Looking for the best things to do in Scotland? I’m happy to help with the top experiences in the land of lochs and legends.
Based on my own travels in Scotland, I’ve made a list of the most unique places and activities that capture the heart and soul of Scotland – from haunting castles and lake monsters to the most beautiful nature in the Scottish highlands.
Let’s dive in.
The best things to do in Scotland
Historical sites and experiences
1. Explore Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is a historic fortress which dominates the skyline of the city from its position on Castle Rock. Built in the 11th century, it’s one of the oldest fortified places in Europe.
At this site, you can view the Honours of Scotland, the oldest crown jewels in Britain.
2. Visit Stirling Castle
Head to Stirling Castle, where you’ll find a key location from Scotland’s struggles for independence.
Learn about the castle’s role during the Wars of Scottish Independence, and see the beautifully restored Renaissance Royal Palace.
3. Walk Culloden’s Battlefields
The Battle of Culloden in 1746 marked the end of clan society in Scotland.
Walk across the moorland and learn about the Jacobite uprising at the visitor centre.
4. Explore the Royal Yacht Britannia
Moored in Edinburgh, the Royal Yacht Britannia was the British royal family’s floating residence for over 40 years.
Tour the yacht and experience royal life at sea.
5. Ruins of Melrose Abbey
Melrose Abbey was founded in 1136 by Cistercian monks.
Today, you can visit the ruins and see the intricate stonework and burial site supposed to be the heart of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots from 1306 to his death in 1329.
6. See Eilean Donan Castle
The Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland, perched on a small island at the meeting point of three lochs.
If you’re going to the Isle of Skye, you’ll drive right past this castle, just before crossing the bridge to Skye.
You can explore the castle’s history and its connections to the Jacobite risings.
7. Relax at Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond is a beautiful lake, steeped in history.
Enjoy a serene environment and explore nearby historic sites like Balloch Castle.
8. Visit Ancient Orkney
Orkney is a group of islands with a dense concentration of ancient sites, including Neolithic villages and ceremonial stone rings.
The Heart of Neolithic Orkney is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
9. Watch the Harry Potter train at Glenfinnan Viaduct
Glenfinnan Viaduct became famous in the Harry Potter films.
Take a train ride over the viaduct and enjoy the same magical views as seen in the films.
10. Pretend you’re in ‘Outlander’ at Calanais Standing Stones
The Calanais Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis are thought to be around 5,000 years old.
Feel the mystery and history that inspired the scenes in ‘Outlander’.
11. Explore the Basalt Columns of Fingal’s Cave
Fingal’s Cave on the uninhabited Isle of Staffa, is known for its unique basalt columns and sea cave.
The cave inspired artists and composers like Felix Mendelssohn.
12. Explore the historic Dundee
Dundee’s history as a port city brought wealth and innovation.
Visit the RRS Discovery, the ship used by Scott and Shackleton for their Antarctic exploration.
14. Wander Edinburgh’s Old Town
Stroll through the Old Town‘s Royal Mile, witness the preserved architecture, and sense the history embedded in this part of the city.
It’s a labyrinth of cobblestone streets and dimly lit closes – very atmospheric.
15. Join a Ghost Tour in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is known for its chilling and haunted history, so it’s the perfect place for a ghost tour!
I recommend Mary King’s Close – it’s fun and just the right amount of creepy! The ghost tour takes you to a real-deal historic alley tucked away underground, showing you what life was like in the city ages ago.
You’ll hear all the juicy tales and eerie myths that make this subterranean slice of history so fascinating.
16. Look for Nessie at Loch Ness
This legendary creature has intrigued locals and visitors since the first reported sighting in 1933. Bring your binoculars and maybe you’ll catch a glimpse!
17. Join the Edinburgh Fringe
Every August, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival turns Scotland’s capital into a hub for performers and artists from around the world.
It’s the largest arts festival on the planet, where you can enjoy everything from comedy to theatre and street performances.
18. Sample Scotch Whisky
Take the opportunity to sample Scotch whisky in its birthplace.
Tours are plentiful, ranging from larger brands to smaller distilleries.
Whether you choose a single malt or a blended whisky, you’ll taste the rich layers of Scotland’s national drink.
19. Attend Highland Games
Experience Scottish and Celtic culture firsthand at the Highland Games, held in various regions from spring to summer.
Witness traditional events like caber tossing and hammer throwing, and enjoy the pipers and highland dancers.
20. Celebrate Hogmanay
Ring in the New Year at Hogmanay, Scotland’s world-renowned New Year celebration.
It’s a festival full of firework displays, torchlight processions, and live music—expect a hearty dose of Scottish hospitality and vibrant traditions.
21. Try Haggis
No trip to Scotland is complete without tasting haggis, Scotland’s national dish.
This savory dish contains sheep’s pluck (heart, liver, and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt.
It’s traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach, though now often in an artificial casing instead.
22. Plan a Road Trip through the Scottish Highlands
The Scottish Highlands are home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, with towering mountains like Ben Nevis and deep lochs.
Plan a road trip to take in these sights at your own pace.
23. Tour Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye features dramatic landscapes, from the jagged Cuillin hills to the stunning sea cliffs.
Don’t miss the iconic Old Man of Storr, a large pinnacle of rock that stands high and can be seen for miles.
24. Stroll Outer Hebrides Beaches
The beaches of the Outer Hebrides boast crystal-clear waters and pristine sand, rivaling those of any tropical paradise.
Luskentyre and Scarista are particularly breathtaking examples.
25. See UK’s only dual UNESCO World Heritage Site on St. Kilda
St. Kilda is not only key for its natural significance but also for human history, making it the UK’s only dual World Heritage Site.
It’s a place of solitude where sea birds, such as puffins during the summer season, are aplenty.
26. Visit Cairngorms National Park
At Cairngorms National Park, you’ll find a variety of outdoor activities set within Britain’s largest national park.
It’s a playground for hikers, climbers, and winter sports enthusiasts.
27. Discover the Shetland Islands
The Shetland Islands offer an unparalleled opportunity to explore unique geology and wildlife.
The coasts are a perfect spot for glimpsing seals and otters.
28. Go hiking in Glen Coe
Glen Coe is hallowed ground for hikers in Scotland.
The dramatic valley offers some of the most breathtaking vistas and challenging routes, such as the Three Sisters and Aonach Eagach ridge.
29. Discover Devil’s Pulpit
Devil’s Pulpit, near Glasgow, is a short walk to a hidden gorge with red-colored water.
It’s an otherworldly spot that’s relatively simple to reach but feels like a step into another world.
30. Explore Isle of Mull
One of the best things to do in Scotland is visiting Isle of Mull. It’s an excellent location for wildlife spotting, featuring white-tailed eagles and a diverse marine life.
The island’s landscapes are diverse, ranging from rocky cliffs to sandy beaches.
31. Hike the West Highland Way
The West Highland Way is Scotland’s premier long-distance hiking trail, stretching 96 miles from Milngavie to Fort William.
It’s a challenge, but it rewards with stunning landscapes and a sense of accomplishment.
32. Visit Plockton Village
Plockton is known as ‘The Jewel of the Highlands’, and it’s easy to see why.
This charming village is surrounded by loch waters and palm trees, thanks to the warm currents of the Gulf Stream.
33. See the Kelpies Sculptures
While not a natural landscape, the Kelpies sculptures are a monumental tribute to Scotland’s horse-powered heritage, situated within the Helix Park.
These 30-meter-tall horse head sculptures are an impressive sight, especially when lit up at night.
34. Watch puffins
Puffins are among Scotland’s most cherished seabirds, known for their colorful beaks and comical walk.
Your best chance to see them is during the breeding season, which peaks from April to July. The Isle of May and the cliffs of the Treshnish Isles are prime spots for puffin watching.
These places are just a boat ride away with a guided puffin tour.
35. See Highland Cows
Highland cows, with their distinctive long horns and shaggy fur, are a Scottish icon.
They are most commonly found in the Scottish Highlands, but can also be spotted grazing in fields throughout the country.
For a personal encounter, family-run farms often offer meet-and-greet experiences which can be better than simply spotting them from a distance.
FAQ – Unique things to do in Scotland
What is the number 1 thing to see in Scotland?
The number one thing to see in Scotland is Edinburgh Castle or the Scottish Highlands.
How many days is enough for Scotland?
For a good taste of the country, including cities and a glimpse of the Highlands, around 7 to 10 days is a solid amount of time.
This allows you to explore a few different regions without feeling too rushed.
However, if you’re tight on time, even a 5 to 6-day trip can cover some essential experiences in places like Edinburgh and Glasgow, along with a couple of scenic spots in the Highlands.
How to spend 5 days in Scotland?
For a 5-day trip in Scotland:
- Day 1: Explore Edinburgh, including the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle.
- Day 2: Travel to the Highlands, stopping at Loch Ness and Eilean Donan Castle.
- Day 3: Spend the day on the Isle of Skye, visiting places like the Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing.
- Day 4: Return to the mainland and head to Glasgow for the evening.
- Day 5: Discover Glasgow’s highlights before departing.
Where is the prettiest place in Scotland?
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