Just Back From
Indagare’s Kathryn Nathanson just returned from a scouting trip to Scotland, visiting the Isle of Skye, the Scottish Highlands and Edinburgh.
Below, she tells us why you should think about visiting Scotland now, plus her favorite restaurants, shops and hotel news.
Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer to learn more about planning a trip to Scotland. Our team can match you with the itineraries, accommodations, reservations and guides that are right for you.
Overall, Scotland is an incredible destination that has it all: great restaurants, adventures like hiking, climbing and fishing; jaw-dropping landscapes that are a photographer’s dream; golf; a high-end world of spirits (whiskey); the wonderful city of Edinburgh and a fascinating history with great museums, palaces and castles to visit at every turn, battlefields for war history nerds and so much more.
Before You Go: Watch Outlander! Every single person mentioned the show to me and was so disappointed I hadn’t watched.
Skye is not easy to get to. It’s a six- to seven-hour drive from Edinburgh. The closest city is Inverness, a two-hour drive. I highly recommend having a rental car when on Skye. The isle is much larger than you realize and all of the major sites are spread out. Taxis are overpriced and also difficult to book—you need to book ahead if you want a driver at your disposal during the days here. At a minimum, you need two full days on Skye to really enjoy it, but I recommend at least three nights with those two full days.
When on the island, it is all about nature, landscapes and adventure. You are getting in and out of your car to move between the various sites. Some sites can be experienced via viewpoints. For others, there are walks and hikes to more fully experience them and take them in.
Kinloch Lodge is our top hotel option on Skye, with so much character and charm, the former home of the MacDonald clan located right on a loch. While it’s not the ultimate five-star experience and rooms could use a refresh, guests will be very happy if they expect a comfortable B&B-style accommodations. You can feel the family history everywhere around the property.
I would have assumed July and August are the best times to visit based on weather, but you have to know about the midges (tiny insects that bite!)—they are a problem, especially in July and August, and the season runs from late May until September. Not everyone has a poor reaction to the midges, but many do. It is essential to pack bug spray and wear long sleeves if traveling during this time.
Visit the Talisker Distillery, which opened in Carbost in 1831. Located right on the water, it will be challenging to find a distillery with a more dramatic backdrop. Talisker is owned and operated by Diageo. The distillery is open to the public, but Indagare can arrange private, VIP tours and tastings.
The Isle of Skye is also known for some of Scotland’s finest “destination restaurants,” which have earned international acclaim. The three major examples are The Three Chimneys, Loch Bay and Edinbane.
Here are a few more that I loved, all in the town of Carbost.
The Old Inn: The perfect, classic Scottish pub is right on the water, with outdoor seating in the warmer months. During the busy season, you’ll find live music on occasional evenings. All of the traditional pub specialties are on the menu here, each done very well, from fish and chips to haggis and burgers, and some vegetarian options, too.
Café Cùil: Stop here for a casual but elevated breakfast or lunch. Cùil (which translates to a nook, nest or corner in Scottish Gaelic) is run by award-winning chef Clare Coghill, who comes from the Isle of Skye. Clare has a passion for Hebridean produce and is heavily influenced by Gaelic Scottish traditions. Previously, she had a popular brunch restaurant in Hackney, East London. Clare decided to close down that restaurant and reopen on Skye. All of the ingredients served at Café Cùil are locally sourced. There is also a small gift shop selling local products.
The Oyster Shed: The Oyster Shed is up the hill from Talisker Distillery. If you’re visiting Talisker or in this general area on a tour day, it makes for a fun stop for lunch. As the name implies, the restaurant is literally a shed. It will remind you of a seafood shack that you’d find in Cape Cod or Maine in the summer. The oysters are fresh and delicious, as are the other seafood items on the menu, which are all caught daily. Expect to see lobster and scampi. The only non-fish item on the menu is fries, of course.
Caora Dhubh Coffee: Across from the Talisker Distillery, the Caora Dhube (“black sheep” in Scottish Gaelic) coffee shop feels like you’re in Williamsburg in New York City. The coffee here is sourced from Artisan Roast in Edinburgh. You’ll even find iced coffee on the menu!
The Little Chartroom is a neighborhood restaurant with a beautiful open kitchen and simple, seasonal food. There are various seafood dishes, but consider ordering the special pie. Wine pairings are available as are set tasting menus.
The Bon Vivant is one of the city’s most popular restaurants and wine bars. The food menu regularly changes, but you’ll find an eclectic selection of dishes promoting regional specialties. There is also a tapas-style menu for small bites. Even if you don’t stay for a full meal, come for a drink.
Teuchter’s Landing Leith is one of the top pubs in Scotland, overlooking the shore area in Leith and filled with character and charm, with a lovely beer garden that makes for an ideal spot to spend a few hours. Teuchter’s sits directly behind the location of the Leith Food Market, open on Saturdays. Leith was once one of Scotland’s main ports and is a fun area to explore filled with independent stores and excellent restaurants and bars.
Alby’s is Edinburgh’s top sandwich shop. If you’re a fan of Court Street Grocers in New York City, then it should be included on a visit to the city. The menu changes frequently, but expect an array of hot and cold sandwiches each served with fantastic bread. There are a few tables inside or you can order to-go.
Timberyard, near the base of Edinburgh Castle, just received a Michelin star. The space, a former 19th-century warehouse, is contemporary, modern and industrial in atmosphere and design. There are vegetarian and vegan options available, as well as a four-course tasting menu with wine pairings.
Archipelago Bakery won Scotland’s Bakery of the Year Award in 2022. Located in the city center of Edinburgh, this charming bake shop makes bread fresh by hand every day using organic flour and traditional baking methods. Also try its baked goods, including the vegan miso brownie, the croissants and sweet buns. There are a few tables inside making Archipelago a lovely stop for breakfast or lunch (it also serves stews and soups) if you can get a table.
Known as Edinburgh’s top coffee shop, Fortitude has a few locations around the city and is a specialty coffee roaster also serving tasty baked goods. The location on York Place is convenient to the city’s top hotels.
, in Leith, has one Michelin star (Heron, The Kitchin and Timberyard are the big three fine-dining restaurants in Edinburgh); Skua in Stockbridge (from the same owners as Heron) is the exciting new opening in the city; Eleanore is a new wine bar by the Little Chartroom owners; KORA is a newer restaurant by Tom Kitchin, who owns The Kitchin in Edinburgh, considered to be the city’s top fine-dining restaurant.
is a primarily independent women’s clothing store and concept shop in the center of Edinburgh. Epitome showcases a mix of contemporary, global brands as well as some Scottish designers. It happens to be next door to Archipelago Bakery.
Stockbridge is a trendy suburb of the city of Edinburgh (and though a technical suburb, it is still a short 20- to 25- minute walk from the city center). Cobblestoned streets, classical architecture and upscale, boutique shops, bars and restaurants line the streets in this neighborhood. The Stockbridge Market is the place to see and be seen in the city on Sundays. It is the city’s top food market with food stalls featuring local producers and artisanal goods. After a visit to the market, don’t miss a stroll down Circus Lane, the most charming street in Edinburgh.
Treen is a vegan fashion store located in Stockbridge on Stephen’s Place. All designers have been carefully selected by the Treen owners, who only choose designers who make a positive impact.
Edinburgh Mercantile is a small curiosity shop with homeware, gifts, practical goods and various luxury items. It is located in Stockbridge and carries beautifully designed products across the lifestyle space.
At The Balmoral in Edinburgh, the newly renovated pool has just reopened. The property is beautiful and historic—the clear Grande Dame of the city—but it is good to know that it is located above the city’s major railway station steps from a promenade of bars along the river.
SCOTCH, The Whisky Room at the Balmoral, houses more than 500 varieties of Scotch whiskey, one of the largest collections in Edinburgh. The whiskey sommeliers here make the experience fun and approachable.
I had lunch at Cromlix, a small luxury hotel owned by tennis player Andy Murray and his wife. It is a lovely property and a nice place to stay for an intimate, countryside experience. You’re also closer to the famous Loch Lomond and some palaces and castles like Linlithgow Palace, where Mary, Queen of Scots was born, and Stirling Castle, where Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned), as well as the William Wallace Monument and Bannockburn.
I am completely obsessed with The Fife Arms. It is a hotel that could be a museum and you must take advantage of the art tour when staying at the hotel. Of the hotels I’ve stayed at, it most closely reminded me of Ett Hemm in Stockholm (if Ett Hemm were to have an extensive art collection). It is right in the small village of Braemar, walkable to all the shops and restaurants. It is amazing how quickly your time can go by just enjoying being in this hotel. And there are very few places in the world where you can enjoy tea or drinks while sitting under a Picasso. The Fife Arms team has just opened a new restaurant in the nearby village of Ballater called Fish Shop.
At the hotel, the Clunie Dining Room is where guests enjoy breakfast daily; it is also open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday and for the traditional Sunday Roast. Like everything in the Fife Arms, the restaurant is a dramatic feast for the eyes. The Flying Stag is the social hub of the village of Braemar and it is located on the ground level of the Fife Arms. It is a charming, traditional pub serving just really good pub fare—the fish and chips is a standout here. There is also an extensive whiskey list and cocktail program. Bertie’s Bar is named after Queen Victoria’s extravagant eldest son, King Edward VII (also known as “Bertie”). The refined and elegant bar is—not to overhype—Scotland’s top whiskey bar, with over 390 whiskies arranged by flavor profile: fragrant, fruit, rich and smoky. Elsa’s is the signature cocktail bar at the Fife Arms, bringing Art Deco elegance to the Scottish Highlands. The cocktail lounge was inspired by fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli and her love of shocking pink and “bon mots.” The bar is playful, the cocktails all handcrafted and exquisitely presented.
Plus: while in Braemar, don’t miss the Braemar Gallery, a fine art gallery, printmaking workshop and small gift shop in the center of the village. And Braemar Chocolate Shop is the local chocolate shop. In each guest room at the Fife Arms, you will find a box of delicious Braemar chocolate.
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