Travel by Train in Europe: My Top 15 Tips

Travel by Train in Europe: My Top 15 Tips

Reading Time: 7 minutes

The first time I backpacked through Europe as a US Citizen, I was entirely overwhelmed and confused. I wasn’t the only foreign visitor who was confused, there were so many people who had questions about how this complex interconnecting system worked. So for those first timers out there, here are my Top 15 Tips for Travel by Train in Europe.

Top 15 Tips for Travel by Train in Europe

1- Buy a ticket

Just because you have a Eurail pass, doesn’t mean you have a reserved seat. So be sure to buy that extra ticket in order to reserve a seat. Also, make sure you are there at least 30 minutes early so you don’t miss your train. Especially if you are traveling across country lines. Only buy tickets from reputable places, there are a lot of scams in Europe around travel. Educate yourself on how to avoid scams in Europe.

Top 15 Tips for Travel by Train in Europe

2- Check Your Platform And Car Number

Get on the right train from the right platform. Look at the train names above the numbered platforms. Then make sure that the car you enter is the exact car you need to take. The cars separate at different stops and you don’t want to be left behind unknowingly.

IF YOU DON’T KNOW, ASK!!!! Ask someone after you get on the train if you must. They will close the doors when the conductor blows the whistle. The trains in Europe wait for no one.

3- Anticipate The Need To Run

Once seated, look at your ticket……look at the next platform you need to go to. Look at when your train arrives and when the next departs. You may need to run across the station to platform 12b from platform 1a in 15 minutes. There is always going to be someone slow in front of you, so take the stairs.

Top 15 Tips for Travel by Train in Europe

4- Scan Your Ticket To Get In And Out

Keep your ticket in hand! You need it to scan in and scan out of each of the train stations. The ticket must be current, or you can get a fine. If you have a Eurail Pass, you can just scan the code on the outside of the ticket to get through the gates. The Eurail tickets sometimes have their own gates. Try to go with the gate not everyone is going through (if you can’t understand the Language).

5- Check The Type Of Train You Get On

Make sure you are getting on the right type of train. If you get on the wrong train you can still get fined. It may be going to the right place, but if you get on the faster train or get on an inter-city train instead, you can get fined. B

Top 15 Tips for Travel by Train in Europe

6- Bring Your Own Supplies

Bring your own water, your phone charger, and a Travel Pillow— especially if you have a sleeper train — small backpacks are the best…..just minimize by packing like the news told you the city was going to be bombed and you had 15 minutes before you had to be evacuated. That will get you everything you need in one bag. Yes, you will probably smell……bring Febreeze… me…..there are people who smell worse on the trains.7 – Take Your Trash With You

7- Take Your Trash With You

Take your trash with you when you exit the train. There are small little garbage cans underneath the tables or right under the window on most trains. These fill up very quickly, as well as the ones in the bathrooms, so take your rubbish with you when you get off.

Top 15 Tips for Travel by Train in Europe

8- Sit In Seats With No Reservations

Don’t sit in a seat with a paper at the top or an electronic name above the seat…..You will lose your seat. I had this experience once, and that is all it took for me to learn to not do this. Was very unpleasant to be laughed out of your seat by a group of teenage boys. Then I stood in the café car for two hours till the next stop, the train was so full you couldn’t find a seat even between the cars.

9- Treat The Train Like You Would Your Living Room

Don’t put your feet up on the seats, or let your luggage take a seat near you. Put your bags on top and your coat on the hooks. MOVE if there are people looking for a place to sit. You wouldn’t want to sit on a spot where someone’s muddy shoes have just been, ruining your outfit. Take your shoes off first at least before you do this. They don’t exactly clean these seats regularly.

10 – Be The First In Line, In the Right Spot On The Platform

Be the first in line to get on the train…..the seats run out very quickly. Don’t be rude and shove people aside, but if you have the chance, stay close to the train. I also would gauge where the train door would stop ultimately by the train next to us. You stand right where the train opposite would stop, and you get to be the first one onto the train! Worked like a charm every time. Most people just stand at the platform thinking if they are near the front they will get a seat, this is not true. If you are at the front of the platform, right where the doors are going to stop, THEN you will get a seat.

11- Pack Light

Please don’t bring 500 pieces of luggage that require you to ask for help onto and off the train. If you cannot easily get up and down 4 very tall 18-inch steps with both luggage pieces in hand…..people will get mad. The longer you take to board the train the less likely the people behind you will be able to find a seat.

Top 15 Tips for Travel by Train in Europe

12- Sitting In Between Cars Is Uncomfortable

If you are just going one stop, you can sit in-between the cars. If you try and do this for the entire trip….you will have to get up and move every time someone opens the car doors……very annoying.

13- Sit In The Cafe If All Else Fails

There are seats in the back at the café car that you can order food and sit or stand there. I wouldn’t recommend this, as it gets crowded very very quick. No one can eat for 6 hours straight… would go broke.

14 – Limit Your Bathroom Use When Possible

Don’t try to use the bathrooms unless it is an emergency. If you do try and use them— bring hand sanitizer and toilet paper in your purse. The few I did have to use were so gross I was gagging. One had a floor so sticky and stinky that I had to breathe through my mouth. A coin-operated train station in Amsterdam was another bad experience. This particular bathroom had no toilet paper (luckily I had Kleenex in my bag), the sink had a powerful water flow and you could literally see the poop near the walls of the sink.

I am a pretty laid back person when it comes to expecting things to always be perfect (if you do expect it, your trip will be horrible); but this particular restroom was the most disgusting one I have used in the ENTIRE world. Who would have thought that a train station in the Netherlands would be that gross…..they are usually a very clean people.

I will say this though, there are some trains (typically the newer ones) that have decent bathrooms with air-fresheners and everything. They give hefty fines to people who are caught using first class bathrooms without a ticket.

Top 15 Tips for Travel by Train in Europe

15 – Getting A First Class Ticket Can Be Worth It

If you get a sleeper car for an overnight train trip, get one in first class with one other person if you must. I’m telling you….. it is amazing, and I actually slept…..everything is so clean and really just like a hotel room. You even get breakfast. Second class sleeper trains are adequate but don’t expect to have it be perfect.

My experience with the Second class sleeper was with 4 people in it, and nowhere to put your things because the ladies on the bottom bunks took up all the space. On top of that, you are usually at the end of the train which is a lot more bouncy and less restful. The Air conditioner broke and it was so incredibly hot woke up drenched in sweat. The gentleman in charge of our car and cabin just apologized, said they tried to fix it, and there were no other rooms for us to go

Top 15 Tips for Travel by Train in Europe

Make Train Travel in Europe Easier

Now all these things may make you not want to take the train at all. These 15 tips, were constructed from the worst parts of my experience. These tips and tricks will help your experience better. There are many many more wonderful parts of train travel, that can end up being a really great experience. My luck on trains is not the greatest. Apart from the one time I got a first class cabin all to myself. Being in first class was sooooo worth the money! To be in a cool, quiet, restful place with an attendant who really cared.

So don’t let this article deter you from train travel, it really is a great way to get around. I hope these things have helped and will allow at least those in the Culture Trekking Community to travel with ease, by learning from my mistakes.

As always, Happy Travels, Happy Tales and See You on the Flip Side.

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What to See On the Royal Mile in Edinburgh

What to See On the Royal Mile in Edinburgh

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Although Edinburgh is smaller than most European cities, the history within this town is really just as jam-packed. It is quite touristy along the Royal Mile for good reason, but not all activities and venues are created equal. So here are my tips on What to See On The Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

The End of the Royal Mile at the Palace

There are several streets along the Royal Mile that each has their own unique treasure of history. The streets that make up the Royal Mile are Castle Hill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canon-gate and Abbey Strand (which leads to the Holyrood Palace). These streets are an excellent example of what life in the 16th and 17th century would have been like.
The side streets between houses or ‘closes‘ housed the livestock for those inhabitants in the skyscraper-like apartments.

Building Edinburgh & its History:

King David in 1124 was the first to recognize the hill as an ideal place for protection, he built a fort and named it the Burgh of Eiden. This later gave rise to Edinburgh Castle, I like to think it was someone who was dyslexic that just got the name mixed up somehow.
In 1544 King Henry VIII burned much of the city because of Scotland’s refusal to allow him to marry Mary Queen of Scots, who was an infant at the time. King Henry VIII was historically a bit weird, so it is a good thing that did not happen.

Sign post in the Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle Sign Post

The year 1645 saw as many as 70,000 people living within the Royal Mile. Some of the housing units were 14 stories high, and up to 10 people sharing a single room!
Renovations were initiated in 1865, with new housing built on Blackfriars street and St Mary’s street. Cockburn street also connected the Royal mile to the Train Station.
Patrick Geddes then remodeled the Canongate and top of the mound to look more like the original Royal Mile 500 years earlier.
Now that I have spouted off much of the data and dates associated with Edinburgh and Royal mile, hopefully, I haven’t lost all my readers 😉 It is important to know this backdrop of history, as it allows you to realize what a dark history of war this area has had over time.

Edinburgh Castle:

St Margaret’s Chapel:

The tiny Norman chapel built in the 12th century is the oldest surviving part of Edinburgh Castle. Named St.Margaret’s chapel after the saintly wife of Malcolm III, it can still be used today by the castle guardians for weddings.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

The Great Hall, with its ornate hammerbeam roofing, built by James IV in 1510 holds a fine collection of armor and weapons. Don’t ask me what hammerbeam means, because I really have no idea. I’m assuming it is the shark tooth like appearance of the arch itself.

The Stone of Destiny:

Not only was the castle of great importance during Scotland’s Wars of Independence but it was also the seat of the Scottish Kings. Be sure to take a gander at the Stone of Destiny, a tradition of the Scottish Kings that would sit on this stone during their coronation.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

It is believed that this is the stone that Jacob (of the Bible) dreamed about Jacob’s ladder. Thus the stone is considered sacred, and likely why in 1296 Edward the I built it into his throne. Make sure to watch the movie associated with the stone, uniquely called, The Stone of Destiny.
The Stone of Destiny can be found and viewed along with the Scottish Royal Crown and Jewels at Edinburgh Castle. A ticket is required to view these items, so be sure to plan accordingly.

Ancient Royal Apartments:

You can still see the little room in the Royal Apartments where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son James who would eventually become James VI of Scotland and James I of England.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

Vaults and Graves:

Among the other things to see at the castle are its eerie vaults. The Scottish United Services Museum is a humbling thing to witness. There is also a gallery in hospital square, the Witches Well (where women were burned for witchcraft), Mons Meg ( a 15th-century cannon ).

My favorite part was a little cemetery towards the summit of the castle where the regimental pet dogs are buried. This is the part where I knew I was truly Scottish, my love for dogs was evident in the honor they give their dogs. It made my heart burst knowing that these animals will forever hold a place in the history of Edinburgh Castle.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

Tickets: £16.50 Adults with discount rates for seniors and children, free for children under 5 years of age. Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday: 9.30am – 6pm

New College

The Royal Mile is home to the Edinburgh University’s School of Divinity and Library. John Knox will promptly greet you at the doors, as he did in his sermons of old. You will read more about John Knox in the St. Giles Cathedral section.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

This School of Divinity is one of the most renowned universities for post-graduate theology studies with programs coming from 30 different countries. Established in May of 1843 after one-third of the ministers left the Church of Scotland. They left the church out of protest and striving for their spiritual independence.
An assembly of the Free Church Representatives decided this college was to be used for the training of Free Church ministers. This University continues to be used to teach theologists of our day. An excellent example, of many you will see in Scotland, of the past meeting the present.

A Personal Moment at this University: 

I didn’t know what this building was, and likely shouldn’t put this part in writing. A door was slightly open and I wandered inside to this courtyard. The statues I encountered appeared to be people of importance, but I didn’t know why. I have to admit that I did feel a sense of peace in this place.
The need to explore more to find out why I felt so peaceful, won out my brain telling me it was wrong.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

I tried to climb some of the stairs, but young adults with backpacks on were attempting to pass each other on the narrow stairs. This is when I realized I was actually in a school of some sort & left.

It was interesting researching what this building actually was after I came home as I felt such peace there. Scotland was the first place I had ever traveled alone. Ironically it was also 4 months after I had endured significant trauma. (See: When you try to keep it together, but some days you just can’t – post for more on that). I wandered into this building within the first two hours of arriving in Scotland

St Giles Cathedral

Saint Giles is actually the saint of cripples and beggars. You will find a few of the beggars on the Royal Mile, but they are not aggressive like in many of the cities in the USA. This church was built in 1126 but was destroyed by the English in 1385. The Scottish Reformation came about and so did the great minister John Knox who served here from 1559 to 1572.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

There are several important Scottish people buried here including James Graham, Marquis of Montrose (who was incidentally hung at Mercat Cross).

If you head to the West side of the Cathedral you will find the Heart of Midlothian within the cobblestone street. This marks where Parliament was held in the 15th century until the 19th century. It was also the commonplace where executions took place. For some reason unknown to me, Scottish locals will spit on the heart as a way of obtaining good luck (so just be aware of the spitters).

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

Mercat Cross is actually just at the opposite end of where St Giles Cathedral is. People were often tied up and whipped, tortured, and killed due to their crimes. It did not matter if they were real, witchcraft or false claims.

Real Mary King’s Close

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

Take a tour underground, visiting the bowels of Scotland underneath the towering buildings along the Royal Mile. You will descend into the dark depths of the city and be transported into the Real Mary King’s Close (or alleyway).

Tour the homes and the streets of the 17th century. Dive into your imagination as you learn of those who were afflicted with the plague. Learn what the centuries-old medical management of the Plague was like. The historical content of this tour is fantastic. The creepy factor for this tour, on a scale of 0 to 10, is only about a 3. I would hesitate to take young children on this tour. It is, however, a fantastic tour for all those who work in the medical field or are fascinated with ancient medicine.

Hours of Operation and Pricing

Holyrood Palace:

This is truly one of the highlights of your self-guided tour of the Royal Mile in Scotland, a place where old meets new. Be delighted by the Royal Art Collection at Holyrood Palace, where I was able to see several Vermeer paintings. Here you will find special collections that are favorites of the royals. Take a tour of the many rooms of Holyrood Palace and the history that accompanies it.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

This is the place where, in the 16th Century Mary, Queen of Scots had her official apartments. Both the Queen of Scots apartments and the State Apartments are open to the public year round. Keep in mind that the Queen of England comes to stay in Scotland at the first month of Summer every year (June to July) and holds ceremonies and banquets for her Holyrood Week with Garden Parties. This Palace and it’s grounds have been home to Scottish Royalty for over 500 years.

There are several options for tours of the Palace available so be sure you know which one you would like to participate in. You can visit just the State Apartments, or you can include the Queens Royal Art Collection and the Palace Grounds. I personally did the Royal Visit (includes State Apartments, Royal Collection which housed many Vermeer paintings, and the Garden tour).

Why Choosing the Royal Tour is the Best Idea:

While touring the palace you quickly realize you can only walk on the sidewalks. Walking on the grass at any time for any reason is prohibited unless accompanied by a Palace Warden. Do not test the Warden’s people, you may find yourself in hot water if you do.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

The Royal Tour, which includes the gardens and palace grounds, will give you a unique view of the Palace. Walking on the pristine grass is allowed on the Royal Tour. You also hear the funny stories about why certain items are kept on the grounds. There is also a story of sibling rivalry that taught me that family feuds never change no matter the century, there is always one….you know who you are. 🙂

Other Travel Hacks for Edinburgh:  


There are not a whole lot of public restrooms I found along the Royal Mile itself. I happened to be staying at the Castle Rock Hostel which is right at the base of Edinburgh Castle. You can go into a restaurant and use their facilities, but typically only if buying a meal. There is one public Toliet at the backside of the Castle in Old Town, but it only has 1.5 stars on google, so utilize this at your own risk. Here is a map of other public restrooms in Edinburgh.

Weather & What to bring:

During the day the cobblestone streets hold the heat really well. When the sun sets the temperatures drop quickly and with the water being so close to this area, it can get rather chilly, even with warm blankets. The restaurants will fill up quickly after the sun sets and will be difficult for you to get a table. There are some restaurants that allow reservations, but most are a ‘first come, first serve’ basis.

It will not matter what time of day it is, when the sun sets, most people head indoors because of the cold. Make sure to bring gloves, slouchy beanie, and a Winter Coat as it gets quite windy. I will typically layer my clothing with a Fleece sweater (that is breathable), then a rain jacket. I know many travelers want to look cute in their photos. When you start freezing you will wish you had the proper gear.

In Summary: 

These are just a few of the things you can see along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. I would give yourself at least two days to see everything on the Royal Mile properly as there is a lot of walking you are going to have to do.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities in the world. I have ancestors who are from Scotland. Pedestrians have easy access to all the major sites within 20 minutes of walking. Making friends is incredibly easy in Scotland due to how helpful, kind and jovial most of them are. Basically, you need to go to Scotland right now or move it to the top of your bucket list.
If you would like help planning your trip, please email

Happy Travels, Happy Tales and see you on the Flip Side 😉

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Outlander Self Guided Tour

Outlander Self Guided Tour

Reading Time: 10 minutes

It is hard to NOT fall in love with James Frasier in Outlander. The show is highly accurate in its portrayal of the Scottish history and atrocities that were inflicted upon the Scots. Take your own Outlander Self Guided Tour and learn just how resilient the Scottish truly are.

Outlander Self Guided Tour

First Stop Doune Castle in Perthshire: (Castle Leoch)

Medieval stronghold near Stirling Castle, built in the 14th century by Robert Steward, Duke of Albany.  This was a really fun visit because the show didn’t have to change much about this well-preserved castle. There is an audio guide tour that actually has the actor who plays James Fraser (Sam Heughan) in Outlander that is narrating, and yes ladies, it is as lovely as it would seem.

Outlander Self Guided Tour

Culross Fife (Crainsmuir)

 This is where Claire and her Husband Frank stayed at the beginning of season one. This is where we saw the ghost of Jamie looking up at Claire in the window. I honestly wish I could have spent more time in this charming little town! There are small little B&B’s and hotels that look like they could have been operating in the middle ages. It is actually one of the most well-preserved cities from the 17th Century. There is a path by the sea with beautiful wildflowers and a FANTASTIC little tea shop tucked up around the left-hand side of the center of town that has a fantastic cup of tea. Funny enough, this is also where Sam Heughan had his own cup of tea and I literally sat right by the signed photo of him (insert sigh) sipping on a wonderful warm cup of Scottish Tea whilst nibbling on my bannock.

Outlander Self Guided Tour
Photo Credit: Historic Environment of Scotland

Blackness Castle (Fort William)

This is where Jamie (in Outlander) was flogged and kept a prisoner. It is the setting for Black Jack Randall’s Fort William. Coincidentally, it actually used to be a prison for the worst of the worst. The prisoners were put in a pit at the tip of the castle where, when the tide would come in, it would actually flood the prison cell. The prisoners would get soaked with the frigid water and many would end up freezing to death because of the bitter cold that often envelops Scotland. Even just standing in the guard room above the cell, in the middle of June, was VERY COLD.

This particular cell was at the very tip of the castle and would require the prisoners to be lowered into the pit by a rope. The castle itself is known as ‘the ship that never sailed’ because it looks like a flagship in its unusual shape. It is easy enough to do a self-guided tour as there are placards dotted throughout the castle with detailed descriptions and drawings to explain what life would have been like for these prisoners. I arrived early in the morning and didn’t realize that you can actually park close to the castle itself, but I parked far away and ended up walking quite a ways to get to the entrance. It was a nice peaceful walk over the bridge to the castle itself. I let my imagination run wild with imagining how it would feel to be a prisoner taken to this castle. Can you imagine trudging to this place knowing you were likely walking into death’s cold and harsh embrace? It was a sobering thought indeed.

Outlander Self Guided Tour

Aberdour Castle (Abbey of St Anne)

Where Claire cared for Jamie after his time in Wentworth Prison in the first season of Outlander. This 12th-century hall is the oldest standing stone castle in Scotland and features 17th Century painted ceilings. The feeling in this place was so relaxing, homey, and really like you could have stayed overnight and had crumpets and tea in the morning. I can almost imagine Cinderella singing with the birds in the attic above 😉 It is often used as a place where couples get married and maybe that is why there is such a great feeling within Aberdour’s walls. There are also BEAUTIFUL gardens within a stone’s throw of the castle. You can stroll around the perimeter and smell the lovely roses, reflecting on how lucky you are to be able to visit a place like this that has withstood the test of time and amazingly still holds so much whimsical, romantic charm.

Outlander Self Guided Tour
Photo Credit: A Dangerous Business Blog

Glencourse Old Kirk, Midlothian 

The church where Jamie & Claire were married, Glencourse Old Kirk in Midlothian. I wasn’t actually able to make it to this location; I kept getting lost and was a little stressed about driving on the other side of the road for the first time, lol. The BMW I was driving got a little scratched on the wheel covers…..oops. Because of the fact I didn’t know how to properly drive in Scotland, I kept getting lost because the address I had for this place was utterly useless — bottom line, I didn’t make it here.

Apparently, during filming, they made the Glencourse Old Kirk seem abandoned, when in fact it is actually quite nice inside with red carpeting, seating and an altar.  It is located on the Glencourse House Grounds and if you look it up on the GPS, it actually says it’s a private road, so proceed with caution so we all don’t get in trouble for pursuing a picture at this adorable and romantic little church.

Outlander Self Guided Tour

Newtonmore (The Highlander Villages)

This was far more impressive in person than it appears in photos. The drive to the village is long, but to be able to see this perfect recreation of 17th century Highlander life made it completely worth it. Make sure to bring enough cash to enter the Village as they do not accept cards. You start out by wandering through a recreated 18th-century village. As you wander through the village, every step brings you further back in time. By the end, you are able to wander through the woods to this quaint and perfectly replicated village of the 17th Century Highlands.

There were ducks, chickens, cows, and even a carpenter that was making new homes. The thatched roofs were made of twigs & then heavy stones were tied around and attached to the roof to help keep the roof down during the strong winter winds in the Scottish Highlands. There is even a house for the Coo’s (Scottish for Cows 😉 so that during the winter months they do not freeze to death. The people of that time period would actually welcome the animals into their home on the cold nights so as to help heat the inside of the home. I asked one worker dressed in period clothing if she was able to see when they were filming Outlander. This lovely woman laughed and said that the film crew would get really frustrated with the all the noise that one of her chickens used to make and would ask her to make the chicken cluck on cue and the rooster not crow so much.

Apparently, the chicken and the rooster do NOT like to have a whole lot of people around. So there was quite a lot of fuss about how to keep the animals quiet while they were filming. One thing about Scottish people is that they are really dedicated to their animals. I mean, even the Queen of England has dedicated a whole plot INSIDE Edinburgh Castle to the Royal Furbaby guard dogs 🙂 Just knowing how dedicated they are to animals made me enormously proud to be Scottish.

Outlander Self Guided Tour
Photo Credit: Visit Heritage

Hopetown House, Edinburgh (Duke of Sandringham’s House)

This house is open to the public during the summer months and has specific opening hours. Most international museums have a ‘last call’ entrance, where if you don’t make it to the museum or residence one hour before closing time, then you are out of luck. I hope to visit Scotland again next year so I will have a chance to visit this place because it looks absolutely stunning. The house is located in Queensferry which is about 20 min outside of the center of Edinburgh. You will likely need to either pay for a tour, a taxi or take an Uber and hop around to the other tourist locations nearby like Stirling Castle and my favorite, Midhope House (aka Lallybroch).

Outlander Self Guided Tour

Tulloch Ghru 

When Claire & the Clansman head to Castle Leoch in the first Season and is also in the opening credits. It is located just outside of Aviemore, I had a bit of a hard time finding it but with all the beautiful landscape around you, I doubt you will be sad if you don’t find the EXACT location.

Outlander Self Guided Tour
Photo Credit: Visit Scotland

Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian (Wentworth Prison)

Once the royal seat of the Stewart kings of Scotland and Mary Queen of Scots’ birthplace. Mary Queen of Scots only actually was at Linlithgow Palace for seven months before she was moved to Stirling Castle for better protection. There is a lovely hill and picnic tables near the ruined palace. The roof collapsed from a fire set by the British soldiers, unfortunately, but you can wander through the ruins and imagine what all the rooms must have looked like in the 1500’s.

There is an eerie feeling inside, but once you step outside and are surrounded by a beautiful lake and lush green hills with a church right next door, that eerie feeling goes away. I may have been tainted by Outlander and the dark things that befell our beloved James Fraser here. After coming home, I learned that Linlithgow is actually said to be haunted with two different apparitions of ghosts seen on the property, both women in dresses, one blue, and one white. (Take this with a grain of salt though, Scottish people tend to be very superstitious, but I guess with all the history of this country — I would be too).

Outlander Self Guided Tour

Midhope House (Lallybroch)

This is a partially ruined 16th Century tower house near Edinburgh by the Hopetown House. I literally felt like I was Claire walking up to the house for the first time, at the beginning of Season One. The outline of the house is so iconic for the series I literally started giggling and skipping down the road. This is the first time in my life that I have actually visited a place that was associated with a TV series or movie of some sort. I found I really like visiting countries or locations this way because it helps the imagination make what was once an abandoned old house come alive with people, flashes and images of ‘what once was.’ I loved every peaceful second here. 

If trying to navigate here, I would definitely put the address into the car navigation system. Upon driving to this particular location I traveled along a few dirt roads with charming fields and sheep grazing lazily on them. When you arrive, it looks like you are pulling into someone’s private farm. There is parking down the road, but everyone suggests to get here early as it can be crowded with tourists who have been touched by the ‘Outlander effect.’ Be respectful of the property, please. Observing is great, but don’t try and break in.

It has not been up kept up due to the expense and could be very dangerous inside with unstable flooring. The filming on the inside of Lallybroch was actually done in a studio, not inside the house. They also used computers to change the windows to look like it was lived in and not in ruins. (For the actual history of the house and more information, click on the link embedded in ‘Midhope House.’)

Outlander Self Guided Tour

Clava Cairn (The Standing Stone Circle)

Inverness IV2 5EU, UK: The one on the TV series was partially rebuilt in the middle of a farm somewhere in Scotland, allegedly. But this one is so similar you will barely notice. Plus you get the added benefit of experiencing the burial grounds that are here as well. I felt like it added a certain mysticism to the place. I think after being here, I truly felt like magic did exist in this beautiful country at one point. It’s an easy drive and there is no fee to enter.

I recommend getting there fairly early so you can see the way the sun hits the stones. Be gentle on the stones, and please don’t climb on the burial grounds; it’s bad form, people. I don’t care how big you think you are on your social media channel — this is my heritage and ancient history. Consider yourself warned.

Outlander Self Guided Tour

 Your Map for The Self-Guided Tour

I utilized Google maps and wrote down the exact address for each of the locations. If it was rural, I took note of the town name so that I could at least ask for help when arriving in that particular town. I found everything fairly easy to locate and if I was lost, I just pulled out my phone and plugged the address into Google Maps, and I was easily able to find each location.  Here is the map for your own Outlander Self Guided Tour (via Rental Car). This map does not include leaving from Edinburgh or a stop in Inverness to see Culloden.

Outlander Self Guided Tour

Renting A Car in Scotland

Most cars in Europe are manual transmission but there are automatic transmissions available, you just have to actively search for them. I also recommend getting navigation within the car itself. Many of the places you will drive through are very remote and often do not have cell phone service. Also, make sure that the car has unlimited miles in the contract itself so you can enjoy traveling without having to worry about the cost of the miles. Last but not least, if you are NOT used to driving on the opposite side of the road (for all my left seated and American drivers) PLEASE GET INSURANCE!

I was literally screaming the first 30 minutes in the car on the way out of town because people get SO CLOSE when they pass you. I also arrived at the rental place (Europcar) as soon as they opened, or the bus could get me there so I would miss all of the morning traffic.

Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh.

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Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre, Scotland’s Past And Future

Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre, Scotland’s Past And Future

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Charles Edward Stuart is a name not often recognized here in America; but if you possess Scottish blood, however, or an affinity for Scottish history, then you most likely know of the Bonnie Prince Charlie and his infamous Battle for Culloden.

Battle for Culloden

Prince Charles Stuart and His Claim for the Throne:

Prince Charles Edward Stuart was born in Rome and lived in a staunchly Catholic household with his father, who would often talk about their heritage (like most Scottish) and who held a claim on the rights to the Scottish and English throne. I like to think that there must have also been talk of Scottish rebellion, and the Jacobite succession in that house because of who Charles became. With Prince Charles growing up in such an environment, those lectures must have transformed him greatly to become the dreamer he became later in life. He had a dream of being able to take back the throne of not only Scotland but England as well because he felt it was God’s will.

Scotland has a very long history of antagonism between Catholic and Protestants, there are thousands of graves throughout Scotland and England as a result of that hatred. As a side note, we as the human race seem to not have learned from our mistakes of the past. We still fight these terrible wars, resulting in THOUSANDS of deaths and refugees…..then eventually mass graves like the one that Prince Charles led many of the Scottish Clans to.

It started in December 1943, when his father named him Prince Reagent. The title of Prince Reagent meant that he could act directly in his father’s name. If we let our imaginations look at his side of the story, where this 21-year-old-boy had just been given a huge amount of power by a father I assume he desperately wanted to impress.

His first act was to raise funds to buy two ships, the Elisabeth and the Doutelle. They were able to sail past the English ships on their way to Scotland, Charles learned that the French fleet that was supposed to be supporting him was badly damaged by storms.

News of his arrival in Scotland spread like wildfire to those who still supported his clemency. Please keep in mind that anyone who was found openly supporting his claim, if discovered by the British was killed (sometimes brutally) for treason.

Battle for Culloden

The Social Shift Towards War:

The Scottish were tired of the suppression of their livelihood, their customs, and the taxes they had to pay to a king they didn’t believe in. Prince Charlie’s Jacobite cause was still supported by many in the Highland clans, both Catholic and Protestant. Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standards, gathered what little money he could from the Highland Clans, and marched on Edinburgh, which was quickly surrendered to him. I imagine this really encouraged him and made him feel as if God truly was on his side, so he surged on.

On September 21st, 1745, he engaged in the Battle of Prestonpans. By November, he had a band of 6,000 men. They then won the Battle of Falkirk, and after this, the Duke of Cumberland caught up with them at Culloden. Prince Charles knew that he had to defend his military stronghold in Inverness, they were dwindling on supplies and weapons stored there. He chose to engage the English at the Battle of Culloden.

Traveler tip: It takes about a 20 min to reach Culloden from Inverness, so I would recommend leaving in the morning so you get the little bit of the daybreak mist. It’s also the best time to take pictures because there aren’t as many people around.

Battle for Culloden

The Battle for Culloden:

Prince Charles’ army of Scottish Clansmen were exhausted and starving yet they were still asked to go into battle – because God was on their side right?
It was the last battle they would fight on British soil — the battle itself only took 1 hour and nearly 1,500 people died that day; over 1,000 of them being Jacobite Scotsman.
The Scottish men wore the kilts of their clans and were armed with axes, skindoo’s, swords, and French and Spanish Muskets that were only slightly smaller than those of the British forces. However, the British brought Mortars. It was a quick battle with heavy losses and still stands as a somber reminder of the past.

Battle for Culloden

Traveler tip: If you plan to visit any of the major Scottish Monuments, I would suggest stopping here first. The National Scottish Trust. They manage most of the sites with significant historical value in Scotland.

Battle for Culloden

The Visitors Center at Culloden:

When you arrive in Culloden, you will find a visitors center with items that have been recovered from Culloden. You wander through the history that leads to the battle, and end with a movie, before being led to the field where the fighting occurred. My family history dates back to the 1500’s with the MacKenzie’s and into the 18th-19th Century with the MacFarlane’s, who after this battle, fled to Ireland and then the United States.

Walking through the visitors center, and learning of how difficult their lives were was extremely sobering for me. What if a cousin had died here; buried in the Clan graves around the field where they fell? The different members of the clans were actually identified by their tartan or a small clan sprig in their bonnet. To see the Mounds of earth on the otherwise flat field, that turned out to be where our Clans had eternally been laid to rest.

Battle for Culloden

It made my heart break for the suppression and tumultuous past that Scotland had been under. Yet I am so proud to be Scottish, I have a family crest from both Scotland and Holland. I know their history, I visited their graves, I visited their clan homes and felt that Scotland was really somewhere I could call home. I know what it is to be proud of my heritage and what my heritage actually is. I know why I tend to love the rain and being outdoors now, the excitement I feel when I think about rainstorms and nature.

Traveler tip: entrance costs about $14 & I would plan on spending at least 2 hours there so you can really soak it in. I personally stayed in Inverness right by the river, and then went to see Culloden, several Clan castles nearby & then of course Loch Ness which is a short drive. From there, I traveled to Portree by car to visit the Isle of Skye.

I think it was sad for both sides of the Battle for Culloden. That’s the terrible thing about war, is that their are families on both sides that lost something. But I fear Scotland lost the most in this particular war:
After this tragic event,  those who survived either fled or were taken as prisoners. The Scottish leaders that were captured, were often kept alive… in slavery and at times torture to ensure their clans were kept in line. The brutal suppression of anything that identified the Scottish as a distinct people was banned.

The kilts were changed over time, but the Scottish spirit and enduring pride will forever live on. It is in our hearts, it is in our minds and will forever be a place I call my home and my heritage.

Battle for Culloden

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5 Classic dishes to try in Scotland

Reading Time: 3 minutes
The Classic Dishes to try in Scotland

  1. Minced Beef Pie – this is a hearty meal full of minced beef and strong spices, and it is typically paired with Scotland’s finest whiskey. Classic Dishes to try in Scotland
  2. Chicken Stuffed Haggis– haggis is made from sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart/liver/lungs), and typically stuffed inside the stomach lining along with oatmeal, suet, spices and salt mixed with stalk. I couldn’t quite bring myself to eat it inside of a stomach lining, but found it quite delicious and savory, with a hint of nut stuffed inside the chicken. Now that the foodie realm in Scotland is improving, they pair it with a sweet whiskey jam-like sauce that creates this delightfully sweet and savory combo. It nearly had me licking my plate at the end. I know to most people it sounds disgusting, but in Scotland the winter weather is so harsh and the walking is moderately strenuous. The locals needed nourishment like this to keep up the energy to complete their daily chores. If you think about this historically, the Scottish don’t have the long summers and tepid temperatures needed to grow grain like their southern counterparts, yet they needed adequate fuel to keep them warm and continue to trek from clan to clan and city to city in the harsh winters and cold rains. This was an excellent way to have something both delicious, practical, and nourishing. Balmoral-Chicken - Classic Dishes to try in Scotland
  3. Clam Chowder: with clams caught directly from the sea, boiled in white wine cream sauce then added in with a traditional clam chowder base, it is one of the best things there. I really like to eat something warm at pretty much every meal in Scotland because even though the summers are warmer than you would think, the nights get cold quite quickly. Soup is the best way to warm yourself up, especially if the restaurant has a warm, glowing fire to pair it with. clam chowder - Classic Dishes to try in Scotland
  4. Hotch-Potch: I never was able to try this dish during my trip, but the Scottish Locals told me I had to come back and try REAL Hotch-Potch (oh darn, guess I will have to go back:)
scottish hotch potch 5. Bannocks and Parritch – It’s actually much better than it looks. It fills you up, keeps the bowels regular thanks to all the fiber included, and gives you the bannocks at the end to slather with yummy, sweet Jam. I was told that if you go to Scotland and don’t at least have this for one breakfast meal, then you didn’t really visit Scotland. bannocks and parritch -Classic Dishes to try in Scotland
–>Please know that I am not a great cook myself, and thus am not picky when it comes to trying new dishes, as long as they don’t contain bell peppers, mushrooms, or any part of the animal head or genitals. I will pretty much try everything else. I also hate spicy foods due to heartburn flares. So, as a person with Scottish Heritage, and after talking with the locals, these are the dishes that were recommended to me while I was there. Happy Travels, Happy Tummy, Happy Tales <–

For more about Scotland read:

 The Battle for Culloden

Outlander Self Guided Tour