It’s endlessly green, full of ancient castles and the home of the elusive Nessie. Scotland is a well known travel destination but sometimes, it gets skipped over for the more sunny and sandy getaways. If you haven’t yet explored the culturally rich and naturally stunning ins and outs of this small country, the time is now. Want a little more motivation to help you pull the trigger?
Here are 17 things you just HAVE to see in Scotland…
1. Loch Ness
This one doesn’t deserve to be anywhere else than first on the list. It’s highly likely that Loch Ness is what you associate Scotland with so what better place to start? Don’t worry, you won’t just be standing around looking at a lake either. In fact, a visit to Loch Ness can be an all day event full of activities. The city of Edinburgh is a great home base to see the lake from and there are a whole variety of tours that will take you into the highlands to see Loch Ness. Take a boat ride on the lake while learning about the history and stories of people who claim to have seen the Loch Ness Monster. You can learn about the sonar system on the boat and even go on your own Nessie hunting adventure. When you are done on the water, head to Dores Inn pub for a pint, over to the Loch Ness Center and Exhibition or to the nearby Urquhart Castle for a wander.
2. The Highlands
You’ll be able to see them if you make your way to Loch Ness but the highlands are worth a day on their own. This historic region of Scotland is a mountainous area that is situated in the northwest of the Highland Boundary Fault. The area itself is not very populated but is visited often for its natural beauty. Besides the mountains themselves, this area is full of lakes, castles and rivers. You can take a guided tour, best out of one of the country’s cities or rent a car and go on a tour by yourself. Make sure to check out the 13th century castle, Eilean Donan, Glenfinnan Viaduct for hiking, the Highland Wildlife Park, Black Isle for dolphin watching and Loch Alsh for castles and lakes.
3. Ben Nevis
The highest mountain in all of the British Isles, this one is a must see. It stands at 1,345 meters above sea level and attracts thousands of people each year who wish to make the ascent. It’s a perfect spot for rock climbers, hikers and ice climbers who want to take in stunning views while checking out the observatory ruins at the top which date back to the 1800s. The best route to the top is the Pony Route, also referred to as the Tourist Route or Mountain Path. A great way to get active in the highlands, start at the Ben Nevis visitor center to learn a bit of the history and geography before deciding which kind of path you would like to embark on. If climbing up to the peak isn’t your style, you can choose one of the easier walking trails that offer just as much beauty. And, once you finish up for the day, head to the Ben Nevis distillery at the foothills of the mountain.
4. Glen Nevis
Also in the highlands, and quite close to Ben Nevis is the equally stunning Glen Nevis. This glen is surrounded by mountains and is home to some of Scotland’s highest waterfalls. Visitors to this area have a few options for accommodation and once set up, can venture off to see the falls. Take the rocky paths and cross the wire bridge to view the waterfalls and upper glens. Head out on the Achriabhach Forest Walk, to the Steal Falls and Nevis Gorge or to Polldubh falls.
5. Edinburgh Castle
Looking out over the entire city of Edinburgh is this ancient and profoundly beautiful castle. It can’t be missed as it almost demands attention with its distinct and noble architecture. The castle dates back to the 12th century and has seen the likes of countless royalty. Serving as military barracks and also being involved in many conflicts throughout the country’s history, the castle has played a huge role in Scotland’s heritage. Make sure to wander through St. Margaret’s Chapel, located on the site, as it is said to be one of the city’s oldest buildings. Check out the various sites of interest within the boundaries of the castle which include the Scottish National War Memorial and the National War Museum of Scotland. While touring the castle, also make sure to see the Crown Jewels, The Great Hall, The Stone of Destiny, Mon’s Meg, One O’clock Gun, Half Moon Battery, Prisons of War and the Regimental Museums.
6. The Malt Whiskey Trail
Scotch whiskey is both known and loved around the world and you are in the land of its origins. Failing to see (and drink) your way around the Scotch Whiskey Trail would be a huge mistake. And, aside from the world renowned whiskey, you will get to take in the natural scenery that surrounds each of these distilleries. The trails extend across the Moray Speyside area that is home to historic and well loved distilleries, retailers and bottlers. Meet the masters who produce the spirit, learn about the process and smell the whisky straight from the cask. You can pop into a whole variety of whisky bars to taste and learn how to appreciate the craft. The best way to experience the trail is by renting a car and taking a road trip. Take the A95 or A9 roads and follow the brown signs with the pagoda symbols on them. If you want to take an extended trip, you can stop off in some of the towns along the way like, Keith, Forres, Elgin, and Speyside.
Looking like a scene straight out of Harry Potter, the city of Edinburgh is quite the site and a must see for anyone visiting Scotland. It’s ancient and historic look make just a stroll through the streets extremely worthwhile. There is plenty to do here amongst the quirky coffee shops, old book stores and vast green, distant landscapes. Visit the Elephant House café where J.K Rowling was said to have wrote much of Harry Potter or wander the graveyard behind it to see the tombstones that apparently gave her inspiration. Wander through Holyrood Park and climb to the top of Author’s Seat for a grand view over the city. You can see the Scottish Parliament, The Royal Yacht Brittannia and the Royal Botanical Garden. Pop into the National Gallery of Scotland and the Fruitmarket gallery for some art or walk along the Water of Leith for some more natural views. One of the best things to do is stroll down the Royal Mile and see what you can find.
8. The National Museum of Scotland
Filled with diverse collections, this museum holds exhibits of interest for nearly everyone. With galleries that contain treasures from all around the world, you can take a look at artifacts from ancient Egypt, Scottish history, decorative arts, fashion, photography, textiles and technology. See exhibits of the natural world, learn about archeology and dive into the culture of the country itself.
9. Stirling Castle
Located in Sterling, this castle is one of the biggest and most historically significant in Scotland. Located on the top of castle hill, an obvious and strategic positioning for defense, the castle has been of great importance to the country since the 15th and 16th centuries. This castle is also one of the best preserved in Scotland and is open to visitors daily. Make sure to visit the Great Hall, Royal Chapel and Palace.
10. The Scotch Whisky Experience
This interactive tourist attraction is quite different than touring the Malt Whiskey Trail but just as fun. It’s located in Edinburgh and takes visitors on an educational ride through the process of making whisky. After the ride, you will attend a tasting where a member of the staff will explain how to properly enjoy whisky and what to look for. See one of the biggest collections of whisky in the world and take home your own souvenir glass too!
11. The Golf Courses
Scotland is known for its endlessly green golf courses. It’s a golf destination in fact so if you play, make sure to get yourself out on the green. Even if you don’t play the sport, just eyeing up the pristine landscapes around and on the courses themselves is a treat. There are quite a few courses to choose from but some of the top to see are St. Andrews, Loch Lomond, Royal Troon, Muirfield, Royal Dornoch, Carnoustie and Turnberry. Take a lesson or make your rounds playing on some of the world’s best courses while you visit Scotland.
12. A Bagpipe Performance
One of the first things people think about when visiting Scotland is the bagpipe performances. Their attire is well known and loved and so are the tunes that these musicians play. A visit to the country wouldn’t be complete without enjoying a live performance featuring these unique instruments. You’ll probably hear bagpipes playing in the distance throughout your trip but if you want to ensure that you experience them, make sure to head to the Buchanhaven Heritage Society or the Taste of Scotland show and dinner in historic Prestonfield.
13. The Isle of Skye
The largest island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, The Isle of Skye is one of the most beautiful. It has a long history of occupation since the Mesolithic times and is full of wildlife and plants. The island is quite the sight as it’s full of lakes, rugged mountains, castles, sea cliffs, craft studios and art galleries. It’s one of the top tourist attractions in Scotland and is filled with culture as well as gorgeous views.
14. Loch Lomond
Stretching across the Highland Boundary Fault, this loch is one of the biggest stretches of inland water in all of Great Britain. It is full of islands, making it a popular destination for travelers to spend time in the outdoors. There are plenty of activities here to keep you busy so make sure to check out the Loch Lomond Golf Club, the West Loch Lomond cycle trail, and the boating and water sport venues.
Scotland’s biggest city has a different atmosphere than Edinburgh but is equally as fascinating. Start off with a self guided tour of the city’s most significant pieces of architecture by visiting the Glasgow Cathedral, City Chambers, St. Enoch Subway Station, Glasgow Cross, Willow Tea Rooms and the Tradeston Pedestrian Bridge. After admiring the art within the buildings, take a look at the museums which dot the city. Notable ones to visit are the Gallery of Modern Art, Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery and the Kelvingrove Museum. The city parks like Glasgow Green and Tollcross Park make a perfect retreat from the bustle and the nightclubs and theatres are spread throughout the city in abundance, giving you plenty to do in the evenings.
16. Jacobite Steam Train
It may just be one of the top rated railways on the planet, just for the views alone. A journey on this steam train will take you 84 miles, roundtrip, past some of Scotland’s most beautiful natural attractions. Sit and relax as you gaze out the window at lochs, mountains, rivers and seaside towns.
17. The Seaside Towns
There is plenty of coastline in Scotland and the little towns that reside between the land and water are worth a look. More laid back than the cities and filled with their own unique kind of culture, a visit to these seaside towns brings a certain kind of balance to any Scotland trip. Check out the town of Portree on the Isle of Skye for Gaelic culture and views of the loch or head to Plockton on the west coast of the Highlands for the little fishing village vibe. You can also make your way to Tobermory, Millport and Kirkcudbright for even more quaint displays of beauty.