Edinburgh is a city that begs to be discovered, filled with quirky, come-hither nooks that tempt you to explore just that little bit further. Athens of the North The Athens of the North, an 18th-century Edinburgh nickname dreamed up by the great thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, is a city of high culture and lofty ideals, of art and literature, philosophy and science.
Northern Highlands & Islands
Scotland’s vast and melancholy soul is here: an epic land with a stark beauty that indelibly imprints the hearts of those who journey through the mist and mountains, rock and heather. Long, sun-blessed summer evenings are the pay-off for so many days of horizontal rain. It’s simply magical. Stone tells stories throughout.
Greater Glasgow is centred on Scotland's largest city, which has expanded to swallow up what were formerly separate towns. The Clyde runs through the region, descending through sweeping leafy meanders in rural Lanarkshire to a more industrial landscape around Glasgow itself and on to the sea past towns that were once world-famous for their shipyards.
Disarmingly blending sophistication and earthiness, Scotland's biggest city has evolved over the last couple of decades to become one of Britain's most intriguing metropolises. Shopping Glasgow is where Scotland shops; the city packs out at weekends when highlanders, islanders, Edinburghers and more come in to cruise the malls.
From the subarctic plateau of the Cairngorms to the hills of Highland Perthshire and the rocky peaks of Glen Coe, the central mountain ranges of the Scottish Highlands are testimony to the sculpting power of ice and weather. Here the landscape is at its grandest, with soaring hills of rock and heather bounded by wooded glens and waterfalls.
Orkney & Shetland
Up here at Britain's top end it can feel more Scandinavian than Scottish, and no wonder. For the Vikings, the jaunt across the North Sea from Norway was as easy as a stroll down to the local mead hall and they soon controlled these windswept, treeless archipelagos, laying down longhouses alongside the stony remains of ancient prehistoric settlements.
Though wise folk are well aware of its charms, for many people southern Scotland is just something to drive through on the way to northern Scotland. Big mistake. But it does mean you'll find breathing room here in summer, and peaceful corners. Proximity to England brought raiding and strife; grim borderland fortifications saw skirmishes aplenty.
The country's historic roots are deeply embedded in central Scotland. Key battles around Stirling shaped the nation's fortunes; significant castles from the region's history pepper the landscape; and Perth, the former capital, is where kings were crowned on the Stone of Destiny.
There’s a magic to Orkney that you begin to feel as soon as the Scottish mainland slips astern. Only a few short miles of ocean separate the chain of islands from Scotland's north coast, but the Pentland Firth is one of Europe’s most dangerous waterways, a graveyard of ships that adds an extra mystique to these islands shimmering in the sea mists.
The impossibly tortuous coastline of the mainland and islands of South Argyll would confuse the most adept geographer. Sea lochs slice the rugged land into peninsulas that offer some of Scotland's most spectacular coastal scenery. The archipelago of islands includes the whisky shangri-la of Islay, the brooding hills of lonely Jura and the retro charms of Bute.
Oban, Mull & Tiree
The Victorian harbour town of Oban is a pretty place in its own right, with an excellent seafood scene, and is also a major gateway to the Hebrides. The big island drawcard is Mull, whose majestic scenery, birdlife and pretty capital Tobermory are complemented by the enchanting holy island of Iona just offshore.
North & West Coast
Quintessential Highland country such as this, with breathtaking emptiness, a wild, fragile beauty and single-track roads, is a rarity on the modern, crowded, highly urbanised island of Britain. You could get lost up here for weeks – and that still wouldn’t be enough time.