What comes to mind when you think about Scotland? Whisky, Loch Ness, Haggis? YES, Scotland is all that. But there is so much more to discover! When you can live with some of the country’s worst enemies — the midges (pesky little flies) and the changeable weather all year long — you will have a whale of a time visiting Scotland. In this article, we will dive into the best places to visit in Scotland according to a group of adventurous travel bloggers. Each of them shares their favourite places to go to in Scotland with personal tips and stories.
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Places to visit in Scotland
Regions of Scotland
There are many ways in which Scotland has historically been subdivided into regions and districts for various governmental purposes over time. In ancient times, Scotland’s many Clans ruled the lands and thus its regions. The system of clanship was destroyed after the Jacobite rising of 1745.
Only since 1996, Scotland has been divided into 34 counties or shires. Although these no longer have any administrative function, they are still used to some extent in Scotland for cultural and geographical purposes. The map below shows a map of Scotland which some of the regions, islands and cities talked about in this article.
By James from This Travel Guide (follow on Twitter)
When it comes to places to visit in Scotland, Edinburgh is one place that always features highly on bucket lists. And so it should! Scotland’s capital city is incredibly picturesque, friendly, and packed with plenty of things to see and do particularly during festivals like Hogmanay and the Edinburgh Fringe.
There’s so much to see and do in Edinburgh that few people manage to tick everything off their list. There are plenty of historical attractions like Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and St Giles’ Cathedral, for starters, as well as plenty of museums and walking tours that will help you better get to grip with Scotland’s fascinating history.
If the weather is good, which isn’t always the case it has to be said, there are a couple of outdoor activities that are worthy of your time. Climbing Arthur’s Seat is definitely one of them, as this offers some of the best views of Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside. On a good day, you can even see over to Fife.
One of the best things about Edinburgh is that it’s completely walkable and, once you’re in the city centre, you really don’t need to take public transport or taxis to get around. As long as you have a good raincoat, or don’t mind jumping into a shop or cafe every now and then, this is definitely the best way to explore and get a feel for the city. Don’t forget to bring back some Scottish gifts!
Find accommodations in Edinburgh here.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
By Vicki from Make Time To See The World (follow on Instagram)
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an absolutely amazing event which takes place nightly over three weeks in August each year. It is seen by 225,000 people on the Esplanade in front of Edinburgh castle, by a further 100 million on TV and in its 68-year history, a show has never been canceled! (which is no mean feat with the Scottish weather being so temperamental!) It brings together over 1000 performers in a spectacle of bagpipes, dance, music, and drums and never fails to get their crowd on their feet in huge rounds of applause at its conclusion and have people attempting to do their own version of the highland fling on the way home! Take a peek inside one of the performances with this Tattoo Photo Tour.
Find accommodations in Edinburgh here.
By Stephanie from The World As I See It (follow on Instagram)
One of my favorite places to visit in Scotland is Rosslyn Chapel. While it was made famous by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, Rosslyn Chapel has a long history. It was founded by Sir William St. Clair in 1446. And even though the chapel was intended to be a large cathedral, sadly after forty years construction halted and it was left half done. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in grandeur. I still remember walking in for the first time and being overwhelmed.
Rosslyn Chapel is known for its mysterious origins and magical detailed craftsmanship. Inside every inch of space is covered in incredible stone art. The entire chapel tells a story if you take the time to read it. You’ll find everything from images of plants to a fallen angel shown upside-down wrapped in ropes. Even the ceiling is covered in a starry night. There are even things that whoever built it couldn’t have known about, like Indian corn and the aloe plant. These were only found in North America at the time. That on top of the fusion of biblical, pagan, and even masonic artwork all lends to the mystery of the chapel.
If you’re looking for history, wonder, and enchanted art, then a visit to Rosslyn Chapel is a must for your Scotland trip.
Find accommodations in Edinburgh here.
The Forth Bridge was one of the first things we added to our itinerary for Edinburgh; so long had I wanted to see the famous bridge in person. Plus, as it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site too, there was no problem in convincing my partner to come along and add it to her UNESCO tally.
Built from 1882 to 1890, it was the longest single cantilever bridge span in the world, and even today stands at the second longest. Built from 50,000 tonnes of steel, the bridge required a never-ending paint-job until 2002, leading to an endless (or thankless) task in the UK being likened to as “painting the Forth Bridge”. Today a special polymer has been applied which should last 20 years.
A great place to see the bridge in all its magnificence is on Shore Road in South Queensferry; you can also see a unique head-on view of the bridge from the platform at Dalmeny station. However, rather than just looking at the bridge from afar, we decided to take the train across it too. From Dalmeny station to North Queensferry and back, the journey takes just three minutes. And yes, we spent more time waiting for the trains than riding them! But all in all, travelling across this iconic bridge was well worth the wait!
Find accommodations in Edinburgh here.
Thais from World Trip Diaries (follow on Instagram)
Glasgow is off the tourist track in Scotland, but it’s a wonderful place to be.
We visited the city during winter, which means a bit of snow here and there and very little crowd. We absolutely loved it!
It’s full of free stuff to do, and it’s incredibly easy to get around, making it a great holiday destination. Public transport isn’t cheap but it’s very efficient and reliable.
You can walk around Kelvingrove Park and finish up at the Art Gallery and Museum – it’s a pretty cool one, I must add. The park is lovely and it has great views of the University of Glasgow.
The University is simply outstanding; it’s really like Hogwarts from the Harry Potter movies and it was the highlight of my visit to Glasgow with the kids. They offer guided tours throughout the day, too!
Downtown Glasgow is beautiful and full of awesome places to shop and eat. Buchanan Street is for pedestrians only, and it’s a nice stroll for everyone – even if you’re not shopping. The Forbidden Planet there was one of the biggest we found in the whole UK and for nerds and geeks, it’s a must-stop! I think we spent more time inside this shop than out on the street.
When in Glasgow, you MUST climb the 140 (ish) stairs of the Lighthouse. The stairs in itself are lovely, and you get a super good view of the whole city. Even though it was a neat view from up there, I just need to add that Glasgow is prettier from the ground. The small museum and the shop in the Lighthouse are fun too, and we learned a lot about the history of Glasgow there.
The Central Station is one of the most beautiful train stations we’ve ever seen. It was so pretty that every single time we came in and out I was too busy admiring it and forgot to take a photo.
Don’t miss this city. It’s a great one!
Find accommodations in Glasgow here.
Finnich Glen or ‘Devil’s Pulpit’
Laurence from Finding the Universe (follow on Instagram)
About a thirty-minute drive north of Glasgow, or ninety minutes from Edinburgh, lies a beautiful and secluded green walled gorge known as Finnich Glen. It’s also often referred to as the Devil’s Pulpit, which is the name given to a rock formation inside the glen itself.
For a long time this was largely known only to locals, however the location has risen somewhat in popularity of late, thanks to it being used as a filming location for various films and TV shows, including the popular time-travel fantasy series Outlander.
Even without being a filming location though, this is a stunning place to visit. The gorge features incredibly steep walls, through which a river winds over red sandstone rocks – giving the impression that the water itself is red in places. The green mossy walls rise up around you, giving you the feeling that you too may have stepped into a fantasy world.
Getting down to the gorge floor is also an adventure – you have to descend an ancient, crumbling staircase known as Jacob’s Ladder, holding onto some climbing ropes that a kind person installed. You’ll be pleased you did though, as this is definitely a magical place.
One word of caution – the gorge has been known to flood in times of heavy rain, so don’t come here with poor weather, and be aware of the signs of flooding, such as quick changes in water level. For more information on visiting, see our guide to the Devil’s Pulpit, which includes tips on getting here and away, photography advice and lots more photos!
Find accommodations in Glasgow here.
Distilleries in Scotland
Lowlands Whisky Distilleries
Laura from Savored Journeys (follow on Facebook)
One of the activities you absolutely must visit Scotland for is whisky tasting. You can find a number of great distilleries within an hour’s drive of Edinburgh, making it one of the most accessible whisky regions in Scotland for visitors. This area is called the Lowlands and it is making a big whisky comeback in recent years. There are now numerous whisky and gin distilleries just to the east of Edinburgh that you can visit for a tour and tasting.
Some of our favourite Scotch whisky distilleries are located in East Scotland, which is in itself one of the best destinations in Scotland for a countryside road trip. In this area, you’ll find the cities of St. Andrews and Dundee, which are home to the Eden Mill Distillery, Kingsbarn Distillery and Lindores Abbey Distillery.
Whether you’re after whisky, gin, or something even more unique, the distilleries in East Scotland are covering all of those bases. You can stop into any of them for a tour of the facility and distilling process, plus a tasting of their libations. Many of them also have cafes, so you can grab a bite to eat while you’re there. At Lindores Abbey Distillery you can even take a blending class and mix your own bottle of Aqua Vitae.
Speyside Whisky Distilleries
Nathalie from Marquestra (follow on Instagram)
Holding more than half of the country’s distilleries, Speyside is the epicentre of Scotland’s Water of Life: Whisky. The region is a real dream for malt enthusiasts with a marvellous selection of iconic whisky producers, such as Glenlivet, Glenfiddich and Aberlour to name a few, which all offer malt tasting experiences and tours of their facilities.
Located in the Highlands, North of the Cairngorms national park, getting to Speyside from Edinburgh will reward travellers with a spectacular and panoramic drive. The village of Dufftown is a popular centre for lodging options. With Inverness, Loch Ness and Aberdeen, accessible within a few hours, Speyside becomes a great base for exploring the Highlands.
Not into malt discovery? The picturesque region of Speyside, amidst rolling hills and a stunning countryside, is a splendid area to explore. The Spey river which runs through the area is renowned for fly fishing while supplying the many malt making facilities with its pristine water. One could also hike the 65 miles of the Speyside Way, a trail that goes from the seaside village of Buckie to the foot of the Cairngorms mountains. Whether you’re a scotch connoisseur or not, Speyside will delight your every sense.
Isle of Skye
Julia from The Freckled Tourist (follow on Instagram)
If you’re looking to find natural beauty and stunning landscapes on your trip to Scotland, a visit to the Isle of Skye is a must! The island is found on the west side of the country and can be reached by car over the connecting bridge. I highly recommend opting for a multi-day group tour departing from any of the island’s main cities because you’ll be sure to hit all the hot spots and must-see views along the way. If you’re more of the adventurous type, rent a car and give yourself a self-guided tour of the island.
The Isle of Skye is a magical place where you’ll experience fairytales, unique sites, and some of the most unbelievable vistas you could imagine. You’ll most likely be staying overnight in Portree, the main city on the island. It’s a quaint little village with a few shops and pubs where you can enjoy some of the local cuisines.
While on Skye, be sure to stop at both the faerie pools and faerie glen which are said to be inhabited by actual fairies. You’ll love the cascade of waterfalls and unusual hills where you’ll feel a sense of magic in the air. Another must is The Old Man of Storr. This unique rock formation found on a hillside overlooking the sea will make you feel like you’re in a Lord of the Rings movie. After experiencing this enchanting island, it will be hard to go back to reality. Try to bring a bit of the magic back home with you and never forget your time in the fairytale that is the Isle of Skye.
As you continue your journey, here are the top 12 things to do in Scotland that you should add to your itinerary.
Find accommodations on the Isle of Skye here.
Old Man of Storr (Isle of Skye)
Victor from Victor’s Travels (follow on Facebook)
Scotland’s landscapes are truly beautiful, but you have to get a bit lucky with the weather when you’re planning to hike in Scotland. On a clear day, you will experience jaw-dropping natural beauty. On a rainy day, well, I hope you like the colour grey.
My girlfriend Claire and I planned our road trip to the Isle of Skye in June, and we were one of the lucky ones. We headed to the Old Man of Storr, a large, impressive pinnacle of rock on the north side of the island. We had sunny weather and a perfect temperature to hike the 45 minutes to the top. There are no trees along the trail, which gives you a stunning 180-degree view at all times.
I would recommend not looking back when doing this hike and “savouring” the absolutely spectacular view until you’re at the very top. The little piece of rock that gives you the best views tends to get a bit busy, but with a little bit of patience, you will be able to shoot some pretty spectacular pictures.
If you plan to visit the Isle of Skye, make sure not to miss this amazing piece of nature. It’s worth heading to even for the views along the way!
Find accommodations on the Isle of Skye here.
Fairy Glen (Isle of Skye)
Sherrie from Travel By A Sherrie Affair (follow on Facebook)
Scotland is filled with interesting places to visit and discover. As many of you may have heard or read, the Isle of Skye is one of those places. From the moment you arrive, there is a different vibe than other parts of Scotland: magical and full of a sense of mystery is how I can best describe my experience. Luckily that’s right up my alley!
Our second day on the Isle of Skye we had an excursion planned to finally see the famous Puffin birds that we missed out on in Iceland. Arriving a little too early, I quickly checked the map to see what else we could check out in the area of Uig. My attention got drawn to the Fairy Glen.
The Fairy Glen is not to be confused with the Fairy Pools, which are also located on the Isle of Skye. The Glen is a little bit of a drive up a road that does get a little “thin” but very doable. Upon arriving, we had to ask some hikers which way to go as there was no sign. They pointed up and we started to make our way. It wasn’t a bad hike at all and it only took a few moments before arriving. As you peek over the hill, the first thing you notice is the lush green grass. Next, your eye catches all the rock formations. Rocks piled on top of each, circle monuments of such, and ridges in the earth going up the hills. All very mystical and beautiful. In my opinion, the Fairy Glen is definitely a must-see while visiting the Isle of Skye!
Find accommodations on the Isle of Skye here.
Kate from “Love, from Scotland” (follow on Instagram)
Whether it’s Islay’s incredibly friendly locals, cask strength whisky, or beautiful wild landscapes, there is something about the Isle of Islay that makes people instantly fall in love. Islay or the ‘Queen of the Hebrides’ sits off the south-west coast of Scotland and is reached by ferry from the Mull of Kintyre or a short flight from Glasgow.
For whisky fans, Islay is a pilgrimage, with 8 working distilleries on the island, all making world-famous drams. Each distillery has a visitor centres offering tastings, so pick a designated driver and tour them all. Can you describe the taste of Laphroaig? I dare you to try it. Don’t like smoke? Try Bunnahabhain or Bowmore, for a lighter version of that famous Islay taste.
Islay is also famous for its American Monument which sits on the OA – dedication to those who have lost their lives in Islay’s treacherous seas. For walkers, Islay’s landscape’s are stunning, with sea cliff home to eagles, wild (and friendly) goats and otters – keep your eyes peeled at Port Ellen for you might also spot dolphins! The remote village of Portnahaven has a resident population of grey seals – which offer a noisy welcome to all visitors.
Speaking of Islay’s welcome, all visitors to the island must learn the ‘Islay wave’ – all drivers greet each other as they pass by – so practise before you arrive, will it be one finger or a whole hand?
Find out more about visiting the Isle of Islay on the travel blog “Love, from Scotland”.
Find accommodations on Islay here.
Maggie from The World Was Here First (follow on Instagram)
If you’re looking to venture a little farther afield and to explore some of Scotland’s ancient mysteries, then Orkney is the place for you! This archipelago is only located some sixteen kilometres from the North Coast of Scotland, and with frequent ferries leaving from the town of Scrabster every day, the islands are also quite easy to visit.
Orkney has an incredible history dating back thousands of years, with a huge concentration of Neolithic sites for such a small area. Although the archipelago consists of over seventy islands, the three islands that have the most interest for tourists are the Mainland, South Ronaldsay, and Hoy. Mainland Orkney is home to the two largest towns on the island — Kirkwall and Stromness — and this is where the majority of accommodation options and restaurants are.
The main highlights of Orkney, however, lie outside of the towns. Just a short drive in any direction will lead you to amazing standing stone circles, like the Ring of Brodgar, or to excellently preserved Neolithic villages like Skara Brae, which is older than the pyramids of Giza. Despite the fact that the islands are relatively remote, many sites don’t have high entry fees and some are even free to enter, making it a perfect destination even if you’re visiting Scotland on a budget.
Couple these amazing archaeological sites with beautiful pastoral nature and incredibly friendly locals and Orkney makes the ideal destination to any Scotland trip.
Find accommodations on Orkney here.
Isle of Mull
Toccara & Sam from Forget Me Someday (follow on Facebook)
What we loved about Isle Mull was that even though we visited in July, which is considered to be peak season in Scotland, there were times where we felt like we had parts of the island to ourselves. Loch Na Keal and Calgary Beach, found on the northwestern part of Mull, were absolutely breathtaking! The lush and unspoiled landscapes are what helped us quickly fall in love with the Island of Mull and we can’t recommend it enough. Another thing we love about the Isle of Mull is the native animals found around the island, such as sheep, baby lambs, Highland cows, and white-tailed sea eagles.
The Isle of Mull is easy to get to from 3 different ferry ports in Scotland (Oban, Lochaline, or Kilchoan). Depending on the departing ferry port you choose, the scenic journey to Mull will take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. You are welcome to bring your car onboard any of the ferries for ease of getting around the island. Taxis, buses, and bikes are available on Mull, but we much preferred having our own car so we could stop and admire the beauty of the island whenever we wanted. From Mull, you can take another quick ferry ride (10 minutes) to the Isle of Iona where you will find Iona Abbey.
Find accommodations on the Isle of Mull here.
Iona Abbey (Island of Iona)
Bret & Mary from Green Global Travel (follow on Pinterest)
The inspiration for our journey to the Iona Abbey, which is located on the island of Iona in the Scottish Hebrides, began more than 20 years ago with a story my beloved late grandfather told me. “We are from the Love sept, of the Mackinnon Clan, of the MacAlpine tribe.” For many years after his death in 1996, visiting the land of our forefathers and tracing our family history remained a distant dream. But last year we finally made it come true.
The Mackinnons are one of seven Scottish Highland clans who can trace their ancestry back to the Pictish King Alpin, who ruled over what was then called Dal Riada from 833-841 AD. His oldest son, Kenneth MacAlpin, is widely considered the first King of Scots, founding the kingdom originally known as Alba. The Mackinnons were not a large or wealthy clan. But they had some measure of power because they were aligned with Clan Donald (a.k.a. MacDonald), which held the title of “Lord of the Isles” and ruled over western Scotland for centuries.
The Mackinnons served as the abbots at Iona Abbey for 5-6 generations. The most famous of these was John Mackinnon, whose tomb lies near the altar of the chapel to this day. Some historians believe that Clan Mackinnon descends from Saint Columba (521-597), the Irish missionary credited with spreading Christianity in what is now Scotland. Columba founded the historic abbey, which was a dominant religious and political institution for centuries.
The Iona Abbey is most famous as the place where part of the Book of Kells (a.k.a. the Book of Columba) –a lushly illustrated manuscript containing four gospels of the New Testament– was created. When the Viking invaders came from Norway to pillage Christian treasures in the 9th century, the sacred book was secretly transported to Ireland to be finished and kept safe.
The abbey, which can be visited frequent ferries from the Isle of Mull, is still considered among the world’s most sacred sites for Christians. The chapel and museum are filled with history and artefacts, and I found both Love and Mackinnon ancestors buried in the small graveyard. Before leaving, I spread some of my grandparents’ ashes on “the hill of the Abbott,” where Saint Columba’s writing hut once stood.
Heading north after visiting Iona Abbey? Check out Bret & Mary’s tips for the Isle of Skye.
Find accommodations near Iona Abbey here.
Sonja from Migrating Miss (follow on Instagram)
Shetland is a group of around 300 islands that lies far off the north of Scotland, towards Norway. There are daily flights to the Sumburgh airport at the base of the biggest island, known as Mainland, or you can catch an overnight ferry to Lerwick from Aberdeen that sometimes stops by Orkney. It may be more of a mission than many places in Scotland, but it’s well worth it! Once you’re on the islands you won’t run short of things to do in Shetland!
In the summer daylight hours are very long with little, if any, darkness. Be sure to visit the lighthouse at Sumburgh to spot Puffins during the warmer months! Nearby is one of the most amazing historical sights I’ve ever visited and one of the best prehistoric archaeological sites in Scotland: Jarlshof. It has the remains of settlements from the prehistoric age through to the 17th century, including Norse Viking longhouses.
There are beautiful beaches like the tombola beach at St Ninian’s Isle or Levenwick beach closer to Lerwick. The rest of the coastline has high and rocky cliffs, and visiting the Hermaness Nature Reserve on the most northerly Isle of Unst will give you another opportunity to see seabirds and stunning views. Unst also boasts the northernmost brewery in Britain, Valhalla, and the northernmost distillery called Shetland Reel.
Shetland is a joy to explore, with so many wonderful historical sites and a strong Viking past, as well as beautiful (if treeless!) landscapes.
Find Shetland accommodations here.
Isle of Lewis
Helena from Through an Aussie’s Eyes (follow on Facebook)
The Isle of Lewis is a part of the Outer Hebrides and is definitely a hidden gem of Scotland. Lewis is full of history and Scottish charm that you won’t experience on the mainland of Scotland. Believe it or not, but Lewis has some stunning beaches that rival tropical hotspots around the world. In the waves, you can also see the cheeky grins of seals and even the odd puffin flying around!
Speaking of beaches, the Uig Sands is a famous beach where the Lewis Chessmen were discovered. They are 12th century Viking chess pieces that are carved out of walrus task and they are now displayed in Edinburgh. Walking up and down the beach in Scotland is definitely a different experience!
Another great find is the Callanish Stones. They are standing stones that were erected in the late Neolithic area and hold an ‘Outlander’-type magic around them.
The town of Stornoway is where you can really get an understanding of the culture and traditions of the island; including the famous Harris Tweed. Some other unique places that you need to see are the Butt of Lewis (a lighthouse on the most northern tip of the island), Lewis Castle and Dun Carloway (a broch).
Find accommodations on the Isle of Lewis here.
Stefan from Nomadic Boys (follow on Instagram)
One of our favourite places we’ve visited is the Loch Ness located in the Scottish Highlands near Inverness.
The Loch Ness is one of the largest lakes in the UK, reaching a depth of 228m (750ft). One of the best ways to experience it is to take a cruise with a guided reputable company (like Lochness by Jacobite). There are many ancient sites along the Loch Ness lake to look out for. Our favourite was the very picturesque Urquhart Castle.
Of course, the main reason why the Loch Ness is famous is due to the infamous Loch Ness Monster. This mythical aquatic long-necked dragon-like creature, which supposedly inhabits these dark gloomy waters has caused much excitement over the past 100 years. There have been over 1.000 official sightings to date, and a vigorous debate between scientists as to whether or not it is real, and if it genuinely resides here.
Mythical or not, we think this is one of the savviest tourist attractions we’ve ever encountered – the place receives over 1 million people annual visitors as a result.
One tip to learn more about the Loch Ness Monster and explore the various theories about its existence is to visit the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition museum, then reach your own conclusion as to whether or not Nessie the Loch Ness monster is real.
Otherwise, the Loch Ness is a pretty lake to explore! Read more from the Nomadic Boys’ gay travels in the Scottish Highlands.
Fun fact: your street view icon changes on Google Maps if you search for “Loch Ness”.
Find accommodations in Inverness here.
Lauren from Faramagan (follow on Facebook)
Quitting my job to backpack around the world has taught me two things – firstly, I’m incredibly proud to say I’m Scottish as I’ve always received such a warm response to my Nationality. I’m not surprised when there are so many reasons to visit Scotland. Secondly, of those I’ve met that have heard of Scotland, very few (if any) have visited past Edinburgh or Glasgow. Which makes me hesitant to share the small sanctuary of the North East that I am from, through fear that when I tell you just how beautiful my hometown is that it may be inundated with selfie-stick waving tourists in minutes. This little slice of paradise is known as Cullen.
Home to the world famous Cullen Skink soup and award-winning ice cream, so good there are queues down the street for it even in Winter. Mere minutes from the Malt Whisky trail and over 70 golf courses within an hour’s drive, it doesn’t get more Scottish than that. Twenty-five countries later and I’ve yet to find a beach I love more than Cullen’s. The main reason? It is empty nearly all year round (excluding the few days of Summer we receive).
You could walk along its golden shores from start to end without seeing another person, though I can almost guarantee you’d see dolphins in the bay and the postcard-perfect Bow Fiddle Rock if you walked along far enough. At times, I wish more people would venture off the beaten path to witness just how stunning this tiny coastal village is. On the other hand, I am grateful that it’s my little secret. Now it can be yours too!
Find accommodations in Cullen here.
Eilean Donan Castle
Nicole from Travelgal (follow on Facebook)
Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most recognised castles in Scotland and probably the world. It is located in the small town on Dornie on sits on an island in Loch Duich in the Highlands.
Eilean Donan Castle has featured in movies such as Highlander and the Bond film The World is Not Enough. It is a spectacular setting for the castle and one of the most popular spots in the Highlands.
I was lucky enough to attend a friend’s wedding here in August. Even though it rained all day, it cleared at 5 pm once the castle closed to the public. The wedding was held inside the castle which is closed to regular visitors. I was extremely excited to be inside the castle and take photos there.
After a beautiful ceremony and lots of photos, we walked back along the bridge to the mainland. We then watched the bride and groom walk back while being lead by a Scottish bagpiper. Talk about iconic! I think the tourists that were there to just take photos of the castles got quite a show. Even without a wedding, Eilean Donan Castle is the highlight of any trip to the Highlands.
Find accommodations in Kyle of Lochalsh here.
Priyanko from Constant Traveller (follow on Instagram)
For mountain climbers, Fort William means only one thing – a base camp before summiting Ben Nevis, UK’s highest mountain. For me, Fort William meant something else altogether – a train ride along the original Hogwarts Express, courtesy of the Harry Potter movies. In fact, the first thing I did after booking my tickets to the UK was reserve my seat on the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig, a port town on the Scottish Highlands.
Being a fairly populated town, public transport to Fort William was a breeze. I reached my hostel in Fort William the day before my train ride and was immediately taken in by strong-legged men with maps who were plotting how best to climb Ben Nevis. As a newbie, I didn’t even know which of the mountains Ben Nevis was. One group of Welsh climbers showed it to me but the summit was shrouded in clouds. I left the hostel and took a stroll around the main city centre. A visit to the West Highland Museum on High Street finally cleared all my historical and geographical doubts about Fort William. I even learned about the Jacobite Uprising that most likely gave the name to my steam train!
I slept fitfully and was at the train station earlier than required for my day out to Mallaig. When the train finally pulled out of the station I was exhilarated beyond measure. The raw natural beauty of the place was in front of me and the summit of Ben Nevis peeked out just in time before we chugged away from her leisurely.
Find accommodations in Fort William here.
Alyse from The Invisible Tourist (follow on Instagram)
Many things spring to mind when thinking about the Scottish Highlands – swirling grey clouds, rolling emerald hills and clans donning their unique tartans. If you also thought of castles, imagine finding out that your ancestors actually owned one – because mine did!
Enduring many battles over the years Castle Tioram was the traditional seat of my ancestors, the Macdonalds of Clanranald, since the 14th century. Her biggest role was being a home base and storage facility for weaponry used by Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army.
When my dream of visiting Castle Tioram finally came true, the excitement was almost too much to bear. It was inexpressibly special stepping back in time to walk in my ancestors’ footsteps! Visit the lands they fought so hard for against the Crown during the Jacobite uprising in the 18th century, just like a real-life episode of “Outlander”.
While she’s a weary old ruin today, Castle Tioram remained in the family for almost 600 years, which is quite remarkable. Despite me living the other side of the world, I had an overwhelming sense of being at home as I explored this stunning area overlooking Loch Moidart, about 80 km west of Fort William. It was here I realised that my very existence is owed to my ancestors who fought relentlessly for these lands – there was something very humbling about that. Be sure to pay a visit to Castle Tioram if you’re exploring the Scottish Highlands!
Find accommodations in Acharacle here.
John O Groats
Natasha & Cameron from The World Pursuit (follow on Instagram)
One of our favourite stops in all of Scotland was one of Britain’s northernmost points, John O Groats. Although it’s not the most northern tip it is the most northeasternmost tip. It’s a popular stop on Scotland’s famous North Coast 500 route. That’s the reason we ended up there. We had been travelling the North Coast 500, after about three days of travelling from Invermere we ended up pulling into John O Groats.
The fresh sea vibes, local fishermen, and a very small town (or should I say village) made us feel as if we found a home in John O Groats. John O Groats is not popular because there are a plethora of things to do; there is actually very little to do in the actual town besides enjoying the John O Groats harbour, taking in the beautiful scenery, and gazing at the cows. However, there are some fabulous coastal walks around, like the path from John O’Groats to Duncansby Head. It’s on this path that you will see amazing sea stacks bursting out of the water. Our favorite place to stay in the town was Natural Retreats, a collection of full serviced apartments with wide open windows to take in nature.
Find accommodations in John O Groats here.
Jessica from Independent Travel Cats (follow on Facebook)
Aberdeen is the third largest city in Scotland and a city that is seldom visited by tourists compared to Scotland’s other cities. It is nicknamed the Granite City or Silver City because of a large number of building in the city built from the local granite.
The city has a long maritime history and in recent decades has been strongly associated with offshore oil and gas drilling. However, over the past few years, it has been promoting itself more and more as a tourist destination. It is a refreshing place to go if you are looking for another view of a Scottish city beyond the beautiful but touristy Edinburgh.
Aberdeen has a lot to offer including free and interesting museums, beautiful gardens, interesting architecture, historical attractions, good restaurants, and even a city beach. We live in Scotland and have now visited this city several times, and you can check out our guide for a detailed list of the great many things to do in Aberdeen Scotland. The city is also home to a number of fun festivals celebrating everything from street art to jazz music to old boats.
Find accommodations in Aberdeen here.
Lisanne from Chapter Travel (follow on Instagram)
One of the most beautiful places in Scotland is definitely Glencoe. It’s a place that is so green and lush, with endless views over the Scottish Highlands. If you drive from Glasgow to Glencoe, you will already be rewarded with some of the best views from your car windows. Enjoy the beautiful scenery and don’t forget to stop once in a while to take some photos.
Glencoe is the perfect destination if you love hiking and spending time in nature. For instance, you can do a short hike at Coire Gabhail, also known as the hidden valley. It’s an easy hike with only some steep climbs. If you prefer a longer hike, you can do the loop at Lairig Gartain, which takes 4.5 hours. This hike provides some fantastic views over a valley. It’s even possible to camp for free anywhere in nature, so you can get creative and have some fantastic views from your tent.
Other great activities in Glencoe are a visit to the ancient volcano, which can be found by following the Glen Coe Geotrail. Or you can test the waters and go kayaking, water rafting, canyoning or sailing. And don’t forget to get some fish and chips at the local pub!
Find accommodations in Glencoe here.
Kingdom of Fife
Gemma from Two Scots Abroad (follow on Instagram)
Head over the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Forth Rail Bridge to the Kingdom of Fife to see a part of ‘real’ Scotland in action. Expect cute villages like Culross (take note Outlander fans – read this guide for more tips on Fife locations), seaside towns like Burntisland, and the old historic capital of Scotland, Dunfermline.
Activities include golfing (there are over 50 courses including the world famous Old Course in St Andrews), watersports like sailing, canoeing and paddle boarding, museums (Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy), an emerging street art scene (check out Cowdenbeath’s Mining Boy to be wowed), and food – the East Neuk of Fife is renowned for its fresh produce and fine dining. Fife has a ridiculous amount of festivals too from beer to food, history to scarecrows! Escape Edinburgh – come and visit the lesser-known Kingdom of Fife.
Justin and Tracy from A Couple For The Road (follow on Facebook)
St. Andrews has a reputation that only it can claim as the “Home of Golf” – the site where the sport was first created and played nearly 500 years ago. That site, today known as the Old Course at St. Andrews, is the location for some of the grandest golf tournaments in the world, including the Open Championship.
Yet, golf is only a fraction of the legacy of St. Andrews. The city, located on the east coast of Scotland and north of Edinburgh, has a documented history of more than 1,200 years and today is a wonderfully scenic city with a vibrant and beautiful city centre. Millennia-old castles are strewn across the landscape, botanical gardens highlight areas of vast and rolling nature, and St. Andrews has some of the most stunning cathedrals in Scotland.
While a small city in terms of population (only about 20.000), St. Andrews remains an important city in the United Kingdom and a site that captivates tourists – evident in the fact that St. Andrews welcomes more than thirty times as many tourists each year as it has residents!
Find accommodations in St. Andrews here.
Kathi from Watch Me See (follow on Instagram)
If you want to go off the beaten track in Scotland, look no further than the Kintyre Peninsula, Scotland’s only “mainland island”. Despite seeing relatively few visitors, the region has a lot to offer. From picturesque harbour towns to soft sandy beaches, little islands off the coast and full of character, whisky distilleries and castles.
Unfortunately, Kintyre is not on the way to any other popular destinations around Scotland – you will have to make the effort to drive here. Or maybe that is exactly the appeal! Luckily, the drive from Glasgow to Campbeltown takes only 3.5 hours and at only 40 miles long, you can spend a few days in Kintyre and still have time left to see the Highlands further north.
But back to Kintyre and its attractions. I suggest you start in the north of the peninsula, in the scenic harbour town of Tarbert, where you must not miss a visit to the ruins of Tarbert Castle. The main road continues south, winding its way across the narrow stretch of land that connects Kintyre to mainland Scotland. In fact, it is so narrow that the Norwegian Viking King Magnus Barefoot tricked the Scots into giving him this land. Promised any land he could sail around in his boat, the King simply had his man drag the boat across the narrow land. And so Kintyre was considered Norwegian until the 13th century.
The small Isle of Gigha off the west coast makes for a fantastic day trip for cyclists, hikers and kayakers alike. Further south in Campbeltown you can visit one of the last remaining whisky distilleries in the area – once there were so many, that Campbeltown was declared one of five major whisky regions in Scotland!
My main reason to visit Kintyre though was its very tip; the headland, also called Mull of Kintyre – yep, the one Paul McCartney sings about! There is a gorgeous little lighthouse at the bottom of a long and winding road from where you can see across to Northern Ireland on a clear day. The wide sandy beaches around the headland are some of the most isolated in Scotland. Don’t miss out and visit the Kintyre peninsula!
Find accommodations in Campbeltown here.
Amy & Nathan from Two Drifters (follow on Instagram)
While most people who visit Scotland travel to Edinburgh, the highlands, and Glasgow, there’s a wonderful place tucked right in the middle of these three that you really shouldn’t miss. It’s the city of Stirling, where I attended grad school and where you’ll find history, natural beauty, and an abundance of Scottish culture.
Stirling has a quaint old town hovered over by an impressive stone castle. Though perhaps not as striking as Edinburgh’s, the castle boasts gorgeous views out over the hills and the inside is very interesting — perhaps more so than Edinburgh Castle, and half the price!
While in Stirling, climb up the Wallace Monument, which pays tribute to William Wallace. This monument is very tall, and is part museum/part scenic overlook. Head up in the sunset hours for an incredible view over Stirling. If you have time, hop over to nearby Stirling University and visit Airthrey Loch, a stunning lake in the centre of campus. It is frequented by dozens of graceful swans and you can see the Dumyat hill in the background (also a worthwhile hike).
You’ll round out a great stay here by dining at a cosy pub (check out some of our suggestions here and tucking into a warm bed. Enjoy the beautiful Stirling region, known as Scotland’s heart.
Find accommodations in Stirling here.
Paige from For The Love Of Wanderlust (follow on Facebook)
Clava Cairns is a 4000-year old bronze age archaeological site that sits outside of Inverness, Scotland, less than five minutes away from the Culloden Battlefield. Clava Cairns is technically made up of two sites within walking distance of each other. The most popular of the two is Balnuaran of Clava, which contains three passage tombs each of which is surrounded by a standing stone circle. These sites are incredibly preserved and free to visit.
One of the most unique things about this archaeological site is that two of the passage tombs illuminate perfectly during the sunset of the Winter Solstice, adding to the mystery of this stunning site and the people who created it. The second half location of Clava Cairns, Called Milton of Clava, has a Bronze Age cemetery, a single standing stone from the same era and the ruins of a medieval abbey.
Clava Cairns is one of the lesser-known stone circles and passage tombs in Scotland. It has recently gained notoriety with a rise in popularity due to the Outlander books and television series, so I’m sure the future will bring many changes. For now, you can walk right up to the stone circles and into the passage tombs. It’s a truly unbelievable experience. Any lover of literature, ancient cultures, archaeology, or history has to make this pilgrimage in the Scottish Highlands.
Find accommodations in Inverness here.