Boasting a 5000-year history of bloody wars against the English, Celtic and Scandinavian mythology, Roman invasion and the bursting forth of country pub, whisky and fishing culture, not even a hard-lined urbanite can deny that Scotland is a treasure trove begging for exploration.
Take a wander around Edinburgh's medieval castles and discover the city's wealth of theatre, music, dance, literature (in 2004 Edinburgh was declared the first UNESCO city of literature) and art culture, which explode at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. But this intellectual bastion it is not all gentry and fairy tales; the recent establishment of numerous pubs and nightclubs mean that the student population won't get bored or thirsty. Edinburgh was coincidentally voted the Top UK destination for European single males according to a 2012 Excite EU survey. Glasgow and Aberdeen are equally enchanting for a cultural break in a picturesque 'doll's house' city.
The Scottish national drink is whisky. 'Whisky' originates from a Gaelic phrase translating literally as 'water of life' and the drink was traditionally believed to have medicinal properties. So get some life into your bones and warm yourself under stormy Scottish skies by heading to the Isle of Islay or Orban, where whisky flows freely and tours of distilleries are popular. It's difficult to travel to Scotland without having at least one glass!
An Englishman might forget what a rugged Eden the Scottish wilderness is, and just on the doorstep. Walking trails are categorised as Grahams, Monros and Corbetts, which increase in difficulty respectively. Even the most hard-core climbers will break a sweat taking on Ben Nevis or the Isle of Skye mountain terrain, whilst those after a mild stroll and a breath of fresh air will find ideal trails. Scotland is a rural paradise whose lack of pollution, pace and pressure make it a safe haven for rare species of flora and fauna to blossom; naturalists can track down wildlife such as the Scottish crossbill, the UK's only endemic bird species and vertebrate, and fishermen benefit from world class salmon and trout angling. Despite the fact Scotland is a small country, its range and breadth will bowl you over harder than a strong scotch! Words cannot do justice to the island seascapes, dense oak forests, unspoilt royal botanic gardens and glens, which were carved by glacial erosion in the last ice age and remain magically preserved. Taking into account the exclusivity of what Scotland has to offer, it is not surprising the country has persevered to maintain its identity distinct from England in the last centuries, and that the return of the delegated Scottish parliament to Edinburgh in 1999 was rightly celebrated.
Our Editorial team's advice
When discovering Scotland, the islands are an unmissable stopover. If you have to choose one, then go for the Isle of Skye. It is easily accessible (a bridge links it to Scotland) and is home to the most spectacular landscapes. The cliffs to the east are cut through by a incredible waterfall, the plateaus are shaped by volcanic rocks, and the roofs made of slate are typical of the region. Try and stay over for one night: that way you can benefit from the sunrise and sunset that are sumptuous in good weather.
+The Highlands landscapes are sumptuous.
+The cities have conserved a significant historical heritage.
+There is much to entertain both the active, sporty visitor and the sightseer in search of a peaceful or cultural retreat.
+Fresh air and wide, open spaces.
-Accommodation is limited in the remote areas.
-The climate is not in favour of tourism.
-Midges and flies.
-It can be costly, particularly in the cities.
The Shetland Isles have conserved the traditional Fire Celebration of Scandinavian origin. Celebrated every year, on the last Tuesday of January, this event symbolises the return of the sun and is portrayed through a Viking procession. During the night, the people hold out torches and flags representing longships. This ceremony, which has been unchanged for centuries, is specific to the Shetlands.
Scottish cuisine has evolved over the centuries to have a high dependence on local produce such as game, dairy, fish, vegetables and oats, omitting supplements such as spices which would have been costly to import. Typically, a Scottish aristocrat's banquet table would have been adorned with venison, boar, songbirds and a range of fowl. Much of this remains to the present day; game dishes such as pheasant, grouse, wood pigeon and partridge are signature in Scotland. The extensive coastland and exceptional fishing has also paved the way for top quality fresh haddock, trout and salmon, the latter often being smoked and served as a starter to the meal. If you are feeling particularly suave, Scotland prides itself on some of the world's best lobster and crab.
The old specialty is Haggis, which is stuffed sheep paunch served with a turnip mash and potatoes. Robert Burns praised this dish, cleverly created so that it could be carried for days on long journeys in the cheapest bag obtainable, the animal's own stomach, by saying:
Fair fa' yer honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the pudden race!
To the average 21st century diner haggis may sound unappetising, but its rich flavour is something to taste if you're feeling daring. Scottish beef is excellent (Aberdeen Angus), and again of superior local quality. If you're on a beer hunt, you will not have to go far as fine ales are available in abundance; the Scots really are masters having been brewing beer for 5000 years. Finally, you must try Drambuie, a whisky liqueur.
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Stock the local delicacies: whisky, whisky liqueur, smoked salmon, caramel, biscuits and dried raisin with whisky cakes. Farm shops stock some of the most authentic local produce. You can also find high quality clothes made of tweed and tartan, Shetland pullovers and local jewellery made with silver and semi-precious stones. Take a plunge into one of the farmer's markets, which are held every weekend. Shops are open from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm during the week.