A Scotland Family Trip!
What does one do when they’re staring at their calendar – at their children’s extra long weekend off from school – and concomitantly get an email on deeply discounted airplane tickets to cross the ocean?
They snatch the opportunity up and pack their bags to go, that’s what they do!
Great Scot (Land)!
That’s what we did, at least, in the short New Jersey teacher’s convention break over a long November weekend.
We flew to Scotland for three (you read that right – THREE!) short nights. And boy, were we glad we did!
Some history first, from our tour:
- Scotland is a proud member of the European Union.
- It produces 70% of its power via renewal energy (to be an EU member, it must produce at least 20%).
- They are the ‘windiest nation in the EU, 2nd in Europe to Iceland.’
- Coastline almost same length as Australia.
We flew in to Edinburgh, on a night flight.
Because it’s the way we like to do things, ever since making a vow to TRAVEL TRAVEL TRAVEL.
Anyone else with me on that vow?
If you aren’t because you’re worried about taking your kids on long-distance vacations, you shouldn’t be!
It enriches their lives and widens their horizons.
We Like to “Night Flight”.
Because you can fly, land, and go.
The boys – three of them, in elementary, middle & high – are older now, and they typically sleep, after watching a bit of TV.. which they happened NOT to have done on this particular flight, as Norwegian had no TV’s – oh, the horror! That’s ok, because we landed safely, so we don’t complain.
Click on the photos themselves to read on each adventure & the tips therein ..
Heading to FRANCE?
Read about our trip there by clicking the photo above!
Heading to Iceland? Read about our trip there by clicking the photo above!
Heading to Spain or Portugal? Read about our trip there by clicking in the photo!
Edinburgh Things to Do:
As mentioned later in this post, ghost stories and other eerie tales make up a lot of this rich, cold culture. We took the Mercat Tour down to the underground tunnels below Edinburgh.
It was scary-ish, esp as it involved gory details of street torture techniques adopted by the Scots, years ago.
Here’s the scoop: one of my boys truthfully had to tune out and simply stop listening, because, whether or not the stories were made up, they were rather disturbing.
Despite this little hiccup (non-Scotch-induced, of course), my children fared well and survived the tour. It takes you beneath the streets and into damp and dark regions.
Not for the claustrophobic at heart!
You can alternately choose the eerier version – the Edinburgh Dungeons – a more interactive, hands-on gory experience that even comes with an underground ride. We didn’t.
An ancient castle that sits atop a rock, in the center of this bustling city. A reminder of a rich & noble past.
This is a must, whether or not you’re a Harry Potter Fan.
If you ARE, then you’re in for an especially sweet treat!
You see, Victoria Street was the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.
It is a beautifully paves quaint walkway, lined by interesting shops on either side, filled with beautiful goodies galore.
You’ll find little bookstores, trinket shops, and food galore, right around these parts. Not to mention lots of creativity and art!
It was completely up my (Diagon) alley!
We stumbled on a bookstore that proudly boasted literature in ‘Scots,’ which, at first, may seem to you like a joke.
But actually, Scots happens to be an old dialect still spoken and read by many in Scotland.
We were told that an effort is underway to restore this dying dialect, by many of the proud Scottish natives, who want to preserve tradition (insert ‘Fiddler on the Rood’ song here, even though it certainly isn’t Scottish!)
Walking along the streets, we stumbled on this interesting ‘trinket’, parked peacefully on the side, and we waited for James Bond to arrive.
But he didn’t. So we snapped a quick memory instead.
National Museum of Scotland.
This pit stop is highly recommended if you have kids in tow.
It had interactive displays galore, was clean, and beautifully put together to reflect the free spirited and open nature of the Scottish people. This included large, open space, and lots of interactive features for the kids to experiment with.
Plus, we got to see Dolly the Sheep (the real clone) encased in the flesh, behind glass.
And yes, you bet your arse she was cloned in Scotland – at their very own Roslin Institute.
Scotch & Other Foods.
Scotch Whisky Experience.
They like their scotch in Scotland, bottom line.
You’ll see it everywhere. They even have plenty of touring options.
We agreed to a quick ride on a scotch tour, because it looked like fun.
In it, we learned that the mixing of barley and water makes scotch, after adding in yeast.
When this sits in the barrel, 2% evaporates and is called Angel’s Share. Useless info? Quite possibly!
Overall, the ride wasn’t great for the kids. But the ‘afterwards’, in which we got to taste a little for ourselves, and they got to sip on the alcohol-free version (the Scottish soda-pop favorite, Irn–Bru), may have been.
Here’s another thing they like, but you – on the other hand – may not.
Not to be confused with Hagrid, Harry Potter’s hairy friend. You can’t eat him (though he can possibly eat you..).
Here’s what Haggis is. But brace yourself.
Haggis is a Scottish dish consisting of a sheep’s or calf’s offal (fancy word for entrails.. don’t feel bad – I had to look it up too!) mixed with suet (a type of fat.. had to look that one up too!), oatmeal, and seasoning and boiled in a bag, traditionally one made from the animal’s stomach.
It is, in fact, outlawed in America. *GASP!*
Why? Because the USDA objects to eating sheep’s lungs.
Hence, I will NOT be showing you a picture, nor commenting on whether or not this was consumed..
Aside from the sticky toffee cake that’s a traditional dessert here, we also had the cranachan, which was a fluffy concoction made of oatmeal, heavy cream, whisky and raspberries.
Here’s how to make it!
This site – Calon Hill – was a quick walk up a hill – albeit a steep one! – and took is into a flat surface with magnificent views of the city.
More from Around Town.
We otherwise walked around the city, free-style, and took in everything we saw, as we love to do.
To sum it up, the city of Edinburgh itself was beautiful.
From the views themselves (especially when the light hits its ancient building blocks at that exact right angle)..
to the people themselves (a friendly bunch):
Like a street performer, who happily stopped his show for a photo op by yours truly.
..Or a kilted man, who I caught withdrawing cash from a phone booth ATM, in a classic still, below.
and Bag Pipes. Oh, the bag pipes.
I wish you could hear them through this page – a melodic rhythm produced, and heard far, far away, pulling you in with their majestic sounds..
The sounds of Scottish music is, in fact, quite soothing, and I’m listening to traditional Scottish music now, as I type this up.
Listen for yourself, as you read along, and I doubt it if you won’t be swaying right along in no time.
They have a zoo here and apparently, the penguins are allowed to roam the ground freely mid-day.
Interestingly, you are not allowed to be ‘mean to a penguin’. In fact, someone got in trouble – arrested for 3 days! – for doing just that. He apparently kicked one, after it nipped him on the leg.
Rugby is the sport of choice in Scotland, and is played at Murrayfield: a huge arena, right near heart of the city and a mere train ride away.
Other than good ‘ole football, the other sport they love is shinti- the sport of the Highlands – a cross between field hockey and lacrosse.
The tour guide told us the following:
“You could always tell a shinti player in school – they’re missing a tooth.”
Excursion Outside of Edinburgh.
We took a single excursion outside of Edinburgh, because the whole ‘3 night thing’ really limited how much we could do.
Here is what we did do (& soaked in the beauty of it all, at that!):
We used Rabbie’s Tours, which I recommend, as they were friendly, affordable, and timely. Our one day tour can be found among the many they offer HERE.
On our way out of the city, our tour guide informed us of the following:
- Scotland is split into two areas: the Highlands and the Lowlands.
- %80 of Scotland population live in the Lowlands, Edinburgh included.
- Only 250,000 people live in Highlands.
- The difference between the two is the mentality of lowlands can be described as such (found in a British society book):
“The two parts of Scotland differ not only in language and customs but also in their whole historical development. Whilst capitalism has held sway in the Lowlands since its earliest days in the 18th century, across the Highland Line feudalism and even remnants of tribal communal system continued up to the first quarter of the 19thcentury.”
We hit these up:
A ‘loch’ is basically an arm of the sea.
We wanted to visit Loch Ness, the famous of all Lochs, because of the famous monster Nessie (aka ‘The Loch Ness Monster’) that resides within it.
But reason prevailed. I took into consideration that Nessie may not actually exist, and we would likely NOT get to see her (and yes, we know she isn’t real. I’m trying to get into the Scottish spirit and play along..).
We also took into consideration the 4 hour drive it took to get there and it sealed the deal!
We settled on this one particular Loch instead:
(with spectacular views)
- Loch Lomond is the largest Loch by surface area (rather than volume, which Loch Ness wins).
- 1 hr 30 mins from Edinburgh is this holiday spot for the city dwellers. The area was turned into a national park (Trossachs National Park) when its citizens wanted to protect it.
If you get a chance to hike within the wooded area right near it (the park itself), you should. It’s a bit eerie, but it’s also beautiful.
Also known as The Helix.
- The name ‘Kelpies’ was taken on to reflect mythological transforming beasts that are believed to possess the strength and endurance of 10 horses.
- Falkirk, the town in which the Kelpies stand, is an industrial part of Scotland where they work with iron.
Waterways surround the giant bronze horse heads, but I doubt you’d want to take a swim, especially as Scotland is a fairly rainy country.
In fact, the tour guide informed us it rains in Scotland from the end of October to beginning of November!
Quite the comedian.
A quote swiped from a Scotland tour company calls this place:
“Arguably Scotland’s most important historic building.”
Just take a look at the pics and decide for yourself.
Or think William Wallace. And King Robert the Bruce.
It was easily the most beautiful castle I’ve EVER been to!
Now, I warn you: they say the castle grounds all over Scotland haunted.
Here’s what I know:
I can neither confirm nor deny these rumors (not only as a woman of science, but also in respecting those of you who may have booked accommodations in the old castles already and can no longer get a refund), but here’s a little narrative on my experience:
I was accidentally left back in one of the underground tunnels of the castle.
I didn’t notice it had become afterhours, as I lost track of time perusing the incredible Game-of-Thrones style surroundings.
My family had skipped away, thinking I had followed (or simply walked off; actually, most likely walked off).
But I hadn’t.
I suddenly realized just how alone I was.
And it was truly, certifiably eerie.
I felt the history all around me, and I couldn’t decide whether that feeling surrounding me was welcoming, or threatening.
I know, my imagination does run wild. But needless to say, I ran out of there like I saw a ghost.
And my family had a laugh.
I can’t really say more on this topic, because I have to stay true to science, but here’s the media’s take:
The BBC covered the topic – the region’s ‘hauntings’ – in greater detail, in a story from the Scottish Highlands, here.
Note: Stirling lies between the Lowlands and the Highlands. Just for clarification.
The Royal (Corriels)
Below, I posed with my husband, sitting at the end of a magnificently regal room in the castle, used to throw parties, including a 2006 charity gala thrown by JK Rowling herself, in which she converted the room to the grand dining hall of Hogwarts, and successfully raised over 300,000 pounds.
What I loved most about this scene is that there were no guards watching over us. No ‘please don’t touch‘ signs were present, nor loosely draped ropes cordoning the goodies off. It was all fabulously inviting and we absolutely helped ourselves.
Interestingly, King Arthur’s Round Table is thought to quite possibly have originated here, after archaeologists found ’round features’ in a mound in this place..
Mary Queen of Scots also happens to have been crowned here.
Here are more stunning views from the grounds at Stirling Castle:
This castle also happens to be the home of a one.. Sir William Wallace.
Heard of him?
Yep, it’s the hero famously depicted in Braveheart, by Mel Gibson. Except he didn’t paint those vibrant blue colors on his skin.
That was Mel, apparently, letting his imagination run wild.
A 2012 survey rated Stirling Castle as the UK’s favorite heritage attraction.
It was also featured on a list of Europe’s 40 ‘most amazing experiences’ in a 2013 Lonely Planet guide.
So bottom line, it’s a worth a visit.
We stopped here at an inn – aptly named Aberfoyle Inn – and half expected to run into Shrek.
Although we didn’t, we did partake in throwing darts and having ourselves some mouth watering grub to end the day off with, before heading back to Edinburgh and finishing up the tour.
Isle of Skye.
Though we didn’t have time for this excursion, it comes highly recommended, if you can spare an extra few days.
Here is the link what we hear is paradise.
Another must-do, although it was far and we simply didn’t have the time.
The train from Harry Potter, described as the greatest railway journey in the world. But book ahead, because it sells out fast!
That’s it. 3 nights in Scotland.
If you’re thinking of going, just do it!
Make sure to leave a comment below if you plan to visit, or if you’ve visited there already you can leave one too!