Medieval castles to tartan kilts, buttery shortbread to single-malt Scotch, lengthy lochs to lofty highland landscapes – take in the best of bonnie ol’ Calendonia with these brilliant places to visit in Scotland.Disclosure: I may earn compensation from the purchase of any product or service linked on this website, at no extra cost to you. I only link to products I use and love, therefore feel comfortable recommending.
1. Be enchanted by Edinburgh
Edinburgh is straight out of a fairy tale. From the moment you first spy Edinburgh Castle perched high up on its volcanic pedestal, you’ll fall in love. Even for someone who has never really been tempted by the whole Harry Potter thing, I could immediately see what inspired J.K. Rowling about this enchanting city.
Wander the length of the Royal Mile taking in everything from the capital’s iconic Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the Queen in Scotland. Hike Arthur’s Seat and take in the exceptional architecture and panoramic views from Calton Hill. Duck in and out of the Old Town’s cobbled closes, see Scott Monument, visit the National Museum and much more.
2. Stop by historic St Andrews, home of golf
Golf fans will immediately understand the significance of St Andrews as the birthplace of the modern game. For some that is a reason enough to visit. For the rest of us there is the beautiful, ancient University (third oldest in the English-speaking world), quaint, history-steeped streets and ruins of St Andrews Castle to enjoy.
3. Travel the Malt Whisky Trail
The Speyside region of northeastern Scotland is known for having the largest concentration of malt whisky distilleries in the world. The Malt Whisky Trail connects eight historic and iconic distilleries and a working cooperage (barrel makers). Those not into Scotch whisky might be tempted by the landscapes of the overlapping Cairngorms National Park and the idea of stocking up on delicious Walker’s Shortbread direct from their Factory Shop – yum!
4. Determine fact from fiction at Loch Ness
You probably don’t need to be introduced to Loch Ness, the freshwater, highland lake infamous for reported sightings of a monster living in its murky depths. But did you know that Loch Ness is the largest lake in the British Isles by volume and second-largest by surface area after Loch Lomond?
Take a leisurely drive down its western banks from Inverness to Fort William and enjoy a picnic (if the Scottish weather behaves). The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition is terribly outdated in its presentation, however, it does exhibit a well-rounded, science-based story of the Loch’s geologic history, cultural significance and monster hoaxes. Visit the ruins of Urquhart Castle, which dates back to the 13th-century in its picturesque position on Loch Ness. Enjoy the views while learning about the fortresses’ role in the Wars of Scottish Independence.
5. Be awed by the Isle of Skye
The largest of the Inner Hebrides, the Isle of Skye is one of the best places to visit in Scotland. Located off the mainland’s western coast, Skye will impress with its outstanding landscapes, medieval castle ruins and charming fishing villages. From the Ol’ Man of Storr to the cascading Fairy Pools, you’ll be charmed by this popular summer destination, moody weather and all.
6. Stretch your legs in the Ben Nevis and Glen Coe National Scenic Area
You’ll note a distinct change of fashion as you arrive in Fort William – suddenly everyone is decked out in technical gear, wielding hiking poles and other outdoorsy accessories. Considered by many to be the outdoor capital of Scotland, the Ben Nevis and Glen Coe National Scenic Area will astound with its beautiful mountain vistas. From Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak, to the stunning valley of Glen Coe, you’ll find ample opportunities to hike, climb or just drive your way around some of the most dramatic Scottish Highland landscapes.
7. Call in at the Hill House of Helensburgh
Another brilliant place to visit in Scotland is the Hill House in Helensburgh. Designed by Scotland’s answer to Frank Lloyd Wright – Charles Rennie Mackintosh – the Hill House is a must-do for architecture, interiors and design fans. The talented Glaswegian and his wife Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh designed this home over 100 years ago for book publisher William Blackie and his family. The house museum is undergoing restoration and is enclosed in a steel frame structure which allows visitors the unique experience of seeing the house from all angles, including walkways that run around and over the top of the building. Though Mackintosh’s own home is now part of the Hunterian Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow – the Hill House is a more remarkable and welcoming experience.
8. Be a Braveheart in Stirling
It is said that “he who holds Stirling, holds Scotland”. Many great battles were fought in the lowlands around the medieval old town perched above on a volcanic sill, echoing the picturesque position of Edinburgh. Stirling Castle home to the final kings of Scotland, is the main attraction of Stirling, along with the National Wallace Monument, a tribute to William Wallace (you know the one Mel Gibson played in Braveheart).
9. Get acquainted with Scottish culture in Glasgow
Gritty Glasgow, Scotland’s most populous city, has an industrial edge. In the 19th century, the growing centre exploded as the “second city of the British Empire” with a busy port and shipbuilding industry. This period of its growth and prosperity has left Glasgow with many fine examples of Victorian and art nouveau architecture. The “Dear Green Place” is home to cultural institutions such as the Scottish Opera, Ballet and National Theatre.
Take a wander around Merchant City, Glasgow’s oldest quarter, where historically the wealthiest traders lived and stored their wares. Take a peak in The Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, and visit the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Delight in afternoon tea in the Willow Tea Rooms and make time for the Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis.
Looking for a self-drive itinerary to connect these wonderful places to visit in Scotland? See our steal-worthy road trip route stitching together these places to visit in Scotland and more sights and experiences along the way.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,