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A Wee Guide to Seeing the Real Scotland

How to get off the beaten track when traveling in Scotland.

What is Scotland really all about? Is it more like Hogwarts or Trainspotting? Does everyone have a cute accent or is more like nails on a chalkboard? The reality is always going to be somewhere in between. Like any country, Scotland has some beautiful parts and some not so beautiful parts. If you’re planning a visit, you’ll want to seek out the beautiful bits, but without feeling like you’re not getting a real sense of what Scotland is really all about. You can discover the real Scotland if you only know where to go and what to do to understand the country.

Go Beyond Edinburgh

For many visitors to Scotland, especially if they’re coming from farther away than other parts of Europe, Edinburgh is likely to be their first experience. A lot of people will start in London, travel to Edinburgh and perhaps hit some other hotspots like Stonehenge, maybe jetting over to Ireland to experience Dublin too. But if you want to see the real Scotland, make sure Edinburgh isn’t your only experience. It’s definitely a key part of what makes Scotland an incredible place to visit, but it’s not the only place to be. If you do visit, think carefully about whether you want to be there in August. This is when the international arts festival and Fringe Festival are running, so it gets very busy – and many locals leave for the month.

Travel By Train

If you want to see lots of Scotland, traveling by train is a great idea. An ordinary commuter train is fun on its own, but there are some special journeys you could also consider booking yourself onto. There are even steam trains to try out. One good idea is to consider a Scotrail pass. You can get four or eight days unlimited travel by train, boat and coach, and enjoy a hop-on and hop-off service. These passes are excellent if you want to create an itinerary that will take you across Scotland and show you everything that the country has to offer.

Take the Cheap with the Luxury

You can travel in style in Scotland if you really want to. There are luxury hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants that will keep you completely comfortable during your trip. But if you want a real experience when you’re visiting Scotland, you have to try some of the things that ordinary, local people love too. From fish and chips (and various other fried foods) to Irn Bru (a super sweet, super orange soda) and spending your time in the pub, you have to spend at least a little time living like a local.

Connect with Nature

Scotland offers hundreds of stunning landscapes that you won’t forget in a hurry. But if seeing them from a train isn’t enough, you should get right into them and enjoy what they have to offer. You can wild camp, giving you an opportunity to sleep under the stars, or you can discover some more comfortable glamping opportunities too. If you feel like a challenge, you could take on Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles. Or if you would rather be on two wheels, there are many places for cycling and mountain biking too.

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Go to the Middle of Nowhere

You can enjoy the outdoors not far from one of Scotland’s cities, but if you really want to get away from it all, you can spend the night in a bothy. A bothy is a former croft, shepherd’s hut or farmstead that is no longer in use (for its original purpose). These are off the grid and totally tranquil – but also hidden away. You have to be determined to find them, and well prepared too. This makes them a unique Scottish experience that will help you get to know the country better. Check out the book Scottish Bothy Bible to find out where some of them are and how to find them.

Go to a Ceilidh

It might be a little corny, and maybe not something that the typical Scottish person would do every day. But just because it’s not necessarily an everyday activity, doesn’t mean it’s something to avoid altogether. Experiencing a real Scottish ceilidh just once is a great way to party and learn something new about Scottish history, culture and traditions. If you really want to commit, you could even put on a kilt. Or you could just stick to sampling the local single malts.

Spend New Year in Scotland

One great way to feel like a local wherever you go is to be there for a special event. New Year’s Eve is a big deal in many places, and especially in Scotland. NYE, or Hogmanay as it’s known by the locals, is a particularly big production in Edinburgh. The streets are packed and there are fireworks aplenty, so you’re sure to feel a bit at home while also enjoying the delights of the beautiful city. And, of course, Scotland is the home of poet Robert Burns (although he was from Dumfries, not Edinburgh), who wrote the words to Auld Lang Syne, so there’s no better place to sing it.

Start Picking Up the Local Language

You’re not alone if you sometimes struggle to understand a Scottish accent. You think you’re fine with it because you can understand David Tennant or Karen Gillan, but then you arrive in Glasgow or try to watch Trainspotting, and it turns out you’re not so familiar with it after all. Unfortunately, you can’t subtitle people in real life, so it’s a good idea to try and get to grips with the range of Scottish accents before your trip. As well as the accents, it’s a good idea to pick up some of the local lingo. The Scottish dialect is rich and it can be great fun to play with too. You’ll find lots of Scottish slang guides to give you a little crash course – try listening on Youtube to make sure you say things correctly.

Scotland might only be a small country but it’s also mighty. How can it not be, when the national animal is the unicorn?

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