Note – photo gallery at bottom of this post.
I’ve hinted at it in an earlier entry, but it would be fair to say that the time we spent in Scotland was not dissimilar to a pilgrimage for a Harry Potter fan. Not only did we visit a number of sites in Edinburgh that are absolutely sacred to any die-hard HP fan (thanks to the guidance of the Potter Trail), but we also went a little further afield into the Scottish Highlands – ostensibly to enjoy the beautiful scenery, but I also wanted to see some of the locations used in the Harry Potter films like the Glenfinnan viaduct, famous for carrying the Hogwarts Express.
Our overnight stay in the Highlands proved to be the absolute highlight of the time we spent in Scotland. While Edinburgh is undoubtedly a beautiful city with a lot to offer, the Scottish Highlands are something else altogether. At times wild and other times quite cultivated, it holds great appeal even for resolutely non-outdoorsy people like myself and K – so much so that we’re particularly keen to return for a longer driving holiday in the future.
The whole trip to the Highlands just went much better than we’d hoped for. First, ee rented a car far superior to any that we’ve ever driven before – a Mercedes A-Class, which actually wasn’t that much more expensive than the most basic model. Secondly, we got to stay in a gorgeous tiny riverside eco-cabin – as tiny as a ship cabin, and very cosy and romantic with the jacuzzi on the deck! Thirdly, the Highlands put on a wonderful sky show for us – blue skies for both days that we were in the area, which was particularly rare for a Scottish winter!
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, we had some excellent meals while we were there, far beyond the quality we expected in the small rural towns of the Highlands. Glencoe Cafe served us a simple but tasty soup and sandwich lunch, Laroch Bar and Bistro was Michelin-quality grub at pub prices…and the Jacobite Lounge was at least ambitious in their offerings though the execution left a little to be desired.
The scenery of the Highlands is obviously out of this world. Green hills, endless lochs, still waters, snow-capped mountains…the pictures in the photo gallery below speak for themselves. It was particularly pleasant for us to experience all this nature during that point in our trip, as we’d spent the past few weeks in quite large urban cities – it was nice to see some green again! The Scottish Highlands are a must-visit for anyone lucky enough to visit the UK – they absolutely cannot be missed.
As for Edinburgh itself, there’s a lot to recommend it as a holiday destination. A lot of people rush off to Edinburgh Castle as the main tourist site…and don’t get me wrong, if you hadn’t already visited a million castles around Europe, it’s pretty cool and very educational.
What I liked most however, were the smaller delights. Browsing through the many vintage and retro clothing stores in the city for example, could quite easily have occupied me for a whole day and emptied out my wallet and filled up my luggage…if I wasn’t already broke and at full luggage capacity. Sitting on a window seat at Mary’s Milk Bar and having a hot chocolate was another small delight that I indulged in more than once on our visit to Edinburgh.
One activity that I would highly recommend is visiting the Scottish Parliament. I know it sounds boring but it’s actually quite fascinating to learn about as the current incarnation of the parliament is actually one of the youngest in the world, and the building it’s housed in is particularly well designed with lots of symbolic design elements throughout. Do make sure to check their website beforehand and book yourself onto a free visitor’s tour – this allows you to actually step out onto the floor of the parliament where Scottish MPs debate. Times and dates do vary, so check online before you visit.
When it comes to food in Edinburgh, I’ve already mentioned our regular visits to Mary’s. I also enjoyed our visit to the Elephant House Cafe, to the White Hart Inn, and particularly to OX184. We also tried a deep-fried Mars Bar which proved to be much tastier than the version we’d tried at Crown Street Fish Shop in Sydney.
Speaking of chocolate…what really stands out are all the sweet treats that we indulged in! The highlight was the little bag of homemade Scottish tablet that we bought ‘off-menu’ and a pack of buttery shortbread at Nevis Bakery in the Highlands. The tablet was made at home by one of the girls in the bakery and was everything a good piece of tablet should be – buttery, creamy, sweet and caramely.
Just to make sure that the Nevis Bakery tablet was the best though, we tried at least two other store brands of tablet, not to mention three different types of shortbread. It’s important to be thorough when making final decisions of the quality of sweets!
I can’t wait to visit Scotland – and particularly the Highlands – again. With its variety of sweet treats that I love, some gorgeous scenery, and unexpectedly good grub, it has a lot to offer. Besides we didn’t drive up to Loch Ness on our trip, which has to be done next time – not for the monster, but to visit the Urquhart castle near it which is K’s Scottish family clan on his mother’s side.