A travel guide for American tourists visiting Scotland

The Edinburgh skyline seen from Calton Hill. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

The Edinburgh skyline seen from Calton Hill. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

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THE US continues to be Scotland’s biggest international market for inbound tourism. But what questions does the typical American first-time visitor ask? Chris McCall offers some answers

Scotland’s links with the US date back centuries. It’s estimated that at least one-third of the 56 signatories of the 1776 Declaration of Independence were either Scots by birth or by descent.

The sunrise over the Clyde Arc, known as the Squinty Bridge. Picture: Neil Barr

The sunrise over the Clyde Arc, known as the Squinty Bridge. Picture: Neil Barr

Speaking at the 2008 launch of New York’s Tartan Day, the then-US president George W Bush said Americans had a great debt of honour to those of Scottish descent who have “made enduring contributions to our nation with their hard work, faith and values.”

It’s a two-way relationship. Thousands of Scots are today employed in a tourism industry that relies heavily on visitors from the Land of the Free.

Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland, explained that direct air route improvements have helped to boost visitor numbers – and 2014 was the biggest year for North American visitors in over a decade.

“US visitors are drawn to Scotland for its breath-taking scenery, engrossing history and rich culture,” he said.

The impressive domed-interior of Register House in Edinburgh, the country's national archive and a perfect place to research your family tree. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

The impressive domed-interior of Register House in Edinburgh, the country's national archive and a perfect place to research your family tree. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

“The enduring appeal of Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ generates huge interest amongst travellers – and we hope to see that continue through the recent launch of our inspirational new global ‘Spirit of Scotland’ campaign.”

Tourism experts say American visitors most commonly ask questions on how to research their ancestors, as well as which castles to visit and where they can play golf

WHICH CASTLES SHOULD I VISIT?

Edinburgh is the undisputed champ of Scottish castles, pulling in more than 670,000 visitors last summer alone. It offers unrivalled views across the capital, houses the ancient royal regalia and provides a real insight into Scotland’s often turbulent history. But its sheer popularity means the crowds milling around its battlements can be overbearing. For an alternative castle experience, try Craigmillar - one of the best-preserved medieval fortresses in the country, and only three miles from Edinburgh city centre. It’s where the plot to kill Mary, Queen of Scots’ husband, Lord Darnley, was hatched - whether or not she was involved remains a source of debate.

Beat the crowds by visiting Craigmillar Castle, which lies just three miles from Edinburgh city centre. Picture: Toby Williams

Beat the crowds by visiting Craigmillar Castle, which lies just three miles from Edinburgh city centre. Picture: Toby Williams

WHAT’S THE WEATHER LIKE?

Most Scots will tell you to prepare for four seasons in one day. This is not a joke.

WHERE CAN I PLAY GOLF?

Almost anywhere, is the short answer. There are public courses in nearly every town in the country. While the majority of golf fans flock to St Andrews in Fife, why not schedule a visit to Musselburgh? The East Lothian town, a short distance from Edinburgh, is home to a nine-hole links course that is widely claimed to be the oldest in the world. There’s also the equally historic Bruntsfield Links, a short hole course in the centre of the capital that is free to play during the summer months. No booking is required – but you’ll need to bring your own clubs and balls. Don’t bother with a full bag; a putter and a lob wedge is all you need.

WHERE CAN I BUY HAGGIS?

American legislators still deem Scotland’s national dish to be too dangerous to be sold in the US. Thankfully, there are no such silly rules here. The leading varieties can be bought in any supermarket. But don’t stop with haggis. Black pudding - a Stornoway speciality – is now considered a superfood, and it’s every bit as delicious.

WHERE SHOULD I EAT OUT?

Try some of these for size.

WHERE SHOULD I PARTY?

With the cost of living in London now so expensive it’s practically home to no one but bankers, lawyers and PR professionals, Glasgow has cemented its position as having one of the best live music scenes in Europe. Few places can match the sheer variety of venues on offer in Scotland’s biggest city. From classical concerts to club nights, sweaty indie venues to acoustic open-mics, it’s all here, seven nights a week. Scottish music has produced a dazzling array of innovators in recent decades, and there’s a wealth of record stores, in Edinburgh as well as Glasgow, to browse.

WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE ABOUT MY ANCESTORS?

It’s possible to carry out in-depth research on any family tree via official websites such as ScotlandsPeople and Scotland’s Census. But, if you prefer a more personal approach, it’s advisable to pay a visit to the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh. It has registers of births, deaths, marriages, divorces, civil partnerships, dissolutions and adoptions from across the country. It also offers a dedicated family research guide to all those looking to shine a light on their ancestors’ past.

READ MORE: Scotland’s signature role in America’s independence

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