Where to Go in Scotland
Where to Go in Scotland
Our Guide on Where to Visit in Scotland
Scotland is home to some of the largest wilderness areas that remain in Western Europe. A place where you can visit secluded beaches with clear, brilliant turquoise water that look as if they were stolen by the Caribbean on remote islands like Harris and watch golden eagles as they soar above the mountains in the Highlands. You might kayak along the shores of the Outer Hebrides among seals, and hike to the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye. Cairngorms National Park in the northeast boasts five out of six of Scotland’s highest peaks, with some of the most picturesque lochs along with abundant wildlife like reindeer and wildcat.
It’s worth spending time in cities like Edinburgh, often named the most beautiful in Europe. Explore the medieval Old Town rich in history, including the 11th-century Edinburgh Castle, an icon atop an extinct volcano. Here you can join in many exciting festivals like The Fringe and witness the impressive Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Glasgow was named by National Geographic Travelers as one of its top 20 ‘Best of the World’ destinations for its “world-class architecture, vibrant nightlife, breathtaking scenery, and outstanding shopping,” and it also offers a fantastic food and drink scene.
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Best places to go in Scotland
Here is a summary of some of the best and most popular areas to visit
A magnificent city sometimes referred to as The Athens of the North, a nickname given in the 18th century by the great thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment is a place that begs to be explored, with something to discover around nearly every corner. Spread across a series of hills that overlook the sea, its monuments and buildings sit atop rocky crags, with the famous Royal Mile framed by Edinburgh Castle and the majestic Holyrood Palace. The iconic 11th-century castle has seen everything from royal ceremonies and lavish feasts to savage battles, ruthless polities, the birth of a king, and the deaths of queens. Sophisticated and entertaining, it’s also a city of high culture, a hub for art, literature, and philosophy. It hosts the world’s biggest art festivals every summer, with thousands of performers from across the globe here for The Fringe.
Glasgow has evolved significantly in the last couple of decades. Not only does it have impressive architecture with grand Victorian mansions and buildings but a booming culinary scene. A fine dining capital, you’ll be able to enjoy much more than traditional haggis and tatties, with a vibrant yet inexpensive, cool, and unpretentious array of offerings. This is also where Scotland shops, with the city drawing everyone from Edinburgh and the Highlands to the islands to visit malls and shopping centers with local and global brands. There are some outstanding museums and galleries, like Kelvingrove with a focus on natural history, an excellent art collection, and diverse objects from across the globe. The nightlife is hopping, with a legendary music scene found everywhere from pubs to iconic venues hosting big-name bands. There are some famous dance floors for clubbing and LGBT-friendly options too.
Set along Scotland’s east coast providing access to the North Sea and the famous Old Course, the world’s oldest golf course, dating back nearly 500 years, St. Andrews is a dream destination for anyone looking to become the next Tiger Woods or to simply play where the sport was birthed. As the ‘Home of Golf’ this is what’s propelled to international fame, with most visitors arriving with a set of clubs in hand. But it’s also known for its medieval streets, striking seaside location with an evocative coastline that includes sandy beaches, a historic university, and magnificent traditional buildings. Its most eye-catching feature, however, is St. Andrews Cathedral. With its stone now crumbling the eerie towering remnants provide a symbolic and beautiful glimpse of the past.
The ‘gateway to the Highlands,’ Pitlochry boasts a picturesque setting along the banks of the River Tummel, overlooked by Ben Vrackie mountain with its summit easily reached via a direct path from the town. In the late 19th century it was a popular Victorian spa town, attracting many with its lovely surroundings and mild microclimate. Today, most use it as a convenient base for hiking the mountains and exploring the hills and valleys, while enjoying many tourist facilities, including gift and souvenir shops, cozy pubs, stylish cafes, hotels, and B&Bs. It’s enjoyable just to wander through the pretty, Victorian-style shopping areas splashed with color, thanks to the many hanging baskets that overflow with flowers. There are also two whisky distilleries, Blair Athol, founded in 1798, and Edradour, which dates back to 1825 as Scotland’s smallest traditional distillery. Despite its small size, it produces more whiskies than most of the other distilleries in the country.
Oban & the West Coast
Oban is surrounded by wild moors, dramatic mountains, and miles and miles of unspoiled coastline. It’s a gateway to many of the isles of the Inner and Outer Hebrides as one of the largest towns on Scotland’s west coast. There’s plenty to do right here too, with Oban often called the seafood capital of the country while the renowned Oban Whisky Distillery sits in the heart of town. There are numerous opportunities for recreational activities, from horseback riding, hiking, and cycling to swimming and sailing. It’s overlooked by 1897 McCaig’s Tower, while multiple castles like Dunstaffnage, Gylen, and Balcardine are within easy reach. From Oban, you’ll have easy access to day trips to the Outer Hebrides, with ferries that will bring you to the Isle of Mull and neighboring Iona, known for its abbey.
Skye & the Western Isles
Skye is the largest of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides while the Western Isles, or Outer Hebrides which lie off the extreme northwest coast include the isles of Harris, Lewis, Barra, the Uists, and Benbecula. This region was first settled around 4000 BC by Neolithic farming peoples and there are scores of remains, from stone circles to passage graves. The Outer Hebrides are known for their tranquility, ideal for those who want to avoid the crowds, with breathtaking landscapes that include white sandy, Caribbean-like beaches as well as unique culture. Skye has become one of the most popular destinations in Scotland, with surreal scenery that includes a dramatic coastline with waterfalls that plunge to the sea, craggy mountain ranges and endless trails to hike, brooding castles to explore, a whisky distillery to tour, prehistoric sites, and abundant wildlife.
Fort William, Inverness, & the Highlands
For a real taste of the stunning scenery and adventure that the Highlands offer, you’ll want to take a road trip from Fort William to Inverness. The vast region is the Scotland of your dreams, with dramatic landscapes, fascinating history, and romantic castles. From Fort William, you might take on the Ben Nevis challenge by climbing the U.K.’s highest peak where your reward for the effort will be one of the most jaw-dropping views around. The main route up is the Pony Track, about 1.5 miles east of Fort William at Achintee. In the town center, explore the West Highland Museum which focuses on regional life and history. Just before Inverness are the mysterious waters of Loch Ness where you can take a cruise to see if you can spot the infamous monster. Once in the cultural capital of the Highlands, stroll the old town with its 19th-century cathedral and indoor Victorian Market.
Cairngorms National Park, which features the Cairngorms Mountains in the northeast of Scotland, offers the ultimate wilderness. It’s home to five of the country’s six highest mountain peaks, and nearly half of the highest in all of Britain. There are sparkling lochs and rushing rivers, native forests, moorland, and farmland, with miles of scenic trails for exploring it all. Along the way, watch for wildlife, including deer, pine marten, wildcat, badger, reindeer, and golden eagle. One of the top treks is a walk around Loch Muick and you’ll be well-rewarded by hiking to the top of the nearly 4,300-foot-high Ben Macdui. With gently rising slopes that lead to the Munro summits, it’s relatively easy in the summer. When you reach the peak, you’ll enjoy an incredible panorama that includes giants on the west side of Carn Toul, Braeriach, and Lairig Ghru.
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