What to Do in Scotland
When it comes to things to do in Scotland, the options are almost overwhelming. There may be a million ways to fill your time in this beautiful country, whether you’re an adventurous traveler looking for thrilling activities, a history enthusiast interested in exploring battlefields and ancient ruins, or a literary buff who wants to follow in the footsteps of the greats, or a nature lover interested in wildlife watching. From touring grand castles and riding trains through magnificent landscapes to island hopping, epic treks, world-class golf, nights at the theater, and discovering the secrets of distilling whisky, this country has it all.
Step back in time with a visit to Edinburgh Castle, a world-famous icon that’s played a key role in Scotland’s history, complete with Britain’s oldest crown jewels. The view from here atop the volcanic rock is worth the trip alone. Of course, you can’t visit without at least a brief search for the legendary Loch Ness Monster. For those who want to hike and immerse themselves in nature, there are countless options like the Isle of Skye, complete with dramatic mountain ranges and rock formations, waterfalls, and the serene Fairy Pools with vibrant blue-green water surrounded by lush glen and twisted trees.
Best activities to do in Scotland
Scotland has a huge range of outdoor pursuits, history, culture, and food to enjoy. To help narrow it down we have put together a list of some of our favorites.
Sample the best Scotch whisky
Scotland is renowned for its whisky with a history of its making dating as far back as the 11th century. While winemaking was spreading throughout Europe, with no access to grapes here, monks used grain mash instead, producing the earliest forms of the spirit. Today the country is home to over 140 malt and grain distilleries, making it the world’s greatest concentration of whisky production, and each region has its own distinct flavors. From peaty Islay malts to Highland whiskeys with a drier, heavier character and hints of heather, honey, and nuts, there’s a lot to sample. Joining the Gold Whisky Tour in Edinburgh is a great way to taste a variety of offerings while learning the story behind Scotland’s most famous product. You’ll even travel through the whisky production process on a unique barrel ride for a firsthand look in addition to getting a lesson on the appreciation of whisky and a tasting.
Visit the Home of Golf
Located on Scotland’s east coast about 80 minutes north of Edinburgh, St. Andrews is considered the birthplace of golf, with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club the world’s oldest, dating back to the 15th century. There are seven public golf courses here, including the renowned Old Course, a bucket-list destination for any golfing enthusiast. But there are plenty of other impressive sights beyond the greens, like the eye-catching St. Andrews Cathedral, now a ruin with its towering remnants and aged stone an eerie yet beautiful symbolic reminder of the past. St. Andrews Castle, dating to the 13th century, sits on a rocky promontory overlooking the North Sea. It’s fascinating to walk through and makes for an outstanding photo op. West Sands Beach was a filming location for the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire and there are many fun shops, pubs, and restaurants to enjoy here too.
Discover lochs, glens, and castles in the Highlands
The stunning Scottish Highlands is what many come to explore with some of the world’s most breathtaking beauty, including sparkling lochs, lush glens, and ancient castles. While in Scotland this region is really a must-visit even if you only have a day. Glencoe is widely regarded as one of the most magnificent spots in the entire country with tumbling waterfalls, gorgeous lochs, and forbidding mountains splashed with purples and pinks when the heather is in bloom. Walkers and climbers come from across the globe to tackle the mountaineering routes and many enjoy watching for wildlife like pine martens, golden eagles, and red deer. There are lots of whisky distilleries for touring and tasting, and at the edge of the Highlands in the town of Stirling, medieval Doune Castle, which stands in for Castle Leoch in the popular Outlander series is open for public tours.
Immerse in activities at the world famous Gleneagles
The legendary Gleneagles Hotel opened in 1924, a luxury destination nestled in the Ochil Hills for nearly a century. The 850-acre country estate is just an hour from Edinburgh’s airport and offers an idyllic retreat with a wide range of activities and opportunities for blissful relaxation. Three championship golf courses have led it to develop a reputation as a golfing paradise, complete with expert instruction and a golf shop with everything from polo shirts to putters. But there’s much more to enjoy here, including off-road trips, horseback riding, tennis, fishing, and falconry. It hosts two swimming pools, an outdoor hot pool, a hot tub, steam room, a sauna, lavish spa treatments, and a gym with fitness training available. Michelin-starred dining can be enjoyed as well, while rooms are all 5-star, many of which offer serene views of the countryside.
Take in the views from Edinburgh Castle
One of the oldest and grandest in all of Europe, Edinburgh Castle is a powerful symbol of Scotland’s heritage with a long rich history. Set atop Castle Hill, and from here you’ll enjoy a panoramic view over the city. It’s worth climbing for the vista alone but you’ll want to spend some time walking in the footsteps of kings, queens, and soldiers. It’s had many incarnations as a fortress, a prison, military garrison, and royal residents, along with plenty of fascinating tales. The dazzling crown jewels can be viewed in the Crown Room and are the oldest in Britain, with gold, silver, and precious gems as well as the priceless crown, made for James V, who first wore it in 1540 at the coronation of Queen Mary of Guise. Many other rooms are open for exploring and Mons Meg, a medieval siege gun, can be seen as well.
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