Known for its castles, lake monsters, and the place of Harry Potter’s literary conception, Scotland has a little something for everybody. Whether you’re looking for a good ol’ time in a whiskey distillery or the unspoiled nature of its highlands, you can have it all. Our list dives deep into the Glens (deep valleys in the Highlands) and the best places to visit in Scotland.
1. Explore Edinburgh
To get a feel for the country, why not start in its capital? Edinburgh is known for its many alleyways, and what better way to discover them than a Harry Potter walking tour? If magic is not your cup of tea, and you’d prefer something more down to earth, the grounds of Edinburgh Castle have plenty to explore and discover. Take a tour to see the crown jewels and learn about the battles fought in the last millenia. To top it off? You’ll get one of the best views of the entire city.
2. Dig into the Edinburgh underground
The capital is not only full of great architecture above sea-level, but it also boasts a massive network of dungeons, lairs (and torture chambers). This guided tour will take you through the vaults beneath Old Town that date back to the 1700s. Learn about the darkest secrets and horrifying stories of Edinburgh. If you’re interested in a more theatrical experience, consider this Edinburgh Dungeon experience.
3. Brave the food scene of Inverness
Scotland’s traditional delicacy is the infamous haggis, a minced meat recipe using an animal’s stomach as a cooking bag. The fillings include sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, and some delicious spices along with veggies. Soak it all down with a glass of scotch (or just enjoy the scotch, for the feint of sheep’s heart). Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, has more to offer than mere food though. Its rich history and incredible old buildings will leave you craving for more. Discover the city and its delicious delicacies on a food and drink walking tour.
4. See the best of St. Andrews
Curious to see what can’t be seen? St. Andrews is famous for being one of the most haunted places in the world. Think you’re brave enough to explore? Plenty of tours will take you around the most haunted locations in the city. More than scares and frights, the city is also home to Scotland’s first university and stunning ruins of an old cathedral. Make sure to stop at the coastline for an extra refreshing dip in the North Sea.
5. Make your way to Aberdeen
As Scotland’s third most populous city, you’ll find plenty to do and see in Aberdeen. Known as the Silver City by the Golden Sands, Aberdeen is famous for its gray and granite buildings. Along the beautiful River Dee lies the Royal Deeside, where “everything seems to whisper freedom and peace,” according to Queen Victoria. Experience it for yourself by visiting the Dunnottar Castle on this scenic driving tour.
6. Discover the magical Isle of Skye
Famously known as the land of fairies, Isle of Skye is brimming with nature, beauty, and fairytales. Many visitors come for views of the black rock formations and breathtaking coastline. Of course, any trip to Isle of Skye isn’t complete without a stop at the magical Fairy Pools and its scenic waterfall. If you don’t feel like driving yourself around, plenty of minibus tours will take around the entire island for the day. Once you’ve had your fill of looking for magical creatures, head to Portree for some night activities on the island.
7. Look for Nessie in Loch Ness
What would a trip to Scotland be without a visit to Loch Ness? The mythical Loch Ness monster has attracted millions of explorers over the years since the first reported sighting in 565 A.D.. Pack a pair of binoculars, a blanket, some tasty snacks, and make yourself comfortable by the water. You’ll find plenty of excellent spots for monster watching or relaxing around the lake, like Drumnadrochit or Fort Augustus.
8. Invade the Holy Island
Looking for a place that’s rich with history? Make your way to Holy Island. The first northern invaders of the United Kingdom attacked the island the in 793 A.D. Located just off the eastern coast of the country, the island makes for an excellent day trip from Edinburgh. Fans of Harry Potter and Downton Abbey may recognize the spectacular Alnwick Castle, which was used as a film location for both.
9. Head back in time to the Orkney Islands
Ancient history awaits on the Orkney Islands where “Heart of Neolithic Orkney” is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Let yourself get lost in time visiting the Italian Chapel from WWII. Or dive deeper in the Stone Age village of Skara Brae, which is older than the pyramids themselves. More than just a haven for history lovers, the islands are also an excellent place to spot killer whales.
10. Get classy in Glasgow
Don’t let the Glasgow patter, the hard dialect of Glasgow, intimidate you. This bustling city has plenty to offer, from its unique neighborhoods to a world-class food and drink culture. Looking for a way to warm yourself up for a night on the town? Make a stop at a whisky distillery before digging into the the city’s hip and vibrant nightlife. Sports fans shouldn’t miss Celtic Park Stadium, home to one of Scotland’s most popular football clubs.
11. Steer into Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle is a true source of Scottish national pride. Located near the city of Stirling, this magnificent castle is a sight to behold and a must-see for any trip to Scotland. Walk in the shoes of Renaissance kings, queens, knights, and scholars as you explore the castle grounds. History lovers will love the chance to examine the relics. For fans of the haunted, don’t be surprised if you run into some ghosts on your visit.
12. Lay low in Loch Lomond
Hot summer day? Looking to cool off? Nothing beats getting out to the lake. If you’re looking for the biggest lake in Great Britain, then make sure to stop at the beautiful Loch Lomond. You’ll find mountains, forests, and glens all around you as you make your way around Loch Lomond. For adventure seekers, the lake is the perfect back drop for a hiking trip. Of course, those who would rather relax can soak in the sights from a cruise around the lake.
13. Fall in love with Glencoe
While the history of Glencoe may be bloody, the valley has become a stunning stop for visitors of the Scottish highlands. Located on the western side of the country, the beautiful valleys are a sight to be seen. . Make your way to through the romantic Glencoe Village or make a pit stop at the ruins of Urquhart Castle. You could spend days soaking up the scenery, but the area also makes for an excellent day trip from cities like Edinburgh.
14. Go forth to Fort William
Fort William is a paradise for outdoor sports and activities. Located next to Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the United Kingdom, the highland town is particularly well-known for mountain biking and climbing. Don’t be surprised if you recognize the scenery in Fort William. The surrounding areas of have been used in numerous films, including adding a little magic to the Harry Potter universe. Hop on the Hogwarts Express and steam through the highlands in style.
15. Zoom into Edinburgh Zoo
Only 10 minutes away from the center of Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Zoo features over 1,000 incredible animals. Home to the only giant pandas and koalas in the United Kingdom, you’re guaranteed to see some of the world’s most incredible wildlife. Spend an afternoon visiting with a Sumatran tiger or in a fencing duel with a penguin. An excellent place to visit for families, the zoo will keep you busy for a whole day. Just keep an eye on your snacks, especially around the monkeys.