Scotland is a land rich in history, mystery and legend. Picturesque villages, fascinating castles and beautiful lakes nestle in the gorse and heather-covered hills and glens. Away from the major urban areas and prestigious golf courses, much of Scotland is still unvisited by tourist hordes and provides many of the country’s best-kept secrets. Here are five great ideas for the best Scotland vacation.
Get your wheels going
First things first. Since much of Scotland is rural, renting a car is highly recommended. Without it, you will miss a lot of what Scotland has to offer. Public transportation is not normally provided in the smaller towns and remote areas. While some tours may include a few of the lesser-known tourist spots, a rental car allows scheduling freedom, privacy and access to out-of-the way places. If you arrive by air and plan to hire a car on site, consider comparing car rental rates from Edinburgh Airport. There is a great chance that you will pay much less compared if run a last minute booking on the spot (image by Doug & Allison).
One of the lesser-explored areas of Scotland is the far north. Thurso is the northernmost town of the British mainland. One of the older towns in the country, it features quaint stone buildings, churches and winding streets. Nearby attractions include Dounrey, the first nuclear power plant in Europe. The bay is a major surfing area including kayak and wind surfing. Thurso was also the summer home for the late Queen Mother who stayed in the nearby Castle of Mey. The Queen and Prince Phillip would dock their yacht in the harbor once a year to visit her. The castle is now open to visitors.
Dunnet Head and the Coastline
Drive east from Thurso toward the town of Wick and stop at Dunnet Head which is the furthest point north on the mainland. Here on a clear day, the visitor can view the Orkney Islands. A car is necessary to access the best viewing spots. Farther around the coastland brings one to John O’Groats and Duncansby Head. This is the place to view the unique, must-see, Scottish Stacks (image by Mike Stephen).
Did you know that Scotland is home to the first Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Europe? The Kagyu Sanye Ling Monastery is located on the Esk river in southwest Scotland. The Monastery, home to about 60 monks and lay people, offers retreats and courses to the public. It also welcomes day visitors to visit the temple, roam the Peace Gardens and eat a vegetarian meal in the Tibetan Tea Rooms.
One of the most spectacular castles of the country is Dunnottar Castle in Aberdeen County off Highway A92. This castle is rich in Scottish history. The ruins still show a complete castle area from stables to keep. Perched on a rugged peninsula promontory, the castle was considered almost impregnable. Indeed, a small castle force held off Cromwell’s army for eight months and is credited with saving the Scottish crown jewels.
There are many other fascinating, lesser known places to visit in Scotland. Bass Rock off the North Berwick coast, for instance, hosts one of the world’s largest gannet bird colonies. The village of Sanquhar claims the world’s oldest working post office built in 1712.
These are just a few of the many amazing destinations about Scotland. Although the country is about the size of South Carolina, its many nooks and crannies entice the adventurous tourist to spend a lot of time collecting unforgettable memories. Maybe one visit will not be enough.
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Feature image by Sandy Smith