Our edit of what to do and where to stay north of the border.

From secluded beaches on the west coast to the rugged Highlands of the north and the world’s largest arts festival (Edinburgh Fringe), there’s little wonder that Scotland is one of the most beloved countries in the world. It has about 790 islands, countless castles, fabled battlefields, 109 whisky distilleries, and many magical remote places to stumble upon. Hop in a car, train or plane and in just a few hours, you can be a world away from your daily norm. For a staycation break, you can’t really beat popping north of the border.

At The Good Web Guide, we love discovering little places all over the country and are delighted to share with you a few of our favourite places in Scotland. Sample local produce, visit a castle, fish the Dee, trace the footsteps of JK Rowling and track down Scotland’s Big Five. Whether you’re looking for a remote island or historic towns, here’s a small edit of where to stay and what to do in this beloved land.

Where To Stay

The Fife Arms, Braemar

Expect neon next to tartan, tweed alongside Picasso and even a watercolour by Queen Victoria at this eclectic and romantic hotel in the wild Highlands of northwest Scotland. Winner of the Independent Hotel of the Year Award 2021, the Fife Arms simultaneously embraces and shakes up Scottish traditions. This quirky boutique five-star retreat, set within the majestic and rugged Cairngorms National Park, is the brainchild of Swiss art dealers Hauser & Wirth. No wonder then, that there are over 16,000 works of art and antiques from the 19th-century to the present day here. The hotel, an imaginatively restored former Victorian coaching inn, has 46 individually styled bedrooms. There is a spa, dogs are welcome, and guests can fish the River Dee. Book it here.

Gleneagles, Perthshire

Gourmet picnic by the lake? No problem. Foraging, wild swimming, falconry, waterfall bathing, spa time and the world’s rarest of whiskies. Just ask. Gleneagles has it all, and more. With over 850 acres to play in, 205 bedrooms, 28 luxury suites, 10 restaurants and bars, this iconic country estate is the epitome of Scottish luxury. What’s more, this Perthshire hotel is soon to unveil its upgraded spa (including Dr Barbara Sturm clinic, think Tata Harper facials), after a year-long renovation. For the first time, Gleneagles is producing its own balms, oils and scrubs derived from herbs and plants found on the surrounding countryside. This will put Gleneagles firmly on the map for spa destination hotels – in case you needed another reason to book. Book it here.

The Dunstane Houses, Edinburgh

Just ten minutes from Edinburgh city centre is a pair of family run, beautifully refurbished Victorian townhouses that double up as low-key hotels. The vibe here is very much private club, rather than soulless hotel. The design-led décor includes deep hues of dramatic colours, interesting photographs, natural stone and heather tweed. You’ll find Chesterfield sofas, copper bathtubs, four-poster beds, oriental rugs and ornately patterned wallpaper. In the relaxed Ba’Bar & Lounge, the menu is full of local, seasonal Scottish produce served alongside rare whiskies and artisan gins. A cosy retreat from the city. Book it here.

The Craigellachie Hotel

You might do a double take if you stumble upon Kate Moss when you book into Craigellachie, the comfortable hotel on the banks of the River Spey. The supermodel, and her north London crew including Nick Grimshaw and Sadie Frost, booked in a few years back. Restaurateur turned hotelier Piers Adams revamped this Victorian hotel which has the Quaich Bar, considered the best whisky bar in the world. Food is locally sourced – delicious when you count Aberdeen angus, langoustines, oysters as local. Guests go clay-pigeon shooting, salmon fishing, hiking, tour the Johnston’s of Elgin mill or visit a nearby whisky distillery. Book it here.

What To Do

The Potter Trail, Edinburgh

While Edinburgh is now awash with Harry Potter-themed tours, many are crowded and rushed tourist traps. We recommend a personalised private tour with award-winning Potter Trail. This customisable walking tour allows you to go at your own pace and ask all the questions you can muster. Your guide will escort you around the cobbled closes of the city, talk about Edinburgh history while drawing connections to Harry Potter and JK Rowling. Learn which Harry Potter book was written in the Balmoral Hotel, which street inspired Diagon Alley and find the grave of He Who Must Not Be Named. Finish off the tour by tasting Dumbledore’s Sherbet Lemons and Butterbrew ice cream. Book it here.

Go Surfing On Tiree

Shhh. This secret we’d rather not share although Ben Fogle recently raved about the Inner Hebrides on his new TV series Scotland’s Sacred Islands. There’s a breath-taking island with pristine white beaches, sparkling water, near-guaranteed wind and cosy thatched holiday houses. Dubbed the ‘Hawaii of the north’, the island Tiree is a mecca for surfers, windsurfers and kite surfers. The most westerly Inner Hebridean island is, as residents are quick to inform any visitor, one of the sunniest places in the UK. Best of all, it is also a world away from the likes of Cornwall because it is never crowded – partly because it’s not easily accessible. Most Tiree visitors arrive via the ferry service from Oban. You can fly via Glasgow. Surf school Blackhouse Watersports on Ballevullin beach has friendly surf instructors. Accommodation is not easy to come by as regulars book years in advance and rarely relinquish their weeks. Try tiree-cottages.co.uk. Book it here.

Explore The Isle Of Arran

Get off the beaten track and discover the rocky coastline, spectacular views, forest tracks and history of Arran. Arran is known as Scotland in Miniature because it’s got a bit of everything. Mogabout Tours offers forest and coast safaris in its unique 16-seater four by four. Explore standing stones, castles, distillery, deserted beaches and a forest filled with wildlife. Look out for Scotland’s Big Five; harbour seals, red squirrels, red deer, otters and golden eagles. In addition to exploring the beaches and forests, there’s golf, horse riding and cycling on offer. Find out more here.

Climb Ben Nevis

Armed with your Kendal mint cake, map and compass, climb Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the United Kingdom. At 4,409 feet above sea level, Ben Nevis has a history of dicey weather as treacherous clouds blanket the summit at any time. When the weather is fine, you’ll find world-class rock and ice climbing with panoramic views of the entire Scottish Highlands. If your mission is to reach the summit, opt for the 4-mile-long Mountain Track, or Pony Track derisively nicknamed the ‘Tourist Route’. The Mountain Track has become a pilgrimage for climbers bringing odd items of the summit. A piano was once found buried on the summit! Find out more here.

Discover A Surreal Garden

Near Dumfries at Portrack, there is a 30-acre garden inspired by the principles of modern physics which will render you speechless. There are snail-shaped grass mounds, twisting DNA helix sculptures and undulating waves of rhododendrons. The garden was designed by architecture theorist Charles Jencks and his late wife Maggie Keswick. The dizzying landscaping with artificial lakes, bridges and zigzag terraces, would look right at home in Alice in Wonderland’s fairy tale world. This private garden is opened one day a year, normally the Sunday of the first May bank holiday, via the Scotland’s Gardens charity scheme. Find out more here.

Drive Britain’s Best Road Trip

If you’re looking for a jaw-droppingly beautiful road trip, check out the North Coast 500 (NC500), or as the media dubs it, ‘Scotland’s Route 66’. This specific circular itinerary, created by the non-profit North Highland Initiative in 2014, covers over 500 miles of stunning coastal scenery. It will take you on narrow, winding, single track country roads via small villages, deserted sandy beaches, picturesque lochs and rural areas in northern Scotland. The route begins and ends at the castle of Inverness, the northernmost city of Scotland. Warning, the roads are old, the communities remote and it’s not unusual to come across livestock (errant deer, sheep) on the road. This road trip is like none other. Try it..

Embrace Optical Illusions And Hands-On Science

The trick is to get up early for this one, before the queues of tourists stampede the Royal Mile and you lose the will to live. Just next to Edinburgh Castle is Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions which has been operating for over 150 years. It is the city’s oldest purpose-built attraction and potentially, the most brilliant. Spanning five floors, there are optical illusions, puzzles, mirror mazes, telescopes and a vortex tunnel playing tricks on the mind and eye. The highlight is the 360-degree panoramic view of the city provided by the Camera Obscura on the rooftop terrace. Find out more here.

By Annabel Jack
October 2021

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Annabel Jack

Contributing Editor

Annabel is a regular contributor to The GWG, with a taste for finest in food, fashion and interiors.