Balmoral Castle in Scotland has been much in the news, for there Queen Elizabeth II died. Unlike the royal castles, such as Windsor, Kensington, and Buckingham Palace, Balmoral — which was built by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert — is a privately owned home of the royal family. Nonetheless, you can visit from April to July.
Great Britain is home to 1,500 castles, and if you are inspired to take a castle tour, consider the following itinerary.
Travel nonstop to avoid connection problems if you can. Always get travel insurance. These days, never leave travel to fate. Book through a travel agent so if your flight is canceled, they can get you on another flight.
Edinburgh International Airport is friendly and easy to navigate. A taxi will get you into the city in about 20 minutes. Don’t stint on hotels. A luxury hotel or a Relais & Châteaux boutique hotel will save you time and energy. When you are jet lagged, you will value the convenience, comfort, and service a fine hotel offers. Edinburgh has many, and The Scotsman Hotel is among the best. Its rooms are lovely, its suites lovelier, and if you really want to experience luxury, book the two-story penthouse with a private elevator.
If you can, try to adjust to the local time. If you arrive in the morning, shower, call room service for a tea or coffee tray, and rest a couple of hours. Then head downstairs for lunch at the Grand Café. Afterward, take a guided tour of Edinburgh Castle, just a short walk up High Street. You will want to stop and see some of the many quaint shops along the way.
This castle has been a fortress since the 12th century and offers panoramic, breathtaking views of the city and far beyond. The castle’s esplanade serves as the outdoor stage for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, where British Armed Forces, Commonwealth, and International Military bands gather from all corners of the nation and its territories to perform every August during the Edinburgh Festival. The Scottish Crown Jewels are housed there, along with the world’s largest canon, Mons Meg, which takes four men to load. You will also see the Scottish National War Memorial, where the Rolls of Honor are inscribed with the names of the 200,000 Scotsmen who sacrificed their lives in battles since the Great War. Return to the Scotsman for tea and dine nearby at Number One at the Balmoral Hotel, or at Monteith’s for a more casual atmosphere.
The next day, schedule a private tour of Holyrood Palace, which has been the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland since the 16th century. Located at the opposite end of the Royal Mile, it is there that Mary, Queen of Scots, resided from 1561 to 1567, when she was forced to abdicate. There, too, she married both her husbands, witnessed the murder of her beloved private secretary, David Rizzio, and was architect of the murder of her second husband, Lord Darnley.
Afterward, take a short taxi ride to the HMS Britannia, which is permanently docked at Firth of Forth. One of the very few times the late Queen Elizabeth II was seen shedding a tear in public was when she decommissioned the yacht — which held so many happy memories — and gifted it to the nation. Have tea on board the Britannia. Later, taxi back to Princes Street and shop Edinburgh’s famous department stores, Jenner’s, Marks & Spencer, and Harvey Nichols.
The next day, embark upon a two-night, two-day luxury train trip aboard The Royal Scotsman, sister of the Orient Express. A secret 17th-century stone staircase leads directly from the Scotsman Hotel to Edinburgh Waverley Station, where you will be piped on board by a bagpiper from the First-Class Lounge at 1:45 p.m. The Royal Scotsman boasts two staff members for every guest. You will be shown to your private ensuite stateroom. The train journeys north, wending its way through magnificent Highlands.
Cocktails and dinner on board the Royal Scotsman are black tie optional. The fare, wine selection, and, of course, the single-malt scotch are the finest. After dinner there is entertainment and a night cap as the train lays overnight in a siding.
The following day after breakfast, depending upon your itinerary, you may enjoy clay pigeon shooting at Rothiemurchus Estate; a tour of Glamis Castle, home of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother; or a visit to Strathisla Distillery, one of Scotland’s oldest working distilleries. Have dinner on board, and the following morning you will return to Edinburgh. For more information, visit www.belmond.com.
Take a castle tour and you will want to return again and again. You will never get enough.