Outside Edinburgh Lurk Magical Trips — From a Fairy-Tale Village to ‘Outlander’ ToursBy Karen Dalton-Beninato
Edinburgh is one of the best home bases in Europe for embarking on a tour of magical sites. It’s the perfect kickoff point for a multiday “Outlander” excursion through ancient sites and an easy day trip to cruise Loch Ness, hike the moors or visit a fairy-tale village by ferry.
Channel Your Inner Outlander
Scotland may have a glut of “Outlander” tours, but the creator of the wildly popular books and Starz television series, Diana Gabaldon, recommends Highlander Hugh Allison’s Inverness Tours.
Allison is a Scottish historian, and his team works with you to craft an itinerary and helps select the hotels you book. Start your Outlander Immersion Tour (up to 8 days) in the conveniently located Edinburgh Marriott Hotel for a guided stroll down the Royal Mile, where Gabaldon’s characters Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser reunite after 20 years.
From there, you and your guide can travel to sites like Glencoe, where the majestic peaks from the “Outlander” opening credits rise toward the sky, and Clava Cairns in the Outer Hebrides.
The neolithic stones inspired Claire’s time travel rune portal (the show’s version is made of styrofoam). Tour Ord House, which inspired the Fraser clan’s fictional home of Lallybroch, and stately Castle Leod, the real-life Castle Leoch. Brush up on Gaelic in advance for a truly immersive Highlands experience.
Seek an Ancient Sea Beast
For potential sightings of an ancient sea beast, book Inverness Tours for a trip just over three hours from Edinburgh to the shores of Loch Ness. You’ll learn lore about the Loch Ness Monster and hear tales dating back to A.D. 500 spun by your local guide, possibly Loch Ness historian Allison himself if you book far enough in advance.
The City to City tour can pick you up at the Edinburgh Marriott Hotel and take you just past Inverness for a day of Nessie hunting. For shutterbugs, keep your camera finger poised in case you get the first Loch Ness Monster selfie of the modern age.
Because the tour travels in a vehicle smaller than a tour bus, it’s easy to jump off the beaten path by telling the tour guide your interests in advance — you might have a chance to pop into friendly pubs or wee villages. Ask for an estimate of meal and admission costs; the tour price is exclusively for your guide and transport.
The Pentland Hills Are Alive
Go on a serene excursion just southwest of Edinburgh to Pentland Hills Regional Park. With 62 miles of marked routes, it’s so extensive, you can find the perfect trail for your fitness level and forge forth.
Walk through heather on the Scottish moors, and bird watch for native grouse and pheasant on a photo safari. Keep an eye out for ancient stone ruins and solitary tombstones, as well as waterfalls sprinkled throughout the hills.
The park is partly farmland, so you may also come across stone walls separating flocks of sheep that are herded by Scotland’s shepherds and their sheepdogs in the ancient tradition. The vistas are so expansive you’ll be best off making your first excursion with an experienced guide.
Reserve a spot on a tour that covers interests from wildflowers to literature to prehistoric sites through the Pentland Hills website. Prices range from free to 15 pounds and vary from short walks to strenuous hikes. Like everyone who falls in love with the park, you’ll know the trails better every time you return.
Fairy-Tale Vistas and Drams of Whisky
Visit the mystical shores of Scotland off the beaten path by cruising Loch Lomond 73 miles from Edinburgh between late March and October. Depart from the ticket center in Tarbet, and enjoy a narrated day cruise to the fairy-tale village of Rowardennan with its small beach situated 3,000 feet below the majestic mountain of Ben Lomond.
From Rowardennan, take a cruise across the loch to the equally charming village of Luss to tour its Clan Colquhoun Heritage & Visitor Centre and stretch your legs with a stroll past rows of rose-covered cottages.
Back aboard the ferry, warm up Scottish-style with a dram of whisky. If you’ve cruised up an appetite, dine on fresh seafood at Starfish Tarbet Restaurant (reservations recommended) back on shore before trekking back to your home base of Edinburgh.