Need a list of awesome places to visit in Scotland? Think of Scotland and you’ll conjure up images of crumbling ruins, historic cities, kilted Highlanders and, of course, whiskey. But dive a little deeper and you’ll find starkly beautiful landscapes, wildlife hotspots and remote archipelagos that will quite literally blow your Scottish-loving socks off.
Add to this a dynamic art scene and a whole host of foodie experiences and Scotland is a destination that truly has it all.
It’s tempting to try and cover everything in a few days. But would you enjoy it? Probably not. Avoid stretching yourself too thin and take the time to explore a few key areas, because I can promise you this; it won’t be your last visit to Scotland. Scotland has lured me back time and time again – I adore this part of the world.
Let me help you get to know it better with a rundown of the best places to visit in Scotland.
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Edinburgh makes you go “wow” like no other city in Scotland does (sorry Glasgow!). It’s like stepping into a fairytale, with its cobbled streets, castles and gothic architecture. Edinburgh sure is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Scotland.
Edinburgh Castle doesn’t come cheap, but it’s well worth the visit. To guarantee entry, pre-book your tickets online for £17.50, and perhaps plan your visit to coincide with one of the castle’s many actor-led historical events.
The Royal Mile is at the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town, with Edinburgh Castle at its head and the Palace of Holyroodhouse at its foot. You could spend a whole day exploring the museums (most of which are free), restaurants and distilleries of this bustling street.
When you’re ready to retreat from the crowds, Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano in the heart of the city, offers peace and tranquillity in spades. Depending upon your fitness levels, it generally takes an hour to reach the summit where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the city. And afterwards? Well, you’ve earned yourself a hearty Scottish lunch.
Welcome to Glasgow 2.0! Once an industrial hub, Glasgow has reinvented itself as the cultural capital of music, theatre, creative arts and cutting-edge cuisine.
Served by great transport links, it’s also easy to get around and explore by foot. As an art-lover, there was only one place to start my 48-hour adventure: the Glasgow City Centre Mural Trail. With the leaflet and map downloaded to my phone and every mural within easy walking distance of the next, this was the perfect introduction to the city.
But if street art isn’t your thing, there are nine major museums in Glasgow, including the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum (the second most visited museum in Europe).
The city’s trendy West End is without a doubt my favourite area of Glasgow. You could spend hours wandering the hidden laneways, cobbled streets, cute shops and independent cafes – all of which give this area an almost bohemian feel. Time your visit for early evening to enjoy the fairy lights hanging over Ashton Lane.
A 45-minute train journey connects Glasgow to its scenic neighbour, Edinburgh, and the airport bus connects Glasgow airport to Glasgow Central in under half an hour. We pre-booked our tickets in advance via Trainline.
The Outer Hebrides (also known as the Western Isles)
Now, you could be forgiven for thinking that Scotland isn’t an obvious choice for a beach holiday. I’d heard whispers about Scotland’s picture-perfect beaches, though I didn’t quite believe it until I discovered the Outer Hebrides – a string of 119 islands located off the west coast of the mainland.
Despite being referred to as separate islands, the main island of Lewis and Harris is one landmass separated by a mountain range. Both are dotted with sandy coves and pretty bays, so you’ll have no problem finding your perfect beach. But if you’re looking for a Robinson Crusoe experience, head straight to Luskentyre beach on Harris, voted the “Best Beach in Scotland.”
Hop over to the northern Isle of Lewis to see the ancient Callanish Standing Stones rising from the landscape and taste the true spirit of the island at Abhainn Dearg Distillery.
The Outer Hebrides are served by the CalMac ferry service, on which you can travel as a foot passenger, or with a car. Be sure to pre-book during the busy summer months.
Inner Hebrides (excluding Skye)
In contrast with the Outer Hebrides, the Inner Hebrides lie close to the west coast of Scotland, stretching from Skye in the north to Islay in the south. While transport is frequent from the mainland to the islands, inter-island links are limited, so perhaps choose 1-2 islands to explore.
Mull has one of the most picturesque and recognisable hamlets in all of Scotland, making it the perfect place to spend an afternoon sampling freshly-caught seafood. We hopped on the passenger ferry to the quaint island of Iona, less than a mile across the water, to explore the sacred Iona Abbey.
If you’re all about the beach life, be sure to head the white sands and crystal clear waters of Tiree – championed as the “Hawaii of the North” thanks to its mild climate and plethora of watersports. It definately deserves to be on the list of the most interesting places to visit in Scotland.
Perhaps the easiest way to get to the Inner Hebrides from the mainland is to go by ferry. There are regular services from ports along the coast including Oban, Glenelg, Mallaig Lochaline and Kilchoan.
Not as “secret” as some of the other Scottish Islands, Skye is the largest and most northerly island of the Inner Hebrides. It’s also Scotland’s most crowdest island, though spending the night on the Isle of Skye gave us some relief from the crowds during the quieter morning and evening hours.
You’ll find some of Skye’s most beautiful (and bizarre) scenery on the Trotternish Peninsula Loop. Best explored by car, this circular loop passes by the pinnacle of Old Man of Storr, as well as the otherworldly rock formations of the Quiraing.
Ambitious hikers can take on the tall challenge of the Cuillin Mountain Range, before cooling off in the nearby crystal clear Fairy Pools. If you don’t fancy braving the cold waters, the short walk to the pools and Instagram-worthy photos still make the visit worthwhile.
Consider travelling off-season (between October and April) to escape the crowds and secure more reasonable lodging rates. Need to travel in the summer holidays? Plan ahead by booking your accommodation and any tours in advance.
Cairngorms National Park
From the moment I arrived at the foot of Cairngorms, I realised it was not an ordinary national park. Twice the size of the Lake District, Cairngorms National Park has more mountains, forest paths, lakes and wildlife hotspots than you can possibly imagine.
The Park is a world-famous ski resort during the winter, but come the warmer months, Cairngorms National Park is a hive of exciting experiences including mountain biking, pony treks, orienteering and rock climbing.
For water-bound activities including paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing, and swimming, head to one of the island’s two watersports centres, Loch Insh and Loch Morlich.
After a morning of activity, settle in to enjoy a warming dram of single malt whiskey at the Glenlivet Distillery at Tomintoul, part of the world-renowned Malt Whiskey Trail.
Tours cost £12.50 and last 1 ¼ hour. Departs every 30 minutes from 10 am, last tour at 4.30 pm.
Fort William and Glencoe
Without a doubt, one of the best places to visit in Scotland has to be Fort Williams. Sitting at the head of Loch Linnhe, and at the foot of Ben Nevis, Fort Williams has one of the most enviable settings in all of Scotland. Offering everything from hiking, biking, canoeing and kayaking, Fort William lives up to its status as the “Outdoor Capital of the UK.”
16 miles south of Fort William and located within the awe-inspiring Lochaber Geopark, lies the deep valley and towering mountains of Glencoe. Though the mountains are spectacular, they are not out of range for the casual walker. If you’re feeling ambitious, hit the heights of the Hidden Valley Trail, or for a more gentle pace, take the loop around Glencoe Lochan.
If, like me, your legs demand respite from walking, there’s plenty of other activities to throw yourself into. Hone your skills on Dragon’s Tooth Golf Course, saddle up for a horseback ride along the coastline, or sail out on a fishing excursion in search of prized Atlantic Scottish salmon.
Shetland and Orkney
Lying off Scotland's remote north coast, surrounded by crystal waters, the otherworldly isles of Orkney and Shetland offer a unique Scandinavian heritage that sets them apart from any other region of Scotland.
Activities on both of the isles are geared towards the great outdoors and wildlife viewing thanks to the abundant natural beauty and miles of coastline. The southern archipelago, Orkney, is green and rich with archaeological artefacts such as the stone circles, burial chambers and ancient settlements. North of Orkney, Shetland’s imposing rugged landscapes and fjords make you feel like you’re at the end of the earth.
These far-flung islands feel isolated, but with direct flights from Glasgow and Edinburgh, and various different ferry routes, the region is more accessible than you’d think. Inter-island transport is not as frequent, with just one ferry crossing between Orkney and Shetland via Northlink Ferries, which takes around 7 hours 45 minutes. Needless to say, we opted for the 35-minute flight instead.
You can never be quite sure what the weather will do in this part of the world, as the islands’ climate is largely dependent on what drifts in from the Atlantic, so pack waterproofs and a warm hat!
Located one hour’s drive from Glasgow and a 55-minute ferry crossing from Ardrossan, Arran is one of the easiest Scottish Island to get to and one of the best places to visit in Scotland if you fancy some digital detox.
Affectionately referred to as “Scotland in Miniature,” Arran’s wild mountainous north is divided from the serene beaches and rolling hills of the south by the highland fault line.
Arran’s dramatic landscapes make for some exciting hiking opportunities, including a trek up the island’s highest peak, Goat Fell. It’s a relatively easy ascent that took us around 6 hours to complete the return hike.
History buffs can head to Brodick Castle, packed with ancient treasures and dramatic views over the bay, while foodies can tuck into the artisan delights including ice cream, award-winning cheeses and handmade oatcakes. Arran’s unique location and landscape provide a natural larder for all the good stuff that we just couldn’t get enough of!
The Ardnamurchan Peninsular
The stunning Ardnamurchan Peninsula is the most westerly part of the British mainland and is quite literally the end of the road.
It’s wild, beautifully remote, and accessible only by a slow single-track road. Take on the long journey and you’ll be rewarded with untouched beaches and a mountainous interior that tempts hikers and wildlife enthusiasts alike. Add to that the charming village pubs and friendly locals and you’re in danger of never wanting to leave this remote corner of the UK.
Sadly, life wouldn’t allow that so, instead, we soaked up as much of this perfect paradise as we could in 48 hours. The sweeping sands and turquoise waters of Sanna Bay were my absolute highlight. You can visit Sanna Bay by car or take the coastal walk from Portuairk which brings you to a great vantage point of the bay.
The view from the summit of Ben Hiant, an imposing extinct volcano, should not be missed. With the feel of a mountain, but the effort of a hill, the trail is perfect for all levels and can be completed in around 2-3 hours.
At the very end of the Peninsula, Ardnamurchan Lighthouse stands elegant and proud. If you have a head for heights, be sure to climb the 152 steps leading to panoramic views of the area.
The lighthouse is only open from April-October.
It’s true. Aberdeen was recently voted as one of the top places to visit by The New York Times, ranking above New York and Los Angeles. So, exactly how did the “granite city” secure this high-flying status?
Twenty-four hours exploring Aberdeen’s historic castles, coastline and peaceful hiking trails and you’ll dismiss any negative perceptions you have about Scotland’s third largest city.
On a sunny day, pack up a picnic and hit one of the city’s 45 parks and gardens or witness Aberdeen’s superb marine life on a harbour cruise.
Aberdeen Harbour Tours operate year round and run hour-long cruises from £22 per person.
Many people underestimate the big draw of this tiny city. Set on the coast of Fife, St. Andrews has been coined the “Home of Golf.” But if you have no interest in the game, there’s plenty more on offer including the medieval ruins of St. Andrews Castle and Cathedral, a stately university, and a picturesque coastline that wraps around the city.
A joint entry ticket for the castle and cathedral costs just £12.
Nestled in the Scottish Highlands, between mountain and sea, Inverness is a small city that’s famed for its close proximity to Loch Ness and its mysterious water serpent.
Whilst the city of Inverness might not be packed with quaint historic buildings like some of Scotland’s other cities, it’s got heaps of character. Be sure to take a stroll along the leafy banks of the River Ness, which runs through the heart of the city, linking Loch Ness with the Moray Firth.
Just outside Inverness, you’ll find the ancient stone burial mounds of Clava Cairns (featured in the TV series, Outlander), as well as the site of Scotland’s bloody battlefield, Culloden Battlefield.
Culloden Battlefield is open all year, daily. Tickets cost £11 per adult.
Without a doubt, Loch Ness is Scotland’s most famous loch. People travel from all over the world hoping to spot the elusive Loch Ness Monster. But the big question is – is Loch Ness worth the visit or is it just monstrously over-hyped?
The legend of the mysterious sea serpent lurking in the deep, dark waters of Loch Ness dates back to the 5th Century, with reported sightings throughout history.
Sadly, we didn’t spot Nessie on our visit, but we did soak in the calming landscape of the Scottish Highlands on an hour-long tour of Loch Ness, booked via Jacobite. Back on dry land, Castle Urquhart stands on a rocky promontory on the north shore, making it the ideal vantage point for splendid views over the Loch.
What’s the verdict? In my opinion, if you’re travelling up north and you have the time, sure, make the stop in Inverness and Loch Ness. If time is limited, perhaps give it a miss.
A stone’s throw from Glasgow lies the beautiful and expansive Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park – Britain’s fourth largest national park.
With over 22 lochs, 21 peaks and more than 50 rivers and streams, we didn’t need to travel far into Trossachs National Park to soak up the spectacular views.
As the largest area of freshwater in the UK, Loch Lomond is a hotspot for water sports fanatics. Take a cruise on the calm waters, try your hand (or foot!) at windsurfing or kayaking, or if you’re feeling brave, take an invigorating dip.
The surrounding area offers brilliant walking, from gentle loch-side strolls to strenuous hill walks. Keen to bag yourself a Munro? Ben Lomond sits on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond and is Scotland’s most southerly Monro. The “Tourist Trail” gradually rises up to the summit to reveal expansive views over Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. It’s perfect for novice walkers and easily accessed from Rowardennan.
Hands up if you’re a real history buff? Dubbed the “Miniature Edinburgh”, Stirling's beautifully preserved Old Town is a treasure trove of historic buildings and cobbled streets winding up to the impressive Stirling Castle.
Many people tick off Stirling Castle and get back on the road. Big mistake. Climb the 246 steps to the world famous National Wallace Monument and visit the Bannockburn Heritage Centre, offering visitors 3D extravaganza depicting the famous battle of 1314. We booked a slot in advance as it’s hugely popular and can fill up quickly.
Stirling’s central location makes it a great day trip destination from Glasgow or Edinburgh, or the perfect stop en route to the Highlands. Make sure to add it to your itinerary of awesome places to visit in Scotland.