Fun fact: Did you know that the official national animal of Scotland is the unicorn? You'd never catch that vibe just walking around a tourist hotspot like Edinburgh's city center, where there's a noticeable dearth of unicorn merch in the city's Highland cattle and sheep-laden souvenir shops. But the Scottish affinity for unicorns is longstanding. According to a report in The Scotsman, the unicorn was adopted as the country's national symbol in the late 1300s—about 100 years after England adopted the lion. As folklore has it, the unicorn and the lion are natural enemies—and the unicorn was believed to be so powerful, it could defeat an elephant (so, by logic of the transitive property, perhaps lions, as well).
Spend a week in Scotland and it's likely you'll hear about dozens of mystical creatures—all accompanied by lavishly detailed stories intricately weaving their presence into the fabric of daily life. "I think they are probably accepted more casually because the stories have been integrated into Scottish culture for so many years that they are just more commonplace and not always considered particularly magical," University of Edinburgh Archeology Ph.D. student Elyse Waters tells Food & Wine. Waters is writing a dissertation about unicorns (more on that later). "The unicorn, in particular, was finally denied by scholars in 1825, but the existence of unicorns had been widely accepted in not only Scotland, but all of Europe, for many centuries. Although we now tend to think of the unicorn as a magical creature shrouded in mystery, people in Medieval and Renaissance Europe considered the unicorn to be, basically, a rare animal."
From unicorns to Nessie and, yes, even haggis, here are five legendary animals to keep an eye out for on your next journey through Scotland.