Scotland occupies the northern third of the Island of Great Britain. The country's rugged terrain, lush landscape, and rich history make it a popular tourist destination. From historic castles in Edinburgh to Scotch whiskey distilleries in the Highlands to legends of the Holy Grail, King Arthur, and the Loch Ness Monster, Scotland is intriguing, beautiful, and fun to explore.
Edinburgh Castle, which looms high above the city's Old Town, is the most visited paid tourist attraction in Scotland. Begun in the 12th century, the castle complex has been regularly expanded, right into the 21st century. Visitors can tour St. Margaret's Chapel (the oldest building in Edinburgh), the regimental museums, the royal palace, and the National War Museum of Scotland.
These two lochs or lakes are the stuff of legends. Loch Ness, the second largest in the country, is home to the legendary and elusive Loch Ness monster. The myth is perpetuated by the murky waters caused by the high concentration of peat. Loch Lomond, immortalized in the song of the same name, is located at the border between the Scottish highlands and the lowlands. It forms part of the lovely Trossachs National Park.
Built in the 16th century, Edinburgh's Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland and sits across from Edinburgh Castle at the other end of the Royal Mile. The extensive gardens and the historic apartments that were occupied by Mary, Queen of Scots are open to the public for most of the year.
The major shopping district in Edinburgh, Princes Street stretches one mile from Lothian Road to Leith Street. It is mostly closed to automobile traffic and provides scenic views of Edinburgh Castle and Old Town to the south. The street is home to some of Edinburgh's top retailers, including Boots, House of Fraser, and Marks and Spencer.
Rising at the eastern end of Holyrood Park, Arthur's Seat is a popular destination for hiking and climbing. The hill, which rises 822 feet, offers panoramic views of the City of Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside. Like the rock on which Edinburgh Castle sits, Arthur's Seat was formed on an extinct volcano. The rock is the mythic site of Camelot and King Arthur's Court.
Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, is located in the Scottish Highlands, at the western end of the Grampian Mountains, close to the City of Fort William. The 4,411-foot summit is a popular site for climbers, with more than 100,000 ascents each year. The North Face is particularly challenging.
Balmoral Castle, located in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, has been a private residence of the British monarch since 1852. The 50,000-acre estate is located within the Cairngorms National Park and is a working estate with grouse moors, farmland, and herds of deer, Highland cattle, and ponies. The castle gardens and the ballroom are open to the public.
The Scotch Whisky Experience (there's no "e" in whiskey in Scotland) in Edinburgh is the ideal stop to learn about all things whisky. The former Victorian school building offers exhibits of the history of Scotch whisky, the national drink of Scotland, along with a tasting room, a gift shop, and a restaurant that features dishes that complement the whisky.
Abbotsford House is a country house in the Scottish borders region that was once the residence of the author, Sir Walter Scott. The house and gardens have been open to the public since the mid-1960s, and the adjacent visitors center has exhibits on the life and works of Scott. The monument stands in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh and commemorates the works of this notable figure, along with 68 of his peers.
Rosslyn Chapel, made famous by the novel, "The Davinci Code," is located in Midlothian, outside of the Town of Roslin. The Roman Catholic-turned-Scottish Episcopal chapel was built in the 15th century and is noted for its carvings, rose windows and purported links to the legend of the Holy Grail and the Knights Templar.