November/December 2009 The Travel & Leisure Magazine 45
For Scotsman Robin McKelvie, theres no place like backhome in Scotland to celebrate Hogmanay, but he says itswelcoming cities make a great escape any time in winter
on your DOORSTEPSCOTLANDS CITIES
It was probably when I had beenhugged by a stranger for around the100th time, with my body warmedby whisky that made Edinburghsremarkable castle manage to shineeven brighter in its snow-kissed
beauty, that I decided there was no betterplace in the world to be for Hogmanay.
As a native Scot, I have tried festivebreaks in Australia, America and across onthe continent, but nothing beats Scotlandscities for a break over the festive season andon into the New Year.
Hogmanay for many Scots is even moreimportant than Christmas. This New YearsEve fiesta swirls in pagan traditions. On theIsle of Skye the hide from a beast killed duringthe day used to be burned, with every guesthaving to sniff the smoke to wardoff evil spirits. Young boys cov-ered themselves with the hideof the bull, with the horns andhoofs still attached.
Less gruesome tradi-tions continue to this day.It used to be consideredgood luck for the firstfooter of the year tostep into your house tobe a dark-haired malestranger carrying a lumpof coal, symbolisingwarmth and fuel. TheP.T
Main pic: Glasgow on Ice St George Square.Inset: Ceilidh revellers
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first foot spirit of friendliness is still alivein all of Scotlands cities with visitors fromall over the world welcome to join the party,a party that these days often starts in earlyDecember and runs right into the New Year.
Plan earlyYou will need to plan early if you want toenjoy a festive break up north. Edinburghgets totally booked, while Glasgow can fol-low suit and Stirling, Dundee, Aberdeenand Inverness all get busy. The nationaltourist office, Visit Scotland, has a website(www.visitscotland.com) that has links toall sorts of accommodation and a handy tipis to look at the suburbs too.
Edinburgh is at the heart of the festiveaction. One of Europes most scenic cities, itis just made for strolling around. Myfavourite walk is starting at the landmarkcastle and then easing down the cobbles ofthe Royal Mile (which Daniel Defoethought was the finest street in the world),taking in the swathes of history, not to men-tion bars, cafes and restaurants, en route tothe Queens base when she is in town, thegrand Palace of Holyrood.
Edinburgh is a city that is constantly evolv-ing and newer attractions include Our DynamicEarth, a hands-on multimedia trip through theearths history that is ideal for families. Forgrown-ups, Edinburgh now boasts fourMichelin star restaurants, with perhaps thefinest The Kitchin (www.thekitchin.com),with award-winning TV chef Tom Kitchin atthe helm. Anyone who harbours any anachro-nistic images of Scotland as all tartan andshortbread will enjoy the branch of HarveyNichols and central Edinburghs newest street,Multrees Walk, which is replete with Armani,Firetrap and Louis Vuitton.
Aside from Hogmanay, EdinburghsChristmas (www.edinburghschristmas.com)from November 28 to January 4 makes thecapital surely the most festive city in the UK.AFerris wheel burls visitors around the skyline,while below the bountiful stalls of a Christmasmarket and an ice rink in the shadow of the cas-tle help add to the seasonal mood.
Street partyLess than an hour by train from Edinburghis Glasgow, Scotlands largest city and cur-rently one of Europes hippest city-breakdestinations. Their Hogmanay street party isa rival for Edinburgh these days and thecitys new image as Scotland with Style isnot just a tourist slogan. Glasgow 2009-stylehas reinvented its lavish Georgian centrewith myriad chic designer shops, slick barsand quality restaurants.
The Glaswegian action flows around cen-
Beyond Scotlands citiesThe countryside surrounding Scotlands cities offers plenty to see and do off-season.An easy trip from Glasgow and Stirling lies The Trossachs, an area of gentle rolling hills,lofty mountains, forests, lochs and rivers I first discovered on a camping trip nearly 35years ago. In 2002, the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park became Scotlandsfirst national park, encompassing 720 square miles.There are many inns and guesthouses to escape the cities for a night or two, and
when I returned in late March this year I chose the friendly Inn & Bistro at Strathyre(www.innatstrathyre.com), owned and run by Jill and Stephen Nixon.A tasty drop ofone of the local brews washed down my favourite Scottish fare haggis, neeps andtatties left me refreshed after the long drive north from Essex and ready to explore.Year-round activities include hill walking, horse riding, cycling (the Sustrans National
Cycle Route Seven is on its doorstep) and golf, with great-value green fees at fivenearby courses through the National Park Golf Pass.The venerable SirWalter Scott steam ship, which cruises Loch Katrine from early
spring, is named after the author who popularised the region with his poems and novelRob Roy 200 years ago.That romanticised the exploits of a local outlaw now celebratedas a Scottish folk hero.The Rob Roy & Trossachs Visitor Centre in Callander showcaseshis life and the region.Among endearing local sights are shaggy-coated and long-horned Highland cattle, and
one has become a star.You can see Hamish in his pen at the TrossachsWoollen Mill inKilmahog.Wildlife abounds here and in other areas near the cities.The Trossachs Bird of Prey
Trail (www.birdofpreytrail.com) takes in buzzards, ospreys and Scotlands only redkite feeding station, at Argaty, which is open throughout the winter.I watched nesting ospreys from a hide at the beautiful Loch of the Lowes reserve in
Perthshire, where they visit from March or April until August. Cute red squirrelsgallivanted just yards away. Pine martens and even otters can also be seen here.At the historic Dalhousie Castle hotel near Edinburgh, the Dalhousie Castle Falconry
(www.dalhousiecastle.co.uk/falconry.asp) offers first-hand experience of birds ofprey with a five-day falconry course as well as displaying hawks, falcons, eagles and owls.
The Inn & Bistro at Strathyre A red squirrel at the Loch of the Lowes
tral George Square, a plaza as impressiveas any in the UK, which is the centre-piece in mid-November when the citysChristmas lights are switched on andWinterfest follows suit.
From here, a flurry of world-classgalleries and museums are within easyreach, including the Kelvingrove, themost-visited museum in the UK out-side London, and the locals choice,the thrillingly-unique BurrellCollection an eclectic art collectionreclining in woodland in the citys leafysuburbs.
I reckon Glasgow also offers the bestshopping in the UK outside London. Themain thoroughfare of Buchanan Street ispedestrianised and there are covered malls forwhen the weather sweeps in, such as BuchananGalleries, with all the usual high street stores,and Princes Square, an oasis of designer namesthat would not be out of place in Milan.
Scotlands newest city, Stirling, is asdeeply historic as Edinburgh. The old townreminds me of Edinburghs Royal Mile with-
out the tourists, especially at this time ofyear, while most Scots prefer the castlehere to Edinburghs. The hallowednames of William BraveheartWallace and Robert the Bruce echoaround the ramparts, while the strikingWallace Monument strides outamongst a panorama of mighty moun-tains. Stirling also boasts a pedestri-anised shopping district and easyaccess into the hilly Trossachs.
UnderratedEuropes oil capital, Aberdeen, is for me
a criminally-underrated city, evenamongst Scots. Its core is a riot of granite
hence its nickname, the Granite City and the city has also won innumerableawards for its famous flower displays,which brighten up all that mighty grey gran-ite. It boasts sweeping sandy beaches thatare ideal for bracing winter strolls, a flurryof museums and chic restaurants that aregeared up to all that oil wealth.
Scotlands other two cities also tempt at
November/December 2009 The Travel & Leisure Magazine 47
Stirling Castle after a snowfall
The Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow
Traditional Music in theRoyal Mile Tavern, Edinburgh
The GlasgowSchool of Art
this time of year. Dundee has bracing beach-es of its own, a pedestrianised shoppingprecinct, the striking RRS Discovery (theship that once took Captain Scott to theAntarctic) and the scenic Angus Glens on itsdoorstep. Inverness, meanwhile, is theCapital of the Highlands with a goodchance of snow. Its famous monster-hauntedloch lies nearby and its namesake River Nessalso eases through the city, adding charm,with a fairytale castle nestling high aboveand some impressively-stylish restaurants onhand in Scotlands fastest growing city.
As a native of Edinburgh I have to standby my city as being number one for a festivebreak, home to the worlds finest New Yearparty and the nations number one city break.
In Scotland these days, though, there areanother five buzzing cities that all make seri-ous efforts to conjure up the festive spirit,hold wildly-fun Hogmanay parties and makefor an ideal city break over the festive periodand in to the cosy winter months beyond.
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Getting thereNumerous airlines fly to Scottish cities including British Airways(www.ba.com), Flybe (www.flybe.com), Ryanair (www.Ryanair.com) andEasyjet (www.easyjet.com).The fastest way of getting tothe Scottish cities by train is usually with NationalExpress East Coast(www.nationalexpresseastcoast.com).
AccommodationHotels span a wide range of price brackets. Hereare some options, from luxury to more affordable:Edinburgh:The Howard(www.townhousecompany.com/the_howard), MercurePoint Hotel (www.mercure.com).Glasgow: The newly-opened, luxury Blythswood Square(www.blythswoodsquare.com),Malmaison (www.malmaison-glasgow.com).Stirling:Adamo Hotel (www.adamohotels.com), Park Lodge Hotel(www.parklodge.net).Aberdeen: Marcliffe (www.marcliffe.com), Simpsons(www.simpsonshotel.co.uk).Dundee:Apex Hotel (www.apexhotels.co.uk), Queens Hotel(www.queenshotel-dundee.com)Inverness: Rocpool (www.rocpool.com), Heath Mountain Hotel(www.heathmounthotel.com).
Top attractionsEdinburgh: Edinburgh Castle (www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk), NationalMuseum (www.nms.ac.uk).Glasgow: Kelvingrove Gallery (www.glasgowmuseums.com), BurrellCollection (www.glasgowmuseums.com).Stirling: Stirling Castle (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk), Old Town Jail(www.oldtownjail.com).Aberdeen:Aberdeen Art Gallery (www.aagm.co.uk),Aberdeen MaritimeMuseum (www.aagm.co.uk).Dundee: Discovery Point (www.rrsdiscovery.com), Dundee ContemporaryArts (www.dca.org.uk).Inverness: Inverness Castle (www.castleuk.net), Culloden Battlefield(www.nts.org.uk/culloden).
More informationVisit Scotland:www.visitscotland.com/whiteinvite
Robin McKelvie is a travel writer basedin his native Scotland who has had his fairshare of rather merry whisky-fuelledNewYear parties around the world, butwho knows that there is only oneHogmanay.
Hogmanay eventsEdinburgh: Edinburghs Hogmanay 2010Action-packed 5 day programme withMadness and the Noisettes performing atthe Concert in the Gardens on Hogmanay.www.edinburghshogmanay.org
Glasgow:Glasgow HogmanayCelebrationsEnjoy Scotlands hottest acts, includingTommy Reilly, on the Big Stage and thenmarvel at the impressive fireworks display onGeorge Square.www.winterfestglasgow.com
Stirling: Stirlings Hogmanay: Party at theCastleMassed pipes and drums, Sandi Thom,X Factor stars the Macdonald Brothers, andStars in their Eyes winner for his FreddieMercury impersonation, Gary Mullen, plusfireworks.www.stirlinghogmanay.co.uk
Aberdeen: AberdeensWinter FestivalHogmanayFinal details still to be announced.www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/hogmanay
Inverness: Inverness Hogmanay RedHot Highland FlingBringing the Inverness Winter Festival to aclose in Northern Meeting Park Arena withthe effervescent Red Hot Chilli Pipers, theBlazin Fiddles and the Peatbog Faeries.www.invernessfestivals.com
Dundee:No official events yet announced, but alwaysa party night in a city dense with bars andclubs.
Scotlands cities facts
View of Edinburghfrom Carlton Hill