The Insider's Guide to Scotland

Scotland is a land of myth, mystery and great beauty - our insider, Alec Curry, tells you how to travel in Scotland like a Scot.

I am obsessed with Scotland. After my first visit there when I was 12, I fell in love with the country and have continued to travel back there as often as I can.

scotland
Kilchurn Castle reflections in Loch Awe at sunset, Scotland. Swen_Stroop/Getty

Scotland is magical for many reasons but what I love most about it is that it just has so much to offer anyone that goes there. It has spectacular landscapes, amazing food, fascinating history; it attracts whisky drinkers, hikers, families, stag dos, history buffs, wildlife lovers. It's a land of myths and legends (its national animal is the unicorn!). It's the land that inspired that train ride to Hogwarts. It's the land of haggis and bagpipes. It's a land steeped in layers and layers of history but to this day remains one of the most progressive countries in the UK. And while you can go time and time again and discover new things each time you go, there are a few things I always recommend that people do to really make their trip perfect.

Go off-road in Cairngorms National Park

Blessed with some of Scotland's best scenery, Cairngorms National Park is home to incredible wildlife, native woodland, world-class distilleries and friendly Highland villages. There are also 5 breathtaking Munros (mountains over 55,000 feet) here, and Cairngorms is twice the size of the English Lake District. With more awe-inspiring woodland than you could imagine, standouts such as the Abernathy Forest full of original Caledonian pines is just one of the reasons why it's widely considered one of the UK's best national parks.

One of my favorite things to recommend is a private off-road tour into the hills of the park. It's a great chance to see some of the park's wildlife, like red deer, golden eagles, red and black grouse and mountain hares. You're also basically the only tourist in an otherwise deserted area of the Highlands so you can explore the dramatic landscape as you please - it's really amazing.

Scotland
Off-roading in Cairngorns National Park. Jacada

Smoke your own haddock in Arbroath

A town that dates from as far back as the 12th century, Scotland's Arbroath lies 15 miles to the northeast of Dundee. This quaint fishing village was the location of the signing of the Scottish Declaration of Independence which subsequently inspired the American Declaration of Independence, so there's plenty of history to discover here. Stretched out long sandy beaches and stunning sandstone cliffs also make Arbroath well worth the visit, but the town's most famous export is undoubtedly the delicious Arbroath Smokie.

First created in the tiny fishing village of Auchmithie, the Arbroath Smokie is a delicacy of line-caught haddock smoked over smoldering oak chips. Still made in numerous family-run smokehouses tucked into quaint corners of the harbor, the Arbroath Smokie is ubiquitous along this part of Scotland's East Coast. A must-visit smokehouse is M & M Spink - a tiny whitewashed outfit at 10 Marketgate, the traditional smoked fish here is so good it's been dubbed a "world-class delicacy" by renowned chef Rick Stein. Visit for the chance to participate in the smoking process and fillet your very own haddock.

Indulge in whisky on the Isle of Skye

Although the town of Fort William on Scotland's West Coast is popularly known as the home of Ben Nevis (the highest mountain on the British Isles), it's also home to the finest Scotch whisky. Nothing says Scotland more than a wee dram and a piece of tablet, and there's no better place to sample a taste of Scotland than on the West Coast. Whisky distilleries abound here, but for the ultimate Scottish whisky experience, head to the nearby Isle of Skye.

In the village of Carbost lies the Isle of Skye's oldest working whisky distillery. Set on the shores of Loch Harport, the Talisker Distillery offers arresting views out over the Cuillins mountain range in addition to world-class whisky. On a tour of the distillery, visitors can witness first-hand the five copper pot stills and traditional worm tubs that make Talisker whisky so unique. After touring the distillery premises, you can enjoy a taste of the award-winning sweet and full-bodied single malt that's decanted here.

scotland
Glass of Whisky Sits at Isle of Skye in Scotland. Erin Donalson/Getty

Scotland by rail

Traveling through Scotland by train is one of the best ways to see the country; you'll be able to experience Scotland's highlands and islands from an entirely new perspective. One of my favorites is the West Highland Line, which runs from Fort William to the port town of Mallaig on the edge of Scotland's West Coast. This railway line still follows the same route as it did in the 19th century.

One of the most exciting bits about this railway line is the Jacobite steam train. The locomotive made famous for transporting Harry Potter to Hogwarts, the Jacobite steam train transports passengers through verdant rolling hills and back into a bygone era. The railway's best-kept secret, though, is the Great Moor of Rannoch. One of the last remaining wildernesses in Europe, this moor is an incredible stretch of land made up of bogs, rivers and rocky outcrops. The West Highland line gives passengers a bird's eye view of the moor, as it crosses the Great Moor of Rannoch for an incredible 23 miles at an altitude of 1,300 feet. The only way to see this moor is by rail, so don't pass up the opportunity to discover some of Scotland's hidden gems on the oldest railway in Scotland.

Scotland
Glenfinnan Railway Viaduct in Scotland with the Jacobite steam train passing over. miroslav_1/Getty

Where to eat

Scotland is a foodie's haven, so it's impossible to list all the fabulous eateries in this country. Here are a few of my favorites:

Lochleven Seafood Café

Located on the shores of picturesque Loch Leven in the western Highlands, Lochleven Seafood Café offers a true taste of Scotland. Fresh produce is the order of the day here, with live shellfish supplied to the restaurant by the adjacent worldwide shellfish distribution center. Cooked to order from the cafe's very own tanks, the seafood here is some of the freshest in the world. The daily blackboard specials menu offers meat, seafood and vegetarian options and the outdoor terrace offers the perfect environment on a warmer day.

The Oyster Shed, Isle of Skye

Located just around the corner from the Talisker Distillery in the charming village of Carbost, The Oyster Shed is my go-to recommendation for seafood lovers. You can spend a day here buying, feasting on and learning how to open oysters alongside the oyster farmer himself. Other locally sourced products on offer include smoked salmon, mussels, crab, cheeses and chutneys. Open from 12 - 5 pm from Monday - Friday.

oyster shed
Paul McGlynn serves fresh oysters at the Oyster Shed on the Isle of Skye, in the very north of Scotland. Jacada

Barley Bree Restaurant with Rooms

A family-run place, Barley Bree is an amazing "restaurant with rooms" in the stunning Perthshire village of Muthill. Barley Bree specializes in a blend of French and Scottish cuisine, with award-winning chef Patron Fabrice Boutelop creating an array of imaginative and constantly evolving dishes. The outdoor terrace here is great for warmer months, while the cocktail bar complete with an open fire offers a cozy winter hangout spot.

Alec Curry is a born and bred Yorkshireman, who specializes in Scotland tours for Jacada Travel. Alec loves the UK for its variety of cultures, traditions and accents that you find from one region to the next. His biggest revelation was discovering incredible history on his own doorstep, which means he now travels in the UK as much as overseas. The North Devon coast and Somerset, for its excellent cheese, are next on his hit list."

The Insider's Guide to Scotland | Culture