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Harry Potter knew he was onto a good thing when he climbed aboard the Hogwarts Express. This fabled steam train, actually called The Jacobite, is one of the most atmospheric ways to experience the magic of Scotland.
Clatter across the 21 arches of the Glenfinnan Viaduct on a journey that begins in the shadow of Ben Nevis and ends at the ferry for romantic Skye. It’s a stunning rail journey and just one of a number in an extensive network that visits some of Scotland’s most beautiful locations, passing brooding lochs, majestic mountains and delivering you right to the centre of historic cities.
Another option to consider is a self-drive holiday that can capture a surprisingly diverse album of dramatic holiday snaps in just a few days of easy driving. Take the road from Edinburgh north to the Highlands and you’ll reach picturesque Fort William in no time. Now you can swing north east to follow a long line of serene lochs until you reach Inverness. Or alternatively strike out in the opposite direction for the hauntingly romantic isles of the Inner Hebrides. This is a region of white beaches, crystal clear water and warm welcomes. Vehicle ferry services to the main islands are frequent, so it’s really easy to get to somewhere like Mull where the enormous White-Tailed Eagles still snatch fish from the pristine waters.
A car is also a good option if you’re exploring family history. Huge numbers of settlers arrived in New Zealand from Scotland and it’s always a thrill to put a castle to your family name. You may even be able to stay in one of them – stately homes that offer rooms ranging from the homely to the luxurious are scattered throughout Scotland.
With so much to see, and miss if you don’t have local knowledge, you may be tempted to join a small group tour. Using minivans rather than coaches, experienced guides take you into the quaint villages and isolated coves that really are the picture postcard ideal of a Scottish holiday.
Scotland is a land steeped in history, so it's a good idea to spend time in Edinburgh experiencing some of it before you hightail it to the highlands and islands. Top of the list of places to see in the city is the castle perched atop a volcanic rock; the views over the city from this iconic landmark are amazing. Edinburgh also boasts one of the finest botanical gardens in the world. Founded in 1670, it offers 72 acres of peace and tranquillity, which could be just the antidote if you're here in August for the world famous Tattoo and Fringe Festival.
Whisky is just as synonymous with Scotland as tartan, and Edinburgh has a heritage centre dedicated to the delectable amber brew. The centre features a replica distillery where you can learn about production methods for the huge variety of Whiskys, and expert advisers will be there to help you discover your particular favourite every sip of the way.
Although Edinburgh is likely to be your entry point for a Scottish holiday you shouldn't overlook its western neighbour, Glasgow. This is a vibrant and stylish city where there's always something happening. Looking for the UK's music mecca? It's here; in fact Glasgow has been named a UNESCO City of Music. If art and architecture is more your style, lose yourself in the highly regarded Gallery of Modern Art or take a culture tour across the city, following the Art Nouveau legacy of architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Glasgow is a treasure trove of Victorian architecture, and splendid civic buildings are to be found on virtually every corner in the town centre, but for an experience a little more personal, try the very fashionable Merchant City. This is one of the oldest parts of the city and a hub for food and culture. The area abounds in restaurants and bars; try the Babbity Bowster in an old tobacco merchants building for delicious food and live music every Saturday 'teatime', or make a night of it at the Britannia Panopticon, which is the oldest surviving music hall in the world.
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