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Travel: How to spend 6 perfect days in the Scottish Lowlands



When one dreams of vacationing in Scotland, it’s the Highlands and not the Lowlands that comes to mind. Don’t take our word for it; even the national tourism board touts the Scottish Highlands as “the Scotland of your imagination and the perfect backdrop for your next adventure” on its website. And on National Geographic’s list of “Best of the World” destinations, only the Highlands gets love.

OK, so the Scottish Lowlands isn’t home to the monstrously legendary Loch Ness, majestic Cairngorms National Park, a historically rich clan culture or the setting of Mel Gibson’s bloody good film, “Braveheart.”

But while that and more causes Scotland’s southern side to bow to its northern neighbor in terms of tourism, the Scottish Lowlands is no plaid-clad red-headed stepchild in a nation that — fun fact — has the world’s highest percentage of redheads with about 13% of the populace. Speaking of numbers, nearly one out of every four overseas visitors to the northernmost country of the United Kingdom arrives from the U.S., according to VisitScotland (

So, with that in mind and knowing how much we Yankees love an underdog story, let’s ponder highlights of a perfect six days exploring the Lowlands through an American’s eye — taking roads less traveled while taking in rolling hills, gentle valleys, rugged coastline and quaint towns each more gorgeous than the next.

Day 1

The W Edinburgh offers amazing views of the capital city. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Breezing through Edinburgh Airport, you shuttle to the city’s newest major hotel. The 244 rooms of the W Edinburgh, the first in Scotland for the upscale brand, are spread across three buildings, and yours is in the 12-story tower that sticks out from the traditional architecture around it. Mixed as the opinions are over the building’s “walnut whip” roof, staying at a hotel topped with a giant chocolate swirl comes in handy when finding your way back after a day of sightseeing by foot. Nestled in the heart of the newly trendy St. James Quarter, the W ( is within walking distance of every must-see in the city center. Refreshed from down time in your gadget-happy suite, you’re ready to see just how perfectly located your hotel is. (Rates for a standard room start at $371 a night.)

Hoofing it to Edinburgh Castle, the city’s most iconic landmark, offers a lesson in 3,000 years of history at the site of ghastly battles dating back to the Iron Age. You could spend an entire day here, but an afternoon date with some bottles of booze have you leaving the castle for a quick visit to the nearby National Museum of Scotland and its countless artifacts.

The Scotch Whisky Experience flaunts a world-record collection. (Photo by David Dickstein)
The Scotch Whisky Experience flaunts a world-record collection. (Photo by David Dickstein)

A time check of 3:30 p.m. has you scurrying to the Scotch Whisky Experience ( for a pre-purchased tour that explains how single-malt Scotch whisky is made, but, oddly, not in the setting of a working distillery. It’s a trade-off because what you do get being in a purpose-built facility is the world’s largest collection of Scotch whisky, a breathtaking visual for the core audience, and a store with a whopping 450 types of the signature stuff. Nearly as impressive is that the prices are actually fair, but you know when to say when with your purchase of potent potables. Plus, there’s more walking to do and those bottles are heavy.

Edinburgh’s Victoria Street was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the “Harry Potter” books. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Window shopping along famous Princes Street leads to a short hike up Calton Hill for stunning sunset views. Being a Harry Potter fan, you check off Victoria Street, J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley, and other sights around town believed to be connected to the global sensation.

Meandering in the direction of the W, you pop into one of many intriguing restaurants for dinner. It’s a quick one as the jet lag you’ve been fighting since seeing the “Welcome to Scotland” sign at baggage claim is finally winning.

Day 2

A traditional Scottish breakfast at the W Edinburgh includes haggis and black pudding. (Photo by David Dickstein)
A traditional Scottish breakfast at the W Edinburgh includes haggis and black pudding. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Of course, you order the “Scottish Breakfast” at the W’s Sushisamba restaurant, which by night serves up a fusion of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian flavors. Your cardiac-challenging platter comes with haggis, Lorne sausage, grilled back bacon, fried eggs and black pudding, which you know as blood pudding. You also are aware that haggis is banned in the States as the USDA frowns upon ingesting stomach fluids from slaughtered livestock. Despite sheep lungs being a key ingredient in haggis, you give it a nibble and realize that this Scottish staple isn’t half baaaad.

Abbotsford is the former estate of novelist Sir Walter Scott. (Photo by David Dickstein)
Abbotsford is the former estate of novelist Sir Walter Scott. (Photo by David Dickstein)

After check-out, you walk with your luggage to busy Edinburgh Waverley Train Station. A comfortable, hour-long ride on the Borders Railway terminates at Tweedbank, and you take the public bus to Abbotsford (, former home of 19th century novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott. The estate is so extraordinary, you add “Ivanhoe” and “Rob Roy” to your reading list.

Relying on mostly taxis and hired drivers for the rest of the trip — the countless roundabouts, alone, make driving on the left side not worth the risk — you transfer to Schloss Roxburghe ( for two fairy-tale-like nights at this luxury countryside escape in the heart of scenic Scottish Borders. A tasty welcome with champagne and canapes is followed by a stroll around the historic property. On the sprawling resort surrounded by rolling hills and flowing rivers are 130 units (52 of them cottages), a championship golf course and other sporty activities, a Finnish-inspired spa, and nooks aplenty to enjoy libations made with the handmade gin created from botanicals sourced on the estate.

Day 3

Schloss Roxburghe is a luxury country escape in the Scottish Borders. (Photo by David Dickstein)
Schloss Roxburghe is a luxury country escape in the Scottish Borders. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Wisely deciding to spend the day here, just as the Duke of Roxburghe often did in a past life of the picture-perfect property once owned by him, you book fishing, archery, croquet and clay shooting with the resort’s country sports manager. A few minutes later you pinch yourself in disbelief you’re staying where someone actually has the title of country sports manager.

A full day of activities and therapeutic R&R has you hungry for a night topped with “Scottish bistronomy” at the new, on-site Charlie’s. From the venison and pigeon to the scallops and ham hocks, the restaurant’s estate-to-plate approach pleases the senses.

Day 4

Breathtaking are the grounds of historic Glenapp Castle. (Photo by David Dickstein)
Breathtaking are the grounds of historic Glenapp Castle. (Photo by David Dickstein)

A yummy buffet breakfast at Charlie’s coupled with an early checkout and on-time hired driver, found on VisitScotland’s website, make for a great start to what promises to be a long, but great day. Appropriately, the first stop is The Great Tapestry of Scotland ( in the Borders town of Galashiels. On permanent display here since 2021 is the story of Scotland’s history, heritage and culture as told through 160 linen panels hand-stitched by over 1,000 nimble-fingered volunteers.

Leaving the 155 miles of driving to someone else today allows you to make a pitstop at the Moffat Distillery (, where an American-born proprietor and her English husband are making a go making wood-fired whisky and gin. Tours and tastings — their blended-malt scotch is a winner — are conducted daily.

The poached turbot served in Glenapp Castle's dining room is exquisite. (Photo by David Dickstein)
The poached turbot served in Glenapp Castle’s dining room is exquisite. (Photo by David Dickstein)

After traveling along what motor enthusiasts deem as the most drivable roads in the U.K., passing adorable villages and where ferries to Northern Ireland run back and forth day and night, you come up to the electronically gated entrance of your five-star home for the next two nights. One mile beyond — and one mile off Scotland’s western coast — is Glenapp Castle ( in the bonny Ayrshire countryside. Built in 1870, this prime example of Scots baronial, an architectural style of 19th-century Gothic Revival, has 17 luxury units (as low as $419 a night) and a 4,500-square-foot, four-bedroom penthouse that sleeps eight and starts at $4,000 a night. The 36 acres of perfectly manicured gardens, lush woodland and stately structures have hosted dignitaries from Churchill to Eisenhower, and since you’re sleeping like a VIP and got a classy bagpiper welcome, you might as well eat like one, too; dining at Glenapp is an experience fit for royalty.

Day 5

A farm tour features Scotland's iconic Highland coos. (Photo by David Dickstein)
A farm tour features Scotland’s iconic Highland coos. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Leaving the castle for a day of sightseeing had better be worth it, and it is at the very start thanks to the adorable namesake animals at Kitchen Coos & Ewes ( Getting up-close and personal with the iconic Highland coos and their sheepish pals is a treat, as are the traditional homemade breakfast and lunch that come with the more in-depth tours of this working farm. Next on the schedule is a much different tour up the coast in Alloway; Robert Burns Birthplace Museum pays tribute to Scotland’s favorite son, whose poetry and songs are beloved worldwide. That includes one sung every New Year’s Eve, at least in days of auld lang syne. Despite the museum’s name, Burns’ actual birthplace is a tiny room in a cottage located at another site a 10-minute walk away.

Dinner is in nearby Troon, specifically at The Rabbit restaurant inside the new, 89-room Marine Troon (, a destination hotel that prides itself as “representing the nexus between land and sea, sport and soil, and man and nature.” Burns might have done better, but one thing that can’t be improved is the Old Course of the adjacent Royal Troon Golf Club. Perhaps one day you’ll return to play 18 here, but for now you behold what you can of links that will host the 152nd Open Championship in July, the 10th time the hallowed course will have this honor.

Day 6

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