Most of the places listed on my bucketlist are places abroad as some times we forget about all the brilliant spots to visit right on our doorstep. Living in the UK offers a wide range of cities, countryside, national parks and beaches not just in England but also in Wales and Scotland (and of course Northern Ireland, but you need to take a boat or aeroplane to get there).
The main reason for this Scottish Road Trip was to try and see the Northern Lights, which I may as well state now we did not manage to see. One of my oldest friends invited me and another friend on this trip and lucky for us she planned a lot of it. We did however get to plan our time in Edinburgh and in Aberdeen.
So, the Road Trip. Saturday to Wednesday, starting from my house in Norfolk before picking my friends up from Lincoln and Newcastle and heading straight to Edinburgh. The biggest tip I can give is take a big car, this is a road trip after all, you are likely to cover a lot of miles, it needs to be comfortable. Ideally you would have more than one driver but thankfully for my friends I love driving and drive a lot so it was a breeze (even the 10 hour drive home on the Wednesday).
Edinburgh is a beautiful city and in the grand scheme of things not that far into Scotland if you are visiting from England and going to be the number one stop on any Scottish road trip. We only had 24 hours in the city, staying in the Radisson Blu on the Royal Mile. I should probably point out this was a pricey road trip, I am sure you could do the same trip on a budget but we were lucky enough to have one of my friends pay for a lot of it. The Hotel was perfectly located and the rooms were huge with added extras like free fudge, shortbread and beer. The beds were also incredibly comfy!
When we first arrived we went for a walk around the city, stopping at all the little souvenir shops, purchasing tartan scarfs and local beverages. We also stumbled across Victoria Street which inspired Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books, with its colourful buildings and cobbled streets.
Calton Hill was only a few minutes walk from the City Centre and after climbing a fair few steps the view of the city is amazing. Calton Hill is also home to the National Monument, the Nelson Monument and the Dugald Stewart Monument. All great pieces of architecture worth seeing up close at any time of year.
It was finally time to go back to the Hotel and get changed, we only had one night in Edinburgh so choosing somewhere to eat was always going to be difficult. Thankfully my friend found an amazing Indian called Mother Indias Cafe which serves tapas sized dishes (costing between £4-6) which was a great way to sample a number of different dishes. After dinner it was time to go on a ghost walk which we had pre booked (costing £11). A variety of different ghost walks run in Edinburgh throughout the day and night. We had booked ours with City of the Dead Tours. The tour started at 8:30 and lasted for just over an hour. Our tour guide was really informative about the history of the city and the underground aspect definitely made this tour more unique (when I say unique I mean scary).
After the tour we had time to grab a drink from a bar next to our hotel, The Inn on the Mile. This place served delicious cocktails as well as the standard drinks you would expect. On this Saturday night (I am not sure if this is every Saturday night) they had some live music which can sometimes be a bit cringey but the two guys playing were really good and added to the experience.
We had already decided as part of our Edinburgh itinerary that we would climb Arthurs Seat, located in Holyrood Park it was formed by an extinct Volcano and although only 250m above the City, it is still fairly big. My friend decided we had to climb it in time to see the sunrise. So after a 6:20 AM wake up we grabbed a tea from Starbucks and headed towards Arthurs Seat in the pitch black. We started our ascent from the front entrance walking around the Salisbury Crags before turning left and taking a steep climb up some rocky steps before reaching a nice grassed area and starting the final ascent up slippy rocks to the summit of the mountain.
It was definitely worth the early start to get the views of the city and the coast as the sun rose, there were also very few people at the summit when we got there. The route we took was fairly easy, with the slippy rocks being the hardest part, make sure you wear walking boots and take warm clothing as it got ridiculously windy at the top. Thankfully we found a much easier route down, once descended from the slippy rocks we were able to walk straight down a grassed hill to the main road which runs all the way around Holyrood Park. There are a number of routes to walk around Holyrood Park and to the summit of Arthurs Seat and other parts of this park to see, which if you had longer in Edinburgh would be worth exploring.
After getting back to the hotel and devouring a substantial amount of breakfast (which was delicious) it was time to head out again. Now you can’t really go to Edinburgh without going to Edinburgh Castle. We pre booked online (costing £17) which gave us an hour slot in which to arrive and saved any queuing. The Castle is remarkable and huge with a view over the city in all directions and a wide range of exhibits there is plenty to see here. It is difficult to take in how big this place looks from the Castle itself so i recommend making sure you see it from different places throughout Edinburgh.
Our 24 hours in Edinburgh was complete and it was time to continue our Scottish road trip and drive to Aberdeen!
We arrived in Aberdeen early evening, staying at the Hilton in the centre of town we were fairly close to everything. I had the fun task of planning our itinerary for Aberdeen. The first port of call…..dinner! I take food very seriously and managed to find an amazing Mexican called Topolabamba on the high street which was delicious, with a choice of tapas style dishes to share or larger dishes (costing £5-6 for the tapas dishes and £8-9 for the main dishes) and of course tasty margaritas. We also stopped off at a very nice cocktail bar, The Tippling House, which was nice and quiet for a Sunday night and their cocktails weren’t your standard cheap cocktails, the one i chose cost £8 and it had half a Berocca in it. Trust me, it was delicious.
Aberdeen is a fairly small city and on such a wet and grey day we were limited with what we could do in the city. After breakfast at our hotel we decided to walk around the city and take in its amazing Street Art. I had no idea before researching this trip that Aberdeen had such a large collection of Street Art. Helpfully I found a website which provides an interactive map which shows the location of some of the bigger pieces of Street Art in the city. There are also plenty of hidden pieces of Street Art all around so keep your eyes peeled.
The weather was pretty bad so it was time to head in to the dry. We visited the Tolbooth Museum, a 17th century jail which is free to look around. This place is only small but there is plenty of information about the jail.
When reading other blogs about Aberdeen I saw that a walk to the coast was recommended. Only a 20 minute walk takes you to a quaint little fishing community called Footdee located on the coast. The walk from town is not picturesque, you have to walk through the industrial estates and the day we chose was a particularly wet and windy one but it was still kind of worth it. It is like stepping back in time, a rare opportunity to see a little fishing community surviving on the outskirts of Aberdeen.
I was so glad I got to plan this part of the trip as Aberdeenshire is full to the rafters with Castles and I love Castles. It was not hard to pick my favourite for us to visit. Dunnottar Castle is just outside of Stonehaven, a 25 minute drive from Aberdeen. This stunning castle sits on a tall cliff practically out at sea. Entry only cost £7 (bargain) and there was plenty to see.
I love a castle with loads of hidden rooms to explore and the views from here are incredible. They have even recently reconstructed one of the dining halls. You can walk here from Stonehaven, which would be worth it on a sunny day. We managed to easily park at the car park right outside the castle but I read that it can get busy in the summer months. Stonehaven itself is a nice little town, worth visiting in its own right.
Although there is not much to do in Aberdeen itself there is loads to do in the surrounding areas but it was now time to drive to Aviemore.
The drive from Stonehaven to Aviemore was stunning, straight through the National Park, the views were breathtaking (from what I could see whilst trying to navigate around sheep).
It had just got dark when we arrived in Aviemore, staying at the Macdonald Higland Hotel which was part of a larger resort. We stayed on the resort for our dinner and seeing as we only had two nights to try and see the northern lights, headed out on a bit of a whim.
After an unsuccessful evening searching for the Northern Lights the next day we headed to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre, we had to get here for 10am when it opened to make sure we could secure tickets (costing £14) for the Reindeer Trek which started at 11am. At the centre they had a little shop and a couple of reindeer to see before you headed up into the hills. We drove about a mile up the road where we parked up and started our trek. I would call it more of a walk, as long as you have warm waterproof clothing and walking boots or wellies its an easy walk with a number of stops along the way where you are given information about the 150 reindeer which are in the Cairngorms.
Once we got to the reindeer enclosure we were allowed to feed them, not many people can say they have fed a reindeer. They were incredibly gentle and you were able to take plenty of photos. Once we had finished feeding he reindeer we started our walk back to the car, taking plenty of photos of the incredible views.
Cairngorm Mountain was only a 10 minute drive up the road where you can ride a funicular railway to the summit. If you have already visited the Reindeer Centre then they give you 20% off the funicular railway. I think the ticket worked out at about £10 with this. You can choose to walk to the summit but we had already walked an incredible amount on this trip so I was glad to sit and relax for a few minutes. At the top there is plenty of information about these mountains as well as a shop and restaurant. The viewing platform offers amazing views and thankfully it was a clear day (although incredibly windy).
On our way back to Aviemore we stopped off at Loch Morlich for some quick photo opportunities. Aviemore itself is fairly big as its a popular place for people visiting the National Park to stay, especially in the winter months. We took a walk through town to visit all the different shops and picked up some last minute souvenirs. We had dinner at the hotel again before heading out for another opportunity to try and see the Northern Lights. We headed to the car park for the funicular railway which we had been to earlier in the day, its one of the highest and darkest points which can be reached in the Cairngorms by car. The only thing we could see when we sat in darkness was Aviemore. Unfortunately we did not see the Northern Lights, even more annoyingly we found out that they had appeared the night after we left Scotland.
We only had four days to explore Scotland as the fifth day was largely spent driving back home. It is incredible what you can fit into four days when you really set your mind to it though. We managed to visit two cities and the National Park and in every place we filled all our time. Edinburgh was the easiest place to fit in a lot just because everything was so close to eachother. Scotland is stunning and I think is best explored as part of a road trip. There are plenty of different routes and cities you could stop at on your way to the National Park to break up the long journey.
The highlights of this trip were Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh, Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven and feeding the Reindeer in the Cairngorm mountains! These should be on anyones Scottish bucketlist. I am hoping to plan another Scottish road trip with my Husband as he was incredibly jealous of this trip I took with my friends.
A final tip, Road Trips are tiring, you spend a lot of time together, go with people you love. I was lucky enough to go with two of my oldest friends and this was the longest time we have spent together since we were at school. They made this an amazing trip, like minded friends who are up for fun and adventures who are constantly laughing and hopefully we can have more holidays like this in the future!