Do you dream of traveling to Scotland? Smoky whisky, lilting brogues, family tartans, medieval castles, bagpipes, mythical creatures, verdant backdrops – all that and more makes Scotland easy to fall in love with, something my family discovered first hand while visiting the small, incredibly vibrant country peopled with some of the most welcoming folk in Europe.
And though my husband and I are used to overnight travel and jet lag, this was the very first time my kids had gone beyond the limits of the Caribbean. Adventures by Disney invited us to join them as a family to experience an abbreviated version of their Scotland itinerary, and after a proper night’s sleep, both kids proved themselves seasoned travelers, excited to go exploring from the minute the sun came up until long after the stars appeared in sprays across the inky night sky.
We can’t wait to go back, and if you’re not smitten with Scotland already, these five adventures should leave you convinced and ready to pack. (Besides, you kind of have to heart a country whose national animal is the unicorn.)
EXPLORE OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH
Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, is where historical medieval awesome meets thoroughly modern everything in the aptly named Old Town and New Town areas of the city. The National Museum of Scotland, Greyfriars Bobby, The Royal Mile, The Elephant House (the coffee bar where J.K. Rowling penned the very first Harry Potter) and old cemeteries can be explored on foot. Make sure to leave plenty of time to walk up to Edinburgh Castle too. Beyond magnificent, this monument is home to the Scottish Crown Jewels, which were lost for more than 1,000 years, and the Stone of Destiny, which is rumored to be Jacob’s pillow from the Book of Genesis.
ARCHERY ON THE GROUNDS OF GLAMIS CASTLE
Nestled in the foothills of the Angus Glen, Glamis Castle is called Scotland’s most spectacular castle, and was once the childhood home of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. The ancestral home of the Earls of Strathmore for more than 600 years, the fortress is a living, breathing monument to Scottish hospitality. Rumor has it the castle is haunted (just read Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which is set in Glamis Castle), and getting lost in its tapestried corridors and stone staircases pretty much proves it. Don’t miss Fred the taxidermied bear, a former pet brought from Russia who met his end among some cranky Highland cattle. The kids were fascinated by his fixed position and tentatively pet him on their way out of the Duncan Room where he hangs out. After, join kilted archers on the castle grounds for an archery lesson complete with longbows and quills. (We brought our oldest’s target sheet home with us as an incredibly unique souvenir.)
MOUNTAIN BIKING AND HORSEBACK RIDING IN THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS
Rothiemurchus Estate is one of the greatest tracts of natural forest in Britain, and is so gorgeous, you won’t ever want to leave. Just closing my eyes takes me back to its crisp air and incredible natural beauty. And whether you choose to ride stocky Highland ponies or mountain bikes (we did both of course) over peaceful hills and heathered moorlands, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the Cairngorm mountain range with its ancient landmarks embedded in the magnificent scenery all around you.
CANOEING AND CRUISING AT LOCH NESS
Start in the Loch Ness Exhibition Center and take in an artful presentation of both facts and lore about the loch (Scottish for “lake”) before you head out on the water. After we decided that the kids were a little too young to canoe, Jeff boarded a motor launch with them for a trek across Loch Ness, and the skipper even let my oldest steer while the others kept watch for Nessie. I climbed into a canoe for a paddle across the incredibly dark blue water with the great forested shore rising on either side. Definite life list moment. Afterwards, we explored the ruins of the once-mighty Uruqhart Castle, a fortress that commands breathtaking views of Loch Ness. Built upon the remains of an ancient burial cairn, the castle was captured and re-captured numerous times over centuries by warring forces contending for the throne of Scotland. It’s also one of the most frequent locations of Nessie sightings! My kids totally saw her. Just so you know. We have pictures!
DOVECOT STUDIOS TOUR
Weaving may not sound that exciting, but when you’re doing it, it absolutely is. And at this 100-year old studio expert artists demonstrate how they create tapestries and even give visitors the chance to try their hand at the ancient art. We had the amazing opportunity to add to a Disney-Pixar-inspired Brave tapestry, and even took home a wee spool as pretty cool souvenir.
Consider this a bonus, because when it comes to food, Scotland has a surprisingly delicious culinary scene that you should definitely encourage your little eaters to explore. For more adventurous palates, there’s traditional haggis (a Scottish dish consisting of a sheep’s or calf’s offal mixed with suet, oatmeal, and seasoning and boiled in a bag made from the animal’s stomach) with a side of tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips). And for those who like their meals a little less exotic, we found a yummy array of scratch-made battered cod, brick-fired pizzas and hand-formed Angus beef burgers. And they mean real Angus beef, not the stuff we pass off as Aberdeenshire’s finest here in the states.
Friendly disclosure: We visited Scotland at the kind invitation of Adventures by Disney. Partial airfare, accommodations, transportation and some meals were provided. Opinions and images are all mine.
Photography by Pilar Clark