'The Crown' Guide to Traveling in Scotland
Season two of the hit series returns Friday, bringing with it more reasons to visit the chilly yet gorgeous country, including a "royal experience" worthy of the queen.
Queen Elizabeth II, played by Claire Foy, is far from the only star of Netflix’s The Crown, returning to the streaming service on Friday with season two, which covers her reign between 1957 and 1964. The scenery and locations — many of them in Scotland — should get equal billing. With a first season that cost more than $130 million to produce (Netflix's most expensive drama ever), viewers were able to follow the cast around iconic spots such as the royal residence, Balmoral Estate and the Castle of Mey.
Fans of the show and royal groupies can’t access everything seen onscreen, of course, but a trip to Scotland can include quite a few of the most recognizable sites, as well as nods to the Queen — think drinking gin, which she loves, at Edinburgh Gin Distillery, and even making your own. One of Scotland’s oldest pubs, the Sheep Heid Inn (dating back to 1360) should also be a stop if taking cues from the Queen, since she’s recently visited, and for a spot of shopping, the jeweler and silversmith Hamilton & Inches actually has the royal seal of approval.
As far as the series goes, the royal family's Balmoral Estate was unavailable for shooting, but in the first season and second, its house and grounds were approximated at the 19th century Ardverikie Estate in the Highlands, a dreamy, bucolic backdrop where the Queen Mother had a royal picnic beside a stream in the woods. Of it, director Philip Martin has said, "One of the interesting things about the royal family is the role that Scotland plays in their lives. Every year they go away up to Balmoral and stay there for some time and in some ways there’s a powerful emotional connection that [they] have with Scotland, it’s important to them. We wanted to capture that, and so we filmed the relationship between them and the landscape."
For a whistle-stop tour of the gorgeous area, there’s the Belmond Royal Scotsman, an uberluxe train that has a new Bamford Haybarn Spa with its own carriage. Two- to seven-night itineraries onboard depart from Edinburgh and include travel across the Scottish Highlands to give guests the feeling of being in a country house on wheels (five-day tours from $5,581/person). They don’t have the official seal, but while in Edinburgh, stop at Cairngorm Coffee for a flat white, Lucky Liquor Co. for an inventive cocktail and vinyl and Timberyard for a rustic-local dinner beside a wood-burning stove.
One way to get even closer to the royal residence is with a "Royal Experience" stay at The Balmoral, a Rocco Forte Hotel (from $19,500). (Over the years, the hotel has hosted Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul McCartney and J.K. Rowling, who completed the last Harry Potter book there and has a suite named for her.) The over-the-top itinerary includes three nights in the opulent Scone & Crombie Suite, a Michelin-starred dinner and helicopter transfer to the Aberdeenshire estate where the Queen summers, with a private luxury Land Rover safari and lunch or champagne afternoon tea picnic. The cost is justified by the exclusive access afforded. They also arrange a led behind-the-scenes tour and breakfast at Holyrood Palace, the monarch’s official Scottish residence. And, there’s a private evening tour of the Queen’s former floating royal residence, the Royal Yacht Britannia, which could be shown during the second season as part of a storyline hinting at Prince Philip’s alleged affairs.
Other accessible locations — the best way to see Scotland is to rent a car and take road trips — that are featured on the series include Slains Castle (rumored to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula), which stood in for the exteriors of Castle Mey, and nearby Cruden Bay, which replaced the silvery beach near the real castle. Photo ops from the clifftop overlooking the North Sea result in hauntingly beautiful images of the rugged, wild — and storied — coastline. Glenfeshie Estate, in Cairngorms, and the glittering beaches at Caithness also appear in season one, but it’s yet to be seen if they’ll show up in season two. Come Friday, viewers can binge the whole series and find out, or do like the Queen and space it out, watching one per week.