UCEAP plans occasional trips for students so we can stay connected and explore the regions we’re in. One such trip was a weekend trip to Edinburgh, where the UK/Ireland UCEAP headquarters is, and the Highlands. 

On Friday and Sunday we were given freedom to explore the city, but Saturday was packed with a fantastic bus tour that took us all over the southwestern Highlands. UCEAP covered the cost of the bus tour, a hostel on Friday and Saturday night which included breakfast (rooms where shared only by UCEAP students), and our flights. Friday was a quiet evening for most students as we had an early morning ahead. 

Saturday Tour 

We ate together at 8 AM and left at 9 in a large, comfortable coach. There were 28 students in total, plus 3 lovely UCEAP staff members. 

We generally traveled no more than 1.5 hours at a time, and our tour guide was an endless fount of information whenever we were in motion. As much as I loved this, my favorite part was probably exploring the sites we stopped at. 


Our first stop was Dunkeld, a small town about an hour and a half outside of Edinburgh. The town itself looked like most small UK towns, but was distinguished by its situation upon River Tay and its crumbling cathedral. Construction of the imposing cathedral began in 1260, but over time it has been rendered eerie and even more striking by its disrepair. Large portions of the roof have fallen in, but the bell tower is intact and the bell-ringer played music almost the whole time we were there. I opted to hike the grounds around the church instead of exploring the church itself, and I immersed myself in the woods with beautiful glimpses of the river and this little peek of the bell tower behind me. 

Dunkeld Cathedral

Dunkeld Hermitage 

Only 10 minutes away was The Hermitage, an expanse of woods containing Ossian’s Hut, an old hermitage over a waterfall. The riverside hike was beautiful and the hut looked interesting as we approached. 

Top: River Tay. Bottom: Ossian’s Hut

But my goodness! Once you got inside the hut and viewed the waterfall, it was stunning. This site may have been the highlight of the tour and the picture below will show you why. It’s three times as big as it looks in the picture and the roar is immense. 


Another notable stop was Pitlochry, a town on a dam where we ate lunch. Many students went to the cute cafes along the main boulevard, but as we had only 1.5 hours here I just grabbed snacks from Co-op and headed to the loch to wander its banks. This tranquil spot is where I enjoyed my picnic. 

Loch Tummel

Queen’s View 

Only 20 minutes away was an incredible vista of a gorgeous loch and a glen, an iconic Scottish highlands view. 

Queen’s View

Driving Home

We had an afternoon appointment at Glenturret Distillery, the oldest continuously working distillery in Scotland, where we learned how whiskey was made. Finally, we headed home and were treated to a lovely rainbow. 


On Sunday we had breakfast together then checked out the hostel, setting out to explore the city. The Old Town is quite compact, but rich with beauty. It inspired Hogwarts and the buildings clearly show why. First of all, their university literally looks like a castle. 

University of Edinburgh 

Secondly, they have an actual giant castle on top of a huge hill that the old town sprawls out from. 

1,100 year old Edinburgh Castle 

Victoria Street directly inspired Diagon Alley. The picture’s colors look dull, but the shops are vibrant in person. 

Vibrant Victoria Street 

And of course there is Tom Riddle’s grave. Turns out J.K. Rowling stole the name. 

Tom Riddle’s Grave, ft. casual product placement

Chancellor’s Visit 

A few weekends prior I had actually been flown out to Edinburgh with two other students to meet UCLA Chancellor Block. We had lunch and talked for several hours about how we thought the program could improve, especially regarding accessibility of study abroad programs. He was warm and receptive, making us feel like we were truly heard. 

Chancellor Block with other UCEAP students and me


UCEAP gave me the opportunity to explore one of my new favorite European cities, see the Highlands (a part of the country that is often inaccessible to young travelers on a budget), and even offer my opinion to leadership on the program itself. I am extremely grateful to have been privileged with two separate UCEAP trips to Edinburgh. All I can say is that if UCEAP is having a group trip, definitely go! 

Alexis Harmon studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland during Spring 2019: