A trip to: The Scottish Highlands

Past spring we went for a trip to the Scottish Highlands. I know, not your typical vacation destination, but it had been on our bucket list for a very long time. Since both my hubby and me aren’t the biggest fan of cold weather, we normally travel to a bit more tropical destinations. Our at least where the weather isn’t colder than here in Belgium. For my non-European readers, who probably have never heard of Belgium, we are a small country between the Netherlands and France – and why yes, we do make the best chocolate in the world.

So Scotland isn’t that far from where we live, so we decided to take a road trip with our car and the ferry to the cold Scottish Highlands!

We started our journey in IJmuiden which isn’t that far from Amsterdam, to take the Ferry to Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

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Back when I studied my bachelor we went on a trip to Newcastle-upon-Tyne and I had such great memory of that place I really wanted to spend some time here again. So we booked a hotel for one night to relax from the boat trip and take some time to prepare the trip ahead. This is such a great city, it’s still so low profile so there are hardly any tourists and yet it feels so big and ready to pop. I think that a couple of years from now, Newcastle will be booming. Everywhere you walk you can feel the history of this city in the old buildings and bridges and you can see the modern innovations right across. There isn’t really that much to do/visit if you look at it in a tourist way, but the vibe of this city is so great, you really feel at home the minute you walk in.

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After visiting this city, we really started our road trip into to Scotland, with a first stop in Edinburgh. We love nature, but actually my hubby and me are really city-folk so we do like to have a mix of both when we travel. We took the route by the shore to have some scenic views and when we arrived at the Scottish border, that’s when I got impressed by the history of this country and it’s nature. This border-line was actually still visible with a stone-hedge. Really amazing!

I think we spent a couple of nights in Edinburgh, but arrived late afternoon and left early morning. So we only had a full day to visit everything, which was the Royal mile down Edinburgh castle. We didn’t visit the castle itself, since there were just so many tourists, but we did explore the Royal mile and it’s alleys – which are really fun to do! After that we strolled through New Town and Old Town. If you really want to take time to visit shops and bars I would recommend spending longer in this city and really enjoy the kindness of the people.

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After our stroll in this beautiful city, we were impatient to start our journey into the some of the finest nature in the world. The Scottish Highlands are known for their rough climate and amazing views, so I couldn’t wait to see what all the fuss was about. And boy, were we impressed with our first views! Our Lonely Planet guide said we should stop in Callander which is called the gate to the highlands. We stayed in a lovely B&B with the nicest people ever. This recently wed couple did everything they could to make it worth our stay – I’ll link the places we stayed at down below – and they gave us a map with a walk we could do starting from the B&B with some amazing views.

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After our stop in Callander we travelled all the way to Inverness, which was actually a bit of a disappointment to be honest. We stayed at a really well-known hotel, which looked amazing – a bit like the Overlook Hotel from the Shining – but was really outdated, as was the city. There was actually nothing to do/see/experience, let alone great places to eat. There were two well-known restaurants which were both by the same owner and completely booked by the time we arrived. So wouldn’t really recommend stopping here.

Our main goal was to visit the Isle of Skye and we stayed over there for a couple of days. The nature is AMAZING at Skye, but looking back it may have been a day too long for us. Because we had our own car with us, we were able to drive around the island in a day. If you are fond of hiking this really is the place to be. The nature is nothing like I’ve seen before and the people are so friendly. Must admit it felt a bit like traveling back in time, because there was almost no wifi or connection on the island. We really had to walk up a hill to get a cellphone connection and call home.

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Since Skye was the main destination, we slowly started to head back home with two more stops on the way. The first stop was Oban, a town by the coast which is known for it’s connection to the other islands of Scotland and to go Puffin-spotting. There wasn’t that much to do in this town, but we had such a great hotel with an amazing view on the sunset and really enjoyed our stay here. Our final stop was in Glasgow, another metropolitan which brought us back to reality and out of the slow life. Sadly, this was the only day we had a lot of rain so we weren’t able to enjoy the city as we hoped and ended up in some bars trying out new whisky’s – also great.

Reality hit when we drove back to Newcastle to get on that ferry boat again and head home. But, the trip actually ended with such a high in Amsterdam. Since we arrived early we decided to go into the city and visit the Chanel store, where I bought my first Chanel bag. So looking back at this trip I only get great memories from beginning ’till the end. Celebrating our third anniversary over there, enjoying some of the most amazing views mother earth has to give and tasting some of the finest scotch in the world. What else could we ask for in life?

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Ways of travel

We took our own car, which is a luxury crossover SUV, to take this trip because we have such comfort in our car and it’s suitable for the rough landscape. Because we took our own car, we had to travel overseas by ferry, for which we chose DFDS Seaways. Honestly, I wouldn’t really recommend traveling by ferry, since it’s quite outdated and the motion sickness was very real for me. I had to lay down in our – very small – cabin for the whole trip, which was a 16h trip. We also had a very rough night at sea, just bouncing up and down upon the waves. So really take this in mind if you want to travel by ferry.

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Another way to travel is by plane and rent a car at arrival. The standard car we saw in Scotland was an Audi A1 – which is a great car – but I don’t find it very suitable for the rougher landscapes in the national parks or muddy driveways. So I think it’s best if you upgrade a little from the standard car.

Driving in Scotland was actually really fun and we never felt unsafe or got lost. It’s actually quite easy. Once you get into the highlands, there mostly is only one single-track road with passing places and the people are very kind drivers. The only thing that was a bit scary is that the people who live there drive a lot faster than we did on those really small roads. Also, in the UK they drive on the left track, but we never had any problems with that.

 

Accommodations

We stayed at a couple of different hotels, apartments, B&B’s, … so here’s a list of where we stayed and if I can recommend. I’ll just add a personal score comparing these hotels to one another, it’s impossible to compare this to e.g. our stay at LUX in Mauritius. Don’t expect the find the greatest luxury in Scotland as well. There certainly are places, but this country isn’t really known for it’s decadence in tourism. Yet, we are quite picky in our stays and do want modern luxury during our stays.

Newcastle-upon-TyneThe Vermont Apart Hotel – 4/5
Edinburgh: Eden Locke Hotel – 5/5
CallanderThe Knowe Guest House – 4/5
Inverness: The Kingsmills Hotel – 1/5
Isle of Skye: The Greshornish House Hotel – 3/5
Oban: Perle Oban Hotel – 5/5
Glasgow: CitizenM Hotel – 3/5

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Things you must do

Since we aren’t your most standard tourists, it’s hard to give tips on what to do. We really enjoy to see a lot of the surroundings, both in the city as in nature. But we aren’t the most adventurous people – especially not me who really is afraid of heights – and our walks are mostly around 10km. But there are some highlights and things you shouldn’t miss out on. Like,

  • Go Geo-caching in the city or if you are a bit more experienced in nature. It brings you to such great places.
  • Stop at the Scottish border close to Berwick-upon-Tweed.
  • Visit some little fisher-mans-towns by the shore. We visited St. Abbs on our way to Edinburgh. They also have great seafood for sale at low prices!
  • Be a tourist in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
  • Go walk in the National Parks. We visited Loch Lomond & the Trosachs and Cairngorms national park. Both were amazing to visit and you truly get the best views in these parks. You could even go wildlife-spotting if you have the patience for it.
  • Go whale-watching, seal-spotting or puffin-spotting! Sadly we didn’t go on a puffin-trip since we had a tight schedule, but we did spot a lot of seals and I was just going crazy for them.
  • Visit a distillery. The proces of Whisky making is almost the same everywhere, except for a few things. So if you see one, you know how it’s done. I wouldn’t necessarily advise to pick the distillery of the whisky you love the most, but take the one that is most branded. For instance, we don’t really like the taste of Aberfeldy but the tour at this distillery was amazing and really fun. Afterwards we visited Talisker as well, a whisky we love the most, but were a bit disappointed in the tour.
    Another tip we got from our hotel was not to buy at the distilleries since they overprice their products. Just go to the local supermarket and you’ll find most of the whisky in store for a lot less.
  • Visit a couple of castles. Definitely don’t visit all the castles – it’s impossible – but stop at a few. We only visited one castle from the inside and that’s Dunvegan Castle because it’s still inhibited.
  • Go hiking around some of the tourist attractions like the Fairy Pools (check Pinterest for great images on this one)
  • Take a selfie at Loch Ness.
  • Hike to the Old man of Storr – oh better, just drive around Isle of Skye and go hiking at all the different highlights!

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Since the popular release of the Harry Potter movies tourism has increased in Scotland and they have a Harry Potter-tour. I would stay away from those places since it’s mostly tourist traps.

Places to eat

I know a lot of people are skeptical on the food served in the UK – I admit, I was one of them – but seriously I ate some of the best meals of my life during our stay in Scotland. We always rely on Foursquare for choosing restaurants and we weren’t disappointed. During the month of may the lamb is especially good and of course the seafood is amazing. Don’t be afraid to try some new things while you’re in Scotland. The traditional cuisine isn’t that bad and in most places they have stepped up their game, giving some really fine dishes.

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I hope you guys enjoyed this post. There is just so much to tell about this amazing trip, I could keep on writing and inserting pictures (oh yeah, we have a lot) but that would mean I would max out my WordPress limit with one post… So if you guys have any questions, feel free to drop a comment down below and I’ll be glad to help you guys out!

Would you be interested in visiting the Scottish Highlands? 

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