I was born in Scotland and moved to Texas at the ripe old age of 5-years-old. Since all of my extended family still lives in the port city of Aberdeen, my family has taken the leap across the pond for just about every summer I can remember growing up. Fast forward twenty plus years and some of my favorite memories of the last couple of summers have been bringing Joe back to my home-away-from-home to experience all of the family fun, greenery, and of course, drinking that we can fit into a two week span!
There are a million things to do in Scotland, so I feel sure that my short little list of things to do won’t even begin to cover the highlights, but here are some of my favorite recommendations for anyone visiting the Eastern side of Scotland during the summer months.
Would one of my adventure posts really be complete without introducing you to some glute burners? I think not! Scotland boasts a list of Munros—any mountain in the country that stands above 3,000 feet and boy, does the hard work pay off with these guys!
Views, views, views! This hike is nothing but scenic. You can take a different route up the mountain and back down it, which I would highly recommend. The total trek of about 16 miles will treat you to lakes (or as the Scots call them “lochs”), rivers, and even a stunning waterfall!
Not so much of a vertical hike, but will tire you out all the same! Lairig Ghru takes you 24 miles through the Central Cairngorms valley. You’ll cross rivers on the way. Make sure to watch your step, too! A large portion of the trek requires traversing over small boulders, so will take every bit of your focus to avoid a broken ankle! Also important: you will start and end the hike at a different end, so will need to arrange a car pickup ahead of time through a service like Gerry’s Taxis. The ride back to the parking lot takes about 90 minutes, so the perfect opportunity for a power nap after you’ve exhausted yourself on the hike!
The Touristy Side of Edinburgh
Scotland’s capital city will fill your touristy desires while giving you a good taste of Scottish history. We took the train from Aberdeen to Edinburgh (which takes about 2-3 hours) and opted for a quick day trip. Check out Scott Monument, where a panoramic view of the city awaits you. Brave the crowds and take the audio tour at Edinburgh Castle to provide you with a real-life history lesson. Once you’re done there, walk down the Royal Mile. Take in all of the street performers and souvenir shops with all kinds of Scottish knick knacks! Bonus points: stop by Whiski Rooms near the Royal Mile and try their Haggis Spring Rolls. Such a good twist on a local delicacy!
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a total golf nerd. So, coming to St. Andrews—the home of golf—always feels extra special to me.
Each of the two times I have visited St. Andrews in the past, it has only been for the day. So this time, we made a mini trip out of it. The Old Course Hotel is the most fantastic experience for golf fans visiting St. Andrews. Perfectly situated on, you guessed it, The Old Course, this hotel is widely recognized as one of Europe’s leading resorts. They have a world-class spa outfitted by Kohler. It comes complete with a thermal room that includes a pool-sized jacuzzi and, our personal favorite, an icy cold plunge pool! Each room in the hotel is also themed with legends of The Old Course. Special thanks to The Old Course Hotel for treating us to a room with the best views of the iconic 17th “Road Hole”. I could have stood and looked out that window forever!
Getting a tee time on The Old Course mostly requires a little luck, but sometimes insiders’ secrets help too! The typical method of securing your spot is by calling ahead of time and requesting to be put on the ballot. This is essentially a lottery for tee times where names are drawn two days ahead of time. If you’re like us and didn’t luck out by being drawn in the ballot, don’t fret.
There’s another well-kept secret way to get on this historic course. “Dark Times” are late afternoon tee times. No guarantees you will complete your round with these. Fortunately, the summer daylight hours in Scotland stretch late into the evening (until around 9-10pm in July). You will still have a really good chance of making it through all 18 holes. Members of the Old Course have first dibs on these times, but if they haven’t booked their time up to 30 minutes prior, you’re hitting the links!
Playing a round of golf at The Old Course is always worth it. We played in cold, sideways rain for almost the entire round and I don’t think my smile left my face at any point that day! And thankfully, the world-famous Golfers’ Corner Pub in the Dunvegan Hotel is conveniently located right off the 18th green so you can grab a pint of beer right after the round!
If you’ve had your fill of golf, the town of St. Andrews is beautiful, quaint, and perfect for a wander around. The most important piece of history from the town? My royal favorites Will and Kate met right there at the University of St. Andrews! 😉
The Banchory Lodge was recently voted the 3rd best restaurant view in the UK and for obvious reasons. Situated in Banchory, just outside of Aberdeen, The Lodge is far enough outside of the city for some peace and quiet. Add in a beautiful location right on the River Dee and you have a wonderful, tranquil setting! You might even get to see a show of fly fishermen casting for that night’s dinner 😉 This year, my cousin got married there, and let me tell you, the scene was a dream!
Scotch & Gin Tasting
It is no secret that the Scots can drink. I blame it on the cold weather because a liquid blanket always cozies you up, right?!
Scotch whisky, is as Scottish as the kilt and the Highland Cow, so it is absolutely worth visiting a distillery or two while you’re there! Near Aberdeen, visit Glen Garioch for your whisky tour and tasting experience. If you’re interested in venturing out a bit, head to Aviemore for the Malt Whisky Trail. The trail is home to distilleries famous worldwide like The Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, and several more.
On top of that, gin in the UK is having a major moment right now, so distilleries are popping up left, right, and center. I have to say, this nippy liquor has never done it for me in the past, but this new wave of gin has really convinced me! We stopped by the Eden Mill distillery, located just a few miles out of St. Andrews, and grabbed a bottle to take home. They offer all kinds of different blends. We opted for the Golf blend because, well…duh! It has a fresh taste that’s perfect for the 19th hole 😉 If you’re looking to do a tour or a tasting at Eden Mill, be sure and book in advance as they tend to sell out.
How lucky am I to get to claim such a beautiful place as my birth land?! It makes my heart happy to think about all of the fun memories shared with family and friends in this wonderful and enchanting country. I look forward to our annual trip every year!