Set against the gusty winds, moody moors and the rugged highlands of the north, it is not hard to see why the British continually tried to conquer this fiercely independent but beautiful territory many centuries ago.
Though the redcoats eventually prevailed militarily, they never managed to slay the spirit of its inhabitants … indeed, this country is set to vote for status as a de facto independent nation this year (2014), and it is not clear which side will succeed.
No matter what happens with regards to that, the same old medieval castles, craggy mountains, hidden alpine lakes (oops, I mean lochs), and dramatic rugged coastal scenery will be still waiting for you when you get here.
Above all else though, the people of Scotland, far and away, make this place what it is. From the characteristic accent, to their passion and pride in their own national identity, and their outgoing boisterous nature will make your time in this country a true joy; no matter whether you are gnawing on deep-fried pizza after a raucous night out in Glasgow or Edinburgh, or stumbling into one of the most remote pubs in the British Isles up in the Highlands, their company will make all the difference.
Currency: U.K. Pound
Languages: English, Gaelic
What To Do
The roaming culture hound will be overwhelmed at all the castles to explore upon arrival in Scotland. The first one you’ll want to see is the fortress that presents the most commanding view that you’ve ever seen in your life, as Edinburgh Castle looms large over the very attractive downtown core of Scotland’s capital. Positioned atop the defensively superior Castle Rock since the reign of David I in the 12th century, this bulwark served as the royal residence of Scotland’s monarch until the Brits ended that in 1603.
The next castle you should see is Stirling Castle, the largest castle in the entire country. Flanked on three sides by steep cliffs on top of a big hill like in Edinburgh, it was an easily defensible position, guarding one of the most important crossings of the River Forth, and it was the site of the crowning of many Scottish kings and queens, making it a historically significant point of interest.
In 1745, wishing to overthrow the current house that was resident in the monarchy, Charles Stuart sailed back to Scotland to raise an army of highlanders to restore his family to the crown. The uprising came to a head at the tragic battle of Culloden Moor, where more than a quarter of the men assembled to battle the Brits were killed in a rout.
Despite the original intention behind the rebellion, the fact that the Scots originally pushed deep into the English heartland is a point of pride for many people here, making this site a sacred place for them due to the terrible event that took place on this land.
Having started producing this now famous spirit back in the 15th century, Scotland has become synonymous with Whisky in the minds of those who enjoy a good tipple now and again. As such, distilleries can be found everywhere in this country, making going on a whisky tour an easy task. Some of the best ones can be found on Islay Island, or in the Speyside area on the mainland.
The outdoor lovers out there will absolutely adore this nation, as the Scottish Highlands have something for every season. While it’s a good idea to pack warm clothes and rain gear even in summer, many excellent walks will take you across mountainous ridges of ranges such as the Cairngorms or along the isolated, rugged but lovely coast, where hidden beaches await the intrepid explorer.
Less fleet of foot travelers will enjoy a trip to Loch Ness, where a deep vein of water is framed by beautiful high hills on each side, and boat tours take inquisitive people out to hunt for the legendary Loch Ness monster.
Finally, Scotland has more than its fair share of festivals, which should be considered before planning a trip. Edinburgh is ground zero for a couple of them, hosting the world’s largest fringe festival in August, and one of the liveliest New Year’s bashes around in Hogmanay.
If you manage it though, try to take in a Highland Games, which consist of sports that typically require feats and strength and bravery. These events take place all across the nation from May thru September, so ask the locals when you arrive where the nearest ones are, as there is likely one on near where you are traveling.
What To Eat
By far, the food that one thinks of when Scotland is mentioned tends to be Haggis, which also happens to be the national dish. This polarizing delicacy is composed of the chopped up heart, liver and lungs of a sheep, which are then cooked in the sheep’s stomach. It is an acquired taste for many, but addictive to those that love it.
Another distinctive Scottish meal is Cullen Skink, a seafood soup consisting of haddock, shellfish, potatoes and cream. This smokey and hearty broth is commonly served across the Northeast, making it the place to sample it authentically in Scotland.
Additionally, many Scots happily indulge in the decadent treat that is Scotch Pie, a pastry shell filled with minced mutton meat. While many pretenders will substitute other meats and call themselves Scotch, insist on the mutton variety if you’re looking to sample the real deal.
Finally, what would dessert be without some Scottish creations from the past century or so? Eemerging from the sidewalks of Edinburgh, the Deep Fried Mars Bar may be one of the last things you’ll eat on this Earth before collapsing of a heart attack, but as least you’ll go out with a smile on your face!
In all seriousness, the frying process melts the chocolate, nougat and caramel inside the batter, creating an experience unlike any heart hostile treat you’ve ever had. Wash it down afterwards with an I’rn Bru, a soft drink unique to this country, tasting like nothing else and packed with caffeine. You’ll have to try it to see if you like it, but many do, so what are you waiting for … get thee to Scotland, ack!