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Scotland See And Do


The Burrell Collection has just over 9,000 pieces bequeathed to the city by shipping magnate Sir William Burrell in 1944. Works include Degas, Cézanne, and Rodin, plus medieval tapestries and silverwork (Pollok Country Park; 44-141-287-2550). Expanded, revamped, and reopened in 2006, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is much loved by generations of Glaswegians and it's not hard to see why. Exhibits range from Dalí's haunting Christ of St. John of the Cross to a Spitfire buzzing over the top of a stuffed giraffe. It has all the Titian, Rembrandt, and Impressionist paintings that a serious art buff could wish for, but it wears its learning lightly and an unexpected atmosphere of fun pervades the place (Argyle St.; 44-141-276-9599).The unmissable Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) is in a beautiful neoclassical building in the city center. It has featured work by Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Grayson Perry, and Rachel Whiteread (Royal Exchange Square; 44-141-229-1996). The cutting-edge Centre for Contemporary Arts features visual art, performance, film, and music. There's also a rather excellent café-bar (350 Sauchiehall St.; 44-141-352-4900). The Sharmanka Kinetic Gallery and Theatre hosts a fascinating, eccentric show of Russian artst Eduard Bersudsky's automatons made of everything from carved wood to tiny bits of old scrap metal. Call or check the website for performance times—they need to be seen in action (103 Trongate; 44-141-552-7080). Of the scores of independent galleries, the Glasgow Print Studio (103 Trongate; 44-141-552-0704) and the Transmission Gallery (45 King St.; 44-141-552-7141) are notable as crucibles of the late-20th-century scene.

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Castles of the Scottish Highlands

Long centuries spent battling neighboring clans and countries have left Scotland with a decent stock of castles. Urquhart Castle ticks two important boxes: A magnificent setting on the banks of Loch Ness and a reasonable number of walls and towers still standing (Drumnadrochit; 44-1456-450551). The impressive Cawdor Castle was mentioned in Shakespeare's Scottish play, Macbeth. The Dowager Countess Cawdor still lives there in the winter months. Oil paintings of assorted aristocrats, 17th-century tapestries, and the late Duke's droll guide notes make for an entertaining visit, as do the stunning flower gardens, fiendish maze, and wild nature trails (near Nairn; 44-1667-404-401). Ironically, one of the most picturesque of Scotland's castles is a rebuild. Eilean Donan, pictured, lay ruined between 1719 and 1912, when Lt. Col. John MacRae-Gilstrap set about restoring it to its former majesty. Accessed by a stone bridge over the swirling waters where three sea lochs meet, Eilean Donan looks impossibly romantic, which explains why it featured heavily in the Christopher Lambert film Highlander (Dornie, by Kyle; 44-1599-555-202).

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

One of the pioneers of the Modern movement, architect and celebrated local son Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928) is as essential to Glasgow's fabric as Gaudí is to Barcelona. His Art Nouveau work was influenced by Scottish and Japanese traditions, and as a designer, architect, and artist, he took as much care with the interior as the exterior of his buildings, right down to the furniture, lighting, and artwork. His masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art, is not to be missed (167 Renfrew St.; 44-141-353-4500), nor is his House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park, which was completed in 1996 based on plans he drew up in 1901 (10 Dumbreck Rd.; 44-141-353-4770; call ahead for weekday hours from Oct-March). There are also the Willow Tea Rooms (217 Sauchiehall St. and 97 Buchanan St.; 44-141-332-0521 or 44-141-204-5242) and the Scotland Street School Museum, which presents the changing face of Scottish education from the Victorian era through to the 1960s (225 Scotland St.; 44-141-287-0500; closed October–March). A reconstruction of the architect's own home is part of the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow—which, incidentally, also owns the best James McNeill Whistler collection outside the U.S. (University of Glasgow; 44-414-330-4221; closed Sundays).

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Distilleries in the Scottish Highlands

While they vary greatly in taste, the essential processes of making Scotch whisky don't differ from one distillery to the next. Each malt whisky producer may boast different-shaped stills, their own coopers, or even geese that act as guard dogs, but the heart of the operation will still revolve around milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling, and maturing. This means that one, possibly two distillery visits are enough for all but the most dedicated Scotch lover.

Thanks to its flower displays and pagoda-style chimneys, Glenfiddich is one of the more postcard-friendly operations, and its distillery tour and visitor center are surprisingly in-depth. The standard tour and sample is free, but for £20 ($40) there is a more comprehensive tour and tutored tasting of several expressions of the global Glenfiddich brand (Dufftown; 44-1340-820-373).

The colorful Major Grant was the driving force behind the early years of Glen Grant whisky. The distillery that bears his name distinctly lacks the swashbuckling romance of its founder, but is worth visiting for the Victorian gardens alone (Rothes; 44-1340-832-103).

An altogether more romantic experience is on offer within the whitewashed walls of Benromach Distillery, the smallest working distillery in Speyside. It's a tiny player compared to the Glenlivets and Glenfiddichs of the whisky world, but its tour feels more personal and you are more likely to leave thinking of whisky as a handcrafted product (Invererne Rd., Forres; 44-1309-675-968). The same could be said of the smallest distillery in all of Scotland, the privately owned boutique operation at Edradour, which makes in a year what the big boys produce in a week (by Moulin; 44-1796-472-095).

Fans of smoky, peaty whiskey should make the pilgrmage to Islay, where eight different distilleries dot the island. A good pub argument can be started by asking which is best. Ardbeg, pictured, is a strong contender, not just for its briny complexity but also for its craggy coastal location (Port Ellen, Islay; 44-1496-302-244).

While in the Speyside area, whisky aficionados should try the Quaich Bar at the Craigellachie Hotel. The walls are lined with hundreds of bottles of whisky from £2 ($4) a shot to a 35-year-old Springbank that sells at £155 (more than $300) a measure.

Edinburgh Castle
Castle Hill
Scotland EH1 2NG
Tel: 44 131 225 9846

Even if poking around old castles isn't your thing, come for the views from its perch on an extinct volcano. For the history buffs, there are the former royal apartments (Mary Queen of Scots gave birth here), the Crown Room, and the city's oldest building, St Margaret's Chapel (built around 900 years ago). Just be warned: The extremely loud One O'clock Gun is fired from here, which makes locals and visitors jump on a daily basis. Each August, the Military Tattoo takes place on the esplanade, and the castle makes a stunning backdrop for the firework displays at the end of the Edinburgh Festival and on Hogmanay (New Year's Eve).

Edinburgh Festivals

Edinburgh becomes an altogether different, wilder animal during the festival—well, festivals, to be precise. The edgy Fringe (comedy, contemporary music, theater, and dance), the highbrow Edinburgh International Festival (classical music, theater, opera, and dance), the Edinburgh Art Festival, and the International Book Festival, all run concurrently through August. The International Film Festival was moved to June in 2008, although there are suggestions that it may move back.

The Fringe is the world's largest arts fest on its own, and a full-on party from beginning to end, thanks in part to the 17,000 artists and performers who decamp here from all over the world. (The population doubles, so book accommodations as early as possible and expect inflated rates.) The Fringe is open to all "performers," so quality can range from the unwatchable (students from the back of beyond massacring Shakespeare) to the outstanding (Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, and Craig Ferguson all got their start here). There are also niche performances that you'll have to see to believe, like a retelling of Ovid's Metamorphoses performed in a swimming pool. Look to The Scotsman, London's Guardian, and Edinburgh arts and entertainment magazine The List to ensure that you don't book a dud. For more sober arts fans, the EIF is a full-on culture fix, with performances that might include all of Beethoven's string quartets over three days, Wagner's complete Ring Cycle, and an American Repertory Theater production of Chekhov's Three Sisters. There's less fanfare around the book, art; and film festivals, but they're not poor relations: Year after year they turn out world-class programs. Start checking the festival Web sites in June, and book early.

For a completely different view of the city, try Edinburgh's Hogmanay or New Year celebrations, which attract tens of thousands of revelers from all over the world. A street party, torchlight processions, riotous ceilidhs, fireworks over Edinburgh Castle, and open-air concerts featuring bands such as Primal Scream, Kasabian, and the Scissor Sisters all help ring in the New Year.—Update by Jonathan Trew

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Fishing in the Scottish Highlands

Scotland is famous for its salmon fishing, and the Spey, pictured, and Dee rivers offer the most prestigious, not to mention expensive, beats in the Highlands. But they are not the only salmon rivers available. The last couple of years have seen resurgence in salmon stocks, and more adventurous fishermen might try casting their flies in the numerous smaller and wilder rivers up in Caithness and Sutherland. Coarse, trout, and sea fishing are also popular. Have the hotel you're staying in make arrangements (all of our recommended hotels can do this with enough warning). Barring that, local hotels are generally good sources of information (and sometimes permits), as are tackle shops. Highland estates and other landowners directly rent out beats by the day or week and may be able to provide the services of a ghillie or guide. FishScotland is a private marketing company that can book fishing on most of the rivers in the Highlands and help organize tackle and guides.

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Golf in the Scottish Highlands

Depending on which way you swing, Scotland is either the spiritual home of golf or guilty of its creation. However you feel, it's one of Scotland's defining symbols and widely played at all levels of Scottish society. Although not in the Highlands, the Old Course at St Andrews in the Region of Fife boasts the most celebrated 18 holes in the world and hosts some 40,000 rounds a year, so for golf fans it's a worthwhile stop before continuing to the Highlands. Booking as far as possible in advance is advisable (e-mail on the first Wednesday in September for slots in the following year), although half of all the annual bookings are decided by a lottery that visitors can enter the day before they hope to play (Pilmour House, St. Andrews; 44-1334-466666).

The Highlands and Islands may not have the Old Course, but they have dozens of courses with their own character, challenges, and significantly cheaper greens fees. They range from the little-known James Braid–designed Fortrose Golf Club (Ness Rd. East, Fortrose; 44-1381-620529) to championship courses such as the Royal Dornoch (Golf Rd., Dornoch; 44-1862-810219) and the Nairn (Seabank Rd., Nairn; 44-1667-453208).

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Mountain Biking in the Scottish Highlands

Mountain biking is hugely popular in Scotland, and the jewel in the Highlands crown is the vast number of trails available around Fort William. Casual cyclists can take it easy and wheel along the Caledonian Canal or follow a forest track. More experienced bikers can ride the gondola to the start of the nerve-shredding Off Beat Downhill track, which drops 1,700 feet in a little over a mile and a half and is open to cyclists May to September (Torlundy, Fort William; 44-1397-705-825). There are also a number of less-famous trails. The black double-diamond route at Laggan Wolftrax is possibly the most technical bike route in Scotland. Be warned: One of the features is known as the Back, Sack and Crack Attack. The Highland Wildcat Trail by Golspie boasts the U.K.'s longest free-ride descent.


Opened in June 2011, Riverside Museum is a zinc and glass temple to transport designed by Zaha Hadid. It has over 3,000 objects and 150 interactive displays, including three re-created streets circa 1895-1980 lined with vintage trolleys and trams (100 Pointhouse Place; 44-141-287-2720). The four-story Glasgow Science Centre is a fun museum that holds interactive exhibits, a planetarium, Scotland's only IMAX theater, and the Glasgow Tower, Scotland's tallest freestanding structure (50 Pacific Quay; 44-141-420-5000). The People's Palace and Winter Gardens provides an informed and fun social context to the city. It's connected to the Victorian Winter Garden glasshouse, where you can sit amidst the greenery and have a cup of tea—very civilized (Glasgow Green; 44-141-271-2951). Clear up the mystery of the bagpipes at the National Piping Centre (30–34 McPhater St., Cowcaddens; 44-141-353-0220).

For art museums, see our Art entry.

National Galleries of Scotland
Tel: 44 131 624 6200

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art's collection includes more than 5,000 pieces from the 19th century to the present. Sculptures by Tony Cragg, Barbara Hepworth, and Henry Moore, and Charles Jencks's beautiful Landform (crescent-shaped pools set in grassy mounds) can be found on the extensive grounds (75 Belford Rd.). A portion of the permanent collection can be viewed across the street at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two, which also holds a large number of the Edinburgh-born sculptor Sir Eduardo Paolozzi's work (73 Belford Rd.). Portraits of famous and not so famous Scots hang in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Its red sandstone neo-Gothic building, which reopened in December 2011 following a $27.7 million refit which increased the exhibition and public space by 60 percent, is itself worth a visit (1 Queen St.). First opened to the public in 1859, the National Gallery of Scotland has amassed a fantastic collection of European paintings and sculpture from the Renaissance to post-Impressionism (The Mound). Adjacent to the National Gallery, the Royal Scottish Academy Building exhibition space was fully refurbished before reopening in 2003 with a Monet show that attracted 170,000 visitors (The Mound).

National Museums Scotland
Chambers Street
Scotland EH1 1JF
Tel: 44 131 247 4422

One building is 19th-century, the other modern, but a link between these neighboring museums makes it possible to walk from the past to the present. The Royal Museum is in a stately Victorian building which reopened in 2011 following a complete refurb. It has a huge entrance hall bathed in natural light and holds a collection of decorative arts and exhibits from science and industry, archaeology, and the natural world. Time your visit to the chiming of the 32-foot Millennium Clock, a kinetic masterpiece in the Main Hall (11 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., and 4 p.m.). Opened in 1998 in a modern-day castle, the Museum of Scotland covers Scotland's history from the burial practices of its earliest inhabitants to the modern-day scientific pioneers who created the world's first cloned mammal: Dolly the sheep, whose remains are now stuffed for posterity and exhibited.

Other Galleries

The City Art Centre, located in a former Victorian warehouse, is home to Edinburgh's collection of Scottish art; temporary exhibits run the gamut from Michelangelo drawings to Star Trek exhibits (2 Market St.; 44-131-529-3993). Transformed from a Victorian market, the Fruitmarket Gallery is a modern space with two floors of contemporary art exhibits (45 Market St.; 44-131-225-2383). Dundas Street has numerous commercial galleries selling everything from originals by the Scottish Colourists to established contemporaries such as John Bellany and Adrian Wiszniewski. Hidden away at the back of Waverly Railway Station, the Ingleby Gallery is worth seeking out if you are interested in contemporary art. Artists' talks, a film club, and public art projects keep things lively (15 Calton Rd.; 44-131-556-4441).—Updated by Jonathan Trew

Palace of Holyroodhouse
Royal Mile
Tel: 44 131 556 5100

The official residence of the Queen when she fancies a night in Edinburgh, Holyrood is open to commoners when her Majesty is elsewhere; which is most of the year. The Royal Apartments are as grand as you might expect, with magnificent pictures, particularly those of the kings of Scotland by Jacob de Wet, providing the glitz. It's a historically important palace. Mary Queen of Scots was married in the now ruined Abbey here, and it was in her private apartments that she saw her secretary Rizzio murdered. The adjacent Queen's Gallery hosts work from the Royal Collection.

Performing Arts

Dating back to 1841, City Halls reopened in January 2006 following major renovation and is now the place to hear classical music in the city. It's home to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (Candleriggs; 44-141-353-8000; Housed in a modern sandstone-clad building, the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall is mainly a classical music venue but also hosts the folk and roots Celtic Connections Festival every January (2 Sauchiehall St.; 44-141-353-8000; Located just steps from Glasgow Cross, the Tron Theatre—you'll know it by its beautiful 16th-century church steeple—is a top stop for strong contemporary theater (63 Trongate; 44-141-552-4267; In the rapidly redeveloping Gorbals area, the venerable Citizen's Theatre played host to Alan Cumming and Robert Carlyle in their early careers. (119 Gorbals St.; 44 141 429 0022;

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Inverleith Row
Scotland EH3 5LR
Tel: 44 131 552 7171

Established in 1670, the Botanics (as they're more commonly known) are a must for horticulturalists—even in the dead of winter, when the ten glasshouses come into their own. In warmer months, stroll around the Chinese Hillside, the Rock Garden, and the Scottish Heath Garden. The Queen Mother's Memorial Garden opened in July 2006 and has a labyrinth in the middle. The Terrace Café is a regular hangout for mums, kids, and strollers and has great views over the city.

The Royal Yacht Britannia
Ocean Terminal
Tel: 44 131 555 5566

She is now decommissioned, but the Britannia traveled to 600 ports in 135 countries in the 44 years in which she served as the Royal Family's floating palace. A self-led audio-tour guides visitors through the five decks, taking in the luxurious royal living areas and the rather more cramped sailors' quarters. Sir Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Boris Yeltsin, and President Reagan have all eaten with the Queen in the stately dining room where setting the table took three hours for each meal. Apparently, the Britannia is the only place where tourists can see a living monarch's bedroom, although, to be honest, its flowery decor is little different from any other old lady's chamber. The only double bed on board was brought on by Prince Charles for his honeymoon cruise.

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Scenic Trips in the Scottish Highlands

One of the more unusual but fun ways to catch some scenery is to take a seafari. Operating out of Skye and Easdale by Oban, Sea.fari runs wave-skimming speedboat trips that aim to take in minke whales, seals, deer, and, if you get lucky, the occasional golden eagle. The Easdale trip visits the infamous Corryvreckan whirlpool (Easdale, 44-1852-300-003; Armadale Pier, Sleat, Isle of Skye; 44-1471-833316). Long before its inclusion in the Harry Potter films, the steam train journey from Fort William to Mallaig was already a hit. The Jacobite steam train, pictured, passes Ben Nevis and crosses over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, (44-1524-737751).

Scottish Parliament
Royal Mile
Scotland EH99 1SP
Tel: 44 131 348 5000

Highlights of Catalonian architect Enric Miralles's extraordinary complex include the west side's stainless-steel windows (some of which have oak latticing), a section of roof that looks like upturned boats, and the Canongate Wall, which is set with stones from around Scotland and inscribed with quotations. It also has a shop, a café, and even a day-care center for young children. Guided tours include an up-to-the-minute introduction to Scottish politics, as well as covering the building itself. If you have the legs for it, walk up the adjacent Arthur's Seat hill for a bird's-eye view of the Parliament and the rest of the city.

St. Giles' Cathedral
Royal Mile
Scotland EH1 1RE
Tel: 44 131 225 9442

An imposing stone edifice punctuated by stained-glass windows, St. Giles' Cathedral looms over surrounding buildings on the Royal Mile, and its spire is a dominant feature of the city's skyline. Founded in 1120 as a small Catholic church, additions were made over the years until, by the mid-16th century, it held 50 altars. John Knox, leader of the Scottish Reformation, broke St. Giles' ties with Rome in 1560, and today, St Giles' is considered the mother church of Presbyterianism.

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Walking in the Scottish Highlands

A popular challenge for keen hill walkers is to tackle all 284 Scottish peaks over 3,000 feet in height. They are known collectively as Munros, after Sir Hugh T. Munro, who first cataloged them, and the hobby of scaling them is called “Munro-bagging.” Among the classic Scottish mountain climbs is the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glencoe. It requires some scrambling and begins or ends at the evocatively named Devil's Staircase. On Skye, the Cuillin Mountains are the main draw. Back on the mainland, the 4,081-feet-high Cairn Gorm provides the name for an entire mountain range. The energetic can climb all the way up; less hardy souls can take the car and chairlift to within 170 yards of the top. At 4,406 feet, Ben Nevis, pictured, is the highest peak in the U.K., which makes it a popular climb. Most people use the well-kept Pony Track to reach the summit in about four hours, but there are also spectacular climbing routes for more experienced mountaineers. On a clear day, the Isle of Skye is visible from the top.

Not that you need a head for heights to enjoy the Highlands: There are plenty of low-level walks that provide stunning scenery. The circuit of Loch an Eilein on the Rothiemurchus Estate gives maximum reward for minimum effort, while a stroll along Glen Affric reveals swathes of the Caledonian pinewoods that once covered much of the landscape.

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Windsurfing/Surfing in the Scottish Highlands

Given the water temperature, a wetsuit is a must but, unlikely as it may seem, the Highlands and Islands are popular among windsurfers—mainly because high average wind speeds coming in off the Atlantic put plenty of puff in the sails. Claims that Tiree is subtitled the Hawaii of the North should be regarded with suspicion, but it does play host to an annual Professional Windsurfers Association championship event. Thurso and Lewis also attract surfers. Wild Diamond Watersports can get you kitted out and ready to bust the breakers (Burnside Cottage, Cornaig, Isle of Tiree; 44-1879-220-399).

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.