20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Scotland

Jul 22, 2021

With Scotland's Scottish history and traditions, its scenery and attractions, its history of exploration and adventure, and its vivid culture, Scotland is an adventure unlike any other. It's famous for its dramatic landscape (green islands in the Outer Hebrides, rocky Highlands, and black sand beaches along the Scottish coast) and as the home of the famous Loch Ness monster. Scotland is also renowned for its association with history and the legend of the mythical King Arthur.

Scotland is also synonymous with its literature and popular culture. The best-loved British author of all time is Robert Louis Stevenson, best known for his books Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, while his novella Kidnapped was made into one of the best films ever made, the 1980s blockbuster starring a young Hollywood heartthrob. Other famous Scots include the authors James Bond, J.K. Rowling, and Robert Burns, as well as actors Tom Hardy, Robert Duvall, Sean Connery, and Billy Connolly.

And finally, Scotland offers a unique opportunity for travelers. The cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow are both steeped in history, and in between there are enchanting, evocative castles, dramatic mountains, and miles and miles of unspoiled countryside that is simply breathtaking. With so much to discover, plan your trip with our guide to the top attractions in Scotland.

Edinburgh Castle

Photo of Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle: en.wikipedia.org

Although Edinburgh Castle dates back to the 13th century, its strategic position atop a cliff of volcanic rock overlooking the River Forth made it a central fortress in the centuries that followed. King Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) lived in the castle for a number of years and is buried there in the Chapel Royal of the Holyrood. This became a Royal Palace in the 17th century when Queen Anne was crowned at Holyrood and lived in the castle during her marriage to Prince William III of England. Today, it houses the Scottish Royal Family. Highlights of a visit include the beautiful setting and views from the ramparts, a stroll through the curious 900-year-old warren of tunnels that have been cut into the rock beneath the castle, and a tour of the interior that includes rooms for royal visits and that of the King and Queen.

Loch Ness

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Loch Ness: en.wikipedia.org

Loch Ness, in the middle of the Scottish Highlands, is the largest loch in Scotland and the third-largest in Europe. It has an estimated depth of almost two kilometers and covers almost 25 square kilometers. The water of the loch is a rich, green color, but its bottom is not visible. Water levels vary, as the loch receives runoff water from surrounding hills and mountains, and from the Great Glen, a stream running north and south between the mountains of Ben Nevis and Cairngorm. The loch is said to have been formed around 7,000 years ago and is surrounded by rock formations and the remains of petrified forests. The loch is spanned by the 5.5-km long Inchnadamph Footbridge. Once upon a time, it was believed that this was the place where King Arthur's knights were hunted by an angry giant, but experts now think that this is an unreliable folk tale and the area where this is supposed to have happened is actually some 130 km away. Ness is a natural part of the Great Glen - a pathway for hundreds of years used by soldiers, monks and smugglers to move between the different countries in the region.

Glencoe

Photo of Glencoe, Highland
Glencoe, Highland: en.wikipedia.org

Glencoe is an unspoiled part of the Scottish Highlands, a rugged landscape of canyons and pastures filled with wildlife, including red and fallow deer, badgers, otters, and a host of birds including the ubiquitous buzzards and kestrel. Glencoe Castle is a 16th-century ruined castle. A climb to the 2,749-meter (9,000-foot) high Aonach Eagach, Scotland's highest mountain, begins at the A830 roundabout in the town of Glencoe.

Glasgow

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Glasgow: en.wikipedia.org

Glasgow is Scotland's largest city. On a map, the shape of the place is pretty austere, but not if you drive over its centre: that's an area of some 18 square miles, where 914 roads cross the city. But traffic lights are a dying presence and half of the city center is pedestrianised, and the New Town area is an attractive contrast to the huge blue-domed hill of the Victorian suburb of Hutchesons' and the shopping district around Buchanan Street. Nearby are the King's Park, at one end of the city centre, home of the city's famous necropolis, the Necropolis Museum, and the People's Palace and People's Mission museums, on either side of Glasgow Cross. South of the river is the sand-and-pebble beach of Kelvingrove Park, a good place to stroll along or take children. The Kelvingrove Market is well worth a visit, if you can make it past the hawkers, for which the area is famous. When it comes to food and drink, Glasgow is no longer just a Celtic paradise - the bars and cafés are outstanding, as are the pubs, particularly around Buchanan Street. The Buchanan Gallowgate area and the Pipeworks are among the city center's more attractive residential neighborhoods, with a smattering of city sights, notably Kelvingrove Park and Glasgow Science Center.

Fort William

Photo of Fort William, Highland
Fort William, Highland: en.wikipedia.org

Built in 1650 to defend against a feared Jacobite uprising, Fort William is one of the oldest military fortresses in the Western world. Today, this 16-sided, 36-meter-high structure stands on a rocky outcrop above the River Beauly in the Highlands of Scotland and is a splendid example of Scottish military architecture. The fortress is still operational and has three permanent gun batteries at its heart, a barracks, living quarters, and tour guides in period uniforms. A walk around the Citadel is one of the main attractions of a visit. Head to the Signal Tower on the corner of the castle's main square and enjoy stunning views of the site. High-quality artwork adorns the walls in the tower's basement, while on the ground floor, views of the castle's interior can be had through a glass-fronted viewing platform. Deeper in the castle are a couple of the fort's gun batteries, as well as the Munitions Museum, which houses cannons and artifacts that chronicle the history of the fort from its construction to the modern day. One battery is still operational, but a visit is not allowed.

St. Andrews

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St Andrews: en.wikipedia.org

A British icon that has been attracting visitors to its picturesque and civilized environs for over 300 years, St. Andrews is one of the most popular vacation destinations in Scotland. With a red brick castle at its center, the town has an elegant historic look to match its beautiful surroundings. Though you can enjoy most of the island's sights and attractions from the city, it's just a short 30-minute drive to the south to visit the New Town and the superb sandy beaches that line its shores. The castle, built by Sir William Wallace, dates from the 11th century, making it one of the oldest in Scotland. The tallest structure on the island, it offers a superb view of the town and offers guided tours at certain times of the day. Also worth seeing are the cathedral, which dates back to the 14th century, and the town's oldest cemetery, which dates from 1350. Popular with golfers, St. Andrews has a number of courses within a 20-minute drive. For golfers, the town's championship links course, the Old Course, is one of the finest, designed by the famous architect, Old Tom Morris. While staying in St. Andrews, you may enjoy walks along the Royal Golf Links, home to a local professional golf tournament, and play at the spectacular Muirfield, Britain's oldest golf links course.

St. Kilda

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St Kilda, Scotland: en.wikipedia.org

The Lighthouse Reserve at St. Kilda is the first stop in the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. These islands are so named because they are located between the Outer Hebrides and mainland Scotland. There are many things to do in St. Kilda. This lighthouse is often mentioned in many novels, including A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess and The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. The national park is best reached by boat. From the Oban mainland port, ferries from the mainland leave for St. Kilda. A popular tourist activity is to hike the paths and steep cliffs on the island. You can take an excursion from Oban to the uninhabited Outer Hebrides. The Muckle Flugga Lighthouse at Eigg is Scotland's northernmost inhabited island.

Glen Coe

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Glen Coe: en.wikipedia.org

Beautiful Glen Coe, which lies on the north-western slopes of the Scottish Highlands, is one of the most beautiful regions in Scotland. The climate is a mild one, and many plants and flowers thrive here, as do many kinds of animals, including bears, elk, foxes, badgers, and otters. With mountain passes and rambling paths linking the towns, it is possible to hike along the valley floor from the small town of Fort William, reach the head of the glen by winding through the dingle, and then climb out to see the views over Loch Coe. Be sure to take the descent to Fort William into account when setting your travel dates!

Oban

Oban (Oban Daal Mòr in Scots Gaelic) is a remote fishing town on the west coast of Scotland, on the British mainland, in Argyll and Bute. The town's historic appeal lies in its lovely setting, along the shores of the Campbeltown Water and on an estuary leading into the famous Lorna Doone Loch. In the town, which is surrounded by fishing villages and craggy mountains, the historic Argyll Hotel dates back to 1768. In the 1980s, the old hotel was restored and extensively modernized and today it is a traditional pub with a modern interior and courtyard garden. The Campbell Collection in the fine Art Gallery of the Castle dates back to the 1750s, and is the largest collection of items, silver, and coins from the east of Scotland, including pottery from Badens, Oban, and Castlebay. The museum has featured in several television programs, including Charlie's Angels and The Detectives. The Gallery Shop and restaurant offer local produce, and a short walk from here is the Elizabeth Gow's Garden. Also a short walk is Oban harbour, which has an exhibition on fishing in the district. Another place of interest in the town is the Aikenhead Tolbooth, from where the first mail was sent to Oban in 1805. Oban has a boat trip to the nearby islands of Eigg and Muck, which were used in the filming of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Aberdeen

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Aberdeen: en.wikipedia.org

The largest and most important city in the country, Aberdeen is a busy port and industrial city on the north coast of Scotland. Located near the shores of the North Sea and the Moray Firth, Aberdeen is a historical city with a rich Celtic history. The city is famous for being the birthplace of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who met while studying architecture at the University of Aberdeen. Today, a modern, low-rise and diverse city, Aberdeen has a rich culture, with the Festival Theatre, Art Gallery and the Northern Lights, the national theatre, performing one of Scotland's leading roles in opera and drama. The main attractions in the city are its stately Victorian and Edwardian townhouses, the collection of local art and rare books housed at the Aberdeen University Library, and the Harald's Biscuit factory, where tasty cones of buttery caramel roll are made and sold on the main street. In the old part of the city, most of the city's shops are clustered around the High Street, a short walk from the train station and bus depot.

Isle of Mull

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Isle of Mull: en.wikipedia.org

Tottering on the edge of Scotland's Inner Hebrides, the island of Mull is home to a historic fortress, monastic ruins, and traditional fishing villages. Once called the 'Isle of Mulligatawny', this island is so endearingly named after a song that is, in fact, a centuries-old ballad. Mull is so close to the mainland that it is an easy hop by ferry from Oban in Argyll to Mull's main town, Killin. There are plenty of things to do here: boat trips to the nearby islands of Islay, Jura, and Eriskay; wildlife watching in Torloisk Forest and Knoydart; nature trails to Port Appin and Sanna's Cottage; food and drink in the pretty fishing village of Tobermory; and family activities in a wonderful safari park. There are also some fabulous beaches, notably south-facing Macleod's Haven. The latter is small and unspoiled, with long, shallow bays, although there are often many more people than on neighboring beaches, such as Coigach.

Kintyre

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Kintyre: en.wikipedia.org

Kintyre is a rocky island off the west coast of Scotland's West Highlands, just between the islands of Islay and Jura. This wild, rugged area is home to dramatic coastlines, and if you walk along its cobbled streets in the old burghs and towns, you'll find yourself in a tranquil world. It's a haven for walkers, with paths for all levels. The Isle of Arran, Jura and Islay can all be visited from Kintyre, and if you are interested in the relationship between the early Celts and the Dark Age Picts, then the island of Arran will offer you plenty of interest, along with guided tours to the Arran Iron Age sites. Traditionally Kintyre was famous for sheep, but it is these days an extremely popular destination for those who enjoy watersports. Enjoy canoeing, sailing, windsurfing, surfing, fishing and diving, as well as exploring this beautiful island, home to sheep, wild ponies, deer, red deer and buzzards, but, alas, no seals.

Tobermory

Photo of Tobermory, Mull
Tobermory, Mull: en.wikipedia.org

Tobermory is a delightful peninsula jutting into the rugged and beautiful waters of Loch Fyne. With a castle, an attractive harbor, a sandy beach, and steep cliffs, it is not hard to see why people are attracted to this tiny spot in the Highlands. Although people have been building castles in Scotland since prehistoric times, and there are still buildings that are centuries old, many in the area were destroyed after a major fire in 1898. Among these are the 15th century castle at Tobermory, the 15th century Torr a'Chuain Castle on the Isle of Mull, and the 13th century Gavel Castle on the Isle of Mull. A trip to Tobermory includes at least a visit to the harbor, where you can go boating, fishing, and see the village of Achnashellach. In the town itself, visit Tobermory Museum, the Tobermory Malt Whisky Shop, and the old Presbytery Church.

Loch Lomond

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Ben Lomond: en.wikipedia.org

The source of the river that flows through Glasgow, the Tinto is a crystal-clear, aqua-colored waterway flowing from an area of natural beauty. Loch Lomond National Park is a perfect example of an inland loch or freshwater lake, surrounded by the higher hills of the Scottish Highlands. The park is separated into numerous sections, making it an excellent place to break up a trip to Scotland. If you visit the well-known section of the park in summer, you can catch a boat ride on the clear waters of Loch Lomond. The 2-km pedestrian bridge over the loch is also a great way to experience this destination.

Hebrides

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Outer Hebrides: en.wikipedia.org

Scotland's third-largest island is the Isle of Harris and is the most sparsely populated of the three main islands. It is only 40km long and 16km wide, making the island feel a little less than its 28,000 inhabitants would expect, but it does have a surprisingly varied geography. Hebrides has been inhabited for more than 6000 years. Notable prehistoric sites include the open moorland of Ness and the small but impressive fort of Dun Carloway. There are a number of long sandy beaches on the western coast. The charming town of Stornoway, which is also a ferry port, and the Isle of Lewis are both on the western side of the island. Lewis' dramatic coastline and its lighthouse are very photogenic.

Royal Yacht Britannia

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HMY Britannia: en.wikipedia.org

Constructed for Queen Elizabeth II in 1990, Royal Yacht Britannia was one of the last of the large, working Royal yachts. It made 17 visits to the British Isles between 1968 and 1982, bringing passengers from hundreds of cities and towns. In 1984, Britannia was withdrawn from service to undergo extensive repairs and upgrade work that lasted five years. In 1998, Britannia was taken out of service for a planned modernization at the British Royal Yacht Repair in Woolwich, England. The Britannia returned to service with the Royal Family in 2000, after having served as a floating home and social center during the Queen's Silver Jubilee and as a tourist attraction. It is currently being used by the Royal Navy to train cadets, has been open to the public on rare occasions, and is undergoing another repair project. Royal Yacht Britannia is at the heart of the port of Leith, Edinburgh, and lies right next to the Scottish Parliament building, which is the UK's Parliament. There are tours and exhibitions about the Royal Yacht, and visitors have a chance to watch the famous firing of the ship's cannon on May 1.

Aviemore

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Aviemore: en.wikipedia.org

Aviemore is Scotland's biggest winter resort and a prime skiing destination. It has a population of around 10,000 people, and its purpose-built town is laid out in a L-shape. The main shopping street, Boa Street, is lined with shops and restaurants, while at the heart of the L is a seven-story giant climbing wall and children's playground. Shopping takes place in the numerous high street boutiques, although you may prefer to visit the outdoor markets for more interesting buys. There are also fantastic views of the surrounding mountains, best reached by taking the scenic rail line from the town center.

Edinburgh

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Edinburgh: en.wikipedia.org

Scotland's capital city has a wealth of museums, galleries, museums, the remains of the royal city of Edinburgh Castle, an abundance of chocolate, pubs, and, above all, Edinburgh's great and innovative street theatre. The city hosts several annual festivals, including the Summer Festival and the Fringe Festival. The Scottish capital is also home to a number of colleges and universities. Among these is the University of Edinburgh, the world's first university, which offers high-quality graduate courses and is the only Scottish university to have Nobel Prize winners among its alumni.

Read more 👉  Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Edinburgh

Portree

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Portree: en.wikipedia.org

Scotland's largest town, in the far north, is located on the edge of the island of Skye. Portree boasts one of the most majestic views in the world with a spectacular backdrop of the surrounding sea, a rugged coastline, towering, often snow-capped mountains, and the Pentland Hills. Home to just over 6,000 people, Portree is well known for its award-winning beaches and offshore islands. Ferries depart from the pier across the bay from Portree for the islands of Eilean Mor, Eilean Mòr, and the jewel of the group, Skye. Local museums include the Skye Museum, the Victorian Museum, and the Blackhouse Gallery. The beaches at Portree and at Eilean Mòr are popular with holiday makers, especially in the summer months.

Isle of Arran

Photo of Isle of Arran
Isle of Arran: en.wikipedia.org

The Isle of Arran is an off-the-beaten-track area of Scotland not far from Glasgow. Arran's only main town is Port Logan, which dates back to the early 1800s. The island offers good hikes, such as the MacKenzie's Links and the West coast Path, for which it's a popular destination. Arran's most well-known attraction is its many sandy beaches and they can be accessed through the town or from one of the 5 car parks and 2 coach parks dotted around the island.