Last updated on October 29th, 2019
In this post, I wanted to share with you 15+ epic places to visit in Scotland for your ultimate Scotland bucket list. Scotland is stunning and if you haven’t been there yet, I hope that you will plan your trip very soon!
If you’re new to this blog, hi, my name is Liza. I’m currently based in London, however, I used to live in Scotland for over 1.5 years. Edinburgh is still one of my favourite places on Earth and I miss it a lot. However, I also love London and feel like home there. Even though I lived in Scotland, I still haven’t been everywhere in Scotland. As I was studying full-time and then working, I didn’t have a chance to visit some hard-to-reach islands and many of the amazing places in Scotland. That’s why, for this post, I teamed out with fellow travel bloggers to write the most extensive post on the best cities, nature spots and islands to visit in Scotland.
By the way, if you only have 7 days in Scotland, you can read my post about the optimal itinerary for a week in Scotland >>> Also, if you’re wondering, what to pack for Scotland, here’s my Scotland packing list
So without further ado, let’s get started!
15+ epic places to visit Scotland for your Scotland travel bucket list!
I will start this post with my suggestions on places to visit in Scotland and then, I will feature fellow travel bloggers’ suggestions. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, however, it’s not the biggest city in Scotland (Glasgow is). Edinburgh is a pretty compact Medieval student city with 4 huge universities. I was very lucky to have studied at the University of Edinburgh – it was an excellent experience.
Edinburgh is very touristy and that’s for a reason. The skyline of Edinburgh is dominated by the stunning Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s seat, from where you can see a stunning panorama of the city. Some of the best views of Edinburgh, you can also see from Calton Hill that looks like something straight out of a fairytale. I can go on about Edinburgh for hours, however, instead, I can share my Ultimate Guide to Edinburgh and a link to Edinburgh posts category, where you can find all the 25+ posts I’ve written about Edinburgh and Scotland. Make sure to add Edinburgh to your Scotland bucket list.
2. Scottish Highlands
Another place that I consider a “must” and a bucket list destination in Scotland is the Highlands. You probably need a week to explore Highlands properly and do all the hikes, however, if you’re short on time, you can do a day road trip around Scottish Highlands (like we did) and visit all the highlights including gorgeous lakes, mountains and villages.
You can easily rent a car and start your trip from Edinburgh or Glasgow. It’s not too far from there.
I won’t talk a lot about Highlands and will share some of my best photos instead:
Ready to add Highlands to your Scotland bucket list?
3. The Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is probably the most famous island in Scotland and one of the best islands to visit in Scotland for sure. In recent years, it became more and more famous, partially because of Instagram. Some of the best content creators and photographers travelled to the Isle of Skye and shared their imagery online and suddenly everybody wanted to visit this place with stunning (almost unearthly) landscapes. Again, you can spend a week exploring the Isle of Skye if you want, however, we managed to visit the Isle of Skye during a weekend) – read more about our experience in the Isle of Skye here.
4. St. Andrews
Another beautiful city to visit in Scotland is St. Andrews. St. Andrews is famous for its university (the first University of Scotland), where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have studied, met and started dating. However, St. Andrews is a beautiful city by itself. It’s a lovely seaside city with a beautiful 12th-century Cathedral and 13th-century castle. It’s also a great destination for golf lovers. You can easily spend 1/2 day in St. Andrews and combine it with other beautiful places nearby.
Scotland is the land of castles, but Dunrobin deserves a special mention for its unique design. Located in Golspie in the Highlands, the castle is one of the stunning attractions along the N500, the scenic route around the North Coast of Scotland. Dunrobin’s location is superb, and the castle impressive. Dating back to the early 1300s it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited houses in Great Britain.
Different from the Scottish famous medieval castles, Dunrobin resembles a French Chateau with 189 rooms. In front of the property, a manicured garden completes the landscape making the perfect connection between the fairytale castle and the sea. The castle is open for visitors from April 1st to October 31st, from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm, during Summer the visiting hours can be extended. The entrance includes a visit to the castle interior, the gardens, the museum and also the falconry display that happens daily at 11:30 am and 2 pm. My recommendation is to arrive after midday and spend the afternoon strolling around. For an afternoon tea with freshly baked scones go to the tea room in the castle.
When planning your visit to Dunrobin Castle add a stop or sleep in Dornoch, the town is only 10 minutes driving from the castle and the perfect place to spend the night before or after your visit
Submission and gorgeous photo from Natalie Deduck from Love and Road
Bennachie in Aberdeenshire
Bennachie in Aberdeenshire is a range of hills with multiple summits to climb. The two highest, Oxen Craig (1,733ft) and Mither Tap (1,699ft), offer incredible views over the Cairngorms to the west and the epic landscapes all around. Bennachie isn’t just about the views, though. As you explore its trails, you’ll be surrounded by nature. The smell of the trees fills the air and the sounds of wildlife will remind you that you’re never alone, even though you may well have the area all to yourself. Bennachie makes for a short but mostly easy hike, with multiple routes and trails to enjoy. The trails range from 45-minute options to all-day hikes covering 18.5km, so there’s something to suit every individual and itinerary. Many of the summits and viewpoints in Bennachie are easy enough that anyone with a basic fitness level can enjoy the incredible views, both from the top of the summits and along the way. It’s a great way to warm up for your trip to the Scottish Highlands or get your bearings at the start of a trip to Aberdeenshire.
Submission and beautiful photo by Jodie from Alajode
Isle of Staffa
Scotland’s tiny Isle of Staffa is one of those places that seems like it can’t be real. The tiny (.12 square mile) piece of rock is surrounded as far as the eye can see by water, and rises up dramatically out of nowhere.
The island is part of Scotland’s Inner Hebrides (off the west coast), near the islands of Iona, Mull, and Ulva. It’s famous for its beautiful black hexagonal basalt rock columns, as well as being the home of Fingal’s Cave (also called the Cave of Melodies). The composer Mendelssohn made the cave famous when he wrote his “Hebrides Overture” after visiting it and hearing the acoustics and how the waves interacted with the rock. Sing a few bars yourself to hear how it works!
To visit Staffa, you have to book a boat trip from either the isles of Iona or Mull or Oban on the mainland, and the boat trips are very weather-dependent. As a bonus to seeing the island, you’ll likely get to see lots of adorable chubby seals throughout the trip. And if you time your trip right, you may get super lucky and see all the puffins that come to nest on Staffa!
Text and photo of the Isle of Staffa by Jessica from One Girl, Whole World
The Isle of Islay (pronounced eye-la) is by far one of the most popular islands to explore in Scotland, and while there is a lot to find on the island, Islay is foremost famous for its distinctive peat smoked Scotch whiskies and its 8 fully functioning whisky distilleries. It is whisky heaven. To reach the island there are regular boats from Kennacraig to Islay serving both cars and foot passengers. And while the car option is recommended to make the most of the island, it is possible to explore by foot, and the perfect start would be from Port Ellen following the “3 Distilleries Walk” where a 3-mile walking path connects 3 of Islay’s more famous distilleries at Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg along the south coast of the island. Otherwise, the island is wild and sparse, dotted with quaint fishing villages, seemingly endless peat bogs, and rugged shores and coastlines. It is just a fascinating escape for a day-trip from the mainland.
Submission and photo by Allan Wilson from It’s Sometimes Sunny in Bangor
One of the most beautiful, historic, and underrated places to visit in Scotland would have to be the stunning Orkney Islands off the north coast of the country. An archipelago consisting of over seventy islands, Orkney is the place to visit in Scotland if you’re after a pastoral escape, stunning natural scenery, and incredible ancient history.
While there are dozens of islands to explore in Orkney, most visitors will concentrate on the biggest and most populous island — referred to as Mainland. Mainland Orkney is home to the islands two largest towns, Kirkwall and Stromness, along with some incredibly interesting Neolithic sites.
Some of the top sites in Orkney include the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, the excellently preserved Neolithic village of Skara Brae. Further afield on the island of South Ronaldsay lies eerie Tomb of the Eagles and the iconic Italian chapel. If you’re interested in trying local spirits while in Orkney, Highland Park Distillery offers numerous tours per day and it is one of the few distilleries in Scotland that continues to malt their own barley. I would also recommend stopping by the Orkney Brewery to sample some of their award-winning craft beers.
While many people only visit Orkney as a day trip — or not at all — there is so much to see and do on the islands that visitors could easily fill numerous days and barely scratch the surface.
Submission and photo by Maggie from The World Was Here First
Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park
Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park boasts of natural beauty and it is a real paradise for outdoor lovers. Thanks to its location it makes a great day trip from Edinburgh or Glasgow. You can take the train to Balloch, which has a lot of things to do. TreeZone is a fun place for adventure seekers. The Loch Lomond Sea Life Aquarium and the Bird of Prey Centre offers a fun, educational trip for families with children.
People who enjoy an active holiday can try canoeing or kayaking on the lake. There are many rental places on the shore. Loch Lomond also has several hiking trails and cycling paths. Duncryne hill is an easy hike, which offers some of the most scenic views in the area. If you feel more energetic you can climb The Cobbler Arrochar.
Wild camping in Loch Lomond is another fantastic way to get close to nature. Just remember to get a permit before pitching your tent!
Submission and photo by Eniko from Travel Hacker Girl
Lerwick & the Shetland Islands
One of the most epic places to visit in Scotland is definitely Lerwick, in the Shetland Islands.
At the same time we were planning our trip to Scotland last year we began watching an awesome television show – Shetland, a police procedural that takes place in the Shetland Islands. When we realized how easy it would be to get to the Shetland Islands from Scotland, we knew we had to go!
Lerwick is the biggest town in Shetland and the centre of commerce for the Islands. It’s an absolutely stunning little city of around 7000 inhabitants. There are many significant buildings in Shetland, including 345 listed buildings – quite a few for such a small place!
We had so much fun on our Lerwick visit, and I can’t stop thinking about the absolutely stunning scenery of the Shetland Islands, not to mention the super-friendly people, great food and the epic number of sheep! I really recommend that you visit yourself.
Submission and photo by Lesley from Freedom 56 Travel
Another place to add to your Scotland travel bucket list is Oban. The harbour town of Oban, in Scotland’s Western Highlands, is both a destination and a starting point. Oban’s setting is majestic. The town’s stately Victorian buildings line its horseshoe-shaped bay against the backdrop of the mighty Ben More. Its horizon is fringed by distant islands, and on a clear day you can make out the mist-capped mountains of Mull.
It is also food and drink heaven. The self-proclaimed ‘Seafood Capital of
Scotland’, Oban boasts a fantastic choice of eating options for a town of its
size. These include MacGillivray’s Seafood, operating out of a van parked by the harbour, excellent fish and chip shops and more upscale restaurants. The town is home to one of Scotland’s oldest, and smallest, whisky distilleries. Join one of Oban Distillery’s guided tours to learn more about the amber nectar and to sample a dram or two. Finally, Oban is also the gateway to the romantic Hebridean islands. Visit Mull or Iona on an easy day trip, or take an adventure to a more far-flung island. Whatever you do, prepare to be spellbound.
Great submission from Bridget at The Flashpacker
Lewis and Harris (Scotland’s Outer Hebrides)
If you’re looking for windswept coastlines, ancient towers, magical rings of standing stones, and beautiful Scottish beaches, then you need look no further than the Isle of Lewis and Harris.
Lewis and Harris is technically considered one island in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, but it’s really more like two different islands with different landscapes that are connected. So when you visit, it’s basically two-for-one in terms of epic Scottish islands.
Highlights on Lewis and Harris include visiting ancient sites like the Callanish Standing Stones and Dun Carloway on Lewis, and beautiful beaches like Luskentyre on Harris. (Luskentyre Beach looks like it belongs in the Caribbean instead of Scotland, and has more than once been featured on lists of the best beaches in the world.)
And, unlike some other Scottish islands that can be tricky to get to, Lewis and Harris is fairly easy to reach: getting there just requires a 3-hour ferry ride from Ullapool on the Scottish mainland.
Submission and lovely Highland coo photo by Amanda from A Dangerous Business
If you’re planning a visit to Scotland, then it’s likely you’ve considered a stop by Loch Ness. While best known as the home of Nessie, Loch Ness is actually one of the most epic places to visit in Scotland. Most people choose to simply stop by Fort Augustus for a quick photo or take a cruise from there or Inverness. But if you choose to spend the night and really get to know the place, you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise.
Base yourself in Drumnadochit, a small village on the western banks of Loch Ness for one or two nights. From there, you can visit the famous Urquhart Castle for stunning views over the loch and a bit of history. A short guided walking tour is included in the ticket price.
Of course, you can’t miss the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition, a museum which features scientific explanations about the formation of Loch Ness and tracks the history of its famous monster, laying out the case for why she may or may not be real.
In addition to the castle and all of the Nessie-themed sights, Loch Ness is a great spot for relaxing country walks.
Submission and photo by Addie from Addie Abroad
We visited Iona, Mull, and the Isle of Skye on a mission to trace my family history in the Scottish Islands and Highlands. The Iona Abbey was originally founded by Saint Columba (521-597), an Irish missionary credited with spreading Christianity in what is now Scotland. Widely considered among the world’s most sacred pilgrimage sites for Christians, the Abbey was a dominant religious and political institution for centuries. The abbey is most famous as the place where part of the Book of Kells – a lushly illustrated calligraphy masterpiece containing four gospels of the New Testament– was created. When the Vikings came from Norway to pillage Christian treasures in the 9th century, the sacred book was secretly transported to Ireland to be finished: It remains at Trinity College in Dublin to this day. Visiting Iona Abbey makes a great day trip from Oban or Skye for Christians and history lovers alike, offering a chance to see stunning high crosses, ancient religious relics, an excellent historical museum, and a small graveyard where ancient Scottish kings were buried.
Submission and image by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel.
As Scotland’s largest and most dynamic city, Glasgow offers something for everyone. Situated on the River Clyde, Glasgow has transformed itself from once a mighty city of industry, with shipbuilding at its core to a major travel destination.
A vibrant university city, Glasgow has an active art scene found in its museums and on the walls of its buildings. The city’s Clydeside area, once home to shipping now features museums, a whiskey distillery, and entertainment venue hosting concerts and performances. Sports fans visiting Glasgow can take in one of the biggest rivalries in sports when the city’s two football teams, Celtic and Rangers, do battle on the pitch. For food lovers, Glasgow cooks up classic Scottish pub-grub favourites like haggis and features a number of Michelin star restaurants. Whisky tasting in Glasgow is alone a reason to visit. There is a new distillery located within the city limits as well as some historic and classic whisky pubs. There’s also locally brewed craft beer and a budding cocktail scene. There’s a little something for everyone.
Submission by Amber from Food Drink Destinations
Glenfinnan Viaduct (Harry Potter bridge)
If you’re travelling Scotland with anyone under the age of 20 (and possibly under the age of 40!) you’re going to want to add Glenfinnan viaduct to your UK road trip itinerary.
The Glenfinnan Viaduct is a 19th-century railway viaduct on the line between Fort William and Mallaig. Located at the top of Loch Shiel, it gently curves around the top of the loch in a sweeping arc.
But you’ll probably know it best as the train bridge from Harry Potter- or the bridge Ron Weasley flew his Dad’s car over. Glenfinnan Viaduct appeared in 4 of the Harry Potter films, and during the summer you can ride the Jacobite Steam train (Hogwarts Express) which travels over the bridge, offering stunning views across Loch Shiel and the Glenfinnan monument.
Parking is easy at the viaduct, and it’s a short walk up to the best viewing area, although you can also walk closer to the bottom if you wish. TOP TIP – get there EARLY. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in western Scotland-and in summer months gets VERY crowded.
Submission by Kat from Wandering Bird
The Kelpies are located halfway between Edinburgh and Glasgow in Falkirk Scotland. These huge horse head statues stand 30 meters tall and represent the mythical shape-shifting creatures living in Scottish lochs and waterways. Kelpies most often appear in the form of a horse though they can also be human.
Designed by Andy Scott and unveiled in 2013 the sculptures are the main attraction in the town’s Helix Park. Easy to reach by road or train the statues can be explored from the outside or pay extra to peek inside with a guided tour.
Don’t miss the Falkirk Wheel which can also be found in Helix Park and is a rotating boat lift which connects the Forth and Clyde canal with the Union Canal.
Submission and image by Tracy from Tracy Travels in Time
Sandwood Bay is the spit of sand found on the extremes of Scotland’s north-west coast. This is the wild, untouched, and unspoiled Scottish beach that you’ve dreamed of. Start swimming from here and the land you’ll next reach is Iceland. There are no roads to Sandwood Bay. Surprising, considering it’s regularly voted one of Britain’s finest beaches. So unless you have a boat and a captain mad enough to brave the ferocious Atlantic waves, you’ll need to walk.
From Blaimore car park it’s an easy 4-mile trek. From Cape Wrath, the 8 miles you cover are through boggy, pathless terrain. Otherwise, you’ll find it towards the end of your challenging Cape Wrath Trail.
However you choose to get there, all 1.6 miles of Sandwood Bay are unforgettable, the setting spectacular. There are sand dunes behind you and fresh sea mist in the air. The crumbling Am Buachille sea stack haunts your view to the south while pulsating waves sink ancient shipwrecks even further in to the seabed. There’s rumoured to be Viking longships and Spanish treasures buried in the sand.
The atmosphere is unique, mesmerising. Sandwood Bay is quiet, calm and littered with ghosts. Your only company will be the quiet sound of waves lapping on to the beautiful shore; the coastal winds scattering delicate sand. Or, perhaps the local mermaid will keep you company instead.
Spending the night here (wild camping or at Strathchailleach Bothy) and you’ll begin to appreciate just how far you are from anything. Britain’s most north-westerly point is just around the corner. It’s well worth the effort and one of the top things to do on any trip to Scotland.
Submission and photo by Daniel from WITRAG travel
Dunfermline is a pretty sleepy little town nowadays, but at one time it was the capital of Scotland. There’s plenty here for history buffs to enjoy, with the main attraction being Dunfermline Palace and Abbey. The abbey is the older of the two and was originally built in the 11th century. It holds the tombs of a number of Scottish kings, including Robert the Bruce.
The palace was added later on, in the 16th century, and shortly thereafter the whole place was ransacked during the Scottish Reformation. What remains now lies in ruins, but this makes it all the more atmospheric. On top of the old chancel and transept, a new church has been built. This one is fully operational, so you can attend a service there if you like.
And if you really want some peace and quiet, consider basing yourself in the nearby village of Crossford, from where you can walk to Dunfermline in about 45 minutes. It’s home to a very aptly named B&B, called the Cosy Vegan. This is Scotland’s first fully vegan B&B, and the atmosphere is certainly cosy and welcoming.
Submission by Wendy from The Nomadic Vegan
Well, I hope you enjoyed this post about the most beautiful places to visit in Scotland and created your own personal Scotland bucket list! Should you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!