12 Months in Scotland: A “Top 10” List with a Twist

by Amy Dresser

Scotland. Green, rolling hills, fields rife with lavender thistles, and the Braveheart theme, floating on the breeze. If you are lucky enough to study abroad in Scotland, you may encounter all of these idyllic elements. If you are blessed enough to spend an entire year in the land ‘o the Scots, this list will ensure that you have the full Scottish experience. This guide includes twelve ‘Must-Do’s’ for visiting Scotland--one for each month of the year. So no matter how long you are studying in Scotland, or when you plan to time your study abroad program, you can experience something memorable, unique, and authentically Scottish.

St. Andrews Cathedral, Scotland
St. Andrews Cathedral

January:

If you are studying abroad in Scotland in the month of January, try and attend a Burns supper, held in honor of Scottish poet Robert (Rabbie) Burns. This event, also called “Burn’s Night,” occurs around the 25th of the month, and it should not be too difficult to find a supper being held in any part of Scotland. The event includes Ceilidh dancing, the drinking of whisky, singing, and the recitation of many of Burns’ works. Then, of course, comes the supper itself--the focal point of which is the famous Scottish dish known as haggis. The host will recite Burns’ famous “Address to the Haggis,” propose a whisky toast, and then the feast will begin.

February:

This month in Scotland will be a bear, weather-wise, so the best bet is to seek out indoor activities. This would be the perfect month in which to book a weekend stay at a cozy, wee Highland inn--also a great romantic option for celebrating St. Valentine’s Day! You don’t have to venture far into the Highlands for great lodging; the picturesque Ballachulish Hotel is just a 2-hour drive north of Glasgow. Situated on the shores of Loch Linnhe, the Ballachulish hotel boasts gorgeous views and a warm, welcoming atmosphere. Be prepared for a bagpiper to sound the alarm for your dinner; the tune echoes throughout the inn promptly at 6 o’clock. 

March:

If you don’t get to the Glen Coe area during your stay at the Ballachulish, do check it out during the month of March. While the weather is still quite chilly this month, the breathtaking Glen Coe pass looks its most austere. Sunny days meet lingering mountain snow, combining to imbue a distinct, prehistoric atmosphere. If you want an experience of the ancient Highlands, you will get that in Glen Coe, often considered to boast Scotland’s most breathtaking scenery. There are plenty of nearby hiking trails, easily accessible by road, but be sure to dress warmly, as the weather in Glen Coe can be unpredictable. 

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
Eilean Donan Castle

April:

Heading north from Glen Coe, a few hours’ drive will take you through incredible landscapes, and up to the stunning Eilean Donan Castle. Although perhaps not the most historic castle in Scotland, Eilean Donan has the distinction of being its most photographed, and it is easy to see why. A tour of the castle is relatively inexpensive, and the lively, informed guides are dressed in authentic garb. The castle is definitely worth the visit, if only for the drive alone.

May:

What would be better in the month of May than visiting the Isle of May? Not far off the eastern coast of Scotland, this tiny island is now a National Nature Reserve. A ferry from Anstruther port takes you 45 minutes out into the North Sea and onto the island. Wildlife abounds here, and May is the pinnacle of animal activity. You will definitely want to spot the adorable puffins, but be on the lookout for terns, cormorants, and even grey seals.

June:

June is such a beautiful time of year for studying in Scotland--the perfect time for getting outdoors and enjoying all the country has to offer. If climbing one of Scotland’s higher peaks is not your style, one of the most enjoyable hikes can be had on a fairly small hill. Arthur’s Seat, just outside Edinburgh, stands only 822 ft tall. A moderate pace will bring you to the top in about 40 minutes, and the views overlooking Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth will be your reward. Head back into town for a steaming cup of tea in Edinburgh's famed Old Town.

Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh

July:

In July, it's Stirling for ye! Nestled midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, Stirling calls itself "Scotland's heart." The city is chock full of history, and boasts two iconic landmarks: Stirling Castle, looming over the town, and the Wallace Monument, perched on an outcrop of rock and backed by the Ochil Hills. A fairly new structure in Scottish terms, the Monument pays homage to the hero William Wallace, of Braveheart fame. A single gothic tower comprises the monument and there are chambers inside which provide fascinating historical information. The spiral stair climb to the top feels like you are stepping back in time: a soldier on his way to battle, or a princess, leisurely making her way to her tower quarters.

August:

You will absolutely want to make Edinburgh your base for studying in Scotland during the month of August, for this is when the world renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe takes place. Performers and artists from around the globe descend upon Edinburgh to participate, and the talent is amazing. Ask around for some of the standout performances of the festival, or simply wander around taking it all in. 

September:

September is a beautiful time of year in Scotland. Take advantage of the pleasant, early fall weather, and journey to the coastal town of Anstruther. An hour or so north of Edinburgh, this tiny fishing village is quaint and picturesque. It is not a touristy place, so it's a great destination for those seeking a really Scottish flavor. Speaking of flavor, check out the Anstruther Fish Bar. This "chippy" is considered to serve the best fish n' chips in the whole of the UK! 

Anstruther, Scotland
Anstruther

October:

In October, autumn is settling in and a chill is in the air. To kindle your Halloween spirit, why not visit Glamis Castle? This imposing structure is purported to be the inspiration for the setting of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Glamis has been around since 1372, and it was the childhood home of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. The castle offers tours and many events throughout the year, including Halloween events in October. 

November: 

"Remember, remember, the 5th of November."

This refrain is oft quoted on Guy Fawkes Night, more commonly known as "Bonfire Night." In a somewhat strange tradition, revelers gather to watch the burning of an enormous bonfire, generally topped with a "Guy" effigy. Most celebrations offer food and entertainment, and fireworks are launched as well. Folks of all ages come out for the evening, so grab a sparkler and join the fun!

December:

December is all about Christmas, and in Europe, that means Christmas markets. Edinburgh has a lovely Christmas market, but if you want to avoid the tourists, consider doing your study abroad program in Glasgow. The downtown area is beautifully lit, and George Square transforms into a winter wonderland--with an ice skating rink, carnival rides, and quaint Christmas decor. The shopping is excellent in Glasgow, and small holiday markets can be found with homemade gifts, food, and the perfect holiday treat: mulled wine. 

Isle Of Skye, Scotland
Isle Of Skye

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So there you have it-- a year in Scotland. It is an unforgettable nation with a million wonderful things to do every day of the year. Each experience in Scotland is a unique and memorable one. The people are friendly, the food is delicious, and the landscape is incomparable. Whatever you choose to do, soak up every moment of it.