At first glance, the Scottish landscape is harsh: foreboding fortresses atop hills and cliffs, the desolate moors . . . But spend some time here and you’ll quickly realize Scotland has its own unique beauty: breathtaking highlands just made for hiking and strolling, craggy coastlines, monuments that are proud reminders of long-ago battles, and blue lakes and rivers just made for fishing.
Scotland is a land of legends and romance, from Robert the Bruce and Macbeth to lake monsters and the tragic Mary Queen of Scots. And, yes, real men do wear skirts here. An overview of the best places to visit in Scotland:
10. Orkney[SEE MAP]
Seventy islands, including 20 that are inhabited, make up the Orkney Islands, an archipelago off the north coast of Scotland. Orkney residents pre-date the Romans by several thousand years, and once were part of Norway. It has some of the best preserved and oldest Neolithic sites in Europe.
The pre-historic Ring of Brodgar, a circle of stone formations used in rituals, is a must-see. The islands are a good place to see seals and puffins, as well as a variety of local art in galleries and museums. The capital Kirkwall is the largest town in the islands.
9. Glasgow[SEE MAP]
Now the largest city in Scotland, Glasgow dates back to prehistoric times on the River Clyde. The largest seaport in Britain, it was once an important hub for shipbuilding and trade with North America. It’s a good place to visit, where you can immerse yourself in friendship, charm and music – the city hosts 130 musical events on average per week.
You’ll find historic medieval buildings such as the Glasgow Cathedral and the old Antonine Wall, a shopaholic’s paradise with more than 1,500 stores to tempt your pocketbook and a variety of sporting events. Stroll the hills above the city for wonderful views.
8. St Andrews[SEE MAP]
People go to St. Andrews, a town northeast of Edinburgh, for many reasons. They go to learn: The University of St. Andrews is the third oldest in the English-speaking world. They go to play golf: St. Andrews is the home of golf and the most frequent venue in the Open Championship. They go to relax: St. Andrews is a pleasant coastal resort town. They go for history: to see St. Andrews Castle sitting on a cliff overlooking the sea and city. Or, they may go to pray: St. Andrews Cathedral was once the largest cathedral in Scotland; it’s now in ruins.
7. Inverness[SEE MAP]
Britain’s most northern city, Inverness, is the gateway to the Scottish Highlands. Located at the northern end of Loch Ness, Inverness is a good place to visit in Scotland if you like to walk. Walk along the River Ness to the Ness Islands, the Caledonian Canal or the Churches Along the River. Stroll, too, through Old Town with its old stone buildings and a Victorian market where you can buy crafts.
Take a walk by the 19th century Inverness Castle, but don’t expect to see the inside unless you’ve been naughty as the castle currently provides local court service in Scotland. In that case, you may want to say a prayer at the lovely Inverness Cathedral.
6. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs[SEE MAP]
Aye, Loch Lomond is a bonnie lake. ‘Tis not wee by any means, since it’s the largest inland lake in Great Britain. The lake contains more than 30 islands, including Inchmurrin, the largest island in freshwater in the British Isles.
In 2002, it was combined with Trossachs, a small woodland glen, to make the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. Scenery, including seven waterfalls, will take your breath away. Outdoor activities abound, beginning with fishing, golf and easy walks and ending with camping, bicycling and climbing. Plan to visit Inchcailloch to see ancient church ruins and burial ground.
5. Stirling[SEE MAP]
The wolf is an honored animal in the central Scotland city of Stirling. According to local legend, a wolf howled when Vikings were about to invade, thus alerting villagers to the attack so they could save their homes.
Stirling is a good place to see a medieval Scottish town, complete with imposing fortress, 12th century castle and church where Mary Queen of Scots’ son King James VI was crowned in 1557. The Church of the Holy Rude still conducts services on Sunday. Stirling also was the stomping grounds of the legendary Robert the Bruce.
4. Glencoe[SEE MAP]
One of Scotland’s best known glens or valleys, Glencoe is stunningly beautiful in its sometimes harshness. Located 26 km (16 miles) south of Fort William, Glencoe is nestled between hills and mountains, including the pyramid-like Buachaille Etive Mor.
As you travel through this U-shaped valley, be on the lookout for the monument commemorating the 1692 Massacre at Glencoe when the Argylls ambushed the MacDonalds. Glencoe is very popular with hikers and rock climbers with trails that are accessible from the road. Glencoe is especially popular with winter climbers and skiers since it’s the ski area closest to Glasgow.
3. Hebrides[SEE MAP]
If you like Scottish Gaelic literature and music, the Hebrides Islands is just the place to indulge your passions. An archipelago off Scotland’s west coast, the Hebrides are known for this culture. It is here that George Orwell wrote 1984. The windswept islands have a quiet beauty to them.
More than 50 islands, including the Isle of Skye, make up the Inner and Outer Hebrides. The islands have great beaches and you’re likely to see seals and seabirds. Pack those hiking boots because the Hebrides is all about the great outdoors.
2. Edinburgh[SEE MAP]
Located on the Firth of Forth, Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital and has served as the seat of Parliament since the 15th century. The city has oodles of things to see and do, and is the second most popular tourist destination after London in Great Britain. Of course, you’ll want to see its famous castle and Royal Mile, the main route through Old Town.
Edinburgh is a city famous for its many festivals, including the Fringe, the world’s largest international arts festival, and the Military Tattoo. You may recognize the city as the setting for several movies, including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Da Vinci Code.
1. Loch Ness[SEE MAP]
Most travelers visit Loch Ness with one thing in mind: They want to see Nessie, the legendary lady of the lake. You probably won’t see the Loch Ness Monster, but a cruise on the lake is a fun way to search. Loch Ness is quite deep, more than 230 meters (750 feet) in some places, offering plenty of hiding places for Nessie.
It’s huge too, holding more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. Take a stroll along the lake or visit quaint villages, including Drumnadrochit, home of the Loch Ness exhibition center, scattered around the lake.