Top 15 Attractions & Things To Do In Scotland

While the major cities overflow with glorious architecture, whisky tasting shows and frenetic art festivals, the Highlands invoke the legend of King Arthur, pierce with the sound of bagpipes, enchant with the romanticism woven into the tartan pattern, sooth with abundantly grassy hills and hypnotize with mysteriously steamy lakes. A sense of enigma lurks in the countless fortresses scattered all over the country, rests up high on the spires of magnificent cathedrals, plummets from the edges of treacherous cliffs, and hovers over tranquil archipelagos.

Following some research into the preferences and opinions posted by users of various social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as own resources and reviews by the most popular travel sites, Open Travel has compiled a list of top 15 things to see or do on your Scotland Vacations. Let yourself be mystified!

  1. Old Town of Edinburgh

    Location: EdinburghScotland

    Old Town of EdinburghPhoto by Tilmandralle

    No other European capital could provide a canvas for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. On arrival you come to see the respectable figure of the Old Town’s medieval tenements robed in the New Town’s neoclassical chic. Heels tap rhythmically on the frigid cobblestones of the Royal Mile and the Nelson’s Monument keeps a watchful eye on the restrained city life from top of Calton Hill – Edinburgh’s acropolis and the headquarters of the Scottish Government. John Knox House lets you come up close to the most dramatic events in Scotland’s history, while Literary Pub Tours impart with you the city’s infectious decadence. But dip a little bit deeper and you’ll be hit with the primeval magnitude of the craggy cliffs that cast an awe-inspiring shadow over the refined monuments. Edinburgh is a town where the reserved face of enlightenment and tradition is oxygenated with real blood and distorted with animalistic grimaces. Here civilization and nature fight a battle for dominance within one body, but being so intimately interlaced, one cannot exist without the other. And now imagine all that when the Edinburgh Festival floods the city with artistic frenzy and color.

    Neist Point

    Location: Island of SkyeScotland

    Neist PointPhoto by David and Lynn

    The Island of Skye, situated off the West coast of Mainland Scotland and with its 350 miles of coastline, is the largest and best known of the Inner Hebrides. Often referred in Gaelic poetry as Eilean a’ Cheò, the Misty Isle, the place is famed for stunning natural beauty and wildlife. The dramatic area of majestic mountains, moorlands and lochs was sculpted by the violent volcanic activity over 1 million of years ago. The island is highly popular with trippers, holidaymakers and naturalists alike. Climbers shall find the Red Cuillins an enjoyable experience while nature lovers will be astonished with the abundance of birds here. Probably one of the best places to do some bird-watching is Neist Point, the most westerly point of Skye. This spectacular headland will also give you great opportunity to observe whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking shark. Explore other of the Inner Hebrides such as Islay, famed for superb malt whiskey distilleries, or Jura, off-the-beaten-track hiking paradise, for even more of your island adventure

    Glasgow Merchant City

    Location: GlasgowScotland

    Glasgow Merchant CityPhoto by John Lindie

    Here in the heart of Glasgow, where tobacco traders once came to settle down, do business and build their warehouses, you will find a hermetic environment consistent with its historical roots and proud of its mercantile background. Overflowing with galleries, fine historic buildings, some of the most eclectic eateries in Scotland and infectious pub culture, it is one of those places we typically say have souls. And if you’re in for some night time revelry, Merchant city caters for all scenes till the break of dawn. Also, make sure you don’t miss Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which boasts one of the finest civic collections in Europe, even if it takes crawling out of a bar the night before a little earlier than you’d love to.

    Loch Ness

    Location: Loch NessScotland

    Loch NessPhoto by Shadowgate

    Dark-watered, deep and mysterious, the Loch Ness is the instantly recognized lake not only in Scotland but worldwide. It stretches for over 20 miles along the natural geological cleft from Fort William in the west to Inverness in the north. Reaching as deep as 740 feet, the lake is the largest one in Scotland by volume. It’s probably in the abysmal depths that the scary but much beloved monster, Nessie, dwells. Although numerous sightings of the creature have been reported over the centuries, first one in 585, strangely enough very little evidence exists to give some credence. With or without the gigantic monster, Loch Ness is a magnetic destination of rugged hills climbing steeply, luscious greenery and somewhat misty and elusive charm present in places like Urquhart Bay with the Castle Urquhart, Scotland’s largest stronghold or enticing spots of Invermoriston and Fort Augustus. Enjoy!

    Dunnottar Castle

    Location: AberdeenshireScotland

    Dunnottar CastlePhoto by Hossein Mansouri

    It doesn’t take much effort to stumble upon gloomy medieval fortresses in Scotland, but frankly, Dunnottar beats them all with its evocative and dramatic location. Perched at the edge of a cliffy headland about 3 kilometers south of Stonehaven, the castle is now heavily ruined, but its former glory and magnificence is echoed in every single brick still resting in the crumbling walls. Amble through the barracks, lodgings, and stables imagining that they were once graced with the presence of William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots, have a sit on the nicely manicured lawn, gape down the cliff, and when you’re done here, jump to youthful Aberdeen for a considerable dose of urban buzz in a bustling student community of the city that has won the Britain in Bloom competition a record breaking ten times, and it was certainly deservedly!


    Beaches of Outer Hebrides

    Location: HebridesScotland

    Beaches of Outer HebridesPhoto by Gordon Hatton

    Rising majestically from the sea at the northwest edge of Europe, this 150 mile-long island chain of beaches, culture, wildlife and adventure is a paradise for activity-packed summer stays and a wonderful place to unwind. The Outer Hebrides have some of the most breathtaking straps of golden sands, not just in Europe but in the world as well as impressive mountain ranges and vast moorland. Much of the west side is one virtual long deserted and pristine beach. Find your sunny spot on Barra, South or North Uist, Harris or Lewis. What you shall be faced with there are peaceful and unspoiled areas of unsurpassed beauty. Fresh water and sea lochs will provide a great resource for fishermen and bird watchers and for even more nature-spying have a boat trip to spot whales, dolphins, seals or puffins. Unforgettable.


    Shetland Islands Hopping

    Location: Shetland IslandsScotland

    Soothing golden beaches, mesmerizing cliffs and a world of truly wild nature where seals and otters frolic in quiet coves and the air is filled with the sound of wild birds. That’s Shetland Islands. The group consists of over one hundred islands north of Scotland and astonishes with dramatic ice carved landscape as well as 6,000 years of history treasures. The archipelago is windswept and often treeless with a uniquely Scottish flavor of empty glens surrounded by steep hills, shimmering, sky-blue lochs and, of course, sheep, sheep, sheep. Shetland’s scenery is surprisingly diversified for such a small piece of land. The islands offer everything from rocky crags and heather hills to fertile farmland, from sand dunes and pebble beaches to stupendous rocks. A postcard perfect destination. Enjoy!

    Glen Coe

    Location: LochaberScotland

    Glen CoePhoto by ben matthews :::

    Called the last great wilderness , the Scottish Highlands mesmerize with grand mountain scenery, shimmering lakes, solitary inns, spooky ruins and a wealth of legends. It’s a realm of your childhood fantasies, an oasis of tranquility, a paradise for walkers and rare fauna watchers. If you’re in for some ascent, honor Ben Nevis, which is the highest mountain in the British Isles at mere 1,344 meters. If you’re not much of a climber, head southwards towards magical, rolling Glen Coe, hailed to be one of the most heart-throbbing places in the whole Scotland. There, in the village of Glencoe, you’ll be told a grim story of a 1692 massacre which adds a dramatic, historical dimension to the scenic beauty of this Highlands’ emerald treasure.

    St. Kilda – The Cliffs Of Hirta

    Location: HebridesScotland

    St. Kilda - The Cliffs Of HirtaPhoto by CaptainOates

    The archipelago is a World Heritage Site that has managed to preserve ecosystems for thousands of years. These distant and solitary islands are home to the highest cliffs in Europe nesting the most important colonies and breeding sites of birds in the north-eastern Atlantic. A birdwatcher’s paradise you might think. Yes, but not only. The largest in the St Kilda archipelago is the scenic Hirta, a 3 by 3 km Hebrides island with spectacular cliffs rising up to 1000 feet straight out of the Atlantic and remnants of an isolated community. Visit the island to find out more about the islanders’ tough struggle with the churned up waters of the ocean, harsh environment and disease.

    Rannoch Moor

    Location: PitlochryScotland

    Rannoch MoorPhoto by Mahir Sayar

    Uninhabited and barely accessible, the Rannoch Moor has a sense of a legend and mystery interwoven into its heavy mists. The windswept expanses of peat bogs, sweeping moorland clad with heather, granite tors, and gnarled pines make for the spot’s simple, yet beguiling beauty. Difficult to navigate by car and particularly recommended for long, undisturbed treks, Rannoch Moor is a place where vastness makes you feel at home and solitude cheers your heart. Take to nature in its most primeval form. Mind your step, though.

    Heart of Neolithic Orkney

    Location: Orkney IslandsScotland

    Heart of Neolithic OrkneyPhoto by Shadowgate

    The Orkney Islands cut the water’s surface where the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet , that is at the very northern tip of Scotland. The pristine archipelago includes roughly 70 islands, 21 of which are currently inhabited. Deservedly, the Orkney is a little paradise for holidaymakers that pampers with quiet sandy beaches, marvelous scenery and fresh quality cuisine. When exploring, hit the islands’ capital, Kirkwall as its huge and impressive red sandstone St Magnus Cathedral shall definitely not be passed over. The church, known as the ‘Light in the North’, was founded in 1137 by the Viking, Earl Rognvald and tells the tale of Viking invasions. Owned by the burgh of Kirkwall, not church, the cathedral has been justifiably described as “one of the finest and best preserved medieval cathedrals in Scotland” and it is not hard to understand why. Moving even further back in time and pleasing the eyes of archeology enthusiasts is the Skara Brae, a stone-built Neolithic settlement on the west coast of Orkney mainland hidden for centuries under solid sediments and discovered after a storm in 1850.The town is made up of ten houses that were occupied roughly from 3100 to 2500 BC. The remnants are so intact that they gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. Put it on your must-see visit straight away!

    Speyside Whisky Distilleries

    Location: Scotland

    Speyside Whisky DistilleriesPhoto by foxypar4

    When you think of Scotland you see romantic castles, dramatic rugged landscapes and men in kilts maybe. But there is one more thing that should definitely not be left out, the whisky. Whisky, Uisghe Beatha, The Water of Life as it is often referred to, has changed and evolved for more than 500 years to please its connoisseurs with rich single malts, complex pure malts and distinctive Scotch blends we know today. To explore the secrets of the magic potion, have a tour of Speyside Whisky distilleries and follow the world-famous Malt Whisky Trail to discover the distilleries’ own traditions, lore and unique recipes for everything from malting the barley to the height and size of its stills.

    Firth of Clyde

    Location: Scotland

    Firth of ClydePhoto by Robert Watson

    Held to be Britain’s Most Beautiful Estuary, the Firth of Clyde stretches from its upper tidal limits in Glasgow to the outer firth in Argyll and Ayrshire, feeding a wealth of bustling towns and idyllic villages nested along its banks. The natural charm of numerous sea-loch, wild beaches and adorable islands is a whole world to explore, weather permits, both by road and from the waters. Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute will delight enthusiasts of Neo-Gothic, and trekking on the Isle of Arran will certainly spur the imagination of nature lovers. So pure and welcoming is the firth that even dolphins have been spotted in its upper reaches. Grey seals and harbor porpoises are, on the other hand, a fairly commonplace sight.

    Melrose Abbey

    Location: MelroseScotland

    Melrose AbbeyPhoto by Akinom

    Melrose Abbey sits somewhere along the scenic St Cuthbert’s Way  – a 62-mile (100 km) walk through the highly diversified countryside between the Scottish Borders town of Melrose and Lindisfarne (Holy Island) off the coast of Northumberland. The trail commemorates the life of a 7th century monk, St Cuthbert, who took the spiritual message of Christianity from Scotland to England. Walking from village to village you broaden your knowledge of how Christianity developed in northern parts of the island. The walk is compelling not only for fervent believers but also general historians or just nature admirers as the views of the beautiful countryside are breathtaking. Melrose, where St Cuthbert started his life of religious devotion, is a definite must on the way. The building stuns with the delicacy of carved stone, decorative details and other impressive features of English Perpendicular style.

    Forth Bridge

    Forth BridgePhoto by George Gastin

    Regarded as an engineering marvel, the Fourth Railway Bridge has been Scotland’s world-famed landmark since it was opened in 1890 by the Prince of Wales. The steel construction of three separate double cantilevers linked together by 350ft long girder spans joined to the main structure of the bridge by huge pins makes you awe agape at the building genius of its constructors. The bridge’s construction lasted 7 years and proved to be a hazardous enterprise that devoured the life of about 60 people and injured many more in numerous accidents. Reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower, the bridge dominates the landscape with its majesty and the power of human engineering thought.