Planning a trip to the UK and wondering what the best places to visit in Scotland are? A magical little country filled with captivating castles, stunning highlands, quaint little villages, lively pubs worthy of cheers-ing in, and historic cities (like Edinburgh!). To help you plan the best Scotland trip, take a look at this 15 crazy awesome places to visit in Scotland that’ll blow your mind!
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There’s not many places in the world that I love more than Scotland.
With it’s rolling green hills, snow-capped mountains, remote islands dotted along the coast, cascading waterfalls, gorgeous cities, rowdy pubs, and (my personal favorite) the friendly locals with their charming Scottish accents, this small-ish, yet vibrant country packs a lot within its borders!
The first time I visited Scotland in 2017, it immediately became a destination I knew I would return to again and again and again.
Since that incredible trip years ago, Dan (the wanderful boyfriend) and I have visited Scotland more times than I can count.
We road tripped the northern coast, strolled through the Christmas Markets of Edinburgh, wild camped on the Isle of Skye, explored Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, visited extraordinary castles like Eilean Donan, and even found ourselves some baby highland cows!
Sounds absolutely magical, doesn’t it?
If you’re ready to plan your own incredible trip to Scotland, I’m here to help you make sure you see the best of the country by making sure you add these crazy awesome places to your Scotland bucket list!
Ever thought about visiting Wales, UK? To get inspired, check out this post next — 10 best places to visit in Wales!
Table of Contents
- 1 15 BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN SCOTLAND
- 1.1 Edinburgh
- 1.2 The Northern Coast (Scotland 500)
- 1.3 Isle of Skye
- 1.4 Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
- 1.5 Inverness
- 1.6 Eilean Donan Castle
- 1.7 Cairngorms National Park
- 1.8 Glencoe
- 1.9 Culloden Battlefield
- 1.10 Fort Augustus & Loch Ness
- 1.11 Glasgow
- 1.12 Scottish Highlands
- 1.13 John o’ Groats
- 1.14 Ben Nevis
- 1.15 Craigh na Dun (Lassintullich)
15 BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN SCOTLAND
Use this list as a starting point for planning your first Scotland trip! The destinations below are delightful blend of both popular points of interest and more underrated places to visit in Scotland so you can see the best of this beautiful country.
One of my absolute favorite cities in all the world, Edinburgh features everything you could ever want in a destination.
- Captivating history — both dark and light.
- Wondrous architecture and beautiful buildings.
- Friendly pubs perfect for having a refreshing pint in (or some traditional Scotch whisky!).
- Delicious cafes, restaurants, and eateries (I recommend trying some vegan haggis!).
- Amazing tours to uncover what makes Edinburgh unique (including completely FREE tours for those on a budget!).
- Magical Harry Potter sites if you’re a wanna-be wizard!
And so much more. Edinburgh is a place you could spend weeks in discovering all it has to offer and no doubt, as one of the best places to visit in Scotland, it should be high up on your Scotland bucket list!
For a list of the best things to do in Edinburgh, check out this post!
The Northern Coast (Scotland 500)
This one is for all the adventurers who yearn to go off-the-beaten path and discover the true, rough beauty of Scotland!
The North Coast 500, or the Scotland 500 road trip, is a scenic route encompassing 500-ish miles of rugged landscapes, sea views, magical mountains, castles, wild terrain, heritage sites, quaint Scottish villages, and more.
A seriously overlooked region of Scotland, I find most travelers completely disregard the very northern bit and flock to the more well-known places, like Isle of Skye and Loch Ness, but believe me when I say, it is 100% worth a visit!
The views of the sea alone are breathtaking, let alone the weather-beaten landscapes and wild mountains.
Isle of Skye
No doubt, the Isle of Skye is one of the most popular destinations in Scotland. And with good reason!
With endless rolling hills, gorgeous sea views, colorful villages, charming farming communities, adorable Scottish pubs, and otherworldly landscapes, the Isle of Skye has to be on your list of places to visit in Scotland — especially if it’s your first trip here!
I personally loved exploring the colorful village of Portree, Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls, Museum of Island Life (SO COOL!), and Dunvegan Castle!
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park is one of the best places to visit in Scotland if you’re looking for great outdoor activities!
Whether you’re into kayaking, hiking, boating, strolling through lush forests, sailing, paddle-boarding, gorgeous castles, camping, or another nature-loving activity, this is a marvelous destination in Scotland.
But that’s not all this gorgeous national park has to offer!
There’s also cool castles, adorable towns, fun distilleries, and amazing boat cruises that take travelers around the beautiful Loch Lomond, which is the main lake in the park.
Are you a big fan of national parks? Check out this post on hiking Loughrigg Fell near Ambleside in the Lake District National Park in England!
Typically overshadowed by the larger cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, Inverness is Scotland’s northernmost city and is often just a jumping off point for those exploring the rugged northern region.
However, Inverness still makes this list of the best places to visit in Scotland because while it might not be as gorgeous as Edinburgh or as hip as Glasgow, it still has its charms!
Strolling along the River Ness, walking through its quaint streets, marveling at the architecture, tantalizing your taste buds at Scottish restaurants, browsing at quaint local-owned shops, visiting the beautiful Inverness Castle, admiring flora at the Botanic Gardens, and so much more.
Eilean Donan Castle
Another iconic Scotland attraction that you’ll often find high up on the list of the best places to visit in this magical country, the Eilean Donan Castle is hands down one of the most beautiful castles I’ve ever seen and visited!
While it doesn’t have the traditional beauty of many other European castles, Eilean Donan Castle is perched upon its own rocky island (its name actually translates as “island of Donan”) and features a dark, weather-beaten exterior.
It’s also situated between the fierce lakes of Loch Alsh and Loch Duich, and surrounded by the rugged hills of the highlands, which lends to this classic Scotland attraction’s dramatic setting.
If you’re a lover of all things castles, why not visit Wales? Known as “The Land of Castles,” Wales has so much to offer! Check out my 33 reasons to visit Wales for more inspo.
Cairngorms National Park
Are you a wildlife lover? Or maybe just need an off-the-grid getaway after visiting the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow?
This is a one of the best places to do so in Scotland! In fact, Cairngorms National Park is the UK’s largest national park, so you know there’s so much amazingness to discover here.
A magical place where you’ll find countless wildlife (even reindeers!), infinite hikes, and breathtaking highland views you’ll no doubt want to take endless photos of.
Alternatively, if you’re visiting Scotland in the winter and craving a cheeky ski trip, Cairngorms National Park is the perfect place to hit the slopes!
Glencoe and its stunning landscapes are quintessentially Scotland and everything you would expect to see in this beautiful country!
At every turn in the road and as you round every hill, your breath will be taken away again and again (and probably again). I honestly can’t believe I didn’t break my neck from craning it out the window while admiring the views when driving through Glencoe!
When traveling around the area of Glencoe, don’t miss out on visiting the Three Sisters of Glencoe and the Wee White House (also known as Lagangarbh Hut)!
Even better, if you have a tent or a car you can sleep in, wild camping in Glencoe is absolutely amazing!
Dan (the wanderful boyfriend) and I wild camped near Loch Etive, which is not far from the Three Sisters. It was a magical experience to say the least! We were completely alone and went to sleep under a sky full of sparkling stars and woke up to deer grazing along the water.
If you’re a history lover, then Culloden Battlefield is a must-visit place in Scotland for you!
The Battle Of Culloden happened on April 16th, 1746 as the last effort of the Jacobites to regain the British Throne for Stuart King James II (and preserve the Scottish Culture).
In fact, the Battle of Culloden was the last battle ever to take place on British soil! And it only took around 46 minutes from start to finish. Crazy, right?
It took place between King George II’s army of 8,000 men and the Jacobites army of 6,000 men. In the end, historians guess only 300 British soldiers died, while 1,500 to 2,000 Jacobites lost their lives.
These days, gravestones line the grounds that are marked with historic clan names, like Clan Macdonald, Clan Maclachlan, and Clan Fraser (Outlander, anyone?).
As someone who both loves history and the show Outlander, it was a joy (and a bit of a downer, but in a good, learning sort of way) to visit the Culloden Battlefield and visitor centre.
Fort Augustus & Loch Ness
A small, picturesque village in Scotland, Fort Augustus sits nestled against the far west site of Loch Ness and is such an underrated gem!
One of the top places to visit in Scotland, Fort Augustus features quaint little local shops, delicious eateries with tantalizing smells wafting out the front doors, sparkling canals with boats bobbing in the blue waters, and breathtaking views of endless Loch Ness!
While I only had just a few hours in Loch Ness when on a 3-day tour around Scotland, I so dearly wished I had more time in this adorable place! (And maybe a bit more time to search for the notorious Nessie lurking about in Loch Ness…)
The city of Glasgow, which is the largest in Scotland, is like the more rowdy little sister to the city of Edinburgh.
While Edinburgh is refined and elegant with an often dark sense of humor, Glasgow is a vibrant and bustling busy-bee with a short attention span but an alluring and captivating personality!
Metaphors aside, Glasgow is truly spectacular and has so much to offer, especially if you’re a city-break type of traveler!
Here are some of the best attractions and sites to see in Glasgow:
- Glasgow Cathedral
- The Necropolis
- George Square and the City Chambers
- Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
- The medieval Provand’s Lordship
- University of Glasgow (SUCH a beauty!)
- Glasgow Botanic Gardens
There are so many more things to do in Glasgow but this list features some of the best, which can all be seen if you only have a short time in the city!
Okay, so I know a couple other destinations on this list are *technically* located in the Scottish Highlands but this region deserves a spot of its own!
Aside from the popular locations of Eilean Donan Castle, Fort Augustus and Loch Ness, and Inverness, the Scottish Highlands encompass a whole bunch of other adorable villages, crazy good walks and hikes, stunning viewpoints, spectacular lochs (lakes), and so much more.
If you’re wanting to get off the Scotland tourist trail and uncover your own little slice of heaven in this wondrous country, I recommend renting a car and going into the heart of the Scottish Highlands.
Veer off the main roads and venture into smaller, lesser-known places like Glenfinnan, Applecross, Plockton, and Kylesku. You won’t be disappointed!
John o’ Groats
John o’ Groats is the northernmost post in mainland UK and is often a place many stop at when embarking on the North Coast 500 road trip!
Though it’s a pretty touristy destination, I still think it’s one of the best places to visit in Scotland because of its unique location.
Also, it’s a great place if you want to visit some of the more unique Scottish islands! (Like the Shetland Islands, very much know for their Shetland ponies.)
Not to mention, it has a beloved mileage sign stating how far popular places around the world are from John o’ Groats! Cool, right? I love these quirky little signs!
If you’re an experienced hiker and want to tack on some miles while traveling around and visiting the best places in Scotland, I highly recommend climbing Ben Nevis.
At 1,345 meters (4,412 feet), Ben Nevis is the tallest mountain in the UK and as you climb to its summit, the hike delivers breathtaking views of the surrounding Grampian Mountain Range, deep valleys dotted with sparkling lochs, and the whimsical Scottish Highlands.
However, unless it’s a crystal clear day, you’ll often find the summit is blanketed by thick clouds and — sometimes — a dense fog that hides any views from the top!
Nonetheless, the satisfaction and views during the hike are nothing to pass up if you’re into this type of activity.
For a more personal story on what climbing Ben Nevis is like, as well as essential tips if you do embark on hiking this mountain, I recommend reading this detailed blog on hiking Ben Nevis from Shing at The Culture Map!
Craigh na Dun (Lassintullich)
This one is particularly for all my fellow Outlander fans out there!
Craigh na Dun, which is closely located to the small town of Lassintullich, is where you’ll find the shooting location for the stone circle. And yes, it’s just as magical in person as it is on the TV show!
So, if you’re wanting to make all your friends and family who also watch Outlander jealous, I recommend making a quick stop at this gorgeous place when driving from Edinburgh to the north, such as Inverness or Loch Ness.
It’s not too far off the A9, which is the main highway that heads north from Edinburgh! Not to mention, the scenery around Craigh na Dun is absolutely stunning. Totally worth a quick pit stop and photo op!
Top Tips for a Scotland Trip
Below you’ll find a quick overview of my top tips for having an exceptionally awesome and memorable trip to Scotland!
Where should you stay in Scotland?
This totally depends on how many days you have in Scotland, as well as the top places you really want to visit.
If flying into Scotland, the major cities of Edinburgh or Glasgow are usually the easiest. From there you can easily reach the rest of the country by rental car (which is hands down the simplest way to travel Scotland).
Some great towns and villages to stay in around the north of Scotland are:
- Fort William (great base for Ben Nevis hikers!)
- On the Isle of Skye — Portree (very popular), Dunvegan, or near Carbost
- Ullapool (North Highlands near the coast)
- Inverness (known as the “Capital of the Highlands” and a great jumping off point)
What’s the best way to get around Scotland?
As mentioned above, I definitely think the best way to get around Scotland is by car. (Or rental car.)
This gives you the freedom to see the more underrated and lesser-visited places in Scotland that other travelers on a tour bus or public transportation can’t get to!
How much time should you spend in Scotland?
I recommend at least one week. This gives you enough time to see some of the best places in Scotland and to not feel so rush while doing so!
I don’t know about you but I loathe feeling rushed and like I’m always out of time. This ensures I’m never fully relaxed on a trip or fully present in the moment. Not fun!
However, if you are short on time and don’t want to do it all yourself, there are a plethora of exceptional tours you can go on to make things easy!
This takes the planning off your shoulders and allows you to just relax and let the tour bus take you around Scotland!
I personally went on a 3-day tour around the Isle of Skye, Highlands, and Loch Ness when I first visited Scotland and it was SO nice to just let other people take care of the trip details! Not to mention, having a knowledgeable tour guide to share interesting info and the history about locations is incredible.
Here are a few highly-rated tours that visit some of the places on this list:
- From Edinburgh: 3-day Isle of Skye, Highlands & Loch Ness
- North Coast 500: 3-Day Small-Group Tour from Inverness
- From Glasgow: Scottish Highlands & Isle of Skye 5-Day Tour
- Edinburgh 5-Day Tour of Loch Ness, Isle of Skye & Highlands
- From Edinburgh: 3-Day Isle of Skye and The Highlands Tour
What are some packing essentials for Scotland?
With its turbulent and unpredictable weather, as well as the sometimes rough terrain and rugged environment, it’s important to pack these essentials for your Scotland trip!
- Lightweight rain jacket (bring on the unpredictable weather!). I love the Columbia rain jackets!
- Comfortable shoes — For fall/winter, I brought walking boost; for summer/spring, I brought comfortable sandals & slip-ons.
- Hair band if you have long hair — Scotland can be windyyy!
- Small backpack — perfect for day trips and holding all your things in! (Check out this post on the best vegan day trip bags, including backpacks!)
- High-quality camera — I use and recommend the Sony mirrorless cameras! They’re lightweight and produce beautiful photos.
- Reusable water bottle — Don’t be that tourist who only drinks from single-use plastic water bottles! Bring your own and be a more sustainable traveler. I love my GRAYL filtering water bottle. (I filled it up from fresh mountain streams in Scotland!)
Whoa whoa whoa! What a whopper of a post, amirite?
Now you might be a little overwhelmed when planning a trip to Scotland but this list of the best places to visit in the country should help you narrow down the top destinations and attractions you want to add to your Scotland Bucket List.
Tell me, which of these crazy awesome places in Scotland do you want to visit first?!
When I head back to Scotland (hopefully later this year!), I plan on going off-the-grid in Cairngorms National Park or getting my hike on at Ben Nevis!
Use the comment section below to share your favorites on this list and when you plan on visiting Scotland in the future!
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- 3 fantastic, lesser-known alternatives for popular UK destinations
- Road tripping through southern England and the often forgotten country of Wales
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