Oh sweet Scotland … how can I describe my feelings for you? You are like being curled up under a soft blanket by a fire with a cup of coffee and some favorite people to talk to. You are cozy and peaceful and full of favorites. It seems that everywhere in Scotland is a good choice to visit … and there are several places still on our list we want to go that we didn’t have time for, but here are our tips for where to go on your first trip to Scotland!
First of all we highly recommend the Caledonian Sleeper Train for getting to Scotland. It runs from various locations; we took it from London to Edinburgh, and it was awesome. There are more details about that on our post about Multi Location Trips. Our stay in Scotland was only 4 days, and we wanted to experience as much as possible so we rented a car. Everywhere you go in Scotland it’s like you are in one big national park. The roads pretty much all have great views … even if you are driving from the wrong side of the car and on the wrong side of the road!
So where all should you go in Scotland? There are so many great choices. For our first trip to Scotland, some of our choices might be on a typical list and some might surprise you. We absolutely loved our itinerary and want to share it!
Edinburgh is the perfect place to go on your first trip to Scotland! We had one day in Edinburgh, and it was great!
First we had our favorite breakfast of our whole trip at the Edinburgh Larder. Amazing food, nice people, comfortable atmosphere … every one of us loved it.
Arthur’s Seat was next, and this area is so beautiful. We did part of the hike, but the wind was CRAZY, so we didn’t go too far.
And now for the crazy wind pic!
We walked along the Royal Mile to the Edinburgh Castle doing a little shopping along the way. Since we were limited on our time, had other castles to visit, and because the prices are a bit steep, we actually chose to just experience the Edinburgh Castle from the outside. The views alone, standing outside the castle, are amazing.
Next, eating at the Elephant House Café was on our itinerary since all of us are Harry Potter fans (books and movies). Sitting and eating at the same place J.K. Rowling sat and wrote most of the first Harry Potter book was very cool. The cafe overlooks the castle, and it is easy to see where some of her inspiration came from.
Okay, so when I was researching different castles to visit, I don’t feel like Dunnottar Castle got a whole lot of hype as compared to some others, but OH MY GOODNESS, this was my favorite!! Words can’t quite describe this castle on a hill on the coast of the North Sea.
We planned to visit Dunnottar Castle on the way from Edinburgh to our cottage rental, which was in Aberlour. It took us about 2 ½ hours from Edinburgh, and we were kind of chasing the sun to get to Dunnottar before dark, but we made it exactly at “golden hour,” and it was truly breathtaking.
There are so many amazing places to stay in Scotland (through Airbnb or direct rentals), but there were 2 that particularly grabbed me, and I knew I wanted our Scotland experiences to include them. This first one was a cottage named Glenarder in Speyside, Scotland (which is the town of Aberlour). This place is truly in the middle of the Scottish countryside with 360 degree views. A stone farmhouse cottage with a gravel drive and 2 gates to keep out neighboring sheep and cows, the Ben Rinnes Mountain out the front door, and beautiful rolling hills everywhere else.
Here you experience the colors and textures of Scotland … the softest greenest grass, mixed with the autumn color of the leaves, white puff ball sheep, and then the stone bridges and cottages … so colorful and picturesque.
We did do a little driving around and exploring in this little part of Scotland. We briefly checked out a distillery, and we got some amazing sandwiches and souvenirs from the cutest little shop called The Spey Larder. But most of our time here was at the cottage … walking, playing, drinking hot chocolate … just being together as a family and enjoying God’s beautiful creation. Josh said it was the least stressful place he’s ever been. I wish we could have stayed longer, and I certainly hope we get to go back again sometime.
Cairngorm National Park
Another favorite from our trip was visiting Cairngorm National Park and the Reindeer Center there. Check out our post “Playing Reindeer Games in Scotland” to read more about this amazing experience of an incredible hike and getting up close and personal with a free ranging reindeer herd!
Lower Largo / St. Andrews
After the Glenarder cottage, the next place we wanted to stay was the Periwinkle Beach House, and just like the cottage, it did not disappoint! We got to meet the sweet owners of this place who live next door, and they made us feel right at home. We loved playing and exploring along the beautiful coastline. And this beach is not just a flat stretch of sand, but is covered in big rocks to climb and find barnacles stuck to them, all kinds of little hermit crabs, periwinkle snails (where the beach house name comes from), and lots of pretty shells.
This beach house was only about a 20-30 minute drive to St. Andrews. We loved the little quaint town of St. Andrews. I think Josh is trying to convince our son to go to the university there! So many good restaurants and shops; then you’ve also got this remarkable, almost unthinkable history there … the St. Andrews Cathedral built in 1158!
And then of course there was The Old Course St. Andrews Links. This meant more for Josh than me, but it was so fun to see his excitement. I know he would have loved to actually play a round of golf there, but he said for this trip he didn’t want to take that time away from being with all of us. We did visit it and get to take some pictures there though.
A couple of great places we ate in this area:
The Cottage Kitchen (in St. Andrews) – We all tried haggis and black pudding here (in addition to lots of other yummy food and lattes). I was surprised the kids tried it, and even more surprised when they liked it!
Base (in Leven) – Kid-friendly, one of the nicest servers we’ve ever met, and possibly the best carbonara I’ve ever eaten.
Our last night in Scotland was peaceful and relaxing … just as all our time in Scotland had been. We cooked and ate in the beach house and then played some more on the beach. We packed our things that night feeling so fulfilled and blessed. Our first trip to Scotland had been everything we dreamed it would be and so much more. We were ready to be home but also ready to dream about our next adventure together as a family.