There is so much to do and see in Scotland! With so many towns to explore with all its rich history, it is hard to narrow down the things you must see/do! When Chelsey and I started planning this trip, we had a lot of trouble figuring out where we wanted to go and how long we should stay in each place. We really wish we could have stayed a month and explored everything the U.K. has to offer but that wasn’t realistic (at least not for the time of year we were going, summer may be a totally different story though). We recommend you stay centrally in Scotland (Glasgow or Edinburgh are perfect) and then taking day-trips out from there.
First things first, if you are planning on touring many historical sites in Scotland, we recommend getting the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass. We didn’t know about this before we went and we regretted the moment we got to our third tour and realized it would have been so much cheaper! The price ranges from £31.00 for a 3-day adult ticket to £42.00 for a 7-day adult ticket. With access to 77 sites across Scotland, this is really the best bang for your buck!
Tour Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is amazing! It is located at the top of the Royal Mile and has amazing views! We recommend getting there as early as possible as it can get very busy. The most popular time to be at the castle is for the firing of the gun, which takes place on most days of the year to mark 1 pm (except Sundays and holidays). Touring the castle first also means that you get the hill climb (which is steep) out of the way so it’s smooth sailing after. There are so many areas to explore in the castle, you could spend hours!
Walk down the Royal Mile and around Old Town Edinburgh
As the name suggestions, the royal mile is a mile-long stretch from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Just walking down the royal mile you see so many shops and pubs where you take a quick whiskey break. You can tour the Scottish Parliament building, St. Giles Cathedral, as well as Real Mary King’s Close. Mary King’s Close is an alley that has survived unchanged for 250 years! Make sure you book tickets in advance! Be sure to walk over to Victoria St. to see the beautiful colored storefronts. It is also said that Victoria St. inspired Diagon Alley (my fellow Harry Potter fans know what I’m talking about).
Tour The Palace of Holyroodhouse
Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. It has served as the principal residence of the monarchs of Scotland since the 16th century. Self-guided audio tours include both historic rooms as well as those used for contemporary state visits, including the royal apartments in the north-west tower of the palace which were occupied by Mary, Queen of Scots. If you know anything about Mary, you know that her husband is said to have restrained the queen while his henchmen stabbed her secretary, David Rizzio, to death. You can still see the stain on the floor where he bled to death.
Note that photography is not allowed inside the palace, but you can take photos of the exterior, gardens, and abbey.
Visit The Elephant House
If you are a fan of Harry Potter, you need to go to the Elephant House! It is said this is where J.K. Rowling penned her later Harry Potter books. Be sure to go early if you want to get a seat inside as it fills up early. You will also need to order food/drink if you want to see inside or pay a small fee for photographs.
Tour Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle is a ruined castle located on Loch Ness. Before touring, we had no idea the rich history of this castle. Over the years, it passed between Scottish and English rule. During the Jacobite rising, it became a garrison for government forces. In 1962, the last soldiers marched out of the castle and blew it up just so it wouldn’t fall into the Jacobites hands. It is so amazing to walk around the ruins and imagine what it would have looked like in its prime.
Look for Nessie on Loch Ness
When in Scotland, you have to look for Nessie. There have been so many legends and sightings over the years. We didn’t go on a boat tour to look for her but if you tour the Urquhart Castle you can look out over the Loch and search for her.
Try the local food
It might sound absolutely disgusting, but Haggis is delicious! I am not the most adventurous when it comes to food but I made a pact with myself to try the local cuisine. Other dishes to try include black pudding, chicken liver & whiskey pâté, and chilled duck. If you find yourself up in Drumnadrochit (Loch Ness) you must stop in and try the whiskey sponge at Fiddler’s Highland Restaurant!
Tour Culloden Moor
Culloden Moor is the site of the final attempt at a Jacobite Rising. On April 16, 1746, Jacobite supporters (seeking to restore the Stuart monarchy to the British thrones) gathered to fight the Duke of Cumberland’s government troops. The battle took less than an hour and at the end, around 1,600 men were slain – 1,500 of them were Jacobites. You can walk the front lines where the Jacobites made their final stand against government troops and admire many Jacobite artifacts (including Bonnie Prince Charlie’s letters). Be sure to walk by the memorial where many of the clans’ headstones reside (although that is not where they are buried).
Visit the Clava Cairns
Located very close to Culloden Moor, Clava Cairns is a Bronze Age cemetery complex of passage graves; ring cairns, kerb cairns, and standing stones. We had no idea how beautiful this area was going to be, we were speechless for a while (and not just from the insanely narrow roads we had to take to get there). It was hard to believe that this cemetery had been around for around 4,000 years. If you are a fan of Outlander, you can get your Craigh na Dun experience here too!