The Must-See Places in Scotland

The Must-See Places in Scotland

Scotland. The country’s name can evoke a myriad of images. Thick brogue accents barely decipherable to the untrained ear. Mel Gibson’s William Wallace shouting “freedom!” at the top of his lungs. Bagpipes played on a cobblestone street in front of a grand castle. Scotland is a truly magical country, and not just because its national animal is the unicorn! Beyond the cinematic portrayals of its rugged wilderness in popular culture, there are so many must-see places in Scotland. I was privileged enough to live in Scotland while I studied abroad. The country immediately took hold of my heart and has held it tightly ever since. 

Most people’s first impressions of Scotland might be of castles, whisky, and more castles. While that’s not entirely wrong, there is more to explore when visiting Scotland. With 790+ islands, over 1,500 castles, one of the largest populations of redheads, and the birthplace of modern golf, Scotland has so much to offer. A small country, Scotland only takes up about a third of the island collectively known as Great Britain, which further combines with Northern Ireland to form the United Kingdom. (The United Kingdom has been referred to as “a country made up of countries.” It contains Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.) Yet while Scotland itself may be small, it is still a country steeped in history, fantasy, and some of the most breathtaking vistas you could ever lay eyes upon.

Scotland’s Three Areas

Scotland’s geography is typically broken up into three areas: the Lowlands, the Highlands, and the Southern Uplands. However, as we discover and explore the must-see places in Scotland, we’re going to break it up a little differently: the Highlands, the Lowlands, and the islands. Despite having a smaller population than its English neighbor to the south, there are plenty of stops to include on your tour of the beautiful country. Let’s discover some of the must-see places in Scotland!

The Scottish Lowlands

Located in the southeastern portion of the country, the Scottish Lowlands are in fact home to 80% of the population. This is mostly due to its landscape being more hospitable than the wild, rugged hills of the Highlands further north. As the name hints, the Lowlands are the flatter, more gently landscaped portion of the country. Within this area, however, are the two most populous and well-known Scottish cities: Edinburgh—the capital of Scotland—and Glasgow. These two cities will kick off our grand Scottish tour.

Edinburgh

When visiting Scotland, Edinburgh and Glasgow should undoubtedly be at the top of any tourist’s list. First up: Edinburgh (pronounced Eh-din-burr-uh). The hilly capital packs quite a punch, fitting in a wide range of cultural and historical sites within its boundaries. At the top of Castle Hill (aptly named!) is Edinburgh Castle, the military stronghold home to such jewels as, quite literally, Britain’s oldest crown jewels. It’s easy to spend hours exploring the historical site, and it is said that one can never get lost in Edinburgh as long as the castle is in sight!

Another stop in Scotland’s capital is for the outdoorsy—Arthur’s Seat. My first visit to Edinburgh unfortunately did not allow me time for this iconic hike up the ancient volcano. But I made sure to include it on my most recent trip to the iconic city. (The hike had views so spectacular I was a few minutes late for my hotel check-out that morning!). The trek can include some steep moments, but the panoramic view of Edinburgh is well worth the breathless hike.

Glasgow

To the west of Edinburgh, about an hour by train, is Scotland’s most heavily populated city— Glasgow. Glasgow is an industrial city compared to Edinburgh. But it’s nonetheless a bustling spot. Glasgow is filled with cultural sites such as the Botanic Gardens, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, and of course, the University of Glasgow (my study abroad alma mater!). Edinburgh is filled with more classical architecture and cobblestone streets one pictures when imagining, say, Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. Glasgow, on the other hand, is more of the urban site one may imagine when thinking of a typical modern city. Its culture and sites undoubtedly make Glasgow one of the must-sees when visiting Scotland. 

We’ll wrap up our first area of the must-see places in Scotland by heading right to the border of the next region to explore. Loch Lomond (loch being Gaelic for lake)–and the Trossachs National Park in which it is contained–runs along the border of the Lowlands and Highlands. It is also easily accessible by train from Glasgow! A stunning national park, hikes through the park and around the loch offer breathtaking views of nature: the loch, mountains, forests, and local wildlife. This Lowlands stop is certain to whet your appetite for the even more wild landscape of our next place to visit–the Highlands.

The Scottish Highlands

When I was in college, I vividly remember watching Daniel Craig’s Skyfall and falling in love with the scene in which he and M are escaping to his family’s ancestral home in the north of Scotland. Along the way, the two get out of his iconic Aston Martin to take in the views and have a dramatic talk. At this moment, the audience is spoiled with what is possibly my favorite landscape in the world—the rolling mountains of Glencoe, located in the impossibly breathtaking Scottish Highlands. The Highlands, located in the northwest of the country, are truly home to some of the most breathtaking views and important historical sites in the world. For those captivated by beauty and history, the Highlands are truly one of the best places to visit in Scotland.

Beauty, Battles, and Beasts!

With fewer towns and public transportation options, the Highlands may be a little trickier to navigate. But the views and experiences are well worth it. Working your way northward, Glencoe is one of the first must-visit stops for the Scottish Highlands, and the location of that iconic shot from Skyfall. In the valley of the mountains affectionately known as “The Three Sisters,” one can truly feel transported out of time and lose themselves in the peace of nature.

Further north in Inverness, one can continue to find such historical sights as the battlefield of Culloden. Culloden is the famous location of the final uprising of the Jacobite Rising. This bloody fight marked the end of the clan system in Scotland, as well as the banishment of tartan wear. Inverness is also known as the Highlands cultural capital, so a ceilidh (Scottish folk dance) is always easy to find along the city’s quaint streets and numerous pubs! Also near Inverness is the infamous Loch Ness. This is where one can only hope to catch a peek of Scotland’s famous legend, Nessie the Loch Ness Monster. 

The Scottish Highlands are truly one of the best places to visit in Scotland. From its soaring mountains to peaceful lochs, it is home to some of the most stunning views. The Highlands are also home to welcoming hosts, all the way from its Loch Ness monsters to the more friendly Highland coos (cows), a fluffy-haired breed of sturdy cow (my personal favorite animal). If you’re a fan of adventure, scenery, and history, the Highlands are a must-see. 

The Islands

The final area in Scotland’s must-visit list are the Scottish islands, or isles. With over 790 islands surrounding the coast, visitors have their pick when it comes to sampling the lesser-traveled track. One of Scotland’s most famous isles, the Isle of Skye, is home to both legends and legendary views. First up are two of its most famous sights: The Old Man of Storr, and Kilt Rock Walk and Mealt Falls.

Visitors can spend days exploring the Isle of Skye’s landscape. Its capital of Portree is home to some of the best fish and chips available in Scotland. From there, visitors can then continue northward to view one of Scotland’s legends. The Storr–the rocky part of the mountain–is said to be created by a giant who froze, and all that is left is his fingers poking out of the ground. Another hike for the outdoors-inclined, the Scottish weather without a doubt can lend to the further mystical aura surrounding the iconic view. 

Also on the Isle of Skye is Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls–the rock named for its resemblance to the famous Scottish dress wear. One of Scotland’s most famous waterfalls, it is another popular spot for tourists. Take a look at Mealt Falls below, and use your imagination to visualize the kilt in the Kilt Rock cliff further down!

Other Scottish Islands

Legends continue on many of Scotland’s islands, where one can find numerous rock formations that have fascinated historians for centuries. Believed to be used for ceremonies, worship, and more, rock formations are definitely on the top of the list of places to visit in Scotland for the magically inclined. 

Sites such as the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis (the inspiration for the rock circle in the movie Brave) and the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney are sights to behold, and seem to bring one back in time to a magical place. These sights are what help to cement the Scottish Isles as one of the best places to visit in Scotland

The Must-See Places in Scotland: A Country With So Much to Offer

Stunning vistas. Mystical castles. Cinematic landscapes. Legendary sites. It’s not hard to see why Scotland is a must-visit for those wishing to step back in time. It was the country I first visited outside of the United States, and it has truly had my heart ever since. From its bustling Lowlands to its rugged Highlands, to the mystical islands and every fluffy coo in between, visiting Scotland is a trip one will never regret. 

Interested in exploring other magical European destinations? Check out this guide to spending 24 hours in Luxembourg.

18 thoughts on “The Must-See Places in Scotland

  1. This article is a must-read for anyone considering a visit to Scotland. Thanks for such a great review on the top attractions.

  2. My friend just got back from Scotland, and she can’t stop raving about the Highlands. We’re actually planning a trip there next year, so this is perfect.

  3. I was lucky enough to visit Scotland last year, and I was struck by how gorgeous the country is! There’s so much to see.

  4. Hey there! Your guide to the must-see places in Scotland is simply amazing! As someone who’s always dreamed of visiting Scotland, your detailed insights and recommendations have truly inspired me to plan a trip there soon. From the stunning landscapes to the rich history and culture, you’ve captured the essence of Scotland beautifully. I love how you’ve included both popular landmarks and hidden gems, making it the perfect resource for travelers of all kinds. Keep up the fantastic work!

  5. This is a great guide for the must-see places in Scotland. I’ve never been there, but one day perhaps…

  6. Visiting Scotland was an incredible experience! I had the opportunity to explore Edinburgh, and it was truly breathtaking. Can’t wait to go back and discover more of Scotland’s stunning landscapes and rich history! :)

  7. My daughter got married in à Scottish castle south if Edinburgh so we got to tour the city and parts of the Highlands. Then on a cruise we teached the Shetland Islands!

  8. I would love to visit and tour Scotland my Grandma came from Scotland so did my husbands family. So would love to visit at some stage

  9. So many wonderful places to go see in Scotland. I love the idea of visiting the Highlands. It must be so pretty and peaceful there.

  10. We’ve been to Edinburgh quite a few times alongside Aberdeen and Loch Ness but I want to explore so much more. There’s so much to see and so many amazing looking places x

  11. I’m taking a trip to Scotland with my family this summer! We’ve been looking forward to taking a look at the Scottish Highlands but after seeing your list we may have to hit a few more spots.

  12. omg take me to Scotland please…I’ve been planning on exploring this beautiful country forever…Soon I hope.

  13. So many wonderful options for visiting! I like the choices for the city and country regions. Lots of great history and landscapes to explore.

  14. Scotland is a place that I think everyone dreamt of. It has a beautiful landscapes and islands, I really love that this post give me a detaild overview what to expect and what are the cities that are really must see there.

  15. I’ve never been to Scotland before but would love to. Thanks for recommending these places. Adding them to my list of places to see in the country.

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