Scotland is having a big year, and not just because of the upcoming Referendum for Scottish Independence. Here’s why you should go for a visit:

1. Fly Direct from Chicago to Edinburgh
For now, the only way to fly to Scotland’s capital city from Chicago is to connect in New York or other European cities. But on May 22, United Airlines is launching brand-new, non-stop service between Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) and Edinburgh Airport (EDI)—the first time that scheduled non-stop flights will run between the two hubs.

The seasonal summer service is offered on a Boeing 757-200 through October 5; flights run five times a week from May 22 to June 11, daily from June 12 to September 1, and four times a week from September 2 to October 5. It takes around 8 hours—at least two hours faster than a trip with connecting flights.

2. Celebrate a Battle’s 700th Birthday
In June of 1314, King Robert I (Robert the Bruce) led the Scots to victory in the Battle of Bannockburn, a major turning point during the Scottish Wars of Independence. From June 28 to 29, 2014, the country will commemorate the battle’s 700th anniversary with the first-ever Bannockburn Live, the main event among Visit Scotland’s Year of Homecoming 2014 celebrations. This all-ages weekend festival happens near Stirling Castle where the epic battle happened centuries ago. Travel less than an hour by train from Edinburgh for music, kilts, whiskey, and a massive, medieval re-enactment with over 300 actors choreographed by Clanranald (Gladiator and Thor: The Dark World). And don’t miss the monument to William Wallace, the Scottish patriot of Braveheart fame.

3. Hike on Scotland’s New Take on the Appalachian Trail
Hop on the new John Muir Way, a 134-mile trail completed in April and linking the Scots-born naturalist’s birthplace to the country’s first National Park, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. Other landmarks along the way include Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Antoine’s Wall built in 142 AD, and Muir’s birthplace in Dunbar. See more at Travel+Leisure.

Plan: Scotland welcomes the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow from July 23 to August 3, and the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles from September 23 to 28.

Eat: Go for daring, hyper-local Scottish fare and delicately crafted cocktails at the new Timberyard (10 Lady Lawson Street, Edinburgh, +44 0 131 221 1222).

Stay: In Edinburgh, stay at Chester Residence (9 Rothesay Place, Edinburgh, +44 0 131 226 2075; from $480), a nice place with a full kitchen in a posh neighborhood. Less than an hour north of Stirling, escape to the Highlands—worth the drive for the mountains and velvety green hills— at the 14-room Monachyle Mhor, an 18th-century farmhouse turned family-run hotel (Balquhidder Lochearnhead, Perthshire, +44 0 1877 384 622; from $348).

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“As soon as the flight took off, she was inconsolable—breakdancing on my lap, trying to pull the hair of the woman in front of us, karate-kicking her seat back,” says Laura Begley Bloom of a recent flight with her 18-month-old daughter Lucy. “Suddenly, I was the person whom I’ve always loathed during my many years of solo travel: the passenger from hell with the baby from hell in Row 27C.” The solution: bribing fellow passengers with everything from drinks to scratch-off lottery cards. Yahoo Travel has more.