Exploring the Highlands of Scotland is a bucket list experience for many Americans, especially those looking to trace their ancestral roots. But the task of planning a foreign itinerary from start to finish can be burdensome if you don’t know how long to spend in certain places, the best times to visit and distances between stops.
My visit to Scotland wasn’t the traditional golfing adventure or whisky trail tour. I had a checklist of goals to complete, including a visit to the Isle of Skye, taking a flight to the world’s only commercial airport with a beach runway on the island of Barra, and exploring hipster Glasgow, which has been making headlines as a cool place to visit. (I hadn’t been there since 2001 and so much has changed since then.)
Experienced travelers have their routine down pat, but the knowledge of an expert can always enhance a trip, which is why I found great value in traveling with Brendan Vacations via their new bespoke and locally hosted rail itineraries.
I spent the week visiting Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow with side trips from each place. Especially valuable to me was the fact that Brendan Vacations sets up a meeting with a local expert at each stop to map out your plans for that destination. It is an incredible resource for someone local to give you the inside scoop on where to go and when.
There are four preplanned itineraries around Ireland and Scotland that can be personalized, and I had help from my local guides to learn the best way to explore the island of Barra and Isle of Skye.
If you haven’t seen pictures of planes touching down on Barra’s beach runway, it’s time to crank up YouTube. As an aviation fan, it is almost a rite of passage to experience such a unique event, and the tiny airport terminal beyond the sand dunes sells all kinds of aviation souvenirs for those who make this famous trek.
From Inverness, it was off to the Isle of Skye for another adventure, and I was particularly impressed that the driver knew the most scenic routes to take without getting stuck in tourist traffic. Along the way, there were impromptu stops, including the gorgeous Eilean Donan Castle where I added another tartan scarf to my already stuffed suitcase.
The Isle of Skye didn’t disappoint, thanks to its stunning landscape of majestic peaks, shimmering seafront towns and historic churches.
Family-owned Brendan Vacations has forged relationships with locals to give travelers unique opportunities to chat with local residents in each city you visit. These meetups can be organized through your local guide and include things like visiting a sheep farm or being taken on a tour around a historic manor house by its owner. None of these are things that I could have easily set up on my own, and they led to a more immersive experience in Scotland.
The writer was a guest of Brendan Vacations.