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Best of Scotland, early April, 2019 (season opener)

Short version: There is no reason you should not book the Best of Scotland tour with the Rick Steves organization; you’ll have great time. This was my first Rick Steves event, it will not be my last.

A bit of patient research will turn up many enthusiastic day-by-day accounts for this trip. I’m going to hit only a few highlights.

Anne Doig provided guide and wrangling services. A consummate professional, Anne delivered history, anecdotes, jokes, music, and snacks and kept us tightly organized. Quietly coping with complaints and behind the scene issues, nothing perturbed Anne. Grant was our primary coach pilot. He calmly managed all situations on Scotland’s freakishly narrow roads with skill acquired over many years.

Scotland in April. How bad could it be? Occasional rain and haar but I was in shorts and sunglasses for 10 of 14 days. I even got a tan line on my legs. Temps ranged from 35 at night to 70. Lots of sun. Cooler and more unpredictable as we headed north but still lovely. Our only major weather event occurred on the northwestern coast of Mull.

Twenty-eight wonderfully interesting folks from the States. Many couples and singles who had been traveling with the Rick Steves organization for years. Ages: 20+ to 80+. Some complainers, some performers, some partisans, no grumps. Personally, I avoided or politely excused myself from American political discussions.

Decades of bicycle touring forced me to become an enthusiastic lightweight packer. Everything I need fits easily into a 40 liter duffle supplemented with a 28 liter backpack for excursions. At the other extreme, a few folks struggled with two large rollers plus one or two shoulder bags. I counted fourteen pieces of Rick Steves rolling luggage, eight various models of RS shoulder bags, and three RS travel backpacks. Still, the luggage boot on the coach was mostly empty. Some of the RS pieces had been on more than six trips. That’s value.

Fabulous. From Scotch broth and a scone with clotted cream to duck with asparagus and Hollandaise, some meals were more interesting than others. I never got up from a disappointment. Restaurants everywhere listed options for fad and lifestyle diets. Breakfasts at all accommodations offered an interesting variety but the UK runs on a high fat breakfast. I enjoyed haggis at every opportunity and savored its regional variations; it was always a delicious surprise.

We stayed in luxurious hotels and small B&Bs with a wide range of room sizes and amenities. Each had quirks and charms, varying levels of noise, hot water, and bed quality. Everything was clean and neat and I had plenty of towels. I thoroughly enjoyed the tea service provided in every room. Temperatures at night dropped to 34-40 and room temp was not always user-controllable. I made it a point to locate or ask for an extra blanket and I was glad I brought sleepwear.

I did learn one lesson worth passing on: don’t waste a visit to, say, St. Andrews over a long and chatty lunch. Grab a sandwich and go explore! Blogs and forum entries cover the BOS tour’s numerous cultural and historical objectives and attractions. Not much has changed so please review those—and your RS guidebooks—for as much detail as you wish. I only need to say I had a wonderful time. It was all good. If the RS planners at headquarters decide to change anything about the BOS tour, I hope they’d include one or two modern features such as, say, the Kelpies at Falkirk.

Day 2 is the most intensive requiring four to eight miles of walking, wandering, climbing from the New Town up to the Castle, and the return trip to the B&B. You can always get a taxi, a ride share, or bus/tram. Typical of any foot-based tour, you want excellent shoes and the confidence they will protect your feet to allow you to walk another

Posted by
14163 posts

Thanks so much for your Trip Report! What an excellent time you had. I'm sorry Iona got rained out but I think that is often the case.

You are so right about not wasting time on lunch on a stopover! Great advice! I thought St Andrews was pretty neat with lots to see.

I agree with your assessment on Day 2. Definitely the most steps of the whole trip.

Thanks for taking the time to write up your experience plus your other thread on packing advice. It will be helpful to others I am sure!

editing to add: Not sure what TL-DR means? I'm sure it will be obvious...later, hahaha!

Posted by
1842 posts

Thanks for the review.

I’m curious about that too. TLDR is often used for “too long did not read”. Not sure why the review started with that.

Posted by
788 posts

Thanks for the report. We’re sitting at Gate C11 at snowy O’Hare hoping our flight goes - 5 to 8 inches of April snow in forecast. If we make it out, we’ll be joining Anne and a new group Monday. Fingers crossed.

(And I packed the rain pants) 😉

Posted by
418 posts

Oh no, stoutfella! I hope you made it out of Chicago! Enjoy your trip.

Bogiesan, thanks for your report. I was concerned about the food in Scotland. Glad you enjoyed it. I'm still not sure I'll try haggis, but I tried snails in France, so we'll see. I'm taking a non-Rick Steves 5 day tour, so we'll see how it measures up.

Posted by
788 posts

An hour late out of Chicago but ended up on time to Edinburgh. Gorgeous, sunny day to help with the jet lag. Running on fumes, though. We’ll meet our group tomorrow.

Posted by
1019 posts

Stoutfella- glad you got out. Have fun and hope we can meet up with you at Chicago airport in a few weeks

Have a great time!

Posted by
3308 posts

We went to Scotland last summer, not with RS. Loved Scotland and we had fantastic weather the whole 12 days, sunshine galore! Only one day of rain. My only quibble with the RS tour of Scotland, is no Isle of Skye. An absolute not to be missed place IMHO.
I am glad to read that the first tour of the season went well. We are going to Greece with RS on the last tour of the season this year and I did have some reservations about taking a first or last tour.

Posted by
160 posts

We did this tour two weeks after you and concur with your observations. Anne Doig was an absolutely fabulous guide and the food was WAY above our expectations. The B&Bs we used were all clean and comfortable, but we dealt with TOO much heat. Took to opening the windows when we couldn’t regulate the radiators. Our group of travelers were fantastic and made for a very enjoyable trip.

One thing I didn’t think to bring was something for car sickness. The narrow, winding roads got to me a bit. But whiskey helped tremendously 😉.