Second Cities: Destinations to add onto a trip to Edinburgh

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Scotland’s capital of Edinburgh with its historic castle, distilleries and hikes with sweeping views is one of the top places to visit in the U.K. But there are other destinations to explore in Scotland. Within a few hours drive or train ride of Edinburgh, you will find the second cities of Glasgow, Inverness and St Andrews. At the moment, you can also take advantage of a favorable exchange rate (about 1 pound: $1.29). 

Glasgow

Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland. For many years, tourists have skipped this port city in favor of the visually stunning Edinburgh. However, Glasgow’s cultural offerings and the euphony of the Glaswegian accent will win you over in no time.
Glasgow Cathedral. (Photo by David Cation Photography/Getty Images)

Getting there: Citylink runs a bus from Edinburgh Airport (EDI) to downtown Glasgow every 30 minutes. The bus ride takes approximately an hour, costing $15 one-way; $25 round-trip. The bus offers a family ticket at $32 one-way; $52 round-trip for up to two adults and three children.

You can also rent a car and drive to Glasgow from EDI (remember, cars use the opposite side of the road) or take a 45-minute train from downtown Edinburgh.

Where to stay: The Glasgow Marriott is a Category 4 hotel with rooms starting at 25,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. It is a 15-minute walk from the SSE Hydro indoor arena.

You can earn Marriott points with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless credit card, which is currently offering 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Alternatively, Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Marriott at a 1:1 ratio.

There are several Hilton properties, but the DoubleTree by Hilton Glasgow Central gets high marks from guests for its location (and the cookies, of course).

Here are TPG’s favorite Hilton credit cards for families so you can boost your Hilton Honors points balance in a hurry.

If you’re willing to splash out, you can book the luxury boutique Gleneagles Hotel, a destination in itself, that is more a Scottish manor than a hotel. The TPG UK team stayed there and booked it through the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) program.

The Gleneagles Hotel. (Photo by Nicky Kelvin)

Things to see and do: The 12th-century Glasgow Cathedral and its neighboring 37-acre Victorian garden cemetery Necropolis require a visit.

Glasgow’s history as a waterfront city is on display at the Riverside Museum and The Tall Ship at Riverside. The museum has vintage cars, model boats and horse-drawn carriages and the Tall Ship has a restored vessel to explore.

It is always worth checking the schedule at the SSE Hydro, Glasgow’s performance venue, to see what the line up is when you are in town. If the weather is nice, the Glasgow Botanical Gardens are worth a visit.

Inverness (Loch Ness and Scottish Highlands)

Inverness is the gateway to the Scottish Highlands (Northern Scotland) and sits on the River Ness (yes, as in Loch Ness).

A Scottish Cow. (Photo by Stefan Krzinger/Getty Images)
Long-haired Highland cattle graze here. (Photo by Stefan Krzinger/Getty Images)

Getting there: You can rent a car from EDI and drive the three hours to Inverness. Alternatively, trains from Edinburgh to Inverness in 3 1/2 hours and start at $10.50 one-way, if booked ahead. There are also buses from EDI to Inverness that take a minimum of four hours and 20 minutes.

From my travels in the U.K., I find that Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve code most transportation here as travel, including buses and trains. Using these will bring you 3x every dollar spent with the Chase Sapphire Reserve or 2x with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Where to stay: The Holiday Inn Express Inverness gets high marks from IHG members who value a place to park their rental car while gearing up for their Highlands adventure.

Things to see and do: Inverness is often just a jumping-off point for exploring the Highlands but is worth a visit before you venture north. The Inverness Castle and the Cathedral of St Andrew offer views over the River Ness. You can prepare for your venture to the Highlands by learning about its history at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Make sure you also take a walk in the indoor Victorian Market.

The best way to the Highlands is by road from Inverness. Once in Inverness, several tour companies can take you up to the Highlands if you aren’t renting a car. The North Coast 500 begins in Inverness and is a 500-mile scenic highway through the Highlands. Then put on your boots and start walking.

Located about a 30-minute drive southeast of Inverness on the North Coast Highway is Loch Ness. The Urquhart Castle is worth a visit even if you miss “Nessie,” the Loch Ness monster. It’s impossible to miss the famous Highland cattle along the way.

St Andrews and Fife

Just on the other side of the River Forth from Edinburgh is the Kingdom of Fife. Fife is a stunning region made up of cobblestone seaside towns like Kirkcaldy, Dunfermline and St Andrews. St Andrews is home to the university famously attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

St Andrews Castle. (Photo by espiegle/Getty Images)

Getting there: Like the Highlands, Fife is best explored by road. You can rent a car to drive north and enter Fife via Scotland’s famous Forth Rail Bridge.

An airport bus from EDI can transport you to the Ferrytoll Park & Ride in Fife ($9 one-way or $12 round-trip) where you can connect to other locations. Additionally, buses and trains connect Edinburgh with St Andrews. It is worth noting that the railroad ends at Leuchars Station and from there, you can take a bus or taxi into St Andrews.

Where to stay: A top choice for a full-service hotel is the 520-acre Fairmont St Andrews with a golf course, restaurants and a spa. Rooms start at $207 with breakfast for Le Club AccorHotels members. Le Club recently teamed up with Flying Blue (Air France/KLM), so you can now earn both Flying Blue/Air France miles and hotel points when flying with the airlines or staying at a Le Club property.

St Andrews is also a great place to find a charming Airbnb in a cottage near Castle Street. Airbnb purchases on your credit card typically code as “travel,” so this is a chance to redeem your Capital One miles. The current offer for the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card awards a bonus of 50,000 miles, worth $500 toward your Airbnb stay (after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months).

Things to see and do: All of the towns in Fife are lovely, but medieval St Andrews offers the most activities. St Andrews is known as the “home of golf” because it is where the game was first played 600 years ago. Greens fees at St Andrews’ historic Old Course start at $110. Golf buffs can learn about its history at the nearby British Golf Museum.

St Andrews Castle and Cathedral ruins are must-visits for any history enthusiast or photographers. The Castle ruins in St Andrews provide sweeping views of the North Sea. The grounds have intact underground mine passages in addition to the ruins. The Cathedral is in a separate location but can be available on the same combo ticket for $15 for adults; $12 for children. Snapping a photo of St. Rule’s Tower is the quintessential St Andrews photo.

Finally, British royal history was made at the University of St Andrews when Will first saw Kate but the university deserves a visit in its own right. Just make sure you avoid the weeks around commencement ceremonies in June and November.

After you’ve had your fill of history, it’s time for fish ‘n’ chips at a “chippie” such as Cromars. Before you enjoy your fish ‘n’ chips, make sure you pay for them with a card with a dining out multiplier on international restaurants such as the American Express® Gold Card with 4x dining or the Citi Prestige® Card with 5x on dining

The information for the Citi Prestige card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Bottom Line

As you plan your trip to Edinburgh, add these second cities to maximize your vacation. And if you plan to head to other European destinations, find out which second cities to visit from Milan, RomeMadridBarcelona and Lisbon. Make sure you pack your cards that don’t charge a foreign transaction fee and don’t forget to check out TPG UK for more Britain-specific content.

Featured photo by Thomas Janisch/Getty Images.

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