Category Archives: Scotland

What to do in Scotland; attractions in Scotland and the best places to visit in Scotland.

Aberdeen day trips

3 great Aberdeen day trips

There are many possible day trips from the city of Aberdeen during which you can explore the beautiful surrounding area.  Here are my ideas for three great Aberdeen day trips, based on my Summer 2010 Scotland Blog Tour and an earlier trip to the area.  You could do a bit of a hybrid day out, taking in some elements from each of the three suggestions.

Aberdeen day trips

The lovely Aberdeenshire countryside in August

Visit Alford

The town of Alford lies around 25 miles west of Aberdeen.  It’s home to the  Alford Valley Railway where you ride on the narrow gauge railway to Haughton Park. There are events such as Teddy Bears Picnics on Wednesdays in August and Santa Specials in the run up to Christmas.

The Grampian Transport Museum is also in Alford.

I loved the carvings in the pink granite boulders which sit just outside the Alford Valley railway station.

Pig and sheep stone carvings in Alford

Take the Aberdeenshire Castle Trail

There are fourteen castles in the Aberdeenshire Castle Trail, I visited three of them on a previous trip to Aberdeenshire; Crathes Castle with its lovely garden, Castle Fraser and Haddo House.

Aberdeen Day Trips

Crathes Castle and Garden

Follow the Malt Whisky Trail

On the Malt Whisky Trail you can visit seven working distilleries including Glen Grant,  the Glenlivet and Cardhu. As a teetotaller and being short of time on my way to Elgin, I only had a quick look around the Glenfiddich Distillery. As I walked down from the car park, I was almost knocked out by the pervasive strong whisky odour.

Glenfiddich Distillery

I hope I’ve given you some ideas for enjoyable Aberdeen day trips.  If you have any favourite routes/places to visit in Aberdeenshire, please leave a comment.

Review of Premier Inn Elgin

Review of Premier Inn Elgin

I stayed for one night at the Premier Inn Elgin, on the third night of my Summer 2010 Scotland Blog Tour, on a complimentary basis.  It’s located a couple of miles from the town centre, just off the main road from Inverness.   There’s a restaurant attached to the Premier Inn but apart from a McDonalds close by, you’d have to drive into Elgin for a choice of restaurants.  You should try to go into Elgin to see Elgin Cathedral and the Biblical Gardens.

Review of Premier Inn Elgin

Premier Inn Elgin exterior

I was allocated a room facing the car park at the back of the hotel,  a good distance from the road, so didn’t hear any exterior noise. I thought my room was looking a bit tired and the chairs had seen better days, one had a stain on the cushion and both were worn and grubby around the ends of the armrests.  The bathroom was showing some signs of wear too around the sink and bath plug holes. In my opinion, Premier Inn really can’t claim they are a superior budget brand on the basis of a room like this.

There are only two sachets of regular coffee, two teabags and four small pots of milk (no biscuits) in a Premier Inn room, which seems a bit skimpy. You’re told at reception that you can ask for more supplies but once you’re settled in your room, you don’t really feel like trailing down to reception again.  The bed was very comfy so I did have a good sleep.

My room at Premier Inn Elgin

Breakfast at the Premier Inn Elgin was not an enjoyable affair.  Serving hours are 7 – 9am on weekdays and 8 – 10am at weekends, which I don’t think is late enough for leisure travellers. I reckon breakfast should be served until 10am on weekdays and 11am at weekends.  Anyway, I turned up at 8.20 and had to wait for about 10 minutes to be shown to a table.  I ordered my cooked breakfast and had some cereal and yoghurt from the buffet.  Every time I went to the buffet table something was missing e.g. no hot water, no cups or no milk. I didn’t see croissants or fresh fruit salad on any of my visits to the buffet table.  I went to the buffet table at 9.15 to get some more toast and tea and everything but everything had been cleared away.  I spoke to some other guests who were also a bit bemused by the fact that their breakfast had come to an abrupt end.

Premier Inn quote room only rates, a full breakfast costs £7.75 and a continental breakfast is £5.25, kids under 16 eat free with accompanying adults.  I asked if the restaurant had wifi and was informed it didn’t.  Fortunately I have an 02 mobile broadband subscription which costs £15 a month for up to 3GB, as Premier Inn charge guests a hefty £5 for an hour or £12 for 24 hours for internet access.

If you need a bed for the night in the Elgin area and can find a cheap room at Premier Inn (rooms start from £29 a night), fair enough, the rooms aren’t that bad, but certainly not really premier. Just make sure that you go for breakfast early.

Keep It Real Travel Review - No FluffKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff


Review of Premier Inn Aberdeen West Central

I stayed at the Premier Inn Aberdeen Central West for one night in August 2010 on a complimentary basis. It was the second night of my Summer 2010 Scotland Blog Tour.  The hotel lies just off Anderson Drive, on the Aberdeen ring road. However the hotel is set back from the road so I didn’t hear any external traffic noise during my stay. The hotel is a couple of miles from the city centre and has a large free car park.

I was allocated a room on the 4th (top) floor, which had a small window set in a sloping ceiling. I found the room to be a bit dark but spacious and well maintained.  The bed was large and very comfortable.  The bathroom was pristine.

There was plenty of space to work at the desk. However wifi access at Premier Inns is priced at £5 an hour or £12 for 24 hours which I think it too expensive. I used my 02 mobile broadband which costs me £15 a month for up to 3GB.  However there is free wifi, with a good signal, in the restaurant right next to the Premier Inn, where breakfast is served.

My room at Premier Inn Aberdeen Central West

Everything for breakfast at the Premier Inn Aberdeen Central West was laid out as a buffet (unlike other Premier Inns at which I stayed, where the cooked breakfast was freshly prepared to order). While this was a good thing as you could get your cooked breakfast at the time that best suited you, some of the items weren’t hot enough. There was a good selection of cereals, yoghurts, fresh fruit salad, fruit juices, croissants and muffins.  You could make your own toast in one of these conveyor belt machines, which never seems to do a good job. Hot water for tea and coffee were on the buffet table in flasks. I didn’t find this arrangement worked well, as the drinks were lukewarm as opposed to hot. Breakfast isn’t included in the room rate, most Premier Inns offer a choice of either a continental breakfast for £5.25 or a  cooked breakfast for £7.75.

The rooms at Premier Inn Aberdeen Central are very well presented.  The location is good if you don’t want to be staying in a potentially noisy city centre Aberdeen hotel.  All the staff I spoke with were very friendly and helpful. You’d probably need a car to stay here, so it would be handy as a base for day trips from Aberdeen. The quality of breakfast items is very good but I think preparing the breakfasts to order and bringing freshly brewed tea and coffee to guests tables would ensure a hotter, fresher breakfast.  I think that Premier Inn should reduce or abolish their wifi charges.

Keep It Real Travel Review - No FluffKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff


5 of the Best Dundee Hotels

I think that the Scottish city of Dundee is an ideal short break destination, so here are some suggestions for Dundee hotels.  Dundee is located on the east coast of Scotland, on the Tay Estuary.  There are some great Dundee attractions such as Discovery Point, Sensation Science Centre and the Verdant Works.  Dundee also has a good selection of shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.  There’s a lovely beach in the suburb of Broughty Ferry.

Dragon sculpture in Dundee city centre

Best places to stay in Dundee

My tips for the best places to stay in Dundee are based on my own experience plus research into Dundee hotels which receive very good reviews from guests.

Premier Inn Dundee Centre is right on the Tay Estuary, so try to get a room at the back of the hotel for the views. The rooms are slightly dated but it’ s a good Dundee budget hotel. If you manage to get one of the £29 rooms it’s a bargain for the location.  It’s just across from Dundee railway station, so ideal if you come by train.  You can read my review with a video of the room in which I stayed in August 2010.

Premier Inn Dundee Centre on the Tay Estuary

The 4 star Apex Hotel is on City Quay, I’ve seen room only rates here from around £65 a night.  The rooms get very good guest reviews but there are some negative comments about the restaurant, especially for evening meals.   However, there are a couple of restaurants on City Quay and a good  choice in the city centre, a 10 minute walk away.  The hotel has a free car park, a health spa and free wifi.

Apex City Quay Hotel Dundee

Another budget Dundee hotel option is the Travelodge Dundee Centre where I stayed in May 2010 for only £12 for the night. This was booked during the Travelodge January 2010 sale.  The building was formerly a jute mill, so I had an enormous room with 3 big windows.  There’s a free car park at the rear. I found the hotel to be a bit noisy as there’s a busy road at the front and service access to a supermarket at the rear.  However, I do live in a quiet location and often find city centres noisy.  You can read my full review which has a video of my room.

Travelodge Dundee Central

My room at Travelodge Dundee Centre

The Holiday Inn Express Dundee opened recently. The cheapest rooms I’ve seen on offer for this hotel were around £60.  Continental breakfast is included in the room rate and there’s free wifi in the lobby.


Holiday Inn Express Dundee by occahome

If you’re looking for accommodation away from the  city centre, the Taychreggan Hotel in Broughty Ferry is a good choice.  This Victorian mansion has ten rooms, some with views over the Tay estuary.  There’s a garden with a sun terrace.

View from Broughty Ferry Castle

Click here for the lowest prices on Dundee hotels

Things to do in Dundee - Discovery Point Dundee

Discovery Point Dundee: Home of Captain Scott’s Antarctic expedition ship

Discovery Point, in the Scottish city of Dundee, is the home of RRS Discovery, the the ship which transported Captain Scott’s first Antarctic “Discovery Expedition” to the South Pole in 1901. The ship was built in Dundee and returned there in 1986.

Things to do in Dundee - Discovery Point Dundee

RSS Discovery against the Dundee skyline

Discovery was locked in by ice in the South Pole during the Winter of 1903.  She had to be rescued by two other ships, Morning and Terra Nova (which took Scott back to Antarctica on the ill fated Terra Nova Expedition in 1910). In order to free Discovery the rescuers had to blast through 20 miles of ice.

Discovery Point entrance

RRS Discovery was the first ship to be specifically constructed for Antarctic exploration.  Dundee was chosen due to the workers experience in building robust whaling ships.

Discovery Point Dundee - Things to do in Dundee

Dundee Docks exhibit at Discovery Point

The “Race to the Pole – Centenary of the Terra Nova Expedition” exhibition runs until 2 December 2010, to commemorate 100 years since the start of Scott’s second and final journey to the Antarctic, where the expedition members perished on their way back to the ship, after being beaten to the South Pole by the Norwegian Amundsen.

Things to do in Dundee - Discovery Point Dundee

Ice fishing exhibit at Discovery Point Dundee

The highlight of my visit was going on board RSS Discovery. I was amazed by the height of the masts, although the ship did also have engines.

Discovery Point was a showpiece of Dundee’s regeneration in the 1980s and is a must-visit Dundee attraction.  You can see all my Discovery Point photos and videos on Flickr.

I’d also recommend visiting the Dundee attractions the Sensation Science Centre and  The Verdant Works (which tells the story of Dundee’s jute industry).

Click here for the lowest prices on Dundee hotels

Review Dundee Centre Premier Inn

Review of Premier Inn Dundee Centre

I stayed at the Premier Inn Dundee Centre for one night in August 2010, on a complimentary basis.  It was the first night of my Summer 2010 Scotland Blog Tour. The hotel is in a great location right on the Tay Estuary, just across from Dundee railway station.  This is an ideal hotel for a Dundee short break with Dundee attractions such as Discovery Point and Sensation Science Centre, as well as a selection of shops, bars, cafes and restaurants, within a  5 minute walk from the hotel.  Guests can park free of charge, with parking pass available at reception, in the pay and display car park at the front of the hotel.

Review Dundee Centre Premier Inn

Premier Inn Dundee Centre by the Tay Estuary

I was fortunate to have a room at the back of the hotel with an estuary view and the Tay road and rail bridges.  There’s s walkway along the estuary but I didn’t hear any noise from there after midnight.  The rooms at the front of the hotel face the car park and a fairly busy road.

View from my room at the Premier Inn Dundee Centre toward Tay Road Bridge

My room was a good size with a comfy bed.  Some of the room fittings were a little bit old fashioned,  I didn’t like the plastic wood effect on the sink and toilet casing.

The staff are all very pleasant and helpful. I arrived at the car park just after  11.00am, check in time is from 2pm but I was given a free pass for the car park from the receptionist which I was told would be valid for the whole of the next day too.

Breakfast was mainly an all-you can-eat buffet but the cooked breakfast was freshly cooked to order.  I managed to get a table with an estuary view. It was a bit chaotic at the buffet table, due to the number of guests.  There was a fresh fruit salad, various cereals, fruit juice, yoghurts, toast from a toasting belt machine (which only seemed to do one side), croissants and muffins.  Hot water and coffee were available in flasks but were just about lukewarm.   I think that it’s be much better for staff to serve fresh tea and coffee to guests’ tables, so that the hot drinks would actually be hot and the buffet table wouldn’t get so crowded.  Breakfast isn’t included in the room rate, most Premier Inns offer a choice of either a continental breakfast for £5.25 or a  cooked breakfast for £7.75.

Wifi access is priced at £5 an hour or £12 for 24 hours, which I think it too expensive. I used my 02 mobile broadband which costs £15 a month for up to 3GB.  In my opinion, Premier Inn should offer guests free wifi.

I’d recommend the Premier Inn Dundee Centre for a city break or as a base for various day trips, for example to Fife, Perthshire and Angus.   It’s a good Dundee budget hotel option with rooms starting at £29 a night, kids under 16 stay free in family rooms.  For every adult who orders a cooked breakfast, two under 16s can eat free of charge.  I’ve included the Premier Inn Dundee Centre in my top 5 Dundee hotels.

Keep It Real Travel Review - No FluffKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff


Sensation Science Centre, Dundee: Great fun for families

I visited the Sensation Science Centre in Dundee in August 2010 during my Summer 2010 Scotland Blog Tour.  It’s a great all weather Dundee attraction for families. This is the sort of place that our twin sons loved in their youth, where kids get involved in the hands-on exhibits as well as various fun, educational activities.

Sensation Science Centre Dundee - Things to do in Dundee

Exterior of Sensation Science Centre Dundee

My favourite was the Magic Mirror, where if you stood still you’d disappear from the monitor but as soon as you moved you were visible on screen.

Magic Mirror at Sensation Science Centre Dundee

It must be an adventure climbing in the large head in the Taste and Smell section.

The ne Small Step space exhibition was on during my visit.

In Mindball you control the movement of a small sphere with your brain waves. Two people, with monitors strapped on their heads, sit at opposite ends of a long table with the sphere placed in the centre of the table. The winner is the person who is most relaxed, as the ball will move towards their less relaxed opponent.

As my visit was during the school holidays, there were several shows and events on offer throughout the day. I watched a film about the planets projected on the top of the Planetarium tent while lying on a mat on the ground.

If you’re looking for ideas for other things to do in Dundee, I’d recommend the Verdant Works and Discovery Point.

You can see all my Sensation photos and videos on Flickr.

Click here for the lowest prices on Dundee hotels

Europe a la Carte Summer 2010 Scotland Blog Tour

Europe a la Carte Summer 2010 Scotland Blog Tour

The Europe a la Carte Summer 2010 Blog Tour took place  6 – 10 August 2010 with accommodation provided by Premier Inn.

Europe a la Carte Summer 2010 Scotland Blog Tour

Loch Faskally, Pitlochry, Perthshire

My first night was spent be in my city of birth Dundee.  I stayed at the Premier Inn Dundee Centre which is right on the waterfront at the Tay Estuary. I paid a visit to Discovery Point, the home of Captain Scott’s Antarctic voyage ship RRS Discovery.

RRS Discovery Dundee

I also visited the Sensation Science Centre.

The Magic Mirror at Sensation Science Centre Dundee

Enroute to my next overnight stay in Aberdeen I had a few stops.  In Arbroath I had a walk around the harbour where I ended up smelling like an Arbroath Smokie due to smoke wafting out from the traditional fish smoke house.

Abroath Harbour (with fish smoke house at back left)

Then I had a walk along the beautiful Arbroath cliffs, where the path was bordered by wild flowers.

Arbroath Cliffs

I had a quick visit to the Montrose tidal basin.

Montrose Basin

There was no way I was passing through Montrose without saying hello to Bamse, the WW2  Norwegian canine hero.

I had intended to drive straight to Aberdeen from Montrose but I noticed a sign for the Johnshaven Fish Festival and decided I should go to this event.  I just caught the tail end of the festival but was in time for a bit of Scottish music from the pipe band.  I also had another smoking from the mobile smoke house which had travelled up from Arbroath for the event.

I went to Kilau Cafe in Aberdeen, where I enjoyed a spicy spinach and mushroom soup and a goat’s cheese and apple salad while uploading photos and videos in their wifi.  I finally arrived at the Premier Inn Aberdeen Central West around 9pm.

Crathes Castle Garden, Aberdeenshire

I decided to take a circuitous route from Aberdeen to Elgin.  My first stop was in the village of Alfrod, around a 40 minute drive west of Aberdeen.  I went to the Alford Valley Railway station to take some photos and videos the the narrow gauge train.  I was given a personal tour around small exhibition telling the history of the railway by Ed Stannard, the station master.

Alford Valley Railway train

I thought that the carvings on the pink granite boulders just outside the railway station were lovely.

Europe a la Carte Summer 2010 Scotland Blog Tour

Eagle and rabbit carvings in Alford

As I drove into the village of Lumsden my attention was drawn to a  large rusty construction at the road side, which I realised was part of  the Sculpture Walk when I saw the sign for the walk.

Lumsden Sculpture Walk

I parked the car and had a wander along the Sculpture Walk.

Europe a la Carte Summer 2010 Scotland Blog Tour

A piece on the Sculpture Walk

There are lovely views from the Sculpture Walk and some Highland cows were feeding just behind the fence.  In fact I thought that their feed container would’ve been a possible addition to the Walk.

Europe a la Carte Summer 2010 Scotland Blog Tour

Highland cows feeding close to the Lumsden Sculpture Walk

I had another unplanned stop at Craigellachie Bridge over the River Spey.  The pedestrianised four turreted bridge looked so majestic that I had to stop and take some photos.  The bridge was designed by Thomas Telford.  It opened in 1810 and carried traffic until the new bridge was constructed in the 1970s.

Europe a la Carte Summer 2010 Scotland Blog Tour

The turreted Craigellachie Bridge (2 turrets at either end)

My third night was spent at the Premier Inn Elgin in Morayshire.  I had a wander around Elgin that evening, taking some photos of Elgin Cathedral.

Elgin Cathedral

Just across from the Cathedral is the very colourful Biblical Garden.

Europe a la Carte Summer 2010 Scotland Blog Tour

Biblical Garden Elgin

Next morning I was heading south for my final night in Stirling in central Scotland.  The weather forecast for that day wasn’t very good but I did have some breaks in the rain.  My first port of call Grantown on Spey where I had a look around the museum.  The Bell Tower stands just outside the museum.

Europe a la Carte Summer 2010 Blog Tour

Grantown on Spey bell tower

After a very wet drive down the A9, I managed  a walk around Loch Faskally in Pitlochry.

Europe a la Carte Summer 2010 Scotland Blog Tour

The wooded path along Loch Faskally in Pitlochry, Perthshire

I was really swithering whether to stop in Perth or just head straight to my abode for the night, but it was such a lovely evening that I stopped for a short walk along the River Tay in Perth.

Europe a la Carte Summer 2010 Scotland Blog Tour

River Tay walkway Perth

I spent my final night at the Premier Inn Stirling.  The next morning the rain was so heavy that I decided to just head straight home.

You can see all my Summer 2010 Scotland Blog Tour photos and videos on Flickr

Review of Edinburgh First accommodation at University of Edinburgh Pollock Halls

I’ve stayed at Edinburgh First at Pollock Halls University of Edinburgh student residences quite a few times over the years but not since 2008.  I thought that the rooms were a good budget option especially for single travellers.  I stayed here again for one night over the weekend of 24-25 July 2010 and to attend the Taste of Spain event and the Edinburgh Travel Tweet Up . However on this occasion I stayed in the John Burnett house, a new hall of residence on the campus.  That’s because at £32.50 per night, including breakfast, it was £5 cheaper than a room with shared bathroom facilities in the other halls.  I wasn’t too keen on the idea of the communal female shower and toilet room,  preferring the four individual toilet/shower rooms per floor in the older buildings, as it offers more privacy. But as it was only for one night and I liked the sound of top floor room with a balcony in the John Burnett rooms (and paying £5 less), I booked up there.  Ensuite and double/twin rooms are available if you’re prepared to pay a higher price.

Pollock Halls at Edinburgh 1st with Arthur’s Seat in background

I was very happy with my room.  John Burnett House opened in 2009, so all the furniture and fittings were in good condition.  The room was a good size with a sink behind a partition.   The single bed was very comfy.  My room even had a TV which I’d never had in my stays in the other halls. It was bit noisy at night and in the morning from all the banging bedroom doors, bathroom facilities doors and corridor fire doors.

It was very light in my room as there was glass along the exterior with a patio door out to the balcony. The views from the balcony were great down towards the Pentland Hills. However I think the views over Arthur’s Seat from rooms at the other side of the building are probably even better.

View from 4th floor room at John Burnett House

The communal bathroom facilities were very clean.  As access to the facilities requires your keycard, it’d be easy to get locked out of your room if you forgot to take your keycard with you. Then you’d be stuck in the corridor, unable to get back into your room or into the bathroom facilities.

Each floor had a pantry with a large fridge, a microwave oven, a toaster, an iron and ironing board.  However there was no crockery or cutlery.

Pantry at John Burnett House

The campus restaurant has been renovated recently and is more like a cafe now than the previous dining hall layout.  You can go for breakfast any time between 7-10am.  The food is as good as ever and it’s all self service. I had a vegetarian breakfast with haggis, sausage, egg, tomato and mushrooms. There’s a good selection of cereals, croissants, pancakes, rolls and fresh fruit.

Overall I’d rate Edinburgh 1st very highly; I love the location, free parking, the very good breakfast with long serving hours and the clean, comfy rooms.   I’m not a great fan of shared bathroom facilities but wasn’t prepared to pay more for an ensuite bathroom. There’s a charge for internet access, I’m not sure how much, as I was using my mobile internet dongle.

Keep It Real Travel Review - No FluffKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

Click here for the lowest prices on Edinburgh hotels

1st Edinburgh Travel Tweet Up, Sunday 25 July 2010

I organised the first Edinburgh Travel Tweet Up which took place on Sunday 25 July 2010 at St Giles Cafe Bar.  It was timed to coincide with the free Taste of Spain event running in Edinburgh over the weekend 24 – 25 July.  It was great to meet some virtual friends in the flesh and meet some new UK travel tweeple.

1st Edinburgh Travel Tweet Up


Unfortunately I forgot to ask someone to take my photo.  I’m Karen Bryan, founder and editor of the Europe a la Carte Blog, you can find me on Twitter as @karenbryan.

Steve Jack, tweeting as@JackTravel, of Inn Travel , tweeting as@InnTravel, was up in Edinburgh for the day from York.

Steve Jack of Inn Travel

Kash Bhattacharya, on Twitter as @BudgetTraveller, author of Europe Budget Guide.

Kash Bhattacharya of Europe Budget Guide

Julian Stone, tweeting as @jools_octavius, author of  He thought of trains


Jools Stone of He thought of trains

Karma Choden, tweeting as @SimplyBhutan, of Simply Bhutan and her husband Dorji Wangchuk, tweeting as @DorjiWangchuk.

Karma Choden of Simply Bhutan

I hope that this was the first of many more Edinburgh Travel Tweet Ups.