The Top 10 Places to Visit in Scotland
If you can only visit one Scottish city, make it Edinburgh. The country’s capital has well-preserved architecture from a variety of eras, from medieval times (Edinburgh Castle and the incredible shop-lined Royal Mile) to the more recent New Town area, much of which was built in the 18th century.
Wandering among the many elegant Georgian townhouses and taking in the Grassmarket is a highlight of this newer part of the ancient city. This lovely, pedestrian-friendly public square is well-known for its shops, galleries, and cafés. Edinburgh is also a significant cultural destination, hosting a variety of popular events and festivals throughout the year. The famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival, one of the world’s largest arts festivals, draws large crowds, as do the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is held on the castle grounds.
Other enjoyable activities include touring the Royal Yacht Britannia, which was once the Queen’s personal yacht and is now a fascinating museum with tours of the State Apartments and Royal Bedrooms. Book a table in the Royal Deck Tea Room for a proper high tea experience for a true British treat.
Glasgow has also developed a reputation for other cultural activities. Highlights for theatergoers include a chance to see a play at the King’s Theatre, a little opera at the Scottish Opera’s home, the Theatre Royal, or a classical concert at the Concert Hall by the Royal Scottish Orchestra. Other noteworthy art-related attractions include the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which is known for its displays of local art, as well as the wonderful Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style Gallery, which has a diverse collection that includes works by Van Gogh and Salvador Dali.
3. Scottish Highlands
Few travel destinations have captivated the imagination as much as the magnificent Scottish Highlands. This area of outstanding natural beauty stretches from the attractive garden city of Inverness on the country’s rugged east coast all the way to John O’Groats in the north, and it has served as the backdrop to hit movies and TV shows, including the hugely popular Outlander series. The quaint coastal town of Dornoch, a great place to stop for its old castle ruins and cathedral, and Aviemore, popular as a ski destination in winter, are two popular places to visit in Scotland as you tour the Highlands. While there are numerous tours available in the Highlands, those planning to drive should consider taking the North Coast 500. This fantastic tourist route encompasses the best of the Highlands and other wonderful places in Scotland.
4. St. Andrew’s
St. Andrews is well-known as a top golfing destination in the world. Golfers from all over the world flock to St. Andrews’ seven classic links courses, drawn by the prestige of playing the world’s oldest golf course, the par-72 Old Course, and the opportunity to tee off were so many golf legends have done before them. It’s also one of the most dramatic courses, with spectacular scenery including a stretch of rugged coastline and the charming old Royal and Ancient Golf Club Clubhouse. It’s the world’s oldest golf club, founded in 1754, and its popularity as a golf mecca means you should try to book your tee time at least six months in advance to avoid disappointment. One of the best free things to do in St. Andrews is simply walking around the university grounds, admiring the well-preserved medieval architecture; and, if time allows, visit on-site attractions such as the natural history museum and art galleries. The ruins of St. Andrews Castle and the town’s old cathedral are also worth seeing.
5. Loch Ness
Scotland’s beautiful Loch Ness, shrouded in myth and legend, remains one of the country’s top places to visit. Despite the fact that there is no conclusive evidence that Nessie, the world’s most famous sea monster, exists, that first glimpse of the water does not deter excited tourists from scanning the horizon… just in case
Even if you don’t see a monster, you won’t be disappointed. Urquhart Castle’s starring role in movies and television, most recently in the hit series Outlander, is reason enough to make the trip to this Highland attraction worthwhile. Built-in the 1100s, the castle is now in ruins after being destroyed by fire 500 years ago, but not before featuring in some of Scotland’s most important historical documents. Other attractions include the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition in Drumnadrochit, which has displays about the loch’s history (and, of course, the monster), and Fort Augustus, which has old fortifications and a Benedictine abbey, as well as viewing spots over the Caledonian Canal, which connects the loch’s south end.
It’s difficult to visit Loch Ness without seeing some of Inverness. Whether traveling from Glasgow to Loch Ness or from Edinburgh to Loch Ness, this stunningly beautiful city in the Scottish Highlands—located at the east end of the country’s most famous lake—is a popular jumping-off point for tours and independent travelers alike. And those who are “in the know” know that they should spend some time exploring Inverness. On both sides of the river, there are numerous great Inverness attractions to enjoy. The attractive St. Andrew’s Cathedral (directly opposite the castle) and, closer to the old city center, the Inverness Museum, and Art Gallery are must-sees on the west bank. The museum is a must-see for its displays of not only Inverness but the entire Highlands region.
Other highlights include the historic 16th-century Abertarff House, the Titanic Inverness Maritime Museum, and the Botanic Gardens, followed by a shopping stop at Victorian Market.
Aberdeen, an attractive North Sea port city, is well worth including on your Scotland travel itinerary. Aberdeen, like many of the country’s top city destinations, is a joy to explore on foot. Lacing up your walking shoes will allow you to explore not only the city’s many fine examples of old, well-preserved architecture but also its many pleasant parks and gardens. St. Machar’s Cathedral is a must-see on a self-guided walking tour. It was built in the 1300s and is one of Scotland’s best-preserved examples of medieval architecture and construction. You’ll also see many fine examples of old homes and merchant buildings made from the unique local granite that shimmers in the sunlight, earning the town the affectionate nickname “Silver City.” Other places to walk include Aberdeen’s two miles of beaches, one of the many nearby golf courses, or simply walking up and down the Old High Street. It dates from the late 1400s and is well-known for its shopping and dining opportunities.
8. Loch Lomond
For those looking for a glimpse of some of the country’s most iconic (and romantic) scenery, Loch Lomond is a convenient place to visit in Scotland. It’s an easy drive from Glasgow, and it’s also easy to get to Edinburgh. It’s the largest body of fresh water in the UK, and it’s so beautiful that one of the country’s most famous writers, Walter Scott, dubbed it “The Queen of the Scottish Lakes.” A portion of the trail network connects to the Western Highland Way, which runs north to Fort William. A good place to start your hike is at the National Park Centre in Balmaha, where you can get expert advice on how to plan and execute your specific adventure.
Stirling, Scotland’s historic town, is one of the best places to base yourself for exploring the country. It’s a great day trip that’s almost halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and there’s plenty to see and do there.
The stunning Stirling Castle is at the top of the list, famous for its past as a royal palace (Mary Queen of Scots spent her childhood here), as well as its role in the centuries-long conflict between Scotland and England. A visit to this miniature Edinburgh Castle includes the opportunity to explore the grand halls and rooms of the well-preserved medieval structure on your own or as part of a guided tour. Include a visit to the Wallace Monument in the neighboring village of Bridge of Allan if you have time on your Stirling itinerary. This incredible tower dominates the skyline here, providing a little history of the legendary William Wallace as well as spectacular views of Stirling and the surrounding countryside.
10. The Isle of Arran
The lovely Isle of Arran has established itself as one of the best places to visit in Scotland, serving as a microcosm of everything that’s great about the country. This 429-square-kilometer island is ideal for a day trip from Glasgow, a weekend break, or an extended vacation because it is located just off the mainland and can be reached via a scenic one-hour ferry ride.
You’ll find attractive areas that resemble some of Scotland’s most beautiful aspects as you tour the island – whether by bike, car, or the regular bus service that circles the island. Spend some time exploring Brodick Castle, a popular tourist destination known for its displays of period furniture and its grounds, which contain an authentic iron-age dwelling. There are also numerous excellent restaurants on the island, as well as excellent hotels and resorts.