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Towering 12th-century castles, historic distilleries, Michelin-star restaurants, and some seriously high-quality cashmere, there are so many reasons we all flock to fairytale-like Scotland time and time again.
While we can't fly across the pond just yet, there are still ways to experience the history-rich, culture-filled country from the comfort of home. To put together the perfect Scotland staycation itinerary we consulted the experts on the ground: Richard Cooke, the General Manager of The Balmoral, a Rocco Forte Hotel in Edinburgh, and Dale MacPhee, the General Manager at Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh, The Caledonian, both American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts properties.
There's something for every type of traveler here, from virtual train rides across the Highlands to local recipes (haggis, neeps, and tatties included) and classic Scottish literature. Cozy up with a tartan blanket, pour yourself a dram of whisky, here are a few ways to take a virtual trip to the striking country adored all over the world.
Take a Virtual Train Ride
Scotland is home to one the UK’s most scenic train journeys, the Jacobite. It's an old-world steam train that travels 42 breathtaking miles from Fort William to Mallaig. And while we can't physically hop aboard this iconic route, it can be experienced virtually in the clip above. Harry Potter fans will immediately identify the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which comes up about halfway along the route.
Cozy Up to a Good Book
Perhaps the best-known figure in Scottish literature is poet Robert Burns, regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement. But he's not alone, the Scots have penned many captivating classics ranging from Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. For more recent reads, tuck into 44 Scotland Street by Alexander Mccall Smith, Irving Welsh's Trainspotting, or J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter which was written over coffee and cake in Edinburgh's Elephant House and finished at The Balmoral (their J.K. Rowling Suite is decorated with an owl and a small golden sign).
Master Classic Scottish Dishes
"The Balmoral's traditional Scottish Shortbread is a must and a good place to start," advises Cooke. To delve further into Scottish cuisine MacPhee suggests mastering Tom Kitchin's haggis, neeps, and tatties, a cock-a-leekie soup (chicken and leek soup), and a classic cranachan for dessert which is a Scottish alternative to trifle made with oats, cream, whisky, and raspberries. They all pair perfectly with a dram, of course.
Tour Scotland's Whisky Regions
About that dram, "try a single malt whisky from each main whisky region in Scotland," suggests Cooke. Add a dram from Speyside, Highlands, Islands, Islay, Lowlands, and Campbeltown to your list. "You'll be surprised how the flavors change from one region to the next." For an alternative, MacPhee calls out the other spirit making waves in the country: gin. Gin lovers should try Edinburgh Gin, Leith Distillery, and Harris Gin. Sláinte!
Take a Trip to Scotland's Best Museums and Galleries
Without getting up from your sofa, that is. Scotland's best museums and galleries are sharing their collections online for art fans to enjoy virtually. Take your pick from the Scottish Maritime Museum, National Museum of Scotland, or the National Galleries of Scotland.
For traditional Scottish tweed look no further than Harris Tweed or for a modern classic take on tartan and tweed there's Walker Slater. Looking for the "Harrods of the north"? Then make for House of Bruar. For incredible luxury Scottish cashmere, Cooke recommends Johnstons of Elgin who have been making cashmere in Speyside since 1797. To add a touch of Scotland to your interiors Timorous Beasties create unique wallpaper and homeware.
Have Your Own Virtual Fringe Festival
While we'll have to wait another year for Edinburgh's iconic summer festivals along the Royal Mile, many Scottish art companies, venues, and performers have announced they'll be live streaming events around the world. Catch comedy sets on Gilded Balloon's Sofa Set List, a weekly online variety show or tune into the Scottish Ballet on SBTV.