The Caledonian Canal is a waterway that runs for 60 miles through Scotland's Great Glen connecting Fort William in the southwest to Inverness in the northeast. The waterway connects several lakes, or lochs, and 22 miles of the Caledonian Canal are manmade to link Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Dochfour, and the famous Loch Ness. It first opened in 1822 as a way for commercial ships to avoid the more dangerous west coast. However, by the time it opened, the boats the canal was designed for were replaced by steam ships that were too big to use the canal.
Today the canal is a popular recreation area. Pleasure boats and scenic cruises sail up and down the canal and through the lochs. Visitors can also go to a viewpoint to see some of the 29 locks that get the boats from one section to the next. There are also opportunities to go fishing and swimming. For visitors who prefer dry land, there are hiking and cycling trails, including the 73 miles of the Great Glen Way.
After undergoing an extensive makeover in 2011, the National Museum of Scotland now boasts 16 additional galleries and thousands of never-seen-before artifacts. Formerly two separate museums – the Royal Museum, built in 1861, and the modern Museum of Scotland - the National Museum was inaugurated in 2008 and is now one of the most popular attractions of Edinburgh’s Old Town.
The museum’s extensive collection features over 20,000 exhibits spread over 36 galleries, bringing to life the colorful history of Scotland and educating visitors on art, science, natural history and outer space, through a series of innovative, themed galleries and uniquely designed installations. Highlights include the Natural World Gallery, where the dramatic centerpiece is an enormous Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton; the Victorian Grand Gallery, renowned for its spectacular architecture; and the stuffed body of Dolly the Sheep, famously the first successful mammal cloned from an adult cell.
Relaxed and trendy, lively and culturally diverse, the West End area offers some of the best things to do and see in Glasgow. Its Victorian architecture and cobblestone alleyways keep with tradition, while its many boutique shops, coffee shops, and Bohemian cafes present the modern side of the city. While vintage and antique shops keep the past alive, the student scene of the nearby, world renowned University of Glasgow keeps things current. Other don’t-miss sights include the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, the Botanic Gardens, and the famous Grosvenor Cinema.
A variety of parks, galleries and museums provide dozens of options for an afternoon. A stroll in the streets or along the river — or an evening in one of the many bookstores, tea rooms, pubs, or unique restaurants — is also an option. Each summer the area is home to the famous West End Festival.
Known as “Scotland’s answer to Downton Abbey,” the Pollok House gives a taste of 1930s upstairs/downstairs life. Upstairs, visitors will find period furniture and furnishings, as well as one of the finest collections of Spanish art in the United Kingdom, with Goyas, Murillos and El Grecos all on show. William Blake paintings are also part of the collection. And downstairs is home to the huge servants’ quarters.
Set in Pollok Country Park and said to be one of Scotland’s finest Edwardian country houses, Pollok House was the ancestral home of the Maxwell and Jardine families. The site is a popular spot for a stroll, and visitors can look out for the rhododendrons; there are over 1,000 kinds in the park.
The ruins of Urquhart Castle sit on the shores of Loch Ness. Visitors can still climb the Grant Tower, which offers scenic views of the famous loch and Great Gen. It was once one of Scotland's largest castles, and it spent hundreds of years as an important medieval fortress. The castle was frequently invaded and taken over by enemies only to be won back later. It also played a big role during the Scots’ struggle for independence in the 1300s and came under the control of Robert the Bruce after he became King of Scots in 1306. The castle was blown up in 1692 to prevent it from becoming a Jacobite stronghold.
Visitors can learn about Urquhart Castle in the visitor center which includes an exhibition, film show, gift shop and restaurant. Items in the exhibition include a collection of artifacts left by the castle's former residents and historic replicas. Urquhart Castle is also one of the main sites for reported sightings of the legendary Loch Ness Monster.
Just 5 miles from Iverness, the historic Culloden Battlefield is one of Scotland’s most significant battle sites, commemorated by the Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre and protected by the Scottish National Trust. It was here, on the Culloden moor, that Bonnie Prince Charlie and an army of 5000 Jacobite Highlanders faced off against the Duke of Cumberland and his 9000 Hanoverian Government troops on April 16 1746. It was one of Britain’s most important battles and the last to be fought on British soil.
Today, the Visitor Centre is dedicated to retelling the events of the battle and the battlefield has been reconstructed in memorial to the Jacobites’ defeat, with burial sites and flags marking out their positions at the battle’s gruesome end.
One of Iverness’ oldest and most unusual historic sites, the Clava Cairns, or the Stones of Clava are a series of stone chambers thought to date back to the early Bronze Age (c 2000 BC). The unique site, also known as the Balnuaran of Clava, comprises three sizable Cairns of stones, the largest measuring 31 meters in diameter, each featuring an outer curb surrounding an inner chamber of larger stones.
Located close to the Culloden Battlefield, the Clava Cairns lie in a picturesque setting surrounded by woodlands and close to the River Nairn. A series of 15 similar stone piles are also dotted around the Nairn valley. The Cairns, thought to be closely linked to other prehistoric stone circles found in the British Isles, might also have been burial sites, with a number of bones found when the Cairns were first excavated back in 1828.
St. Andrews Castle on the east coast of Scotland dates back to the 1100s and was home to the Archbishops of St. Andrews. It was once the main administrative center of the Scottish church. The castle was badly damaged during the Wars of Independence and little of the original castle remains today. The new castle was finished around 1400 and was built to be easily defended. Steep cliffs to the north and east protected the castle, and the building included thick curtain walls and ditches. Five square towers served as living space for the bishop, his large household, and guests.
Later St. Andrews Castle served as a prison. Visitors can see the bottle dungeon where John Knox and George Wishart may have been imprisoned. Cardinal Beaton's body was also kept here after his murder. The mine gives visitors a sense of what medieval siege warfare was like. The castle also offers impressive views of the sea over the rugged rocky coast.
Set among four hectares of Ayrshire countryside in the village of Alloway, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum is a celebration of the life and work of Scotland’s most famous wordsmith.
The extensive museum contains a collection of over 5,000 artifacts relating to the Bard’s life, work and legacy. Visit Burns Cottage, where the poet was born, see the grand monument dedicated to him, and wander the commemorative gardens created in honor of the great “Rabbie” Burns. From the lawn, you can also see the famous Brig o’Doon, a 15th-century bridge immortalized in the Burns’ poem Tam o’ Shanter.
The Isle of Arran sits off the western coast of Scotland. Since the line the divides the Scottish Highlands from the Lowlands runs through the island, its landscape reflects this, and the island is often referred to as Scotland in miniature. The northern part of the island is more rugged and mountainous and sparsely populated. The southern part of the island has more rolling hills, and the majority of the island's population reside here.
The island boasts many attractions for visitors. Castles, such as Brodick Castle and Lochranza Castle, are located on the Isle of Arran. There is also a heritage museum where you can learn some of the island's history. Some people come to climb Arran's highest peak, Goatfell, which stands at 2,866 feet, while others choose to hike the more leisurely Coastal Way.
Lochranza Castle is a medieval castle on the Isle of Arran in southwestern Scotland. It sits on a narrow strip of land that juts out into Loch Ranza, and even though it is in ruins, it is still a fascinating castle to visit. Originally the castle was an old hall house built in the 1200s, but in the late 1500s it was incorporated into a newer tower house. The older castle had its main entrance one level up from the ground level. It was accessed by wooden stairs that could be removed if the castle was under attack. When the castle was rebuilt, the entrance was moved to the ground level. Lochranza Castle was most likely owned by the MacSween family at one time, though ownership changed around the time of its reconstruction. When the tower house was built, the tower stood five stories tall. Today it is possible to access the ground level at the north and south ends of the castle as well as parts of the upper level.
The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition was established in 1980 to give insight and explore the biodiversity of Loch Ness in Scotland. The lake has become famous for the legend of the Loch Ness Monster, also known as Nessie, which has lived here for centuries, according to Scots. The Loch Ness Centre teaches visitors about Scottish folklore, Scotland's geological past, and the environment surrounding the lake. The museum explores the history of the region from its earliest history through present day.
The Loch Ness Centre presents facts about Loch Ness and Nessie in an interesting and entertaining way. There are seven themed rooms and uses a mixture of animations, lasers and special effects. Visitors are given the opportunity to learn about the research that has been done and make their own decision about the legend of the Loch Ness Monster.
Peeking out from the rocky seashore of Ayr Bay, the dramatically situated Dunure Castle was once the seat of the Kennedys of Carrick and the notorious site where the last abbot of Crossraguel was roasted on a spit.
Today, the castle’s bloody legacy is all that remains and the once-mighty stronghold lies in ruins, but it’s none-the-less an enchanting spot, with elements of the stone-brick 13th-century castle still clearly visible. It’s none-the-less an enchanting spot, especially at sunset, with the crumbling guard-tower framed by rugged coastal cliffs and the crashing waves of the Atlantic.
Comprised of six stone circles, Machrie Moor is a collection of prehistoric monuments dating back to the Neolithic period and the early Bronze Age. They were found and first recorded in 1861 by Irish naturalist James Bryce, who numbered them from 1 to 5. In addition to the standing stones, there are hut circles, ancient cisterns and burial cairns on site. It is believed that the most prominent stone circles were strategically placed so as to be as widely visible from every vantage point nearby. Rising starkly from the middle of rural fields, the three tallest pillars are made of red sandstone with the tallest at 18 meters. It is estimated that the stones were used for astrological purposes, often representing legendary figures in ancient folklore. The mystery and ancient history surrounding these stone structures makes for them particularly fascinating to visit.
Glasgow’s David Livingstone Centre is devoted to the famous Scottish explorer and missionary who opened up interior Africa over 150 years ago. A biographical museum dedicated to his life and work, the center is housed in Shuttle Row where Livingstone was born and raised in poverty with 23 other families back in the early 19th century.
At the museum you’ll see many items related to Livingstone’s Africa explorations, including journals, letters, navigational equipment, and dioramas of significant moments in his travels. The David Livingstone Centre is set in 20 acres of parkland overlooking the River Clyde, so after a visit to the museum it’s popular to take a walk through the woods along the Clyde Walkway and along to Bothwell Castle.
The Alloa Tower is one of Scotland’s largest surviving medieval tower homes and was the ancestral home of the Erskine family, who often served as aids to the ruling Stuart family and guardians to the royal children. It is nearly 700 years old, with several rooms added in the 18thcentury. It has been open to the public since undergoing a major restoration in 1966.
When visiting the tower, you can watch a short film in the entrance hall about the history of the home and peruse an exhibition on the building’s restoration. Artwork from Henry Raeburn and Van Dyck is on display, as are a variety of china, furnishings, period costumes and a collection of family portraits. Check out the Solar Room, with its exposed stonework and timber ceiling, and look for a stone well built into the walls of the tower. Be sure to climb up to the roof and walk around for views of nine counties in Scotland.
A typical country estate garden with a burn winding through its woodland glen toward the River Clyde, Geilston Garden was landscaped over two centuries ago and it’s typical of small country estates of the time.
Geilston has its own walled garden that’s become known for its 100-foot Wellingtonia tree in the middle of the lawn, and come springtime, its azaleas and heathers. There’s also a kitchen garden which comes alive every April with the first sowings of carrots, parsnips and beetroot. In season, you can buy the garden’s produce — fruits, flowers, and vegetables from a small stand near the entrance to the garden. Geilston House, thought to have been built in 1766, is currently not open to visitors.