How good are our tourist attractions?
RECENTLY a lady from Edinburgh asked me: ‘What makes you all fall in love with Scotland?’, after opening a conversation on people – specifically Italians such as myself – who chose this country as their destination, be it for travel or for life. I realised I didn’t know quite where to start.
The feeling of inclusiveness, the uncontaminated landscapes, the astonishing beauty of cities like Edinburgh and the thriving cultural hub of Glasgow, all of these make a person who lands on Scottish soil feel welcomed into a special place.
There are so many driving factors that bring people to Scotland and leave a permanent imprint in their minds. There is a good reason why the country was voted as top destination by travel publisher Rough Guides in 2017 – it just has so much to offer. But how do the most popular tourist attractions shape up? I set out to find out.
be the ideal setting. Besides a rich collection of curiosities from the Victorian age and archaeological relics, it has a scientific section with working models of engines and machines that would wake anybody’s inner child.
A solemn Victorian building on the outside, it hides a labyrinth within its walls, at whose heart is a bright and wide central hall connecting all the other sections and a laidback cafe. Free tours run every day. What I found outstanding, besides the breadth and variety of the permanent exhibitions, ranging from scientific achievement to art and world cultures, is its interactivity and its aim to be a hub for culture and development: the cafes and other spaces where people can sit, relax and explore it bit by bit – or just use it as a meeting point.
I loved its originality; the rooftop, for instance, not only offers a spectacular view on the Old Town and the surroundings, but is also a small botanical garden with historical and geographical information. The section on New Scots is also a reflection of the country’s propensity to embrace foreign cultures.
I believe there could be more information provided in foreign languages, so that people whose English is not incredibly fluent could
enjoy the exhibits even more. The collections stand up well in comparison to other museums in Europe’s capital cities. Vote: 9/10
Edinburgh Castle Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG Tickets on site (adult/concession) £18/£15
The iconic building is like a gem encrusted on top of a hill, watching over the city from above.
A very well preserved inner area hosts so many different museums and areas of interest it reminded me of a Russian doll – there is always something new to discover, a new corner with a different, stunning view on the Old Town.
Yet its interior, which is rich in detail, is not over-designed, and renovations are good enough not to look, as often happens, like a bad copy of the original. However, despite creating one of the most stunning urban landscapes I have seen around Europe, I have to admit it was not love at first sight when I visited one of the UK’s highest rated locations.
High season can lead to queuing for around 30 minutes, battered by rain and chilly wind, for a ticket that was not what I would call cheap.
Whereas I understand such a building requires funds to keep running, it is one of the most expensive attractions I have been to. I also find that the absence of a student or young people discount is unfortunate, although discounts are available for children, families, senior citizens and the unemployed. Information around the castle grounds is basic unless the visitor decides to pay for an audio guide (£3.50).
These are well made and available in a very good variety of languages. Staff are present all around the castle and are ready to help visitors. Edinburgh Castle is a magnificent piece of history, however, they should work on their prices. Vote: 7/10
Scottish National Gallery
The Mound, Edinburgh EH2 2EL Free (Charge on Exhibitions)
With a Da Vinci masterpiece welcoming you as you step into the first exhibition hall, entering the Scottish National Gallery is like walking into a pantheon of myths. A fascinating journey spanning the centuries and crossing the borders of the Old Continent, it’s an adventure through artistic treasures, going from Botticelli to Van Gogh, going through the main exponents of Scottish art – a feature that, Kelvingrove Museum aside, makes of it a unique collection.
Though modest in dimension if compared to other art galleries across Europe, it is dense in quality and rich in diversity. It’s setting in the old building on The Mound makes it a stupendous landmark on Edinburgh’s skyline. The interior has a feeling of solemnity and cozy familiarity at the same time. Lights and artworks are very well positioned so that the visitor can enjoy the paintings and sculptures at their best. What I found particularly worth of praise is the amount of information given for each piece of the exhibition: whereas many other galleries would not go beyond basic details such as title, author, a few dates and the technique adopted, the National Gallery provides details and background for each masterpiece, making it easier to the occasional visitor to read through the beauty standing in front of them. It ‘unclosed’ the gallery, making it more accessible and yet entertaining and educational.
The staff itself was very warm and from an international background. On the downside, there was little
With a Da Vinci masterpiece welcoming you as you step into the first exhibition hall, entering the Scottish National Gallery is like walking into a pantheon of myths
information for those whose native language was not English, though maps were available in the most common European languages and Chinese. I found it a place where I felt welcomed, and where I would go more often to explore in more detail. Vote: 8/10
Riverside Museum Pointhouse Place, Glasgow G3 8RS glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/venues/ riverside-museum
Set on the northern bank of the Clyde, the Riverside Museum stands out from the surroundings for its incredible architecture, a legacy from pioneering architect Zaha Hadid, which looks like a mixture between a urban skyline and an ECG segment. Despite being quite a niche genre of display, this transport museum is strong in its interactive approach and its reconstruction of the ages in which the vehicles were in use. This makes locomotives, trams and cars become something more than a mere model – they are part of a frame made of sounds, architectures and colours characterising their times, be it the 1960s or the 18th century. I found staff particularly helpful and attentive, and two simple cafes offer an occasion to rest. What I think is extremely positive is that free tours are available during the day for groups, which is helpful to gain a deeper knowledge of the objects and on the history of the city as well. Part of the information displayed on screens, positioned in various parts of the building, is available in the most common European languages and Mandarin, although many details appear only in English. It is good to see that there is information in languages which are now part of the Glasgow community, such as Urdu and Polish, to make it more accessible to families living in the area. Overall, this is a very immersive experience: from one of the first carriages of the Glasgow Subway to the Glenlee, the ship moored on the river outside the museum, it’s a true moveable feast back in time. Vote: 7.5/10
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum Argyle St, Glasgow G3 8AG
glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/kelvingrove Kelvingrove Museum’s red walls stand out from the green background of trees of its namesake park, and make it appear even more magnificent and solemn, especially by night, when the lights make it a beautiful and a bit sinister sight while it glows through the darkness.
I found it a very good starting point to discover the history of this country, especially while going through the paintings and relics of the Scottish Identity in Art section and I appreciated immensely the collection dedicated to local design and Charles Rennie Mackintosh – a figure unknown to me before my visit. The free guided tours are very insightful without giving too much information, keeping the visit entertaining and making it easier to take in the concepts passed by the guide. One of the best features is the majestic organ towering over the centre hall: being caught by the resonance of a starting recital while contemplating the various pieces of the collection or while sipping a coffee in the bar at the ground floor is an utterly pleasant surprise. Moreover, one of the most revered items, namely Christ of St John of the Cross by Salvador Dalí, is finally back home after a long tour in London and Florida. Set in its own display section, the painting emanates a magnetic aura.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find any information available in languages other than English, although foreign tourists might benefit from some specific indications. Despite this, Kelvingrove represents a beautiful example of a hub dedicated to culture and science. Vote: 8/10
OUT OF TOWN
LEAVING behind the thriving main cities, Scotland is first and foremost known for its sublime outdoors, with landscapes so beautiful to often seem unreal. A few of them however seem to attract
The legend of the monster is just part of the magnetic attraction that Loch Ness seems to have on the global public. Tourists from all over the world gather
– a human flow that could easily lead to the transformation of a pure and beautiful place in something more similar to a fun park. That has happened, to an extent and tours, cruises and Nessie centres are abundant around Loch Ness shores. Despite this, and in line with an attitude that I particularly appreciate in Scotland, the wilderness and mystic allure of those places have not been altered. The more “boring” touristy bits can be avoided by renting a car or going a few steps away the most visited locations – the magic is still there.
It is difficult to find a place from which not to adore Loch Lomond, be it walking along its southern shores in Balloch, through the West Highland Way, or crossing the Trossachs National Park by train while heading to the Highlands from Glasgow. I believe people living in Glasgow are extremely lucky to have such an amazing view on their doorstep – something that made me fall in love with Scotland. You can drive up from the most industrial centre of the country and you can find yourself lost in nature, with little or no people around you. Its multiple locations make Loch Lomond one of those places to discover bit by bit, getting to know it better each time – although it can be tricky to get to places outside the main route without private transport.
This beautiful corner of the world has been in the news due to the influx of tourists which has seen facilities fully booked and – at times – overwhelmed. On one hand, it’s good to see so many people appreciating the breathtaking landscapes of Sligachan, Portree, the Old Man of Storr and many others. On the other hand, the island is probably not equipped as yet to face massive incursions during summer. Something which, I believe, is not entirely a negative side. What Scotland has over other countries is also its ability to preserve its environment, with a respect I wish was present in my home country as well. Although there could be scope for improvement on facilities such as public transport and accommodation, I hope Skye won’t lose its unspoiled beauty.
National Museum of Scotland Chambers St, Edinburgh EH1 1JF Free (Permanent Exhibition) www.nms.ac.uk If someone were to think of a Scottish remake of A Night at The Museum with a sci-fi feel, then the National Museum would
Main photograph: Federica Stefani at the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow. Photograph Kirsty Anderson Above (left) Edinburgh Castle Above (Right) the National Musuem of Scotland Far right: the Old Man of Storr on Skye Previous page: Federica Stefani at the Riverside Museum, in Glasgow. Photograph: Kirsty Anderson