness, particularly in the town of Drumnadrochit, just a short bus ride away. Popular attractions there include the Castle Urquhart, as well as the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition. It usually takes about a day to do everything in town, usually starting/ending with a traditional pub lunch/dinner, and buses run until late, so it’s easy to get home.

More adventurous guests may wish to hike back to Inverness through the Great Glen Way, a 30 kilometer hike through the highland mountains which takes about 7 or 8 hours, depending on how quickly you walk. The views along the trail are absolutely spectacular, but it is recommended for more agile travelers and should be started early in the day. Being caught out in the mountains after dark isn’t advised!

Views from the Great Glen Way

No matter what the reason for your trip, a visit to Inverness is definitely worth it. Sometimes you just have to get away from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh life and Inverness is the perfect place to it. From its quaint architecture and waterside location, you’re sure to find a peaceful reprieve from daily stresses and some of the most beautiful scenery Scotland has to offer.

Edinburgh Outdoor Daytrip: Walks in Stirling

If you’re in need of a short break from the hustle-and-bustle of Edinburgh, just hop on a train bound for Stirling: the ancient seat of Scotland’s Kings and Queens of old. Just an hour northeast of Edinburgh, Scotland’s smallest ‘official city’ is quite a lively place for a town of its size – Stirling’s population of 10,000 university students ensures this – however, the breath-taking Scottish countryside surrounding the city provides many and more walks to keep you busy for the day. Here are a few of the best walks around Stirlingshire.

The Back Walk

Running along the original city Walls of Stirling’s Old Towne, the Back Walk provides a glimpse into the city’s ancient past. Dating from the 16th century, the pathway was originally used as a quicker route up to Stirling Castle – the favourite residence of Scotland’s rulers. Along the relatively short walk, you’ll hug the Castle’s cliff-side facing out into the shire, featuring magnificent views of the distant purple hills. Plaques line the walk, providing insight into the original uses of A-Listed historical buildings including a 17th century hospital, Scotland’s most-feared prison and the Church of the Holy Rood – where John Knox once preached regularly.

If you’re feeling especially energetic, make your way down the cliff side in order to visit King’s Mound – an extraordinarily large and impressive Celtic pattern that has been permanently etched into the hillside.

The Dumyat

Although quite small in comparison to some of the surrounding hills, the 418-metre Dumyat hill dominates the Stirling sky-line. While this walk may not be for the faint-of-heart, the steep hike usually only takes around two hours at a leisurely pace. An access road leads from Stirling University’s campus about half-way up towards the summit, where the rest of the journey must be completed on foot.

In truth, the Dumyat has two summits: the Dumyat on the east, and Castle Law on the west. Although the view from Castle Law – the lower of the two summits – isn’t quite as spectacular, the slope plays home to the ruins of an ancient hill fort, known to have been built by the Maeatae – a confederation of anceint tribes dating back to Roman-occupied Britain.

Cambuskenneth Abbey

Situated in the quiet and isolated Cambuskenneth neighbourhood of Stirling, the ruins of a mighty twelth-century monostary still stand proudly at the town’s ancient borders. A short walk from the city centre through Riverside, and you will find yourself standing within the foundations of a massive sancttuary once visited regularly by Robert the Bruce and England’s King Edward I.

Tracing the walls of what was once Scotland’s largest abbey, visitors can wander up to the final resting place of King James III – who was killed in battle during a rebellion led by his own son. The ruins of the abbey will surely fuel your imagiation regarding Scotland’s turbulent history.

Alva Glen

Just twenty minutes north of Stirling, the village of Alva stands as the gate to one of central Scotland’s best-kept secrets: Alva Glen. This mighty cleft between the mighty Ochil Hills contains a dizzying series of volcanic rock, waterfalls and the best views the area has to offer.

As you climb higher and higher into the ancient Ochil Hills, be sure to take the admitedly, slightly treacherous path down to the Smuggler’s Cave – a major site in the world of literature. Frequented by local Robert Louis Stevenson, the cave and its eerie waterfall are reportedly the source of inspiration for Stevenson’s renowned classic Treasure Island. Alva Glen isn’t the easiest walk in the shire, but it is without doubt the most rewarding.


After you’ve gotten your fill of adventure, wander back into town and pampered yourself. Portcullis restaurant on Castle Hill in the old town will do the trick. Or if it’s something Mediterannean you’re after, try Mamma Mia – no doubt one of Scotland’s most authentic insights into Italian cuisine. The relaxing train ride back into Edinburgh will throw you right back into the exciting night life of Scotland’s buzzing capital.

Photos by Author except Abbey Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The Prettiest Castles Outside of Edinburgh

If you’re visiting Scotland, you probably want to see some cool castles, right?  But with literally hundreds of them scattered across the nation, how does one choose where to go?

The good news is, in my opinion, one of the best in terms of being not only beautiful but educational, is Edinburgh Castle.  But there are several great castles within easy reach of the Scottish capital.  Here are a few personal favorites, the prettiest castles outside of Edinburgh.

Glamis Castle, certainly one of the prettiest castles in Scotland.

Glamis Castle

Glamis Castle, both inside and out, takes top marks for being one of the prettiest castles in Scotland.  Every inch from top to bottom seems scrubbed, polished, and prepped for pretty.  The castle was originally built as a hunting lodge.  Not bad for a secondary home, eh?  You have to take the guided tour to see the interior, but it’s worth it for the interesting historic facts and figures.

Cawdor Castle

Owned by the famous Campbell family of Scotland, the Cawdor Castle was once a heavily armoured base camp, but has evolved with the times to now be a luxurious show-off of the wealth of the family.  This castle blends old world and romance beautiful and is well worth a look.

Stirling Castle

This castle reminds me a lot of Edinburgh Castle, in that it sits on a wonderful high vantage point, and has some similar interior features.  The castle is really striking from the motorway, as you can see that the castle was built on a very steep cliff, a fact that isn’t apparent if you head to the castle from town.  Unlike Edinburgh, I always suggest a guided tour of Stirling castle to learn more about the many facets of history that have happened here.

Balmoral Castle

Where else more famous as a castle than the Queen’s official “vacation” residence in the highlands?  This part of the country is amazingly gorgeous, so the Queen did choose well.  The castle itself is not recommended to visit when the queen is in residence, though year-round access is limited on the interior.

Culzean Castle

Culzean Castle is noted for two things: it’s fantastic location (gorgeous views) and this is probably the best architecture of any castle in Scotland.  It was never a defensive castle, so architect Robert Adam – one of the famous Scottish architects – built it for prestige value only.  One interesting historic fact is that former US President Eisenhower was given his own suite for personal use as a thanks for his involvement in wartime efforts.

Eilean Donan

One of the most famous - did you know it's a modern reconstruction?

This castle is one of the most famous because it seems to have become the default clip with a Hollywood filmmaker says “we need a Scottish castle shot.”  Would you believe this is actually a modern reconstruction?  The family that owns it does come from the area and so they have tried to do it with historical accuracy.

Prettiest Train Ride in Scotland?

Due to various reasons – some political, some geographic – Scotland isn’t a major train travel destination.  There are a few select rail lines, and many of them just provide trunk route service to take travelers to mainline destinations; to reach some of the best sights, you need a car.

But I’m often asked what is the prettiest train ride in Scotland?  Well that is without question, the Jacobite Steam Train.

The train runs over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, perhaps one of the most famous and most picturesque pieces of rail track in all of Scotland.

About the Train

The Jacobite Steam Train is owned and operated by an English comapny, West Coast Railways. They have a number of these historic trains down in England, and started the Jacobite back in 1995. The locomotive on the train is a K1, built in Glasgow in 1949 by the North British Logomotive Company.

The K1 on this route is approprately named “The Lord of the Isles.” It sometimes shares the rails with a backup engine, The Sherwood Forester.

As for the coaches you’ll be in during the trip, these are former British Railway cars from the 1960s, reconfigured and refurbished for optimum comfort!

About the Route

The train departs from Fort William Station, and takes you along a wonderful route that ends at Mallaig.Some of the sights you’ll pass by along the way:

  • You depart skirting around the base of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain.  It takes a full day to climb, so schedule that for a different day than your train trip!
  • You’ll pass over the gorgeous Glenfinnan viaduct, and often the train stops.  That’s great for those taking photographs of the train, but don’t hesitate to grab your camera – the view out your window of Loch Shiel is gorgeous.
  • The train will pass through Arisaig, a small village with has views to theh smaller Hebridean islands on a clear day.
  • The end port of Mallaig is a small, but busy, town with lots of shops and cafes.  There’s ferry service to the Isle of Skye as well, if you should want to make an onward journey instead of returning on the train.
The train tackles some serious gradients and amazingly tight curves, making the steam trains that pioneered this route true engineering marvels.

Sounds good? Then book  your ticket online.

Tips

Regardless whether you’re enjoying a driving tour of Scotland or you’re just hoping to come up from Edinburgh for the day and catch the train, some tips:

  • Due to its appearance in Harry Potter famedom, this train sells out – almost always.  Book well ahead.
  • If you can’t make the train, the best place to get a photo is what I’ve pasted above, from the viewing park near the Glenfinnan Viaduct.  There is a visitor’s centre at the Glenfinnan Monument, and behind that centre is a trail you can take up for a great view.  It gets crowded when folks know the train is coming through, so give yourself time to get a parking spot and head up the hill (sometimes muddy!).  Trains pass through at 11:20AM and 3:00PM.

The Mysteries of Rosslyn Chapel

Edinburgh is a city laced with jaw-dropping architecture, and one can easily lose themselves for days within the Royal Mile alone; however, if you find that you may need a break from the hustle-and-bustle of the city centre, there are many and more treasures tucked gently away into the nearby countryside. Rosslyn Chapel is one such treasure, nestled just seven miles south of Edinburgh.

the imposing facade...

This Category A listed building and ancient monument has been seeped in myth and Hollywood fiction for generations – most recently, in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code – and has become a sort of hotspot for Freemasons and those who may be interested in their turbulent history. Tourists who are not terribly comfortable leaving the city need not worry, as getting to the Chapel could not be simpler, and the trip in total need not take more than a part of the afternoon.

The most cost-effective way to get to the village of Roslin is via the number 15 Lothian Bus, which conveniently stops through the centre of Edinburgh in St Andrew’s Square about every thirty minutes. The actual bus trip lasts from twenty-to-thirty minutes, and then Rosslyn Chapel is a mere two-minute walk from its stop along the Chapel Loan. Alternatively, most taxi drivers are happy to make the trip down to Roslin, which typically costs £15-20.

The village itself is a picturesque cluster of historically-listed houses, so the short walk through town is pleasant. The Chapel itself, however, is a gothic-inspired wonder that is able to both impress and indeed perhaps frighten visitors. Built between 1446 and 1484, many describe the church as a ‘Library in Stone’ – and it’s not difficult to see why. Virtually every inch of Rosslyn Chapel is tediously covered with elaborate stone carvings that illustrate countless scenes and figures. Many of these carvings are Christian in nature; however, there are also countless references to Paganism, ancient Greece, Nordic myth and the Holy Land.

It is for this reason and many others that the Chapel stands at the heart of numerous conspiracy theories regarding the Knights Templar. Yet instead of curbing these eager tales, visiting Rosslyn Chapel will only fuel one’s imagination further still. The chapel was founded by William Sinclair, the 1st Earl of Caithness – a descendant of the Norman Knights of Saint-
Clair-sur-Epte. The Sinclairs were one of the more influential and colourful noble families of medieval Scotland, and the neighbouring heritage centre’s staff will be more than happy to share dozens uponn dozens of family stories with visitors.

centuries of myth and mystery


The Chapel itself is quite small; however, the thousands of detailed carvings are easily able to keep one entertained for hours. Rosslyn is truly on par with great Cathedrals such as Notre Dame as one of the more magnificent Gothic interpretations of faith available to visitors in Europe.

After strolling the grounds, there is an impressive gift shop and café located nearby; that being said, there are also two tasteful pubs in the centre of the village where you can enjoy a warm meal by an open fire. When you are ready to return to Edinburgh, the number 15 bus will stop through the centre of the village every thirty-to-fourty minutes.

The trip in total can take anywhere from two-to-four hours, and is an amazing way to continue your trip through Scotland’s incredible history from outside the walls of Edinburgh.