When it comes to hidden gems, Scotland shines. From stunning islands to Neolithic Stone Circles, Scotland has it all. Scotland’s Hidden Gems include:
An ancient and continuing place of pilgrimage in the Inner Hebrides. It is referred to as “Scotland’s Sacred Heart.” Only the residents of Iona are allowed vehicles on the island. Visitors’ cars are left on Mull before the ½ mile trip over sparkling waters to the Island of Kings. Iona is considered a holy place where the veil between the mortal and the eternal is very thin.
Cairngorm Reindeer Center:
Britain’s only herd of wild reindeer. There are about 150, and they are friendly and beautiful. You can get close, walk among the reindeer, and even pet them when you take a tour through the hillsides with a ranger. Fantastic!
The Isle of Skye:
Skye is the most important center for Gaelic culture in Scotland. While there, take a three-hour boat trip in a rigid, inflatable boat and check out the sealife. It’s a good time, and great to be out on the wild, open ocean. If you prefer to stay on land, a two-day trek of the Cuillin Ridge is the finest mountaineering experience in the British Isles. A five-day basic rock-climbing course is available.
This town in Southern Scotland is famous for its weaving—visit the Lochcarron of Scotland Cashmere Wool Visitor Center for the goods and for the looms. The Gala House, founded in 1583, is near the center of town. The Braw Lads Gathering is a terrific event. It’s an annual festival, dating from 1599, during which the boundaries of the town are marked by towns’ people on horseback.
In Central Scotland, this region of fertile farmland stretches north from Dundee to the Highland border. It’s a gorgeous area of wide valleys and low, green hills that contrast with the rich, red-brown soil of freshly plowed fields. Small and romantic glens wind into the Grampian Mountains, and the coastline colors are a wild mix of red sandstone to sandy beaches. This was the heart of the Pict culture during the 7th and 8th centuries, and you’ll find a number of Pictish stones with symbols carved on them.
Ring of Brodgar:
During the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, North Scotland’s climate was milder. There were good-sized farming groups along the coast and on the islands.At Callanish in Lewis, and Brodgar in Orkney, these people built magnificent stone circles that rival Stonehenge. You can visit the Ring, the Neolithic Village of Skara Brae, or take day trips to even more remote islands. The Aurora Borealis (northern lights) are incredible here.
Edinburgh International Arts Festival:
Throngs converge on the capital every year in August for the world’s largest arts festival and its spin-offs. This festival happens over a period of three weeks and offers high-quality opera, dance, classical music and theater, street fests, magic, food and every kind of music and art imaginable. Street Theater and parties happen every day on the Royal Mile and there are fireworks, to boot!
Argyle, The cradle of Scotland:
This was the kingdom of Dalraida, founded by the “scot” that came from Ireland about 502 AD, bringing Jacob’s Pillow. (Now known as the Stone of Destiny.) In 843 AD marriage united the Pictish kingdom with Dalraida, creating Scotland as its own entity. Driving around Argyle is a pleasure. Long sea lochs creep into the mountains and lush valleys. No crowds, the climate is very mild, and wonderful gardens abound.
The Stone of Destiny:
Legend has it that in the 6th century B.C. two princesses from Jerusalem arrived on the shores with Phoenician traders. An army from Babylon had captured their city and they fled to preserve the royal line. They brought with them a stone called Jacob’s Pillow—the very same that Jacob had lain upon while dreaming of angels ascending a ladder. Legend goes on to say that Jacob’s Pillow became the Stone of Destiny, and that kings from the line of David (and the princesses) were crowned to rule the land around Lough Neagh. In 1296, the English took the stone south, a symbol of their disdain and suppression of the Scots. For centuries it rested beneath the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey and was called the Stone of Scone. It was recently returned to Scotland and is now at Edinburgh Castle.
The Brough of Mousa & Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement:
Layers of history were uncovered at this site near the southern tip of Shetland during a storm. The shell of a 16th century Laird’s House is the only structure to rise above the ground. It’s settled above a prehistoric broch (fort) which was converted during the Iron Age into a round house. Around the site are the remains of a Viking farm from the ninth century and a communal longhouse that is 68 feet long. Other layers include a settlement from the 2nd century BC, and a medieval farm from the 14th century AD. It’s an amazing timeline. Whopper Swans visit and tip their wings every autumn.