Scotland is one of the world’s great tourist destinations, offering a mixture of vibrant cities and beautiful countryside. The nation naturally divides into five main regions: the busy central belt, in which both the biggest cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow stand; the Southwest and Borders; the long East Coast; the mountainous Highlands and West Coast; and the many islands of the north and west.
Scotland’s natural attractions are many, but it also has strong historic and cultural appeal. For more information about the country’s legacy of castles and other historic properties, contact the National Trust for Scotland (www.nts.org.uk) or Historic Scotland (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk).
Known as ‘the Athens of the North’, Edinburgh is one of the United Kingdom’s finest cities. It straddles a deep gorge occupied by newly refurbished Waverley Station, and gardens containing the Scott Monument. On its south side is Old Town, the original city centre, while opposite is the predominantly Georgian New Town, with its elegant 18th-century architecture. This is also the main shopping area, centred on Princes Street.
Edinburgh Castle, the nation’s top tourist attraction, also housing the Scottish Crown Jewels, stands in Old Town at the head of the Royal Mile, which extends to the Palace of Holyrood House, the Queen’s official Scottish residence. Edinburgh Zoo is also popular, especially with families. Attractions such as St Giles’ Cathedral, John Knox House, the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, the Writer’s Museum and the Camera Obscura pepper the Old Town, along with galleries and museums.
Edinburgh is home to many of Scotland’s national galleries and museums, including the Museum of Scotland, the National Gallery of Scotland, a new gallery at the National Trust for Scotland, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Modern Art and the National Museum of Antiquities. There is also a National Centre for Dance.
Edinburgh’s cultural life offers a program of theatre, music and dance unrivalled in the UK outside London. It has Britain’s largest stage and largest theatre in the Festival Theatre and the Edinburgh Playhouse, respectively. These feature during the three-week August Edinburgh Festival, the world’s largest of its kind. The festival season kicks off with the spectacular Military Tattoo, staged outside the Castle. The world’s biggest New Year party (known as Hogmanay in Scotland) takes place over several days at the end of each year.
Attractions close to Edinburgh include the city’s port, Leith, where the former Royal Yacht Britannia is now open to visitors; Linlithgow, with its magnificent palace; Hopetoun House, one of Scotland’s best stately homes at South Queensferry; Deep Sea World, at North Queensferry; and the Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick.
Only 77km (48 miles) west of the capital, Glasgow is a dynamic cultural centre, with a variety of events taking place year-round, and the world-famous Burrell Collection and the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Glasgow has fine parks, and Scotland’s only complete medieval cathedral. Kelvingrove Park’s art gallery houses works by top Renaissance and modern painters. The Royal Exchange Building houses the Gallery of Modern Art.
Hampden Park, the national soccer stadium, incorporates the new Scottish Football Museum. On the south bank of the Clyde, opposite the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, is the new Glasgow Science Centre featuring interactive attractions and the 127m (416ft) revolving Glasgow Tower. Also on Clydeside is Clydebuilt, the Maritime Museum.
Southeast of Glasgow is Lanark, where the New Lanark Visitor Centre is, a complete 200-year-old model village built by social reformer Robert Owen. On a cliff overlooking the Firth of Clyde is Culzean Castle, once home to the Kennedy family. Immediately south of the city is Hamilton, with 13th-century Bothwell Castle and the Robert Adam Chatelherault Hunting Lodge. On the way to East Kilbride is the newly opened Museum of Scottish Country Life, a 68 hectare (170 acre) attraction based on a Georgian farm at Kittochside.
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