The 15 Best Things to Do in Scotland (Bucket List)
You’re planning to visit Scotland during your next holidays? You want to know more about the best places to visit?
You’re at the right place!
In order to help you plan your stay, i have prepared this guide of the 15 best things to do in Scotland, with all the must-see attractions of the country.
Discover the Highlands, visit Edinburgh, explore Scotland’s many castles or take a cruise on Loch Ness… You will see, there are many beautiful places to visit in Scotland!
So, where to go in Scotland? What are the best points of interest?
Let’s find out!
- The 15 Best Things to Do in Scotland (Bucket List)
- Visit Scotland: The 15 Best Places to Visit and Must-See Attractions
- 2. Loch Ness
- 3. Book a tour on the Jacobite Express (Harry Potter’s Hogwarts express)
- 4. Glen Coe Valley
- 5. Glenfinnan
- 6. Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park
- 7. Mallaig
- 8. Isle of Skye
- 9. Glen Nevis Valley
- 10. Scone Palace
- 11. Lewis and Harris Isle
- 12. Glasgow
- 13. Visit a haunted Castle
- 14. Enjoy an evening at a pub
- 15. Visit a whisky distillery
- Scotland Tours
- Traveling to Scotland: flight prices
- You’re traveling to Scotland? These articles will help you!
- Visit Scotland: The 15 Best Places to Visit and Must-See Attractions
Visit Scotland: The 15 Best Places to Visit and Must-See Attractions
Let’s start this tourist guide of Scotland with Edinburgh, the capital.
Edinburgh, home to many legends, is an extremely rich city in terms of culture and history. It’s definitely a must-see during your trip to Scotland!
Edinburgh is split between the medieval Old Town and the modern New Town, bringing two different atmospheres to the city.
Best places to visit in Edinburgh:
- Edinburgh Castle dominates the city, perched up on the top of a hill. It’s the city’s main historical monument and it houses several museums. Book your skip the line tickets here!
- The Royal Mile, the main street in the Old Town, is a beautiful medieval street. It’s also very touristy, with many souvenir shops and street performances.
- Holyrood Palace, located at the far end of the Royal Mile, used to be Marie Stuart’s residence and is now one of the current Queen’s residences. To visit the Queen’s official residence in Scotland and discover the state apartments, you need to buy your tickets here.
- The National Museums: National Museum of Scotland – The Scottish National Gallery – The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art One and Two – The Scottish National Portrait Gallery. They are all free!
- Greyfriars Cemetery is said to be the most haunted cemetery in the world. For sure, it’s very picturesque with its ancient sculpted tombs, desecrated vaults, and mystical atmosphere. Evening guided tours are organized for anyone looking for a thrill! You need to book yours here!
- Grassmarket: a lively pedestrian square in the Old Town. On Saturdays, you can shop here at the small street market.
- Princes Street and the Gardens: This street and the gardens separates the Old Town and the New Town. You can admire a beautiful panorama of the Old Town from the square just up from the tourist office.
- Calton Hill is located in New Town’s Regents Garden. From here too, you’ll have an amazing view over the Old Town and the sea.
- Dean Village, a former millers’ village, located 20 minute walk from the city center. Why not go there and enjoy a pleasing stroll along the river?
- The Royal Botanic Gardens is a 28 acre park where you’ll be able to admire the world’s largest collection of Rhododendron, as well as beautiful greenhouses, a Chinese garden, arboretum, and much more.
- Arthur’s Seat: right next to Holyrood Palace, this hike takes you to the top of an ancient volcano, at 251m. This small part of countryside in the heart of the city will for sure give you a glimpse of the Scottish Highlands! It will take you 1h30 to 2 hours to reach the summit, where you can enjoy a great 360° view.
- Ghost tours: “Dark tourism” is very trendy, and you will probably see a lot of ghost tours in Edinburgh. Look out for the big black “Ghosts Tour” buses, they are the best way to discover Edinburgh’s most haunted places. You can book your tour ticket here!
If you want more details about the best things to do in Edinburgh, you should read my article: Visit Edinburgh: the definitive guide.
2. Loch Ness
The Loch Ness is obviously among the best places to visit in Scotland. Everyone has heard about the lake and its mysterious monster!
Located in the Highlands, between Inverness in the North and Fort Augustus in the South, this 30 kilometers long lake is the second biggest in Scotland. As you probably know, it became famous thanks to the legend of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster.
Inverness, the capital of the region, is a great starting point for a trip in Scotland around the Loch Ness.
Here are the best places to visit in the Loch Ness surroundings:
- Dores is a beautiful little village located 13 kilometers south of Inverness. You will for sure love its pebbles beach and incredible view of the lake. Steve Feltham, the famous “Nessie hunter”, made Dores his home from 1991 in his quest to find the monster. Still today, he sells clay figurines in order to finance his ongoing search!
- Fort Augustus, a charming village situated at the southern tip of the Loch, attracts many visitors in the summer. There, you will find 5 beautiful locks used to move ships from Loch Nochy to Loch Ness through the Caledonian Canal. Built in the 19th century to link the lakes to the sea, it’s also the starting point for cruises on the Loch Ness.
- Drumnadrochit, another nice touristic village, is located on the north-west coast of the lake. You can enjoy pleasant walks around the area and visit the world famous Urquhart Castle. This medieval castle, now in ruins, was built on the verge of the Loch Ness and offers an incredible view over the lake.
For an amazing experience combining a cruise on the lake and the visit of Urquhart Castle, you will need to book your tickets by clicking the button below:
For only 25€ per person, you will enjoy a 1 hours cruise on the loch + a 1 hour visit to the castle.
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3. Book a tour on the Jacobite Express (Harry Potter’s Hogwarts express)
A ride in Harry Potter’s “Hogwarts Express” is definitely one of the best activities to do in Scotland!
Well, actually, you will ride its real life counterpart, the “Jacobite Express “. This steam train was used in Harry Potter movies to illustrate the Hogwarts Express.
Onboard the famous train for an 84 miles trip across the Highlands between Fort William and Mallaig.
Inside the train, you will enjoy its comfort and catering service that offers all sorts of tea, fresh drinks, and even special wizard treats!
The 4 hours journey goes from Fort William to Mallaig and back and is considered to be the most fantastic train journey in the world. The train departs twice a day and costs around 30 pounds per adult in standard class and 55 in first class.
As it’s extremely popular, you should book your ticket several weeks or even months in advance to be guaranteed to have a seat.
You will find more information on price and timetables on the official website.
4. Glen Coe Valley
As I am talking about the best places to visit in Scotland, I really need to mention Glen Coe valley.
With its sumptuous mountains and lush, green valleys, this is simply one of the most beautiful regions of the country.
Scottish mountain lovers and tourists both love to come to Glen Coe to enjoy the many hiking paths the region has to offer.
In addition to the hikes, here are the main tourist attractions of Glen Coe:
- Glen Coe village is a sweet, humble place and a great starting point to visit the region on foot. Pleasant forest walks (the Lochan Trails) start at the exit of the village, next to the car park (you can’t miss them, they are signposted). And if you are looking for a real hike, you can opt for the Pap of Glencoe trail, going higher in the mountains and offering incredible views. This hike is about 4 hours round trip, but be warned, the hills are a bit steep!
- Stalker Castle is a beautiful Scottish castle built in 1320 on an island in the middle of Loch Linnhe. It’s accessible by boat (around 20£ per person). Stalker Castle is located along the road to Oban, 25 kilometers away from Glencoe and is one of the most appreciated castles in Scotland. Even if you don’t take the boat, a short halt on the shore will allow you appreciate the beauty of the place.
For more information on Glen Coe valley and the Highlands, you should read my detailed article: Exploring the Highlands: the definitive guide.
Only a few minutes away from Glencoe village, Glenfinnan is another must-see.
One special thing makes this touristic village worth a visit: the impressive viaduct located nearby, where you may even see the Jacobite Express if you are there at the right time!
The train crosses the bridge every morning around 10.30 and in the afternoon around 15h. Tourists rush to the viewpoint as the train arrives and sounds its horn. It’s a truly magical scene Harry Potter fans will absolutely love!
What to do during your day in Glenfinnan:
- Loch Shiel: This lake borders the town. On the shores, there is the Glenfinnan Monument, a statue built on the top of a tower in 1815 in honor of Bonnie Prince Charlie. You can climb to the top (with a guide) to admire the view over the lake and hills around. Harry Potter fans will also be thrilled to know that Loch Shiel appears in the Harry Potter movies (it’s actually Hogwarts lake!). If you have seen “the Triwizard Tournament”, you will definitely recognize it.
- Admire Glenfinnan’s gothic Church, overlooking the lake with its peculiar shape.
- Visit Glenfinnan Station Museum: This small museum located inside the train station will allow you to learn more about the history of railways, the Glenfinnan viaduct and the newly restored station.
- From Glenfinnan Visitor Centre, you can enjoy several scenic walks along the hills. These 40 minutes to 1-hour strolls reveal beautiful nature, especially as the sun comes out and creates an incredible pallet of different colors.
6. Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park
Located only 45 minutes drive from Glasgow, Loch Lomond is the largest loch of Scotland.
Surrounded by the incredible Trossachs National Park, you will feel at peace among this large inhabited area of forests, lakes, mountains…and sheeps!
This national park is the largest in the country and often referred to as “Miniature Highlands”, thanks to its incredible landscapes.
Here are the things to do in this region of Scotland:
- Conic Hill: From the town of Balmaha, there is a nice hike of about 2h30 round trip to the top of Conic Hill (358 meters high). From there, you will get an exceptional view over Loch Lomond.
- Ben Lomond: a more difficult hike of about 5 hours round trip to the summit of Ben Lomond (altitude 974 meters).
Top sights in the area:
- Doune Castle: a small medieval fortress especially known for being featured in the “Monthy Python and the Holy Grail” movie.
- Stirling Castle, a beautiful medieval castle. It’s actually one of the largest in Scotland. Buy your tickets here!
Loch Lomond, Trossachs Park and Stirling Castle can be visited in one day with a guided tour from Edinburgh: you will go on a cruise on the lake, see the Trossachs national park and to visit Stirling castle.
A truly amazing day!
If you are wondering about the best things to do in Scotland, I strongly recommend going to Mallaig.
This small fishing town in the northeast of Scotland is well worth a visit, especially to see the Jacobite Express steam train up close and to go to the Isle of Skye by boat.
Mallaig comes alive around 12h30, as the famous Jacobite Express crosses the village. You will also find many restaurants and snack bars to have lunch before embarking on the ferry towards the Isle of Skye.
Tickets for the ferry cost around 6£ round trip per person and 20£ with a car.
8. Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is for sure one of the most popular destinations in Scotland. There are 2 ways to get there:
- By ferry from Mallaig to Armadale
- By car, across the bridge between Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyleakin.
Commonly known as the Misty Isle or Isle of Cloud, you will love its wild coast, white sandy beaches, cliffs, moors, and bogs.
Here are the best places to visit and activities on the Isle of Skye :
- The Old Man of Storr, a famous 50-meter high rock. You can admire it from the road or you can enjoy a pleasant walk to get there from the North of Portree (2 hours round trip)
- Portree, the capital of the Island
- Quiraing hike (2h30 round trip)
- Duntulm Castle ruins
- Neist Point: A superb hike to reach the famous Lighthouse
- The Skye Museum of Island Life: very beautiful and interesting visit of old thatched houses dating from the 19th century
- Armadale Castle and its lovely gardens
- Point of Sleat: this short 1h10 hike in the south of the Island will take you to a beautiful beach, with tropical style blue waters!
- Dunvegan Castle
- Cuillin Hills, a very beautiful mountain range. Among the many great hikes, the one to Fairy Pools is for sure the most famous: many waterfalls flow into a basin at the foot of the mountain.
You will find every information you need to visit the Isle of Skye in my article: The 20 best things to do on the Isle of Skye.
9. Glen Nevis Valley
Where to go in Scotland if you want to ski? (Or Hike during summer)
In Glen Nevis Valley!
Glen Nevis Valley is home to Ben Nevis peak, one of Scotland’s most prominent mountain range and the highest point in Great Britain. Located in the Highlands, Ben Nevis is without a doubt the best place to ski during winter.
Here are the best things to do in Scotland, in Glen Nevis region:
- Nevis Range: From this ski resort, during summer, you can take the cable car to reach the top part of the mountain range. From there, a few hiking trails allow you to explore the surroundings and admire an exceptional panorama over the massif. In winter, it’s a great place to go skiing!
- Reach the top of Ben Nevis after an intense scenic walk from the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre (7 hours round trip). You should grab a detailed map at the Glen Nevis Visitor Center before starting your ascent.
- Fort William, located at the foot of Ben Nevis, is a lively tourist town during summer. It’s not particularly beautiful, but you can stop there before climbing to the top of the mountain, to take the Jacobite Express to Mallaig or simply to take a stroll through the cobbled streets of the town center.
- Steall Waterfall hike departure point is located approximately 20 minutes from Fort William. Don’t miss out on this beautiful walk that takes you to Steall Waterfall, in the Highlands mountains. The hike takes you through meadows and among hills, rivers, as well was numerous smaller waterfalls. The beauty of the scenery can be appreciated when it’s sunny, but it will seem ever more authentic on a foggy day!
10. Scone Palace
Located on the outskirts of Perth, Scone Palace is a huge domain that will enchant history and castle enthusiasts.
This 19th century Georgian Gothic style castle belongs to the Earl of Mansfield and was home to the crowning of over 40 kings!
Now a major tourist attraction in Scotland, the palace exposes a precious collections of furniture and ancient objects.
You should also definitely visit the large domain’s gardens, featuring hundred-year-old pines, flowers, vegetable gardens, a small labyrinth, the old prison, and even an ancient Scottish cemetery.
Entrance fee: 12£ to visit both the castle and gardens – 8£ if you wish to visit the gardens only (gardens are free from November to March).
The palace is open every day from 10h to 17h.
For further information, please visit the official website.
11. Lewis and Harris Isle
Here is another tourist site to visit in Scotland:
Located on the far west of the mainland, Lewis and Harris is the largest British island (excluding Great Britain and Ireland of course!).
This wild island is home to magical scenery and numerous historic remains (among which the famous prehistorical menhirs). The island is divided in 2 territories:
- Lewis in the North
- Harris in the South.
This division dates back from the Vikings that once occupied the island.
The Gaelic culture is very present and the maritime landscapes create a surprising contrast with the mainland. Its stunning white sandy beaches and turquoise water have nothing to envy to the best Caribbean beaches. Luskentyre beach is particularly gorgeous!
During your road trip in Scotland, you should definitely plan 3 or 4 days to visit Lewis and Harris.
You can reach the island by boat from Ullapool (North of Scotland) or from Uig, on the Isle of Skye.
Another option to get to Harris and Lewis is to go by plane from Edinburgh, Inverness, Glasgow, Aberdeen or from the Isle of Benbecula.
Your trip in Scotland wouldn’t be complete without a stop in Glasgow!
Located in the South, Glasgow is the largest city in the country. In addition to being an important industrial and cultural city, Glasgow is also home to many students. The art life is amazing and the nightlife is considered to be the best in Scotland! You will fore sure be charmed by its unique and dynamic atmosphere 😉.
Another great thing: despite its size, you can easily visit Glasgow on foot.
Here are a few activities and sights to see in Glasgow :
- A stroll along the Clyde River
- Visit the Riverside Museum to discover the city 20th-century history
- Visit Glasgow Science Museum
- Admire Salvador Dali works of art at the Kelvingrove Museum
- Discover the Gallery of Modern Art
- Admire the Gothic architecture of Saint Mungo cathedral
- Go shopping on Buchanan Street
- Take a stroll in Kelvingrove Park or in the Botanic Gardens
- Feel like you are exploring Hogwarts (Harry Potter’s school) while visiting the University of Glasgow and its beautiful gothic architecture
- Go for a drink on Ashton Lane
- Walk through the beautiful victorian Necropolis cemetery, located on hillside in the heights of the city
- Visit the magnificent Glasgow City Chambers, the city hall. 2 free guided tours take place every day.
To organize your visit to Glasgow, you should read my detailed article The 20 best things to do in Glasgow.
13. Visit a haunted Castle
You can’t go to Scotland without visiting a haunted Castle!
They really represent the Scottish traditional postcard landscape: you probably have already seen one of these pictures of an abandoned castle, in the middle of an island surrounded by mist.
As they are one of the main tourist attractions in Scotland, you will be able to visit many of them during your trip. And if you want, you will even have the opportunity to spend the night in a castle converted into a hotel.
Here are a few of the many Scottish castles you will want to visit :
- Edinburgh Castle, built on the top of a granite hill, dominates the capital. It’s said to hold the spirit of a bagpipe player and a headless drummer…
- Glamis Castle, located in the North of the country is one of the most beautiful Scottish castles. At least 9 ghosts are said to haunt the castle, amongst which the ghost of Lady Janet, accused of sorcery and burned alive in 1537.
- Ballindalloch Castle: this very intriguing castle is said to be haunted by general James Grant’s ghost.
- Borthwick Castle: in this castle located close to Edinburgh, you may meet the ghost of Mary, a former Queen of Scotland during the 16th century. It’s now a luxury hotel.
- Tulloch Castle: This 12th century haunted castle with an exciting history is located near Dingwall, in the north of Scotland. The best way to discover it is to spend the night there!
14. Enjoy an evening at a pub
Along with playing/watching rugby, doing a pub crawl is one of the Scotts favorite activity!
Going to the pub is a great opportunity to blend in with locals and make friends while appreciating local beer or traditional whisky. The atmosphere is warm and cheerful and everyone mixes regardless of age and social background.
In the evening, live music and entertainment bring a new dimension to the experience, but you can also go there with your family during the day to enjoy the friendly atmosphere.
Many pubs organize activites like darts games or quizzes. You will find pubs all around the country!
15. Visit a whisky distillery
Scotland is, of course, the country of whisky.
So if you like this alcohol, a trip to Scotland can be the perfect opportunity to discover the secrets of Whisky fabrication by visiting a distillery!
While there are many distilleries across Scotland, Speyside region is for sure the most famous production area. There, you can find around 50 distilleries, many of which are open to the public and offer free whisky tasting sessions as part of a guided tour.
From Inverness you can go for a day tour of Speyside distilleries. Prices start at 39€ per person including a guide and transport.
BONUS – Attend the Highland Games
These rather special games take place every summer in the Highlands regions.
During these strenght contests, men in kilts compete in throwing logs, rocks, hammers, tug of war and Scottish wrestling. You will for sure love the festive and friendly atmoshphere, rythmed by the sound of bagpipes.
If you have the opportunity to attend one of these very picturesque contests, don’t hesitate! The most prestigious event takes place in Braemar on the first Saturday of September, in attendance of the Queen herself.
And you, what do you plan to do in Scotland? Which places would you like to visit?
On Voyagetips.com, I give you all my best tips and itineraries to plan your trip to Scotland by yourself. (All my Scotland travel guides are here)
However, if you prefer to book a Scotland tour with a travel agency, I recommend you to check the 10 best Scotland tours by clicking the button below:
Traveling to Scotland: flight prices
Flight prices to Scotland vary widely, so it is a good idea to compare them as soon as possible. To do this, you can use our flight comparator, in partnership with Skyscanner. It’s the best way to pay the best price!
Scotland travel Guides
- Buy the Lonely Planet Scotland guide on Amazon.com or on Amazon.co.uk
- Buy the DK Eyewitness Scotland guide on Amazon.com or on Amazon.co.uk
You’re traveling to Scotland? These articles will help you!
Discover all my articles about Scotland: All my articles to help you plan your trip to Scotland are listed there.
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