Things to Do in Scotland
Five miles west of the town of Dunblane, Doune Castle is one of the best-preserved medieval buildings in Scotland. The setting for the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Doune Castle offers fans of the comedy an audio guide narrated by Monty Python member Terry Jones. The castle has also been used for filming in Game of Thrones and Outlander.
With its 100-foot-high gatehouse walls, Doune Castle is a rather austere, high-walled kind of a place that was originally built for the First Duke of Albany over seven centuries ago. As you wander, imagine the past guests who walked its echoing stairwells, like Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie — he used to imprison government troops here.
A wild landscape of granite mountains, heather-covered moors and gentle glens covering 1,500 square miles of the Scottish Highlands, Cairngorms National Park was named one of the world’s “Last Great Places” by National Geographic.
Formed 40 million years before the last ice age, the Cairngorms are especially popular among mountain bikers, snowboarders, sea kayakers and hikers. They’re also a hit with the Scottish Queen: she spends every summer there at Balmoral Castle and Estate.
More than 50 of the Cairngorms’ mountains reach over 2,953 feet, and the national park boasts five of the United Kingdom’s six highest mountain summits. Those looking for a challenge can hike up the summit of Cairngorm’s namesake mountain, while the more leisurely crowd can take the much-used mountain railway to the top. Once up there, remember that it’s a Scottish tradition to take a “wee nip” of whisky. Cheers!
St. Andrews Castle on the east coast of Scotland dates back to the 1100s and was home to the Archbishops of St. Andrews. It was once the main administrative center of the Scottish church. The castle was badly damaged during the Wars of Independence and little of the original castle remains today. The new castle was finished around 1400 and was built to be easily defended. Steep cliffs to the north and east protected the castle, and the building included thick curtain walls and ditches. Five square towers served as living space for the bishop, his large household, and guests.
Later St. Andrews Castle served as a prison. Visitors can see the bottle dungeon where John Knox and George Wishart may have been imprisoned. Cardinal Beaton's body was also kept here after his murder. The mine gives visitors a sense of what medieval siege warfare was like. The castle also offers impressive views of the sea over the rugged rocky coast.
Glencoe offers some of the finest landscape in Scotland, indeed the whole of the UK, where dramatic mountains sweep down to glens (valleys) until they meet the moody waters of the lochs.
While this is a site of historical significance due to the Glencoe Massacre of 1692, the primary draw is the magnificent natural surrounds. There are numerous well-marked walks in the area and it is also popular with rock-climbers. This is one of Britain’s premier ski areas in winter, but a chairlift operates year round to offer the best views of the area.
More Things to Do in Scotland
Originally built in the 13th century as a defense against Vikings, Eilean Donan Castle is one of Scotland’s best-known architectural treasures. It last played a historical role during the 18th century Jacobite uprisings, and was subsequently left in ruins until it was rediscovered and lovingly restored in the early 20th century.
The castle sits proudly on a peninsula in Loch Duich, ringed by rugged hills, and you can immediately see why this is one of the most-photographed sites in Scotland. Walk the shore of the loch to find your own vantage point and then explore the castle itself, where you can visit the banqueting hall, kitchens and bedrooms.
The Quiraing is a hiking trail on the Isle of Skye in northern Scotland. The trail is a loop covering a distance of about 4.2 miles. It passes through spectacular Scottish landscapes and is part of the Trotternish Ridge. This ridge was formed by a massive landslip, which created cliffs, plateaus, and rock pinnacles. If you enjoy taking pictures, bring your camera to capture the scenery you'll see along the way. You'll be able to see the water as well as the many strange and beautiful land formations in the area.
The path starts through steep grassy slopes, and crosses rock gorges and streams. Parts of the trail are covered in loose gravel. Along the way, you will pass large rock formations, climb over rock walls, and walk near the edges of cliffs. It is a fairly difficult trail, and it is not recommended in bad weather due to visibility and trail conditions.
The historic heart of Edinburgh and home to many of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, the atmospheric Old Town became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. Watched over by the striking Edinburgh Castle, the Old Town is most famous for the central boulevard which runs between the hilltop castle and the Royal Palace of Holyrood, four sequential streets known as the Royal Mile. The main starting point for walking tours of the city, the Royal Mile is teeming with landmark buildings and iconic sights. The 12th century St Giles Cathedral, the National Museum of Scotland, the John Knox house and the underground streets of Mary King's Close are all popular visitor attractions, dotted between the throngs of souvenir shops, historic pubs and cafés. The final section of the Royal Mile, Canongate, is the most architecturally varied, with the 16th century Canongate Tollbooth and Canongate Kirk, the modern Scottish Parliament complex and the wacky Our Dynamic Earth building.
At 4,409 feet (1,344 meters), Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles, a status which makes it a popular destination for climbers. The most frequently used route to the summit is via the Pony Track which begins at Achintee, just outside of Fort William, but even that takes up to nine hours for a round trip and is not recommended for complete beginners. Thankfully the area also offers a huge range of less arduous activities, including fly fishing, golf, mountain bike riding, pony trekking, kayaking and lowland walking. Pick up a guide in Fort William and set out on one of the numerous well-marked paths, many of which will offer majestic views of Ben Nevis. There's also a popular cycling route along the Caledonian Canal.
Just off the west coast of Scotland on the Isle of Iona, the Iona Abbey has long been a symbol of Scottish history and religion. It served as a mausoleum for many early Scottish kings, with more than fifty accounted for by the 16th century. It is one of the oldest religious centers in Western Europe. The Irish monk Columba arrived to the island in 563, establishing a monastery that survived for centuries to come. In around the year 1200 the historic Abbey and Nunnery were constructed.
Responsible for the spread of Christianity throughout Scotland, it remains a symbol of Scottish Christianity that many still pilgrimage today. There are four impressive high crosses remaining, all of which can be seen in the abbey museum. The oldest, St. Martin’s Cross, dates back to the 8th century. The isle has a spiritual atmosphere and is today maintained by the Iona Community.
The iconic Forth Bridge is a cantilever railway bridge that arches over the Firth of Forth in Scotland. Situated 14 kilometers from Edinburgh’s city center, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was designed by English engineers, John Fowler and Benjamin Baker. The bridge and its associated railway infrastructure is owned by Network Rail.
The distinctive red bridge, which links the villages of South Queensferry and North Queensferry, was opened by the Prince of Wales in March 1890, although was only classified as a UNESCO site on its 125th anniversary in 2015. The bridge spans a total length of almost 2500 meters and is an iconic symbol of Scotland’s engineering and architectural prowess and ingenuity. It also transports approximately 200 local and intercity trains across the Forth every single day.
On the southwestern shore of Loch Ness, Fort Augustus is a picturesque village of 600 that gets packed with visitors during the summer months. Originally an 18th-century garrison, Fort August lies at the junction of four old military roads.
Surrounded by heather hills and cut in two by the Caledonian Canal, Fort Augustus serves as a spot for day-trippers to relax and watch the boats master the longest lock system on the canal. Running from coast to coast, the Caledonian Canal was designed in 1822 to give merchant skippers a shortcut across the country and to help keep boats out of harm’s way. At the time, pesky French pirates were prone to scouring the open seas! Those interested in the canal can find out more at the Caledonian Canal Heritage Centre. Also of interest is the Clansman Centre, which provides insight into 17th-century Highland life.
Dwarfed by haughty buildings on all sides and surrounded by statues of great Scots, George Square makes sense of poet John Betjeman’s claim that Glasgow is “the greatest Victorian city in the world.”
Named after King George III and built in 1781, George Square began life as little more than a muddy hollow used for slaughtering horses. Today, it’s surrounded by some of grandest buildings in the city, not least the imposing Glasgow City Chambers on the east side.
To Glaswegians, George Square is the city’s cultural center. Hosting concerts and events throughout the year, it comes alive during winter, when children skate around the ice rink and parents enjoy mulled wine at the Christmas market. In summer, George Square is a good place to find a bench and watch the world go by.
- Things to do in Edinburgh
- Things to do in Glasgow
- Things to do in Inverness
- Things to do in Kirkwall
- Things to do in Lerwick
- Things to do in Stirling
- Things to do in Oban
- Things to do in Fort William
- Things to do in Aberfeldy
- Things to do in Aviemore
- Things to do in Northern Ireland
- Things to do in Ireland
- Things to do in The Scottish Highlands
- Things to do in Belfast
- Things to do in North East England