Scotland is a land steeped in romantic tradition – the traditional dress of the kilt, the national drink of whiskey, and the harmonious sounds of the bagpipe – the image of this country is instantly recognizable throughout the world. The incredibly diverse nature of the country also makes for a fascinating visit, from rugged landscapes to cosmopolitan cities Scotland is dotted with ruined castles, breath-taking natural sites, and quaint fishing villages.
Edinburgh, the majestic capital enchants visitors effortlessly with its towering castle and party atmosphere. Glasgow, on the other hand, is one of Britain’s great unknown and underrated cities still suffering from an outdated image of industrial grime. Those seeking culture don’t have to look much further than Aberdeen’s granite buildings and plethora of museums and galleries.
Beyond the cities, visitors can find an incredibly varied landscape, from the moorlands, lochs and hills of Dumfries in the southwest to the forests, glens and castles of the southeast. Move north to the West Highlands to find rugged nature at its peak before hopping over to Skye and the Western Isles. To the northeast, fishing villages and farming dominate before stumbling upon the wonderful city of Dundee. Further north, try to catch a glimpse of the Loch Ness Monster before enjoying the splendor of the Highlands.
The capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh’s winding lanes and rocky terrain is home to a wealth of history and culture. The city may be well-known for hosting one of Britain’s largest cultural event, The Edinburgh Comedy Festival, once a year but it also boasts numerous sites of historic interest that few other cities can rival.
The second city of Scotland, Glasgow is constantly reinventing itself from fishing village to market town to ecclesiastical center to gateway into the New World to industrial powerhouse and today, as a European cultural capital. The handsome Victorian buildings, standing from a time of great wealth for the city, suggest a city that remains dull and industrial. However, the contents of these buildings – world-class restaurants, stylish nightclubs, chic boutiques – show this is far from the truth. Glasgow has truly reinvented itself yet again as a city at the peak of its powers and one which can boast sophistication to rival any other European city.
Among Scotland’s oldest towns, Stirling is also the country’s newest city having been granted the status in 2002 to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee. Stirling was chosen to gain city status due to its superb university, massive regeneration project, excellent quality of life, and wonderful national park on its doorstep. However, it is the historic value of Stirling that still provides the reason for many people’s visits. The stunning Renaissance castle, Old Town, Wallace Monument, and numerous battlefields – including the famous battlefield of Bannockburn – provide a real treat for those with even a fleeting interest in history.
04. Fort William
Lying in the shadow of Ben Nevis and basking on the shores of Loch Linnhe, Fort William’s stunning setting has led to it being dubbed the ‘Outdoor Capital of the UK’. The second largest settlement in the Scottish Highlands, Fort William is a major tourist center for hikers, mountain bikers, and those seeking spectacular scenery. The town itself is relatively small with a population of around 10,000, however, it has a beautiful high street and a wide range of eating and drinking opportunities that makes any visitor feel right at home.
05. Isle of Skye
The largest of the Inner Hebridean islands, the Isle of Skye is among the most popular tourist destinations in Scotland and has regularly featured at the top of polls of the most beautiful islands in the world. Renowned for its natural beauty, the island offers visitors the chance to glimpse local wildlife, explore ancient history, witness incredible scenery, embark on world-class hiking trails, and enjoy a range of outdoor activities. There are numerous villages located on the island, with the capital village of Portree and bay side village of Broadford the most popular among visitors.
Known as the “Granite City”, Aberdeen is a prosperous and cosmopolitan city fueled by the North Sea oil industry. The oil money has made this an expensive city to visit, on par with London and Edinburgh, and there are plenty of modern amenities to ensure visitors can enjoy the city in sty le. However, there are also a wealth of cultural delights to uncover in Aberdeen and with restaurant and hotel prices reaching the higher end of most budgets, it is fortunate that most of them are free to visit.
07. Loch Ness
One of the world’s most famous lakes, Loch Ness stretches for 23 miles between Inverness and Fort Augustus. It is best known for its elusive resident the Loch Ness Monster, also known locally as “Nessie”. a mythical creature that lives in the deep and dark waters. Although Nessie is the main tourist attraction of the area, with two visitor centers dedicated to the creature, the lake itself is worth visiting simply for its picture-postcard beauty.
08. Outer Hebrides
Also known as the Western Isles, the Outer Hebrides are the westernmost chain of islands in Scotland stretching for 130 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. The landscape here is a striking mix of golden sands, heather-filled mountains, and peat bogs. Many of the two hundred plus islands are uninhabited with five of the main inhabited islands – Lewis and Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, and Barra – the focus of most visits to the area. As well as jaw-dropping natural beauty, there are numerous important prehistoric structures dotted throughout the area.
Located in the heart of the Scottish Highlands on the banks of the River Ness, Inverness is Britain’s most northern city. Crowned by a pink crenelated castle, the city is a thriving urban center with numerous historical buildings, countless bars and restaurants, and sublime walking routes. Many stop here on route to Loch Ness which has led to a booming tourist industry and numerous modern developments that blend seamlessly in with the cobbled streets of the Old Town.
Once heavily industrialized. Dundee now promotes itself with the slogan “one city – many discoveries”. When exploring the wealth of shops, eateries, attractions, entertainment venues, and cultural events, it is easy to see why the city chose that slogan. Dundee has transformed itself into a cosmopolitan center in recent years and has become a favorite destination for a city-break, long weekend, or family day out. Spanning along the northern shore of the Firth of Tay, it can also boast one of the best locations in Scotland.
A small and picturesque town in the shade of the Eildon Hills, Melrose can claim to be the birthplace of the sport Rugby Sevens. The town’s location beside the triple peaks of the Eildon Hills is what makes it such a tourist hotspot. These three heather covered hills are the most distinctive single landmark in the Scottish Borders and are the perfect place for hikers to explore. The village itself has a wonderful market square, and one of the great abbey ruins to discover just outside the town is Abbotsford, home to Sir Walter Scott.
12. St Andrews
A harming and historic town, St Andrews is home to Scotland’s oldest university and one of the most famous golf courses in the world. The status of the town as the ‘home of golf has led to scores of sport lovers embarking on a pilgrimage to play on the old course. However, even if you aren’t a fan of golf, St Andrews has plenty to offer with magnificent Medieval ruins, stately university buildings, and stunning white sands. The huge attraction of St Andrews as a tourist destination also means there is excellent accommodation options and plenty of superb restaurants and bars.
A popular stop on the way to the Highlands further north, Pitlochry is a bustling town with fantastic scenery and Scotland’s smallest distillery. During the summer, hordes of tourists crowd the streets as they stop off for a quick break on the trip to the Highlands, but if you hang around a bit longer the town provides a subtle charm. The picturesque setting on the banks of the River Tummel offers an idyllic spot to while away the evenings, watching salmon leaping over the dam and enjoying a wee dram in the distillery.
14. Orkney Islands
An archipelago of around 70 scattered islands 10 miles off the northern coast of Scotland, the Orkney Islands are a unique destination. The mostly flat, green islands are stripped of any trees and surrounded by red sandstone cliffs with a strong cultural heritage dating back to the influence of the Vikings. Numerous ancient monuments and prehistoric villages are also found throughout the archipelago alongside sublime coastal scenery and sandy beaches. The main town on the islands is Kirkwell, a perfect and well-serviced base from which to explore the area.
Located in Scotland’s central belt, Falkirk is town of sublime contrast. The area boats some outstanding attractions such as the Kelpies, the Antoine Wall, the John Muir Way, and the Helix among many others. Traditionally an industrial town, Falkirk has leapt into the modern era with chic shops, top-class restaurants, and a bustling nightlife which has helped cater to the growing number of tourists descending on the town to experience its many delights.
A former capital of Scotland, Perth’s city status was revoked in the 1970s only to be reinstated again during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012. Lying on the banks of the River Tay, it is often referred to as “the fair city” due its stately architecture, fine galleries, and large tracts of surrounding parkland. The easily manageable city center makes exploring the 800 years of history Perth has to offer a breeze, while the nearby Scone Palace was the crowning place of many Scottish kings.
A popular seaside resort, Ayr has long been a favorite holiday destination due to its long sandy beaches, charming sea front, and leafy suburbs. Many fine Georgian and Victorian buildings can be found around the town’s center, testament to its popularity even in Victorian times, and a host of fantastic dining facilities can be found serving both Scottish and international cuisine. The town is also well-known for its racecourse which dates back to the 16th Century and its three public golf courses.
Known as the “Seafood Capital of Scotland”, Oban is the main gateway to the Hebridean Islands. Lying in a crescent on the hills surrounding the peaceful Oban Bay, the town is extremely busy in the summer months when tourists flood the streets on their way to the islands. In the winter, the town takes on a different vibe with the streets quieter and the countless cafes and restaurants overlooking the bay more relaxed. The town is also home to a famous distillery that produces whiskey named after it.
19. Shetland Islands
An archipelago of over 100 islands of which only 15 are inhabited, the Shetland Islands are an extraordinary blend of unique culture, stunning seascapes, and abundant wildlife. For such a small area, the scenery is surprisingly varied with everything from rocky crags and heather-topped hills to sand dunes and pebble beaches. Most of the Shetland Islands are easily accessible with well- maintained roads, however, it is also worth exploring off the main routes especially during the spring and early summer when wild flowers cover the landscape.
Lying on the banks of the River Nith, the charming town of Dumfries is known as the “the Queen of the South” and is famed for its connection to the Scottish Bard Robert Burns. Some of the region’s finest attractions lay on the rolling hills and lush valleys of the town’s outskirts, and the nearby Galloway Forest is a favorite destination for families, wildlife spotting, and adventure activities. The town has been home to various well-known individuals throughout history, with countless stories told in the wonderful architecture evident throughout the town.