How Many Scottish Towns? Let’s Say 55/59

The answer to how many Scottish towns there are in total depends on definitions. One authority says Scotland has 59 towns – this according to a 2019 report by a famous university in England. The same report also states that Scotland has three cities.

As this city figure has been arrived at by deciding that a town is any place with a population of more than 10,000 and less than 175,000, it is at odds with other sources.

For instance, it is officially said elsewhere that “City status is a rare mark of distinction granted by the Sovereign and conferred by Letters Patent. It is granted by personal Command of The Queen…

That’s why Scotland has seven cities – wait, it’s now eight, as Dunfermline has been added – by this other definition, whereby a city is a desired or decreed status, rather than a geographical reality. That leaves us with 55 towns. (And the link to the academic report is below.)

So these 50-odd places answers the question of just how many towns in Scotland.

How Scottish towns make an impression, any impression?

But just for fun, I thought I would write down in a single sentence the very first thing that came into my head for as many Scottish towns as I could think of.

I mean without looking up anything at all. Just an impression following all these years of looking at places from a visitor viewpoint.

OK, I admit that some of these ‘towns’ have less than 10,000 population (as in the geographers’ definition above) but they still feel more like towns than just villages…

Sometimes what I’ve described is just an image in my mind, or an association. Sometimes I can’t think of much to say about them…and would rather not fall back on the kind of sentence that starts ‘famous for its cathedral/park/museum/leisure facilities and so on.

Sorry, Clyde Coast towns…

I have missed out the Clyde coast (because I’ve never really got it) and some places in the south-west. Also, towns about which I could think of nothing to say.

(Apologies to the likes of Stranraer, Bonnybridge, Kilmarnock, Cumbernauld, Whitburn, Larkhall and so on. I’m sure you’re all perfectly nice places to live.)

The only thing I did after that was put them in alphabetical order. I know much of this is not rational but please don’t complain. It was just an exercise.

So how many towns in Scotland make any kind of impression over the years of travelling around? Here goes…

Scottish towns smelling of smoked fish or shortbread, upmarket or unknown, or day-trip destinations…

  • Aberfeldy: pleasant. A bit of nestling in the hills also goes on.
  • Aberlour: shortbread central. Neat wee town with attractive riverside walks.
  • Aboyne: cosy little silvery granite place en route for further up Deeside.
  • Anstruther: tidy and surprisingly upmarket for a former fishing port.
  • Arbroath: (pictured) not unattractive coastal town smelling of smoked fish.

  • Auchterarder: a very long street, upmarket in places.
  • Aviemore: Crikey, where do all these visitors come from? It’s jumpin’.
  • Ballater: (Pictured below.) Granite grid of well-to-do houses and Royal Appointment signs.
  • Banchory: old-style day-trip destination from Aberdeen (cf Peebles from Edinburgh.) Pink granite this time.
  • Banff: Not unattractive (again!) town with former mansion of Duff House now an art gallery that locals don’t like much.
  • Bathgate: I know nothing about this town.
  • Beauly: somewhere that strikes you as kinda nice, without quite knowing why (apart perhaps from the cafe called ‘Corner on the Square’).
How many Scottish towns? They certainly come in variety.
On Deeside, west of Aberdeen, this is Ballater, or at least a bit of it, from the top of the wee hill called Craigendarroch.

How many towns in Scotland have a Gasworks Museum? (Actually, just one.)

  • Biggar: easily overlooked, geographically speaking. Check if its Gasworks Museum (no, really) is open. Unique.
  • Blairgowrie: goodbye central belt…off up north into the hills now. (or vice-versa)
  • Braemar: nearly quaint village. Very granity. Slightly alpine in winter.
  • Brechin: come on, there must be something to say here? Unusual early round tower that isn’t a draw.
  • Broughty Ferry: the Beverley Hills of Dundee. Undiscovered (by the average tourist) poshness.
  • Callander: Homoeopathic Highlands but popular. Also see Pitlochry.
  • Coupar Angus: an invisible town in Perthshire.
  • Crail: rioting red pantiles, conglomerating crow-steps. Essence of old Scots burgh.

Scottish towns, hilly and wet, needing a paint, or worth a detour…

  • Crianlarich: a large road and rail junction in a small village. Wait, not really a town so what’s it doing here?
  • Crieff: hilly and wet. Upmarket in places, notably at the higher end.
  • Cupar: at the centre of rural Fife. Uhmm.
  • Dollar: feels like a posh suburb that’s mysteriously become detached from a city.
  • Dornoch: nice local stone. Beaches and golf.
  • Dunbar: worth a stroll. Might need a lick of paint on the main street.
  • Dunblane: I want to say something here, because it’s a nice place. But can’t think what…yeah, sure, it has a cathedral.
  • Dunkeld: (pictured) worth a detour from the A9 road.

Towns with horrible statues, meat pies, weird one-way systems…

  • Duns: hey-ho another pleasant little place (without really knowing why…)
  • Elgin: quite well resourced with horrible statue or two.
  • Forfar: home of the bridie, a species of meat pie. Just a wee town in the country.
  • Forres: faint echoes of what Scottish towns were like half a century ago. (In a good way – cf Haddington.)
  • Fort William: what’s it doing there amongst the mountains? Quite a lot of stuff, actually. Big enough to have a rush hour.
  • Fraserburgh: fishing town with nice beach, nice museum (about lighthouses) and poor reputation.
  • Galashiels: former mill town with an unfathomable one-way road system.
  • Glenrothes: who knows anything about this?
  • Grantown-on-Spey: quite handsome. Granite again. More genteel than Aviemore.
  • Haddington: fine wide town square. Uhmm. Riverside walks. Uhmm.
  • Hawick: surprisingly large town for a place with no railway.
  • Helensburgh: the old tourism cliché about a ‘museum of villas’ is probably accurate enough, certainly up the hill…
  • Helmsdale: not unattractive – this phrase is getting over-used – but did the local ‘Timespan’ centre really formerly have a shrine to (the late) Barabara Cartland. Surely I can’t be misremembering?
  • Huntly: silver granite, nice shortbread. Not sleepy exactly, but not necessarily fully alert.
Helmsdale, north of Inverness, in spring when the gorse is in flower.

Can you spell this Scottish town properly? (below)

  • Inveraray: (pictured) the most often incorrectly spelt town in Scotland. (Inverary, Inverarary – ooh, I’ve done it myself. Rivals ‘Tighnabruaich’ for this distinction.) Attractive loch-side setting.
  • Inverurie: silvery granite and always busy. Aberdeen commuter town, at least a little.
  • Kelso: see Duns. Nice town square again.
  • Kirkcudbright: Pleasant, colourful painted frontages.
  • Kirriemuir: gateway town for the Angus Glens. Distinctively red stone ambience.
  • Lossiemouth: salty, breezy, almost seaside resort. A bit golfy. Low flying jets entertaining.
  • Melrose: genteel little place. Tempted to add ‘in the shadow of the Eildon Hills’.
  • Montrose: pleasant coastal town with lovely mud nearby in a 720 hectare tidal basin. Birdy.

‘Golfy’ Scottish towns, busy with strollers, busy in summer

  • Nairn: seasidey, promenadey, not over-golfy. Lovely horizon, filled with hills across the Firth.
  • Newtonmore: Agreeably Highland. Easily confused with Kingussie though.
  • North Berwick: (Pictured.) pinging sound of ropes on yacht-rigging. Cafes. Pleasant and well-to-do.
  • Oban: (Pictured.) everyone is heading somewhere else, Buzzing in summer. And kinda cheerful.
  • Peebles: lucky town – being near Edinburgh is good for business.
  • Peterhead: fishing town with nothing much else to see, except some very large fishing boats.
  • Pitlochry: why is it always busy with strollers? What’s its secret? Location? cf Callander.
Oban has a very pleasant seafront…and is always busy.

So, name me a ‘normal’ Scottish town?

There must be one in here somewhere…

  • Rothesay: island town filled with ghosts of Glasgow day-trippers from way back in time.
  • St Andrews: very distinguished and knows it. Very golfy, historic and academic.
  • Stonehaven: nice harbour. Popular with escaping Aberdeen locals on day trips.
  • Stornoway: still not great for a Sunday visit.
  • Turriff: it’s just a town, surrounded by farming country.
  • Thurso: OK, it’s a long way north but it’s still got shops and normal things, like, uhmm, traffic lights…cf Wick.
  • Ullapool: settlement by Loch Broom. Seafront strolling. Things to see.
  • Wick: just a place a long way north. Distillation of many other east coast fishing towns. (Wait, talking of distilling, that reminds me – nice local whisky – Old Pulteney.)

Towns in Scotland – summary

One attractive feature of Scottish towns is that in part they seem to ‘grow’ out of the landscape, the local stone. This is true of the older buildings at least.

And I’m thinking here of pink granite of Banchory and the silver granite of many other Scottish towns. Then there is the red stone of Kirriemuir and the Mearns, or the grey whinstone of the Midlothian area…and so on.

To conclude a point made at the start of this: if Scottish towns are 10,000-175,000 in size from a geographer’s viewpoint, then here is the (contradictory) definition of a city – see the cities in Scotland page.

Here’s the link I promised to the academic report on Scottish towns.