Edinburgh Castle

Visit Edinburgh

2014 is the year of Homecoming Scotland, a year of events designed to “showcase all that’s great about Scotland”. In that spirit we thought it was time we took a look at what the country’s capital city has to offer in the coming year.

Attractions

Climb Arthur’s seat

No other city has an extinct volcano in its limits.  Towering over the city at a height of 823ft, Arthur’s Seat offers stunning views over the city and its surrounding landscape. Located in the middle of Holyrood Park, this attraction is easy to get to and a must see for any visit to the city.

Royal Botanic Gardens

Spread over 70 acres, the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens offer an excellent year round attraction. With its roots in the 17th century, the botanic gardens are a well established hotspot for tourists, especially during those cold winter days.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh’s most famous attraction, Edinburgh Castle has a rich history of famous occupiers and different uses from an ancient stronghold to an army headquarters. The castle is home to oldest set of crown jewels in the British Isles. The scepter was presented to James IV by Pope Alexander VI in 1494, and first worn by James V for the coronation of his wife, Queen Mary of Guise in 1540.
The best time to visit would be 1pm daily (except Sundays), as a field gun lets rip with a burst of shellfire. This tradition began in 1861 to help ships in the nearby Firth of Forth to set their maritime clocks, today the tradition remains as one of the city’s most unique tourist attractions.

Fringe Festival

The world’s largest art festival with over 40,000 performances packed into 250 venues across the city, the Fringe Festival is a definite must see for any visit to the city. Taking place over the month of August every year, the Fringe Festival offers shows catering to a number of different tastes, from big name talents to unknown artists looking to build their reputations. The festival includes theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, cabaret shows, musicals, operas, music, spoken word and exhibitions.

Museums

National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland has recently re-opened after a three year, £47m refurbishment. Visitors get the chance to explore the diversity of the natural world, along with world cultures, art and design and science and technology all under one roof.  This stunning museum houses 16 new galleries with over 8000 objects. Just a few of these new attractions include Dolly the sheep, a 12m cast of a T-Rex skeleton and the jawbone of a sperm whale.

Writer’s Museum

The Writer’s Museum celebrates the work of three greats of the literary world: Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott.  Located just off the Royal Mile, visitors can see portraits, rare books and personal objects including Burn’s writing desk, Scott’s printing press on which he produced the Waverley Novels and Scott’s own dining table and rocking horse. With free tours running on Thursdays and Saturdays, there has never been a better time to see of these rare artifacts.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art houses the country’s best collection of modern and contemporary art. Split between two buildings, Modern One and Modern Two, the museum is home to work by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi along with a large collection of Dada and Surrealist art. With an ever changing schedule of new events, and free admission, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is a must see venue for visitors.

Where to Stay

The Balmoral Hotel

Located in the centre of the city, the Balmoral Hotel is a good option for those wanting to see all the city has to offer and relax in style. Boasting great views over the city, the Balmoral Hotel also offers a range of 400 whiskies in their Scotch bar.

Best Western

The Best Western Kings Manor Hotel is the best option for those looking for a tranquil location whilst also having easy access to Edinburgh’s city centre.

Easy Hotel Edinburgh

For a more central location, the Easy Hotel Edinburgh is a good option for those wanting to see the most of the city’s great attractions.

Looking over the Tay Bridge to Dundee

Top 5 things to do in Dundee

Introducing the City of Discovery

Dundee is Scotland’s 4th largest city, with a population of over 156,000, located close to the east coast of the country north of Edinburgh and south of Aberdeen. It’s a fortunate geographical situation, allowing easy access to some of the best attractions Scotland has to offer. The city has a rich history touching on many significant world-renowned figures and brands, some of which we will explore in this post.

Looking over the Tay Bridge to Dundee

Looking over the Tay Bridge to Dundee

Dundee is popularly monikered as being founded on the three ‘J’s’ of ‘jute, jam and journalism’. Jute, from the textiles that formed a large part of Dundee’s growth during the industrial revolution; Jam, mainly from Keiller’s Marmalade, which is thought to have been the first commercial brand of Marmalade and Journalism from the likes of DC Thompson, founded in the city in the mid-19th century, and publisher of famous titles such as the Beano, Dandy, Desperate Dan and The Sunday Post. So, there are a great variety of strings to Dundee’s bow, resulting in a city and broader area with plenty to explore.

In this post we thought it would be useful to highlight five of our choices as to the best things to do during your visit to Dundee.

1) Explore the history

As we have noted, Dundee has a varied history based on a variety of industries. Fortunately, much of this history has been preserved and is available to view in the city. This includes the ship Discovery (Dundee has been popularly known as the ‘City of Discovery’ in recent times), built in Dundee and most famously the ship that took Captain Scott on his expedition to the Antarctic. The ship has been restored and provides a fascinating insight into its remarkable days at sea.

Discovery Docked in Dundee

Discovery Docked in Dundee

Dundee is also home to a special ship originating from Chatham Dockyard, the HMS Unicorn. This one of the six oldest ships in the world, preserved in completely original condition. As well as these maritime exhibits, there is also the Verdant Works, an insight into the Jute industry that helped form Dundee.

2) Science, learning and technology

Away from the history of Dundee is the cutting-edge science and technology of the Dundee Science Centre. Open all year round, the science centre is a permanent exhibition with other events happening all year round. The Science Centre is also very much used as a centre for learning, with courses available for young and old, beginner or more advanced, there will be an option for you! Dundee has been a centre for digital technologies, with a rich history in the games industry (DMA Design, creators of the Grand Theft Auto series was founded in Dundee). Dundee is very much a city of learning with Dundee University and the University of Abertay amongst those attracting students from all over the world.

3) Go shopping

In recent years, Dundee has undergone a transformation as regards to its retail space. As well as a  pedestrianised city centre area, there are two very popular shopping centres, Overgate and Wellgate – there will be something for the shopaholic in your party in these locations.

4) Play some golf

It would be remiss of us to focus on the Dundee area without mentioning the world class golf courses that are all close to the city. The most famous of these is Carnoustie Golf Links, around an hour from the centre of Dundee. Carnoustie has hosted numerous important tournaments over the years, including The Open Championship. However, the golfing goodness doesn’t end there – there are 30 top class golf courses in ‘Carnoustie Country’, all within a short drive of Dundee. As well as these great courses being on Dundee’s doorstep, the most famous of them all, St Andrews is also a short drive south of the city.

5) Stay in Dundee

There are numerous excellent hotels in and around Dundee, including the recently opened Malmaison Dundee, which looks fairly swish. There are a full range of accommodation options on the Visit Scotland website.

That’s a few options that we would choose to do on a short break to Dundee. If you have any suggestions as to what else is a must-see in the City of Discovery leave us a comment!

Stratford-Upon-Avon, Holy Trinity Church by David Dixon

To be or not to be…..in Stratford-upon-Avon

header image: Stratford-Upon-Avon, Holy Trinity Church by David Dixon

Despite the controversy about whether he truly authored all of his plays, there can be no argument that Shakespeare is still a fascinating character and an important part of history.

The market town of Stratford-upon-Avon on the banks of the River Avon is the place to find out all about his life and works and whether you believe he truly was the man who wrote Hamlet, Macbeth et al, a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon will immerse you in Shakespeare’s world and give you an insight into his life, times and inspirations.

Situated on the River Avon in the county of Warwickshire, the town has a rich cultural history and deserves to be explored. It would be unthinkable to visit Stratford and not dive into the history of Shakespeare, and there are a wealth of attractions and places to visit.

If you want to go back to the beginning of the Shakespeare story then visit the Holy Trinity Church in the Old Town. The church was first mentioned in 845 AD and plays a central role in the community. It has many connections to Shakespeare, it was the place of his baptism, where he worshiped and is now his resting place (he is buried in the chancel of the church). Interestingly, it was not his status as a dramatist which gave him the right to be buried in the church, but rather the fact that he bought a share of tax privileges sold off by Henry VIII. The church is open year round although opening times vary (check the church’s website for details) and if you want to visit the Bard’s grave it is asked that you pay a small donation of £2 (about $1.5 or €1.2: correct at time of post).

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust charity was formed in 1847 to preserve heritage sites and raise awareness of his life and works. The Trust cares for a number of significant buildings including the house on Henley Street where he was born and also spent the first years of married life with Anne Hathaway.

If you want to learn more about Mrs Shakespeare, it’s worth walking along the river bank to visit her childhood home which still has most of the original features and furniture. The cottage is also famous for its award winning gardens, and until 31 December 2013 is hosting “Say It With Flowers” which explores the use and symbolism of flowers throughout the work of Shakespeare.

If you want to delve further into Shakespeare’s written works then there is no better place to go than the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The theatre is home to the Royal Shakespeare Company and you can either choose to take in one of the many productions running throughout the season or take one of the many tours which operate. Choose from a Behind The Scenes tour, giving access to both public and private areas of the theatre, learn about the origins of the company and get the chance to explore a production in depth.

If you’re feeling a bit braver then take the After Dark tour where you’ll learn the history of the characters that are said to haunt the theatre, including the infamous Grey Lady. You’ll be taken round the old parts of the theatre and you might be lucky (or unlucky!) to catch a sighting or hear footsteps………

After learning more about Shakespeare, you’ll need somewhere to relax and there are a number of fabulous hotels in Stratford-upon-Avon. No matter your budget or requirements, you’ll find somewhere to stay which will ensure you have an unforgettable time in Stratford-upon-Avon. Hotels in the town which are well worth checking out include the two Macdonald Hotels in the area, especially the Alveston Manor Hotel. It offers luxurious surroundings, including gardens, spa and   located 5 minutes from the city centre. QHotels also offer two fine properties in the area. Either of these hotels would make a great base for your trip to Stratford-upon-Avon.