Oh, Scotland. Where to even begin? Between the heartbreakingly-beautiful landscape, friendliness of the Scottish people, fascinating history, and endless whisky, I’m surprised we got on the plane back home. We probably wouldn’t have, had it not been for our sweetest girl. Two weeks is a looong time to be away from an angel.
Why Scotland? We got this question a lot, which surprised me. While I’m sure no one really meant anything by it, we were never asked, “Why Italy?” when we were planning our honeymoon. So, why Scotland? We tossed around a few options, I don’t even remember what the other ones were now, but Scotland just felt like the right and obvious choice. It would be a completely different culture (and climate, despite the same time of year) than our last international trip. Also, Alex hadn’t yet been to the U.K. On top of that, I’d recently read At the Water’s Edge and it brought back fond memories of visits to Scotland as a kid. Finally, my mom had been telling me about this show I would love on Starz, Outlander, that was “so good” and set in Scotland*.
So really, after re-reading that paragraph, I don’t have a good answer for “Why Scotland?” but don’t think we need one. Scotland is beautiful and awesome and everyone should go. Actually, don’t go. We don’t want it to get crowded.
We carved out two weeks at the end of July and early August for the trip, giving us 13 full days in Scotland. With two weeks to work with, we could have included in our plans many more areas of the country but decided to visit fewer regions so we could really explore and experience them (we didn’t go down to the Borders, west to Glasgow, over to Islay (“eye-la”), or up by the North Sea). Here’s where we went:
Days One and Two – Edinburgh (please pronounce it “edin-bruh”)
Day Three – Edinburgh to Stirling, stopping at Roslin Chapel
Day Four – Stirling
Day Five – Stirling to Isle of Skye, by way of Glencoe and Glenfinnan
Day Six – Isle of Skye
Day Seven – Isle of Skye to Lewis and Harris to see the Calanais Standing Stones
Day Eight – Back to Isle of Skye
Day Nine – Isle of Skye to Speyside
Day 10 – Speyside
Day 11 – Day trip from Speyside to Inverness and Culloden
Day 12 – Private Speyside whisky tour
Day 13 – Speyside to Edinburgh for Royal Military Tattoo
we Alex did a lot of driving – on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road – and we had to adjust our plans a few times due to underestimating how long it takes to drive 100 miles in the Scottish Highlands (a lot longer than an hour and a half), or how many hours are realistically required to explore a 900-year-old castle (definitely more than two). I also came down with a stomach bug near the end of the trip and was laid up in bed for a full day.
Planning the Trip
How did we decide where to go and what to see? I read A LOT. I started with Fodor’s Scotland guide, which I highly recommend (make sure you check for the latest edition) then began scouring the internet for travel blogs with Scotland posts. Finally, I read Scotland: The Story of a Nation, 752 pages of Scottish history starting with the first Mesolithic settlers in 7,000 B.C. If you like to read and have a lot of time before your trip, I suggest you check it out. I had about 40 pages remaining when we left for Scotland, so I took it on the plane, finished it, and left it in our Edinburgh Airbnb for future visitors. There was no way I was carrying around a two-pound book for two weeks. While not a travel guide, I discovered so many interesting and historical places I wanted to see, as well as gained an insanely deep knowledge of Scotland’s tumultuous history.
Not everyone has an interest in reading 9,000 years of Scottish history – I get it. But please, PLEASE don’t go to Scotland until you know the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Jacobites, and the ’45. Almost 300 years later, it’s still EVERYWHERE and you’ll get so much more out of your trip if you’re familiar with this particular piece of the country’s history. You don’t even have to read – Outlander season two will provide the basic gist.
Once we figured out what we wanted to see and do, I marked all the places on a map of Scotland, resulting in a surprisingly-clear circular route around the country. Alex was up for doing the driving – and the responsibility fell solely on him, since I don’t know how to drive stick and manual cars are cheaper and much easier to reserve in Europe than automatics.
Packing for the Trip and What to Expect
We both packed only a carry-on suitcase and a personal item – check out Packing for Two Weeks in Scotland for details on what we took with us.
Weather-wise, late summer was a really nice time to be in Scotland. The country never really gets hot, and by going this time of year we avoiding the biting cold and frequent rain that’s common most of the rest of the year. Even in the summer, we experienced rain to some degree every day but one – some days, it was a downpour that lasted 15 minutes, other days it was a persistent, Seattle-like mist. But we also saw a lot of the sun and never felt hampered by the weather conditions. As they say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. The highs averaged in the mid-60s, with the nights down in the high 40s.
Also, Scotland is not exactly known for their food, especially when compared with places like Italy and France. We had some really amazing meals (looking at you, Scran & Scallie and Copper Dog) as well as others that were more focused on simply replenishing calories (sandwich and bag of crisps from the pharmacy, anyone?).
Check out Scotland: What to Know for travel trips and what to expect on your own Scottish adventure.
Despite a few hiccups along the way, we still did everything we’d planned and even had a little bit of down time here and there. We fell in love with Scotland and absolutely will return, likely sooner rather than later. Having seen many of the highlights, we’ll spend the majority of future trips hiking, relaxing, and being.
*I’m a little embarrassed about how long I waited to check out Outlander. I ended up starting with the books, before watching the show, and am SO glad I went that route. My mom is super wise and also knows me super well; I should have dropped everything and started reading Outlander the second she mentioned it. I got through the first book and season before our trip.
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