Although I may be biased, given that it's my home, I'd argue that any year is a good year to visit Scotland. This small nation offers untamed and dramatic natural beauty, a turbulent history, great drink and intriguing food. This year, however, is not just a good year, but a great year to visit Scotland. Here are 10 reasons why.
1. It's a Homecoming year
Following the 2009 event of the same name, 2014 has been designated the Year of Homecoming. This government-sponsored initiative aims to welcome the Scottish diaspora back home with a celebration of Scottish heritage, arts, culture, food and drink. A 200-panelled tapestry depicting the experiences of migrant Scots over the centuries and created over the last two years by volunteers in 25 countries around the world, will tour the country from March through November. Several of the following events will occur under the umbrella of the Scottish Homecoming program.
2. The John Muir Way will open
Marking the 100th anniversary of the Scottish conservationist's death, the John Muir Way will open in April. The 134-mile-long trail will run coast-to-coast from Muir's hometown of Dunbar all the way to Loch Lomond, passing by castles, hills and canals along the way. Walking the length of the Way will take eight to 12 days (or four to six by bike). From April 17-26, the John Muir Festival, featuring celebratory events, will be held at various locations along the Way.
3. Glasgow will host the Commonwealth Games
Little-known in the United States, the Commonwealth Games is a major Olympic-style multi-sport event open to member states of the British Commonwealth that takes place every four years. This year Glasgow has the honor of hosting the two-week event from July 23 to August 3, and has undergone a major facelift in the preparation. With much of the city being spruced up and the addition of the Commonwealth Arena, Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, and the Zaha Hadid-designed Riverside Museum (named European Museum of the Year, 2013), this once-gritty city has never looked better.
Get to know Glasgow on a tour
4. ...and the 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards
Glasgow will have just a few months to recover from one big event before diving into the 20th annual MTV Music Awards. The event will be held at the newly opened SSE Hydro arena and the host has yet to be announced. Stay tuned. Glasgow has an incredibly strong musical heritage, so much so that it was named a UNESCO City of Music in 2008. Bands that grew out of the Glasgow music scene include Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand, Jesus and Mary Chain, and Belle and Sebastian.
5. The Ryder Cup will take place at Gleneagles
Scotland is hosting another major sporting event this year: the biennial golfing face off between the United States and Europe, the Ryder Cup. In late September the event will be held at the swanky Gleneagles Hotel, set in 850 acres of stunning Perthshire countryside. Even if you don't make it to the competition, Gleneagles is always worth a visit for its spa and Michelin-starred Strathearn restaurant.
6. It is the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn...
June 24 will make 700 years since Robert the Bruce led his men to victory against the English in one of the most important battles of the First War of Scottish Independence. A brand new visitor center will open at the site of the battle in March and, from June 28-30, a three-day event called Bannockburn Live will take place, including live re-enactments, music, literature and specially constructed themed villages.
7. ...and the 50th anniversary of the Forth Road Bridge
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Forth Road Bridge, which spans the Firth of Forth connecting the regions of Fife and Lothian, a 10-day festival will run from September 4-13, featuring a boat flotilla, torch light procession and firework show. The festival will celebrate both the road bridge and the adjacent, iconic cantilevered Forth Rail Bridge, which, when it opened in 1890, was considered a great feat of engineering.
8. The country is holding its biggest ever contemporary art show
An ambitious and extensive nine-month-long program of art exhibitions named GENERATION will showcase the work of more than 100 of Scotland's leading visual artists of the last 25 years. Artists involved include Turner Prize winners Douglas Gordon and Martin Boyce. GENERATION will run from March through November in more than 60 different galleries, museums and exhibition spaces throughout Scotland, with major shows by Glasgow Life and the National Museums of Scotland.
9. Andy Murray's hotel opened
Since the mid-1990s the small lowland town of Dunblane was known chiefly as the site of a horrific elementary school shooting, but the success of local boy Andy Murray (2013 Wimbledon Champion and current Olympic gold medal holder) over the past few years has helped to restore hometown pride and joy. The April opening of the Murray-owned Cromlix House, housed in a 19th-century Victorian mansion just outside of Dunblane, has already drawn visitors to the area for happier reasons. The hotel has 10 guestrooms and five suites, and the on-site restaurant is helmed by acclaimed chef Albert Roux.
10. Scotland will decide upon its independence
This is perhaps the most significant event of the year. It has been a long time coming, but in 2014 the people of Scotland will finally be given the opportunity to cast their votes on whether to remain within the Union with England or to become an independent nation. It is difficult to determine which way the September 18 vote will go, but engage any Scot in a pub over a couple of pints and they will likely be pleased to offer their opinion.In the meantime, for a taste of the current state of Scottish politics, you can pay a visit to the modernist-style Scottish Parliament building located just off Edinburgh's Royal Mile. Tours are free.
- Karen Gardiner Dion