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Must-visit places in Scotland

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Scotland is the kind of place that can make you feel awe and comfort all at once, from the otherworldly expanses and peaks of the Isle of Skye, a landscape carved by volcanic eruption and glacial activity, to the quaint, colourful seaside villages of Portree and Tobermory. Venture to the heart of extraordinary national parks, rejuvenate on a refreshing loch boat tour, and stop for a pub lunch in some of the many charming towns along the way. All you need to do is plan your perfect route. Whether you’re exploring the region on an escorted tour or as a solo travellerhere is our pick of the top 10 places to visit in Scotland that you absolutely should not miss. 

Edinburgh

 

What better place to start your Scottish holiday than in the country's capital, Edinburgh. This historic yet cosmopolitan city has plenty to offer, whether you opt to stay for a few days or just make a fleeting visit on your way through. Once you arrive - perhaps from London on our Caledonian Sleeper train tour - you'll have a wealth of museums, art galleries and other attractions to explore. Here you can explore some of the most famous places to visit in Scotland, from the 12th century Edinburgh Castle to the grand Palace of Holyroodhouse, the King's Scottish residence. Stroll along the atmospheric cobbled streets and be transported in time, or take a walk up to Arthur's Seat to see the city from above. Once you've had your fill of sightseeing, you can take advantage of the numerous excellent eating and drinking options across the city.  

Thinking of a winter trip? Book our Edinburgh Christmas Markets tour and you'll get to experience the city as a true winter wonderland, with traditional markets, fairground rides and dazzling decoration.

 

 

Loch Lomond

 

The next stop on our Scottish road trip - perhaps after a detour to Stirling Castle - is Loch Lomond, part of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Surrounded by forest trails and mountainous scenery, it's one of the best places in Scotland to enjoy some downtime in the great outdoors. Partake in a relaxing dip in the chilly water, or unwind with gentler activities such as fishing and practising your swing at the nearby golf course.

There are a number of scenic walking trails around the loch, ranging from mountainous adventures to the rather more sedate mile-long Faerie Trail. To make the most of your time here, a boat cruise is the perfect way to take in the stunning landscapes while also having the chance to spot wildlife like seals, otters, golden eagles and ospreys, or visit enchanting islands and serene beaches. Back on land, you might like to visit the Sea Life Centre, the Bird of Prey Centre or the sprawling estate of Balloch Castle & Country Park, before winding down with a meal overlooking the loch.

 

Cairngorms National Park

 

Next, it’s up to the Cairngorms National Park, which we explore in our Scottish Highlands tour, to take in some captivating Highlands scenery. Home to Ben Nevis and a number of other mountainous peaks, this expansive untamed park is bursting with forest trails, tranquil lochs and wildlife spotting opportunities. It needn’t be non-stop action, however; there are also the cosy local villages and their cafes, bookshops, and distilleries to wander through.  

The area is also home to Balmoral Castle, the Royal Family's Scottish residence. Pop by for a visit on our Classic Scotland tour to see the elegant ballroom and wander around the grounds and gardens. Also worth a stop is the Cairngorm Mountain Railway, the highest funicular railway in the UK. You can also enjoy a journey back in time on the Strathspey Railway, a historic steam train that offers beautiful views of the Cairngorms peaks as it travels on the 40-minute route from Aviemore to Broomhill. Finish your Cairngorms visit with a trip to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre, where you can meet the only free-ranging reindeer heard in the UK.

 

 

 

Fort William

 

If you’re looking to add some thrilling outdoor activities to your Scottish Highlands route, a stop at Fort William is a necessity. As the gateway to the Glen Nevis valley and surrounded by spectacular scenery, the town is one of the best places to visit in Scotland to get active in the fresh air. Explore the waterfalls and spot red deer in Glen Coe valley, spend a day on a canoe wilderness tour, or try your hand at laser clay shooting. A stop here also provides the opportunity to experience the last leg of the West Highland Line, often hailed as one of the world’s best train journeys.   

Learn more about the region's long history in the West Highland Museum, watch a game of shinty, Scotland's oldest sport, or enjoy sampling the local produce at the Ben Nevis Whisky Distillery. On your way out of Fort William, you might like to make a stop at The Well of Seven Heads, a macabre landmark that marks the spot where a murder was avenged by the beheading of several brothers in 1665. 

 

Loch Ness

 

What would a Scottish holiday be without a visit to the world’s most famous loch? With otherworldly scenery, rich history and a legendary monster to boot, Loch Ness is undeniably one of the must visit places in Scotland for visitors of all ages. Climb aboard a boat tour to enjoy the spectacular scenery from the water, whilst of course keeping a look out for Nessie herself, as well as other local wildlife such as cormorants and ospreys. 

Delve deeper into the history and geology of the loch at the Loch Ness visitor centre, complete with state-of-the-art exhibits and immerse experiences, or learn about local heritage and shop for locally made handicrafts and snacks at the Caledonian Canal Centre in Fort Augustus. History aficionados will want to explore the mediaeval ruins of Urquhart Castle, complete with prison cells and watch tower. A relatively new addition, the Loch Ness Trail winds all the way around the loch, providing ample scenic routes for walking and cycling, while the nearby village of Drumnadrochit offers activities such as horse riding and fishing charters.

 

 

Moray Firth 

 

If you're wondering where to go in Scotland to get a wildlife watching fix, the Moray Firth is a great option. There’s nothing quite like seeing wild dolphins frolic and play in their natural habitat, and that’s why some time spent exploring this large inlet is a fantastic addition to your road trip itinerary. Around 130 bottlenose dolphins call the Moray Firth home, and they’re not alone; a boat trip here also means the chance to spot other local creatures including whales, seals, otters and ospreys. For those that love wildlife, a stopover here is an absolute must.  

After you've spotted the local inhabitants, you may like to visit one of the historic towns on the Moray Firth such as Fortrose. A little further afield, Brodie Castle, the Brodie clan’s ancestral home for 400 years, is home to an impressive art collection, historic furnishings and beautiful gardens with no less than 400 types of daffodil. Alternatively, head over to the opposite side of the Moray Firth to visit the Black Isle peninsula, where you can stroll through its charming villages, spot more wildlife (including seals and porpoises), and explore ancient ruins.

 

Isle of Skye

 

Continuing further up the Scottish Highlands, another worthy addition for places to visit has to be the Isle of Skye. Start your Hebridean Island tour by exploring the waterside pubs and independent shops of Portree town, before heading out to explore the island’s iconic landscapes. Set out on a hike to reach its famous natural attractions such as the Old Man of Storr, or take a more forgiving route along the stunning coastline. Cool off and refuel with a picnic at the much-loved Fairy Pools then discover the island’s fascinating history through its many mediaeval castles, prehistoric sights and the wonderful Skye Museum of Island Life.   

Dunvegan Castle & Gardens is a great stop for your Skye itinerary. The former home of the MacLeod clan, a visit to this National Trust estate offers the chance to view treasured art pieces and historical artefacts, tour the elegant gardens or take a boat tour to see the nearby seal colony. 

Even if you are visiting Scotland in winter, a trip to Skye is a memorable affair, with snow capped mountains, misty landscapes and cosy evenings with a dram of whisky by the fire (and the added bonus of fewer crowds!). 

Outer Hebrides

Located off Scotland's west coast, the Outer Hebrides is a stunning chain of islands that represents one of the wildest, most unspoilt corners of the country. On the island of Lewis and Harris, Stornoway is the largest town in the Outer Hebrides and is home to attractions such as Lews Castle and the An Lanntair arts centre. In Lewis, Gearrannan Blackhouse Village is home to 19th century cottages and is perfect for walking, fishing and exploring local history. Lewis' most northerly point, the Butt of Lewis, provides extremely scenic coastal views. Harris, meanwhile, boasts a rugged coastline and imposing peaks, as well as the mediaeval Rodel Church. 

The Outer Hebrides is a wonderful summer destination, with idyllic beaches like Luskentyre providing an almost Caribbean-like scenery (although not the climate!). However, the region is also one of the best places to visit in Scotland in winter, as it provides the chance to see the captivating Northern Lights. 

 

Smoo Cave

 

If you plan to venture all the way up to Sutherland as part of your Scottish holiday route, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the staggering natural wonder that is Smoo Cave. Set just outside of the sleepy village of Durness, this vast sea cave is something to behold. It's also one of the best places to go in Scotland to get a first-hand look at the country's ancient past. Artefacts found at the cave have revealed that it was likely used as a shelter in the Stone Age, and later as a hiding place for smugglers, which is probably how it got its name - the Norse word “smuga” means "hiding place".  

Enter through the 50ft opening, then explore the floodlit cave with its majestic caverns and freshwater streams. Once your inner adventurer has been satisfied, head to one of the pristine nearby beaches, with picture-perfect sandy coves set against the dramatic cliff scenery. If you're staying in the area overnight, be sure to look out for the Northern Lights - this is one of the best places in Scotland to see them. 

 

Achmelvich Bay

 

Now we're nearing the end of Scotland tour, it's time for a bit of R&R. With this in mind, what better place to head to next than the beautiful Achmelvich Bay? This inviting beach lies 40 miles north of Ullapool, and is a popular spot in the warmer months, with opportunities for refreshing ocean dips to invigorate the soul. There is also a plethora of nearby walking trails, as well as more intensive hikes such as the Suilven mountain. 

With a camping and caravan site nearby, this picturesque bay is an ideal spot to stopover for the night. The white sandy beach and clear turquoise waters make a pleasant change from the contrasting mountainous scenery - not that we could ever get bored of that - and there are some lovely harbourside restaurants nearby for the ultimate respite. Those fond of fishing will find ample opportunities here - it's one of the best places to visit in Scotland for anglers, with haddock, cod, and mackerel among the common catches of the day.

 

From dolphin spotting in the Scottish Highlands to wandering the cobbled streets of Edinburgh, Scotland has plenty to add to your itinerary. Whether you are planning your road trip for the height of the summer or the winter months, you'll find memorable stops aplenty as you journey through this country full of history, spectacular scenery and wonderful attractions.  

We hope our guide to some of the best places to visit in Scotland has whetted your appetite. Need a little more inspiration? Maybe our list of the best things to do in Scotland can help.

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