For the past week, Sarah and I decided to go to Scotland for our First Anniversary Trip. It was really an awesome experience! Scotland looks and feels like “Lord of the Rings.” The landscapes have mountains, rolling hills, green grass, flowers, lakes, rivers, livestock, small houses and huge castles strewn across its land. One of the most picturesque places I have ever been to. That was also my first trip to Europe, so I think we picked a good place.
We were able to see a pretty decent sized piece of Scotland for the time we had, which was about 6 nights. We started in Edinburgh for the first two days and toured the entire city. Edinburgh has a ton of history and very old building structures that are still in use today by several pubs, restaurants, and stores. We walked everywhere in this city and even did a “Harry Potter” tour. Apparently, J.K. Rowling wrote the first 5 books in Edinburgh and also got much of her inspiration from the city. Edinburgh Castle was also massive and nice place to visit.
After Edinburgh, we went to Hertz to rent a car. It was a relatively painless process and for four days with insurance cost us about 364 pounds or $473. Unfortunately, the pound in the United Kingdom is worth much more than the U.S. Dollar. This meant Scotland was not a cheap place to visit, but it was a vacation so I didn’t let it bug my frugal mind too much. I will say though that driving in Scotland (or Europe) is an eye-opening experience at first and not to be taken lightly. You drive on the other side of the road, the signs are different and it can be pretty scary. Driving is largely a subconscious activity once you know how. I consider myself a talented driver and driving over there will take some getting used to. This trip was based on driving though as we wanted to visit several places. It would not have worked without driving, so I mastered it pretty quick.
After we got the car on the third day, we went to Stirling Castle. Stirling Castle was an awesome place with a rich history. A very important Stronghold in Scotland. Later that day we also visited William Wallace Monument. A huge and very steep tower dedicated to the Scottish Hero. It had both his Claymore (two-handed sword) and Robert the Bruce’s Sword. Really cool to see. Once you made the very long and steep climb to the top, you were treated to a pretty awesome view.
The fourth day we went to Loch Lomond and then hiked (or should I say climbed) a mountain that was part of the “Three Sisters” in the Glencoe area. After a 3 hour hike, we drove to Corran and stayed at a hotel that was right on a lake. It was a really nice place, but the restaurant near it was closed so we had to drive about 15 minutes to the next closest town to eat dinner. Scotland has a lot of small towns and windy roads. It is very easy to get lost. I do want to mention that before hiking we stopped at a cafe for food and I got a Smoked Salmon Sandwich with Cream Cheese. Not going to lie, it was one of the best things I ate there.
The following day we left and headed up North to Inverness, which is the city you can reach. Before Inverness, we stopped at Urquhart Castle. A castle that was a ruin, but had a great view. Many castles are positioned on the very edge of a cliff for defense purposes. It also gives a tremendous view of the area. After purchasing a decent amount of gifts from the shop here, we passed by Loch Ness and then finally hit Inverness. A much more moderate city than Edinburgh, but a nice one. It featured some pretty nice shopping centers that we went to and had a more modern castle in the middle of the city. We did visit this place as well. For dinner, we went to “The Castle Tavern” which was built in the 1700s. We tried Haggis for the first time here and I honestly thought it was good. Haggis is made from sheep intestine or stomach (gross I know), but its a local delicacy. It tastes kind of like sausage. We also went to a bar afterward for some drinks.
The next morning we had breakfast at the “Rona’s House”, which was the B&B we were staying at. Funny enough the owner of the house has a daughter that lives 20 minutes away from where we currently live in Virginia. The B&B was very nice and I had a Full Scottish Breakfast here with some of her homemade bread. Sarah had Museli with yogurt and fruit. This started the last day of our Scotland trip.
We drove down to a distillery called Dalwhinnie and did a tour of the Whiskey they made there. Interesting process. We also bought a “Game of Thrones” themed Whiskey there. Apparently, 8 Distilleries in Scotland each have a house from the show. Luckily we got the best House, “House Stark” from this distillery The reason they were House Stark was that it is the coldest Disterlly in Scotland, which is fitting of the North the Stark’s are from. After this, we hit a Chocolatier run by a French couple, which was too expensive and not great, unfortunately. We then hit our final castle tour, which was called “Castle Menzie.” This was referred to as a “Tower House” and was literally in the middle of nowhere. The closest town was Aberfeldy, which we randomly stumbled upon once leaving. The owner gave us a pretty interesting History lesson, about the Clans of Scotland and said most of the Castles in Scotland were actually called Tower Houses. These differ from the more well-known Castles because their location is more centrally located inland, not surrounded by huge walls and were mainly Clan houses that acted as defense from other Clans. Scotland as a long history of warring Clans (different families) that fought over pretty much everything.
After the last Castle, we drove back to Hertz and turned in the keys, which marked the end of the trip. We stayed at a Hotel near the Airport for our last night and paid for some overpriced food from the Hilton Hotel restaurant. It was just far too convenient not to stay there because we could walk to the airport. We had a shuttle flight to Dublin, then the main 7-hour flight from Dublin to Washington DC, then a 3-hour drive home. We got home around 7:00 PM. However, that would have been 12:00PM Scotland time. Scotland is 5 hours ahead of us, so we lost that time on the front of the trip and gained it back at the end. This meant we were pretty hungry when we got back as we had been up for a very long time.
Here are some final points I will end with:
- My favorite part about the trip was the scenery and history. It really was an amazing place to see. Some places look better in photos than when you are actually there. Scotland looks better in person. It just has a different “feel” to it than the U.S. probably due to the very old history.
- Driving is essential here. If you really want to see the country, then you need to get out of the major cities and not spend too much time there. That being said, driving is NOT FUN at first. You will need some time to adjust and it can be scary. Once you do get the hang of it, driving and seeing the country is a pretty rewarding experience.
- The travel there and back was not fun. The 5-hour time gap can mess with you big time and you can expect to lose a full day from travel from the U.S. Unless you are lucky enough to get a direct flight there, which would be IDEAL. It would cut travel time and headache in half.
- The food was good, but not great. Sarah and I both agreed it would be rated 7 out of 10. We stuck to local places and really tried to order local Scottish fare. Haggis was good, but not amazing. The Meat Pies were both of our favorites. I think I had some form of potato every single day. Scotland also has a ton of Oatmeal bars. It has very few “high protein products”, such as protein bars, protein powder and stuff I normally like. This is very different than the U.S. Also, the coffee was horrible. I will come out and admit it. Toward the end of the trip, I just stopped drinking it and I drink A LOT of coffee. You basically had to brew your own and I really didn’t care for it. Also, this country does not have Ranch dressing haha. Dear God what a sin.
- The Local Beers were excellent. I had at least two beers a day from the draught menu and I really looked forward to those each day. I drank way more beer than liquor (hardly drank any) and almost no wine. This is mainly because Scotland certainly doesn’t specialize in wine and I was trying to get the “Local Fare.” However, still rare for me as beer is usually the lowest on my totem pole.
- Scotland is expensive. There is no getting around this one. The country uses pounds, which are more valuable than the dollar.
- The internet is spotty here.
- The countryside was my favorite by far.
- Some people say Scottish people are really nice. I certainly noticed that in some cases, but nothing out of the ordinary. I think it’s pretty similar to America in that its mainly based on the personality of the person and not a general rule.
- Certain peoples accents were so thick, I could barely understand them.
- Would I come here again? Absolutely. I would prefer to visit Ireland or England as well though and maybe even first. I would certainly do some things differently the second time around, especially with the travel piece, but would certainly revisit. We had a blast and time FLEW BY.
Sorry for the very long post about I had a lot I wanted to get down in this post!