Ceud Mile Failte – one hundred thousand welcomes greet families who choose a Scottish road trip (including a stop to see Loch Ness) during the summer festival season.
Scotland is known for its festivals, and the summer is a great time to visit and experience one of the country’s many celebrations in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and farther afield. To encourage family travel, the Scottish National Tourist Organization is offering the Children Welcome program where businesses and attractions are welcoming families and have a genuine interest in meeting their needs. This warm welcome extends from the major cities and cultural centers to the rural parts of the country.
Since 2007, Scottish tourism officials have worked to publicize Highland culture, a little known aspect of this beautiful country. The Highlands are made up of several mountainous regions in the north and overlap with the Highlands and Islands regions in the north west, which are serviced by an efficient ferry system. We suggest a 7-10 day driving itinerary through the Scottish countryside to enjoy the many things on offer. The extensive Scottish road network makes driving easier, and you can follow up on my recommended attractions by using this online route planner to help plan the exact route you will take.
Travelers will get the chance to experience all that Scottish culture has to offer, and not just in the fashionable cities. This year-long celebration of a rich Highland history encompasses six strands of culture – arts, heritage, sport, environment, science and language. Each village will celebrate their own local identity, with a huge number of events ranging from Highland games to traditional music to outdoor adventures. Many of these events are free, and with so many choices — especially in summer — there should be something for the whole family. Though summers tend to be cool and wet, the weather changes so frequently here that it makes for a good topic of conversation (and a good reminder to wear layers).
Aberdeen: A City in Bloom
A good place to start your vacation is in Aberdeen, the third largest city in Scotland. This city in the east is diverse, full of international culture, and comes with its own sandy beach, though this beach is better for strolling than for swimming. With unique castles close by, outdoor activities are easy to get to. In the city, famous Union Street, known as the Granite Mile, brings you to 800 shops, bars and restaurants. Aberdeen is also known for winning 13 “Britain in Bloom” awards, with its beautiful flower-filled parks adding some color to a city of gray granite.
If you’re in the city, celebrate the arts with the kids at the annual Aberdeen International Youth Festival. It takes place over 10 days early in August, when dance, theatre, music, and more are featured across the city. Visit www.aiyf.org for more information on this cultural highlight. If you’re looking for a trip outside the city, Scottish Highland Games are a great and fun choice. Across the Aberdeen and Grampian Highlands, there are 14 games throughout the summer, mostly on the weekends.
Highland dancing, piping, events such as Tossing the Caber, and even a children’s sack race are featured at Braemar, just a two-hour drive outside Aberdeen. The Queen and other British Royals are also known to make annual appearances at the festive Braemar games. As a local event, it is a more intimate gathering than larger festivals, and is a ton of fun. For more information on the event, to buy tickets and for accommodation, go to www.braemarscotland.co.uk. Dates and information on other Scottish Highland Game events across the country can be found here.
Other fun stops as you make your way across the Highlands include wildlife trips. Gemini Marine Tours is one option in the fishing village of Buckie, a 1 ½-2 hour drive from both Aberdeen and Inverness. Sail past fishing villages and Findlater Castle, spotting seabirds and marine wildlife along the way. This tour boat carries only 12 passengers so it fills up quickly. Tickets for adults cost £25; children under 16 pay £18. The tours last 2 ½ hours, with two or three trips daily.
Inverness, the Highlands Crossroad
Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, is a great spot to start exploring from if you’d rather fly into the Highlands at Inverness rather than Aberdeen. Or if starting in Aberdeen, this crossroads of the Highlands is a good spot to rest. Pedestrian-friendly High Street is filled with places to shop and eat. In the city, Whin Park is perfect for kids with a boating pond and play area. Adults may be interested in the records for geneology research at the Inverness Library.
Outside the city, try a dolphin-watching boat trip at Nairn, a Victorian seaside resort east of Inverness, with award-winning beaches and many historical and cultural attractions.
Between Inverness and Nairn, you might want to stop at the Highland Aviation Museum at the Inverness airport. This museum is open to the public for the first two weekends of each month as they restore their aircrafts. For more information, visit their website.
One popular stop if you’re in Inverness is the famous Loch Ness. The whole family can enjoy the beautiful scenery of this lake, and wonder at the creature that may hide beneath its waters. Nessie, as the Loch Ness monster is affectionately known, brings thousands of visitors each year. Deepscan Cruises leave from the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre to view Urquhart Castle and the Great Glen and this is a great way to check out the scenery. The Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre offers multimedia exhibitions not just about the infamous monster, but also about the loch and Scotland.
Also nearby, visitors can find shopping, pony trekking, and Urquahrt Castle to explore. On the north shore of the lake, Divach Falls, an easy, family-friendly walking area from the village of Drumnadrochit, is the main monster spotting area, so get your cameras ready!
Rugged Western Highlands
In the west, the regions of Skye and Lochalsh offer beautiful, rugged scenery, coastal beaches, gentle walks, wildlife cruises, watersports, and more. This area of Scotland is a great place for sightseeing, but if the wee ones are getting bored, a fun stop is the Skye Serpentarium Reptile World in Broadford. An award-winning reptile exhibition and breeding center, kids will love the interactive handling sessions with snakes, turtles, lizards and frogs (though Mom might think differently).
The village of Elgol on the isle of Skye is on Loch Coriusk, claiming to be the best viewpoint in Scotland. With Misty Isle Boat Trips, you can see if it lives up to its reputation. Sea birds, dolphins and porpoises, whales, seals at sunset and even a basking shark can be spotted on these cruises, and will delight family members of all ages. Choose from a standard trip that lasts about 3 hours, an all-day trip for about 6 hours, or a view of the seals at sunset on a 1 ½-hour trip.
In the Highlands and throughout the country, families should look for the “Children Welcome” logo to ensure they’ve found a family-friendly holiday spot. Businesses participating in this program will provide a minimum of extras including children’s beds or cots, flexible eating times and children’s menus, extra safety features, adjoining or expanded family rooms, and much more. For all the details, and to see suggestions for kids of all age ranges, from wee pre-schoolers to teenagers, visit the Children Welcome website.
With the Children Welcome program, families can stay at some distinctly different places such as a wooden wigwam, a church, a cottage tent, train, or even a lighthouse! Check this link for more information.
One spot you might like to try is the Culloden House Hotel. Located in Inverness, this site is where Bonnie Prince Charles, a member of the royal Stuart family, set up his headquarters before the final battle during the Jacobite uprising in 1746 on Culloden Moor. Now these headquarters are a country house on almost 40 acres of land, including beautiful gardens, lakes, and parks. Golf, fishing and shooting packages are offered by the hotel, though they can fill up rather quickly. Private chauffeur tours are also available for a number of full-day trips, including visits to towns on the north and west coast.
Another unique place to stay is Tigh Dubh in Edinbane on the Isle of Skye. With self-catering accommodation for up to four people, this traditional Highland stone cottage is perfect for families interested in the outdoors. The house includes two single beds on the ground floor and two singles or one double bed in a loft (there are steep steps up to this sleeping platform, so it is not for suitable for under 5s). It is heated by a pot-bellied stove, with all other modern amenities including a color TV, fully equipped kitchen, a washer/dryer (for a small fee), electricity, bed linens (but no towels), and more. Available for week-long or three to four night stays, Tigh Dubh (which means “blackhouse” in Scottish Gaelic) is a great place to slow down and enjoy the beautiful Scottish scenery for a few days.
Getting there is easy, as your family can fly into one of Scotland’s four airports directly (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness) or easily connect at a major European hub including London, Dublin, Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam. For more information on car rentals, accommodation, and the large number of events and activities going on in the Highlands this summer, visit www.visitscotland.com.
The country’s major celebration is known as Homecoming Scotland and their site provides a calendar of year-round activities.
When: mid-July, 2009
Inverness celebrates traditional and modern Scottish culture in a festival featuring concerts, Highland games, traditional music, and other multicultural events. Later in the month, the Childrens Festival is especially fun, with puppet shows, face painting, arts and crafts, and treasure hunts featured in the city center.
Scottish Countryside Festival
Where: Glamis Castle
When: first weekend in September, 2009
This festival celebrates the rural traditions and games of Scotland at Glamis Castle, the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth II. With tons of activities for children in the KidsZone and Childrens Corner, there are events for all ages, including fishing, archery, and crafts. Food from around the world will be readily available from a food hall and many stands throughout the festival, and children cooking events will take place as well.
Doors Open Days
Where: All over Scotland
When: Usually held each weekend in September
Heritage sites across the country offer free entrance to museums, tours, exhibitions, cathedrals, and more. Visit www.doorsopendays.org.uk for details on which places are opening their doors this year.
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