My friend, Rachel, and I planned a big trip for when she came to visit me over Paddy’s Day: 4 days in Ireland, 2 days in Scotland, and 3 days in London. It was an absolutely incredible journey, but the only thing I regret about it is that we didn’t have enough time in Scotland. What an amazingly cool and beautiful country.

We had a rough start having to get to the airport in Dublin at 4:00 a.m. the morning after St. Patrick’s Day. We were trying to optimize Rachel’s time here and wanted to cram in as much as we could, and while it was well worth it, we were absolutely exhausted by day’s end. After landing in Edinburgh, we rented a car so we could tour the Highlands, and it was the best decision we made the whole time there. If you’re planning a trip, especially to a place like Scotland, RENT A CAR. It’s completely unnecessary in cities like London or New York, but if you’re going anywhere that heavily advertises its scenery, renting a car is a must. It allows you to drive to all the secluded areas you absolutely must see, you’ll have the most picturesque view of the country (a million times better than you’d get on a smoggy bus).

Driving along, we headed towards Sterling and took the national roads from there towards the North West. Again, FOLLOW OUR LEAD here. The motorways might get you to places faster, but it won’t be half as nice as the drive we had. With magnificent weather, we headed towards Ben Nevin, driving along the mountainsides in the Highlands as we went.

Being crazy book worms/huge fans of the chosen one, our trip had a major air of Harry Potter to it. Our first big stop was at Glenfinnan Viaduct. This is the railway that J.K. Rowling chose to be featured in the films for the shots of the Hogwarts Express. It was gorgeous! We parked our car about a kilometer away, and walked along the fields to get up close and personal with this major movie icon. I’ve about 50 pictures of this site, and it still wasn’t enough to capture the essence of the Viaduct.

Next, we continued our journey up to Loch Ness. We decided to drive around it’s perimeter, just in case we happened to miss Nessie at one end of the Loch. Sadly, she did not appear to us. With legends about sightings of this creature starting as early as 550 BC, and the incredible things we learned about Loch Ness (like how stacking three Big Bens on top of one another would still not be enough to make it to the bottom of the lake), I’m choosing to believe that such a monster has, or may still, exist. She’s just outsmarted us all!

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After a long and exhausting day of sight-seeing, we returned to Edinburgh for a good night’s sleep. We stayed at a cute little B&B called Averon, and were delighted with the service. The place felt completely Scottish, from it’s staff wearing kilts, to the live Scottish music at nights, as well as the rooms themselves, I would definitely recommend staying here if you’re ever in Edinburgh. Great price, amazingly accommodating staff, and right in the heart of everything you’ll wanna see during your stay here.

In the morning, we started things off by heading to Edinburgh castle. As someone who’s living in Ireland, the place where castles multiply, and who firmly believes that “if you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all,” I absolutely recommend you add this one to your “to see” list. What made the Edinburgh castle so fantastic was that it was not simply a boring history lesson about a single structure, but was, in fact, like walking into the surrounding community as it used to be hundreds of years ago. It has tons to offer, with plenty of small museums within it’s grounds, a sexy red-headed Scottish tour guy, not to mention a wonderful whisky shop where you can sample the whisky before you buy it or, if you’re feeling really ambitious, drop 14,000 pounds to buy the bottle in picture 9. It was an incredible experience, and we learned a lot. You’ll be happy you did it.

Leaving the castle, after purchasing my Tam O’ Shanter (obviously), we walked down the Royal Mile where we stumbled across a Writer’s Museum quaintly tucked away in one of the side streets, as well as the award-winning tour of The Real Mary King’s Close. There’s tons to do and see on the mile. We simply enjoyed our walk, ending up where we ended up, while taking in the absolutely stunning architecture that surrounded us. The best part about this walk is that it is completely buzzing with life, from the buskers in the street, to the men playing bagpipes, and the people who show up so you can hold an owl for 3 pounds.

But nothing could compare to the Elephant House, where we sat and ate our lunch at the exact table and seat that J.K. Rowling herself wrote the very first Harry Potter book: The Philosopher’s Stone. Coined as the birth place of Harry Potter, the café itself is super cool with delicious food, a great crowd, and the millions of elephant knick-knacks that tie it all together. It was really quite the bonus to sign the bathroom where many Potter fans signed before us – if I were you, I’d get there ASAP. We were hard pressed to find a place to sign.

(Note: for you like-minded, crazy HP fans, there’s a cemetery located behind the café where you can find the apparently-not-one-and-only Tom Riddle’s tombstone.)

Scotland was beautiful, it was breathtaking, it was mesmerizing and I’d go back tomorrow if my lack of funds would allow it. We completely fell in love with this place, and it is easily in my top 5 for best trips. Whether you choose to keep it local in one of its main cities, or drive along its national roads to see the unique and distinctive beauty that is Scotland, I promise you it will not disappoint. If I knew just how magnificent this place was going to be, I would have stayed longer, so be sure to give yourself as much time as possible to really get to know the land, the culture, and the people, because Scotland is, without a doubt, worth getting to know.

Until I return,

If you’re already planning your trip, here’s a few facts for you to keep in mind and which will make you fall in love with Scotland even more:

  1. The official animal of Scotland is the Unicorn, and the official flower, the thistle.
  2. Edinburgh was the first city in the world to have its own fire brigade.
  3. Golf originated here.
  4. The first two Prime Ministers of Canada were Scottish (John A. MacDonald and Alexander Mackenzie).
  5. It has the highest proportion of redheads in the world, with 40% of the population carrying the recessive gene.
  6. Many pubs in Glasgow have a “no football colours allowed” policy because, as the third most violent city in the world, walking into a pub in the wrong colours could incite a brawl.
  7. Scotland has 790 islands, 130 of which people are currently living.
  8. Sean Connery, Gerard Butler, and Ewan McGregor are all Scottish: born and raised.

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