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The ultimate guide to holidays in Scotland

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Check out our guide to holidays in Scotland, including the best castles, whisky distilleries, family activities, rail journeys, and much, much more

Scotland is the kind of place that can make you feel awe and comfort all at once, from the otherworldly expanses and peaks of Skye, a landscape carved by volcanic eruption and glacial activity, to the quaint, colourful seaside villages of Portree and Tobermory. It’s this rare allure that keeps travellers coming back, or venturing from miles away to experience this extraordinary country for the first time.

Scotland has an ancient history, with its prehistory spelled out in stone circles, bloodstone tools, burial tombs, and settlement ruins. And then there is the Iron age, which was captured in intricate Celtic knotwork, metalwork, and jewellery. In the centuries that followed, came a fascinating tribal tradition, the First War of Scottish Independence, and the Jacobite Risings. The country has been built on craft, battle, and nature.

Scotland might have a rich history, but it is an old dog with new tricks. While the nation is known for its whisky, it is a star in the UK-wide gin revival scene - Scottish gin makes up 70% of the UK's gin production. The country is also a hub for burgeoning creativity, with the internationally-renowned Edinburgh Fringe being the world's largest arts and culture festival. Scotland is truly full of little surprises. To discover them, you might just need to get your hands on a Scotland travel guide. That’s where we come in...

 

Ultimate guide to holidays in Scotland

 

Whether you are planning a road trip through the Hebrides, or you are looking to embark on a rail holiday through the highlands, we have your holiday in Scotland covered.

 

Travelling to Scotland

 

If you are travelling from London, it might make sense to journey to Scotland via plane. But with the time it takes to travel to the airport, check in, pass through security, and journey from the next airport to your accommodation, you might as well take the train.

London North Eastern Railway offers a fast, direct connection to Scotland. In just under five hours, you can reach the stunning capital of Edinburgh by train. On the way, you will score a different view of the English countryside, passing through Peterborough, York, and Newcastle. So get yourself a good book, or bring along your laptop for some last-minute pre-holiday work (although we would definitely recommend just kicking back) and enjoy the train journey.

Of course, to further capitalise on that relaxation element of your holiday, why not treat yourself to a Scotland tour package? Newmarket Holidays offers a range of tours of Scotland, from a 6-day Hebridean island adventure o a 4-day wander through Edinburgh and Loch Lomond. It is totally up to you.

 

Where to visit in Scotland

 

So, where to visit in Scotland? If you are looking to enjoy a weekend break in Scotland, base yourself in Edinburgh. It is easy to access from the rest of the UK and you will not need to hire transport to find your way around. On this short break, you can walk the fairytale-like cobbled streets of the Royal Mile, visit the dramatic Edinburgh Castle, or tuck in to dinner at a Michelin-star restaurant.

If you have more time to enjoy a holiday beyond a short city break, there are plenty of options available. If you have decided to begin your Scottish odyssey in Glasgow, it is simply a hop, skip, and a jump to Loch Lomond. At the end of a 45-minute drive, you will arrive in Loch Lomond, the largest lake by surface area in the UK. The region is also home to low-lying hills, steep peaks, quaint villages, and wildlife including golden eagles, osprey, and pine marten.

The region is a natural gateway to the intriguingly peaky landscape of the highlands. From here, snake your way up The Trossachs National Park to Glencoe, which is a fantastic base for exploring the striking Skyfall filming locations of Glen Etive, for enjoying a spot of wild swimming at Loch Ard, or for marvelling at Ben Nevis, which at 1,345 metres above sea level is the UK’s highest mountain.

Are you desperate for something that will take you beyond the usual traveller spots? Then journey through eight Hebridean islands - including Harris, Skye, and North and South Uist - on a guided holiday. This is sure to be an unforgettable experience, with these remote gems boasting ancient ruins, vast wilderness, and an entirely different style of living. You might never hope to return to the mainland.

 

Things to do in Scotland

 

There is such an impressive variety of things to do in Scotland. First things first, you will need to bring your walking boots. Trekking is a time-honoured pastime in Scotland, and sometimes, it is the only way to see the country’s most remote corners. As mentioned previously, Glencoe is the best base for walking enthusiasts. From here, you have so many beautiful Scottish national parks within your reach. For a short yet heart-racing walk, check out the Lost Valley Trail near Kinlochleven, and for something a little more strenuous - with epic views to boot - summit Buachaille Etive Beag. 

If you are looking to maximise the scenery you take in, consider turning your trip into a rail journey. Scotland is a vast landscape, so a rail holiday makes perfect sense if you are looking to cover as much as you possibly can. Also, one cannot deny that there is a certain romance to travelling by train. One of the best train journeys in Scotland is the spectacular 80-mile journey from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh. The line travels along the south side of Beauly Firth with panoramic views across to the Black Isle, before heading north to the market town of Dingwall. For all your Scotland train tour needs, check out Newmarket Holidays' scenic, comfortable trips.

If you are travelling as a family and you are looking for things to do in Scotland with kids, head to Edinburgh. The city is home to the Royal Yacht Britannia, the vessel for Queen Elizabeth II between 1954 until 1997. Onboard, you can explore five decks, the royal tea room, and the State Apartments. There’s even a children's audio tour. Also, one child (aged 5-17) goes free with every full paying adult or senior. 

Near Aberdeen is the Royal Deeside Railway. Running beside the magical River Dee, this heritage train offers an adventure for the whole history-loving family.

No trip to Scotland would be done justice without a dash of whisky. It is one of the country’s greatest exports, with 41 bottles of Scotch shipped around the world each and every second. Begin your whisky trail at Glengoyne, a distillery that has been producing whisky for more than two centuries. It is the ideal location to dive right into the distilling process with an informative guided tour. Of course, there will be a tasting involved. Deanston distillery is also well worth a visit. This ex-cotton mill - once powered by Europe’s largest water wheel - produces high-quality gin and vodka as well as whisky - so you will have your pick of the bunch. 

 

Scotland’s most iconic landmarks

 

Scotland might be renowned for its rich varieties of whisky, but it is also famed for epic castles. For some of the finest, well-preserved Scottish landmarks - you will want to check out the northeast. In Aberdeenshire, there is Craigievar Castle, a delightfully pink monument that looks like something straight out of a Disney classic. 

If you are more of a traditionalist, pay a visit to Castle Fraser near Kemnay. With a core structure that dates back to the mid-15th century, the castle is a Category A listed building. There are also surrounding gardens, woods, and farmlands to explore during your trip.

If you are taking a short Scottish city break, you cannot go past the dramatic, imposing structure that is Edinburgh Castle. Perched atop a volcanic mound in the capital, the castle is also the site of The Royal Edinburgh Tattoo. Head there during the month of August for an unforgettable celebration of arts and culture.

 

A guide to Scottish cuisine

 

Scottish cuisine is famous for incorporating fresh produce, meat, and world-renowned seafood to create hearty, traditional dishes. On a visit to Scotland, there are four dishes you must try.

For the brave, there is black pudding: a sausage made up of pig's blood, pork fat, spices, barley and oatmeal, black pudding varies from region to region. For a satisfying, on-the-go snack, opt for a scotch pie. The comforting double-crust encases a delicious filling of minced mutton. Often you can judge a town just by the quality of its pies! 

Hailing from a tiny town in the northeast, cullen skink is a filling soup made from smoked haddock, potatoes, and onions. It is the perfect cold-weather dish. And for the most famous Scottish dish: haggis. Haggis is made from the discarded pieces of a sheep and combined with oatmeal and various herbs and spices. It is certainly a delicacy!

Find out more about Scotland

Scottish Highland Railways
  • 4.14 (2628 reviews)
  • United Kingdom, Scotland, British Isles
  • 3 excursions included
  • 8 meals included
  • Rail travel from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh - a truly spectacular ride through the remote northern Highlands and alongside Loch Carron
  • Journey on the steam-hauled Strathspey Railway
  • Cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct, as seen in the Harry Potter films, on a train ride from Fort William to Mallaig
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    • Flights Included
  • 5 days from: £535pp
  • Was: £629pp
  • 10 airports
  • 64 dates available
  • Apr 2022 - Oct 2022
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Loch Lomond & the Edinburgh Tattoo
  • 4.12 (320 reviews)
  • United Kingdom, Scotland, British Isles
  • 4 excursions included
  • 5 meals included
  • A reserved seat to see the Edinburgh Tattoo
  • Enjoy a boat trip on Loch Lomond, Queen of the Scottish Lakes
  • A tour of the beautiful Trossachs
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    • Flights Included
  • 4 days from: £603pp
  • Was: £669pp
  • 9 airports
  • 10 dates available
  • Aug 2022
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  • 4 excursions included
  • 4 meals included
  • Spend five days exploring the Scottish wilderness from your city centre base in Edinburgh
  • Enjoy an exciting 4x4 Highland safari in the Perthshire Highlands
  • Included visit to the quintessential Scottish town of Pitlochry
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    • Flights Included
  • 5 days from: £612pp
  • Was: £679pp
  • 8 airports
  • 7 dates available
  • Apr 2022 - Sep 2022
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Scottish Highland Railways for Solo Travellers
  • Scotland, United Kingdom, British Isles
  • 3 excursions included
  • 8 meals included
  • Rail travel from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh
  • Journey on the steam-hauled Strathspey Railway
  • Cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct on a train ride from Fort William to Mallaig
Best seller
    • Flights Included
  • 5 days from: £629pp
  • Was: £739pp
  • 5 airports
  • 2 dates available
  • Apr 2022 - Oct 2022
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Best of the Scottish Highlands
  • 3.99 (107 reviews)
  • United Kingdom, Scotland, British Isles
  • 5 excursions included
  • 12 meals included
  • Spot wildlife on a cruise on the Moray Firth
  • A tour of the Black Isle
  • Enjoy a ride on the nostalgic Strathspey Steam Railway
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    • Flights Included
  • 7 days from: £743pp
  • Was: £825pp
  • 7 airports
  • 20 dates available
  • Apr 2022 - Oct 2022
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  • 5 excursions included
  • 12 meals included
  • Spot wildlife on a cruise on the Moray Firth
  • A tour of the Black Isle
  • Enjoy a ride on the nostalgic Strathspey Steam Railway
Best seller
    • Flights Included
  • 7 days from: £846pp
  • Was: £939pp
  • 7 airports
  • 2 dates available
  • Apr 2022 - Oct 2022
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Hebridean Island Adventure - 6 days
  • 4.1 (304 reviews)
  • United Kingdom, Scotland, British Isles
  • 5 excursions included
  • 10 meals included
  • A tour of the Isle of Skye
  • A tour of the Isle of Harris
  • A tour of the Isle of Lewis
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    • Flights Included
  • 6 days from: £846pp
  • Was: £939pp
  • 5 airports
  • 2 dates available
  • Oct 2022
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  • Enjoy the scenic glories of the northwest Highlands, one of Scotland's most breathtaking corners
  • Visit the spectacular, Gulf Stream-warmed Inverewe Gardens (entrance payable locally, free for National Trust members)
  • Journey through the ‘Misty Isle’ of Skye, past the towering Cuillin Hills
    • Tour Only
  • 6 days from: £846pp
  • Was: £940pp
  • 5 dates available
  • May 2022 - Sep 2022
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