Top Things to Do in Scotland

Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland

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Last updated:
11.09.2019
 

Wonderful Scotland is a magical place which helped to shape the world. Just think of all the amazing things that came from Scotland, such as democracy, television, Scottish terriers, penicillin, golf, telephones, color photography, David Tennant, Scottish folds, Harry Potter, whiskey, and countless other things making life such an incredible adventure. And even though it has given so much already, it just can’t stop offering. The country prides itself on wondrous sights, breathtaking landscapes, and amazing people, promising to turn any Scotland tour into a journey of a lifetime.

 

Top Scotland's Cities to Visit

Edinburgh & Glasgow

It's really hard to decide which of these two cities of Scotland to list first. Anyone who has ever been to this UK gem knows that the rivalry between the towns is almost as serious as the one between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty or Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Both Scottish cities are just as incredible as they are different. It seems that the only thing Edinburgh and Glasgow have in common is the unconditional pride of their citizens.

You can think of them as two competing sisters. Edinburgh is like an older, wiser sibling, respecting traditions and the family name. It's one of the most picturesque places in the world, looking like it escaped from an old postcard. The sophisticated capital of Scotland is a great place to explore the history of the country, visiting the magnificent Edinburgh Castle, the National Museum of Scotland, St. Giles Cathedral or just taking a stroll along the Royal Mile, a charming medieval street full of cozy shops, inspiring exhibitions, and fascinating museums.

Edinburgh, Scotland
 
Glasgow, Scotland

Glasgow, on the contrary, is like a cooler younger sibling, rebelling against the rules and preferring to follow her dreams over doing what society expects. It's a perfect place to explore a more vibrant, colorful side of the country. Glasgow seems to be sparkling with life, as opposed to serenity-breathing Edinburgh. It seems not to be able to stay quiet for long and, walking the scenic streets of the city, you are never far away from a musical gig. Generally, there are more than 130 music shows a week, so attending a concert is a "must" during your Glasgow tour.

But music is not the only form of art worth exploring, Glasgow boasts several amazing art museums, such as the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and the Burrell Collection. And all the Harry Potter fans can't miss the University of Glasgow during their city tour. Even though it wasn't used as a movie set, one look is enough to understand what was JK Rowling's inspiration behind Hogwarts.

 

Inverness

If you prefer to seek inspiration among the spectacular natural landscapes, consider paying a visit to Inverness, one of the most charming cities in Scotland. Set near the world-famous Loch Ness, it draws people from all over the world. Some of them come to try their luck at seeking Nessie, some are drawn to the area's incredible nature, and some travel to visit the scenic locations used as settings for the popular TV series "Outlander". It doesn't matter what are the reasons behind your visit, you will end up giving your heart to beautiful Inverness.

During your Scotland trips to the city, take some time to see the amazing St. Andrew's Cathedral, the northmost cathedral in mainland Britain, and the magnificent Inverness Castle, immortalized by Shakespeare as the place where Macbeth killed King Duncan and usurped the crown.

Inverness, Scotland
 
Glasgow, Scotland

Fort William

Scenic Fort William is a small town known as the outdoor capital of the UK. Surrounded by magnificent mountains and wild waterfalls, this Scottish city provides jaw-dropping views and a lot of outdoor activities to choose from, including climbing the highest mountain in the UK, the majestic Ben Nevis.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a professional climber to enjoy the views from the top, there is an old mountain track (also known as the “tourist route”) leading to the top. However, this route still demands at least an average level of overall fitness. If you are not sure you are quite ready but still want to enjoy the spectacular views, think about riding a mountain gondola up the Aonach Mor Mountain. Apart from the amazing views, you can find the cozy Snowgoose Restaurant, serving delicious Scottish and international cuisine on top of the mountain.

 

"Must-sees" in Scotland

Ancient Castles of Scotland

If you ask someone to name the first three things which come to mind when thinking of Scotland, castles will definitely be on the list (probably accompanied by whiskey and kilts). And this is not ill-founded. If there is a place that can put to shame the famous Irish castles, it's Scotland.

The UK boasts an exciting history full of knights in shining armor, royal tournaments, court conspiracies, nobility, and honor. Ancient and eternal, Scottish castles bring to life visions of King Arthur and his knights of the round table.

Although visiting them all during one visit is impossible, there are several fortresses (apart from the mentioned above) that you just can't miss during your Scotland trip.

Edinburgh castle, Scotland
 
Stirling Castle, Scotland

The historic Stirling Castle is surely among them. The castle is one of the most significant Scottish sights that played a vital role in the country's history. This building will enchant you at first sight because of its superb location. Glorious Stirling is nestled on top of a volcanic hill surrounded by steep cliffs, it's visible for miles.

Visiting the castle is like opening an overview window to Scottish history as it was one of the key fortresses during the Wars for Scottish Independence and the residence for royal families. The castle saw three battles fought within its walls and was the coronation place for several kings and queens who helped to put Scotland on the map.

There is even a theory, that the legendary Camelot is based on the Stirling Castle, so, as you can see, it’s not a place you should miss during your Scotland vacation.

 

The Glamis Castle boasts amazing architecture and fascinating history too, as well as a superior connection to Britain's kings and queens.

For example, the one and only Queen Elizabeth II grew up there with her sister Princess Margaret. Scotland's King Malcolm was murdered in the castle back in 1034, and, coming back to Bard's masterpiece, brave Macbeth was the Thane of the castle according to the famous play.

Apart from the castle's beautiful facade and vast gardens, there is another reason, making the Glamis Castle irresistible for Scotland enthusiasts. It's an old legend about a secret room, hidden somewhere within the castle walls and keeping some terrible secret. Rumour has it that the passage into the secret room was accidentally revealed during the recent renovations, but the workman was generously paid to leave the country and never speak a word of what he has seen.

Glamis Castle, Scotland
 
Inveraray Castle, Scotland

One more amazing building to add to your bucket list of Scotland "must-sees" is the Inveraray Castle, the seat of the influential Campbell Dukes of Argyl. It is especially true if you are a "Downton Abbey" fan because the beautiful house was partly used as a setting for the Duneagle Castle, home to the MacClare family.

Located in a very picturesque area, the iconic fortress is among the earliest examples of the Gothic Revival style buildings, inviting you to admire the spectacular interiors.

The rooms are decorated using the original furniture of the Dukes of Atholl, as well as beautiful artworks, including portraits of the Campbell family, once the most powerful clan in the Highlands. In the castle, you can find masterpieces by Thomas Gainsborough, John Hoppner, Girard, and Guinard.

 

Picturesque Scottish Bridges

Apart from the spectacular castles, Scotland is awash with beautiful bridges. And exploring at least two of them is among the "must" things to do during your Scotland visit.

We recommend starting with the enchanting Glenfinnan Viaduct, also known as the "Harry Potter Bridge". This tourist attraction dates back to the late 19th century. The viaduct consists of 21 enormous arcs and even 200 years later remains the longest Scottish railway bridge made out of concrete.

And it's hard to argue with the fact that it is still the most striking one! This old structure and its scenic location make you think about old Scotland and feel like you've stepped back in time. It’s a bit hard to imagine a modern bullet train running across the bridge, but seeing an old steam locomotive there feels like the most natural thing in the world.

Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland
 
Jacobite Steam Train ride

And if you want to experience the full magic of the place, you can spice up your Scotland travel plans with a ride on the famous Hogwarts Express.

The train you've seen taking Harry, Ron, and Hermione to Hogwarts was one of the Jacobite Steam Trains, running from charming Fort William to the Mallaig port. Although the train used in the franchise is now retired and housed in Warner Bros' "The Making of Harry Potter" museum, you still can enjoy a Jacobite ride and feel the awe the first-year students felt, crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct on their way to the best school of witchcraft and wizardry.

Keep in mind, that you can enjoy one of the greatest railway journeys in the world only during April - October months. So if you want a Jacobite Steam Train ride to be part of your tour program, you need to plan your Scottish itinerary accordingly.

 

Another bridge Scotland rightfully takes pride in is the stylish Forth Bridge.

It was the first significant steel construction in the United Kingdom and, interestingly, the first train that crossed the beautiful bridge was driven by a noblewoman. Her name was Candida Louise Hay and she was the Marchioness of Tweeddale. This unexpectedly progressive act took place on January 24, 1890. One and a half months later, the Prince of Wales officially announced the bridge open.

Although it can't boast the magic and charm of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, it can brag the status of the symbol of Scotland and inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list, placing it among such wonders as Petra in Jordan, Machu Picchu in Peru, and the Roman Colosseum in Italy, making it a "must-visit" place during your vacation in Scotland.

Forth Bridge, Scotland
 
Loch Ness, Scotland

Breathtaking Landmarks in Scotland

Incredible sceneries are also an integral part of trips to Scotland. And although you are always surrounded by the lovely landscapes touring the country, there are a few very special places you can't miss.

One of the most popular sights in Scotland, Loch Ness, has been surrounded by the veil of mystery for almost a century. The area boasts some of the best views in the country, but most people know it for something else than beautiful nature.

It's hard to find a person who hasn't heard about Nessie, a supposed monster living in the deep waters of the lake. Hundreds of people come to the area, hoping if not to take a picture proving her existence, then at least to glimpse at the creature in its habitat.

 

Although not so widely known, Fingal's Cave in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland is also one of the most spectacular places in the country. The internal walls of this sea cave are made out of tidy hexagonal pillars of basalt.

This place of wonder was once visited by Queen Victoria, Jules Verne, and Lord Tennyson. Members of the Pink Floyd band were mesmerized by its enchanting beauty and named one of their early songs after the famous landmark.

Felix Mendelson has fallen in love with the cave so deeply, that he sent his sister a postcard, containing the beginning of what will become known as the "Hebrides Overture" and this note: "In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me, I send you the following, which came into my head there". With advertisements like this, visiting Fingal's cave can easily become the highlight of your travel to Scotland.

Loch Lomond, Scotland
 

Speaking of other notable natural wonders in the country, the Cairngorms National Park and Loch Lomond are among other places to include in your Scotland travel itinerary, especially if you’re a fan of outdoor leisure.

 

You can see that there is way more to this amazing country than the world-famous Scottish whiskey and bagpipes. People from all over the world come to Scotland to spend some time with their thoughts and the gorgeous nature, to hike the Orkney Islands, to become part of the Harry Potter universe, to enjoy a Jacobite Steam Train ride, or to find out more about the queens and kings of Scotland, exploring the ancient castles. Touring the country, you can feel like royalty and even stay in a castle overnight, have a drink in the remotest pub in the UK, go whiskey tasting in the very birthplace of this noble drink or visit Bonnybridge, the official UFO capital of the country. One thing's for sure, there is no way you can get bored while visiting this amazing country, and having visited Scotland once, you'll wish you didn't have to leave.