At Edinburgh Reviews, we’re proud to feature resident experts who know how much there is to see, do, eat and experience in our beautiful city. However, every once in a while it’s good to get out and discover what other wonders there are to enjoy further afield of our capital.
With summer in full flow – making the Scottish countryside look lovelier than ever – it’s the perfect time to get in the car and hit the road for a quick road trip or two. Road trips are a great way of having a staycation; you can plan at your leisure, choose the local attractions you want to mark off your bucket list, and turn either day on the weekend into a good mini-break.
Avis recently created a new interactive guide-map with Edinburgh based blogger Sonja Bolger, highlighting ten unique ‘hidden gem’ attractions that are within a day’s drive from Edinburgh. Taking in a variety of Scottish art, history, food and more, we look at some of Sonja’s suggestions below in more detail and break them down by activity type.
Around an hour away from Edinburgh is Falkirk, home to one of the most significant and most awe-inspiring pieces of Scottish art – the Kelpies. Located at The Helix Park, Scottish artist and sculptor Andy Scott completed the breath-taking 30-metre high horse heads in 2013, with over a million people visiting them in the opening year. Made from Yorkshire steel, each head weighs an astounding 300 tonnes! Affectionately named Duke and Baron after two local workhorses, the Kelpies are a must-see for any art lover.
Slightly further along the road from Edinburgh is Stirling, another town with plenty to see. For a more local art experience, and possible purchase for any collectors, Made In Stirling is a great place to check out. An art collective and seller, they sell art of various types (paintings, prints, jewellery, textiles, homeware) by over 80 artists that come from the local area.
As well as historical attractions such as Stirling Castle, the National Wallace Monument, and the Church of Holy Rood, Stirling also has another, often overlooked gem that focuses on a distinct and essential part of Scottish heritage.
The Engine Shed is a dedicated building conservation centre, housing a hands-on museum and exhibition space covering how the historic buildings of Scotland were built and are now maintained. Fantastic for both children and adults, it gives a fascinating insight into the abundance of historical architecture you can expect to see on a journey through Scotland. With interactive displays, 3D theatre augmented reality displays and practical workshops, and the Engine Shed allows visitors to get a truly hands-on experience when exploring and learning about Scotland’s famous historical buildings.
One such place that can be learnt about before visiting, and another gem on the road trip, is Doune Castle. While not the most famous castle in Scotland, Doune Castle is undoubtedly worth seeing just as much, for various reasons. Its interior has been beautifully maintained, giving a detailed look at history – The Great Hall is particularly impressive. The castle has also been used in a variety of films and TV shows including Monty Python (throughout the Holy Grail), Outlander (served as Castle Leoch) and Game of Thrones (used for Winterfell Castle). And the view from the tower house gives a superb view of the surrounding countryside. Certainly worth a stop on the trip!
Drivers, like cars, need fuel – so it’s handy that a few Scottish eateries have been included in the guide. Just after Stirling and close to Doune is the Smiddy Farm Shop, a shop, butcher and café that sources much of its products from local suppliers. Centrally located in Blair Drummond, it’s an ideal stop for weary travellers or tourists.
Just up the road in Callander is Mhor Bread, a bakery that specialises in delicious baked goods and treats. The bakery, shop, and tearoom was renovated in 2007 to what it is today – the building it’s housed in has seen over a hundred years of bread making! Their traditional handmade bread is baked fresh each day only using flour from Scottish mills. They’ve also become well known for their steak and haggis pies and classic Scotch pies.
Another stop on the guide for foodies is the Luss Smokehouse. Situated on the edge of the fantastic Loch Lomond, the Luss Smokehouse smokes fish caught straight from the lake’s waters and then sells through their attached shop. They also sell sandwiches and picnic baskets meaning that you can grab a quick or relaxed bite and enjoy it with views of the lake and mountains.
While on the topic of Loch Lomond, it’s worth mentioning some of the available activities the guide suggests that there are to do on it. Paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing are great, laid-back ways to enjoy the calm waters. If you’re looking for more of a thrill, water skis and wakeboards can be hired, and speedboats can be driven too.
Anyone else who doesn’t want to get wet or wild, boat tours from Luss to Balmaha can be taken. At around 30 minutes each way, the scenic cruises pass the islands in the middle of Loch Lomond and let you disembark to explore before making the journey back.
With more time, you could take a half day trip with the Island Explorer Cruise to beautiful Inchcailloch – the island in the middle of Loch Lomond. The National Nature Reserve has walks through the woodland with the chance of seeing local wildlife like deer and otters. An incredible place – and only takes less than a couple of hours to reach here from Edinburgh!