What are the top things to do in Scotland
To visit Scotland, in the North of the United Kingdom, is to discover wild nature through hilly landscapes, moors, lochs, cliffs and waterfalls.
From hiking in the Highlands to visiting aEdinburgh to exploring the many Scottish castles, and a cruise to Loch Ness, Scotland is full of places to visit! Mystic landscapes under the fog and the rain, which become magical as soon as the sun finally deigns out.
To help you plan your trip, I have prepared a Top 15 things to do and see in Scotland.
So what to visit and where to go in Scotland? What are the places of interest?
Visit Scotland: the must-sees
We start this tourist guide of Scotland by its capital: Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is a very rich historical and cultural city, cradle of many legends. This is of course a must for a stay in Scotland.
Between Old Town the medieval city, and New Town the contemporary, the city is split into two and has different atmospheres.
Places of interest to visit in Edinburgh:
- The Castle of Edinburgh (Edhimburg Castle) dominates the city, perched on a dry lava hill. Edinburgh’s main historical monument, it houses several museums. Avoid queuing by booking your tickets here!
- The Royal Mile: the main artery of Old Town. Very beautiful medieval street but also very touristy with lots of souvenir shops and street entertainment.
- The Palace of Holyrood : located at the end of Royal Mile, is the former residence of Mary Stuart and one of the current residences of the Queen. Buy your ticket now to visit the Queen’s official residence in Scotland and discover the state apartments.
- National Museums: National Museum of Scotland – Scottish National Gallery – Scotish National Gallery of Modern Art One and Two – Scottish National Portrait Gallery. They are all free!
- Greyfriars Cemetery: It’s said to be the most haunted cemetery in the world! Very picturesque with ancient carved tombs, desecrated vaults and a pretty mystical atmosphere. Guided tours in the evening are organized for fans of chills, book here!
- The district of Grassmarket: lively pedestrian square in Old Town, there is a nice market on Saturday.
- Princes Street Garden: This street marks the border between Old Town and New Town. You can see a beautiful panorama of Old Town from the square above the tourist office.
- Calton Hill: Small hill in the Regents Garden (New Town). You will enjoy a sublime panorama of Old Town and the sea.
- Dean Village: former village of millers within walking distance of the city center in 20 minutes. There is a nice walk to do along the river, in a very bucolic atmosphere.
- Royal Botanic Gardens: a 28-hectare garden where you can admire the largest collection of rhododendrons in the world but also beautiful greenhouses, a Chinese garden, an arboretum etc.
- Arthur’s Seat: right next to the Palace of Holyrood, this ride takes you to an old volcano 251 meters high. A countryside corner in the middle of the city, reminiscent of Highland landscapes. Count 1h30 to 2h of walk and a superb 360 ° point of view at the top.
- Ghost tour: “Dark tourism” is fashionable and there are plenty of legends and ghost tours in Edinburgh. You will meet several times the big black buses “Ghost Tour”. The perfect activity to do in Scotland to discover the most haunted places in Edinburgh. You can book your Ghost tour here.
And for even more details on things to do in Edinburgh, check out our article: Visit Edinburgh.
2. Loch Ness
Among the most famous places to visit in Scotland, impossible not to mention Loch Ness!
Who has not heard of Loch Ness and his mysterious inhabitant of the depths? Second largest loch in Scotland, it is more than thirty kilometers long and has been made famous throughout the world thanks to the legend of Nessie.
Loch Ness is located between Inverness in the North, and Fort Augustus in the South, in the Highlands.
Inverness, the capital of the region, is a good starting point for a circuit in Scotland, along Loch Ness.
Places not to miss at Loch Ness:
- Dores: 13 km south of Inverness, this is a pretty little village with a pebble beach and breathtaking views of the length of the loch. Unusual: The monster hunter Steve Feltham has been living here since 1991 and continues his quest to find Nessie… He sells small clay figurines to finance his research.
- Fort Augustus: beautiful tourist village in summer, it is built at the southern tip of the loch. In particular, there are 5 beautiful locks used to ferry Loch Nochy’s boats to Loch Ness via the Caledonian Canal (built in the early 19th century to connect the water to the sea). It is also the starting point for cruises on the loch.
- Drumnadrochit: another pretty tourist village on the northwestern shore of the lake with some nice walks to do. But do not miss a visit to the Urquhart Castle, a sublime ruined medieval castle built on the edge of Loch Ness with breathtaking views of the lake.
If you want to combine the two must-do tourist activities in Loch Ness, which means a cruise and a visit to Urquhart Castle, I recommend booking your tour now. For only 25 € per person, you will take a boat ride on the loch of one hour and also enjoy an hour to visit the castle.
I’m booking my cruise on Loch Ness + Urquhart Castle now!
3. Take a ride in the Jacobite Express
It is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions, thanks in large part to the Harry Potter saga.
The Jacobite Express is a picturesque steam train that was partly used to represent the Hogwarts Express in the movies of the famous wizard.
Guests can take a 84-mile train ride between Fort William and Mallaig, through the beautiful Highland scenery. Inside the train, pretty armchairs and tables and a catering service (for a fee) that offers all kinds of tea, cold drinks, cupcakes and even Chocogranouilles and Dragées Surprises by Bertie Crochue(wizards will include … )!
The train travels back and forth between Fort William and Mallaig twice a day and the total journey takes a little over 4 hours (with a break of around 2 hours at Mallaig).
This trip is renowned as the most fantastic train trip in the world (just that). To test for about 30 pounds per adult in standard class and 55 in first.
To book several weeks or months in advance to have room.
All information on schedules and fares can be found on the official website.
4. The Glen Coe Valley
In the list of things to do in Scotland, I recommend going to see the Glen Coe Valley.
The valley of Glen Coe is one of the most beautiful regions of the country with its magnificent mountainsand humid and green landscapes, the beauty of both wild and bucolic. This is the favorite place for Scottish mountaineers. There are many trails for hiking (quite difficult for most).
Things to see in the Glen Coe area:
- The village of Glencoe: a cute village but very simple and a good starting point to visit the area on foot. Pretty little forest walks (the Lochan Trails) start at the exit of the village after the car park and are indicated by signs. Nearby, share the hike Pap of Glencoe that takes you to the heights, with breathtaking landscapes (count 4 h round trip and attention, it does not hurt!)
- The Castle Stalker, a quaint Scottish castle built in 1320 and perched on an island in the middle of Loch Linnhe. It has the distinction of being accessible only by boat (visit on reservation for 20 £ per person). It is located on Oban Road, about 25 km from Glencoe. It is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. A small stop on the beach on the opposite shore allows you to appreciate all the beauty of the place.
Only a few minutes from the village of Glencoe, Glenfinnan is another gem of Scotland not to be missed.
This tourist village is worth seeing, if only because you can see the Hogwarts Express!
Well, ok … it’s not quite that but we see the Jacobite Express pass on a beautiful viaduct that appears in the Harry Potter films.
The train runs every morning at around 10:30 and in the afternoon around 15:00. Tourists flock to the viewpoint in height which gives a magnificent view of the bridge. It’s a pretty magical moment (it’s the case to say it) when the train arrives and operates its trumpet. The fans of the saga will be the most delighted.
What to do for a day in Glenfinnan:
- See Loch Shiel which borders the city and in front of which is the Glenfinnan Monument, a statue erected in 1815 at the top of a tower in honor of Bonnie Prince Charlie. It is possible to climb to the top(with a guide) to admire the beautiful view of the lake and the surrounding hills. For the fans, loch Shiel is also the Hogwarts lake that appears in the Harry Potter films and in particular the one where the underwater event of the 3 Wizards Tournament takes place.
- Admire the Glenfinnan Church: very pretty Gothic church a bit crooked overlooking the lake.
- Visit the Glenfinnan Station Museum : a small museum in the train station that retraces the history of the railways, the viaduct and the now restored train station.
- Several walks of about forty minutes to 1 hour leave the Glenfinnan Visitor Center and allow you to go to explore the heights in the middle of a luxuriant nature. An impressive gradation of colors as soon as the sun starts to radiate.
6. Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park
Only 45 minutes drive from Glasgow , Loch Lomond is the largest loch in the country.
It is located right in the middle of the beautiful Trossachs National Park. Here you are in the middle of huge uninhabited spaces, between lakes, forests and mountains. Nicknamed “the miniature Highlands”, this natural park is the first in the country because of its size and the landscapes are really breathtaking.
As usual, very few houses per square kilometer, a lot of nature and more sheep than humans. Scotland in all its splendor!
To do in this corner of Scotland:
- Conic Hill: from the town of Balmaha, a nice hike of around 2.5 hours to the summit of Conic Hill (358 meters). You will discover at the arrival an exceptional panorama on Loch Lomond and all the east coast.
- Ben Lomonde: a rather difficult hike of about 5 hours return to the summit of Ben Lomond (an altitude of 974 meters).
To see nearby:
- Doune Castle: a picturesque little medieval castle famous for being the setting for Monthy Pyton’s “Sacred Grail” film.
- The Stirling Castle: a beautiful medieval castle, one of the largest in Scotland. Tickets are here.
Loch Lomond, Trossachs Park and Stirling Castle can be visited in one day from Edinburgh. The excursions with driver and professional guide takes you on a cruise on Loch, visit the castle and stroll in the park.
I book my excursion from Edinburgh right now!
If you are wondering what to see in Scotland, I recommend you to go to Mallaig.
A small fishing port in northwestern Scotland, Mallaig is worth a visit, especially for a close-up view of the steam train and a boat trip to the Isle of Skye.
The famous Jacobite Express stops at Mallaig every day around 12:30. The village becomes very animated. You will find some nice restaurants and snacks for lunch before taking the ferry to the Isle of Skye.
Ferry prices: around £ 6 per person (round trip) and £ 20 return for a car.
8. Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is considered one of the top destinations for a trip to Scotland.
Accessible by ferry (from Mallaig to Armadale) or by car crossing the bridge between Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyleakin, Isle of Skye is one of the jewels of Scotland.
Nicknamed “Isle of Mists”, it is composed of landscapes all more splendid than the others, with its wild coasts, its beaches of white sand, its cliffs, its moors and its peat bogs.
Selection of places not to miss on the Isle of Skye:
- The Old Man of Storr: a huge 50-meter high rock visible from the road or accessible by a nice 2-hour round trip from the north of Portree
- Portree: capital of the island
- Quiraing hike : 2 h 30 round trip
- The ruins of Duntulm Castle
- Neist Point: a superb ride to reach the famous lighthouse
- The Skye Museum of Island Life: very beautiful and interesting visit of old thatched houses from the 19 th century
- The castle of Armadale and its beautiful gardens
- Point of Sleat: all the way south of the island. 1h10 walk to reach a beautiful beach, worthy of the most beautiful beaches of the tropics.
- Dunvegan Castle
- The Cuillin Hills: mountain range with exceptional beauty. Many hikes to do including the one that leads to the Fairy Pools (fairy pools), an idyllic site where successive waterfalls flow into a basin at the foot of the mountain.
9. The Glen Nevis Valley
Where to go in Scotland for skiing?
Answer: In the Glen Nevis Valley.
This beautiful valley is home to the Ben Nevis massif, one of the main Scottish mountains.
Mount Ben Nevis is also the highest point in Britain. Located in the Highlands region, this mountain range is the place to go for skiing in winter.
Here’s what to do in Scotland in the Glen Nevis area:
- Nevis Range: it is a ski resort that offers in summer the possibility of climbing to the upper station by cable car. From here, a few hiking trails allow you to explore the surroundings and admire an exceptional panorama of the massif. And of course in winter, you can do … skiing!
- Ascent of Ben Nevis: an intense walk in sumptuous landscapes to the summit. The path departs from the Glen Nevis Visitor Center. Count around 7 hours of walk back and forth. Do not forget to pick up a detailed map at the Glen Nevis Visitor Center before starting the climb.
- Fort William: located at the foot of Ben Nevis, it is a tourist town quite lively in summer. It is not particularly beautiful but you can stop there before climbing to the top of the mountain, to take the Jacobite Express to Mallaig or just to take a walk in the cobbled streets of the city center.
- Steall Waterfall: about 20 minutes from Fort William, do not miss the very nice walk to the imposing Steall Waterfall. These spectacular waterfalls are nestled in the beautiful highland mountains. Very beautiful under the sun but even more authentic under the fog, the road then the walk that leads to the waterfall you wind in meadows in the middle of hills, torrential rivers and many small waterfalls.
10. Scone Palace
Located outside the city of Perth, Scone Palace is a huge estate that will delight fans of history and castles.
Built in 1808, the Georgian Gothic castle belongs to the Earls of Mansfield. In the Middle Ages, the estate was occupied by the Abbey of Scone which housed the kings of Scotland. More than 40 kings were crowned there.
Today Scotland’s top tourist attraction, Scone Castle has some fine collections of furniture and antiques.
You must also take the time to visit the beautiful and huge gardens of the area with century-old pines, flower gardens, vegetable gardens, a small labyrinth, a former prison and an old picturesque Scottish cemetery.
Rates: £ 12 per person for castle and gardens, £ 8 for gardens only (access to free gardens from November to March). The site is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm
And if you want even more information, you can consult the official website.
11. The Isle of Lewis and Harris
Another tourist site to visit in Scotland: Isle of Lewis and Harris.
Just west of the mainland and a few miles north of Isle of Skye, Isle of Lewis and Harris is the largest British island (not to mention Great Britain and Ireland of course). Another treasure of Scotland, it is a wild island with incredible fairy landscapes and many historical relics (including the famous prehistoric menhirs several millennia old).
This Scottish island is divided into two territories : Lewis to the north and Harris to the south, a rather arbitrary division linked to the legacy of the Viking people who once occupied the island.
The Gaelic culture is very strong and the seascapes are a real contrast with the continent. This island is famous for its white sand beaches with beautiful turquoise waters, worthy of the most beautiful beaches of the Caribbean (including the sublime beach Luskentyre not to be missed)!
Book at least 3-4 days to visit Lewis and Harris on your road trip to Scotland.
It can be reached by boat from Ullapol (North of Scotland) or from Uig on the Isle of Skye.
By air, flights from Edinburgh, Inverness, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Benbecula Island provide the connection.
Always book your accommodations in advance as they are stormed on the island, especially in high season. And that’s about the same for restaurants.
If you are traveling by car on Lewis and Harris, fill up on gasoline upon arrival and do not wait to be on the reserve before looking for a station because there are very few and they close early.
This guide to Scotland would be incomplete without a visit to Glasgow.
Located to the south, Glasgow is the largest city in the country but it is easy to visit on foot. Important industrial and cultural city, it is also a student city with a very developed nightlife and artistic life. Its unique atmosphere and dynamism will certainly please you.
Here are some ideas for things to do and see in Glasgow:
- A walk along the Clyde River
- Visit the Riverside Museum on the history of the city in the 20th century
- Visit the Glasgow Science Museum
- Admiring the works of Salvador Dali at the Kelvingrove Museum
- Discover the Gallery of Modern Art
- Admire the stunning architecture of Saint Mungo Cathedral
- Shopping on Buchanan Street
- Go for a walk in Kelvingrove Park or Botanic Gardens
- Feel like you’re exploring Hogwarts by visiting Glasgow University and its beautiful Gothic architecture
- Have a drink on Ashton Lane
- Take a stroll through the beautiful Victorian Necropolis Cemetery on a hillside in the heights of the city
- Visit the magnificent City Hall: The Glasgow City Chambers. 2 free guided tours take place every day.
To organize your visit to Glasgow, read our article: Top 20 things to do in Glasgow.
13. Visit a haunted castle in Scotland
Who says Scotland necessarily says haunted castles!
Who does not have in mind this image of the abandoned castle, isolated on an island in the middle of a lake and surrounded by a thick fog …
Major tourist attractions of Scotland, the castles (haunted or not) do not miss on the Scottish soil. You will have the opportunity to see some by far and to visit others. You can even spend the night in one of the “haunted” castles converted into hotels.
Some of the many haunted castles to see during your Scotland tour:
- Edinburgh Castle: built on a volcanic rock, it dominates the capital and would house the spirit of a bagpipe player and that of a drummer without head …
- Glamis Castle: Located in the north of the country, it is one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland. It is said to be haunted by at least 9 ghosts, including that of Lady Janet accused of witchcraft and burned alive in 1537.
- The very interesting Ballindalloch Castle to be visited would be haunted by the ghost of General James Grant.
- Borthwick Castle: near Edinburgh, we could cross the specter of a former queen of Scotland of the 16th century named Marie. The castle is also a magnificent luxury hotel.
- Carbisdale Castle: a fairly new castle converted into a youth hostel. Here you can sleep at a lower cost and check if the legend says true about the ghost of the Duchess of Blair who haunt the place.
14. Spend an evening in a pub
With rugby, the pub tour is the favorite activity of Scots.
This is an opportunity to make friends and rub shoulders with locals spending a few hours in one or more Scottish pubs to taste the local beer or the famous whiskey, chat and relax.
The atmosphere is warm and joyful and everyone mixes regardless of age and social background.
You can even go there with your family during the day, it’s very friendly. In the evening, concerts and animations give a new dimension to this experience.
Many pubs also organize quizzes and darts. There are traditional pubs everywhere, even in the most remote corners of Scotland.
15. Visit a whiskey distillery
Scotland is also the country of whiskey.
If the subject interests you, do not miss to discover the techniques of making this famous beverage by visiting one or more distilleries.
You will find it all over Scotland and in the highest concentration in the great whiskey area: Speyside. There are about fifty distilleries, some of which are open to visitors with tasting sessions included in the guided tour.
From Inverness, for example, you can visit the Speyside distilleries with a day trip, from € 37 per personwith transport and guide.
I’m booking my Speyside tour right now!
BONUS – Attending Highland Games
These rather unusual games take place every year in the Highland region.
These are rather crazy contests where kilt men throw trunks, stones, hammers, compete by pulling the rope or indulging in the Scottish fight …
All to the sound of bagpipes, in a festive and good-natured atmosphere.
If you have the opportunity to attend one of these very picturesque shows, do not hesitate! The most prestigious takes place every first Saturday of September in the presence of the Queen in Braemar.
And what have you planned to do in Scotland? What places of interest do you want to visit?
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