Rolling hills, grand castles, ambient pubs: there’s no denying, Scotland is one of the most glorious places you can visit. From sipping on whisky in local distilleries to hiking through the highlands, there’s a lot to love about this wee country. After all, how could you not adore a country whose national animal is the unicorn? Answer: you couldn’t. This magical place has a whole catalogue of must-see sights – the question is, can you fit them all in? To help you out, here’s our recommendation on the very best places to visit in Scotland.
Scotland’s capital is sure to be on any traveller’s bucket list; from historic castles and lively bar scenes to arresting photo-worthy vistas, it’s not one to miss (and it’s home to some of the best pubs in the UK). As you walk along the cobblestone streets of Edinburgh, you’ll feel transported to a magical world of medieval relics, Georgian architecture and hidden nooks.
Hit up Edinburgh Castle for a taste of royal life. A former royal palace, military garrison, fortress and prison, it towers above the city skyline and is steeped in rich history – you’ll learn a lot on your visit, plus be treated to spectacular views from the top. Also, check out the Palace of Holyroodhouse, National Museum of Scotland and the mountain peak of Arthur’s Seat just outside the city.
Stroll along the Royal Mile in the old town and Princess Street in the new town, where you can check out tourist’s shops and local pubs. In the evenings, jump on a ghost tour to hear tales of the city’s spookiest sights.
2. Ben Nevis
Pay a visit to Britain’s highest mountain in the north-west Scottish Highlands, hiking to the mist-covered peaks of the ‘mountain with its head in the clouds’ – that’s the Gaelic translation of Ben Nevis.
Ben Nevis was once an active volcano that erupted and caved in on itself millions of years ago, creating a unique landscape with ridges and light-coloured granite at the summit.
Whether you’re simply stopping for a photo-op and the chance to marvel at the impressive mountain, or to take on one of the walking trails like the Mountain Track, we guarantee this is one of the best places to visit in Scotland.
3. Isle of Skye
With unparalleled natural beauty and charming villages where you can rest your weary head at night, the Isle of Skye is an island worth a spot on any bucket list.
Skye is known for its pristine and storied sights like the cascading waterfalls of the Fairy Pools, with vibrant blue and green waters, or the soaring mountain peaks of Sgùrr Alasdair. And, of course, your visit to Skye won’t be complete without a trip to the iconic Eilean Donan castle, with historic significance in the Jacobite Rising and Hollywood status thanks to appearances in James Bond, Highlander, Made of Honour and more.
If you’re keen to experience some of that classic Scottish charm, enjoy an evening in the local pubs of colourful Portree harbour, the Isle of Skye Brewing Company or Talisker Distillery.
4. Cairngorms National Park
The largest national park in the UK, Cairngorms offers up all the usual suspects – and a few extra surprises. The park is filled with the classic sights you’d expect from the Scottish Highlands: verdant green forests, mountains, waterfalls, rivers and an abundance of wildlife. It’s staggeringly beautiful. But the park also hosts distilleries, villages and boutique hotels for you to enjoy.
Each season offers up different draw-cards – hiking in the summer months, skiing in the winter – but one of the best times to visit the Cairngorms is definitely in autumn, when the green hills and valleys of the moorlands transform with a sea of purple heather.
Another excellent place to visit in the Scottish Highlands (are you sensing a theme?) is Inverness. This tranquil city is known for its historic castles, churches and surrounding natural sights such as the River Ness and Ness Islands.
For a slice of historic life in this part of the world, check out the red-sandstone Inverness Castle. It has a fascinating medieval history and offers insight to the Jacobite Rising and life of the famous Mary Queen of Scots.
If you want to see something truly unique, head a little ways out of town to Munlochy Clootie Well. A Clootie Well is a place of pilgrimage in Celtic areas, with wells or springs surrounded by trees, which are covered in cloth or rags as part of a healing ritual.
6. St. Andrews
A seaside town with classic Scottish charm, St Andrews is one of the top places to visit when you travel through this beautiful country. Another spot known for historic sights, some of the best things to do include a trip to the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral and St Rule’s Tower, Craigtoun Country Park and the ruins of 13th century St Andrews Castle.
But in stark contrast to the beautiful historic sights, St Andrews is also known for its modern experiences. There’s the St Andrews Brewing Co with locally brewed craft beers, curated St Andrews Botanic Gardens, theatre shows at The Byre and more. The best part about this town is that at the end of a day of sightseeing, you can stroll along the picturesque West Sands Beach to wind down.
With live music on every corner, endless pubs and gothic sights to explore, the city of Glasgow is one of the best places to visit in Scotland. Culture vultures will have their fill with incredible destinations like the Gallery of Modern Art, buzzing shopping street of Buchanan Street, historic venues like the medieval Glasgow Cathedral, the beautiful Mitchell Library and famous George Square.
Embrace the exciting nightlife of Glasgow with a trip to Ashton Lane to scope out some local bars on the picturesque street, sip on local whiskey at The Clydeside Distillery or head to a gig at one of the city’s iconic venues like Stereo or The Arches.
8. Glenfinnan Viaduct
Calling all Harry Potter fans! When visiting Scotland you have the chance to hop on board the Hogwarts Express (or at least view its most famous crossing).
The Hogwarts Express is actually a famous steam-train known as the Jacobite, which moves along a scenic track passing through the countryside. The train passes over the picturesque Glenfinnan Viaduct – an iconic location used in the Harry Potter movies. This popular spot in the West Highlands is a fun pit-stop when exploring the region. Find out more about this magical place here.
9. Loch Ness
How do you fancy your chances of spotting the world-famous Loch Ness Monster? Jump aboard a cruise through the Loch Ness, marvel at the stark black waters and vast expanse of the loch – which spans 37km (23 miles) and is over 200 metres deep.
You can travel from the city of Inverness but many opt to spend a night or two near the iconic loch. You can stay in the waterfront village of Drumnadrochit and learn all about the mythology of Nessie.
Another port-side city offering up fresh seafood, tasty whisky, historic sights and charming village vibes; Oban is a must-visit when in Scotland.
Check out the beautiful harbour, shop in local boutiques and sample whisky in the Oban Distillery. History buffs should see sights like the 13th century Dunstaffnage Castle and Chapel, Dunollie Museum and McCaig’s Tower, which shows off incredible views of the town.