19 Of The Best Places To Visit In Scotland
After a couple different trips to Scotland, I can tell you unequivocally that it ABSOLUTELY a place you need to visit. Seriously, like as soon as you can. And I’ve written quite a few different posts on individual spots, but wanted to bring together a more comprehensive list of the best places to visit in Scotland—if you’re thinking about a trip here, these are places that need to be on your short list.
Planning a trip?? Here’s how I planned a 10-day “Highlands & Islands” itinerary!
Figuring out where to go in Scotland can be challenging, and planning a really detailed roadtrip even more so. Do you want moody glens, turquoise beaches, heart-pounding hikes, or adorable chubby seals?? Do you want the quirky historic charm of Edinburgh, or the kitsch of Loch Ness? Or peaceful beauty of Iona paired with the foodie scene of Aberdeen?
Some of these places would naturally be on your list, and others are hidden gems. I think any good epic itinerary should include a healthy mix of both. I haven’t been everywhere in Scotland so this isn’t completely comprehensive, but it does cover quite a bit of the major regions and islands.
To reach most of these places you’ll definitely need a car. For renting a car internationally, I always search in a few different places and compare both the prices and specific offerings/benefits. My go-to’s are DiscoverCars, RentalCars.com, and AutoEurope as well.
So here are 19 of the best places to visit in Scotland!
#1 – Isle of Iona
This itty-bitty remote island tends to fly under the radar, partly because it takes a bit more work to get to. But I am not exaggerating when I say this was our favorite part of our entire “Highlands and Islands” itinerary and absolutely needs to be on your list of where to go in Scotland.
The entire island can easily be explored on foot (no outside cars are allowed), and you’ll fall in love with the quiet sunrises, super cool history (the abbey of St. Columba dates back to the 500s), beautiful turquoise seaside, and awesome 360-degree views. Being on Iona feels like going back in time.
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#2 – Isle of Staffa
Visiting the tiny, uninhabited island of Staffa was actually the primary reason we ended up on Iona to begin with. I’d been obsessed since seeing it in some of my first Pinterest forays—the stark, otherworldly hexagonal pieces of rock joining up and rising out of the ocean out in the middle of nowhere.
You can take this as a boat trip from either Mull or Iona (weather and season permitting), and will have the chance to clamber over the rocks, sing some notes in the famous Cave of Melodies (or Fingal’s Cave), and if you plan the timing correctly see some of the adorable puffins who nest here. We missed them by a few weeks which made me so sad.
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#3 – Isle of Mull
We didn’t get to spend much time here as we were trying to make a ferry, but even just the coastal drive around the island was GORGEOUS. Stop constantly to take pictures, watch out for cows, and pay attention to all the adorable animal crossing signs…from ducks to otters and more!
We had about 15 minutes to wait for the ferry in Fionnphort, which provided a totally different view, with the area’s famous pink rocks against the bright blue water.
#4 – Loch Coruisk & the Black Cuillins
There are many parts of the Isle of Skye that should be on your list, but this one tends to get skipped because it takes a bit more planning and determination to get to. But I can promise you it’s well worth it.
We boarded a boat in Elgol that took us over to Loch Coruisk, a beautiful lake tucked into a little hidden inlet along the coast of Skye, and surrounded by the towering Black Cuillin mountains. You can’t get here by car or by foot (without a super intense hike), so you have this moody, gorgeous place all to yourself.
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#5 – Eilean Donan Castle
Sitting at the point where three lochs meet, this castle is right by where the highway takes you onto the Isle of Skye. It’s an iconic view and definitely should be on your list if you’re anywhere in the area.
The 13th century castle was restored in the early 1900s and is open for tours. Pro tip: check the tide times if getting the best pictures is your priority (a fail on my end when we visited).
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#6 – Callanish Stones
While getting out to the super remote Isle of Harris and Lewis is a bit of a time commitment, it offers up some really unique experiences and landscapes. I was stoked to see the famous Callanish Stones—or as I called it in my Isle of Harris and Lewis deeper post, “some Outlander-level realness”!
This is one of the biggest sets of standing stones in Scotland, and are over 5,000 years old (older than Stonehenge). It was a miserably cold and rainy day when we visited, but even that couldn’t tarnish my excitement.
#7 – The Isle of Harris & Lewis
The Callanish Stones aren’t the only thing to see on the Isle of Harris and Lewis, however. From ancient ruins to natural beauty, there’s a ton to do here. It is more of a time commitment, but if your itinerary allows then this is definitely one of the best places to visit in Scotland.
I desperately wished we had another day here on our itinerary, but even with just one day we drove the famous Golden Road, soaked in the turquoise beaches that are straight out of the Caribbean, marveled at the beautiful scenery, and chatted with this delightful pony. He says, “Y’all come back and see us.”
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#8 – Hiking the Quiraing
The Isle of Skye is known for all manner of hiking opportunities, but perhaps the most famous is the Quiraing. Stunning and capricious, it’s not for the faint of heart…not so much because it’s a super difficult climb but rather the weather can turn on you quickly so you have to be careful. I think we cycled through an entire year’s worth of seasons while we were hiking it.
BUT THE VIEWS ARE WORTH THE RISK.
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#9 – Kilt Rock (& Mealt Falls)
I’m a sucker for a waterfall, and the scenery surrounding this one can’t be beat. It is much harder than the pics would have you believe to get a good photo…particularly when fighting against crowds trying to reach around the fence for a better angle.
But it’s a super easy stop off the main road on Skye. Don’t miss nearby Lealt Falls, which gets very few visitors and has its own super cool vistas (you can see how to visit Lealt Falls and much more in my deeper Isle of Skye post).
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#10 – Neist Point Lighthouse
The weather yet again thwarted my plans here (it was a crazy cold, wet summer), but I still yearn to see the views of Neist Point Lighthouse at sunset. The way it juts out from the rest of the land and slopes up, and then the way the sun hits it, is the stuff of dreams.
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#11 – Applecross
This beautiful little pastoral town sits in the middle of a fairly dramatic Glen Torrison and Bealach na Ba drive, and it’s really the whole area that should be on your list. It’s a corner of the Highlands that often gets overlooked for more famous fare, but is perfect for a day on your itinerary.
Bask in the bucolic charm!
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#12 – Bealach na Ba
My pictures really don’t do this amazing drive justice! Meaning “pass of the cattle”, Bealach na Ba is a famous road full of steep switchbacks and hairpin curves (on top of Ireland’s normal crazy narrow roads).
Doing this drive is very weather-dependent—both from a views and a safety standpoint. As you can see, it was quite foggy when we visited, so the roads weren’t awful but when we got to the summit we literally couldn’t see ANYTHING. But on a nice day this drive is stunning!
#13 – Glenfinnan Viaduct and Loch Shiel
As a huge Harry Potter fan this was a must on our itinerary—the Hogwarts Express! But even if you don’t know Harry Potter from Harry Styles, this marvel of engineering is fun to stop at. It’s not as ancient as it looks, though…it only dates to the 1800s.
Watching the fat red Jacobite Train puff across is so much fun, and if you plan right you can also get right under the viaduct which will give you awesome pics. And if you look the opposite direction you’ll see gorgeous Loch Shiel (used as Hogwarts’ location in some of the films).
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#14 – Edinburgh
Duh. Scotland’s capital city is super cool and should definitely occupy a day on your itinerary if it’s possible.
It’s full of charming details, gobs of history, and absolutely lovely people. It’s also a great walkable city, so perfect for exploring in a day (I’ve shared a great walking route that hits the high points in my Edinburgh post).
#15 – Aberdeen
This is one that wasn’t on any list of best places to visit in Scotland. In fact, I was told to skip Aberdeen, nothing more than where I flew in and out.
But I ended up stranded here for an extra day, and found myself thoroughly charmed by this little stone city! It has so much history, a vibrant foodie and street art scene, and even a bit of seaside to enjoy.
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#16 – Bow Fiddle Rock
Located in the pretty town of Portnockie along the North East 250 route in Aberdeenshire, this super cool rock formation is absolutely stunning on a nice day! It’s also not thronged by tourists…though I visited in June (peak tourist season), it was just me and a few elderly people.
There are great trails to walk along the coast for a while, or you can sit on a bench and just enjoy the wind, waves, and seabird calls. The rock is supposed to look like a bow fiddle, but to me it’s clearly an elephant. CLEARLY.
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#17 – Sandend Bay and the North East 250 Route
I’ve picked Sandend Bay because I love it, but it’s one of many beautiful little bays and villages along this stretch of the North East 250 Route. As far as I can tell this whole corner of the country completely gets overlooked on any list of best places to visit in Scotland. And that’s a damn shame.
Right here at Sandend you can just enjoy the views, grab a delicious lunch just inland at the Old Kirk Bistro, visit the Glenglassaugh Distillery overlooking the bay, or discover a secret sea cliff castle ruin.
#18 – At least one single malt whisky distillery
Even if you’re not a big scotch whisky fan (I’m not), whisky is such a part of the culture and history of Scotland that you’d be remiss in completely skipping this experience. There are five main whisky regions, and it’s an easy thing to fit into most itineraries. Many distilleries are located in absolutely gorgeous settings as well, which is a bonus.
On my last visit I was able to experience GlenDronach, BenRiach, and Glenglassaugh, up in the Highlands and Speyside regions. This was for work specifically (tough life, I know), but all three offered something unique. There are several other well-known ones in that area, from the insane modern Macallan to the traditional Glenlivet or Glenfiddich.
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#19 – Experience the wildlife
Not one specific place, but Scotland has such a diversity of wildlife that you’d be crazy to just stick to the cities.
From chubby whisker-y seals to shaggy Highland cows, and twitchy red deer to freaking adorable puffins (not to mention the omnipresent sheep), the creatures are a huge part of the experience here.
Hopefully this at least helped you start a really great list of the best places to visit in Scotland, as you work on an itinerary of your own. I’m already plotting my next visit, so let me know if I’ve missed one of your favorite spots in this amazing country!
You can get a sense of where all these different places are located throughout Scotland (and here’s the live map link if it’s easier to see).
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