What are the best town or villages in Scotland to visit? Looking for the prettiest towns in Scotland to stay for a weekend, or the most beautiful or quirky Scotland villages? If you are looking for small town life, complete with picture perfect views and fabulous places to stay – here are my favourite of Scotland’s towns and villages.
Pretty villages and towns in scotland
The pretty town of Plockton sits on the shores of Loch Carron as it makes its way out to the Isle of Skye. With a sheltered position, Plockton has such a mild climate palm trees to prosper on the waterfront. Once famous for its herd of free ranging Highland Coos, the village is now a destination for foodies dining at the Plockton Hotel (Wester Ross & Highland’s Camra pub of the year) which serves a great pint and The Plockton Inn which is renowned for its seafood – making Plockton one of the best towns in Scotland for a weekend break.
- Make it a weekend: Stay in Plockton at The Plockton Inn, or at the Haven Guest House, the Duirinish Pods with hot tubs or self catering at 24 Harbour Street. If you fancy staying in a castle near Plockton, why not check out Duncraig Castle.
- Get there: the best way of getting to Plockton is by train, the beautiful Kyle line will take you to Plockton and Strathcarron from Inverness, approx 2 hours 40 minutes. Book your train tickets with trainline.com*.
- Stay longer: How to visit Wester Ross.
The East Neuk of Fife – Crail, Pittenweem and St Monans
The ‘East Neuk’ or eastern corner of the ‘Kingdom of Fife’ is one of Scotland’s hidden gems – a string of gorgeous harbours and pretty villages hidden along the Fife coastline. Start in Crail, with its lobster hut and lovely high street, before moving on to Anstruther for its famous fish and chip shop. Watch the fishing boats do their thing at bustling Pittenweem, head to the beach at Elie and Earlsferry, or St Monans, probably the quirkiest of all the East Neuk villages with its welly garden and wiggly pier. The East Neuk has some of my favourite villages in Scotland.
- Make it a weekend: Stay in the East Neuk in a traditional east neuk cottage – my favourite is Dreel Cottage, in Anstruther, or the Garden Cottage or the Cooperage Garden Cottage in Crail or the ultra modern Off the beaten track… If you are looking for somewhere quirky, try Catchpenny Safari Lodges, safari tents with a view over Elie Lighthouse and the Lady’s Tower.
- Get there: Bus from Edinburgh (X60) or St Andrews (95). 1.5 hours drive from Edinburgh
- Stay longer: How to visit the East Neuk of Fife
Luss, Loch Lomond
With its setting on Loch Lomond and flower laden quaint cottages, the village of Luss was used for the classic Scottish TV series Take The High Road – making it one of the most famous of the villages and towns in Scotland.
Named after the gaelic for herb, Luss is named after the herbs laid on missionary St Kessog’s grave who came from Ireland to the village Clachan Dhu (the dark village) in around 500 AD. Stroll down to the banks of the loch and out onto the pier and gaze over a spectacular view of Ben Lomond looming over the water. From the pier you can catch water buses around the loch.
- Make it a weekend: Stay at the Lodge on Loch Lomond, the Loch Lomond Arms Hotel, the Culag Guesthouse, or the Inn on Loch Lomond.
- Get there: By train from Glasgow, you can catch the train direct to Balloch, and via the West Highland Route with stops at Arrochar and Tarbet, Ardlui and Crianlarich. Book your train tickets with trainline.com*. Intercity buses running from Glasgow to Fort William (914) and Portree on Skye (915) stop at Luss.
- Stay longer: How to visit Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park
On the Rhinns of Islay sits the gorgeous whitewashed village of Portnahaven with views over the Rhinns of Islay lighthouse on the island of Orsay. Stroll along the coastal path between Portnahaven and Port Wemyss for beautiful views and to spot nosy grey seals popping out of the water in the bay. Down in the heart of the village, the An Tigh Seinnse pub serves amazing seafood platters (order in advance) and is characterful with a real fire.
- Make it a weekend (or week!): There are lots of options for Islay accommodation. The main towns on Islay are Bowmore and Port Ellen, with smaller villages at Port Charlotte and Portnahaven* – try Glenegedale House, or the Port Charlotte Hotel.
- Get there: Getting to Islay is easy – either catch the ferry to Islay with Caledonian MacBrayne or fly to Islay from Glasgow with LoganAir. The flight takes around 40 minutes.
- Stay longer: How to visit the Isle of Islay.
Perthshire is famed for its big trees and autumn colours and some of the prettiest villages and towns in Scotland including my favourite Dunkeld. Sitting on the River Tay, Dunkleld has a cottages restored by the National Trust for Scotland, a magnificent cathedral, great pubs and quirky shops and lovely walks along the river. Take a stroll at the Hermitage, an 18th-century pleasure garden filled with giant Douglas Fir trees to Ossian’s Hall, where a viewing platform reveals the tumbling Black Linn Falls below.
- Make it a weekend: Stay at The Taybank, a cool hotel with a great beer garden on the river, Dunkeld House Hotel or the Atholl Arms.
- Get there: Dunkeld is on the A9, around 1.5 hours north of Edinburgh. Catch the train to Birnam and stroll across the river into town. Book your train tickets with trainline.com*.
- Stay longer: How to visit Perthshire
St Abbs, Scottish Borders
St Abbs might not be the first place you think of if you are hankering for a fresh crab sandwich, but for those in the know, it’s a hallowed destination. The village of St Abbs has a thriving fishing harbour, providing a home for six lobster boats who bring in daily catches of lobster and local edible crabs known as Poos! With its own St Abbs Head National Nature Reserve offering up spectacular cliffside walks, links to Hollywood (hint, it’s New Asgard) seals, diving, crab butties, fishing and seabirds galore, the village of St Abbs is perfect for a day trip.
The Banffshire villages which make up Gamrie – Gardenstown and Crovie – are probably the most picturesque of the Moray Firth villages and towns in Scotland – and a popular spot for photos of the traditional fishing cottages hugging the coast. Gardenstown has a lovely 19th Century Harbour and Crovie has no road – the cottages are only accessed by foot. If you want to take the popular shot of Crovie there is a car park at the top of the village with a good viewpoint of the string of cottages below.
- Make it a weekend: stay at Culbin Edge is a dog friendly cabin, Lochanshelloch Cottage, Saplinbrae Hotel and Lodges or Meldrum House Hotel.
- Get there: The Moray Firth is best accessed by car but there are train stations at Elgin and Forres. Book your train tickets with trainline.com. Stagecoach run the local buses – get a Dayrider Ticket for the Moray Coast or Banffshire Area.
- Stay for longer: how to visit the Moray Firth.
Fort Augustus, Loch Ness
Where else in Scotland offers up the odd sight of hundreds of people watching sailing boats and cruisers traversing down five canal locks and out onto a loch? Grab lunch at one of the canal-side pubs and cafes and watch the boaters ‘walking’ their boats through the locks.
Hungry? The Lock Inn does great pub grub (fab fish & chips and mac & cheese!) and serves real ale. After lunch walk a short stretch of the Great Glen Way, a 3 mile round trip to the pretty and remote Kytra Locks. The lock is a great spot for a picnic beside the canal as you watch the boats go past, or for a short walk, explore the village on the Fort Augustus path around one of the more popular of Scotland’s towns and villages.
- Make it a weekend: Stay at The Whitebridge Hotel Loch Ness*, a small, quirky and friendly boutique hotel serving up great food or The Lovat Loch Ness* is a family-run gem of a hotel with four-star facilities.
- Get there: Fort Augustus sits on the southern end of Loch Ness
- Stay for longer: Things to do at Fort Augustus and Loch Ness
Culross (actually pronounced ‘coo-ris’, not ‘cull-ross’) is one of Scotland’s best-preserved and prettiest 17th-century villages and famous for its role in the TV series Outlander. Now restored by the National Trust for Scotland, Culross has a townhouse once used for witch trials, a palace, a castle and an abbey and beautiful views over the River Forth. Stroll amongst the cottages and visit the Palace gardens to picture yourself in 17th century Scottish village.
- Make it a weekend: stay at the Old Schoolhouse or the Dundonald
- Get there: Catch the train to Dunfermline and then bus 74 from Dunfermline bus station. From Edinburgh and Glasgow the drive will take around 40 mins to an hour depending on traffic on the Queensferry Crossing and Kincardine Bridges. Free parking is available at each end of the village.
- Stay longer: things to do in Culross
Whilst Culross and Falkland in Fife are two of Scotland’s most well know villages which welcome tourists to explore their pretty streets, there are other beautiful villages in Fife. My favourite is the village of Dysart, which stands in for Le Harve in 1740s Outlander – where Claire and Jamie arrive in France and home to Jamie’s and his uncles’ wine business. The hidden harbour at Dysart is lovely – and you have to walk through a cliff to get to it! You can also stroll along the coastal path to Ravenscraig Castle.
- Make it a weekend: stay at Dothan Farm Cottage
- Get there: Dysart is 1 hour north of Edinburgh
- Stay longer: Things to do in Fife
Stromness is a a quirky but traditional example of port towns in Scotland where buildings hug – and expand out onto the coast of mainland Orkney. Take a stroll along the high street winding your way along the waterfront – today it is just wide enough for a car. Look down the alleys – most houses have a slip for a boat reflecting on Stromness’ role as a major trading port for the Hudson Bay company. The town is now the port for ferries arriving from Scrabster.
- Stay for the weekend: Try the lovely Instabillie Self Catering. Sleeping up to 5, the cottage is super handy for exploring Skara Brae and West Mainland, but only 35 minutes from Kirkwall, 40 minutes from the Italian Chapel and 15 minutes from Stromness. Other accommodation options in Orkney include staying in the main towns of Kirkwall* or Stromness* or have a look at all the options in Orkney*.
- Get there: Flights to Orkney are run by Scotland’s lovely wee airline Loganair* or there are four ferry routes to the islands.
- Stay for longer: How to visit Orkney
Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway
Kirkcudbright is one of my favourite wee towns in Scotland. With a thriving artist community along with beautiful cottages and a waterside location, Kirkcudbright (pronounced Kirkcoobree) is a great place to spend an afternoon wandering around.
Artists have long been attracted to D&G due to the incredible light and a must-do in Kirkcudbright is a visit to the National Trust for Scotland’s Broughton House home of one of the Glasgow Boys and a stunning Japanese inspired garden – a lovely oasis in the middle of this bustling wee town. Make sure you tour the house – the gallery is quite something!
- Make it a weekend: stay at Gladstone House, The Fish House or Arden House Hotel
- Get there: by driving the South West Coastal 300!
Which is your favourite of the villages and towns in Scotland?
Read more: more places to visit in Scotland
I’m Kate – a travel writer and photographer living in Scotland. Love, From Scotland is the Scotland travel guide that shows you where to stay and how to get outside in Scotland.