An extraordinary symphony in grey, almost everything in Aberdeen is built of granite - even the roads. When drenched with sun and rain, the silvery stone has a fairy-tale shine; when suffocated by cloud it can be a wee bit depressing. A spotless place, brimming with civic pride, Aberdeen is the service port for one of the world's largest offshore oilfields. Its already large population is mixed with multinational oil workers and a vital student population - a heady mix! An evocative fish market and important maritime museum cluster around the busy harbour. In the vicinity of the city's main thoroughfare, Union St, there's historic Castlegate, late-medieval Provost Skene's House and the Aberdeen Art Gallery, which houses an important Pre-Raphaelite and modern art collection.
The Highland resort town of Aviemore is the stepping-off point for the hiking and skiing paradise of the Cairngorm Mountains. Lying on the only arctic plateau in Britain, the area attracts rare animals such as pine marten, wildcat, red squirrel, osprey (particularly around the Boat of Garten) and deer. Fishing for salmon is popular in the pure mountain water of the River Spey and surrounding lochs, while the Rothiemurchus Estate and Glenmore Forest Park preserve acres of pine and spruce, with guided walks and trails and a range of water sports.
Edinburgh is one of the world's greatest cities. Its dramatic site, extraordinary architectural heritage and cultural vigour soon charm all visitors. The crowded tenements of the historic Old Town contrast with the orderly grid of the Georgian New Town, which in most cities would be a historic enclave by itself. Backdrops include glimpses of the Firth of Forth, the Pentland Hills and classically draped Calton Hill.Edinburgh is best seen on foot, and the best place to start is Edinburgh Castle: beautiful, romantic and a reminder of the city's bloody past. Its foundations date back as far as 850 BC, and the oldest surviving section dates from 1130. From the 11th to 16th centuries, the castle was the symbolic seat of Scottish royalty, and today it's still home to the army's Scottish Division. It sits at the western end of the Royal Mile, which runs down to the more comfortable royal accommodation at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This thoroughfare contains an extraordinarily intact streetscape, which has survived from the 16th and 17th centuries. A walk down some of the alleys that run off it is to rediscover the vital city of that time. Several museums and restored town houses in this vicinity give fascinating insights into urban life of the 17th century.Nearby Calton Hill is worth climbing for its superb views and romantic monuments dating from the Enlightenment, when the city was known as the 'Athens of the North'. Before you walk down into the New Town, have a look at Greyfriars Kirk, site of the signing of the National Covenant in 1638. The graveyard was the backdrop for one of Disney's most heart-rending films, Greyfriars Bobby, the story (based on legend) of a little Skye terrier which held vigil for 14 years over the grave of his master.New Town lies to the north, separated by the sunken railway line and Princes St Gardens, which feature the supremely Gothic Sir Walter Scott Monument. Georgian order and elegance are reflected in New Town's beautiful squares, circuses and terraces. The National Gallery of Scotland has an impressive collection of European art, while the pageant of Scottish history can be seen at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.Edinburgh has a rich and varied cultural life, from the Tattoo to the International and Fringe festivals. These are times to be sure to book accommodation well in advance. B&B accommodation is one of the best ways to get an insight into the daily life of Edinburgh's residents. There is a handy concentration north of New Town and in the suburb of Newington, south of the city centre. Numerous youth hostels are sprinkled on the city's outskirts. Surprisingly, the Royal Mile has numerous good-value and enjoyable eateries, with everything from Singaporean satays to traditional Scottish cuisine.
Long overshadowed by Edinburgh, a mere 30 miles (48km) away, Glasgow actually has a lot to offer. It has left its reputation as a black hole of unemployment, economic depression and urban violence far behind. The 1980s and '90s saw the city reinvent itself culturally and socially. You're in no doubt that this is a Scottish city, brimming with vibrancy and energy. The city centre is built on a grid plan on the north bank of the shipbuilding river Clyde. Sights are spread over a wide area, with Sauchiehall St the place to go for shops, pubs and restaurants.The oldest part of the city is to the east, around the intact Gothic masterpiece of Glasgow Cathedral, St Mungo's Museum of Religious Life & Art and the oldest house in Glasgow, 15th-century Provand's Lordship. Heading back west, an interesting walk takes you through the gracious houses and commercial structures of 18th-century Merchant City. Busy Sauchiehall St is home to the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Art Nouveau masterpieces of the Glasgow School of Art and the still-operational Willow Tearoom. The Tenement House is an extraordinary time capsule, providing vivid insight into middle-class city life at the turn of this century.Also not to be missed is Glasgow's top cultural attraction, the Burrell Collection, housed in the Pollok Country Park 3 miles (5km) south of the city. Its idiosyncratic collection includes Chinese porcelain, medieval furniture and impressionist paintings, housed in one of the world's few inspirational buildings to be built in recent times.
The Inner Hebrides, off the western coast of Scotland, are the country's most accessible and bewitching islands.Jura lies near the coast of Strathclyde, yet it is magnificently wild and lonely, with desolate walks, breast-shaped mountains (the Paps of Jura), a whisky distillery and a lethal offshore whirlpool its prime attractions. Islay is the most southerly of the Inner Hebridean islands, and is best known for its smoky, single-malt whisky. The Museum of Islay Life in Port Charlotte relates the island's long history, while the 8th-century Kildaton Cross is one of the finest surviving Celtic crosses. Castle ruins and over 250 species of birds add to its attractions. Further north, Taransay, where BBC TV marooned a community of volunteers for all of 2000, is one of the Inner Hebrides' most remote islands, an unspoilt place of cliffs, rocky coastlines and sandy bays. Grey seals and wild goats are the most commonly glimpsed inhabitants. Mull is one of the most popular islands, with superb mountain scenery, castles, a railway and small-town charm. The island's capital, Tobermory, is a particularly picturesque fishing port. The spiritual retreat of Iona, an early Christian centre founded by St Columba, lies off the southwestern tip of Mull. Further north, Coll has a popular walking trail, good sunshine, lots of wind, few people, two castles and a bird sanctuary. Tiree, just southwest, is a low-lying island with beautiful, sandy beaches and one of the best sunshine records in Britain.Skye attracts lots of visitors and has very changeable weather. However, the large, rugged and convoluted island is ringed by spectacularly scenic coastal walks, and inland the rocky Cuillins attract serious climbers.
This beautiful and unusual town melds the heady concoction of medieval ruins, a golfing mecca, windy coastal scenery and a schizophrenic university. Once the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland, today golfing is the town's religion. It's home to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the world's most famous golf course, the Old Course. A ruined castle sits above the bay, around the ruins of what was once the country's largest cathedral: it was pillaged during the Reformation. In the town centre, medieval closes lead off the cobbled streets, with the city gate, chapels, a medieval cross and museums within easy walking distance. Like the contemporary universities of Cambridge and Oxford, the university has no campus and its buildings are scattered in the centre of town.
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