Compiling a bucket list for Scotland is not an easy task! This is because, in all honesty, there are just so many possibilities. Whether your preference is for a bustling cultured city or a wild wind-swept island beach, Scotland has it all.
Scotland isn’t a big country and so nowhere is very far away, yet diversity is plentiful. Within 3hrs drive of Edinburgh, you can be in Inverness and a little further, you can reach one of the unique Scottish Islands. Perhaps you are staying in Glasgow and within 30 minutes, you could be skimming stones across Loch Lomond or hiking in the Trossachs.
Scotland has everything. Stunning beaches, dramatic mountains, glassy lochs, culture, traditions, history, art, architecture, cosy pubs, incredible food and of course the water of life, whisky.
We reached out to fellow travel bloggers to ask them for their recommendations and what better place to enter the world of Scotland than its capital, with Edinburgh Castle as a centre piece.
In This Post You Will Find:
Edinburgh & East Lothian
Visit Edinburgh Castle
By Marianne of Mum On The Move
Dominating the city skyline from its position atop an ancient volcanic crag, Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s number one paid-for tourist attraction, and with reason. It is amazing to explore the rugged ramparts of the castle and imagine its residents of days gone by. As a bonus, it also offers some of the best views over Edinburgh from its gun-holes.
Highlights of visiting Edinburgh Castle include seeing the Scottish crown jewels that date from the 15th century, learning the history of the Stone of Destiny, viewing the weapons and armoury displayed in the Great Hall, and Mons Meg – a medieval cannon and one of the largest in the world.
If you are visiting Edinburgh Castle with kids, be sure to pick up an “Explorer Quiz” from the audio tour counter. This scavenger hunt activity sheet includes challenges and activities to help keep the kids engaged.
Chasing Down Harry Potter in Edinburgh
By Carol Guttery of Wayfaring Views
Any self-respecting book nerd or child-at-heart is going to want to chase down Harry Potter in Scotland. Author J.K. Rowling already had a few chapters of rough draft going when she moved from Lisbon to Edinburgh. However, it’s undeniable that Scottish settings helped to shape her vision for the story. You can find more detail about how to find these Potter locations on this tour given by Dobby, but here are a few highlights:
- Find ghosts and hunt down Tom Riddle’s grave in Greyfriar’s Cemetery.
- See a stand-in for Hogwarts at the Heriot School.
- Visit a real life Diagon Alley (including a joke shop) on Victoria street.
- See the Elephant House café where Rowling worked on the book.
- Ride the Jacobite steam train (or rather the Hogwarts Express) from Fort William.
You can do all of these things DIY or you can take a two hour walking tour of Edinburgh featuring Harry Potter sites (kids go free on THIS TOUR) OR you can go all in with take a one day magical Highlands Hogwarts Express tour or push the boat out and opt for a two day tour on the Jacobite train.
Learn about the Amber Nectar at the Scotch Whisky Experience, Edinburgh
By Amber from With Husband in Tow
One of the must-visit attractions in Edinburgh has to be the Scotch Whisky Experience. Whether you are an experienced whisky drinker, or a novice, the small interactive museum is a perfect stop on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. The tour starts with a history lesson on whisky and an explanation about how whisky is made and aged. What makes this tour unique, though, is how they educated drinkers on the differences among the most famous whisky regions in Scotland. At the end, there is, of course, a tasting.
The bartenders are quite knowledgeable as well, offering advice on how to pair the whisky with some of the most traditional Scottish foods. For the more advanced whisky lovers, they also offer training on how to blend whisky or a Whisky Certificate of Expertise. Tours start at £15.50, but the best value is the Gold Tour at £27 and includes a tasting of four additional whiskies.
Indulge in High Tea at the Balmoral
By Chandrima of Travel Stories Untold
If you’re looking for things to add to your Scotland bucket list, an experience that must not be missed is the afternoon tea at The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh. The setting is almost ethereal and the moment you enter The Palm Court, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to another world.
The gorgeous glass dome looks even more beautiful in the diffused, soft lights of Palm Court. The palm tree fringes, the cream-colored frescoes, and the sound of the harp give it an old world charm that’s so soothing to your senses.
A uniformed waiter will soon come up to take your order. You can ask for their help in choosing your tea from among 40 different varieties of tea. Once that’s done, they will bring you your afternoon tea accompanied by four courses of sumptuous treats.
The first one is a seasonal amuse bouche from the Executive Chef – which is basically an appetizer. Then comes your tea along with an exquisite selection of sandwiches and savories. The third course is comprised of delectable homemade scones with jam and clotted cream. And finally, some mouth-watering seasonal pastries from their pastry chef.
Prior reservation is necessary, so make sure you book a table in advance. The price is a little steep at GBP 40 per person, however, the experience they provide is certainly worth every penny.
Ghost Hunting in Edinburgh
By Jenni of Travel to Recovery
Edinburgh has so much history it would be unusual for it to not have a few ghost stories attached. There are a number of ghost tours that you can do in the city and I did a couple but by far the best ghost tour in Edinburgh was by Mercat Tours.
We spent some time walking around the city listening to stories of reported ghost sightings but it was when we reached the Blair Street Underground vaults that things started to get scary. The vaults are a series of chambers under the city that used to house cobblers, merchants and taverns. It is also reported that body snatchers used to store bodies in the vaults overnight before they could get them out of the city. Some parts of the tour are done in complete darkness which just added to the spooky feelings, when something brushes again you, is it really there… This could be a fun activity to do with teenagers, mwah haha!
Hiking up Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
By Sarah of ASocialNomad
There is no better view of Edinburgh than that which you can get by climbing an extinct volcano just outside the city. That’s right, the small hill, known as Arthur’s seat is volcanic. It’s the highest point in Holyrood Park, at the end of the Royal Mile, and don’t worry, the volcano has been extinct for some 350 million years! And best of all, it’s free!
It’s an easy hike up, although you should be cautious if the wind is strong, as it gets very blustery near the top. The trail is obvious and there is some signage. At worst, if the weather is good you’ll easily find folks to follow. The hike up should take you between 30 and 60 minutes to get from Holyrood Park to the top, most of the trail is well formed, although there is some scrambling over the rocks required at the summit.
There are stunning views of the city, and over Leith and the Firth of Forth that you’ll find are well worth the effort in getting here. Wear decent walking shoes – although, as I type that I smile remembering the couple, lady in stilettos walking up as we walked down (!)
Hill Walking at North Berwick Law
Located in East Lothian, North Berwick is a gorgeous little town just 25 miles to the east of Edinburgh. It only takes 30 minutes to get there via train and is a perfect day trip. A group of friends and I loved going there and the highlight was hiking up North Berwick Law which is a 613-foot volcanic hill. It takes about one hour to climb to its summit because it’s very vertical but the views from up there are breathtaking.
You can see several islands out to sea in one direction and lovely farmlands in the other direction. Down below you can see the town. After the hike, we had afternoon tea (scones jam and cream!) in the cute town center. One thing we didn’t have time to do which looks very interesting is to visit the Tantallon Castle which is a semi-ruined 14th-century fortress on the cliffs looking over the sea. Overall, my day trip to North Berwick was a success and a special part of my time in Scotland and it makes for a nice break from the city of Edinburgh.
Explore Kelvingrove Museum
Opened in 1901, you’ll find this stunning red sandstone building in Glasgow’s West End. This world class museum is a must if you’re visiting Glasgow and is one of the many free places to visit in Glasgow. It has so much offer and will please all ages – from world famous artworks to a full-sized suspended Spitfire. There are 22 galeries to explore with over 8000 objects on display. You’ll need to allow around 2 hours to get round the museum and don’t expect to see everything on your first visit! The easiest way to get there is to jump jump on the subway (known as the clockwork orange) and get off at Kelvinhall. From there, it’s an easy 5 minute walk to the museum. Check the subway timetable here.
Discover Glasgow’s West End
When it comes to vibrant, arty and culturally rich neighbourhoods, Glasgow’s West End shines as an absolute gem and a must on your Glasgow Bucket List. With its eclectic mix of stunning architecture, thriving arts and food scene as well as its charming streets and lanes, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in this lively area. It ranks amongst one of our favourite neighbourhoods in Glasgow! Check out this awesome guide for all the best things to see and do in Glasgow’s West End.
Glasgow Mural Art Trail
Street art at its best! Glasgow city council launched a mural art trail project back in 2008 in an attempt to help revitalise run-down and tired areas within Glasgow. It wasn’t until 2014 that the project was officially launched and you can now find 29 striking public art works dotted about the city. We have found it so much fun to go on a street art hunt with our kids and strongly recommend it if you’re visiting Glasgow. You can download the mural trail map here, go on a self-guided walking tour using this site to get round the most popular murals or book onto a guided walking tour (click here). There’s also a handy mural trail audio map which provides a virtual guided tour of the city centre murals. It’s such a great way to showcase what a fantastic city Glasgow is!
Learn about Jacobite History at Culloden Battlefield [15 mins from Inverness)
By Maggie of The World Was Here First
If you’re looking for the perfect destination to add to your Scottish bucket list, then look no further than Culloden Battlefield, an easy 15 minute drive from Inverness. As the site of the fateful final battle of the Jacobite Uprising in 1746, Culloden is an excellent place to visit if you’re interested in learning more about Scottish history.
The visitor’s centre includes a fantastic exhibition explaining the context of the war and of this battle from both the British and the Jacobite sides. The entry fee includes a detailed guided tour of the battlefield where over 1,600 people (1,500 of them Jacobites) were slain.
A visit to the Culloden Battlefield makes a fantastic day trip from Inverness as it is located only about a 15-minute drive from the city centre. The exhibition is incredibly well-curated and gives great insight into both sides of this historic uprising and how it shaped Scottish history.
Epic Roadtrip on the North Coast 500 (NC500)
Launched in 2015, the North Coast 500 or NC500 has been dubbed Scotland’s answer to Route 66. This unforgettable driving experience around the north coast of Scotland is for many, the ultimate Scottish road trip. It covers a total of 516 miles of tarmac (hence the name), some of which is on single track roads, with views that are guaranteed to be spectacular.
The circular route starts at Inverness castle and follows the east coast, taking in attractive highland villages such as Dornoch and Helmsdale. You’ll travel as far north as John O’Groats, where the North Sea meets the wild Atlantic, the dramatic Duncansby Sea Stacks are a short hike away. From here, the route transverses the very tip of Scotland, never far from the ocean and passing through Thurso and Durness. Soon, you will be travelling down the stunning west coast with its breathtaking heather covered mountains and lonely lochs. Enjoy freshly caught sea food in Gairloch, before experiencing the delights of the Applecross peninsula.
Complete the dream by hiring a convertible sports car – cue your favourite road trip sound track – head out on the highway and find yourself.
Driving the Applecross Pass, Bealach na Bá
By Jacqui of Four Packs Travel
My best friend and I were enjoying a Scottish getaway, and while having tea and scones in the Highlands at a café, we started chatting with the owner about our trip. She suggested we head to Applecross as it’s an incredibly beautiful drive, but warned us that it was not for the faint of heart!
Following her advice and taking off down the road, we were a little unsure at first, but as we wound our way through the high mountains of the Applecross Peninsula, we were completely enchanted by the gorgeous views and scenery. Shifting through the gears on the serpentine single track road, what seemed scary over tea and scones, was thrilling in practice – no wonder it’s a favorite of motorbike riders.
We stopped at the Bealach na Bá viewpoint and took in the beautiful lush surroundings. It was cold, but we were lucky it wasn’t raining that day. After shivering for a while, we got back in the car and headed down the mountain toward Applecross, and this is where in my opinion, it got even better! The only way into town, without turning back the way we came, was down a series of steep, tight, hairpin turns. Later I found out that the Bealach na Bá Pass or the Pass of the Cattle is actually one of the highest roads in Britain with gradients around 20% – yikes!
This isolated, gorgeous part of Scotland is somewhere I’d love to revisit, and bring the whole family.
Visit the Most Northerly Castle on Mainland Scotland – The Castle of Mey
By Gillian of Scotland Bucket List
You’ve no doubt heard of Edinburgh Castle or Stirling Castle or the famous Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness. But have you heard for the Castle of Mey? This lesser known jewel of a castle is most definitely worth a visit – so long as you’re prepared to do some driving as it’s located in the far northern tip of Scotland, a stone’s throw from Orkney.
The late Queen Mother bought the dilapidated castle in 1952 at the age of 52, just three months after the death of her husband, King George VI and spent 3 years renovating it. The Queen Mother’s spirit is still very much alive through the stories and anecdotes recounted by the guides, several of whom worked in the castle whilst the Queen Mother was still alive.
It really is a must-visit attraction if you’re visiting the north-east of Scotland or doing the NC500.
Hunting for Nessie
By Angela from Reading Inspiration
Loch Ness is a stunning natural attraction in the Highlands of Scotland. The beauty, size and depth of the loch is good enough reason to visit; it’s one of the largest and deepest inland bodies of water in the British Islands. But what made it such a great visit for us was of course the legends of the Loch Ness monster! The particular conditions that are unique to Loch Ness have led to many (probably false!) sightings of the great creature. As a family with an inquisitive child it was a unique experience to stand by the loch edge and peer out across the mists of the surface to look for Nessie!
There are a lot of other attractions to see around Loch Ness too, including the Loch Ness Centre and exhibition in the village of Drumnadrochit. The centre explains the history and geology of the loch and answers all your questions about why the monster’s legend rose from the depths. If you are using public transport to get to Drumnadrochit from Inverness you can take either the 17 or the 919 bus from Inverness bus station. Be aware that the Loch Ness Centre is set away from the loch side. After visiting the centre we took a walk of around 30 minutes to get to the loch itself. Alternatively to get closer to the loch quicker, you can alight from the bus at one of the other nearby stops. It certainly makes for a great day trip from Inverness!
Discover Urquhart Castle
Here’s another must-visit Scottish castle! Urquhart Castle sits proudly on the shores of Loch Ness just a short 5 minute drive from the village of Drumnadrochit. Dating back to the 13th century, the castle played a significant role in the wars of Scottish independence. Today, you can visit the ruins, the visitor centre and take in the stunning scenery. And of course, if you have children, it’s another great place to try to spot the elusive Loch Ness Monster. You can get there by car or for a fun alternative, why not jump on a Jacobite cruise and alight at the castle. Check out tickets here!
Explore Glen Affric
Glen Affric is a stunningly beautiful glen located in the Scottish Highlands. It is known for its breathtaking landscapes, crystal clear lochs, and lush forests of ancient Caledonian pine trees. The area is also home to a variety of wildlife making it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.
Glen Affric is a designated nature reserve, and its unspoiled beauty attracts visitors from around the world who come to explore its many walking trails, take in the stunning views, and experience the peaceful serenity of this magical place. There are 4 main walks in the area including Dog Falls, Loch Beinn a’Mheadhain, River Affric and Plodda Falls. You can get to the Glen Affric area within an hour of Inverness. Whether you are looking for adventure or just want to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature, Glen Affric is definitely worth a visit.
Iconic Eilean Donan Castle
By Anwar of Beyond My Front Door
Eilean Donan Castle, located in the town of Glenfinnan over Loch Long, is one of the most renowned castles in Scotland, if not the world. Made famous as the home of the Clan Mcleod in the movie (and TV show) Highlander, the castle has a picture perfect setting. It is open to visitors on most days when there are not special events.
The interior, however, is no match for the setting and exterior of the castle. The views of the water, the location on the island, and the imposing stone walls just feel as if it’s more than just a landmark to yesterday. The McRae family are the caretakers of the castle and will still on occasion use it for clan events. It is worth a visit whether on its own or on the way to other destinations. We found it to be a perfect stop on our trip to the Isle of Skye.
Climb the UK’s Highest Mountain: Ben Nevis
Clare from Epic Road Rides
Ben Nevis is Britain’s highest mountain and for anyone that loves to hike, it’s a must-do if you’re visiting Scotland. Many people visit Scotland just to climb “the Ben” and it features on the well-known Three Peaks Challenge which takes in the highest peaks in Scotland, Wales and England.
There are many ways to the summit. The most straightforward route, and the only one that’s suitable for non-experts, is the path from Achintee just outside Fort William. The path is well-trodden and doesn’t require too much specialist kit, other than a map and compass. However non-experts should only attempt the walk between June and October when the weather is fine and there’s no fog or cloud around. That’s because the weather can seem okay at the bottom when the weather at the top is wildly different.
We walked up in February. It was sunny when we left Fort William but nearing the top, we were knee-deep in snow, walking using our compass on a bearing and couldn’t even see between the cairns (stone posts which mark the route). If you accidentally lose the way at the top you can get yourself in serious danger very quickly. Winter skills and mountaineering equipment are needed if you attempt the route with snow on the ground.
People have died attempting this climb, but don’t let that put you off! If you attempt it at the right time of year in good weather, you’ll enjoy it. It’s an arduous but rewarding climb, with fantastic views on the way up and a real sense of achievement when you reach the top.
Hike the Lost Valley at Glen Coe
By Antonette of We12travel
As an avid hiker, I knew Scotland was going to be an amazing adventure. Whether you are looking for a short hike up in the mountains or a multi-day trek with optional overnights in cute B&B’s: you will find what you are looking for in Scotland.
One of my favorite hikes is definitely the Lost Valley (Coire Gabhail) trail near Glen Coe. This hidden valley is where the MacDonalds of Glen Coe hid their cattle, thus the name the Lost Valley. It’s not an easy trail as it’s rocky and steep and involves some easy scrambling. However don’t let this put you off, once in the Lost Valley you will definitely be amazed by the beauty of this hidden treasure. The trail starts from the car park in Glen Coe and will take you between 2-3 hours to complete. If hiking in winter, make sure to carry an ice ax and crampons for your safety!
Walk the West Highland Way
By Gemma of A Girl And Her Dog
If you enjoy hiking and are seeking a truly immersive Scottish experience, why not consider walking the West Highland Way. This 96-mile multi-day trek starts in Milngavie, pronounced Mill-guy, just outside Glasgow, and ends in Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. Along the Way you take in some jaw-dropping scenery including walking along the banks of Loch Lomond, admiring the vastness of Rannoch Moor and being awed by the mountains of the Glen Coe Valley.
It is a popular route so not one for contemplative solitude but, if you enjoy meeting people from all over the world and appreciate the shared experience, then this is for you. Here are a few of our top tips:
- Blisters can ruin the trip so make sure you have good boots (already broken in), the right socks, a tub of vaseline [UK/US] and plenty of Compeed plasters [UK/US].
- The dreaded Scottish Midge can be out in force in the summer months so have a good repellent [UK/US] and even consider investing in a ridiculous looking midge net [UK/US].
- If you are not used to multi-day trekking, we would recommend using the baggage transfer service that is on offer so you just need to carry a day sack.
- Make sure you book your accommodation in advance, the trek is a busy one and you don’t want to be caught short.
The Youth Hostel at Rowardennan was a highlight for us. Enjoy a beer and dangle your weary feet in the Loch on the edge of their pier after a long day!
Up Close with Reindeers at the Cairngorms National Park
By Christa of Expedition Wildlife
The Scottish Highlands is one of the most stunning destinations in the world, and Cairngorms National Park is a must-visit for those interested in exploring nature and the wildlife within. The Cairngorms is the largest natural park in the United Kingdom – lovely villages dot the edges of the Park, while the remaining interior is filled with hiking, climbing, and skiing trails among mountains and along loch-sides.
Aviemore is the gateway to the Cairngorm Mountains, as it sits just next to some of the best sites in the Park. The winding road from town leading into the mountains passes Loch Morlich and Glenmore Forest Park, top destinations for bird watching in the region, and continues on to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. Here, visitors have to opportunity to visit and walk with Britain’s only free-roaming herd of reindeer. Hike or ski nearby Cairngorm Mountain, and keep a look out for mountain hare, capercaillie, red grouse, and other neat wildlife. At the end of the day, fill yourself with local fare at the Old Bridge Inn or the Winking Owl, and have a dram while listening to local music at the Cairngorm Hotel.
Historic sites such as Blair and Balmoral Castles tell a sampling of the histories of the region, while Dark Sky Parks, such as Blairfindy Farm, offer incredible star gazing on a clear night (and if you’re lucky, aurora viewing). Don’t miss the opportunity to visit this stunning part of Scotland!
Ride Aboard the Hogwarts Express & Other Steam Trains
By Mary of Bambinos Without Borders
There’s an air of romance to taking a train trip through Scotland’s majestic countryside. The experience is very reminiscent of a bygone era, where train was the only way to travel. Nowadays the steam train has become a historical preservation of those giant machines and the impact they had on industrialization.
Why should a steam train ride be on your Scottish Bucket List? Because there will probably be a steam train line available no matter where you decide to visit! While there are various routes all across Scotland, many have developed historical or fictional themes to appeal to tourists, giving you a unique taste of the countryside’s exquisite features.
You catch a train called the Jacobite which will take you 84 miles round trip from Fort William to Mallaig and back. Or, if you fancy, you can even ride the famous Hogwarts Express, also known as the West Highland Line, taking you on a five and a half hour trip that travels from Glasgow to Mallaig. It’s the route they used for the Harry Potter movies and has been said to be one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world. If you’re looking for a trip with less commitment, check out Strathspey Railway out of Aviemore, where you can take a three-course luncheon, do a whiskey tasting, or a full formal dinner!”
Orkney & Shetland
Discover Neolithic Orkney
By Kathy of Walkabout Wanderer
The Orkney Islands are found off the North East coast of Scotland. They are a dream for people who love the outdoors, nature and history. There are approximately 70 islands that make up the Orkney Islands however only 20 are inhabited. The mainland island is most people’s first port of call which you can get to by plane or by ferry from the United Kingdom.
The thing I love about the Orkney Islands is its untouched beauty. Although the mainland does sometimes have a high number of tourists during its summer months, you can escape this by visiting one of its many other islands. The Orkney Islands contain some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe. The highlight for me was to experience the Ring of Brodgar, the third largest stone circle in the British Isle, at sunset. The magic really shines, then the orange glow of the sun is cast against the historical stones. Orkney is well worth a visit.
Visit the Most Northerly Piece of British land: Shetland
As the plane lands at Sumburgh Airport on Shetland you know you are in a different part of Scotland. The runway crosses the main road. Other places have level crossings for trains, here it is planes. Heading north the landscape is wild and after two ferries the island of Unst is reached. This is the most northerly inhabited piece of land in Britain. On the northern fringe of this island is Hermaness Nature Reserve. Exposed to the Atlantic the cliffs are home to a large gannet colony and overlook the last pieces of British land – Out Stack and Muckle Flugga.
It is hard to believe that from here there is no land to the north before the Arctic is reached. Just a few hundred miles to the north west are the Faroe Islands and Iceland, closer to this remote landscape than London over 800 miles to the south. Shetland is a special place with Viking history, abandoned villages as well as unique wildlife encounters at every turn.
Whisky Tasting in Speyside
By Kirsty of Lost In Landmarks
I’d recommend the Glenfiddich distillery tour to anyone who wants to find out about the history of the famous Scottish drink. We’ve been to a few but my favourite has to be this one which is in the Speyside region of Scotland – also handy if you want to do more whisky tasting as there are lots in the area! Even for people who really don’t like whisky it’s a great day out and the tour is really interesting to go on – you’ll start by learning about the history of the brand and then you move on to how they make the whisky as you’re shown round the distillery. It ends with a tasting of 3 of their single malts which is included in the price.
We found that the guides on the tour were really fun and it made the day so much better. The tour is only around an hour and a half so plenty of time to get out in the Scottish countryside afterwards. It’s also worth noting that the basic tour is family friendly and we went with our kids too. Under 18s obviously don’t get to drink anything, although they provided some fruit juice when we went, but the tour is free for them to go on.
Argyll & Bute
Glen & Loch Etive
By Claire of Zig Zag On Earth
The drive through Glen Etive is probably one of the most recognized roads in Scotland, since it has been features in the James Bond movie Skyfall. Strangely, a lot of travelers hesitate to drive down this magnificent valley because of the ‘Dead End Road’ sign at the beginning (next to the big Single Track Road sign). Don’t be one of them! This narrow road takes you along the river between mountains, through bare landscapes as well as forested areas. Every turn reveals mesmerizing scenery.
You can drive all the way to the often-overlooked Loch Etive: a long peaceful loch connected to the sea. Because of its dimensions (only 1.5km wide for 30km in length) and the limited constructions around, it looks majestic.
It takes 1h to drive from the Glencoe road (A82) to the loch. It is a single lane road with many passing places. Take your time and enjoy the views!
Check out Clare’s Travel Boards on Pinterest.
By Tonya of Travel Inspired Living
When my husband and I visited Scotland for a short visit, we had one goal in mind – to see as much of the landscape and as many castles as possible. We found Inveraray Castle on the West Coast of Scotland on the shores of Loch Fyne full of history and with incredible views. The castle is the seat of the Campbell Clan and home of the present Clan Chief and 13th Duke of Argyll. Visitors to the castle can tour the ground floor, first floor and basement – the remaining floors of the estate are the private quarters of the Duke and his family.
Probably the most impressive room of the castle and one my husband enjoyed the most is the Armoury Hall where you’ll find the highest ceiling in all of Scotland and an impressive collection of arms from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.
If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey [UK/US], you’ll be interested to know that the castle, grounds, and surrounding area were shown in the Christmas 2012 episode when the Grantham family and staff traveled to ‘Duneagle Castle’ to visit their cousins, the Marquess and Marchioness of Flintshire. You can grab a bite to eat in the Castle Tearoom and don’t leave the property without strolling through the beautiful gardens which are said to be beautiful throughout every season and didn’t disappoint in late October.
Indulge in a luxurious retreat at Portavadie
By Sally Akins
Sitting on Argyll’s Secret Coast, with views out over the inky waters of Loch Fyne, Portavadie is the perfect place to relax and unwind. The complex hosts a range of luxury accommodation, restaurants and leisure facilities. Portavadie is also home to a marina which was voted the best in Scotland at the Scottish Outdoor Leisure Awards 2018. Visitors to Portavadie can stay in luxury rooms in the Portavadie Lodge, cosy self-catering cottages, or the secluded Hideaway which has its own hot tub and would be perfect for a romantic getaway.
If you’re feeling energetic, Portavadie is a great location for walking, fishing or playing golf, or exploring the area by bike or kayak. And with the CalMac ferry terminal just a few hundred metres away, you could also head over to the opposite shore of the Loch to visit the pretty fishing village of Tarbert.
Or for a more laid back experience, why not indulge in some relaxation at the spa with its heated infinity pool overlooking the Loch. Good food is also a feature of a stay at Portavadie. You can choose to eat at the relaxed Lodge Kitchen, or indulge in fine dining at the Marina restaurant where locally sourced venison and beef and hand-dived Tarbert scallops can be found on the menu. However you choose to spend your time at Portavadie, you’re sure to leave feeling relaxed and refreshed.
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park and Stirling
Discover Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park
By Henar of Wander Wings
Right in the Highland Boundary Fault, between the Highlands and the Lowlands in the centre of Scotland, you’ll find the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Just about an hour north of Glasgow, this National Park is a great day trip from the city, with easy paths and breathtaking views. If you don’t want the hassle of driving there, you can take the train directly from Glasgow to Balloch, which takes a little under an hour. The return ticket will start at £6 and children have special deals. Once you arrive, Loch Lomond will greet you in all its magnificence, after all, it is the largest freshwater lake in Scotland (by surface).
Besides the loch, the surrounding Munros (hills above 3000ft) and Corbetts (hills between 2500 and 3000ft) will delight its visitors with spectacular views. In addition to being a great option for a day trip, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is also part of the beloved West Highland Way route, so whether you are hiking all the way through or just doing a few miles of the way during your limited time off, this park won’t disappoint.
Chase the Magic at Balloch Park Fairy Trail
By Abi of HappyGoAbi
If you’re looking for real-life magic in Scotland, you’ll want to stop by the Balloch Park Fairy Trail in West Dunbartonshire. Located with views of the southern tip of Loch Lomond, this trail consists of fairy houses and other designs sprinkled across Balloch Park on well-marked trails and more rural pathways.
These enchanting carvings are the work of a local tree surgeon named Patrick Muir, who chooses to leave behind a little magic when cutting down diseased trees in the park. On his lunch hour, he uses a chainsaw to carve these cute mushroom-shaped houses, tree spirits, and even a stunning dragon!
Beautiful and whimsical, this fairy trail will delight both kids and adults. It’s like a treasure hunt through the gorgeous Scottish landscape. Some of the carvings are more difficult to find than others, but a visit to the fairy trail will leave you believing that magic truly does exist in the world!
Doune Castle for Outlander Fans
By Clare of Ilive4Travel
While I was travelling through Scotland, I decided to stop at Doune Castle, an impressive castle located 8 miles north of Stirling. It’s quite a famous castle as it has been used in a number of tv series including Outlander, Monty Python and Games of Thrones, though I only found that out when I visited. I love castles and it was one of many I visited on my trip to Scotland.
Doune Castle was originally built in the 13th century before being damaged and rebuilt in the 14th century. Further repair works were done in the 19th century when the timber roofs and interior were replaced. Now you can see the reconstructed Lord’s hall which is very impressive, the great hall and kitchen. There is a free audio tour included in your entrance fee and it’s definitely worth listening to as you get to learn the history of the castle and hear entertaining stories about the different rooms that you are visiting, making them feel like they come alive.
Despite being a small castle, you will still need around 1 hour to 1hr 30 minutes if using the audio tour. It’s also best to get there as soon as it opens so that you aren’t sharing it with the tour groups that arrive later. It’s beautiful from the outside and it’s also great to see the interior rooms and imagine how people used to live here, certainly one of my favourite’s in Scotland!
Discover the Mythical Kelpies near Falkirk
It’s a 40-minute drive from Edinburgh to the Helix Park near Falkirk, where these two monumental metallic sculptures have been constructed. The inspiration for the name comes from the ancient Scottish legend of a shape shifting water spirit in the form of a horse. Incredible fitting as the sculpture sits adjacent to the Forth and Clyde Canal, where traditionally horses worked the tow path aiding the barges.
The pair are an imposing 30 metres in height and were designed by the famous Scottish sculptor Andy Scott, who is responsible for many other brilliant installations around the central belt. There are clear signs from the M9 motorway and once you arrive in the Helix Park there is plenty of parking. There is a visitor centre that includes a café and shop, it’s also possible to take a guided tour that includes a trip inside the structure.
If you enjoy visiting castles, then we strongly recommend you add Stirling Castle to your Scottish bucket list. It was of great historic importance during the course of 1000 years and was home to the likes of Robert the Bruce, Bonnie Prince Charles, King James V and Mary Queen of Scots. Highlights include the Royal Palace, the Stirling Heads, the Great Hall and the Chapel Royal. It’s a serious contender to Edinburgh Castle!
Located on Castle Hill, it can easily be reached on foot from the town centre (warning – steep climb!) or by car. Check our post on visiting Stirling Castle for full details.
Fife, Angus & Perthshire
A round of golf in St Andrews
Home to the oldest university in Scotland, St Andrews is a charming seaside town located on the east coast of Scotland. It’s known for its rich history, beautiful architecture, and world-renowned university. The town is perhaps most famous for its golf course, which is considered one of the best in the world and has hosted many prestigious tournaments over the years. Visitors to St Andrews can explore the town’s many historic buildings and landmarks, including the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral and St Andrews Castle. They can also stroll along the town’s quaint cobbled streets, browse the local shops and boutiques, or relax in one of the town’s many cosy cafes or pubs. With its stunning scenery, rich cultural heritage, and lively atmosphere, St Andrews is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Scotland.
Royal Connections at Glamis Castle
By Sherrie of Travel By A Sherrie Affair
Since 1372 the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne hold the seat to this amazing castle called Glamis (pronounced ‘Glams’). Glamis Castle is filled with history and fun stories. It is located in Angus, Scotland near the village of Glamis. To tour the inside of the castle, you must go with a castle guide, however this is the best way to see this castle anyways.
Glamis Castle was the childhood home to Her Majesty Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The Queen Mother loved this castle and insisted that one of her children be born here, on August 21st, 1930 the HRH Princess Margaret was born at Glamis Castle.
The castle is also known to be the most haunted castle in all of the British Isles and the tour guides are very good at telling some great ghost stories. We were informed that the play Macbeth was based on the Glamis Castle too. There are three beautiful and interesting gardens to visit outside. The Nature Trail where you can roam under the dense and cool trees. The Macbeth Trail with wooden carvings that tell the story of Macbeth. The Italian Garden with manicured lawns and statues. The castle is open to the public April-October. There is an admission fee of £12.50 for adults and £9 for children.
By Lisa of Hollybobbs
In the heart of Perthshire you will find the town of Pitlochry. My family and I have stayed there a couple of times and found so much to do in such a small area. Our favourite trip was to the Edradour Distillery where you can take a tour of the distillery and learn about its history from knowledgable and friendly staff, whilst also sampling some of its products. It is in a lovely setting and a great place to visit for a couple of relaxed hours.
We also visited Blair Atholl Castle which is a stunning and unique 700 year old castle filled with history from Mary Queen of Scots to Queen Victoria’s famous stay. There are also extensive grounds and an adventure playground and if you time it right you will hear a bagpiper or come across a craft fair.
The town of Pitlochry itself is beautiful and definitely worth spending a few hours in. With Victorian architecture it is one of the most popular towns in Perthshire where you will find restaurants, lovely little stores and cafes dotted through the colourful high street. Top stores for us were Heathergems, which makes beautiful one of a kind jewellery and Amor Tweed where you will find handmade clothes and shoes from top UK suppliers. Finally, a visit to the Fish Ladder and Dam is a must, where you can watch the Salmon make their way upstream for spawning.
Tomahawk Throwing in the Scottish Borders
By Heather of The Conversant Traveller
Probably the most fun thing we’ve ever done on our trips to Scotland (and there have been quite a few!) was learning how to throw tomahawks and axes at the Roxburghe Shooting School near Kelso. It was so different from anything we’d ever done before, and by the end of the session we felt like real Scottish warriors. The targets were set up in the stunning grounds of the Roxburghe Hotel, and we spent a happy couple of hours flinging deadly weapons, aiming for the bull’s eye, and sometimes achieving it!
I’ll admit I was useless at the beginning, with my axes ending up miles behind the targets, but by the end I’d got the hang of it and felt rather proud of myself! Our tutor Tracy was resplendent in tartan waistcoat and knee boots, and incredibly patient as she taught us the techniques (there’s a lot more to it than you’d think!). Afterwards we popped into the hotel for a spot of afternoon tea with a Scottish twist. Definitely one of our favourite days ever in Scotland.
Mountain Biking Trail Centres in the Borders
By Chris from More Life In Your Days
Scotland has some fantastic mountain biking trail centres that offer something for everyone, from families to hardcore downhill riders. You will find well-marked, well-made trails that pass through some glorious scenery. This is some of the best and most easily accessible mountain biking in Europe and (aside from parking charges, if you don’t cycle there), it is all provided for free.
There are trail centres in all parts of the country so you could easily add one or two to a general trip around Scotland, or do as we did and spend the week visiting several different ones on a dedicated mountain biking holiday. A great place to start is with a stay in the lovely town of Peebles which is just an hour away from Edinburgh. From here you can ride the centres of Glentress and Innerleithen.
If you need equipment, bike hire can easily be arranged at most of the trail centres, or through nearby local businesses.
Dumfries & Galloway
Beaches and Nature in Dumfries & Galloway
By Melanie of Two Plus Dogs
We have visited many parts of beautiful Scotland. A mere 6 hours’ drive from the East of England, Dumfries and Galloway is one of my favourite places (alongside the beautiful Isle of Skye) due to its space and natural beauty. Beaches are plentiful and tranquil, and there is abundance of local produce to enjoy- perfect for food lovers like ourselves.
We stayed at the lovely Longhill Farmhouse, Whithorn which we booked via Airbnb. Perfectly situated down a secluded farm track yet less than 2 miles from the village amenities.
Our favourite beach was at Monreith. This place is heavenly! Each time we visited we were lucky enough to have plenty of space to let our dogs run free while we enjoyed the breath-taking scenery. Our other favourite places to visit included Kilsture Forest, Galloway Forest Park, St Ninian’s Cave, and Rigg Bay, Garlieston. Each place we went to was stunning.
The Crafty Distillery is most definitely worth a visit. They distil the delicious Hills and Harbour Gin which can be sampled with a tasty platter of local bread, cheese and meats. They also offer tours of the distillery.
We ran out of time to visit all that Dumfries and Galloway has to offer so will be back soon. We plan to visit Castle Douglas, a food lovers haven boasting many food and drink businesses. Also, Portpatrick to dine at Knockinaam Lodge which features in the Good Food Guide.
Discover Dunnottar Castle
The photo says it all, right? Dunnottar Castle is an absolute must on your Scottish bucket list, particularly, if you’re planning a visit to Aberdeenshire. Located on the north-east coast of Scotland, near the town of Stonehaven, the castle sits atop a 160 foot rocky promontory that juts out into the North Sea. The dramatic setting of the castle provides spectacular views of the surrounding coastline.
Dunnottar has a rich and fascinating history, having been the site of several important events, including visits by Mary Queen of Scots as well as William Wallace. It was also under an 8 month siege by Oliver Cromwell’s army in the 17th century, a period of time when it successfully hid the Honours of Scotland from Cromwell. Today, visitors can explore the castle ruins and learn about its history. The castle is a popular tourist attraction, and its stunning location and impressive architecture make it well worth a visit for anyone exploring the Aberdeenshire coast.
The Outer Hebrides, also known as the Western Isles, is a stunning archipelago located off the north-west coast of Scotland. Comprised of over 100 islands, the Outer Hebrides is known for its breathtaking natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant Gaelic culture.
Isle of Lewis and Harris Beaches
By Lucy of On the Luce
Scotland’s not the most obvious destination for a beach break. But the white sands and turquoise waters of the Isles of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides could easily give the South Pacific or the Caribbean a run for their money. These two conjoined islands have a beach to suit everyone, whether you like long stretches of sand, perfect horseshoe coves or dramatic rocky cliffs. Luskentyre Beach on the Isle of Harris is where to go for the postcard-perfect travel brochure shot, with a huge expanse of pale golden sand and crystal clear waters. Though if you’re tempted to go in for a dip, the water temperature will soon remind you you’re still in Scotland.
Other favourites are Huisinis Beach for surfing and kayaking, the wide sandy Scarista Beach and Seilebost Beach, which was voted one of the ten best beaches in the world. But there are so many to discover. The islands are a great place to hire a car, go exploring and find your own ideal stretch of sand – whether it’s for a sunny summer afternoon or a blustery winter walk. And the one thing you won’t find anywhere is crowds.
A Festival with a Difference: The Islay Whisky Festival
By Julianna, The Discoveries Of
Whisky lovers, pay attention – The Islay Whisky Festival should be at the top of your Scottish bucket list. Taking place annually in the week surrounding the second May Bank Holiday, the whisky festival is a week-long celebration of Scotland’s favourite drink (well, maybe apart from Irn Bru). The festival is a full-on knees up with music, classes, workshops and plenty of good old whisky to boot.
Islay is the true home of peated whisky, with some of Scotland’s peatiest drams coming from distilleries such as Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, Lagavulin and Laphroaig. There are eight distilleries on the island and each one takes its turn to host a day of festivities during the festival, along with a day hosted by Islay’s brewery Islay Ales. Although you will need to book ahead for many of the workshops, much of the fun is rocking up, buying your entrance ticket and taking part in whatever festivities the distillery has arranged for that day.
Islay is a really beautiful island – I’d wholeheartedly recommend spending at least a couple of days exploring the island itself in addition to the festival.
Discover 6th Century Abbey on the Isle of Iona
By Sneha of The Nomadic Gourmet
Scotland is breathtakingly beautiful – its rugged landscape, the tranquility of the highlands and the remoteness of some of the islands is a traveller’s dream come true. Speaking of remote islands, the Isle of Iona should be on top of your bucket list when visiting Scotland. It is a tiny island in the Inner Hebrides and home to Iona Abbey. Iona Abbey, with its tranquil setting near the island coast, is a popular destination amongst pilgrims and visitors alike. The Abbey was founded by St. Columba in 563 and is still a place of religious significance & worship.
On the island you will find no tall mountains or steep hills but some beautiful white sand beaches which you might have all to yourself. You leave the island feeling restored & re-energised! Apart from lazing on the beach you can try golf or take boat trips to the nearby islands. The Island of Staffa, where you can view the famous ‘Fingal’s cave’, is a great place to visit from Isle of Iona.
Discover Fingal’s Cave on Staffa
By Tim of Tunnocks World Tour
The journey to Staffa on a small boat from the Island of Iona is a joy in itself. The waterways of the Inner Hebrides are littered with land masses of various shapes and sizes. Staffa is one of the smallest and most dramatic.
Fingal’s Cave, which looms into view like a gaping monster’s mouth, is a huge cavern on the southern end of the island. It is formed of basalt rock columns which are created by the rapid cooling of lava following intense geo-thermic activity. The result is a spectacular landscape of hexagonal stepping stones and tall pillars.
The cave doesn’t just look beautiful, it sounds beautiful too. Due to its unique dimensions, it has natural reverberation of somewhere between a concert hall (2 seconds) and a cathedral (10 seconds). These unusual characteristics are said to have inspired both Mendelssohn and Pink Floyd.
The cherry on the top of this wonderful natural cake comes in feathered form as Staffa is also home to a huge colony of Puffins. If you’ve never met a puffin then you need to remedy that life experience deficiency as soon as you can – being in their presence is an absolute joy.
Hiking the Quiraing on the Isle of Skye
By Helena of Through An Aussies Eyes
The Quiraing is one of the most magical hiking spots and has some of the best views in the Isle of Skye. It is a part of the Trotternish Ridge and is one of the most popular attractions on Skye. The Quiraing was created by a massive landslip that creates a cliff face with unique jiggered rock features that protrude from the rock walls.
The hike is 6.5km or 4 miles and takes just over three hours. While the hike isn’t demanding, the path is really rocky and when you reach the top it creates a bit of a wind tunnel. If you are feeling really brave, try leaning into it. It feels like you are flying!
This hike was one of the highlights of my trip. Seeing the unspoilt Skye land and the rolling hills just shows the beauty of the Scottish landscape. The views of the Trotternish Ridge are unique and the Quiraing hike will not disappoint!
Discover the Fairy Pools at Skye
By Anisa of 2 Travelling Texans
The Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye are just magical. They are a set of waterfalls flowing into crystal clear pools with the stunning Black Cullin mountains as the backdrop. The colors of the water and mountains are so intense, it seems like a place out of a fantasy movie.
The walk to the largest waterfall is short and easy. You just have to carefully navigate across the stream on a rock bridge. I would allow an hour for the 2.4km round trip walk so that you have plenty of time for pictures. If you don’t mind cold water, you can even go for a swim in the crystal clear waters.
It is free to visit the Fairy Pools, you don’t even have to pay for parking. Bring along some rain gear so that you are prepared for the unpredictable Scotland weather. Get there early to beat the crowds, the Fairy Pools are popular and parking is limited.
And so there you have it… a comprehensive list covering the length and breadth of the country of must-visit places in Scotland! There are of course plenty more unique sites in this beautiful country and we will certainly continue adding to the list. In the meantime, this should get you off to a pretty good start! Let us know what’s on *your* bucket list.
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