Scotland is vast, and deciding which of the region’s countless attractions are worth your time is not easy. From the mesmerizing landscapes to the most famous Scotland castles, this guide covers all the best landmarks and attractions in Scotland that warrant a visit.
Whether you want to explore the big cities or spend your days hiking around the national parks, Scotland is a destination that doesn’t disappoint. It has something to offer to everyone, and it’s impossible to end your trip feeling underwhelmed.
Best Things To Do in Scotland
One of the best ways to get around Scotland is by car. Compare rental prices here and read about our Scotland road trip.
Stay in Edinburgh or Glasgow for a couple of days, then pack your bags and head north to the Highlands. Go hiking in the national parks, try to spot Nessie in Loch Ness, and tour at least one lavish castle.
Day trips to the Scottish islands are also a must while you’re there. You just have to decide whether you’re more interested in the waterfalls of the Isle of Skye, or the neolithic ruins of Orkney Islands. So, let’s take a look together at all the best things to do in Scotland! Read about these 21 Best Day Trips From London
Scotland Bucket List
When I first stepped foot on Scottish soil, Robert Burns’ poem My Heart’s In The Highlands echoed in my mind. I studied it at university ages ago, but it wasn’t until those landscapes stretched before my eyes that I truly understood what he was talking about. And now, my heart, too, is in the Highlands. Check out this highly rated tour – The Best of the Scottish Highlands from Edinburgh.
That’s all to say that Scotland is a region of astounding scenery. Rolling hills, shimmering lakes, towering mountains, and emerald valleys are sights that will stay etched in your memory long after you’ve left the UK. Scotland
Best of Scotland Quick Guide
Must See: Loch Ness, Balmoral Castle, Edinburgh, Urquhart Castle, Fort George Where to Stay: Novotel Edinburgh Centre, Mercure Inverness Hotel, Gleneagles Hotel Fun To Do: Cairngorms National Park, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, The Hermitage, Tomatin Distillery Tour Day Trips: Isle of Skye, Isle of Arran, Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands Must-Try Foods: Haggis, Black Pudding, Scottish Tablet, Cranachan
What’s great about Scotland is that the attractions in the regions are diverse enough to appeal to anyone. Want to stay in a big city and discover some interesting architecture? Edinburgh and Glasgow are perfect for you. Maybe you’d prefer to go boating and possibly even for a swim in a lake? Then head to Loch Ness or Loch Lomond.
Would you like to go hiking and cycling? Cairngorms and Trossachs National Parks offer plenty of those. And let’s not forget about the Scottish castles, which are always a sight for sore eyes. From the most extravagant castles to the best Scottish islands, here are all the best things to do in Scotland!
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, so it’s one of the cities you must visit to truly understand Scottish history and culture. The city is also home to many of Scotland’s most famous landmarks, including the Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh Castle, and the Royal Mile, a street that links them. Read more: 22 Best Things To Do in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Visit the National Museum of Scotland for a lesson on Scottish history. Museum exhibits include everything from dinosaur skeletons to old Formula 1 cars, so there’s truly something for everyone. Tour the filming locations of the widely popular series Outlander in this Edinburgh: Outlander Locations Tour.
For hardcore Harry Potter fans like myself, a walk through Victoria Street is a must. Dubbed the real-life Diagon Alley, this charming alley boasts colorful storefronts and excellent local restaurants. Book this highly rated tour here.
Practical Information: The city of Edinburgh is just 40 minutes away from the airport by a local bus service that runs every 10 minutes. A one-way ticket is £4.50. Book this affordable private transfer from the airport to your hotel.
2. Stirling Castle
Set in the Lowlands, the town of Stirling is home to one of the most beautiful Scottish castles. Stirling Castle is the centerpiece of the town and a worthy reason to travel here. This popular tour stops at Stirling Castle, Kelpies and Loch Lamond from Edinburgh. Book it now with free cancellation.
The castle sits atop a rocky hill, surrounded by cliffs on three sides. Some of its parts were constructed as early as the 12th century, but most of the buildings present at Stirling Castle today were constructed between the 15th and 17th centuries.
Visitors can tour the various castle rooms, including the Great Hall, the Royal Palace, and the Queen Anne Gardens. An on-site exhibition recounts the history of Sterling Castle, from its founding to modern day.
Practical Information: Tickets for Stirling Castle start at £17.50. It’s cheaper to buy them online than on the spot. The castle is open daily from 9:30 AM to 5 PM.
3. All Aboard the Hogwarts Express
I’ve got some good and bad news about the Hogwarts Express train. The good news is that it’s locally known as the Jacobite Steam Train and anyone can ride the train to enjoy stunning views of the Scottish Highlands, as featured in the Harry Potter movies. Book your tickets today.
The bad news is that it won’t actually take you to Hogwarts. Instead, the train operates the route between Fort William and Mallaig. The one-way trip is approximately two hours, one of Scotland’s most scenic journeys. Book in advance here.
Enjoy views of lakes, and rolling hills, and pass over the iconic Glenfinnan viaduct as you cross this experience off your Scotland bucket list.
Practical Information: The Jacobite Steam Train runs daily from March until October. Between May and September, there’s an additional afternoon service. Return trip tickets in the second class are £65 per adult.
4. Shetland Islands
Shetland Islands are the northernmost area of the United Kingdom accessible by ferries from Kirkwall and Aberdeen. The remote archipelago is best known for its archeological sites and astonishing, untouched nature.
Highlights of the Shetland Islands include Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement, Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, Broch of Mousa, and the Hermaness National Nature Reserve.
Situated on the northernmost point of the island, the nature reserve is an excellent destination for hiking and bird watching. Rare bird species can be observed here, but they must not be disturbed in any way and access to bird nesting areas is forbidden.
Practical Information: Overnight ferries from Aberdeen start at £30 for a one-way journey. You can book the Viking Express in advance.
5. Loch Ness
Few of the world’s lakes are as famous as Scotland’s Loch Ness. The elongated freshwater lake is world-famous for Nessie, the mythical Loch Ness Monster. And you can see the monster; it just won’t be a terrorizing creature in the lake, but rather a statue on the shore. Read more: 8 Things to do in Inverness – The Capital of the Scottish Highlands
The area around Loch Ness is excellent for hiking and outdoor exploration. With many campsites along the lake shores and countless natural landmarks to be discovered, the lake is a must for outdoor lovers.
Practical Information: Buses to either shore of Loch Ness run from Inverness. Travelers without a car will find it most convenient to book a guided Loch Ness tour.
6. Urquhart Castle
While we’re on the subject of Loch Ness, I must mention Urquhart Castle. Situated on the northwestern shore of the lake, the ruined castle offers stunning panoramic views of the lake and the rolling hills in its background.
A tour of the grounds offers insight into the area’s history with various info panels. With a little help from your imagination, it’s easy to picture the rooms that once stood in the place of the ruins.
Exhibits with medieval objects are set up in multiple castle rooms, so you should walk through every door you see to ensure you don’t miss out on anything.
Practical Information: Tickets for the Urquhart Castle must be booked in advance and cost £13.
7. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
Situated just an hour outside Glasgow, Trossachs National Park is the first national park established in Scotland. Loch Lomond is Great Britain’s largest lake by surface area, and it marks the border between the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands. The vast natural area is great for camping, hiking, horseback riding, cycling, fishing, and more.
Water activities are also an important part of visits to the park. Loch Lomond is great for kayaking, swimming, and sailing, plus all the activities are suitable for a variety of skill levels. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro at any one of these things, you can have fun on Loch Lomond.
Practical Information: Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park is accessible by cars, trains, buses, and ferries. The entrance is free of charge. One of the best ways to get around Scotland is by car, compare care rental prices here.
Although Edinburgh holds the title of the Scottish capital, Glasgow is the region’s largest city by population. It is best known for the Art Nouveau and Victorian architecture that adorns its street, which is mainly a legacy of Glasgow’s prosperity in the period between the 18th and 20th centuries.
Some of the top landmarks in Glasgow include the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the People’s Palace, Glasgow Cathedral, and the Riverside Museum. But these are only a few of dozens of iconic sights, and you could easily spend 2 to 3 days roaming around the city and exploring its best landmarks.
Practical Information: Glasgow is serviced by the international Glasgow Airport, and it’s just an hour by bus from Edinburgh Airport. Or you can book a private transfer from the terminal to your hotel. You can cancel 24 hours prior to your service and get a full refund. Details here.
9. Isle of Skye
Situated just off the west coast of mainland Scotland, the Isle of Skye is one of the most famous islands in the region. It’s known for striking rock formations, medieval castles, and charming fishing villages with pastel-colored houses.
The island is connected to the mainland with a bridge, so it’s possible to travel there in a motorized vehicle. In a perfect world, you’d spend at least two days exploring Skye’s mesmerizing landscapes.
The Isle of Sky is most famous for its fairy pools. They’re blue and green waterfalls at Allt Coire a’ Mhadaidh accessible by hiking trails. Sligachan Waterfalls and the Sligachan Old Bridge are also iconic landmarks on the islands, about a two-hour walk from the cascades.
Practical Information: Buses and guided tours are the best ways of traveling to the Isle of Skye without a car. A one-way ride from Inverness takes at least three hours and 15 minutes, and bus tickets start at £31.70.
10. Hiking in Cairngorms National Park
Spanning an area of 1,748 square miles in the West Highland, Cairngorms National Park is a vast area of surreal landscapes. It’s the perfect destination for outdoor lovers and adventurers in Scotland because there are loads of adrenaline-fueled things to do at the park.
Cairngorms is home to 12 golf courses, the best ski pistes in Scotland, the region’s only dog sled center, and the UK’s first permanent bridge bungee jump. And all that is in addition to a plethora of walking and cycling trails that will take you on a tour of some of the best Scottish landscapes.
Practical Information: Cairngorms National Park is open 24/7 and has free entrance. It is most easily accessible by buses from Aberdeen.
Set in the northeast of Scotland, Aberdeen is a port city you’ll eventually have to visit if you want to travel to the northern Scottish islands. It has direct ferries to Orkney and Shetland Islands, although the former has ferry connections to the other ports in the north.
Aberdeen is a charming city with a cobblestone main square, medieval buildings, and panoramic sea views from the harbor. The city’s lush public parks and gardens are some of the most popular attractions, offering views of vibrant greenery and waterfalls amongst the urban surroundings.
Stay in Aberdeen for a day or two, especially if you want to travel to Cairngorms National Park or the islands in the north, for the easiest access.
Practical Information: Aberdeen is accessible by trains and buses from Glasgow and Edinburgh.
12. Orkney Islands
Orkney Islands are situated off the north coast of Scotland, and accessible by ferries from Aberdeen. For history buffs, this is one of the best destinations in the entire United Kingdom.
The most famous landmark on this archipelago is Skara Brae, a prehistoric village with ruins of 8 houses that date back to 3,000 BC. As someone who studied UK history at university, visiting Skara Brae gave me horrible flashbacks.
But even I must admit that the site was spectacular and worth the excruciatingly long ferry ride. The Ring of Brodgar is another striking landmark on the island worth visiting. It’s a circle of upright stones reminiscent of Stonehenge.
Practical Information: Orkney Islands are accessible by ferry from Aberdeen (to Kirkwall). The ride is six hours and one-way tickets are 28.5£.
13. Melrose Abbey
South of Edinburgh in the Scottish Lowlands lies Melrose Abbey, the ruined Cistercian monastery. It was founded in the early 12th century, and the construction of the complex lasted for more than 50 years.
Today, parts of the abbey are ruined but a great amount of the old structure is well preserved. A museum on the grounds houses a collection of various architectural elements discovered at the site.
Additionally, Robert the Bruce’s embalmed heart is buried at Melrose Abbey. The heart, set in a steel container, was discovered on the abbey grounds during two separate excavations. It was reburied here in 1998, and the burial location is marked with a memorial stone.
Practical Information: Melrose Abbey is open year-round, and the operating hours are seasonal. Generally, it’s from 9-10 AM until 4-5 PM. The entrance fee is £7.50 for adults.
14. Dunrobin Castle & Gardens
Dunrobin Castle is the northernmost of all Scottish castles and a must-see destination during tours of the Northern Highlands. The construction of the castle began in the Middle Ages, but it wasn’t completed until 1845.
Originally, this spectacular chateau was built as a home for Clan Sutherland. But the castle was used for many purposes over the centuries. During the First World War, it served as a naval hospital, and later it functioned as a boarding school.
Today, it is open for public tours. The many rooms of Dunrobin Castle are decorated with period furnishings and feature stunning costumes, artworks, and design elements. A tour of the landscaped gardens is not to be missed when visiting this Scottish castle.
Practical Information: Dunrobin Castle is open from 10 AM until 5 PM. The tickets cost 14£, including entrance to the museum, gardens, and the falconry.
15. Glenmore Forest Park
Glenmore Forest Park is one of the prettiest areas of the vast Cairngorms National Park. If you don’t have time to properly tour and explore the national park, at least make it to Glenmore where you can discover some of the best Scottish scenery.
The area is popular for camping and it’s known for the Loch Morlich Beach. People come to the sandy beach for swimming, sailing, and all other fun watersports. Farther from the lake, Glenmore Forest Park offers a variety of hiking and cycling trails that will allow you to discover all its hidden gems. Think waterfalls, streams, ancient trees, and much more.
Practical Information: Glenmore Forest Park is situated within the Cairngorms National Park and is accessible by buses that run in the area.
16. Isle of Arran
Situated off the west coast of Scotland, Arran is another Scottish isle with stunning nature and a myriad of hidden gems. It’s got walking trails, blue waterfalls, caves, standing stones, and of course, a castle.
The Brodick Castle is situated in the port town, and it’s easily accessible even by public transport. It’s set in the middle of the Brodick Country Park, which is open for visits year-round. But the castle opens its doors only in the summer, allowing for tours of its lavish rooms, remarkable artworks, and a disturbing number of hunting trophies.
Practical Information: The ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick (on the Isle of Aran) runs six times a day from March to October. Tickets for foot passengers are just 5£.
17. Balmoral Castle
There are more than 1,500 castles in Scotland, but Balmoral is the most famous of them all. The
Royal Family resides in the castle, which serves as their summer residence. It is not part of the Crown Estate but rather remains the monarch’s private property. And after Queen Elizabeth II passed away at Balmoral Castle, hardly anyone was unaware of its existence.
Because Balmoral Castle is still very much used by the Royal Family, it is not open for public tours. The castle grounds can be toured in the winter season, and they include everything from a pyramid to a pet cemetery. Visit Balmoral to walk around the grounds, and take in the sights of this astonishing building that’s “just a summer residence, not a proper castle”.
Practical Information: Balmoral Castle is open on select days, usually from 10 AM until 4 PM. The admission fee is £15 for adults.
18. Fort George
Fort George is a military fortress near Inverness in Northern Scotland. It was originally constructed as a result of the 1745 Jacobite rising and has operated as a garrison ever since.
Visitors can see the exhibit that explains how the fort operated during different periods. The army barracks are still used by the military, but parts are open for public tours.
The Highlanders’ Museum is also situated in the Fort George complex, and it showcases various military weapons, uniforms, and medals. History buffs and people interested in war history tend to enjoy this museum complex the most.
Practical Information: Fort George is open for tours from 10 AM until 4 PM. The entrance fee is 10£ for adults.
19. The Hermitage
The Hermitage is a protected area in Craigvinean Forest. Situated in central Scotland, it is best known for tall Douglas Fir trees, waterfalls, and its abundant (but harmless) wildlife. The lush green surroundings are some of the prettiest in the region and are rarely crowded.
This is one of the best places in Scotland for avid hikers. With plenty of trails throughout the national forest, you could spend days roaming around the area and discovering wonderful sights. Cross stone bridges, see waterfalls close-up, and discover countless statues and sculptures that are scattered throughout the protected space.
Practical Information: The Hermitage is accessible by trains from Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Inverness to Dunkeld and Birnam.
20. See The Kelpies
The Kelpies are a pair of 30-meter sculptures of horse heads. They’re located at Helix Park in Falkirk, which is only 20-30 minutes away from Glasgow and Edinburgh by train.
This is a must-visit attraction because it provides a stark contrast to all the landmarks that are traditionally famous in Scotland. The Kelpies are a unique modern art installation in a region best known for medieval buildings and old architectural styles.
Access to Helix Park is free, and guided tours of the art installation are available to visitors who want to learn more about the equine sculptures.
Practical Information: Tickets for the guided tour of the Kelpies are £7.50 for adults.
21. Doune Castle
Doune Castle might be another one of more than a thousand Scottish Castles, but it has more screen time than all the others combined. Not only is this the castle shown on Game of Thrones and Outlander, but it’s also THE castle that was prominently featured in Monty Phyton and The Holy Grail.
Is the castle worth a visit if you’re not a fan of any of the shows above? I think it is, but you could skip it if you have limited time in Scotland and you’ve already planned trips to other castles. The great thing about Duone Castle is that it’s very close to Stirling Castle, and it’s possible to tour both in a day.
Practical Information: The castle is accessible by a bus line from Stirling. The entrance fee is 10£ for adults.
Things to do in Scotland Inverness
Inverness is a city in the northeast of Scotland, and the place you’ll ultimately have to visit to access many of the region’s famous attractions. With direct access to Loch Ness, Cairngorms National Park, and even a bus connection to the Isle of Skye, Inverness is a good place to base yourself for a thorough exploration of Scotland.
The city itself doesn’t have too many famous attractions. There’s the Inverness Cathedral, the wonderful Inverness Botanic Gardens, and of course, the Inverness Castle which sits in the heart of the old town.
Practical Information: Inverness is approximately 4 hours by train from Edinburgh and 3 hours and 20 minutes from Glasgow.
Where to Stay: Kingsmills Hotel is a beautiful resort and spa located just outside the city center. Set on 4 acres of beautiful gardens, there is a swimming pool, spa treatments and free parking.
23. Tour the Tomatin Distillery
It’s no secret that the Scottish love their scotch. A trip to Scotland isn’t complete without at least a taste of the best local beverage, even if you’re not that big on whiskey. Scotch has been an important part of the tradition of Scotland since the 15th century.
It’s estimated that there are more than 140 distilleries throughout Scotland today. You could tour any one you want, but I chose the Tomatin Distillery and I loved it. It’s possible to book private tours, and they do Legacy Tours multiple times per day. It’s best to book the tour in advance, otherwise, you’re not guaranteed a spot.
This distillery also offers free tastings at their bar, and they’ve got a huge shop where you can buy virtually every sort of Scotch they’ve ever manufactured.
Practical Information: The Tomatin Distillery is most easily accessible from Inverness. It’s 55 minutes by bus or 25 minutes by car. The distillery is open daily from 10:30 AM until 4:30 PM and tours cost £15 for adults.
24. Culinary Tour of Scotland
Scottish cuisine isn’t for everyone and feel free to skip this activity if you’re a picky eater or plant-based. But if you’re open-minded and like trying new things, there are a few famous Scottish dishes you should try while you’re there.
Haggis, black pudding, Scottish tablet, and Cranachan are some of the most famous dishes in Scottish cuisine. I skipped the first two because they were not for me, but I did enjoy the desserts quite a bit.
Seafood is also big in Scotland, and you can’t go wrong with a classic order of fish and chips anywhere in the United Kingdom.
Practical Information: Traditional Scottish dishes are served in most regional restaurants and pubs.
25. Highland Folk Museum
I love open-air museums, especially those with replicas of ancient buildings that illustrate how people in the region lived centuries ago. That’s the best way to describe the Highland Folk Museum, situated in the Newtonmore community of the Cairngorms National Park.
This fascinating museum is divided into three areas that showcase different eras in the Highlands. Some dwellings were carefully moved to the museum, and others were reconstructed on the site.
My favorite part was the 1700s Township exhibit with dwellings decorated with period furnishings. I found it fascinating and thought it offered a lot of insight into the lives of locals in the previous eras.
Practical Information: The Highland Folk Museum is open from April until October. The usual operating hours are from 10 AM until 5 PM and entrance is free.
26. Scone Palace
Scone Palace is another iconic Scottish castle. This one is situated in Perth, and it’s one of the most special castles in the region because it served as a coronation site for the Scottish Parliaments and the King of Scots.
The expansive castle grounds offer much to discover. From the star-shaped maze to the wild animals roaming the grounds, there’s plenty to behold even if you never set foot inside the palace. Which you should do because the heavily decorated rooms are an astounding sight.
Practical Information: Scone Palace is open seven days a week in the summer season, from 10 AM until 5:30 PM.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many Days Is Enough for Scotland?
Nine to ten days is enough to see most of the natural landmarks in Scotland. Plan to spend at least two weeks in Scotland if you want to discover all of its bigger cities as well as several of the islands.
What Activities Is Scotland Known For?
Scotland is mostly known for hiking,cycling, kayaking, road trips, and castle tours. The region boasts exceptional natural beauty which is best explored roaming around the stunning landscapes.
What Is One Thing Scotland Is Famous For?
Scotland is most famous for its lush green landscapes. The Scottish Highlands are world-famous for their emerald valleys and towering mountains, while the sights of the rolling hills in the Lowlands leave no one indifferent.
Where Not To Miss In Scotland?
Edinburgh, Loch Ness, Isle of Skye, and Loch Lomond are the top attractions you shouldn’t miss in Scotland. Plan at least a full day for each of the aforementioned attractions.
Tips and Information for Visiting Scotland
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Scotland is from May until the end of October, barring the months of July and August. The peak of summer sees the largest crowds in Scotland, and it’s best to avoid traveling during such a busy period.
This is the driest season in Scotland, and the weather is nice enough to enjoy being outdoors and exploring.
The Edinburg Airport is the largest and busiest one in Scotland, with direct connections to many international and local cities. Another option is Glasgow Airport, which is the second busiest airport in the region.
It doesn’t matter much if you arrive at Edinburgh or Glasgow. Both airports have train connections to the city center and are just an hour and a half apart.
Scotland has an extensive rail network, so for the most part you can get around on trains. Buses run in areas that are not covered by trains, but it’s important to keep in mind that they’re much slower than the railway. Also, ferries connect mainland Scotland to all the islands and archipelagos off its coast.
Car rental is also an option, and it’s great if you want ultimate freedom for traveling around Scotland. Consider renting a campervan because it would offer the most amount of freedom for exploring Scotland.
How Much Time Do You Need
The amount of time you need for Scotland depends a lot on what you want to do in the region. I think five days is the bare minimum for exploring the most famous landmarks of the region, but it’s nowhere near enough if you have plans to visit the islands as well.
On the other hand, if you’re just heading to Edinburgh or Glasgow, three days should be enough time to explore the top city sights and do one easy day trip.
Ideally, you’d have at least 10-15 days for an epic road trip around Scotland to discover the best sights in both the Lowlands and the Highlands.
Where To Stay in Scotland
The best area of Scotland to stay depends very much on what you want to do and see while there. Edinburgh and Glasgow are good locations for exploration of the Lowlands. Numerous attractions are accessible by trains and buses from the cities, plus both Edinburgh and Glasgow offer a wide variety of landmarks to discover.
Inverness is also a great city to stay in, especially for exploration of the Highlands. It’s close to Loch Ness, the Cairngorms National Park, and Aberdeen, which offers ferries to the islands in the north. We stayed at Kingsmills Hotel, but and here are some of the best hotels in Scotland for all budgets:
Mercure Inverness Hotel is an affordable hotel in Inverness and a great place to stay for tours of northern Scotland. Novotel Edinburgh Centre is a modern four-star hotel with a premium location in Scotland’s capital city. Gleneagles Hotel is one of Scotland’s most famous luxury hotels and the top choice for travelers who only want the best.
In a perfect world, you could pack your bags, get behind the wheel of a campervan, and spend and least a month driving around Scotland and exploring its natural beauty. But we don’t live in a perfect world, so I hope this guide gives you at least a rough idea of the type of attractions that await in Scotland.
Whether you’re more into the vibe of Edinburgh and Glasgow or the islands, having a good time in Scotland is in the cards. Especially when you have a plan of which attractions you want to see in person.