These days, Scotland's vibrant cities have become every bit as popular as its sweeping pastoral landscapes. Glasgow is an important center for architecture and design, and the annual Edinburgh International Festival, one of the largest in the world, gets bigger and zanier every year. The Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood, in Edinburgh, has given a grand home to the nation's devolved government. It is a fitting symbol of a country whose fiercely independent spirit and culture are as strong today as they have ever been.

Even with all that urban activity, Scotland has plenty of places to get away from it all. In the Highlands, one of Europe's wildest and least spoiled areas, you can walk for hours across misty moors and clamber up and down rocky slopes without seeing a soul. A shaggy Highland cow, a thread of smoke curling from a cottage chimney or a soaring golden eagle may add to the feeling of blissful solitude. And when you're ready for company, you'll find it at friendly pubs and inns, where traditional music—and in the Highlands and islands, Gaelic culture and language—thrive.

For all its air of wildness, rebellious history and moody weather, Scotland has a wonderfully cozy and warm side. The Scots (not Scotch—that's the drink, which Scots refer to as whisky) have a strong hospitable streak and a great sense of humor, which often comes washed down with a "wee dram" and an infectious toast of slainte mhath (good health).

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