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As our family rolled through the Scottish Highlands, it was hard to believe that we had just been in the concrete, encompassed city of Edinburgh. Although the city is so steeped in history that it deserves a week of wandering, we had only given it a few days.
Because we wished to see why so many travelers came back to Scotland over and over again, we knew that we had to leave city life behind. We wanted to get off the well-worn path during the 10 days we had to explore the country.
After a stay in Edinburgh, many families continue on to Glasgow, head up to St. Andrews, pop over to the Isle of Skye and search for Nessie at Loch Ness. For clients looking to dig deeper, direct them west, away from the usual tour bus routes. Families can explore the castles inside Edinburgh and just outside the city; enjoy Scotch tastings in Oban; hike the Glencoe moors (uncultivated highland areas characterized by high rainfall, acidic soil and low-lying vegetation); and slow down on the quiet islands of Mull and Iona, where sheep and Highland “coos” (cows) are more prevalent than people.
Families should start their Highland journey in Edinburgh, spending at least two nights in town to recover from jet lag and see a few of the historical sites. Advise them to schedule a climb up to Arthur’s Seat before touring Holyrood Palace, one of Queen Elizabeth II’s current residences. Day two should include walking up the Royal Mile toward Edinburgh Castle.
On the way out of Edinburgh, families can stop at Stirling Castle, then hit Linlithgow Palace on the way back into the city at the end of the trip. Both sites are covered on the Scottish Heritage Pass, which can be ordered in advance and printed before departure. Most historical sites in Scotland will have children’s audio guides and/or children’s guide sheets for families to take advantage of, and these can be picked up at the ticket office.
Continue the journey to Glencoe, booking clients in a hotel, bed-and-breakfast or farmhouse rental in Oban or just outside the city. A farm stay is ideal for children, as it can get them up close to the famous Highland cows and give families more space. From this home base, travelers can take several hikes along the A82 road around Glencoe into the Scottish moors. Clachaig Inn is the perfect spot for a hearty meal after hiking. There is a great playground out front where kids can unwind while mom and dad savor a local pint.
Head west to the islands via the ferry from Oban to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. The main attractions on Mull are its coastline, Duart Castle, sheep and cows, ferry service to the Isle of Iona and multiple hikes. Book a room or rental in Tobermory, a colorful waterfront town with a lively pub, a grocery store, a local Scotch distillery and easy access to the rest of the island.
As in all British territories, Scots drive on the left side of the road, which can be disorienting for American drivers. Clients should get an international driver’s license (AAA can provide one in about 15 minutes) and make sure they have car insurance through their credit card or invest in the additional insurance offered by a rental agency. If two adults are traveling, the navigator in the passenger seat should be in charge of making sure the driver stays on the correct side of the road and goes through roundabouts the appropriate way.