Discovering Scotland: An Epic Summer Journey

Advisor - Angela Huang Walsh
Curated By

Angela Huang Walsh

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  • Arts & Culture

  • Food & Wine

  • Luxury Travel

  • England

  • Scotland

  • Local Culture

  • Local Food

  • Entertainment

An aerial view of the green mountains at daytime.
Curator’s statement

I adored my Scotland Summer trip and can't wait to share it with you. Scotland has it all – incredible whisky, stunning islands, world-class cashmere and warm, welcoming people with charming accents. The country's rich heritage, unique architecture and mystical landscapes have made it a sought-after location for movies and shows. Scottish humor and their inclusive culture add to its appeal – Edinburgh is hosts of the annual Summer Festival Fringe, after all. Nestled in the British Isles, Scotland's charm blends history, enchanting castles and epic adventures. Its rugged landscapes, misty highlands and serene lochs invite travelers into a rich historical journey. Majestic castles, ancient ruins and a tapestry of legends make Scotland the ultimate destination for grand adventures.

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Where to stay

The Balmoral Hotel

Legendary hotel and landmark clock tower, The Balmoral Hotel is a regal and luxurious hotel that is a true love letter to Scotland.

Fora Perks
  • $100 food / beverage credit.

  • Breakfast daily.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

Cromlix House Hotel

A luxurious Highland retreat where timeless elegance meets modern comfort, nestled in the scenic beauty of Scotland's countryside.

Kinloch Lodge

A historic destination hotel and restaurant on the Isle of Skye off the north west coast of Scotland.

Fora Perks
  • $100 food / beverage credit.

  • Breakfast daily.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

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Unlock perks by contacting Angela to book your trip.

Day 1: Edinburgh — a grand welcome

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Our Edinburgh adventure begins at The Balmoral Hotel, a historic gem dating to 1902, offering a seamless blend of the city's rich history and modern opulence. The iconic clock tower graces the skyline, symbolizing enduring elegance.

Exploring Edinburgh's New Town, George Street's neoclassical architecture and elegant boutiques provide a taste of the city's stylish culture. Princes Street reveals stunning vistas of the Castle and Scott's Monument, with a chance to ascend for a garden view. Our stroll continues to Old Town, leading us to the Royal Mile, where cobblestone streets whisper tales of centuries past. This historic thoroughfare, connecting Holyrood Palace to the Edinburgh Castle, symbolizes Scotland's royalty and power while introducing us to welcoming locals in charming pubs and boutiques. Cockburn Street, bridging the Royal Mile and Waverley Station, has inspired Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and stars in films and TV, enhancing our enchanting Edinburgh experience.

In the afternoon, a well-deserved break awaits at The Balmoral's Palm Court, where high tea steeped in Scottish heritage begins with a "yes please!" champagne cocktail, accompanied by live harpists' melodies. The indulgence continues with silver potted teas, scrumptious scones, beautifully presented cakes and finger sandwiches on silver tiers.

Later, we arrive at the National Museum of Scotland in the late afternoon. Its extensive collection offers insights into Scottish history, archaeology, world culture and more. Housed in a Victorian building blending modern design with historic charm, the museum is visually captivating. The rooftop terrace bar provides breathtaking views of Edinburgh Castle and Arthur's Seat as the sun sets, adding a touch of magic to our visit.

In the evening, we relish a perfect dinner at the renowned yet casual Forage & Chatter, celebrating Scotland's natural bounty with foraged ingredients. We then explore Edinburgh's lively nightlife scene in the Grassmarket, known for its vibrant pubs and bars. The bustling cobblestone streets set the stage for a delightful nightcap in the welcoming pubs of Victoria Street, concluding our day with a taste of the city's vibrant social atmosphere.

Day 2: Castle & whisky

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Our day in Edinburgh starts with an early-morning hike up Arthur's Seat, an ancient volcano that predates the city itself. Watching the sun rise from this vantage point was a breathtaking spectacle. From the summit, we marvel at the 360-degree panoramic view as the city came to life in the morning glow.

Edinburgh Castle, a timeless sentinel, awaits our exploration. With its millennia-old history, the fortress captivates us. Summertime brings added allure, transforming the castle's Esplanade into a concert venue featuring world-class artists. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, a military extravaganza set against the backdrop of the castle, is an unforgettable experience, featuring international army bands and dazzling fireworks. We could have spent the entire day immersing ourselves in its grandeur.

Our whisky journey begins at The Scotch Whisky Experience. In just 50 minutes, we gain profound insights into the world of whisky, all while enjoying a whimsical whisky barrel ride. Tasting a variety of "liquid gold" and exploring the distinct flavors tied to Scotland's regions is a fascinating experience. Before diving into the tasting, our knowledgeable guide playfully emphasized that it's "whisky" without an "e."

In the afternoon, we venture to the enchanting Rosslyn Chapel, a must-visit for Da Vinci Code enthusiasts. This 15th-century chapel, renowned for its ornate stonework and mysterious symbolism, held a special allure. Its rural Midlothian setting added to its charm, captivating the imaginations of writers, artists and visitors long before The Da Vinci Code elevated its global fame.

As evening descends, we savor a memorable dinner at Timberyard, a Michelin-star restaurant housed in a 19th-century warehouse. The rustic ambiance perfectly complemented the restaurant's philosophy of celebrating local, seasonal ingredients that speak for themselves. Each dish, crafted from a handful of prime ingredients, was a masterpiece in flavor and satisfaction. With anticipation for tomorrow's adventures, we bid Edinburgh a fond goodnight.

Day 3: Scenic Scottish drive — a historical journey

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Ready for a journey through Scotland's majestic landscapes. Our adventure begins at Cairnpapple Hill, an ancient ritual site immersed in the rolling hills and under the vast Scottish sky, where history silently stretched back over 4000 years.

Next, we arrived at Linlithgow Palace, a tranquil palace nestled amid serene waters, where the very air seemed to slow down time. This was the place where Mary Queen of Scots took her first breath and as we wander through its gardens, we feel transported to a bygone era.

A modern twist awaits us at The Kelpies, colossal horse-head sculptures rising against the backdrop of the Forth and Clyde Canal extension. This fusion of tradition and innovation showcased Scotland's ability to blend its rich heritage with a promising future.

The pinnacle of our journey is Stirling Castle, perched on a rocky outcrop, offering not only a glimpse into Scotland's past but also panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. As we explore its grandeur, we marvel at the breathtaking vistas, revealing the natural beauty of Scotland's heartland.

Before leaving Stirling, a visit to Mar's Wark, a Renaissance mansion amid lush greenery, provides a picturesque setting that encapsulates Scotland's countryside charm.

As twilight approaches, we reach the iconic Wallace Monument, perched on a hill with sweeping views. The soft hues of twilight painted a magical scene.

Our day concludes at Cromlix Hotel in Stirling, a luxurious retreat nestled amid Scotland's stunning countryside. The hotel's sprawling grounds beckon with serene beauty, providing the perfect backdrop for reflection after a day of exploration. We savor our memorable dinner in the swanky conservatory restaurant, where the Scottish landscape's charm seamlessly blends with our fine dining experience. It was here, amid the tranquil surroundings and under the starry Scottish sky, that we deepened our connection to the rich history and natural splendor of this remarkable land.

Day 4: Stirling to Skye — a journey of charm & discovery

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In truth, countless scenic journeys await in Scotland. Today, we set off from Stirling, our destination, the Isle of Skye, promising a day of exploration. As we journey through Perth, Scotland's former royal capital, and explore enchanting Perthshire, the graceful meandering of the River Tay captivates us, weaving serenely through the city. Architectural spires punctuate the cityscape, testaments to its rich heritage and royal history. Beyond, Perthshire unfolds in lush greenery, rolling hills, and charming villages, where nature and history coexist.

Pitlochry, a charming Victorian town, holds historical allure, marked by Queen Victoria's holiday visit. Further, the House of Bruar, Scotland's prestigious independent store at the Highlands' gateway, offers souvenirs in its vast Knitwear Hall and culinary delights in its luxury Food Hall. The Dalwhinnie Distillery provides a taste of Highland whisky craftsmanship.

We drive alongside Loch Lochy, part of the Caledonia Canal, with steep mountains flanking us. Eilean Donan Castle, perched on a tidal island where sea lochs converge, leaves us awe-struck. Skye welcomes us, and we traverse the charming town of Broadford beneath the imposing Cuillin Mountains.

Our haven for the next two nights is Kinloch Lodge in Sleat. A former 16th-century hunting lodge, it graces Loch Na Dal's shores, offering luxury service in traditionally Scottish rooms, each with loch and hill views. However, it's the lodge's exceptional cuisine that steals the show, sourcing local produce and seafood from nearby bays. Nearby, Talisker whisky awaits at its flagship distillery, or you can visit the newly opened Torabhaig Distillery. Every inch of Skye presents stunning views, picturesque lochs and atmospheric glens, but we didn’t pass up the chance to visit the vivid aqua blue of the Fairy Pools. Even in summer, we are just brave enough to dip our toes in the frigid waters flowing in from Glen Brittle. Here you’ll spot red deer, rabbits and sheep.

While the drive from Stirling to Skye spans roughly five hours, the island's myriad treasures promise an unforgettable adventure well worth the journey.

Day 5: Isle of Skye — a day of natural wonders

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Waking up on the Isle of Skye, we anticipate the day on this captivating island renowned for its dramatic, breathtaking landscapes shaped by countless years of geological and natural forces. Skye's rugged terrain, towering cliffs, deep-blue lochs and lush greenery create an enchanting canvas for our explorations.

At the start of the day, with our newly purchased scarf from the House of Bruar wrapped tightly for the crisp morning chill, we visited the Old Man of Storr, a striking rock formation that stands as a testament to the island's unique geological history. These jagged pinnacles, visible from a distance, are the result of ancient volcanic activity and erosion, leaving us in awe of this natural wonder. Equally captivating is Brother's Point, where an easier hike leads us to more scenic vistas. Here, the island's geological wonders tell stories of its rich monastic history, etched into every rock and crag.

Next, we explore Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls Viewpoint, treating ourselves to a view of a dramatic cliff-edge waterfall plunging into the sea below. The astounding geological formations here, including basalt columns, offer a glimpse into Skye's tumultuous past. As we gaze into the azure waters, a delightful surprise awaits us: a pod of dolphins gracing us with their presence.

We then ascend to Quiraing, an otherworldly landscape that feels like it belongs to a different realm. This unique assemblage of landslips, plateaus, and pinnacles unveils unmatched vistas of Skye's dramatic scenery, believed to be around 175 million years old and steeped in mysticism. Here, we begin to believe in the legends of giants that once roamed these lands.

Our adventure continues to the enchanting Fairy Glen, a place of mystique and natural beauty. The whimsical landscape, with miniature hills and stone circles, adds a touch of magic to our day, evoking beliefs in fairies and giants, as Skye has a way of doing.

Afterward, we indulge in a well-deserved lunch near Dunvegan Castle, a historical gem surrounded by exquisite gardens and set against Skye's rugged coastline. The castle's unique charm and tranquil surroundings make it a perfect stop after the morning hikes.

Our journey takes us to Neist Point Lighthouse, next, perched on rugged cliffs with sweeping sea views. The dramatic coastline here serves as a testament to the powerful forces that have sculpted Skye's scenery over countless millennia.

As the day winds down, we head to Portree, the main town of Skye, known for its colorful houses and charming harbor. Here, we savor local cuisine that includes fresh seafood and other Scottish delights.

This dynamic day on Skye encompasses a range of experiences, from natural wonders to historical treasures, all set against the backdrop of the island's dramatic and awe-inspiring scenery.

Day 6: Highland magic — Skye to Fort William with a serene retreat

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Leaving Skye early, we head to Armadale and embark on a swift, picturesque 30-minute ferry ride to Mallaig. From there, we set our course for Fort William, a delightful Highland town nestled beside the tranquil Loch Linnhe. Fort William is renowned as the gateway to Ben Nevis, the UK's tallest peak, and the enchanting Glen Nevis valley, home to the captivating Steall Falls. Along the journey from Mallaig to Fort William, we're treated to the sight of the famous "Hogwarts Express train," also known as the Jacobite Steam Train. As it traverses the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct, often called the "Harry Potter Bridge," we're transported to a bygone era or, perhaps, a magical realm.

Our itinerary includes a visit to Neptune's Staircase, a remarkable series of canal locks paying homage to Scotland's canal heritage. Following this, we savor a delectable meal at Inverlochy Castle Hotel, a 19th-century treasure steeped in Scotland's rich heritage. The castle's surroundings are equally captivating, with extensive grounds that invite exploration and appreciation of Scotland's natural beauty.

Our destination is the Isle of Eriska Hotel, Spa & Golf, an enchanting retreat nestled on a secluded private island along the scenic west coast of Scotland. This splendid 19th-century mansion, designed in the elegant Scottish baronial style, graces the tranquil shores of Loch Linnhe, framed by the awe-inspiring Morvern mountains. Here, our anticipation for a serene afternoon in these idyllic surroundings is palpable. While some guests come to revel in a round of golf against the backdrop of majestic mountains or try their hand at the ancient art of falconry, our focus is on indulging in a blissful wellness experience, all while basking in the breathtaking vistas of the surrounding landscape. We take a leisurely stroll through the meticulously landscaped gardens before embarking on an award-winning fine dining experience that treats us to spectacular views of the lush gardens and the towering mountains beyond, creating the perfect conclusion to our day.

Day 7: Oban odyssey — seaside splendor

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Our journey unfolds as we bid farewell to the serene Isle of Eriska Hotel, setting our course for lively Oban on Scotland's western coast. Along this picturesque drive, we traverse the breathtaking Glencoe National Nature Reserve, a land of rugged beauty revealing magnificent vistas, including the iconic Three Sisters peaks guarding the landscape.

Continuing our southward journey, we find ourselves along the shores of Loch Awe, where the majestic Kilchurn Castle graces the waters with its storied presence. Here, we pause to admire the castle's ancient stone walls and tranquil surroundings.

Our next stop takes us to Inverawe Smokehouses, where salmon farming and smoking techniques unite to create exceptional culinary delights. We savor the rich, smoky flavors of their award-winning Scottish smoked salmon and trout, deciding to take a taste of Scotland home with us.

Upon our arrival in Oban, a charming fishing town nestled by the sea, we begin our exploration. We make our way to the harbor, indulging in delectable ice cream from The Pokey Hat, even as a cool summer breeze sweeps by. Our leisurely stroll leads us along the portside coastal walk, offering glimpses of the Oban Peace & War Museum and tempting treats from the Oban Chocolate Company. Continuing further, we encounter The Dog Stone, a curious sight with a legendary tale of the giant Fingle and his dog, Bran. Having tied Bran to the base of a massive volcanic stone, Bran’s chains created a deep groove around the base. Locals claim that even now, when the wind blows, Bran's howls can still be heard. Our walk eventually guides us to the historic Dunollie Castle ruin atop the north hill, where we are rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the coastal landscape.

Doubling back towards the heart of Oban, we arrive at a destination that quickens my heart with anticipation—the Oban Distillery. The smallest scotch distillery has been nestled beneath steep cliffs with the sea at its edge since 1793. This renowned establishment is celebrated for its exceptional whisky. Inside, we partake in a tasting and a complete tour that reveals the true essence of Oban's craftsmanship.

For dinner, we delight in the culinary pleasures of Etive, an intimate fine-dining restaurant known for its ever-changing creative menu that uses only locally sourced ingredients.

As the day draws to a close, we ascend to the heights of McCaig's Tower, a mesmerizing architectural feat overlooking the town. Here, we are greeted by a breathtaking sunset panorama that stretches across the Sound of Kerrera, with enchanting islands dotting the horizon.

Our home for these two captivating nights is No 17 Promenade Oban, a charming retreat promising a seaside experience like no other.

Day 8: Island adventure — a day cruise to Mull, Iona & Staffa

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Our thrilling adventure starts as we depart Oban for the unforgettable Three Isles Tour. The journey begins amid the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Isle of Mull, where we are immediately captivated by nature's grandeur. Rolling hills and pristine shores invite us to explore and we feel the magic of this unique place.

On the enchanting Isle of Iona, we marvel at the renowned abbey that stood as a timeless testament to centuries past. We know the tranquility and beauty of the island will leave a lasting impression on us.

But the true showstopper of the day is the astonishing Isle of Staffa. As we approach, the dramatic hexagonal basalt column cliffs rise majestically from the sea, forming a breathtaking backdrop to the legendary Fingal's Cave. Exploring this geological wonder, we uncontrollably ooh and awe at nature’s artistry. We keep our eyes peeled for a sighting of puffins nesting on the cliffs as by the end of August, they’ll be out to sea.

Back at our hotel, we can’t get enough of the Seaview Lounge, No. 17 Bar and No. 17 Terrace; each offering a unique vantage point to this picturesque town while sipping on the libations of our choice, as we reflect on our amazing day.

Day 9: City escape - from Oban's serenity to Glasgow's urban charms

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From the island tranquility of Oban, we head to the dynamic urban gem of Glasgow. This city beckons artists and architecture lovers. It is the largest city in Scotland with a vibrant student community giving it its music-filled streets vibrancy and liveliness.

The timeless Kimpton Blythswood Square hotel eagerly awaits us with its city-center location surrounded by garden views, we know our Glasgow city immersion will begin upon our arrival.

Before reaching Glasgow, there's more to uncover along Scotland's West coast. We start with a visit to Inveraray Castle, the historic home of the Dukes of Argyll, where the current clan chief and his family still reside. It was a delightful surprise to find that the castle featured the intriguing story of "A Very British Scandal." Downton Abbey enthusiasts will also recognize this iconic castle, nestled in a charming Georgian town. As we draw nearer to Glasgow, the imposing silhouette of Dumbarton Castle comes into view, boasting the longest recorded history of any stronghold in Scotland.

Upon our arrival in Glasgow, we kick-start our exploration with a visit to Buchanan Street, a haven for pedestrians teeming with shops, galleries and dining establishments. This lively thoroughfare leads us to the heart of Glasgow, George Square, adorned with splendid Victorian architecture. Our journey then takes us to Queen Street, where we capture a few snapshots alongside the Duke of Wellington statue, renowned for its iconic traffic cone crown. We also make time to explore Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art. Our leisurely stroll through Merchant City introduces us to the elegant architecture dating to the 1750s, showcasing the city's historical affluence. Perched atop a hill, the Glasgow Necropolis, a Victorian cemetery, offers picturesque views of Glasgow, with the impressive Glasgow Cathedral gracing its base.

We conclude our afternoon with a leisurely stroll through the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, where vibrant blooms surround us. As a delightful surprise, we catch a summertime performance of Bard in the Botanics' uproariously funny rendition of "The Importance of Being Earnest."

Every trip we embark on includes a visit to a Michelin-starred restaurant led by a talented female chef. Tonight, our culinary adventure leads us to Cali Brunch, where Chef Lorna McNee is at the helm. Here, we indulge in exquisitely presented dishes crafted from Scotland's seasonal ingredients, all within the refined yet relaxed ambiance of the restaurant. Glasgow has warmly embraced us, seamlessly blending the tranquility of the islands with the vibrant energy of the city.

Day 10: Glasgow's grand farewell — art and culture in Scotland's vibrant heart

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Our final day in Glasgow unfolds amid the city's vibrant tapestry, offering a harmonious blend of culture, history and delectable cuisine. The morning begins at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, a treasure trove of artistic wonders that beautifully exemplifies Glasgow's artistic prowess. Our initial stop leads us to the famed masterpiece "Christ of St John of the Cross" by Salvador Dali, a captivating piece that leaves a lasting impression. We pay homage to Sir Roger, the Asian Elephant, an iconic symbol within the museum's grand halls.

We then embark on a stroll along Byres Road, the heart of Glasgow's West End, celebrated for its cosmopolitan ambiance. This thoroughfare, once traversed by The Bishop of Glasgow during the Middle Ages en route to their summer residence at Partick Castle, has evolved into a melting pot of cultural diversity with unique shops, culinary delights and inviting watering holes. Our culinary adventure takes an unexpected turn as we savor the best bowl of Pho at Hanoi Bike Shop.

Our Glasgow odyssey culminates with a visit to the Riverside Museum, an architectural marvel designed by Zaha Hadid. This contemporary structure houses a captivating collection of historic transportation artifacts, including cars, trains, ships and bicycles. Along the riverfront, we delve deeper into Glasgow's shipbuilding heritage aboard a historic Tall Ship, an enduring testament to the city's maritime legacy.

As we bid farewell to Glasgow, our scenic train journey back to Edinburgh awaits us, tracing a picturesque route along the serene River Clyde. This delightful sojourn through the heart of Scotland unfolds with idyllic views of rolling green hills, quaint countryside villages, and glimpses of serene lochs. This tranquil transition between two of Scotland's most vibrant cities provides the perfect opportunity to savor the country's natural beauty, all while carrying cherished memories of Scotland's captivating landscapes, storied history and warm hospitality.

Need to Know

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Advisor - Angela Huang Walsh

Travel Advisor

Angela Huang Walsh

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Scotland.