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The best places to visit in Scotland

The best places to visit in Scotland

Where are the best places to visit in Scotland? The Isle of Skye, Eilean Donan Castle, Loch Ness and the North Coast 500 are all rightly famous Scotland places to visit. 

However, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of blindly following a top ten list and missing out on the really good stuff – and then taking the same photos as everyone else! 

If you are looking for places to go in Scotland that are a wee bit off the beaten track, here are my best places to visit in Scotland.

East Neuk of Fife - best places to visit in Scotland

My top 10 places to visit in Scotland

Looking for where to go in Scotland? Here are my top 10…

  1. Suilven and Stac Pollaidh – climb these magnificent mountains on the far north-west coast of Scotland – Lochinver is one of the most beautiful places in Scotland.
  2. The East Neuk of Fife – I would argue that the East Neuk fishing villages on the eastern corner of Fife are Scotland’s prettiest places to visit
  3. Glen Affric – the 11-mile hike around Glen Affric, one of Scotland’s remotest glens is one of my favourite hikes in Scotland
  4. Sanna Bay – looking for Scotland’s best beach? Let me introduce you to Sanna and Ardnamurchan – one of Scotland’s hidden gems and one of the best views in Scotland
  5. The Isle of Islay – Whether it’s the stunning wild landscapes or the cask strength Islay whisky, there is something about Islay that grabs your heart and holds on
  6. The Moray Firth coast – with picturesque harbour villages, waves crashing over towering sea cliffs and incredible changing light, exploring the Moray Firth coast is stunning
  7. Orkney – stone-age villages, huge seascapes, a vibrant arts culture and a genuinely warm welcome, a trip to Orkney is a dip into 5000 years of history. Love history? Orkney is one of the best places to visit Scotland
  8. Torridon –  if you are a hillwalker, then Torridon in Wester Ross should be top of your list of places to go in Scotland. All that marks the village of Torridon is a string of white cottages dwarfed by arguably the UK’s best mountains – there are 9 incredible Munros to climb
  9. The lochs of the Cairngorms National Park– deep in the heart of the Cairngorms, surrounded by huge Caledonian pines are beautiful lochs – my favourites are Loch an Eileen and Loch Morlich, and,
  10. Handa Island – a breeding ground for over 200 pairs of puffins, great skuas, kittiwakes and guillemots – with stunning views of the Assynt mountains, Handa Island is one of the best places to go in Scotland if you like birdwatching.

Read on for more of my recommended places in Scotland

How to get off the beaten track to see the real Scotland…

The fairy lochs of the Cairngorms National Park

The Cairngorms National Park is one of the best places in Scotland for a holiday. Deep in the heart of the Cairngorms in the ancient Glenmore Forest and surrounded by huge Caledonian pines are two beautiful lochs.

The most famous, Lochan Uaine, is said to have got its green hue from the local fairies washing their clothes in it and the walk up to green lochan is a great walk for families on a well-made trail. 

Did you know that Scotland’s highest beach is also in the Cairngorm National Park? The beautiful Loch Morlich is one of the best places to visit Scotland on a summer’s day for watersports and sunbathing – and is surrounded for much of the year by snow-topped peaks. The loch is also supposedly home to Big Donald – the king of all the fairies! 

Read More: How to visit the Cairngorms and walk to Lochan Uaine by Walkhighlands.

best places to go in Scotland

Hike from Glencoe to Glen Nevis

The walk from Glencoe to Glen Nevis might be a marathon distance and take in 5000 ft of hill climbing, but the views through Scotland’s most famous glen make for an incredible day out.

Passing the mighty Buachaille Etive Beag, follow the famous West Highland way to Kinlochleven and then to the very foot of Ben Nevis in the beautiful Glen Nevis – with views of Scotland’s highest mountain and the mighty Mamores all the way. Scotland at its best. 

Read more the best day hikes in Scotland.

best places to visit in Scotland

The Hills of the Trossachs

Rising above Loch Katrine and nearby Loch Achray in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park are two of Scotland’s most popular hills. 

Ben A’an is described by many hillwalkers as the perfect hill and is a ‘mountain in miniature’ – you only have to climb 454m (1500ft) for one of the best views in Scotland. On the other side of the glen is Ben Venue, one of my favourite hills in Scotland. Ok, so you have to work for it a little harder for the view – Ben Venue at 729m is a bit higher than Ben A’an but it is so worth it. 

Read more the best hills in Scotland for beginners.

best places to visit in Scotland

The wildlife paradise of Handa Island

Just off the tip of the north-west coast lies Handa, one of Scotland’s most beautiful islands and a nationally important wildlife reserve. Owned by the Scourie Estate and managed in partnership with the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Handa is a breeding ground for over 200 pairs of puffins, great skuas, kittiwakes and guillemots – with stunning views of the Assynt mountains and one of Scotland’s best beaches – which is why Handa makes this list of best places to visit in Scotland. 

Take the tiny ferry across to the island and spend a blissful few hours exploring. Don’t forget your binoculars! How to visit Handa Island.

best places to go in Scotland

The East Neuk of Fife for a foodie adventure

The East Neuk (or eastern corner) of Fife stretches from Elie & Earlsferry north to Crail and was once the heart of the east coast of Scotland’s fishing trade.

The tiny harbours along the East Neuk may now be home to more pleasure boats than those landing lobsters, langoustines and crabs, but the area’s fishing history now gives it its charm.  

Whether you walk the Fife Coastal Path or drive from Elie to Crail, don’t just zoom up to St Andrews or you will miss out on arguably some of Scotland’s best villages – as well as some of the best food that Scotland has to offer. 

Read more: How to have a feast in Fife.

weekend breaks in Scotland

Dunnottar Castle and the Angus Coast

Scotland’s east coast is as beautiful, wild, and as rugged as the west, but is often forgotten by visitors rushing past on the A90 heading north to Aberdeen. Instead take the Angus Coastal Route (the A92), one of Scotland’s most scenic roads, passing along the Angus, Kincardine and Aberdeenshire coast. 

On the way, you pass beautiful beaches, the spectacular Dunnottar Castle and as much fresh fish as you can eat in pretty seaside villages. It is also one of the best places to visit Scotland if you like the sun, but I can never guarantee you a blue sky! Read more: How to visit the Angus Coast

best places to visit in Scotland

The Isle of Islay

Whether it’s the stunning wild landscapes, incredibly friendly locals, or the cask strength whisky, there is something about Islay that grabs your heart and holds on. 

With 8 whisky distilleries to sample (my favourite is Bunnahabhain) the Islay wave, incredible wildlife watching and walking on the beautiful Oa peninsula – the Isle of Islay offers up a truly unique Scottish island experience.

I can honestly say that I’ve never fallen in love with a place quite as quickly as I did with the Isle of Islay. If you love whisky then Islay is one of the best places to visit in Scotland.

Read more: How to visit the Isle of Islay and my complete guide to Islay whisky.

best places to visit in Scotland

The Isle of Harris and Lewis, The Outer Hebrides

A visit to the Outer Hebrides is an otherworldly dip into Scotland’s remote edge of the world island culture and Harris and Lewis are my favourites of the Western Islands.

Visit the Callanish Stones, the Isle of Harris Distillery and explore Harris’s incredible beaches including Seilebost and one of the best views in Scotland across to the famous Luskintyre. 

If you are feeling more active, Harris’s hills include the mighty Clisham, a Corbett at 799 m (2,621 ft), and neighbouring Uisgneabhal Mor, Teileasbhal and Stuabhal, a paradise for walkers giving views across the whole Outer Hebrides. The western Isles are one of the best places to go in Scotland if you like to get remote!

Read more: How to have an adventure in the Outer Hebrides.

best places to go in Scotland

Orkney 

With stone-age villages, huge seascapes, a vibrant arts culture and a genuinely warm welcome (and not just from the Orkney gin!) a trip to Orkney in north-east Scotland is a dip into 5000 years of history. 

From the simply incredible Heart of Neolithic Orkney to tales of invading Vikings and World War 2 battles, spiritual awakening in gin, whisky and St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, to walks along a coast constantly being changed by time, with a history stretching back 5000 years, you won’t be short of things to do when you visit Orkney

Where to visit in Scotland

Big Tree Country, Perthshire

Perthshire is one of the most accessible places in Scotland and famed for its big trees which make it one of the best places to go in Scotland if you love taking photos of autumn colours. Visit the pretty town of Dunkeld, Blair Atholl and its castle, stop for photos at the gorgeous Queen’s View over Loch Tummel and then explore the Victorian Hermitage. 

On the River Tummel sits the resort town of Pitlochry and along the river is Faskally Wood – otherwise known as the enchanted forest. Follow the woodland paths past the picturesque Loch Dunmore or walk as far as the dramatic Killecrankie – watch out for the bungee jumpers!

Moray Firth Aberdeenshire
Whisky Galore at Portsoy

The Moray Firth Coast

Much of the Moray Firth coastline has long been part of the North Coast 500, but the southern edge of the firth is much more untouched by tourism. 

Now part of a new initiative, the North East 250, whether you want to go dolphin spotting, sailing, or walking the Coastal Trail, with picturesque harbour villages, waves crashing over towering sea cliffs, huge swathes of beach, and incredible changing light, exploring the Moray coast is about to become top of your Scotland list. 

Read more: how to visit the Moray Firth

best places to visit in Scotland

The otherworldly mountains of Assynt

With turquoise blue seas, white-sand beaches, and tasty Lochinver pies, a visit to the far North West coast is one of the most beautiful places in Scotland. 

However, just driving through Assynt on the North Coast 500 means you miss out on the best bit – the views from some of Scotland’s most dramatic mountains – including Suilven, Cul More, Quinaig and the two Munros Ben More Assynt & Conival.

Even if you don’t climb up very high (try the smaller Stac Pollaidh) you will still get an incredible view of Assynt’s hundreds of lochs – all the way down to the sea. One of the best views in Scotland – mindblowing. 

Read More: How to Visit Lochinver and Assynt

best places to visit in Scotland

Glen Affric and Glen Strathfarrar

In a country the size of Scotland, it’s surprising that there are still beautiful places in Scotland so remote that it can take days to get to them. The Inverness-shire glens of Glen Affric and Glen Strathfarrar in Strathglass might not be as remote, but as you drive south on single track roads, just 20 minutes south of Inverness, an ancient and undisturbed Scotland is revealed.  

Walking the 11-mile circular path around Loch Affric must be one of Scotland’s most awe-inspiring walks. Explore Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Scots Pine forest under huge surrounding mountains. 

Read more: How to visit Glen Affric and Glen Strathfarrar.

Cities in Scotland

Should you visit Edinburgh or Glasgow? Have you been to Aberdeen?

Visit both Edinburgh and Glasgow

things to do in edinburgh

Edinburgh is undeniably gorgeous and buzzing with cultural events all year round, so explore with my favourite things to do in Edinburgh and head out for dinner at one of my recommended restaurants. Edinburgh will always be one of the best places to go in Scotland.

Read more Edinburgh

Over in the west is Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland. Emerging fresh from decades of urban regeneration, with a lively music scene, a huge art community and people who can make a party out anything, Glasgow has a natural vibrancy which most cities dream of.

Read more – Glasgow

Footdie Aberdeen

Visit Aberdeen – the Silver City

With quirky villages, street art, dolphins and fine food, Aberdeen should be on your radar for your next visit to Scotland. If you were asked to describe Aberdeen, you’d probably think of granite buildings, the oil industry and probably Aberdeen Angus steak – but Aberdeen as a tourist destination to rival Edinburgh or Glasgow? Maybe not. 

However, with the Nuart Street Art Festival changing the face of the city centre, Footdee’s quirky tarry sheds becoming Instagram stars, and dolphins swimming right up to its doorstep – Aberdeen has discovered a buoyant and well-deserved pride in itself. 

Read more: visit Aberdeen.

best places to visit in Scotland

Sanna Bay and Portuarik

Let me introduce you to one of the west coast’s true hidden gems – the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. The ‘headland of the otters’ is the most western part of the British mainland and is beautifully unspoilt, wild and remote and is home to just 2000 people. 

At the end of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula is the stunning Sanna. Whilst Scotland has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world I think Ardnamurchan might just have the best. To find Sanna Bay walk from the hamlet of Portuairk along the coastal path

Read more how to visit Ardnamurchan.

best places to visit in Scotland

The Elgol Peninsula, Skye 

The Isle of Skye’s dramatic Cuillin mountain range dominates the misty isles’ skyline wherever you look – climbing the twelve 3000 ft+ peaks of the Black Cuillin ridge is on most Munro Baggers bucket list and summiting the Inaccessible Pinnacle is probably the most daunting climb in Scotland. 

However, if you like life a little more sedate the Cuillin is also viewed in all its magnificence from a walk to Camasunary Beach on the Elgol (or to give it its proper name) Strathaird Peninsula. If you don’t fancy a long walk, there is a long drive on a single track road to the village where you can take a boat ride into the heart of the Cuillin. 

Read more: How to visit the Elgol Peninsula.

best places to visit in Scotland

Cruise the Caledonian Canal

Stretching the length of Scotland’s spectacular Great Glen, the 62 mile Caledonian Canal sails coast to coast beneath the mighty Ben Nevis, through the maelstrom of the Fort Augustus Locks, across the huge expanse of Loch Ness up to Inverness, taking in some of Scotland’s most special scenery along the way.

Spend a week cruising the Caledonian Canal and discover a rather special (and fun!) way to spend a holiday in Scotland. Ready to cast off? 

Read more how to sail the Caledonian Canal.

Kayaking in Scotland

Kayak around Kismul Castle on Barra

The most southerly of the Outer Hebrides might be most famous for its airport on the beach (the baggage reclaim is also a bus stop) but the beautiful island of ‘Barradise’ has lots to offer for the visitor – not least an incredibly dramatic castle which gives the main town, Castlebay, its name.

The best way to see the castle? Clearwater Paddling hires sea kayaks so you can get out on the water and explore the bay. If you prefer to be in the water rather than on it, Barra is also great for snorkelling too – grab your wetsuit and explore the Outer Hebridean coast along with lots of friendly grey seals.

Read more: how to have an adventure in the Outer Hebrides

Hike the Great Glencoe Challenge  

If you are going to spend one day hiking in Scotland in 2019, then make it the walk from Glencoe to Glen Nevis. It might be a marathon distance (26 miles) and takes in 5000ft of up hill climbing, but the views through Scotland’s most famous glen and along the most beautiful section of the West Highland Way make for an incredible day out.

Want to make the walk a little harder? Sign up for the Great Glencoe Challenge – a 10-hour sponsored trekathon along the Glencoe to Glen Nevis route.

Read more: sign up for the Glencoe Challenge

Plan your ultimate Scotland road trip [not the NC500!]

Thinking of planning a road trip around Scotland in 2019? Me too! It’s my favourite way to travel. I love the variety, I get to see everything and road-trippin’ soothes a serious case of itchy feet. If you are planning your itinerary for Scotland here are some ideas…

How to plan a road trip in Scotland

Bag a Munro (or start with a beginner’s hill)

I know how intimidating it can be to get started if you have never hill walked before, let alone tackled a Munro, but believe me if I can do it, then you can too! So let’s make 2019 the year you bag a Munro!

Never climbed a hill?

Work your way up to it with my guide to beginners hills in Scotland and my guide to everything you need to start hillwalking.

Then choose one of my 10 Munros for beginners – and go for it!

Where are your best places to visit in Scotland?

Love, from Scotland x

Shane Walker

Monday 10th of February 2020

Heading over in May for NW500 and Eastcoast 250, then have done most of Scotland cant wait to get back.

Marwa

Thursday 13th of December 2018

I have been to Scotland twice, the second time was last August when I drove the North Coast 500, but your post makes me feel as if I haven't seen Scotland :D

Love from, Smidge

Thursday 13th of December 2018

I am always finding new places to visit ! Thanks for popping by :)

Kimberly Morris

Saturday 20th of October 2018

I love these pictures. I learn something from you all the time. Thank you.

Laura

Saturday 20th of October 2018

Love this list, Kate! Really unique blog of places to see in Scotland, I've got a few more on my to-do now!