Scottish National Portrait Gallery to reopen after major renovation

After more than two years and £17.6 million ($27.4 million), the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh will reopen on December 1.

The remodel opens up more of the Victorian building to public view, adds more than 60% to the public space, and introduces several themed galleries, including Blazing with Crimson–a collection of full-length portraits of men in kilts.

The gallery’s massive collection of portraits includes those of great statesmen, royalty, scientists, engineers, soldiers, and athletes. Special galleries look at the new face of Scotland, with one exhibit highlighting Scotland’s large Pakistani community.

Another bonus to the revamped gallery is that entrance is now free.

The gallery opened in 1889 as the first purpose-built portrait gallery. While it has always featured paintings of Scotland’s great names, it now also includes a large space devoted to photography.

This is the second major museum reopening in Edinburgh this year. The National Museum of Scotland reopened this summer after a £47.4 million ($74 million) renovation.

Photo of Robert Burns portrait courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Travel Read: The East Highland Way hiking guide

Last year for my annual “Oh crap another birthday I need to prove my youth” long-distance hiking adventure, I chose Scotland’s East Highland Way. It runs 78 miles from Ft. William through some beautiful countryside to Aviemore. The route had just been created by hiker Kevin Langan, and was so new there wasn’t a guidebook. Kevin was kind enough to send me maps and a summary preprint of his book and I set off. Check out the link above to follow my adventures.

Now Kevin’s book has been published by independent Scottish publisher Luath Press, Ltd. The East Highland Way is a detailed guide to the route with lots of information on wildlife and history. It’s also richly illustrated with clear maps and photos of Scotland’s beautiful countryside. Full disclosure: I contributed several photos. I didn’t ask for payment, and I don’t receive any royalties. I gave Kevin free photos because I believe in promoting this trail.

I’ve never read a guidebook after going somewhere, yet this strange experience didn’t diminish my enjoyment. Kevin gives lots of detail about side trips I missed and information about Scotland’s nature I wished I’d known before I headed out. I highly recommend the book. Of course, if you’re planning on hiking this route there’s no other book about it, so my recommendation is unnecessary, but it’s nice to know the only game in town has been well played.

The East Highland Way starts at the junction of the West Highland Way and Great Glen Way, both very popular (some would say too popular) routes. It ends at the start of Speyside Way, another popular route. If you want an enjoyable hike that isn’t overrun by walkers, consider the East Highland Way. When I went last year I hardly bumped into anyone. The only other person I heard was doing the hike was a German guy walking a day ahead of me. I never caught up with him and that’s just fine. I loved having the Highlands to myself.

Great deals on attractions during Scottish Archaeology Month

September is Scottish Archaeology Month, and the land of kilts and haggis is gearing up for four weeks of free talks, tours, and events highlighting the region’s rich heritage. The special month is part of Visit Scotland’s new push for archaeological tourism.

In Glasgow, for example, there will be a behind-the-scenes tour of the city’s museum and free talks on the Second World War and a historic local church. “Archaeology” Month includes recent history too!

The Orkney Islands to the north of Scotland are rich in historic treasures, as this photo of a Neolithic village by user localsurfer from Gadling’s flickr pool shows. Another of his Orkney photos recently featured as our Photo of the Day. Intrepid travelers who make it to the windy and rainy islands will be treated to in-depth tours of ongoing excavations at some of the Orkney’s top archaeological sites. Just don’t expect to share localsurfer’s luck with the weather.

Having just finished hiking in Scotland, I can say that the towns and countryside are filled with fascinating remnants of the past, from local lore to haunted castles. Special events are being held all over, so if you’re headed north this coming month, be sure to check it out.

Tartan Day with Whiskey and Castles

You probably don’t know this, but Tartan Day is right around the corner. Drumscot Tours is celebrating with a deal in Scotland that’s good for only one day – April 6 – for its “Whiskey, Castles and The Gathering” tour. You’ll spend a little over $2,700, but it goes a long way.

Seven nights in a hotel with a full Scottish breakfast, dinner for the first five evenings and admission to several Castles (including Dunvegan and Armadale) are included, as well as a ferry crossing from Mallaig to the Isle of Skye and a Loch Ness boat trip. You’ll also score admission to the Gathering 2009 and the Highland Games on July 26 and 27.

Unique to this deal is a 10 percent discount and a free Silver Passport (which normally would set you back $130) that’ll get you into the Gathering’s Clan Parade and Pageant.

To take advantage of this, you need to book your trip on April 6. Not for April 6. Not around April 6. Pick up the phone (1.866.441.9936) or tap out an e-mail (info [at] and use the code “Tartan Day”.

British Airport Authority told to sell Gatwick, Stansted and Edinburgh airports

England’s British Airports Authority (BAA) was told by the country’s Competition Committee that it has to sell Gatwick, Stansted, and Edinburgh airports. The watchdog group has pointed to a lack of competition as the reason for advising the sales. “Under separate ownership, the airport operators including BAA, will have a much greater incentive to be far more responsive to their customers, both airlines and passengers.”

BAA was bought by Spanish company Ferrovial two years ago. The Competition Committee’s criticism of BAA might look like a bid to bring ownership back to the U.K. However, that is not likely to happen. BAA put Gatwick on the market in August. The top bidders thus far are German and Australian companies. Virgin Atlantic is also trying to organize a consortium of investors to make a bid.

The Scottish airports and Stansted remain in BAA’s hands for now. The organization responded to the watchdog’s report by saying that there was no compelling evidence proving that the airports, especially Stansted, should be sold.