Really Worthwhile Places To See in Scotland
Unmissable historic, entertaining, dramatic and scenic places to visit in Scotland on and off the beaten track - this is your essential checklist of must sees. Includes Glenfinnan, Culloden, as well as a few surprises. We list our favourites amongst the Scottish places we know you’ll love.
Places To Visit In Scotland
What places to visit in Scotland are really ‘must sees’ if you are planning your vacation here? Well, obviously, it all depends on your interests. One visitor’s fascinating Scottish castle is another’s tedious and dusty old ruin. Here is a really useful list of our favourite places to visit in Scotland but in specific categories. It's a long page - so keep reading - you'll be glad you did! You’ll find lots more touring ideas on other pages on this site too.
Places to visit for Culture and Heritage
Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh
So it took a blockbuster novel by Dan Brown to catapult this interesting but sleepy little religious site on the edge of Edinburgh into a kind of must see with soaring visitor numbers and a new visitor centre.
But Rosslyn Chapel is a most interesting place for all that. They offer visitors an excellent guided tour plus the cafe does a mean hot chocolate! Lothian Bus no. 37 will take you very near from Edinburgh city centre if you don't want to drive.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
Because you can take it for granted you should probably take in Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland, this is a reminder that the ambience in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is a little different, possibly even friendlier. Plus it has one of Europe's great art collections. There are over 8000 objects across 22 galleries! And, it's free - as well as being one of the most visited museums in the UK outside of London. Definitely worth a look amongst the other Glasgow (nearly) must sees.
Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore
Our verdict is that this is just about the most illuminating and fascinating museum anywhere in Scotland - an immersive and realistic experience evoking what life was really like in the Highlands.
(By the way - life was miserable - some of the time!) This was Britain's first open air museum. A total must see if you are on the A9 road near Newtonmore. Oh! - and it is free entry!
Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, Fraserburgh
A whole lot more interesting than it at first sounds - this is the real deal - not just a collection of lighthouse artefacts, amazing lenses etc, but a tour of a real historic lighthouse, originally built up through the middle of an equally real 16th-century tower house (castle).
And, wait, there’s more - this also qualifies as off the beaten track. Take in the Loch of Strathbeg (see our wildlife page) as well, if you are of the slightest birdy inclination.
Places to visit in Scotland for an insight into the nation’s story
Culloden Battlefield, near Inverness
No, it wasn’t Scotland versus England in 1746 - far from it - but it was the last battle in a civil war that was fought on Scottish soil. Learn all about it at this vivid evocation just a few minutes by road from Inverness.
Walk the battlefield, enjoy the vivid audio/visual experience, see demonstrations and maybe if you are lucky you will be picked to demonstrate how to fire a musket. It’s not loaded, by the way. This is everything a historic visitor centre should be - plus there is a nice self-service cafe and a well-stocked gift shop with an excellent book section. And what was Bonnie Prince Charlie thinking about? Delusional, methinks.
This isn’t a spectacular place in the sense that there is a huge amount of structure to be seen. There isn't! But Dunadd was the site where the first kings of Scotland were crowned. (The Scots came east from Ireland.)
There's a rock cut basin and a footprint, perhaps part of early ceremonies, and the site is close to all kinds of other prehistory. Fine setting in the heartland of Argyll. Can be a bit of midge paradise. Consider some anti-insect protection.
Glenfinnan, (quite) near Fort William
Another important historic site that has the advantage of being set somewhere scenic. (Unlike Bannockburn - not on this list for a variety of reasons. Read what we think of the Bannockburn Visitor Centre.)
But the Glenfinnan Monument marks where our delusional chum Prince Charles Edward Stuart (aka Bonnie Prince Charlie) unfurled his flag and rallied (a few of) the clans in 1745. The figure on top of the monument is, apparently, not meant to be the prince, just a generic Highlander. By 1815, when it was erected, the Jacobite myth-making machine was in full romantic cry.
(Note to self: eaten alive by midges here, first week in October 2016 - that was late in the year. Should have had the Smidge that Midge at hand. And at ears.)
MORE TO EXPLORE
Scenic Places in Scotland - och, just for a bonnie view or two...
(Above) - View towards the distant Eildon Hills from Hume Tower, Scottish Borders. The Eildon Hills are mandatory in any view of the Scottish Borders. Ho-hum. But the odd-looking tower - actually a kind of folly now - of Hume Tower is highly visible, say, from the A697, and is well worth a wee diversion, if the weather is looking clear. Hume Tower isn't in this scene obviously, as I am standing on it.
Hume Castle, Scottish Borders
What is this mock-ramparted castle-thing doing on this list, the learned amongst you will ask? Well, we don’t care. We think it’s the one place - other than Smailholm Tower - where you really get that rolling, blue-hill, endless view that is the essence of the Scottish Borders.
And, anyway, it’s also a reminder that scenic Scotland doesn’t always have to mean the Highlands. Wait, wait...actually, most of the time it does. See next…
Glen Torridon, Wester Ross
Yes, in the picture here of the mountain called Liathach, you spotted that I'd been messing about with those tempting PicMonkey special effects. That particular effect is probably not called 'make the top of mountains unnaturally blue'. The authentic part is the out-of-focus raindrops on the lens, right hand side. The famous song 'Why Does it Always Rain on Me' actually has an answer: it is 'because you're probably in Glen Torridon'. Isn't the mountain Liathach big though?
Anyway, Sou’wester Ross, as we used to call it, is serious and austere. And lonely. And impressive. All that wild outdoorsy thing will make you think of that lovely hotel bed you will snuggle into later, perhaps.
Soaring sandstone crags, stacked one above the other in tiers. Try and see this glen when the clouds part to reveal the tops. (A long -winded way of suggesting, please go on a nice day.) And I'm slightly ashamed of messing with the photo so here's another picture of Glen (really Loch) Torridon - and it isn't raining.
Soaring mountains like Glen Torridon listed above, only slightly more alpine. At its best in late spring when there is still plenty of snow higher up. Makes the much hyped Great Glen look tame by comparison. Honestly, I’d rather drive through here any day than face that tedious road along the Caledonian Canal.
Upper Deeside, Aberdeenshire
Drive from Braemar west to the end of the road at the Linn o' Dee. Walk a bit if time permits. The essence of pinewoody eastern Cairngorms. Not over-craggy, but plenty of ‘heathery’ atmosphere. Walk a bit more...but take care at the Linn, where the River Dee rushes through rocky narrows. (Oh, and it was near there that we were once mercilessly attacked by midges.)
EVEN MORE TO EXPLORE!
And, if you travel to Scotland via the east coast (road or rail), then here's a town at the top of England we think you should visit too! Stay on the east side all the way to the Moray Firth and you might see our famous dolphins!