Fea­ture

How good are our tourist at­tractions?

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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

Free

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

Loch Ness

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.

Loch Lomond

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.

Skye

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

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