Scotland is one of the most stunning countries in the world, and I’ve travelled far and wide. I know you may say I am biased since I (Gemma) am Scottish but I can assure you that millions of tourist and locals would agree. This Scotland travel guide will detail the unmissable Scotland destinations, the popular tourist attractions and the lesser-known local spots. Below you can also find travel information on accommodation, getting around the country, money, safety, food and socialising.
Unmissable Scotland Destinations
WHERE TO DO YOU WANT TO GO?
Oh hiya! Welcome to Scotland’s capital Edinburgh. Edinburgh is a city split in two; the cobbled streets of the Old Town and the neoclassical New Town both credited by UNESCO World Heritage. As a first time visitor to Scotland, you will want to spend time in both.
In the Old Town, you will find the Royal Mile with Edinburgh Castle at the top and the Scottish Parliament at the bottom, overshadowed by Arthur’s Seat (that flippin’ big hill). Edinburgh’s main shopping strip is called Princes Street and behind that is the fancy George Street but if you are looking for ‘real life’ Edinburgh, head down Leith walk to the village in the city, Leith. Personally, I think Leith is one of the most under-rated places to visit in Scotland. You can thank me later.
For the ultimate guide written by myself, Edinburgh fans, business, and fellow bloggers check out this post
The best and busiest time to visit Edinburgh is August, and that’s not just because there is a chance to avoid the Scottish rain, it’s the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Over 3000 acts in 313 venues take over Edinburgh for three weeks and the city does not sleep.
- First time or return visitors to The Fringe, get your bearings and bargain tips here.
Yes, Scots do like to drink. Our national drink is whisky, which I am sure you are aware of but we are growing in the craft beer industry and have our own gin company here too in Edinburgh. Here to have a dram or two? Check out my guide on
- Edinburgh’s best bars *warning – not for the faint-hearted!*
Everyone complains about how expensive Edinburgh is but you can eat 3-course meals for under £30, I promise!
- Affordable fine dining in Edinburgh
Although you could easily spend three-four days in Edinburgh there are at least 14 reasons to leave the city on day trips 14 reasons to leave the city on day trips!
The Kingdom of Fife is a mere bridge away from Scotland’s capital and this county has lots to offer those who love quiet beaches, gory history, fresh fish and a round of golf or two. Golfers will find St Andrews and East Neuk one of the best places to visit in Scotland because of their scenic golf courses.
- Your extensive Fife guide
Fife now has it’s own emerging street art scene! This excites me because I tend to fall in love with every town or city that has street art, always make a great first impression.
- Act now! Read all about the murals in the Kingdom
Arguably, Scotland’s best city, Glasgow is where the ‘real’ people live. Yes, Edinburgh has its Castle and cobbled streets but the local joke points out that you’ll struggle to find a Scot in the capital. Voted Rough Guides friendliest city, Glasgow is a raw city full of talent – art, music, food, and fashion. Not only is Glasgow a banging night out but it is also known as the Dear Green Place due to its several parks situated throughout the city. Some of the coolest Scotland attractions such as the Barrowlands (vintage but still functioning music hall), 30+ street art murals, and the hanging faces of the Kelvingrove Art Museum can be seen in Glasgow.
- For all things Glaswegian here’s my ultimate local’s guide to Glasgow
WEST COAST OF SCOTLAND
Enough of the cities, you’ve come to Scotland to see the rolling hills, calm lochs, and highland coos and what better way to see them than by foot? Why not take on the 96-mile trek, the West Highland Way which kicks off just outside of Glasgow (Milngavie) and ends in Fort William (near Inverness). You’ll pass over Conic Hill through Balmaha and on to my favourite spot in Scotland, Glencoe. You also get to sleep in a valley and enjoy a well-deserved beer at the end of each day. If you are looking for a shorter trek, the West Island Way is a short train and ferry ride away from Glasgow (on the Isle of Bute) can be completed over two days. Rothesay and the rest of the Isle of Bute is also a lovely day trip if walking is not your thing. This landscape is a must-see in Scotland.
Unless you’ve been hiding in a bothy for the past year, you will know about the new craze in Scotland – the North Coast 500. Holidaymakers and locals are flocking to Inverness to drive (and cycle) 500 miles to John o ‘Groats and back down to Inverness taking in turquoise sea beaches, cute villages and a wee dram in one of the many NC500 distilleries.
- Our free NC500 itinerary
- Where to stay on the North Coast 500: from Scottish castles to campsites
- NC500 camping/campervan itinerary
- What to pack – the NC500 road trip packing list
ISLE OF ISLAY
Like whisky? Well, Islay is the island of distilleries! This tranquil southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides also has beautiful beaches and scenic drives. So who is the designated driver?
- A night and some nips on The Queen of the Hebrides
ISLE OF SKYE
By far one of my favourite trips in Scotland, so good we have visited twice. Skye is stunning but the drive there is just as special. Saturated with stories of fairies and giants, Skye’s dramatic backdrop of waterfalls and mountains is the perfect canvas for folklore and fairytales. Don’t miss the Old Man of Storr, the cute capital, Portree or Eilean Donan Castle on the way to Skye. Unfortunately, the press is now deeming Skye as one of the worst Scotland places to visit down to its popularity. Go in low season if you can.
- Group tour of Skye -> let someone else do the driving
- Self-guided two nights in Skye -> Scenery without the stories
ABERDEEN + CAIRNGORMS
While you are up north you may want to head east to the ‘oil-rich’ city of Aberdeen. Known for its love of seagulls and sheep, Aberdeen is one of Scotland’s lesser known cities and stop off for many tourists heading to Aviemore and the Scottish Highlands. The city is close to Cairngorms National Park which is a dream for hikers, bikers, and those who hit the slopes. Did you know that we have five ski resorts in Scotland?
Once the capital of Scotland and these days a bustling university town full of students and lots of historical gems, Stirling is a quaint town dominated by a castle that no one should miss. Make your way up High Street and explore the old Tolbooth, the Mercat Cross and go for a wander in the cemetery, which must be one of the prettiest in the country. Once you’re done, make sure you check out the castle where some of the most important kings and queens once feasted. Don’t miss the Old Bridge and the Wallace Monument. Want more? Why not hike all the way up Dumyat for some views?
- For more information, check out this Guide of Stirling crafted by fellow blogger Mad About Travel
SCOTLAND ESSENTIAL TRAVEL INFORMATION
Scotland’s public transport system (trains and buses) is mostly reliable, yet expensive, in the central belt. It is recommended that you hire a car or take a group tour when visiting the Highlands and Islands. The buses tend to run on what we call ‘Sunday service’ the further up north you travel from Edinburgh, this means they are pretty non-existent.
A variety of types of accommodation can be found in Scotland which is great for the purse strings! A choice of hostels is available in all cities however the Scotland Youth Hostel Association has the monopoly in the more rural areas. Budget hotels to 5*country houses are also available, click here to check the best rates. Want to stay in the castle? No problem, the North Coast 500 alone has more than a handful! Bed and breakfast accommodation is very popular in Scotland and usually consists of a small room, sometimes with a private bathroom, and a hearty Scottish or continental breakfast. Many B&Bs advertise through Airbnb. If you are new to Airbnb please accept our discount sign up link. We love Airbnb and use it all over the world. Campsites can be found all over Scotland and wild camping is legal in most areas. If you are brave, why not stay in a bothy?
Scotland uses the British pound (GBP £). For best rates see here. ATMs are widely available and all credit cards are accepted (with the exception of American Express which is less so). Tipping in Scotland is not essential but appreciated.
Scotland is part of the United Kingdom but we are not England (or English!) We join Wales, Northern Ireland and England (which is not simply London) to make up Great Britain. It’s easy to cross the border though, here’s the cheapest way to get to London.