10 Offbeat Things to Do in Scotland
Look for Nessie, surf the "Hawaii of the North" and make your own gin and haggis with these locavore recommendations.
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Photo By: Wilderness Scotland/Rupert Shanks
Photo By: VisitScotland.com
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Photo By: Highland Fling Bungee Jump
Photo By: Wilderness Scotland
Photo By: Wilderness Scotland
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Photo By: Mac and Wild/Falls of Shin
Photo By: VisitScotland.com
How to Make the Most of Your Scotland Trip
Outlander fans, history buffs, Nessie-chasers, foodies and adventurers of all kinds: Scotland has something for you. It's a land of picturesque villages and turreted castles, legendary battlefields, wild mountains, heathered moors and lively pubs. It's also home to the renowned St. Andrews links and bustling cities with festivals, award-winning museums, 5-star restaurants and upscale shopping. Add it to your list of must-see destinations.
More on Scotland: 29 Things That Make Scotland a Charming Travel Destination
Look for Nessie at Loch Ness
Urquhart Castle, near Drumnadrochit, is the ideal place to search for the legendary Loch Ness monster on a sonar-equipped boat. If Nessie doesn't show, catch the high-tech, multimedia experience inside the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition. Loch Ness Project Leader Adrian Shine calls this "dragon country," and while recent DNA tests suggest Nessie could be a giant eel, he adds, Loch Ness "is the sort of place that if there weren’t any dragons, there really ought to be."
Book a Cookery Workshop
People come from around the world for cookery workshops in the Scottish Highlands with award-winning cook and author Ghillie Basan. "My favorite Scottish dish," she says, "is a good old bowl of porridge with a pinch of salt, a sprinkling of brown sugar, a swirl of cream and a splash of whiskey." Fiona Richmond, Head of Regional Scotland Food and Drink, recommends learning to make Scotland’s beloved haggis. "We’ve seen a lot of innovation over the years with ... creative ways to use this delicious food in canapes, starters and mains." She says Macsween, in Edinburgh, offers dishes like vegan haggis poutine, gluten-free haggis larb lettuce cups (larb is a kind of Laotian meat salad) and hot cross buns with haggis jam and whiskey-soaked raisins.
Surf the Swells
Fall and winter are prime times to surf and windsurf in Scotland, when the swells are big, but you’ll want a wetsuit for protection from the cold water, strong winds and occasional pieces of ice bobbing around. World-famous Thurso is the country’s surf capital, with waves up to 15 feet. The Isle of Tiree, in the Inner Hebrides, is known as the "Hawaii of the North" thanks to its warm Gulf Stream water and sandy white beaches. Shown here: a surfer at Balephiul Bay, the Isle of Tiree, Inner Hebrides.
Make Your Own Gin
Forage for botanicals with an expert when you sign up to make gin at Crafty Distillery's Galloway Gin Escape. Later, you’ll head back to create your own cocktails from scratch using fresh-picked Noble Fir needles and Bladderwrack seaweed from one of Galloway’s beautiful beaches. The day ends with a tour of the distillery where visitors can see how Crafty makes its award-winning Hills & Harbour gin.
Do the Highland Fling
Forget the traditional dances like the Blue Bonnets and Scottish Lilt. You'll fling yourself right off the ground and into the air at Highland Fling Bungee, based in Killiecrankie. Thrill-seeking bungee jumpers freefall 132 feet from a platform under the Garry Bridge in Perthshire. The plunge over the River Garry lasts a few seconds while you soar at up to 50 miles an hour. Catch your breath and enjoy the spectacular scenery in the gorge while you’re winched back up.
Go Mountain Biking
Scotland has been called the best place in the world for mountain biking. Try it for yourself on a tour with Wilderness Scotland. Participants of all skill levels can pedal along on trails into the backcountry or take the challenging Coast to Coast route. Support vehicles move your luggage between stops and pick you up if your legs need a break. Choose from one of five tours, including the Hebridean Trail across seven amazing islands.
See Yourself in a Kilt
Who needs pants? Opt for a custom-made, Scottish "man skirt" from renowned Edinburgh designer Howie Nicholsby, who offers everything from traditional styles to kilts made with leather, purple denim and pinstripes. Nicholsby also makes kilts for women and aims to return these garments, banned in 1746, to everyday wear. A fourth-generation kilt-maker whose parents made Mel Gibson's Braveheart-premiere kilt, Howie has been the bespoke kilt-tailor for many celebrities including Vin Diesel, Lenny Kravitz and Alan Cumming. Book a tour with Wilderness Scotland for a visit to the shop.
That's not a misspelling. "Howfs" is an old word for Scottish public houses. These howfs are actually rentals on Craighead Farm in Perthshire, and range from a 5-star luxury stone cottage to glamping cabins. Bagend, the Hobbit Howf shown here, is built into a grassy hillside. Behind its round door lies a handmade bed with a star-gazing window above it, a hand-carved wooden sink and cutlery, crockery and pots so you can cook on the double-ring gas hob. Venture out to bird watch, snap selfies or imagine Bilbo Baggins smoking a pipe around the outdoor fire.
Land Rover Camping
Go off-road — so to speak — in a static Land Rover. You don’t drive these vehicles; you rent them from Mac and Wild and use camping gear to chill out in beautiful Invershin Forest, in the Scottish Highlands. The Rovers come with a rooftop “adventure tent” and star-gazing bubble pod. Welcome boxes are packed with basic groceries, bedding, lanterns, hammocks and more. After exploring the woods, retreat to your private shower cubicle or outdoor hot tub, or dine at the adjacent Mac and Wild Falls of Shin restaurant.
Arrive by boat or park above the limestone cliffs and walk down to Smoo Cave, about a mile east of Durness. Seawater and freshwater come together here, and when the conditions are right, a large waterfall splashes down in one of the floodlit chambers. Researchers think the cave was first inhabited 5,000 years ago; its name seems to come from an Old Norse word meaning “hiding place.” Tour guides will give you a hard hat and take you through the cave in inflatable boats. Be wary. Legend says the devil once lived in this haunting place.