Help make our trip to Scotland amazing
January 28, 2019 4:58 PM   Subscribe

We will be visiting Scotland for 10 days in July. Help us find unique and fun things to do and see while we're there!

Our cities/arrangements are all booked -- we will be staying in Glasgow, Oban, Inverness, Pitlochry, Stirling, and Edinburgh. We'll obviously be seeing the popular sights in each place, along with some hikes. We've been through the guidebooks -- now we're looking for any suggestions about events, activities, restaurants, etc. that aren't to be missed.

We will have a car, and there's two of us. Thanks!
posted by quantum to Travel & Transportation around Scotland (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Falkirk Wheel boat trip
posted by sammyo at 6:01 PM on January 28

If you can find one scheduled near you, go to a cèilidh!
posted by girlalex at 6:22 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]

Some food suggestions from Edinburgh (this was during my honeymoon, so there's some rose tinted glasses, I suspect): Carubber's Cafe for breakfast (part of a Christian center, which were didn't notice until we were leaving, they're incredibly nice), Forsyth's Tea Room for breakfast (run by the nicest elderly lady in the world who also makes incredible scones), Forage and Chatter for dinner. In Inverness (we spent the day at Culloden, which is interesting, but with a car should not be a full day activity): Fig and Thistle for dinner.

We almost exclusively did historical stuff for things to see and that's all really well advertised, so I don't have any out of the way suggestions there.
posted by Hactar at 6:30 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]

Your itinerary is much the same as mine about 7 years ago. I had a really amazing, magical time. I did a couple things that were a bit off the beaten track:

I spent a half day at Phoenix Falconry near Gleneagles. (I rented a bike and took it on the train from Stirling to Gleneagles, then rode to the Falconry center, but this was the Days Before Uber.) Completely amazing if you're at all an admirer of unique wild animals, in an absolutely breathtaking setting. A+++ would have raptors land on me again.

In Oban (I BLOODY LOVE OBAN) I took the public bus out to Easdale (a bit of a trek but the scenery had me plotzing the entire time) and went on a boat ride from Seafari Adventures. Another amazing experience. Go a bit early, pack a lunch and have a ramble about the island. I climbed up to the top of the cliffs and just poked around for a good hour. The tourist office in Oban was super helpful in getting me where I wanted to go on public transit (I had taken the train from Glasgow). I also visited the sea life park there which was less remarkable for the actual exhibits than for the natural beauty of the area (are you sensing a theme here?).

In Edinburgh (again: LOVE) I found Mary King's Close to be fascinating. Their marketing is a bit breathless because Edinburgh loves the spoooooky angle, but from a historical perspective, it was super cool. An entire street that just got kind of bricked over and forgotten about.

Man, I am jelly. That is one trip that I basically wish I could reenact down to the exact detail.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:30 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]

Oh lol I see you will have a car. Ignore all my rambling about public transit. All other advice still applies.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:32 PM on January 28

Oh geez, plan to walk at least a part of the West Highlands Way. You can go town to town and in between feel like your all by yourself in the Scottish Highlands.
posted by lpsguy at 7:49 PM on January 28

This is not a direct recommendation, but I did find that the staff at the tourism information offices in Scotland are some of the most knowledgeable and understanding of one's interests that I've ever encountered. I'd definitely pop in and see if they can suggest events and activities in each place you're staying.
posted by tavegyl at 9:49 PM on January 28

The first thing that made me really want to go to Scotland was Iain [M.] Banks book "Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram," which is ostensibly about all the licensed distilleries in Scotland, because Banks, as a popular writer, had been hired over the years to visit and write about very many of them. But it's also an autobiography, a paen to the beautiful lands of Scotland, and contains his accounts of "Great Wee Roads," which you should investigate:

> A Great Wee Road in my terminology just means a small road that isn’t a main route and which is fun to drive. Often it will be a short cut or at least an alternative route to the main road. It will virtually never be quicker than the main-road route but it will be a pleasure to drive, perhaps partly because it has less traffic, partly because it goes through lots of beautiful scenery and perhaps because it has lots of flowing curves, sudden dips, challenging hills and/or fast straights (though GWRs rarely have many of those). A GWR can be extremely slow – often way below the legal limit – and still be enormous fun, it can even be a single-track road, quite busy with traffic and so somewhat frustrating, and yet still be a hoot, and some roads only really become GWRs when it’s raining and you have to slow down.

I'm unable to find any kind of list on the internets, though, but you likely won't regret reading the book to find a few.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:27 AM on January 29

Ben Vrackie is a half-day hike from within Pitlochry and has good paths - a nice option if the weather is reasonable and not as demanding as some other nearby hills. Walk Highlands (linked above) is a great resource for looking up hikes. Note there are two Ben Vrackies in Scotland! From Stirling, if you drive west along the A84, you will get to the Trossachs national park which is very scenic and has lots of good walks (Ben Ledi, Ben A'an - lots of options on Walk Highlands).

The National Portrait Gallery
in Edinburgh is worth a visit for the building itself. If you like burgers and local beer, then Holryood 9A or The Southern are good pubs. The Bow Bar for whisky. It's always worth it to climb Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh too!

Feel free to PM me if you have any specific questions!
posted by sedimentary_deer at 1:52 AM on January 29

If you've got the guidebooks you'll already know about the main attractions in Stirling, so here are some of the smaller things I used to suggest with visitors when I lived there:

- Have a drink or a meal in the Portcullis hotel/pub, which is on the Castle Wynd on the approach to the castle

- Take a walk around the Castle rock via the Back Walk, which is a footpath you can get to off Lower Castlehill (road just further down the hill from the Portcullis). This takes you in an easy loop round Gowan Hill (has an old beheading stone, some cannons and remains of an iron age fort), then round under the Castle rock via a path that lets you see these old gardens. You can then cut back off the path via Cowane's hospital (not a hospital) and Holy Rude church (look out for the musket-shot damage on the walls), or you can continue downhill into the town centre.

- That route also lets you go and explore the Old Town cemetery if you want to, but if old cemeteries are your thing then drive a couple of miles out of town to Old Logie kirk

- From there if you're in a hiking mood and the weather's good, you can take a walk up Dumyat, which has amazing views from the top. (You can also drive most of the climb via roads and just walk the last mile or so if you're feeling more like it.)

- Back in Stirling, Cambuskenneth Abbey will no doubt be in all your guidebooks anyway but I recommend walking down there through Riverside along Shore Road, which once you're out of the town centre is a lovely walk along the river.
posted by Catseye at 5:59 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]

Your drive from Oban to Inverness takes your through beautiful country. About halfway on the way is Fort Williams. I'm not sure I'd plan a vacation around the town but it's a fine place to stop for lunch. And admire Neptune's Staircase, very handsomely constructed locks.

You'll pass right by / through Loch Ness. We had hoped to do something touristy there along the way like a boat trip but it was literally impossible to park anywhere, everything fully booked. In retrospect there are many beautiful lakes in Scotland and there's no particular reason to go to the one that's famous for some stupid old story about a monster.

Inverness struck me as a bit of an odd town. But we had a memorable evening at Hootananny, a cèilidh bar. Music was amazing and the scene felt great. The mistake we made was arriving late, not even a place to stand much less sit. If you're into traditional music at all make a plan around the evening there.

There's a zillion whisky places near Inverness to take a tour. We went to Benromach, a very small producer that's more of a vanity project. The tour was great. Very small, the whole operation is tiny and so easy to comprehend.
posted by Nelson at 9:06 AM on January 29

Seconding Hootananny in Inverness. We only had two nights in town, and after accidentally finding this place the first evening, we decided to spend our second evening there again! It's like if all your friends were musicians and you got invited to their very crowded house party. Great vibe. Go early for some food and drinks, so you'll have a seat before the music starts.
posted by vytae at 10:30 AM on January 29

I warmly recommend Innerpeffray Library between Crieff & Gleneagles. It's the oldest public lending library in Scotland - and it's in a middle of a field. Old, old leather-bound books everywhere, you are free to pull down a 16th C book from the shelves and peruse their collection. It's a joyous little place completely off the beaten track and the person who works there is designated "the Keeper of Books".

As for places to eat in Glasgow, The Butterfly & Pig serves delicious food and caters to food allergies. My favourite place to take visitors for brunch or lunch is Singl-End Garnethill (they have a smaller place in Merchant City too, but go for Garnethill which is near the Art School). Booking a tabe in advance is advisable. Really, go to Singl-End. And do not miss a dram and some good pub grub at Oran Mor in the West End.
posted by kariebookish at 4:02 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]

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