Edinburgh, Stirling, Ayr, Glasgow
Scotland is a country of more than just bagpipes and haggis, warring clans and tartan kilts; it is also a country of culture and tradition, history and majesty, stately homes and stolid castles. If you’re looking for a tour of Scotland unlike anything else, all you need to do is turn south.
Beginning Your Tour of the Scottish Lowlands
This morning, you touch down outside of enchanting Edinburgh, the political and cultural capital of Scotland and one of the most fascinating cities in Great Britain. You’ll be transferred from the airport to one of the city’s finest hotels, filled with modern amenities and elegant furnishings, staffed by a group of dedicated and friendly people who are attuned to your every want and need. After dropping off your bags and recovering from jet lag, you’ll set out to explore this one-of-a-kind metropolis.
Get a glorious glimpse of the city and the countryside beyond by scaling the gentle rise of Calton Hill, offering incredible vistas of the Firth of Forth and the rolling Scottish Lowlands as well as some of the best-known and best-loved monuments in the city. You’ll be moved by the terraced tower commemorating the exploits of Horatio Nelson, which still flies his famous message to his fleet on Trafalgar Day, and you’ll be puzzled by the still-incomplete National Monument, from whose stolid columns you’ll get the best view of the fantastic scenery encircling Edinburgh. Descend the hill in the evening for a visit to one of Edinburgh’s best restaurants before heading out for a nightcap in one of the capital’s charming pubs.
Today, after a delicious breakfast at the hotel, you’re off to walk the most famous stretch of street in the country as your stroll along the Royal Mile, winding its way through the heart of Old Town Edinburgh and linking two of the city’s most important buildings. Begin at the top of dramatic Castle Rock as you enter the central courtyard of Edinburgh Castle, a major symbol of the city and country and the administrative center of Scotland for centuries. You can walk the battlements and learn about the castle’s illustrious history, check out the excellent exhibits at the National War Museum of Scotland, and make your way to the Crown Room where you can ogle at the Honours of Scotland, the oldest Crown Jewels in Great Britain. The collection also includes the recently returned Stone of Scone, the coronation stone of the monarchs of England and Great Britain since the 13th century.
Next, make your down the Royal Mile, passing by shops selling Scottish gifts and woolen goods in scores of clan tartans, before witnessing the incredible beauty of St. Giles Cathedral, the High Kirk of Scotland and the most important religious building in the country. Notice the Heart of Midlothian mosaic embedded in the sidewalk just outside the cathedral, which marks the former location of the Old Tolbooth, the administrative heart of the city during the Middle Ages.
Your final stop along the walk is at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the principal residence of the kings and queens of Scotland for more than four centuries and the official residence of the monarch of the United Kingdom in Scotland. You can tour the gorgeous Historic Apartments that once belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots, as well as the pieces of the Royal Collection that are housed in the Queen’s Gallery, or stroll the grounds at nearby Holyrood Park, a former hunting estate and now home to some of the grandest gardens in the country.
The Center of Scotland’s Wars of Independence
Set out for the Scottish countryside to discover some of the most important military sites in Scottish history. You’ll also learn about some of the fiercest warriors and shrewdest statesmen of the country’s history, men who helped develop the Scottish nation and who worked to keep it free and independent for centuries. Your first stop is at Stirling Castle, one of the most important castles – architecturally and historically – in the country and the center for many of the climactic moments of the Wars of Scottish Independence. Explore the opulent interior of the Royal Palace, the first of its kind in the British Isles, including the famous carved roundels known as the Stirling Heads, regarded by art historians as some of the finest examples of Scottish Renaissance woodworking known to exist. Check out the spectacular ceiling and the gorgeous wall hangings in the Great Hall before visiting the castle’s gardens, which have been meticulously tended for generations and which are among the finest of their type in the country.
Then head out for the nearby Wallace Monument, a soaring tower that dominates the horizon and commemorates the deeds of Sir William Wallace, the13th century Scottish noble forever known as “Braveheart” who was one of the very first patriots of Scotland and a main leader during the Wars of Independence. You can gaze upon the massive Scottish claymore reputed to be Wallace’s own sword, inspect the busts of famous Scots that fill the Hall of Heroes, and ponder the controversial statue called simply “Freedom.” As you may notice, this 13-foot tall statue of Wallace was profoundly influenced by Mel Gibson’s Academy Award-winning film, just part of the controversy.
The evening sees you back in Edinburgh, where you can enjoy the fantastic food, stupendous service and elegant ambience of The Witchery, located at the base of Edinburgh Castle. This popular restaurant is well-known for featuring one of the best wine lists in the city.
A Chapel Filled with Myth and a Dram of Scotland’s Finest
Today you travel south of the cosmopolitan capital, anxious to discover some of the lesser-known sites in southern Scotland. Your adventure starts at Rosslyn Chapel, a 15th-century church structure that was founded by William Sinclair, the 1st Earl of Caithness and the head of a family descended from Norman knights who formerly fought in the Crusades. The chapel is widely known for its impressive architecture, intricately carved and gloriously unique interior, and its supposed connections to the ancient order of the Knights Templar and the Freemasons. The Chapel is also alleged to be the resting place of the descendants of Jesus Christ, as argued in the pseudohistorical work Holy Blood, Holy Grail and in the runaway bestselling-novel The Da Vinci Code.
After this fascinating foray into Scotland’s romantic past, you’ll head to the nearby Glenkinchie Distillery, ready to learn all the ins and outs of making Scotland’s best-known export: single malt Scotch. Follow a master of the whisky craft as they teach you about the history of distillation in Scotland, the history of Scotch as a beverage and the incredible process that goes in to producing some of the best-known whiskies in the world. The tour concludes with a dram of Glenkinchie’s 12-year single malt, lauded as the “Best Lowland Single Malt” by the judges at the 2013 World Whiskies Awards. The evening sees you back in Edinburgh.
The Great Houses of Southern Scotland
Turn further south to discover some of the great estates of Scotland, the home to some of the greatest names in Scottish politics and literature for centuries. Start at Abbotsford House, the former home of Sir Walter Scott, one of the greatest novelists in Scotland’s illustrious history and author of the classics Rob Roy and Ivanhoe. Here, you can tour the grounds of this beautiful country house that has stood since the early 19th century. Scott placed his mansion in the heart of some of the Lowland’s most beautiful country, nestled on the banks of a gorgeous body of water and deep within the rolling hills and verdant fields of the lush Scottish borderlands. The famous novelist and poet also did an exceptional job of filling his home with priceless artifacts and antiques some of which – due to their incalculable historical and cultural worth – have been requisitioned by the Museum of Scotland, but many still remain on full display within Abbotsford’s walls. You’ll see his immense library of more than 9,000 volumes, his impressive and tasteful collection of ancient furniture, arms and armor, and an eclectic mix of relics and curiosities that are built right into the estate’s walls, including the former doorway of the Old Tolboth in Edinburgh.
After touring Scott’s magnificent home, you’ll head to what purports to be the oldest continually inhabited house in Scotland, a fortified mansion known as Traquair House. This historic home is connected to some of the greatest names in British history: Mary, Queen of Scots is said to have spent the night on a bed that is still available for display, and there are a number of relics of Scotland’s fair Queen and the Jacobite rebels who clamored for the restoration of the House of Stuart and the rise of Bonnie Prince Charlie to the British throne. You’ll get a chance to walk the splendid garden maze and past the famous Bear Gates, last closed in 1745, by Charlie’s armies marching south to England. It’s rumored they can never be opened until a Stuart sits the Scottish throne. Next, sample some of the offerings at the Traquair House Brewery, begun in 1965, and offering a range of beers with names like Jacobite Ale and House Ale.
Your final stop on this unforgettable tour of Scotland’s south is at the partial ruins of Melrose Abbey, a 12th-century home to an order of Cistercians that is known for its many carved decorations and details, and for being the alleged location of the embalmed heart of Robert the Bruce, one of Scotland’s great national heroes and the King of Scots during the Wars of Independence.
Scotland’s Rich Literary Tradition
Today you venture west and return to the surroundings of some of Scotland’s great cities as you make your way inexorably to the banks of the River Clyde and the grand city of Glasgow. Before you reach this majestic metropolis, which is the largest city in Scotland, you’ll stop by the village of Ayr to the city’s southwest. Here, you’ll discover the birthplace and childhood home of Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland and one of the best-loved Scots in history. First, visit the fascinating Burns National Heritage Park, sporting the whitewashed, thatch-roofed cottage in which Burns was born and raised, a fun and fascinating museum, and a splendid monument to the country’s most-loved lyricist. Grab a bite for lunch at The Globe Inn, Burns’s favorite pub that’s worth visiting regardless of its literary heritage, before turning to the nearby Burns House, the spot where the poet penned some of his best-loved work. It’s developed into a pilgrimage site and has been visited from local greats such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth and John Keats.
The afternoon sees you arriving in Glasgow, where you’ll be taken to your centrally-located and elegant hotel just in time to drop off your luggage and explore your environs, from the magnificent Scottish Gothic masterpiece of Glasgow Cathedral to the modern lines and eccentric shape of the Tradeston Pedestrian Bridge, known to Glaswegians as the Squiggly Bridge. Dinner this evening can be had at one of Glasgow’s excellent eateries, from the excellent seafood offerings at Gamba and Rogano (a Glasgow institution) to the incredible Italian fare at Dino’s and L’Ariosto
Discovering the Second City of the British Empire
Your final day in Scotland is spent on the streets of its queen city, touring the marvelous museums, pristine parks and brilliant buildings of Glasgow. Tour the campus of stately Glasgow University, the fourth-oldest in the United Kingdom, whose towering Main Building dominates the Glasgow skyline, before visiting the superb Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, a Victorian beauty that is filled with one of the finest civic collections in Europe. There is an eclectic mix of exhibits at the Kelvingrove, from Salvador Dali’s stirring “Crucifixion of St. John of the Cross” and works by Van Gogh, Monet and Rembrandt, to artifacts from ancient Egypt, a hall of arms and armour, and even a WWII-era Supermarine Spitfire airplane hanging from the museum’s ceiling. Marvel at the incredible Italian Renaissance stylings of the City Chambers and the statues of civic leaders who stand before it. Spend a quiet hour or two at the Glasgow Green, founded by Royal Grant in 1450, and home to an obelisk commemorating the victory at Trafalgar as well as the largest terracotta fountain on Earth.
Saying Goodbye to Stupendous Scotland
Today, a driver will take you from your hotel to Glasgow’s airport, where you’ll bid adieu to bonnie Scotland. From the Royal Mile of Edinburgh to the towering spire of Glasgow Cathedral, from the Glenkinchie Distillery to Sir Walter Scott’s country home to the fascinating remains of Melrose Abbey, this is sure to be a vacation that you will never forget.
- Visit two of the great cities of Scotland as you’ll gaze down from Calton Hill over the gorgeous expanse of Edinburgh and walk the bustling streets lined with gorgeous Victorian architecture in Glasgow
- Learn about Scotland’s romantic and momentous past at Stirling Castle before checking out the Hall of Heroes and William Wallace’s claymore at the stupendous Wallace Monument
- Explore some of southern Scotland’s most famous homes and castles, from Sir Walter Scott’s stirring estate of Abbotsford to Traquair House, reported to be the oldest house in Scotland
- Discover the myths of Rosslyn Chapel and the magic of Melrose Abbey, two of Scotland’s most beautiful – and mysterious – religious buildings
- Tour the former home of Robert Burns, Scotland’s favorite son, and learn about his life, times and works at the superlative Burns National Heritage Park
While Scotland might be known as the home of the Highlands, the country’s south is equally astounding, the place where you’ll find her two largest and most important cities as well as numerous locations that have played an incalculable role in the country’s history and culture. This eight-day tour will hit all the highlights of the lovely Lowlands, showing you the best museums and the most breathtaking scenery of the country’s scintillating south, and introducing you to some of the friendliest and most engaging people you could ever hope to meet.
Climb the rise of Stirling Sill to encounter the fascinating history of Stirling Castle, the coronation site for a number of Scottish queens and kings, before visiting the towering Wallace Monument, a structure dedicated to the deeds of one of Scotland’s great patriots. Walk the halls and stroll the grounds at some of the country’s most elegant and stately homes, from Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford to Traquair House, the temporary home to Mary, Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Explore the ruins of Melrose Abbey and learn about the Templar myths and legends of the Holy Grail at Rosslyn Chapel. And, of course, perambulate the city streets of Scotland’s capital of Edinburgh and gaze upon the gorgeous architecture of Glasgow, the largest city in the country.
From the Royal Mile and the Honours of Scotland to the lyrical odes of Robert Burns, from the stills of the Glenkinchie Distillery to the streets of Glasgow to Stirling Castle, southern Scotland has everything you could ever hope for: romance and adventure, high style and high culture, legendary figures and magnificent landscapes. After this one-of-a-kind vacation, you’ll never associate Scotland with just the Highlands again.
$2,395 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
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Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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