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Explore the Best of UK & Scotland: Top 15 Must-Visit Destinations to Add to Your Bucket List

I recently got a gentle reminder from my brother in law regarding a blog on UK & Scotland which has been long due. After all it was because of his enthusiasm, patience and driving skills which made so many of my journeys and experiences possible last year in the land of British, now mostly occupied by Indians or our neighbors 🙂 Thank you Rahul!

Let me tell you, this was my only second time to UK. Reason being, the first time I had traveled in the month of November and I saw UK in the shades of grey, dark grey and black. That’s when I had decided that UK would be the last on my list even with my sister and brother in law staying there. But when comes covid and one has to stay full time with spouse and son (the family) for months together, sanity becomes the need of the hour and so I traveled across seas to save myself. luckily the timing was right – The summers. June July Aug to be precise.

From UK, I did travel to Spain and Morocco too but I have to admit, UK specifically Cornwall, Devon and Scotland was as surreal as can be. It was greener, raw and pristine.  While Indians have always fancied going to London the most, for reasons engraved in the history, UK is much more than that. Just because Kajol’s father in DDLJ decided to settle in London, just because every Yashvardhan Raichand sends his children to study in London, doesn’t mean we Indians, only include London to our trip in the name of UK unless we are one of those abandoned in British land by our software companies for a few months/years with no option but to explore:-)

People!  It is a beautiful country no matter who owns it and who runs it.  Here’s a list of some amazing places to inspire you. First Let me start with Scotland…where chances are, you would either die of cold winds or its beauty. Scotland to me was like a fairy tale place coming straight out of some fantasy novel. Awe-inspiring sights, quaint villages and diverse landscapes which were green or greener during the summer season. Further, the austerity of this land due to extreme weather, made it super exotic with hard-to-find humans in most parts.

We planned a road trip from Plymouth (Port city in southwest of England) to Scotland (most northerly of the four parts of UK, occupying about one-third of the island of Great Britain)

The route was Plymouth – Lake District – Glasgow – Kyle of Lochalsh- Isle of Skye – Inverness – Fort Williams – Ben Nevis – Glasgow- Birmingham- Plymouth

Traveling tip in between for your UK & Scotland trip

Best Season – July- August is the highest season in UK/Scotland and also coincides with the school holidays so you may find difficulty is getting choicest places. The shoulder season may be a better idea June or time till mid September

Best transport option – Nothing like it if you can hire a car and drive. Next best would be to use trains.

 

15 Must-Visit Destinations in UK & Scotland to Add to Your Bucket List

1. Edinburgh – Scotland’s Capital

This picturesque city is home to an array of historical landmarks, museums, and a vibrant nightlife scene. Top attractions in Edinburgh include Edinburg castle, Holyrood Palace, Museum of Scotland and the Royal Botanic garden. To enjoy the panoramic views of the city, one can trek up Calton Hill and to absorb the Scottish charm, a walk on the main street called the Royal mile in the old town is a must.

2. Glasgow, Scotland – A Dynamic City with a Rich History

Glasgow, located in the west of Scotland, is a bustling metropolis with something for everyone. Glasgow’s impressive architecture includes extravagant Victorian buildings, Italianate palazzo facades, and Art Nouveau designs reminiscent of Gaudi.  One can visit, the Glasgow Cathedral, Kelvingrove Art Gallery, and a variety of museums and galleries here. Apart from such world renowned museums and galleries, Glasgow also has buzzing nightlife and excellent shopping scene.  I did spend my maximum time shopping here. Of all the cities in UK that my sister has stayed in, Glasgow is one place, she swears by for shopping.

From Glasgow, I also visited Stirling Castle, which was the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots and James VI. It is situated overlooking the River Forth, at the meeting point between Lowlands and Highlands.

 

3. Isle of Skye, Scotland -Breathtaking Natural Beauty

I made my Scotland trip primarily to visit The Isle of Skye. The largest of the Inner Hebrides (Archipelago off the west coast of the Scottish mainland), this is an absolutely mesmerizing destination with striking landscapes, dramatic sea cliffs, unique rock formations, and cascading waterfalls. Some of the must-see attractions on the Isle of Skye include the Quiraing, the iconic Old Man of Storr, and the enchanting Fairy Pools in Glen Brittle.  This place was so so beautiful in the summers, every pitstop that we took was a destination in itself. There are various options to go to Isle of Skye.

  1. By Train and  Bus- You can take a direct train from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh on a service that takes around 2.5 hours. From Kyle of Lochalsh, you can take a public bus to Broadford (the second-biggest settlement in Skye) or hire a car. Edinburg or Glasgow do not have direct trains to Kyle of Lochash. One needs to come till Inverness.
  2. By Train, Ferry and Bus combination– Glasgow to Mallaig by direct train and then from Mallaig you get a ferry. The Mallaig to Skye, ferry is a popular choice for people who like scenic journeys and aren’t short on time. The 30-minute ride takes you from mainland Mallaig to Armadale, on Skye’s south coast. These ferries accept both pedestrians and passengers with vehicles. But no matter whether or not you’re taking a car from Mallaig to Skye, make sure you book your Mallaig ferry in advance. Once you reach Skye, one would need to do bus to travel.
  3. By Bus– There are direct buses for Portree in Isle of Skye from Glasgow and Edinburg and Inverness. You can even book a day’s bus tour to Isle of Skye from Inverness.
  4. Driving on own (Car) – We did this and it was most convenient for the flexibility it provided.

Here’s how to reach Portree from four of Scotland’s most popular access points if you plan to drive on your own:

  • Glasgow: This route is around 220 miles (355km) and typically takes about 5 hours. Of the four options we’ve outlined here, it’s the prettiest route along the A82 and A87.
  • Edinburgh: The journey from Edinburgh to Portree is around 240 miles (385km), and it’ll take you between 5 and 6 hours.
  • Inverness: You can either take the A832 route (the first part of the iconic North Coast 500) or the A82/A87 route along Loch Ness and some other famous parts of the Highlands. Both routes measure in at around 120 miles (195km) and take 3 hours.
  • Fort William: A lovely drive along the A82 and A87. The route is about 110 miles (175km) and takes around 2.5 hours.

Our route was Glasglow- Kyle of Lochalsh – Isle of Skye . We had booked a cottage near  Cairngorms National Park  for 3 nights, cost of the last-minute planning during summers or else it would have made a little more sense to stay in Isle of Skye to save more time. Nonetheless, with my brother in law’s enthusiasm we still covered most of the places in Isle of Skye.  Here’s is  a snapshot.

4. Glen Coe, Scottish Highlands -Famous for its iconic mountain range and stunning scenery.

Glen Coe has been designated as both a national nature reserve as well as part of a national scenic area. From Harry Potter to James Bond, Glen Coe is also a favorite with film fans, using Glen Coe’s dramatic scenery as their film backdrop. Glen Coe is around 120 miles from Edinburgh by car (2.5 hours), 90 miles from Glasgow (2 hours), 16 miles from Fort William (30 minutes) and 85 miles from Inverness (2 hours).

Honestly, continuing to drive in such places is a hard thing to do for its sheer beauty. You would want to stop every 5 min as the scene changes from one marvel to another. This definitely tops my list as one of the best places to be in Scotland  Ideal place for camping, hiking, mountain biking, photography and getting outdoors.  You know they say attachment is the reason of all pains. I was getting attached to this place not wanting to miss anything, trying to hold all of its charm in my camera but in vain. Lack of time and road rules didn’t let the Indian in me stop anywhere and everywhere as and when I wished .

 

5. Fort William, Scotland – Gateway to the Highlands and Ben Nevis

We visited Fort Williams and Ben Nevis while returning from Inverness. Fort William had an amazing old world charm. It had colors despite being British in every way and Ben Nevis had amazing views from the top

  • Fort William, a town in the Scottish Highlands, is an ideal base for exploring the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.  Must-do is hop aboard The Jacobite steam train. Made famous by the Harry Potter movie franchise, the train follows the West Highland Line over the spectacular Glenfinnan Viaduct.
  • Ben Nevis – The highest mountain in the British Isles, offering various outdoor activities like fishing, golfing, skiing, mountain biking, and climbing.  Easy to discern from Fort William on a clear day, it’s an impressive sight, and one that draws many a-hiker, both amateur and hardcore alike. Despite its elevation, the ascent can be achieved in around 2.5 hours. And it’s well worth it for the spectacular views, extending as far as 150 miles across the Scottish Highlands and as far as Ireland. For non hikers, there is a cable car that takes you to the top for the same views.

 

6. Loch Ness, Scotland -Home to the Legendary Loch Ness Monster

No no.. there are no monsters now even if they were at any point of time before.  But yes, Loch Ness did its popularity, for its alleged mythical resident, the Loch Ness monster.  Loch Ness was part of our return journey via Inverness. We did the cruise on this lake and visited the ruins of Urquhart Castle on the lake shore.  To my surprise , I also found a poster with picture of Yash Chopra which mentioned that he had come there hunting ideal places for his movie shoots. I was proud at an instant.

7. St. Andrews, Scotland -Home of Golf and Historical Sites

St. Andrews, a charming town in Scotland, is best known as the home of the world-famous Golf Course at St. Andrews Links, the oldest in the world. Scotland invented the game of golf by the way. The town of St Andrews also boasts several historical buildings and monuments, including St. Andrews Cathedral and Castle, apart from being a perfect place to relax and enjoy the Scottish countryside.

 

8. Loch Lomond, Scotland -The Queen of Scottish Lakes

Loch Lomond, located in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, is renowned for its dramatic scenery and abundant wildlife. We were here again on our way back to Glasgow. The lake is huge and around it one can enjoy hiking, fishing, and camping etc.  The most popular entry point is on the western shore of the lake via a pretty little village called Luss. What you see is variety of stone houses decorated with flowers, on either side of the road that leads to the lake. Romantic it was!

 

9. Cairngorms National Park, Scotland -A Mountain Wilderness with Diverse Wildlife

Cairngorms National Park, one of Scotland’s two national parks and Uk’s largest, sits within the country’s northeast region. The park is home to five of Scotland’s highest peaks and boasts beautiful lochs, rivers, native forests, and a stronghold for Scotland’s wildlife.  It offers masses of things to do including watersports, snowsports, wildlife watching, and some incredible high and low level walking and cycling routes.

 

10. North Coast 500 – Scotland’s ultimate road trip

The best for the last – Scotland’s most scenic road trip. Bringing together a route of just over 500 miles of stunning coastal scenery, white sandy beaches, rugged mountains, remote fishing villages, hidden gems, and a wealth of unforgettable experiences; the North Coast 500 is one of the world’s most beautiful road trips. They say views are breathtaking in the Highlands, but the far north is where things become truly awe-inspiring. The North Coast 500 starts and ends in the city of Inverness, and loops past the lochs, sand dunes and golf courses of the east coast before taking in the remote cliffs and beaches of Cape Wrath, the rugged peaks of Assynt and Torridon’s desolate beauty.  This would ideally require a week but truly memorable and journey of a lifetime.

The curved Kylesku Bridge which crosses Loch a’ Chàirn Bhàin in the Highlands of Scotland and forms part of the North Coast 500 scenic driving route

 

Hmm.. Scotland has already taken most of the space in my list now, let me do some justice to the other marvels of United Kingdom primarily in England

 

11.  Lake District in Cumbria region – England’s largest national park

Hauntingly beautiful part of North -West England that once inspired Wordsworth and alike. When I visited the St Oswald’s Church, Grasmere where Mr. William Wordworth was buried once upon a time, it was a weird feeling. Jesus! I used to recite Wordsworth poems in school during competitions. Love it when the books and travel connect in such inspiring ways.

About Lake District – A UNESCO world heritage site, this is 885 sq mile of region in northern England. Known for its stunning landscapes, mountains, villages, and, as the name suggests, numerous lakes almost close to 16. The lakes in the region are a result of the last ice age.  Apart from lakes, this region boasts of picturesque English villages. Here’s a list of villages in the region each with it’s unique charms and appeal.

  1. Ambleside: Situated at the northern tip of Lake Windermere, Ambleside is a charming town with a bustling atmosphere. It serves as a popular base for exploring the surrounding fells and lakes.
  2. Windermere: Although often associated with the lake of the same name, Windermere is also a town. It’s the largest settlement in the area and offers various shops, restaurants, and attractions.
  3. Grasmere: This quaint village is famous for its association with the poet William Wordsworth. Visitors can explore Wordsworth’s former home, Dove Cottage, and enjoy the scenic beauty of Grasmere Lake.
  4. Keswick: Located near Derwentwater, Keswick is a bustling market town surrounded by mountains. It’s a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and offers a range of outdoor activities.
  5. Coniston: Nestled beside Coniston Water, Coniston is a peaceful village surrounded by stunning landscapes. It’s a great starting point for exploring the Old Man of Coniston, a prominent fell in the region.
  6. Hawkshead: This charming medieval village is known for its narrow streets, traditional cottages, and connections to Beatrix Potter. The author spent time in Hawkshead, and you can visit her former residence.
  7. Bowness-on-Windermere: Situated on the eastern shore of Lake Windermere, Bowness-on-Windermere is a popular tourist destination with shops, restaurants, and attractions like the World of Beatrix Potter Attraction.
  8. Ullswater: While not a village itself, Ullswater is one of the stunning lakes in the Lake District, surrounded by several smaller settlements like Glenridding and Pooley Bridge. The landscapes around Ullswater are particularly beautiful.

 

I would remember Lake District for one more reason and that is our personal experience in the middle of the night during our visit here, last summer. We started from Plymouth (Southern England) on a Friday just around lunch; took almost 7.5-8 hrs to reach our accommodation in Lake District (Cumbria region that borders Scotland), which we had booked through booking.com

Not even in our wildest dreams, we could imagine that the same accommodation was booked by some 10 other guests due to a technical error in the booking system and since morning the owner was shooing people away. It was already 9.30-10pm by the time we understood what the owner was trying to explain. Due to high travel season, he didn’t have a single additional room for people to accommodate. 10-11.30 went into making multiple calls being made to booking.com whose customer in charge person at that time was somewhere on vacation in Canada.

Here in this part of the world, in our chosen hotel, the owner wanted to switch off the lights and close the reception.  To add to the drama it started raining too.  We had no choice but to sit inside our car in pitch dark, while on the outside, my brother in law, Rahul, continued making calls to booking.com in that drizzle and dark.

I don’t know why English people want to save so much on electricity bill especially in ghostly dark places or it their way of showing respect and giving space to their classic generation lying in graves. I would say, though Lake district has become pretty popular with tourists now, it still stays true to its old tag (until mid-nineteenth century) of being barren and frightful at least during nights. Anyway !

Around 12, finally booking.com arranged another hotel for us. Of course, in another village at a driving distance of around 30 min as everything was going full. I have to appreciate my sister, brother in law and especially my nephew for their immense patience. The little kid didn’t complain of anything despite such a long journey, no hotel, no dinner.

No one lost the cool. No one spoke badly with booking.com or the hotel owner.  This was a lesson for me. This is the perfection, what we seek outside should come from within.

12. Cornwall – Sun and sand in the British land

Cornwall is located in the southwestern part of England. Known for its rugged coastline, expansive beaches, chic hotels, picturesque villages, and rich heritage, it is a favorite filming location for many British TV series. My Favorite too.  I couldn’t believe being in England when I visited Cornwall. It had colors . There were sunny beaches too though the water wasn’t really warm 🙂 But we did try our luck in those chilly waters with swimming costumes on.  From Plymouth where I was staying with my sister and brother in law, Cornwall is reachable within 2 hrs so almost every other summer weekend it was on our agenda.  With so many places to see, it did require a few weekends and enough planning including preparing our picnic basket before start.

Here’s is a list of things one can do in Cornwall

  • Visit open air  Jubilee pool (Geo thermal) in Penzance for comfortable swimming
  • Walk the causeway to St Michael’s Mount in Penzance – One of the most famous places to visit in Cornwall
  • Minack Theatre, Porthcurno – Minack Theatre overlooks the Atlantic. This unusual amphitheatre was carved into the cliff face by lady called Rowena Cade as a place for local theatre groups to gather and perform. The turquoise sea, dolphins and beautiful sunsets all provide the perfect backdrop for the theatrical performances set at the Minack. The beach below the theatre is where we spent the most time eating, drinking, sun-bathing and playing in water.
  • Kynance Cove, the Lizard – This was my find among the places to go in our list. Turquoise waters meeting the dramatic cliffs at Kynance Cove, makes it one of the most photogenic beaches of Cornwall.
  • Fistral Beach, Newquay -Surfers flock to Newquay, the home of British surfing, to ride waves at this world-famous beach break.
  • Land’s End -Land’s End is the most westerly point of mainland England. To the east of it is the English Channel, and to the west the Celtic Sea. Here, you see the cliffs and crashing waves, and nothing but the Isles of Scilly between you and America. Quite windy but we tried walking as far as possible at both ends.

13. Devon – Best of both Worlds

I was in Devon as Plymouth comes under Devon region in South west England. Devon is bordered by the Bristol Channel to the north, Somerset and Dorset to the east, the English Channel to the south, and Cornwall to the west. Devon has best of both worlds. On one hand it has beautiful coastline featuring dramatic cliffs, beaches that are popular for surfing and on the other hand, it has gorgeous National Parks like Dartmoor and Exmoor which add the surreal drama to Devon’s landscape.  Below is my favorite spot in Plymouth.

 

And this is Dartmoor national park where we could easily drive to in the evenings. I so wished we had drives like this near my city too.

 

14 The Cotswolds :  English Countryside

Also, designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty alongside places in Devon, Cornwall, it is a region in central-southwest England, along a range of rolling hills that rise from the meadows of the upper River Thames to an escarpment above the Severn Valley and Evesham Vale. Cotswolds features landscapes you’d see in Romantic paintings, quaint towns and villages built from honey-colored stones, landscaped gardens and canals that add to the whole charm.

Cotswolds UK by Travel Jaunts
Cotswolds UK by Travel Jaunts

15. London – The happening city

Big Ben London by Travel Jaunts
Big Ben London by Travel Jaunts

Last but not the least, everyone’s favorite – London. Those who get tired of countryside and quite places in UK, please make your way to history-laden London, the UK’s multicultural capital with art, activities and events.  My first visit to London was when my son was just 11 months old. It hasn’t changed as much as Bangalore in last 15 years. Still recognizable from its popular landmarks like Big Ben and the Cathedral.

This time we went to London to attend a boat party on Thames. Witnessed the same scenes for one more time from the boat while singing, dancing and eating the cold food. Cold food was the only not so appealing part here.

Tower Bridge London by Travel Jaunts
Tower Bridge London by Travel Jaunts

 

From London, one can visit Stonehenge as well. However, don’t get disappointed when you just see big stones kept there in an unusual fashion, making you wonder,’ For this I came here’?   This place is about energy they say, which is similar to Machu Pichu and alike. It is a place to wonder and wander. I had been here long back when my son was just 11 months. This time I already had a lot to do in my bucket list given the time I had. Wales and Northern Ireland too are of course missing from my list here, as I have yet to visit them.  Probably in my next trip. Till then Ciao! Keep traveling and keep living every moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About the author

The author is a Marketing Management graduate,currently living in Bengaluru India.Has traveled to more than 24 states in India and has been to 30+ countries apart from her extensive travel within India. She has the experience of traveling alone, traveling with her kid, and traveling in groups, with family or friends. She believes, traveling, photography and writing makes her life not only beautiful but also meaningful. Visit her blog at https://www.traveljaunts.in/blog-travel-jaunts/ for more

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