Scotland Itinerary Planning
April 15, 2011 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Scotland vacation help needed, please. We have the itinerary, now we just need suggestions on the best things to do! We'll be visiting Edinburgh, Inverness, and Glasgow.

We'll be arriving on May 11, spending 3 nights in Edinburgh, 2 in Inverness, and 2 in Glasgow. We have a rental car for transportation, and we don't mind driving to great places, but we would prefer not to spend all day in the car unless it involves multiple stops. I'm especially interested in places to stop in between Edinburgh/Inverness/Glasgow.

Here's some info about us:
We're fairly outdoorsy people. We enjoy hiking and are in good shape.
We're beer fans, and love finding unique little spots to eat, so suggestions are definitely welcome there. Not so much whisky fans, but we'll probably visit one distillery nonetheless.
Historical sites are of some interest, but we can be easily overloaded on that sort of thing. I'm also having a very hard time picking out the "best" spots (due to guidebook overload).
Off the beaten path places are especially welcome!
posted by smalls to Travel & Transportation around Scotland (16 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
--The Falkirk Wheel is really neat. There's a boat tour where you go up in the wheel, down the canal a bit, then back down in the wheel, while a guide explains how the wheel works. Plus it's right by the Antonine Wall, so plenty of walking there or along the canal paths. (Between Edinburgh and Glasgow)
--I'm a history geek, so you might not love New Lanark quite as much as I did, but it's well worth a visit. There's lots of museum-type stuff to see there, but it's also nice just walking around the old mill village, plus you can hike back along the river to the Falls of Clyde. (Near Glasgow, accessible via train/bus combination or by car)
posted by katemonster at 2:27 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

In Edinburgh - climb Arthur's Seat, then head to the Sheep's Heid in Duddingston for refreshments.
posted by netsirk at 2:33 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you heading towards Inverness, make sure you head through The Great Glen from Fort William. Glencoe (about 15 minutes from Fort William) is quintessential Highlands.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 2:34 PM on April 15, 2011

I don't know if cemeteries are your thing, but the Glasgow Necropolis is fantastic (and will also provide the opportunity for a good walk, with a vew of the city).
posted by rtha at 2:53 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

If your lodging/travel arrangements have not been made yet, I'd highly, highly, highly recommend a trip to Fort William, and to climb Ben Nevis.

The train ride from Glasgow to Fort William (though a bit slow and lengthy) is one of the most beautiful routes I've ever traveled on. If you continue all the way to Mallaig, it apparently gets even more beautiful, although that section of track was closed when I was up there... FWIW, it's where they filmed all of the Hogwarts Express scenes from Harry Potter. (The train itself in the movie was actually a lightly-dressed-up steam train that you can actually book a trip on!)
posted by schmod at 2:56 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hooray, Glasgow! Don't miss The Ubiquitous Chip in the West End. (Their vegetarian haggis is so, so good. I'm serious.) The West End might be a fun place to wander around, too. In the city, the Glasgow Botanic Gardens are beautiful. Kelvingrove Park is a nice place to walk, and from there you'll see the university, which has some spectacular architecture.

Do go to the Falls of Clyde Reserve; it's lovely. Ben Nevis is beautiful, if you can make it up that far north. (It's 2 hours from Glasgow or Inverness, I think, so you'd effectively give up a whole day in one of the two cities. I would sacrifice a day in Inverness, if I were you. It will be worth it.) There is a distillery at the bottom of the Ben, if you're a whisky drinker. I have heard it's very nice.

All of my favourite pubs in Glasgow are gone or changed beyond recognition (Huge televisions at Uisge Beatha? Noooooooo!) so someone else will have to handle the beer, though All Bar One is pretty good, I think.
posted by Spinneret at 4:08 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

In Edinburgh I'd recommend taking one of the bus tours - they only take an hour or two, give you the lie of the land really quickly, and will give you a swift idea which of the historic sites you might want to go to if you're planning to just pick one or two (being a resident of course, I've never been to any of them, so can't really advise!). You'll also get to see it all from up on top of a double-decker bus so get nicer views than walking around at pavement level.

There are various tours which are all slightly different. The Majestic Tour comes down to the waterfront and the Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith*, and also goes past the Botanic Garden. The Botanics will be lovely to walk around in May, and have great views back up to the Castle (though IIRC the Majestic tour bus is more at the "jingly recorded Scottish tunes and inane chat" end of the commentary market than the historically rigorous end).

I was also going to suggest the Sheep Heid (not Sheeps Heid!), even though I've not been there - consistently gets good write-ups for having a decent, slightly olde worlde atmosphere that's popular with visitors, and good beers.

If you want a pub where you can catch a folk session, try Sandy Bells (thought it's tiny and always crowded) or the Royal Oak.

If you fancy mooching around boggling at huge detatched Gothic houses belonging to bankers, head for Grange/Merchiston. (Might not be your thing, but also filed under mooching: lots of second-hand bookshops around West Port, just off Grassmarket. Edinburgh Books is particularly labrynthine and has a water buffalo's head called Clarence on the wall).

If you want a pleasant little walk just outside Edinburgh, there's a nice route through the Pentland Hills from Bonaly to Flotterstone (where you can go to the pub and get the bus home, but check times first as they stop quite early), but if you're heading up north, you might as well leave the hills to there rather than footling around in the Pentlands.

If you want some twee British seaside, catch a train for half an hour to the lovely North Berwick. You can each fish and chips sitting on the sea wall and go to the excellent Scottish Seabird Centre, which offers remote camera views of and boat trips to the Bass Rock. It's puffin season at the moment, not sure how long that lasts, though.

I expect more things will occur to me after I've posted this, but since the point of your post was to narrow your options down, not get lots more, I'll stop now!

*If you go to the Britannia you can gimme a wave, I live in the flats on the other side of the harbour!
posted by penguin pie at 4:16 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Below is a list of Edinburgh walks/bike rides that might happily fill the odd sunny afternoon. Sorry for the length, it kind of snowballed! I'm not remotely suggesting you do all of these, but one of them might be fun if you happened to have good weather for a bit.

But first, the important stuff: Black Isle beer is Scottish, and it is damn tasty. Traquair is quite nice too.

So: if you have a spare half day and you're into walking or cycling, Edinburgh has a great network of cycle/foot paths which go through cool parts of the city, are traffic-free and let you see the city from a different perspective than the one you get by bus or car. Favourites are: the Union Canal, the Water of Leith and a variety of national cycle routes that pass through Edinburgh. They're great fun if you can borrow or hire a bike, but those paths are all good for walking too.

A few of my favourite bike rides are explained on this site. I like:

-- Union Canal to Ratho (where you can grab a pub lunch). Here is a slightly confusing map. For reference, I am a lazy smoker and it takes me an hour plus each way.

-- cycle east along the Union Canal for 15/20 minutes, then take a footbridge (I think it's signposted) to the Water of Leith. The water of leith is a pretty, leafy river which runs through Edinburgh proper. If you hit it at this point you can cycle up through a bunch of woods and villages to the village of Balerno, where you can lock up your bikes and hit a footpath which is one starting point for a hike up the Pentlands (the hills to the south of Edinburgh).

-- cycling from the centre of town along the NCN1 national bike route to South Queensferry (the south side of the forth rail bridge). It's pretty well signposted all along the route, and it's a beautiful ride at this time of year. It starts along a disused railway line, goes through a bunch of woods/fields/villages, and then hits the coast. About one hour each way.

-- starting out along the same cycle path, you can get to Cramond Island which is a) a nice bit of beach -- you can walk out to the island at low tide, just don't get stuck there! -- and b) a good start if you want to continue cycling west along the coastal bit of Edinburgh. This is a pretty, and pretty flat, bike ride which takes you along the old port front to the foot of leith walk, which is a really fun part of town, and eventually Portobello, which is Edinburgh's equivalent of a seaside town.

-- the Union Canal, and the Water of Leith as it passes through Stockbridge are both good for strolling.
-- the aforementioned Arthurs seat. After your walk have lunch at the Mosque Kitchen. You won't regret it.
-- take a walk through the Pentlands. You get a great view of the city and the coast (if you want to get there by bus, I think you get the 15, and get off at Hillend).
-- there might be things growing in the Botanic Gardens at the moment -- entrance is free, and it's near the rather lovely Stockbridge area.

Further afield from Edinburgh:
-- walk along the coastal path at Dunbar (maybe a ten minute train journey away?)
-- pop by North Berwick (also a train journey -- 15/20 minutes perhaps?)
-- dozens of Da Vinci Code enthusiasts have probably already told you to visit Rosslyn Chapel, but it is actually quite stunning and is near a lovely walk through Roslin Glen. You can get there by bus (again, confusing map) from the centre of Edinburgh.

Obviously, there's a ton of artsy, historic stuff to do in Edinburgh as well. The good news is there's a lot of the great stuff is free: the National Museum of Scotland, the Gallery of Modern Art and its neighbour the Dean Gallery are all free except for current exhibitions.

Hope you enjoy your trip!
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 5:20 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

We did the Literary Pub Crawl in Edinburgh and really enjoyed it.
posted by purephase at 10:12 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Assuming you have a car, Souter Creek in Cromarty is a great wee place to eat - and Cromarty itself is a very pretty wee village. The Black Isle Brewery is a mile or so off the road to Cromarty, so easy to combine to the two!

As far as hiking is concerned, I'm not a big walker but walks in Highland are generally beautiful (or wet and foggy, but they would be beautiful if the weather was better) so there's not much to choose between them.

One thing I would say is that there really isn't much to do in Inverness itself - when I used to live there you always got tourists wandering round in summer with the expression "Is this all there is?". There's lots of stuff to do in the Highlands (especially outdoorsy things), but Inverness itself not so much.
posted by Coobeastie at 5:37 AM on April 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, these are great suggestions! There are a lot of things I either hadn't looked into (Falkirk Wheel) or had missed completely (North Berwick).

We're interested in a Ben Nevis hike, but my aunt (an Edinburgh resident) has told my mother-in-law horror stories about people dying on hikes. I'm also not really sure what to expect weather-wise, so I'm probably going to make a back up plan for the Ben Nevis day and play it by ear.
posted by smalls at 5:52 AM on April 16, 2011

Response by poster: Oh Coobeastie, thanks for the Inverness input. My impression of it was similar and we were planning to use it as a base for day trips. I'd had Black Isle Brewery as a tentative, but we'll definitely do that now that I know there is a decent place to eat as well.
posted by smalls at 5:54 AM on April 16, 2011

If you go to North Berwick, you can stretch your legs with a walk up the Law for some fantastic views.
posted by penguin pie at 7:01 AM on April 16, 2011

You don't mention your budget..

I host people regularly on Airbnb and Couchsurfing in Edinburgh so I could help you out with dining and pub recommendations if you let me know roughly where you are staying, I'm also a chef and love to eat so have lots of opinions regarding food.

I would definitely recommend walking up Arthur's seat for the views, the Sheeps Heid is a cracking pub - good ales on tap but for me the food is a bit meh.

Also the walk along Cramond is really nice and there is an island you can walk out too at low tide.

You say your not whisky fans but there is an excellent tasting on the 12th of May run at a great old pub on the royal mile. Info here jolly toper can't recommend this night enough, very informative for people of all level of interests and you will make friends with new people as you all have something mutual to talk about. Not to mention the liquid libations. Not snooty at all and a great night out! Its £20 and you get 5 or 6 drams. The guy who runs it is real passionate and a great person to talk to if you even want the most basic info.

Here is something I wrote recently as a guide, the neighbourhood these people were staying in was the 'New Town', but more than likely you will be right by this area if you are centrally based.

One of my favourite places to eat called The Saint, sort of a gastropub but they have just got a new young chef who is just amazing. It's about a 3 minute walk away and is really well priced. They also have a great wine and beer selection. Book here or phone before as its sometimes mobbed especially if its close to the weekend.

There are heaps of other restaurants in your vicinity (central) but they are to be avoided in my opinion, mostly tourist traps or over-priced. Two more I would recommend though are :-

The Dogs a Scottish interpretation of a French bistro and pretty 'hip' and also very cheap but it's not as good as the Saint in my opinion if you had to pick between the two.

Urban Angel is in the same vicinity and close to your house, good organic centred food albeit slightly over-priced and probably better for lunch.

Also very near the centre is Ian Mellis, amazing cheese deli from around Europe, then further down the road into Stockbridge (the local area) is Patisserie Madelines which is WORLD class patisserie! You should definitly check them out for a coffee and a cake, it's a nice neighbourhood to take a stroll in as well.

If the weather is nice you should walk down the water of Leith go West towards the Dean Gallery (where I work) it's the nicest section. If you fancy some art then the Scottish Gallery of Modern art and the Dean are both there across the road from each other. It's a lovely historic area and walkway through the New town. See Water of Leith The best part is through stockbridge to dean village classic 18th to 19th century architecture.

If your in Scotland you should try fish and chips, the best I have ever had is at the Tail End, it's on leith walk, about 15 to 20 minute on foot from your accommodation (central) or a few pounds in a taxi. I'd get the Lemon Sole battered 'supper' which means with chips, the langoustines are pretty good too, actually everything is good here and also fried in dripping! It has a sit in part which I would recommend rather than getting take away. Although this is technically 'fast food' and not super healthy it doesn't get better than this. The owners have a fish wholesalers and so everything is super fresh. It's nearly a weekly pilgrimage for me.

If you want high end dining I would recommend Ondine, it's pretty new and is just next to the royal mile which you will want to check out for tourist purposes, mostly fish oriented but their steak tartare is really good and they do decent vegetarian stuff. For other Michelin star style dining the Kitchin is my favourite out of the many in Edinburgh, there are 5 restaurants with stars here. Both of these I would definitely recommend booking in advance though as they are very popular.

If you want to go out for a drink Bramble is one of the best cocktail bars in the world, its quite hard to find as it's down some stairs under a dry cleaners but worth seeking out.

Hope this helps. There are some more places I can recommend in the North if you like.

The only real reviews of restaurants I trust are from a woman called Joanna Blythman, you can read them here. It should point you in the right direction.

Also the skinny and the list are the Scottish listings papers, but both are advertorial (sp?).

Any questions let me know!
posted by camerasforeyes at 12:52 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy Summerlee, the Museum of Scottish Industrial Life, located in Coatbridge to the east of Glasgow. It has indoor and outdoor portions and would provide enough variety so you don't get overloaded on the history part. Enjoy your trip whatever you decide to do!
posted by snugglebunny at 5:58 PM on April 16, 2011

We're interested in a Ben Nevis hike, but my aunt (an Edinburgh resident) has told my mother-in-law horror stories about people dying on hikes. I'm also not really sure what to expect weather-wise, so I'm probably going to make a back up plan for the Ben Nevis day and play it by ear.

I took the "easy way up," and did it alone. Getting to the top didn't take too terribly long, and getting down was obviously faster (albeit a bit more treacherous). I was wearing jeans and tennis shoes. The peak was covered in (quite deep) snow when I went (which wasn't at all obvious from the bottom!). These things obviously were not the best decisions in hindsight, and I'm very glad I packed my Gore-Tex jacket and pants with me (ostensibly for rain). The view from the top is pretty nice.

If you have not already guessed, I did not die, despite making almost every single bad decision in the book.

If you're taking one of the more difficult ascents, get caught in a blizzard, or climb the mountain naked and get helplessly lost, I guess you might die. However, if you've even got a smidgen of outdoors experience, I'd cautiously say that you're going to be fine.

People die crossing the street all the time.
posted by schmod at 11:06 AM on April 21, 2011

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