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Selected Trips

    Scotland vs Ireland vs England

    Rather than determining which destination is “better” (which is surely subjective), in this feature we look to compare key attractions and what makes each country unique and delightful in its own right.

    By Dawn Rainbolt
    More by Dawn

    Are They Really That Different?

    Ask anyone and they’ll likely tell you that Ireland is famous for rainy weather, leprechauns and rainbows, and large quantities of both sheep and pubs (usually not far from one another). Scotland on the other hand is known for its wild mountains, Loch Ness monster, kilts, bagpipes, and whisky. Say England and you probably think of cups of tea, the queen, quaint villages and pretty pastoral landscapes. 

    The Mountains

    Soaring mountains and dramatic highlands teeming with wildlife, Scotland is a country full to the brim with the outdoors. Vast sweeps of wildland inhabited only by deer, eagles, hares and other Highland wildlife, much of the Scottish Highlands and islands are remote, eerie and hauntingly beautiful, while the southern half of the country is comprised of the rolling and lush Lowlands, where the vast majority of the population resides. In Scotland, large mountains are measured as Munros (3,000+ feet or 914+ metres) and Corbetts (2,500-3,000 feet/762-914 metres). 282 Scottish mountains are Munros, with a further 221 classifying as Corbetts. Large swathes of Scotland are covered in high mountains – it’s in the name, the Scottish Highlands.

    In comparison, Ireland is a small island to the west of Scotland and the UK. Though most of the island is rural countryside, the mountains of Ireland are smaller and the coastlines are less remote. In Ireland, we barely have more than a handful – we only have 13 Munros (though called Furths outside of Scotland), and 23 mountains within the Corbett range. Most of Ireland’s mountains are concentrated on the west coast, particularly in Kerry, Connemara, Mayo and Donegal.

    England is the part of the UK that usually comes to mind, and is known for its rolling hills, ancient castles and stately homes. Only three peaks – Scafell Pike, Helvellyn, and Skiddaw – actually qualify as “Munros.” In England, we don’t really have a corresponding term for tall mountains, preferring instead to recognise regions known for their upland beauty, such as the Lake District, the Pennines, the Cheviot Hills, the Peak District, Shropshire Hills, and parts of the North Moors. The southwest is known more for its gentle rolling hills.

    The Landscape

    Despite the smaller mountains, Ireland is not short on rugged, wild terrain. Most of the country is rural (Dublin, Belfast, Derry, Galway, Limerick and Cork are the only real cities…and even then, they are small by US standards).

    Most Irish people like spending time outdoors. But unlike the manicured US parks where clearcut trails and bright trailblazers make hiking for the casual walker relatively tame and mud-free, Ireland is a wet, rough, boggy country. There are few trails (often maintained by Coillte, Ireland’s forestry service), and most of the trails that do exist are fairly short. Or else, they are wet, narrow sheep tracks that require an OS map and basic navigation skills. A lot of the coolest places in Ireland don’t have a way-marked trail – visiting them will mean pulling on your trusty hiking boots and squelching through the mud.

    This is actually quite similar to Scotland, where a fair bit of mud-squelching will be required. In Scotland, the Right to Roam initiative gives walkers the right to walk anywhere in Scotland. While we don’t have this official initiative in Ireland, very little terrain is off-limits if you follow a few ground rules: no dogs (certainly not off lead), always close the gate behind you (no matter how you found it), don’t litter, don’t wild camp unless you ask permission, and be considerate. In fact, many monasteries, churches, Neolithic tombs, mass rocks, castle ruins, and other cultural sites require a bit of off-trail walking. Make sure you pack those trusty boots, gaiters and waterproofs (Hiking boot or shoe? Learn the difference.). 

    Scotland actually does have a lot of trails and public access to the land is very important. Organisations like Forestry and Land Scotland and John Muir Trust invest heavily in path building and maintenance, and likewise managed estates build specific walking and biking trails across their lands. This widens access to Scotland’s most beautiful places to anyone with a sturdy set of boots and waterproofs but also limits the damage done by recreational use to set areas. Scotland’s Right to Roam allows walkers and any other non-motorised pursuits the freedom to go anywhere in Scotland, as long as they adhere to the Scottish Outdoor Access code. It may seem contradictory but the built paths encourage people to respect the environment and play a large role in outdoor sustainability.

    England also uses the Right to Roam, meaning that people can access large swathes of wildland across England off-path. This access can include mountains, bogs, moors, heathland, and fields, allowing people to walk, run, climb and spot wildlife, though some activities such as horse-riding, camping, or dog walking are not allowed on private land. Learn more about walking tours in England.

    What To Wear in Ireland   What to Wear in Scotland   What to Wear in England


    Marine Wildlife

    In Ireland, Scotland and England, you can spot dozens of types of coastal birds – mostly seabirds – such as razorbills, gannets, fulmars, guillemots, and most famously, the adorable puffins, who arrive in Scotland and Ireland for the breeding season, from April to June. In Scotland, you might even be lucky enough to spot sea eagles. Marine wildlife such as whales, dolphins, basking sharks and seals live on the shores of both islands. Like the other countries, the waters around England are home to many marine wildlife species, though it’s true that you’re more likely to spot most species in Scotland. English coasts are good places to spot seal colonies though (particularly grey seals).

    Inland Wildlife

    Inland however is where Scotland, England and Ireland differ. While you can spot some deer and stags in Ireland – particularly in Killarney, Wicklow and Glenveagh National Parks – the best place to see these magnificent stags is in the Scottish Highlands. The mating season during autumn is the best time for spotting deer in Scotland, as the males begin to rut. Spotting birds of prey is better in Scotland too, as there are larger expanses of land – keep your eyes out for golden eagles, goshawks, peregrine falcons, osprey, owls and more. In England, you’re more likely to spot smaller critters, from numerous bird species to smaller mammals such as grey squirrels, mountain hares, hedgehogs, stoats and badgers. 


    Rewilding is a recent trend in Scotland, championed by billionaire Danish investor, Anders Povlsen, who is the largest private landowner in Scotland after the Royals. He is trying to rewild Scotland by planting trees, protecting large swathes of land, and bringing back wild animals and their natural habitats. On his estates the grazing of sheep and deer is limited, to allow the native woodland flora and fauna to regenerate.

    These projects should support threatened species in Scotland like the wildcat, the golden eagle, osprey, and capercaillie – however at the expense of the massive red deer populations that have long dominated the Highlands, their presence propagated by estate owners for hunting and shooting. Rewilding has also raised the topic of reintroducing wolves and lynx to Scotland, who used to roam the Scottish hills freely. These talks are, however, largely theoretical.

    Ireland’s Local Characters

    But what really makes Ireland so special? It’s our fascinating local characters.  A large part of Ireland’s charm is the people who inhabit its emerald hills and sandy shores – the storytellers and farmers, the foragers and adventurers, and the writers, artisans and musicians. Ireland is also rich in tradition, stories and myths perpetuated by those who call this little island home.

    Southwest & West

    In Kerry, walk along the shore or take to the waves with a passionate seaweed forager and fisherman. In Dingle, join a woodworker in his workshop to learn about woodcraft – and his unconventional childhood. On the Aran Islands, say hello to a herd of goats and their story-telling shepherd/ cheese-maker. Explore the rocky hills of Connemara with a renowned archeologist who brings 5,000-year-old communities and the stories of their people life. Head to one of Ireland’s three fjords to taste the oysters of Dubliner-turned-oyster farmer. 

    Northwest & North

    Head north to County Mayo to explore learn about dark skies, stars and planets under the tutelage of founder and longtime stargazer of Mayo Dark Skies. Kayak under the stars in the gentle lakes of Sligo with a cheery South African expat. Meet a Donegal man still stubbornly hand-weaving tweed on a traditional loom, and another soaring to new heights atop forgotten sea-stacks. Meander the streets of Belfast with history-loving cab drivers keen to show the Belfast of the old and the new.

    On the surface, Ireland is a small, lush, rural island which does indeed get a fair bit of rain (which is what makes it so lush – they don’t call it the Emerald Isle for nothing). But the true strength of Ireland is its people – who despite all odds, continue to be some of the most cheery, hospitable and happy-go-lucky people in all of Europe – are always ready to invite you into their homes for a cup of tea and plate of scones or perhaps a hot whiskey.

    English Royalty

    Windsor Castle

    Where Ireland is known for warm hospitality and local characters – England is known for its Royalty and mannerisms. Somehow the British Royal Family have become a main tourist attraction for people visiting England. Visitor attractions tied to the Royal family see more visitors, and royalty-related merchandise outperforms other types of memorabilia.

    People are fascinated by the British Royal Family – their lifestyles spark a lot of intrigues which has been much assisted by the media because ultimately we all love a good fairytale. The British Royal family have cultivated and glamorised their image carefully to inspire fantasy and escapism to the masses.

    Royal Attractions

    Only in Scotland

    Renowned chef extraordinaire, Ghillie Basan, whipping up a deliciously exotic and fresh dish deep within the Scottish Highlands.

    In October 2019, Scotland’s tourist board launched a new campaign, ‘Only in Scotland’. It’s aimed to highlight all of the incredible experiences available here which are unique to Scotland. Though let’s face it – Scotland hardly needs a dedicated marketing campaign to showcase the distinctive and memorable activities on offer in our opinion – they speak for themselves. 

    Only in Scotland can you go swimming with huge basking sharks and curious seals in crystal clear waters and along white sandy beaches. Only in Scotland can you learn to prepare Scottish-North African fusion cuisine under the tutelage of award-winning cook and food writer Ghillie Basan, all the while enjoying breathtaking views to the Cairngorm massif from her remote cottage. It’s only here that you can attend the world’s largest cultural festival, and immerse yourself in music, arts, comedy, theatre and more, all in one place. On a smaller scale, it’s only in Scotland that you can go for a walk in the woods and spot local wildlife with someone whose family has lived there for generations and who knows just where to look for the most delicious berries or the best chance to see a Highland stag up close. 

    With our sparsely populated wild spaces, turn to the skies at night and see the stars like you’ve never before. Taste North Atlantic Salmon prepared by an acclaimed chef, fresh from the day’s catch on the Isle of Skye. Take in the landscapes that inspired countless of authors to write globally acknowledged masterpieces like Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, J.M Barrie, Nan Shepherd, Virginia Woolf, Beatrix Potter, George Orwell, J.K Rowling, and Diana Gabaldon. 

    Irish Music

    These small communities act as bastions to Irish traditions – vibrant music, a rich pantheon of mythology, the Irish language. Irish trad music is one of the few Irish stereotypes that is completely true. The Irish love a good trad music session as much as the locals. Irish trad music comprises of a few core instruments such as the harp, the fiddle, the tin whistle, the bodhran (a type of drum), the bouzouki (guitar-banjo cross), the Uillean pipes (Irish version of bagpipes), and more recently, the guitar. Irish folk songs continue to be sung and re-sung, though new songs are written all the time. Bands are often locals, and the venue are cosy Irish pubs, so when there is music on, expect it to be lively and full. 

    One difference to the common idea of Irish trad music is the timing. Many visitors expect the live music to be around dinner time, but in Ireland, music comes after dinner – well after. Don’t expect Irish trad music sessions to start until at least 21h30 (9:30 pm), usually more like 22h00-22h30. 

    Scottish Folk Music

    Scotland of course is known for its bagpipes, usually played by a fella in a kilt, right?

    However, Scottish music is not just bagpipes. In Scotland, traditional music has made quite a comeback over the last 20 years. There are various music festivals taking place across the country and folk music is the live music performance of choice at many pubs. Traditional Scottish music can feature the fiddle (violin), guitar, drums, mandolins, harp, accordion and of course bagpipes.

    The music lends itself perfectly to dancing and is the music of choice for ceilidhs. If you are unfamiliar with a ceilidh, it’s a popular Scottish country dance. It involves several set dances with at least one or more partners. Ceilidhs are massively popular at the moment and big events like weddings, galas, and fundraisers aren’t complete without a round of ‘Strip the Willow’.

    Food & Drink

    Irish Cuisine

    When thinking about Irish cuisine, most people think of spuds and cabbage and pints of Guinness. The Emerald Isle now has an up-and-coming foodie culture, with certain places like Belfast, Sligo, Kenmare and Kinsale leading the charge. This recent interest in cuisine (and lack of pressure, since no one comes to Ireland for its food) makes the emphasis on organic cooking, creative menus, farm-to-fork cuisine and fresh ingredients blow Irish cuisine off the charts in terms of cuisine. 

    While you’re in Ireland, be sure to try some of the local cheeses – West Cork in particular has some delicious cheeses like Gubbeen, Durrus, Knockatee cheddar and Coolea gouda. Irish meat is also fantastic and usually organic – there are plenty to taste, from traditional meat dishes like fishermen’s pie, lamb stew, bacon-and-cabbage and steak and Guinness pie to new dishes like curries.

    Irish Food

    Scottish Cuisine

    Many people may dismiss Scottish cuisine, and think it not much more than haggis and tatties. But like Ireland, Scotland has seen a recent food revolution that really takes advantage of the natural larder. All year-round, Scotland has access to an abundance of fresh and varied seafood, game, fruit, and vegetables.

    The North Atlantic salmon that hails from Scotland is globally recognised as some of the best salmon in the world. On land, the famed Highland beef is considered as some of the highest quality beef throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Locally sourced wild venison is not to be missed either on your next visit to Scotland. Lovers of red meat will be delighted to learn that venison is the healthier option too, being both low fat and high in protein – not to mention mouth-wateringly delicious.

    Scottish Food

    English Cuisine

    It’s a stereotype that we like our tea in England – and it’s true. The English do, indeed, love to drinks cups (and pots) of tea. Popularised in the 18th century, it became a fashionable commodity. Today, tea is still an essential part of life and is known to fix all problems (tired? stressed? hot? cold? can’t sleep? Drink tea!), and an even fancier variety would be going out for Afternoon Tea, tea, sandwiches and scones.

    The English have our more traditional meals, which are usually hearty and heavy like fish and chips, bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes), Sunday roasts, full English breakfast but lately things have been changing. People from all over the world have come to England, bringing their tastes – and cooking skills! – with them. While pub food is still available across England, more types of dishes and restaurants are found across England.

    English Food

    Whiskey...or Whisky?


    One of Europe’s oldest distilled beverages, Ireland has long been known for its whiskey (with an ‘e’), supposedly brought to Ireland by medieval monks. Irish whiskey was once the world’s first choice for spirits, and it is still world famous. The Irish for whiskey, uisce beatha, is well-known throughout Ireland. Irish whiskey is protected by the European Geographical Indication and there are a whole list of criteria for Irish whiskey to be, well, Irish – with distillation, production and labelling in Ireland being the most important.

    Despite some decline in centuries past, it has seen a recent resurgence. The main brands are Old Bushmills, Jameson, Powers, Redbreast, Teeling and Tullamore, though as of 2019, there are 25 licensed distilleries. It means ‘water of life.’ It’s not hard to decipher its historical importance.


    Much like Irish, whisky in Scottish Gaelic is ‘Uisge Beatha’, which translates to the ‘water of life.’ Whisky (without an ‘e’) is of course a beloved Scottish tradition. It’s believed that the nickname ‘water of life’ came about due to the supposed medicinal qualities of the distilled beverage, but even today it’s a very relevant phrase. Scotland owes a lot to its whisky, with it being one of the largest exports and key tourist attractions.

    For a whisky to be classified as Scotch Whisky, it has to be produced in one the recognised whisky regions and be matured in an oak cask for a minimum of 3 years. The 5 regions include the Highlands, Lowlands, Islay, Campbeltown, and Speyside.

    Irish Craft Beer

    The beer scene in Ireland has long been dominated by Guinness and its subsidiaries, but in recent years that has been slowly changing with the eruption of craft breweries throughout Ireland – such as The White Hag, Lough Gill Brewery, Kinnegar, Bru, West Cork Brewing, Black Donkey, Treaty City, Porterhouse, Eight Degrees, and more. Though usually very regional, the number of bars stocking different craft brews are slowly growing. There are over 40 microbreweries in the Republic and another 20 or so in Northern Ireland. More and more, Irish pubs are stocking regional craft beers on tap and in bottle, though do keep in mind that most of these craft breweries are quite small. 

    Scottish Craft Beer

    Tennents may be the most produced, consumed, and well-known beer in Scotland, but Scottish beer production has gone far beyond that in recent years. Craft breweries in Scotland have also seen a surge, with now over a 100 registered craft breweries across the country. Some breweries have gotten quite large and have international recognition such as BrewDog, Black Isle Brewery and Stewart Brewing. Other breweries, like in Ireland, are very regional, and are generally sold in the region in which they are produced. All of which only adds to the exclusivity of these tasty and unique brews.

    English Craft Beer

    England has been brewing beer for centuries, and it is still incredibly popular. Traditional types of English beer include bitter, mild, brown, and old ale. The stereotype that English ale is famously served “warm” is a misconception – really, these ales are served at “cellar” temperature. In recent years, there has been a considerable increase in demand for craft beer, resulting in an explosion of craft breweries – today there are over 700 craft breweries across England.


    Poitín – Irish moonshine, pronounced poo-cheen – was long an illegal brew, made by farmers and other remote communities, but today, poitín is able to be brewed and bottled legally. This traditional distilled spirit from Ireland is distilled in a pot still, and the spirit of choice in remote regions of the island. It was once distilled in rural areas during windy or inclement weather so as to be far from the authorities as it was brewed without a license. Poitín traditionally uses malted barley, though in modern times other bases have been used, such as corn or potato. Because it was distilled illegally and therefore not passing any standards, poitín quality varied quite a bit, though today, modern Poitín has to pass standards. Though less potent than in the past, the Irish word poit still means “hangover.”


    Gin is a rising star in both countries – certain distilleries like Drumshanbo, Listoke and Dingle Gin has put Ireland on the map in terms of gin – you can even attend “gin school” at a distillery in Ireland. Scotland is perhaps even more well-known for its gin with over 70% of the UK’s gin production taking place in Scotland. Many whisky distilleries also produce gin to tie over the long maturing process of whisky. This has resulted in an incredible variation of gin available in Scotland. Many distilleries use local Scottish ingredients to enhance the flavours of their gins like foraged sugar kelp from the Isle of Harris, or botanicals like roseroot and seabuckthorn that grow along the Scottish coast. Though traditionally bear drinkers, gin has also grown in popularity in recent times with several mainstream and craft gin distillers making a splash on the scene. 

    English Pimms

    Pimms is a gin-based liqueur and the favourite summer drink of the English. Although it was originally intended to aid digestion, it gained mass popularity as a tipple at the start of the 20th century. It’s usually served as a long cocktail garnished with fruit and is known to be very refreshing on a hot day. Alongside champagne, Pimms is actually one of the two official drinks of Wimbledon!

    Folklore, Myth & Legend

    Scotland, Ireland, and England have their own myths and legends, though there is some overlap – for example, the legend of the selkies, or the seal people (the origin of the mermaid legend) who shed their ocean seal skins while on land to become humans exists in both Scotland and Ireland.

    Irish folklore and mythology is some of the richest in Europe. Not only are there many stories, they are both inextricably tied to the landscape (giving meaning and story to various rocks, hills, lakes and rivers) and they are still handed down from parent to child today. These oral stories vary depending on the storyteller and the audience, with many offshoots, differing versions, and extensions. Many characters make appearances in multiple stories.

    English stories are a bit different – think Robin Hood with his merry men, or perhaps King Arthur and Guinevere and the wizard Merlin. Perhaps based on real people, these stories have become tied to what it means to be English.

    Irish Folklore

    Irish folklore and mythology is some of the richest in Europe. Not only are there many stories, they are both inextricably tied to the landscape (giving meaning and story to various rocks, hills, lakes and rivers) and they are still handed down from parent to child today. These oral stories vary depending on the storyteller and the audience, with many offshoots, differing versions, and extensions. Many characters make appearances in multiple stories. 

    But the main “pantheon” of Irish folklore comprises of Finn McCool (or Fionn Mac Cumhail), the angry giant who built the Giant’s Causeway to fight a Scottish giant; Diarmuid and Grainne, Ireland’s tragic lovers à la Romeo and Juliet; Cuchulainn the Hound of Ulster and mortal enemy of Connacht’s impressive warrior queen Queen Maeve – they fought great wars over a giant magical bull; the Children of Lir who were turned to swans for 900 years by a jealous stepmother, and Oisin, the warrior son of Finn McCool. There are many others – the Tuatha Dé Dannan are a supernatural race of beings that evolved into the sídhe (pronounced “shee”) which are what today we know as fairies (and by extension, the infamous leprechauns). There’s also the Cailleach of Beara, a divine hag responsible for winter weather – various neolithic sites are associated with her, and finally the Salmon of Knowledge. There are many lesser-known stories about Irish folklore – many of which are connected with the rolling emerald landscape itself.

    Even after the arrival Christianity, it simply merged with Irish mythology – so the Gateway to the Fairy World simply became the Gateway to Hell, the pagan goddess Brigid was canonised into Saint Brigid, and many other Celtic pagan concepts, traditions and characters were simply Christianised. 

    Irish folklore is woven into the Irish landscape, and is an important part of the culture and tradition here. Stories are used to explain why that odd-looking rock is there, or what that ancient (Neolithic) mound is, or why a tree grew in a particular place. Storytellers are revered, and have always been so. For so long, few people could speak English or were literate, so oral storytelling became of extreme importance – and this focus and reverence put on storytelling has lead to a rich tradition of writing and a plethora of Irish authors, poets, playwrights and writers, proportional to the size of the Irish population.

    Scottish Folklore

    Although mythology and folklore do not have as much prominence in Scottish culture as it does in Irish, there is certainly a presence. Undeniably one of Scotland’s main tourist attractions is one the world’s most famous myths, the Loch Ness monster, a dinosaur-esque beast that lurks in the depths of one of Scotland’s largest lochs.

    Nessie is not the only water based legend you have to keep an eye out for when visiting Scotland. Kelpies are shape-shifting spirits said to live in Scottish lochs and rivers. Most commonly they are said to take on a horse-like form, but in some stories they take the shape of a human to lure people to their watery deaths. It’s believed these stories were told to warn children to stay away from deep water. You can visit the impressive Kelpies monument near Falkirk, consisting of two 30-meter high horse-head sculptures. It should be noted that the monument acknowledges Scotland’s horse-powered past and not the mythological creatures…

    Scotland’s the perfect destination for a bit of “dark tourism”; with the cities, castles, and even countryside roads laden with ghost stories. For those brave and keen you can take a tour in Edinburgh’s underground city, a former neighbourhood and slum gradually overtaken by larger structures and sealed during a spread of bubonic plague. The vaults are now rife with ghosts, the most famed being a little girl looking for her lost teddy bear. Other famous ghostly hotspots include Drovers Inn along the West Highland Way, said to be the most haunted pub in Britain, and Glamis Castle, home to 4 frequently sighted ghosts. 

    You can’t talk about Scottish myths and legends and not mention unicorns. This mythological beast is Scotland’s national animal. Exactly how this came about is unknown, but unicorns share a lot of characteristics with the Scots. Proud and untameable, yet simultaneously being a symbol for purity and strength. It’s said that Scottish kings fancied themselves unicorn tamers, as unicorns were believed to only yield to virgin maidens as pure and innocent as the beasts themselves. This is why the unicorn is often depicted by the Scottish with golden chain wrapped around its neck or body. It was the ultimate representation of power.

    English Folklore

    The most famous stories to have come out of England are that of King Arthur and Robin Hood.

    King Arthur is a timeless hero – usually associated with the early Middle Ages, but he could have been around even earlier. He may be real – or just a story – or a combination of both. The story is legendary – a peasant boy destined to become king, demonstrating his right to rule by pulling what is likely the most famous sword in history, Excalibur, from a stone.

    From there, the boy Arthur is crowned king, and he becomes the epitome of the ideal and chivalrous king, with his Knights of the Round Table, his noble quests, his beautiful bride Guinevere, all under the tutelage of the famed wizard Merlin.

    The other historically significant myth to talk about is Robin Hood. This lord-turned-thief is infamous for his mantra of “steal from the rich and give the poor.” He and his band of merry men live in Sherwood Forest, planning their light-hearted attacks on wealthy caravans in order to provide for those less fortunate. They were hunted by the evil Sheriff of Nottingham, who represents authority, and wealth disparity.

    Both of these stories are important because of how they portray medieval English history – and provide two figures with whom the English could identify – a sort of national hero drawn from, and for, the lower classes – a glorification of what it means to be English.

    Learn more about English culture and traditions in this article that covers castles, iconic landscapes, the Royal family and much more.

    Ancient Ruins

    The ancient tombs of Carrowkeel cling to the top of a windblown hill in Co Sligo, northwest Ireland. They pre-date the Pyramids of Giza.

    Ireland has a long history. For the better part of 800 years, Ireland has been under rule. Scotland was brought into the UK in XX and is still a part of it. But going back a few thousands years, both countries were inhabited by Neolithic peoples, the world’s first farmers. These ancient people who lived some 5,000 years ago built amazing monuments. In Scotland, the bulk of these ruins are on the islands – the Orkney Islands and the Isle of Lewis and Harris. In Ireland, the entire island is bursting with these ancient tombs and monuments.

    Newgrange in the east not far fromDublin is the largest, but the west of Ireland has the highest concentration of stone circles, cairns, portal tombs, wedge tomes, court tombs and standing stones.

    In the northwest, find Carrowmore and Carrowkeel, two of the largest collections of Neolithic cairns, tombs and stone circles, with dozens on each site. Carrowkeel’s main cairn is aligned with the Summer Solstice sunset – an amazing experience.

    Visit the Poulnabrone Dolman, a massive dolman that is the pinnacle of the Burren’s rich archeology.

    In the south, visit Lough Gur for the largest stone circle in Ireland, also aligned with the summer solstice.

    Scottish Castles

    Scottish Castles

    Moody and dramatic, the crumbling walls of Urquhart Castle brood over Loch Ness.

    If you want to visit a historic castle then Scotland is the destination for you. Scotland is home to between 2,000-4,000 castles, which range from elaborate palaces, great houses, stately mansions, intimidating forts, impressive strongholds, lonely towerhouses and imposing keeps. Scottish castles are all drama, often formidable structures or ruins set in jaw-dropping scenery. Many castles come with a fascinating backstory of clan disputes and battle. Often they’ll even feature a residential ghost or two.

    Hundreds of castles are open to the public, and along with tours of the interior, there will also be beautiful gardens begging to be explored. If you want to spend a day or two living like royalty, there are various castle hotels dotted around the country and also private hire opportunities.

    Roman Britain

    Hadrian’s Wall near Housesteads.


    The Roman Republic started in what is modern-day Italy in the 6th century BC, not expanding off the Italian peninsula until the 3rd century BC. It took some time for them to start expanding, but once it became an empire, each of the ruling emperors were expected to do two things – leave their mark on Rome (and try to outdo your predecessor), and expand the empire.

    Contrary to popular belief, the Romans started on good terms with the Celtic tribes living outside their walls. They traded with them all manner of objects, though later unrest was a factor in the Romans decision to leave Britannica. Regardless, a fear of invasion from the north led to the building of the impressive Hadrian’s Wall in 122 AD, and running for 73 miles across England.

    One of the most important places in Roman Britain was York, known as Eboracum in Roman times. Founded by the Romans in 71 AD, it was the north’s major military base and therefore a significant city.

    The Romans stayed in England for about 360 years, from 43 BC to 410 AD. Though Hadrian’s Wall is the most famous, they built other great monuments too, such as Bath spa, using the natural thermal waters found in the area. Today the Roman bathhouse is a historical site but there is a modern bathhouse next door, still using the natural waters.

    Language - Irish vs Scots Gaelic

    Another area where Ireland and Scotland both share common heritage and yet differ in today’s society is through the use of language. Both Ireland and Scotland’s vernacular languages (Irish and Scots Gaelic, respectively) share a common ancestor. Both languages were looked down upon by the English, and both languages suffered regular attempts to be stamped out. Both languages exist as principal spoken languages in scattered, isolate pockets, usually in the more far-flung regions of the country, particularly amongst island communities.

    Irish Gaelic & the Gaeltacht

    In contrast to Scotland, the Irish language has seen a massive revival in Ireland. There are still a good few pockets of native Irish speakers, called the Gaeltacht, which are found predominantly on islands or in remote communities in West Cork, Dingle, Connemara, the Aran Islands, and northern Donegal, though in Scotland, there aren’t very many similar pockets of Scots Gaelic speakers.

    But where Scotland and Ireland really differ in terms of language is that in Ireland, Irish is a required subject from primary school all the way up through the Leaving Certificate (a level comparable to the US SATs, British A-Levels and French baccalauréat). There are even plenty of Irish schools where all subjects are taught in Irish.

    Though most people don’t hold Irish conversations daily, nearly everyone in Ireland is conversational in Irish, and we do tend to weave in small amounts of Irish in everyday dialogue, emails salutations and exchanges. All signs and official documents or websites are translated into Irish, and there are certain TV and radio channels that are Irish-speaking only. In Scotland, though these Scots Gaelic pockets do exist, the extent is not the same, and it is not taught in schools.

    Essential Phrases – Ireland

    Scots Gaelic

    Speaking traditional Scottish Gaelic was outlawed in the 1600s and was further suppressed in Scotland following the Jacobite uprisings and Highland Clearances. Unsurprisingly, Scots Gaelic is now a dying language. Efforts have been made to revive the language – with dedicated radio and TV stations and subsidized degrees but many argue that government intervention is required to save it. The good news is that the language is seeing a recent surge in popularity. Language learning app Duolingo launched Scots Gaelic as a learnable language in November 2019, and it saw over 127,000 registrations in a short period of time. This made Scots Gaelic one of the fastest-growing language courses ever on the app, and it means that more than double the number of people who currently speak it are learning to. TV shows like Outlander and recent portrayal in film have added to the re-popularisation of Scots Gaelic with many non-Scots learning the language as well. 

    Essential Phrases – Scotland

    Meet the Author: Dawn Rainbolt

    “American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, Poland, France and now the UK home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich British culture, intriguing history, ancient castles, cheery locals and sweeping landscapes of Scotland, England and Ireland.”

    View profileMore by Dawn

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