Scotland, an integral part of the United Kingdom, is an enchanting country teeming with raw natural beauty, rich history, eclectic culture, and welcoming locals. Known for its stunning landscapes, Scotland’s topography ranges from the craggy cliffs and sweeping beaches of its islands to the majestic mountains and mysterious lochs of the Highlands. The cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow offer urban sophistication with historic charm, vibrant arts scenes, and diverse culinary delights. Scotland’s cultural heritage is deeply entwined with a long and tumultuous history, brought to life through its ancient castles, historic battlegrounds, and traditional music and folklore. Adding to its appeal are world-class distilleries that produce the revered Scotch whisky, and renowned festivals like the Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival.
Top 20 Things to See and Do across Scotland
- Edinburgh Castle: Perched atop Castle Rock, this historic fortress provides panoramic views of Edinburgh. Explore the Great Hall, the Royal Palace, and the Crown Jewels, and don’t miss the famous One O’Clock Gun.
- Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle: Delve into the mystery of Loch Ness, the second largest Scottish loch, home to the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Visit the ruins of Urquhart Castle that stand guard over the loch, with a history spanning over a thousand years.
- Royal Mile, Edinburgh: This historic artery of the Old Town stretches from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace, lined with vibrant shops, traditional pubs, quaint cafes, and notable landmarks.
- The Isle of Skye: Renowned for its rugged beauty, Skye offers dramatic cliffs at Kilt Rock, the enchanting Fairy Pools, the quaint capital Portree, and the Old Man of Storr, an iconic rock formation.
- Glasgow’s Art Scene: Scotland’s largest city is an art-lover’s paradise. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum houses 22 themed galleries, while the Gallery of Modern Art showcases innovative contemporary art.
- Stirling Castle: A symbol of Scottish independence and a source of national pride, Stirling Castle is one of Scotland’s grandest castles. Explore its magnificent halls, chapel, and palace and enjoy the stunning views from the castle walls.
- The Scotch Whisky Experience, Edinburgh: Get a taste of Scottish heritage by learning about the whisky-making process, exploring the world’s largest whisky collection, and, of course, tasting some yourself.
- Scottish Highlands: The Highlands are the epitome of Scotland’s untamed beauty, with their vast moors, deep lochs, towering mountains, and enchanting wildlife. Hike, cycle, or drive through this breathtaking region.
- The Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh: Founded in 1670, this beautiful 70-acre garden is home to over 13,000 plant species. Enjoy the tranquil Chinese Garden, the lush Palm House, and the colourful Rock Garden.
- St Andrews: Known globally as the ‘home of golf’, St Andrews is a charming coastal town with beautiful beaches, a prestigious university, and the ancient ruins of St Andrews Cathedral.
- Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh: This ancient volcano and hill located in Holyrood Park offers a rewarding hike and a 360-degree view of the city at its peak.
- The Jacobite Steam Train: This nostalgic train journey takes you through stunning landscapes, passing Ben Nevis and crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, famous for its appearances in the Harry Potter films.
- Fingal’s Cave, Staffa: This natural sea cave on the uninhabited island of Staffa is a wonder of geological formations. The melodious sounds made by the waves earned the cave its nickname, “The Melodious Cave.”
- National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh: From natural history to cultural heritage, this comprehensive museum houses a wide variety of exhibits that offer insights into Scotland’s diverse and storied past.
- Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh: This impressive gallery boasts an extensive collection of European paintings and sculptures, including works by renowned artists such as Van Gogh, Botticelli, and Rembrandt.
- Glen Coe: A valley carved out by glaciers and volcanoes, Glen Coe is revered for its dramatic landscapes and sombre history, making it a favourite among nature lovers and photographers.
- Edinburgh Zoo: A must-visit for families, this zoo is home to more than 1,000 rare and endangered animals, including the UK’s only giant pandas and koalas.
- Ben Nevis: Challenge yourself to conquer the highest peak in the UK. The mountain’s walking route is suitable for fit beginners, but its North Face is best left to experienced climbers.
- Cairngorms National Park: The largest national park in the UK, it offers an abundance of activities such as hiking, birdwatching, mountain biking, and skiing in winter.
- North Coast 500: Often called Scotland’s Route 66, this 500-mile scenic route showcases the best of the northern Highlands, including picturesque coastal landscapes, fairytale-like castles, and secluded beaches.
Typical Costs and Suggested Budget
Accommodation: Budget accommodation in hostels costs around £20-£30 for a dorm bed and £40-£60 for a private room. Mid-range hotels and B&Bs range from £70-£150, while luxury hotels and resorts start from £200 per night.
Food: Fast food or a meal from a cheap eatery will cost around £5-£10. Expect to pay between £10-£20 for a meal in a mid-range restaurant, and from £30 in high-end restaurants.
Transportation: A single journey bus or tram ticket in cities like Edinburgh or Glasgow costs around £1.70. A day pass is available for £4.00. For long-distance travel, train tickets can range from £20-£60, depending on the journey length and booking time.
Activities: Most museums and galleries in Scotland are free, while attractions like Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle have an entrance fee ranging from £10-£20. Special experiences like the Scotch Whisky Experience or guided tours can cost between £20-£50.
For a budget traveler, you could get by on a daily budget of £50-£70, covering hostel accommodation, public transportation, meals at casual eateries, and entrance fees to some attractions. A mid-range budget of around £100-£150 per day would cover a mid-range hotel, meals at decent restaurants, inter-city travels, and more activities. For a luxury experience, you should budget for at least £200 per day.
Get a Heritage Pass: If you’re a history enthusiast and plan to visit several historic sites, investing in a Heritage Pass can save money on entrance fees.
Use Public Transport: Scotland’s cities have excellent public transport systems, which are much cheaper than hiring a taxi or a car. If you’re staying in a city for a few days, consider getting a transport pass.
Try Local Delicacies: Eating where locals eat can save money and allow you to experience Scotland’s culinary culture. Foods such as fish and chips, haggis, and Scottish pies are often affordable.
Stay in Hostels or B&Bs: They’re cheaper than hotels, and many provide kitchen facilities so you can save money by cooking some meals.
Book in Advance: Train tickets, accommodation, and tickets to major attractions can often be cheaper when booked well in advance.
Where to Stay
Scotland offers a range of accommodations to suit all preferences and budgets:
Edinburgh: Stay in the city centre if you want to be close to major attractions like the Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile, and Princes Street. Leith, the city’s vibrant port district, offers great dining and shopping options.
Glasgow: The City Centre and West End are the most popular areas to stay, close to major attractions and nightlife. The South Side is a good choice for budget travelers.
Inverness: Known as the gateway to the Highlands, staying in Inverness allows you to explore the beautiful Highland landscapes, and it’s also a great base for venturing out to Loch Ness.
Isle of Skye: Portree is a good base to explore Skye, offering a range of accommodations and being close to several of the island’s natural attractions.
How to Get Around
Public transport in Scotland is reliable and extensive. In cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow, buses, trams, and local trains can get you around efficiently. To explore the countryside, consider renting a car or joining a guided tour. Scotland also boasts extensive rail networks, with scenic routes like the West Highland Line offering an unforgettable travel experience. Ferries operated by Caledonian MacBrayne or NorthLink Ferries connect the mainland with the islands.
When to Visit
Scotland can be visited all year round, each season offering a unique charm. The summer months (June to August) are the warmest and have the longest daylight hours, perfect for outdoor activities. The spring (April and May) and autumn (September and October) are quieter and often provide mild weather, with beautiful blossoms or autumnal colours. Winter (November to March) can be cold and days are short, but you’ll enjoy fewer crowds, snowy landscapes, and perhaps even see the Northern Lights.
How to Stay Safe
Scotland is generally a safe country for travelers. However, it’s always sensible to follow general safety precautions. Always keep an eye on your belongings, especially in crowded areas. Be cautious if you’re walking alone at night, particularly in unfamiliar areas. If you’re exploring the countryside or hiking, make sure to check the weather forecast, equip yourself appropriately, and let someone know your plans.
Best Places to Book Your Trip
Booking your trip to Scotland is convenient through numerous online platforms. Use websites like Booking.com or Airbnb for accommodation, Skyscanner or Expedia for flights, and Omio or Trainline for trains. For guided tours and experiences, check out Viator, GetYourGuide, or local tour companies in Scotland.
Scotland is a country filled with astonishing beauty, remarkable history, and a rich culture. This travel guide has covered everything you need to know for your Scottish adventure, so start planning your trip today to explore this wonderful country.