This is a collaborative post.
When it comes to planning a last minute holiday, most people are familiar with the likes of Skyscanner, lastminute.com or even the short-term offers for trip and accommodations from some of their favourite airlines – Easyjet, for instance, has a compelling last minute offers destination lists with plenty of sunny beaches in Europe. After all, when you want to squeeze in a cheeky summer trip before it’s officially time to head back to school or the office, what could sound better than a lovely beach stay in Italy or Spain?
Scotland wouldn’t be on top of your list. It probably wouldn’t go on the list of your dream holiday destinations at all. But think again. Scottish schools tend to start in August, which means that you’re unlikely to experience the oppressive feeling of being trapped on holiday with everyone else. On the other hand, schools in the rest of Europe start again in September, which means you’ll share the destination with many other holidaymakers. Additionally, Scotland is a beautiful country that isn’t hugely popular during the summer… In other words, the crowd is the last thing you can expect to find there. So, before you book that summerly getaway to Ibiza, take the time to consider a Scottish summer break.
Scotland? Forget about the clichés
Scotland, the country of fried Mars bars and kilts. Well, not exactly. There are plenty of unfair stereotypes about Scotland, and you need to be informed about them before going there. First of all, you need to understand that historically speaking, Scotland has maintained a separate path to England and Wales for many centuries. While it belongs to the United Kingdom for now, the landscape and culture can feel very different from anything you know. Anyway, before you’re heading to the northern part of the UK, you might want to take a quick look at some of the unfortunate sentences you should stay away from if you want to avoid causing offence. Don’t assume, for instance, that Scotland is a wet and rainy region. As it lies further north than the rest of the country, you’re going to have plenty of daylight hours during your last minute summer break. Sunscreen protection is essential. Additionally, Scotland uses different banknotes; the Scots would prefer you not to refer to it as “funny money”.
Who are the Picts?
While the Roman Empire extended through England and Wales, it didn’t quite reach Scotland – more about this later. In fact, if you’re driving to Scotland, you need to plan a day to stop and visit the Hadrian’s Wall that once separated Scotland from England. Sprawling coast-to-coast almost 80 miles, the wall remains a unique and remarkable monument. You can still visit some of the forts along the wall. Vindolanda is one of the most famous sites, and although it stands in ruins, you can still recognise most of the buildings. Reaching almost 6 meters high, Hadrian’s Wall stands firmly behind the fort. Historically, Emperor Hadrian had the wall built to keep the local Scottish population away – the Picts. It says a lot about the Picts to know that even the Romans gave up against them! There is a sense of pride and cultural independence about the Picts, and somehow, as a visitor of Scotland, you can still get a feeling that the Pict population hasn’t entirely disappeared. Many of the decorated stones you’ll see during your trip have a Pictish origin as well, which is a nice change for anybody who might have grown up visiting Roman ruins!
The first difference you’ll notice
We tend to attribute our straight roads to the Roman invasion. Needless to say, the lack of Roman influence can be felt in Scotland. Your road trip will be unique, and you won’t find a straight road anywhere! It is a little unfair, however, to pretend that the Romans never came to Scotland. In reality, there was a previous wall that was built across the Central Belt of Scotland. It’s the Antonine wall. However, unlike the Hadrian’s Wall, there isn’t much left. But, what it means is that you can find a handful of Roman monuments in the south of Scotland. It’s a good idea to plan your breaks around the area at the start of your trip. Traffic in Scotland is typically dense around cities, but with only 5.4 million inhabitants – against over 66 million in England –, you’ll have a pleasant and relaxing road trip.
Unique places to visit
It’s difficult to select only a few places to see in Scotland. There’s a deep sense of mysticism as you travel through the haar – the cold sea fog – that barely hides the vegetation around you. But there are a few sites that you should see during your holidays. Scotland is a big and exciting place full of surprises.
First of all, there is no Scottish vacation without going through the Highlands. Brace yourself a the ever-changing landscape, sometimes mountain, sometimes loch, and sometimes glen. The Scottish Highlands is a marvel for enthusiastic hikers or for anybody who wants to capture the magical decor for their Instagram feed. If you can pack a guide book, you’ll get to read the tumultuous history of each site. The Highlands have seen epic clan battles and terrible plots. Besides, you might even spot one of the legendary fairies or goblins of the region!
Along the west coast, you need to plan a day to visit the Isle of Staffa, an island of the Inner Hebrides. Located 10 km from the Isle of Mull, Staffa can only be reached through boats – most of them depart directly from Mull. Make sure to book the full tour of Staffa and the Treshnish Isles, which can last up to 6 hours. It’s the best way to observe the local wildlife and some of the rarest birds in Scotland in their natural environment, the Puffins. If you’re lucky with the weather, plan an entire day trip to see the Fingal’s Cave, where the hexagonal basalt columns build the most mesmerising landscape. The Giant’s Causeway in Ireland shows a similar formation of columns. An old legend explains that the columns were the remnants of a road that stretched all the way to Scotland… It may not be accurate, but it’s a pleasant daydream to imagine the Scottish and the Irish giants meet halfway through the sea!
Finally, you want to head over to the Orkney Islands, where you can visit the Ring of Brodgar, a stone circle that predates Stonehenge – and even the Egyptian pyramids! But Skara Brae, the Stone Age settlement, will be the most breathtaking experience you’ll have during your trip. It is Europe’s most complete Neolithic village, enough to give you chill when you walk through the perfectly preserved settlement. Make sure to immerse yourself in the symphony of birdsong as you wander through Orkney: the wildlife is said to be magnificent in and around the islands. Enthusiastic watchers can even spot inquisitive otters and curious seals. It’s an adventure like nowhere else!
Indulge in a little magical trip
It’s a pity to visit Scotland without thinking of Harry Potter. After all, J.K. Rowling, the prodigious author who gave all of us Quidditch envy, lives in Scotland. But what you may not know is that the steam train that appears in the films is an active railway journey. Indeed, the Jacobite runs throughout the year between Fort William and Mallaig. You can even book a seat in the official Harry Potter carriages – each welcomes up to 6 passengers per compartment. For fans of the first hour, it’s the perfect trip down your favourite books! Complete the journey with a cream tea served in the train, and you’re going to feel like one of the students on their way to Hogwarts!
Where to stay?
There’s a lot to see, and while you can plan a few days out on the road to visit some of the main sites, you might prefer to book a cosy and peaceful holiday home where you can relax. Forget the dull hotel rooms; National Trust for Scotland has plenty of quirky cottages and accommodations that will give your holiday a unique feel. You can stay in a lighthouse not far from Inverness, the ideal site to enjoy the fresh and breezy air. Perhaps you’d prefer a cosy fishing cottage perched on the seashore rocky shelf? There is plenty of choices!
What to pack?
While the summer days are longer in Scotland, the weather can be temperamental. Ideally, you should pack for both summer and winter as you can experience all four seasons in a day! Waterproof clothes, a thick jumper, and a pair of shorts are typically the best combination for a Scottish holiday. Something else you’ll need to pack is a good camera because you’ll be trying to capture the surrounding beauty all day long! You don’t need to change currency when you’re travelling to Scotland as all shops will accept English banknotes. However, do make sure to use your Scottish notes before leaving; they’re not taken in England or Wales!
A Scottish summer break is something different from the typical last minute destinations. But, you are going to dive into a new universe of culture, history, landscape and wildlife, something that will make you feel forever happy not to have booked that cheeky Ibiza vacation instead!