In the last couple of years, Scotland has become a favorite country to visit following Disney’s Brave and now Outlander, the new Starz series based on Diana Gabaldon’s books, set in that country’s Highlands.
Scotland has fantastic scenery, outdoor activities, old castles, historic battlefields so a successful, initial family visit should boast an itinerary that includes a taste of everything.
A visit to Scotland’s popular tourist attraction should include a boat cruise on a vessel equipped with sonar system to search for Nessie, the legendary lake monster. It is somewhat kitschy, but kids get such a kick out of listening to the stories and believing that the monster is about to show up any minute.
To make it a tad more educational, you can always stop by the exhibit center and peruse the scientific research disproving the legend.
We bribed our kids into tasting some of the local ‘Clootie’ dumpling ( boiled pudding with dried currants and raisins) after promising to buy them a Nessie souvenir.
Loch Lomond and Luss
Immortalized in the song that ends in “and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye”, Loch Lomond is the largest inland stretch of water in the UK and incorporates multiple tiny islands.
It is a popular outdoor destination for many families during the summer as you can steamboat across the lake, feed ducks or paddle a canoe.
One of the places our kids still talk about is the quaint village of Luss with the colorful flowers in the front yards.
The most visited site in Scotland, this historic fortress, towers over the city’s skyline from its position on Castle Rock.
In the castle, you can tour St Margaret’s Chapel from the early 12th century, the Great Hall, and the Royal Palace. The Honours of Scotland (aka crown jewels) and the National War Memorial are also housed here.
The dark dungeons and tunnels had our sons mesmerized and listening for the lone ghostly piper, who, the story says vanished without a trace while playing here. They learned about the Stone of Scone (traditional coronation gem of the Scottish monarchy that was fought over for centuries) and according to legend, currently still hidden in the castle. They even waited patiently in the rain (it always rains in Scotland) until precisely 1 o’clock for Mons Meg, the enormous medieval cannon to fire!
Stirling was probably our favorite castle since it boasted larger rooms, was well ventilated and turned out to be very kid- friendly with its multiple hands-on activities.
Prominent during Middle-Ages battles, it was redecorated by James V and Mary of Guise, the parents of Mary Queen of Scots and served as the Stuart kings’ residence.
Kids can look for unicorn pictures and statues, walk along the moat (if it doesn’t rain) and climb the stairs to the tower ramparts.
We enjoyed reading the feast recipes, (peacock and swan anyone?) in the kitchen and the kids’ zone where they can dress up in renaissance costumes and play different instruments.
On the peninsula, surrounded by the breathtaking Loch Ness about 15 miles south of Inverness, this is a real treasure.
Deeply entrenched in Scottish history and having played a significant role in many battles, the ruins of the once spectacular Urquhart castle that was destroyed in 1692 but still worth the visit.
Start at the visitor center and check out the diorama depicting the castle’s glory days.Our kids like the kiln and dungeon that was used to hold war prisoners next to the main ruin.
Approximately 10 miles east of Inverness, formerly built around a tower house and expanded over the span of several centuries, this castle went down in infamy as the one belonging to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the Thane of Cawdor.
In reality, the castle was built long after he died.
At the entrance, there is a panel of the family motto that spells ‘be mindful’ with the initials of Sir Hugh Campbell and his wife Lady Henrietta Stewart who renovated the castle in the late 1600s.
Our kids were somewhat surprised to hear that a real person still resides in the Castle-the Dowager Countess Cawdor, stepmother to the Earl of Cawdor.
Allergy suffers might want to take an abridged tour of the Castle and visit the beautiful gardens instead since like many other older castles there is quite a bit of dust in the air.
The Royal Yacht Britannia
For four decades, this majestic ship served as the yacht to their Majesties Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Britannia even helped in the humanitarian evacuation of refugees in Yemen in 1986
It saw many foreign celebrities and dignitaries like Presidents Eisenhower and Reagan on board as well as members of the British royal family. Apart from the royal bedrooms that are surprisingly modest, the formal dining hall and the sailors’ quarters provide a unique and fascinating insight into what it was like to live aboard the yacht.
Be sure to check out the fudge sold in the small store that is rumored to have been the late Princess Diana’s favorite.
Cairns of Clava
Not as impressive as Stonehenge, the stone monolith Cairns, made famous by the Outlander series are still worth the visit, especially for those who have read the books.
There are three different circular areas that according to legend hold the souls of the dead. Experts speculate that they were once used as calendars or sundials for the tribes living there over a thousand years ago.
Walk among the Cairns or imagine going back into the past like the successful book series describes but don’t forget to snap a “split stone” selfie as soon as you arrive so that you can beat the crowds.
Scottish Wool Centre at Aberfoyle
Here, children can pet farm animals, feed the lambs and learn old-fashioned techniques of spinning and weaving.
The day we visited they had “try your hand spinning and weaving the wool” and “shepherding” demonstrations with audience participation which was hilarious.
Volunteers were competing against trained sheep dogs in different tasks and guess who won?!
Our son was delighted to be selected to act as referee, by the organizer, and it became a highlight of our trip.
On vacation, we always try to include at least one unique animal experience and meeting Hamish fit the bill.
For those who don’t know, Hamish is one of Scotland’s oldest Highland bullocks who narrowly escaped slaughter during the BSE mad cow scare of 1996.
Since then he has become somewhat of a celebrity in the Highlands and for the first time in his life finally got a ‘girlfriend.’ Heather and Hamish, the happy couple, reside in a field next to the Trossachs Woollen Mill at Kilmahog, Perthshire.The day we visited Hamish was not in a particularly friendly mood, but Heather greeted us and was only too happy to be fed some treats.
Autism Travel Tips
Scotland, like other parts of the UK, is quite autism friends be sure to ask for discounts to attractions as well as the front of the line accommodations since you will get them in some spots.
It rains quite a bit during the summer, and many outdoor venues get muddy so bring a poncho with a hood, a pair of crocs and several extra pairs of socks as well as an extra outfit to change into if you slip and land in the mud.
Have you visited Scotland?
What were your favorite sights?