Notched in a dramatic valley that was carved out by icy glaciers and volcanic explosions millions of years ago, Glen Coe is as scenic and other-worldly a destination as they come. Craggy mountain peaks provide the perfect playground for outdoor enthusiasts (from rock climbing and kayaking to skiing and mountain biking), while a leisurely drive through this epic landscape — watch for stags flecking the hillsides — will surely take your breath away. It’s no wonder 007 came here in Skyfall.
With its castles and mythic landscape, Scotland seems synonymous with the middle ages. But its history actually goes back 10,000 years. Perhaps no greater testament to this ancient past are the Calanais Standing Stones, a circular collection of ceremonial monoliths that predates the pyramids in Egypt. Stand among their grandeur at the Calanais Visitor Centre, which offers visitors an interactive tour of the famous grounds.
Scotland’s answer to Route 66? The North Coast 500, a 500-mile coastal drive that takes you through all the rugged beauty of the Highlands. Starting in the city of Inverness, you’ll weave along the west coast, passing white sand beaches, beguiling sea caves and iconic castles along the way. Majestic lochs and towering mountain passes complete the circuitous journey, but don’t overlook the local cuisine — from seafood and pies to a tipple at famous distilleries, pitstops are an absolute must.
Thanks to a mix of medieval history and cosmopolitan culture, Edinburgh is a hotspot on any traveler's list. Especially for fans of festivals. Celebrating its 70th anniversary as a festival city in 2017, Edinburgh will be the place to be next August. Check out the Edinburgh International Festival for classical music, opera, and dance, or opt for something more edgy by trying the world-renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where performing arts spill from the stage onto the streets.
Castles abound across Scotland’s epic landscape. But few evoke the fairytale grandeur of Dunrobin Castle. Located in the Northern Highlands, this 189-room residence is one of Britain's oldest continuously inhabited houses dating back to the early 1300s. It’s also the largest and most well-preserved of the Highlands castles, so be sure to tour its hallowed halls and stately gardens.
Site of the last (and one of the bloodiest) battles on Scottish soil, today Culloden Battlefield is an interactive outdoor/indoor museum that takes visitors back to that fateful day in April 1746. Relive how Jacobite and British forces clashed on this wind-swept more by following characters who were actually involved in the battle. You’ll also listen to Gaelic song and music, plus watch a film that recounts the hour-long battle which claimed 1,200 lives.
Located on the mainland of the Orkeny Archipelago, the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney” is a 5,000-year old settlement that was uncovered during a winter storm in 1850. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae is one of the best preserved groups of prehistoric houses in Western Europe. Tour a network of stone homes (replete with dressers, stone beds and hearths) that is perched above the Bay of Skaill.
Comprised of ornate stonework with biblical carvings, Rosslyn Chapel is steeped in mystery. Some people believe this 15th-century chapel was connected to the Freemasons, the Knights of Templar and even the Holy Grail (no wonder it featured prominently in The Da Vinci Code). Come see for yourself by taking a tour.
Step back in time by visiting The Royal Burgh of Culross (shooting location of the TV show Outlander), a perfectly preserved 16th-century village brimming with history. Wander cobblestone streets flanked by colorful, red-tiled buildings, visit the Town House (site of many a witch execution), and explore the rooms of Culross Palace, which are connected via a series of passageways.
Few historic sites in Scotland rival the magnificence of Melrose Abbey, a 15th-century ruin located in the bucolic heart of Sir Walter Scott’s beloved Scottish Borders region. Decorated with unusual sculptures (hobgoblins; a bagpipe-playing pig), the church is as whimsical as it is elegant, while the lush grounds are perfect for a deep, contemplative walk.