For international travelers, London and the United Kingdom are sometimes seen as one and the same. As the gateway between Europe and North America, London is frequently explored by travelers looking to kill time between connecting flights. Also, all my experiences in London (except for one trip Mr. Misadventures and I made while living in France) were a result of business trips because most of the companies I worked for had offices in London!
This does the United Kingdom a real disservice, as England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are positively brimming with unique places and experiences just begging to be explored.
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For deep lovers of nature and outdoor adventures, the Scottish Highlands are incomparable. For many, a trip to Scotland means a few nights in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival followed by a guided tour to Inverness to get a glimpse of the Loch Ness monster. To truly experience the heart of Scotland, more than a few days are required. In particular, the highlands require weeks of in-depth travel to truly experience all it has to offer.
Take these five tips into account when planning your next Scottish getaway.
Rent a car
Mr. Misadventures and I are all about road trips and we rent cars nearly every place we visit. To properly experience the highlands, you’ll need to rent (or as they say on that side of the pond “hire”) a car. While travel by rail/train is a cost-saving option, many of the locations you’ll want to visit for this trip are quite a ways off the beaten path. Taking buses and trains will severely limit the amount of time you have available to explore.
Depending on the season, rental car prices are generally quite reasonable, especially if you know how to drive a stick shift (or “standard transmission”). Though driving on the left might seem a bit daunting, the roads are much less busy in the highlands, making it the perfect place to practice!
Pack proper clothing and gear
I love to write about this when it comes to Paris, but Scotland is a whole other ball game! The true draw of the highlands is its breathtaking scenery, which is undoubtedly best experienced with hill walking and hiking. Though visually stunning, the Scottish moors are often spongy and swampy, making rainboots (better known as wellies) or waterproof hiking boots essential on your packing list (check out the ones that Jambu has this fall/winter!). Ticks carrying Lyme disease are also something you should be mindful of, so ditch the shorts and pack trousers instead. These, along with the rest of your gear, should be waterproof. You never know when it might decide to rain in Scotland!
Take your time
To properly explore the Scottish highlands, you’ll need several weeks, or better yet, a month or two. This is exactly what I do every year when I travel to France. For this reason, you’re likely to find many travelers who are able to work remotely. Though it’s not possible for everyone, there are ways to improve your mobility while working – especially if you’re a freelancer or business owner. Setting up office addresses for your business makes it easier than ever to travel for extended periods of time. I did this when Mr. Misadventures and I were traveling for a year and a half in our RV.
It’s difficult to avoid thinking about the environmental impact of fast travel when you’re immersed in the untouched beauty of Scotland. Those with the means to engage in slow travel should do so. Not only is it more sustainable, but you’ll get to experience the highlands in a more intimate and rewarding way.
Don’t skip the islands
Did you know that Scotland is home to over 900 islands? A trip to the highlands would be incomplete without a visit to at least one of these. The islands are grouped into regions called Orkney and Shetland (off the north coast), and the inner and outer Hebrides (off the west coast).
Within the inner Hebrides is the Isle of Skye, the most popular destination in Scotland after the city of Edinburgh. Skye is accessible by bridge and contains some of the most stunning natural attractions, including the Cuillin mountains, fairy pools, and coral beach. A visit to Skye would be incomplete without a trip to Dunvegan Castle, which is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. From Skye, you can take a ferry to the island of Harris and Lewis, the home of the famous Harris Tweed.
For history lovers, the Orkney and Shetland Islands should make the list. The inhabitants of these islands have a culture distinct from any you’ll see elsewhere in the United Kingdom, due to centuries of Viking settlement. This influence can be seen in the food, festivals, and archaeology; the prehistoric settlement of Skara Brae should not be missed!
Pick your season carefully
If you don’t mind temperate weather, the best time to visit the highlands is in the spring, from around the beginning of April to the end of June. During the winter, many attractions, restaurants, and other important services are closed. The weather can also be very windy and wet, making for dangerous hiking conditions. This is exactly when Mr. Misadventures and I would visit, we LOVE visiting off-season!
Though the weather is generally a little warmer in the summer, from July to September, you can expect to be plagued by swarms of midges – tiny flying insects that bite and leave itchy welts. Attractions are also likely to be overcrowded at this time of year, making the experience much less enjoyable. September is usually less crowded, but the weather can sometimes take a turn for the worse. By mid-October, businesses close again for the winter.
As long as you consider the above, you’re well on your way to planning the perfect trip to the Scottish Highlands. Scotland has a way of leaving its mark on all those who visit – you might just find yourself planning a second trip before too long.
How about you? Have you been to Scotland? Have any additional tips to add? Do share!
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