Scotland has many treasures crammed into its compact territory – big skies, ancient architecture, spectacular wildlife, superb seafood and hospitable, down-to-earth people. Travelers to this popular tourist destination are captivated by its rich and stunning landscapes, 1200 medieval castles and historic houses, Gaelic language, nearly 300 Scottish clans, tartan, unsurpassed and world recognized golf courses, and Scotch Whisky.
If you’re planning on exploring this gorgeous destination, here are some of the best places to visit in Scotland.
17. Finnich Glen
Sometimes referred to as the “Devil’s Pulpit,” Finnich Glen is a breathtaking natural gorge with a very interesting history. The 70-feet-deep gorge located near Craighat Wood can be found under the small stone bridge that you’ll cross before entering the picturesque village of Croftamie. It’s said to have been used for Druid rituals and secret meetings by clandestine Covenanters. It’s easy to see why they were drawn to this stunning deep crevice, with its towering cliffs and hidden alleyways. The brilliant green moss covering the walls provides an otherworldly backdrop, while the water flowing through the red sandstone sometimes resembles a river of blood. If you’re a fan of the show “Outlander,” this may look familiar to you as it was this spot that was said to possess truth-telling powers in the series.
16. Orkney Islands
Seventy islands, including 20 that are inhabited, make up the Orkney Islands, an archipelago off the north coast of Scotland. Orkney residents pre-date the Romans by several thousand years, and once were part of Norway. It has some of the best preserved and oldest Neolithic sites in Europe. The pre-historic Ring of Brodgar, a circle of stone formations used in rituals, is a must-see. The islands are a good place to see seals and puffins, as well as a variety of local art in galleries and museums. The capital Kirkwall is the largest town in the islands.
15. Isle of Skye
Connected to mainland Scotland by a bridge, the Isle of Skye is the largest, most accessible, and most visited island in the Inner Hebrides. The island is particularly famous for its enchanting mountain scenery and its imposing geological features, but it is also home to a wonderful collection of medieval castles, informative museums, and restaurants ranging from cozy pubs to fine dining establishments. The towns of Portree, Dunvegan, and Trotternish are the best-equipped for tourists and tend to be quite busy, but the island has plenty of other towns and villages that offer a bit more peace and quiet.
14. Shetland Islands
With chocolate-box villages as cute as the islands’ native miniature ponies and an inimitable blend of Scottish and Nordic cultures, Scotland’s Shetland Islands are one of the UK’s most unique holiday destinations. Stranded on the northernmost trip of the British Isles, the wild archipelago is famed for its unspoiled beaches, diverse wildlife and archeological sites, but the best time to visit is in January, when the islands host Up Helly Aa, a fire festival that pays homage to their Viking heritage.
13. Isle of Arran
Known as “Scotland in Miniature,” the Isle of Arran is only 166 square miles in size and a mirror image of the landscape found on the mainland. It boasts postcard-like sandy beaches, an abundance of wildlife, towering mountains and magnificent castles, fishing villages, fabulous golf and some of the most friendly locals you’ll ever meet. Around just about every corner or more awe-inspiring views, including vistas that overlook the Firth of Clyde towards the Kyles of Bute and the mountain range with Goatfell in the foreground that can be enjoyed while sailing into Brodick Bay. Look for deer around Lochranza and enjoy a bird watcher’s paradise by walking just about any of Arran’s long beaches, with a wide range of seabirds, including sea eagles often spotted along the coastline.
The region of Aberdeenshire boasts 165 miles of beautiful coastline, including a sandy beach right in the city center. Many of the buildings here are made out of silvery-grey granite that sparkles in the sunshine, which has led to nicknames such as the “Silver City with the Golden Sands.” The 300 castles found in Aberdeenshire are a major attraction as well, and outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the 55 golf courses and five ski resorts found in the area.
Widely acknowledged as one of the most beautiful places in Scotland, Glencoe is located inside the breathtaking Lochaber Geopark. The village of Glencoe sits right at the foot of the narrow glen, which was carved out thousands of years ago by melting glaciers and volcanic explosions. The village access road passes right through the glen, and visitors can learn more about the dramatic creation of the glen by following the Glen Coe Geotrail. There are also plenty of other trails in the area, which lead hikers through the spectacular scenery of the Highlands and provide plenty of opportunities to see native Scottish wildlife.
Britain’s most northern city, Inverness, is the gateway to the Scottish Highlands. Located at the northern end of Loch Ness, Inverness is a good place to visit in Scotland if you like to walk. Walk along the River Ness to the Ness Islands, the Caledonian Canal or the Churches Along the River. Stroll, too, through Old Town with its old stone buildings and a Victorian market where you can buy crafts. Take a walk by the 19th century Inverness Castle, but don’t expect to see the inside unless you’ve been naughty as the castle currently provides local court service in Scotland. In that case, you may want to say a prayer at the lovely Inverness Cathedral.
9. Luskentyre Beach
Luskentyre is one of the largest and most spectacular beaches on Harris. Luskentyre is a heaven for birdwatchers and walkers with a variety of scenery from empty beaches to rocky inlets. Scenery includes wonderful sand dunes and the island of Taransay, famous for being the setting of the BBC’s Castaway. Nearby activities include hillwalking, cycling and much more. It overlooks the Isle of Taransay and the moonscape mountains of North Harris. It’s a peaceful location for relaxing and for family holidays.
Conveniently situated between Edinburgh and Glasgow, Falkirk is home to a wealth of wonderful attractions. The impressive Antonine Wall dates back to the 2nd century and allows visitors to stroll along what was formerly the northernmost frontier of the Roman empire, while the 14th-century Callendar House contains a number of displays that detail the history of the area between the 11th and 19th centuries. There are plenty of modern marvels in the city as well, including a rotating boat lift known as the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies, a set of huge and dramatic horse-head sculptures.
7. Loch Ness
Scotland’s most famous loch has more to offer than a glimpse of the notorious Loch Ness monster. Explore the 754-foot deep lake on a Loch Ness trip from Inverness, hike around the lakeside, or visit the ruins of one of Scotland’s largest castles, Urquhart Castle, perched on its banks. Make sure you check out the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition too, where you can discover the legends of the UK’s most mysterious sea creature.
6. Isle of Islay
You can also head to the Isle of Islay for awe-inspiring scenery and fine whiskey. The island is home to eight single malt distilleries and offers a serene, magical beauty as well as all sorts of wildlife, including more than 200 bird species, like puffins and golden eagles, along with animals like grey seals, otter and red deer. One of the best ways for traveling females to experience all that Islay has to offer is to join Rachel MacNeill’s “Whisky for Girls” tour. The tours include visits to area distilleries as well as ancient relics and the most isle’s most scenic sights.
5. Cairngorms National Park
One of Scotland’s two national parks, Cairngorms National Park sits within the country’s northeast region. The largest national park in the U.K., it’s s a true mountain wilderness home to five out of six of Scotland’s highest peaks, and four out of 10 of the highest in Britain. It also boasts some of the most beautiful lochs and rivers, native forests, farmland and moorland, as well as being a stronghold for Scotland’s wildlife. Just a few of the creatures you might spot include reindeer, wildcat, pine marten, golden eagle, deer and badger. And, there are miles and miles of trails that allow visitors to explore the region too. Frequent visitors recommend walking around Loch Muick as well as taking in the view from the top of the nearly 4,300-foot Ben Macdui.
4. Fingal’s Cave
An astounding creation that evokes images of fantasy worlds, Fingal’s Cave is a demonstration of nature’s absolute power. Located on the Scottish island of Staffa, this sea cave is 72 feet tall and 270 feet deep, which adds to its remarkable appearance, consisting of hexagonal columns of basalt shaped in six-sided pillars. It is one of the many sea caves on the small island, and, as the most popular of them all, has been mentioned and depicted in numerous written and visual works from the 19th century onward.
3. Loch Lomond
Situated in the heart of the Trossachs National Park, Loch Lomond is the largest loch in Great Britain by surface area. It’s also one of the country’s most popular destinations for boating, kayaking, and other watersports; visitors can take a relaxing cruise, head to the southern end of the loch to have lunch, go shopping at Loch Lomond Shores, or paddle around the loch’s 30 islands, one of which is home to a colony of wallabies. Boaters should be aware that a 10 km/hour speed limit is enforced on some parts of the loch due to environmental concerns.
Located on the Firth of Forth, Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital and has served as the seat of Parliament since the 15th century. The city has oodles of things to see and do, and is the second most popular tourist destination after London in Great Britain. Of course, you’ll want to see its famous castle and Royal Mile, the main route through Old Town. Edinburgh is a city famous for its many festivals, including the Fringe, the world’s largest international arts festival, and the Military Tattoo. You may recognize the city as the setting for several movies, including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Da Vinci Code.
Now the largest city in Scotland, Glasgow dates back to prehistoric times on the River Clyde. The largest seaport in Britain, it was once an important hub for shipbuilding and trade with North America. It’s a good place to visit, where you can immerse yourself in friendship, charm and music – the city hosts 130 musical events on average per week. You’ll find historic medieval buildings such as the Glasgow Cathedral and the old Antonine Wall, a shopaholic’s paradise with more than 1,500 stores to tempt your pocketbook and a variety of sporting events. Stroll the hills above the city for wonderful views.