To say the country of Scotland is a gem is an understatement. After all, it’s a lovely country with so much to offer. The deep, fascinating history riddled with upheaval and drama. The stunning geography that has awarded Scotland The Most Beautiful Country in the World Award multiple times over. The pride and welcoming spirit found in its people. Yes, Scotland is an amazing country indeed.
While I believe there are a million and one things you should see in Scotland, I figure I might start to lose you after the first thousand or two, so let’s keep this simple. Here are the quintessential top 10 bucket list worthy things you need to see in Scotland.
Scotland’s capital city is sure to thrill both old and young alike. With a rich history, interesting city life, and a multitude of sites to see, one could easily spend a week here. In Edinburgh alone, you can visit a castle, a palace, shop, hike, take tours, and eat like a king. This is certainly my favorite city in Scotland. Here are some ideas of things to do with families in Edinburgh.
Glasgow is another vibrant city in Scotland. It’s come a long way since its industrial roots, and now gives off more of an eclectic historical, college vibe. This is partly due to the fact that there are 11 higher education schools located within the city. When in Glasgow, make sure these places are on your must-see list: the Glasgow Cathedral, the Necropolis, the University of Glasgow, and the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.
3. St. Andrews
This city has much more to offer than golf. Although, what would be cooler than saying you golfed at THE St. Andrews Links? It’s also home to the University of St. Andrews, the third oldest university in the English speaking world, and the oldest in Scotland. Fun fact, West Sands Beach in St. Andrews was used in the opening scene of the movie Chariots of Fire. I know the next time I’m in the area, I’m going to take a visit to West Sands Beach and attempt to recreate that iconic slo-mo running scene! Who’s with me?
4. The Isle of Skye
More and more people are flocking to this island off the Northwest coast of Scotland, and rightfully so. Its sweeping scenery, sharp green mountains, waterfalls, and amazing hikes are well worth the trip. A visit to Skye is a far cry from city life. Although it’s becoming more of a tourist destination, Skye still remains relatively uncommercialized. If you’re looking for hiking, and an opportunity to take in Scotland’s natural beauty, then be sure to put this location on your list.
5. The Highlands
The best way to explore the Highlands is by car. That way you have the opportunity to stop every 5 minutes in order to “ooh and ahh” over the spectacular scenery before you, and trust me, you will! The Glenfinnan Viaduct and Monument might just be my single favorite place to visit in the Highlands. It offers history, natural beauty, and literary interest. The viaduct has been used in multiple movies, the most obvious being Harry Potter. In addition, the monument is set at the edge of Loch Shiel, offering a stunning backdrop to this all-important place of history where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised the standard calling his troops to march on Edinburgh, beginning the Jacobite Uprising.
6. A Whisky Distillery
In my mind, Scotland is the whisky capital of the world. Sorry bourbon country! With 120 distilleries to choose from, you could plan your entire trip around touring distilleries and perhaps still not see them all (or even remember your trip-haha!). It’s very interesting to see first-hand where your beloved scotch comes from, and even more interesting to sample whiskys from different areas because they all take on flavors distinct to their location.
7. A castle, or 2, or 3
One could live in Scotland their entire life and perhaps never see all the castles scattered throughout the country. This is due to the fact that there are over 2,000. Yes, you read that right, 2,000! Can you even begin to imagine how much history all those walls have seen? It’s mind-boggling. There are so many castles in fact that Scotland is unable to keep them all in good repair. This being the case, it’s possible to explore castles in practically perfect condition as well as in complete ruins. I mean it might get boring walking through 2,000 perfectly pristine castles, right? Thanks for keeping things interesting, Scotland!
8. Highland Coos and sheep
On our first visit to Scotland, my mom and I were obsessed with getting a glimpse of even one of these iconic Scottish animals. However, we quickly discovered that all the photos and paintings you’ve seen of Scotland with green, sheep-covered hills are actually very accurate. The further outside the city you go, the more likely you are to run into Scottish wildlife. Thankfully they are all adorable and perfectly harmless. The only problem they may give you is not moo-ving baa-ck out of the middle of the road when you are trying to drive past. Sorry, I had to throw in that one. 😉
9. A Loch
Lochs, or lakes, can be found scattered throughout Scotland. If Wikipedia is correct, there are at least 31,460 to be found in this small country! Whaaaat?!?! Many lochs are rather large, and all are beautiful. Loch Ness is, of course, the most iconic. You can even go to a Nessie Museum if you happen upon this loch. But Loch Fyne, and Loch Lomond are also worth your time. Like many places in Scotland, Lochs seem to take on a mystical, peaceful vibe that makes them quite special.
10. The Islands
If you have a bit more time, put some of the Scottish Isles on your itinerary. In total, Scotland has over 790 islands, most of which are to be found in four main groups: Shetland, Orkney, and the Hebrides (Inner and Outer). We’ve been to Skye, Mull, Staffa, Lunga, and Iona. All are spectacular and so different from one another. From waterfalls to sweeping scenery, fascinating history to amazing wildlife, the islands may be a bit more difficult to get to, but well worth a visit.
Narrowing a list of things you must see in Scotland down to a mere 10 is a difficult task indeed. There is so much to see and do in this fantastic country that, like me, you’re sure to find yourself longing to return time and time again. And although you may visit 100 times, you’re bound to always find something new, fascinating, and beautiful to see.
I would love to hear your must-see’s in Scotland! Comment below with your thoughts. Maybe I’ll add them to my list for my next visit!