Think irregular cliff coastlines, still grey-blue lochs, and untamed Highland hills. Then picture film festivals, medieval castles, and tucking into hearty traditional food by a fireplace in a city pub. It’s no wonder that Scotland attracted over 150 million visits in 2019.
The best of both worlds; Scotland offers romantic, remote adventures and cultural city breaks. Whether you want to go on a winter walk in the Highlands or visit Edinburgh Castle – Scotland invites tourism with open arms. But, with all these options, you may wonder, what are the best places to visit in Scotland? We’ve got you covered.
Best Places to Visit in Scotland: Edinburgh
The cultural darling and capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is an obvious addition to this list. Between the medieval atmosphere of its Old Town, the history of Edinburgh Castle, and the abundance of hospitality venues – Edinburgh is easily one of the best places to visit in Scotland.
Things to do in Edinburgh
You will never be short on things to do in Edinburgh. Consider Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill (coined ‘Athens of the North’), the Scott Monument, and Castle Rock if you want to chase viewpoints.
For history lovers, Edinburgh Castle is a clear choice. There are plenty of museums to explore, including the National Museum of Scotland and The Writers’ Museum. Bobby, the West Highland dog, is also a local historical icon. Visitors can learn more about Bobby and his story at Greyfriars Kirk.
To wine and dine, The Sheep Heid Inn offers food and history. Since 1360, the Inn has prided itself on ‘serving Scottish pub food and real ale for over 600 years’. Although, for Michelin dining, you should head to The Kitchin, Condita, or The Scran & Scallie.
Best Places to Visit in Scotland: Inverness
While Edinburgh is the Scottish capital, Inverness is often referred to as the ‘capital of the Highlands’. An ideal place to base yourself to enjoy city comforts but with proximity to the Highlands, Inverness is one of Scotland’s best places to visit.
Things to do in Inverness
Inverness’ most famous attraction is probably Loch Ness, famed to be home to the mystical ‘Loch Ness Monster’. If you want to visit the Loch, you can book a tour or visit independently by car or public transport. While monster sightings are not guaranteed, the Loch has beautiful waterside walks.
For a darker experience of local history, Inverness is also near the Culloden Battlefield – where thousands lost their lives at the final battle of the Jacobite Rising. Visitors can pay their respects and learn more about the battle at the Culloden Visitor Centre. For more central historical experiences, the Abertarff House lived through the Jacobite Rising on Church Street in Inverness. Thought to be ‘the oldest house in Inverness’, Abertarff House offers a time-capsule immersion into 16th century Scotland.
If medieval history is more your thing, Urquhart Castle and Inverness Castle are good places to explore from Inverness. And, for retail therapy, look no further than the Inverness Victorian Market, which you can enjoy completely protected from the elements since it’s fully indoors.
Best Places to Visit in Scotland: Glasgow
Known as Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow has a reputation for grit and cultural buzz. Home to multiple art galleries, Glasgow Cathedral, and many specialist museums, Glasgow’s attractions make it one of the best places to visit in Scotland.
Things to do in Glasgow
Glasgow’s museum options stand out the most in the city; you can visit the Bagpipe, Riverside, or Kelvingrove Museum. Better still, Glasgow’s museums are free. While we don’t recommend burning yourself out by visiting them all in a day, you should factor at least one into your itinerary.
Pollok Country Park is a great day out from the city. Parts of the park were used as film sets to shoot scenes from Outlander, so it’s possible fans may recognise the grounds. The estate house also offers history and art – housing a collection of Spanish art which visitors can admire. And, animal lovers can enjoy spotting Scotland’s iconic Highland Cows around the wooded grounds and footpaths.
Despite sounding slightly morbid, the Glasgow Necropolis is also an excellent place to enjoy walking right in the centre of Glasgow. With over 3,500 tombs, the cemetery will spark the interest of architecture enthusiasts. In fact, the Necropolis attracts so much attention that tourists can purchase walking tours of the cemetery to learn even more from a visit.
Best Places to Visit in Scotland: Isle of Skye
Part of the Inner Hebrides archipelago, the Isle of Skye is one of the most famed isles off of the Scottish mainland. Whether you want to hike the Cuillin Mountains or explore Clan Macdonald’s Armadale Castle, visitors will find plenty to do on the 50-mile island.
Things to do on the Isle of Skye
For experienced mountaineers, the Cuillin Ridge is the crème de la crème of things to do on the Isle of Skye. Many believe it to be one of the most challenging climbs across the UK, and guidelines state you should set aside between 16 and 20 hours to traverse the Ridge.
If you are a keen hiker but lack mountaineering expertise, steer clear of Cuillin Ridge and opt for a scenic hike instead. Hikers can enjoy navigating their way to major natural landmarks, including the stunning Old Man of Storr rock formation and Loch Corusik – which is reachable by boat for those wanting to avoid hairy traverse sections. The Loch is well worth a boat trip and is rumoured to be home to a mythical underwater creature called a Kelpie.
If you’d like to skip the walking for a whisky, you have come to the right place. The Talisker Distillery was founded back in 1830, and, nowadays, visitors can sample the perfect single malt recipe right from the Isle of Skye’s shores.
More accessible scenic spots include the Mealt Waterfall, located a short stroll from a car park off of the A855. Staffin Beach and its dinosaur footprints (genuine!) are also reachable off the main road, making it an easy attraction to visit on the Isle. And, if you’d like to leave navigating to someone else, opt for a guided trip, such as a boat tour. You can spot minke whales, humpback whales, sperm whales, orcas, basking sharks, and common dolphins in the waters around the Isle of Skye – making it the perfect place for a boat trip.
Best Places to Visit in Scotland: Fort William
A Highland town, Fort William is a small destination with a big reputation and tourism claim. For skiing, climbing Ben Nevis, and experiencing the Highlands – Fort William is the best place to visit in Scotland.
Things to do in Fort William
For those considering climbing Ben Nevis, note that its Gaelic namesake is the malicious mountain. Climbers are treated to stunning mountain top views, but the inexperienced should skip the climb for a cable car up nearby Aonach Mor, as it is by no means an easy route. As the highest mountain across the UK, you can even spot the Western coast of Ireland from Ben Nevis’ summit on a clear day.
Another famed attraction near Fort William is the Jacobite Steam Train. The route passes over the ‘Harry Potter bridge’ Glenfinnan viaduct – pushing it to a bucket list Scottish experience for many a Harry Potter fan. Although, whether you are a fan or not, the scenery from the steam train makes it an incredible itinerary addition when in Fort William. Guests can also splurge on an Afternoon Tea to indulge in on the train journey, purchasable in advance for £19.95 per person.
As we mentioned earlier, Fort William is a town known for snowsports opportunities. In the winter months, you can visit the Nevis Range Mountain Resort to enjoy its slopes. With various runs from green to black, the resort has slopes to suit all levels and capabilities. You can also book in at the Ski and Snowboard School on site to improve your skiing or snowboarding.
Best Places to Visit in Scotland: Loch Lomond
The largest UK lake, Loch Lomond, is a worthy addition to a list of the best places to visit in Scotland. Surrounded by The Trossachs National Park and in the shadow of Ben Lomond, it is the nature lovers’ perfect remote escape. Whether you want to splurge on a luxury lodge or stick to a smaller budget, you can find many accommodation options around the loch shores.
Things to do in Loch Lomond
The Loch and National Park take precedent when arranging things to do in Loch Lomond. And to be honest, if they don’t appeal to you, look at a different place to visit.
On Loch Lomond, you can book a cruise, hire canoes or kayaks, swim, or even windsurf! The Loch is tons of fun for water activities. For hikers and mountaineers, you can get stuck into Ben Lomond or the Munro mountains. And you are never too far away from a bit of civilisation as the waterside Loch Lomond Shores complex boasts a major shopping mall and hospitality venues.
Perhaps one of the more novel things to do at Loch Lomond is to visit the Island of Inchmurrin. The island is a popular tourist destination and, despite only being accessible by boat, you can book accommodation to stay for a while. The Island of Inchmurrin has a few claims to fame, including resident wallabies, being raided by Rob Roy, and being the spot where Alan Pettigrew earned the haggis throwing World Record – a title he held for more than 20 years. The island is undoubtedly a spot to discover.
Best Places to Visit in Scotland: Stirling
Widely recognised for its historical importance, the city is where William Wallace defeated the English at The Battle of Stirling Bridge. Wallace became a symbol of heroism in Stirling and Scotland as a whole. Aside from Wallace, Stirling had some other very famous Scottish residents – including Mary Queen of Scots. Stirling has many stories to tell those who visit, making it one of Scotland’s best places to visit.
Things to do in Stirling
Visiting Stirling Castle is the most obvious thing to do in Stirling. The Castle has a bloody, complex history and was passed between Scottish rule and British occupation from the year 1174. However, there were more pleasant events in Stirling Castle, including the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots in 1543. Ticket prices cost £16 for adult admission, although the Castle may run reduced rates to reflect area closures made to uphold social distancing measures.
To pay your respect to William Wallace, a hero of Scotland, you can visit The National Wallace Monument. The 1869-built monument houses Wallace’s infamous two-handed sword. Visitors can also learn about Wallace and the freedom movement he died for in the various educational displays. Entrance tickets can be booked in advance online, with adults paying £10.75 for entry, while child tickets (16 and under) cost £6.75.
For more architecture, The Church of The Holy Rude is a great place to visit and very easily accessible considering its location in Stirling’s Old Town. The church has a stunning stain glass window feature and an aesthetic interior to explore. The view from the churchyard also offers views over Stirling, which is a big bonus. A little further from central Stirling, Cambuskenneth Abbey provides an excellent addition to your itinerary. The burial place of James III, the grounds hold a lot of royal history, and the ruins make a fantastic place to explore.
Best Places to Visit in Scotland: Shetland Islands
The Shetland Islands may not be one of the most accessible places in Scotland, but they are one of the best. Catching a ferry from mainland Scotland, you can spot Shetland ponies, puffins, and orcas, to name a few of the Shetland’s resident animals. With more than 300 lochs, the Islands are also a dream for those who love outdoor activities and living.
Things to do in the Shetland Islands
For an immersion into ancient living, you should visit the Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement. Offering ‘more than 4,000 years of human settlement in the same location’, the settlement is a combination of ruins, beautifully part-covered by layers of grass on top of the original stone structures. Ridiculously aesthetic and archaeologically fascinating, the Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement is a great historical attraction in the Shetland Islands.
For a beach, look no further than St Ninians Isle. The Isle is connected to the mainland by a 500m long tombolo – the largest in the UK. This sandy stretch makes a unique beach for visitors and locals to enjoy. If you walk the entire stretch, you will reach St Ninians Isle. You can find the remnants of St Ninian’s Chapel and views over the open ocean on the Isle.
And, for bird watchers, a ferry to the Noss National Nature Reserve should make the top of your to-do list. A scenic coastal path traverses the cliffs for six miles – giving visitors a chance to spot the native wildlife up close. If you prefer marine life over birds, opt for a boat tour to try to catch a glimpse of an orca, whale, or dolphin.
Scotland has many incredible places for you to visit and is a great country to combine with a visit to England or Ireland. If you are familiar with the country and would like to recommend other places for readers, feel free to add them in the comments below.