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Embark on a journey through Scotland and allow the whispers of history to guide your footsteps. Take a walk along the cobbled streets of Edinburgh’s historic Old Town, tour the stoic Edinburgh Castle that looms over the city and go on a whiskey tasting tour. Take a trip to Glasgow, where the vibrant murals splashed across the architecture serve as a canvas for Scotland's cultural soul. Glide north into the highlands towards Inverness, where mythical lochs mirror the sky, and nature's theater plays out in panoramic vistas. Dive into an odyssey filled with discovery and exploration of historical sites, natural wonders and culture on a trip to Scotland.

Here is our list of top 10 things to do in Scotland.

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1. Walk the Royal Mile in Edinburgh

One of the top things to do in Scotland is visit the Victoria street.
Wander through the enchanting Victoria Street in Edinburgh, Scotland, and lose yourself in its colorful charm and historic allure.

In the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, the Royal Mile is a mosaic of historical treasures. From the commanding trip to Edinburgh Castle, the number one tourist attraction in Scotland, descend to Holyroodhouse Palace, this tour is a must when in Edinburgh. Feel the city's pulse as you meander past centuries-old tenements and charming vintage shops. We recommend taking part in a multi-day guided walking tour—one of the top things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland—to explore this ancient city.

Alternative experiences:

  • Scotch whisky experience: Embark on a spirited journey through Scotland's national drink, savoring the rich tapestry of its flavors.
  • St. Giles' Cathedral: Admire the Thistle Chapel's intricate carvings and the vibrant stained glass, narrating the divinity and artistry that have been cornerstones of Scottish identity.
  • The Museum of Edinburgh: Here lies the golden collar of Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye terrier who captured the hearts of a nation — a must-visit site in the city.

Best season: The ideal times to explore the Royal Mile are May through August when the Edinburgh Festival Fringe breathes a kaleidoscope of life and culture into the streets, and December when festive lights and Christmas markets add a magical afterglow.

2. Traverse the mysterious depths of Loch Ness

Visit Urquhart Castle at Loch Ness, top thing to do in Scotland.
Explore the mystique of Urquhart Castle at Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. Amidst stunning scenery, uncover tales of history and legend at this iconic fortress.

Surrender to the call of the Highlands and embark on a voyage where myth and reality mingle, taking you across the serene waters of Loch Ness. Steeped in legend, the loch invites adventurers to scan its depths for the elusive Nessie, perhaps hidden beneath the surface. After all, the Loch Ness monster is what Scotland is famous for. Opt for a multi-day canoeing or sailing tour to immerse yourself fully in the tranquility and majesty this iconic loch and its surrounding wilderness offer.

Alternative destinations:

  • Urquhart Castle: The historical ruins of Urquhart Castle offer a glimpse into Scotland’s yesteryears. Ascend to the Grant Tower for eagle-eye views and savor the stillness of the landscape, which is only disrupted by the grace of gliding swans.
  • Caledonian Canal: Those seeking the thrill of connecting with Scotland's wild heart will find bliss in a kayak expedition along the Caledonian Canal. Glide through the Great Glen, navigating between scenic lochs with the Great Glen Paddle as your guide to a paddler's haven.
  • Fort Augustus: Station yourself in the charming village of Fort Augustus to watch boats navigate the impressive lock system. Join a tranquil cruise at dusk when the loch whispers ancient tales and the fading light casts magical hues over the waters.

Best season: The ideal time to visit Loch Ness is between May and September when the weather is mild and conducive for outdoor activities.

3. Explore the Hebrides

Incredible rock formations The Old Man of Storr Isle of Skye Scotland
The scenery and landscapes of the Isle of Skye are enough to take anyone's breath away

Set sail to the enchanting Hebrides, a splendid archipelago where the whispers of the wind carry stories of ancient clans and timeless traditions. A multi-day tour around these mythical isles will reveal the very essence of Scottish heritage, from the mesmerizing Callanish Stones standing resolute against the elements to the cozy evenings filled with the warmth of Gaelic folk songs.

Alternative destinations:

  • Isle of Skye: Plan a trip to Isle of Skye where legends are etched into the mighty Cuillin peaks, and fairy pools sparkle with an otherworldly glow, promising a hiker's paradise and a photographer's dream. 
  • Outer Hebrides: Embrace the solitude of the Outer Hebrides and lose yourself in the majestic beauty of Luskentyre Beach, with sands as white as time and waters as clear as history.
  • Iona Abbey: A beacon of Christian pilgrimage and a testament to Scotland's spiritual journey through the centuries.

Best season: The best times to visit the Hebrides are from April to June and September to October when the days are long, nature is in full bloom and the islands bask in the gentle light of the less crowded shoulder season.

4. Take a day trip to Glasgow

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum during a clear day in Glasgow.
Dive into the world of art at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, where you'll discover everything from timeless Renaissance masterpieces to captivating contemporary exhibits.

The pulsating heart of Scottish culture, where the past and future dance cheek to cheek. Venture forth on a day trip to Glasgow, filled with eclectic wonders, from the awe-inspiring architecture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh to the verdant spaces like the Botanic Gardens. Dive into the city’s artistic soul through a mosaic of galleries, with the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum casting a spell on your senses and the contemporary masterpieces of the Gallery of Modern Art igniting imaginations. However, it's not just the cultural landmarks that will draw you in; there are a lot of other things to do in Glasgow, Scotland.

Alternative experiences:

  • Riverside Museum: Board a time-traveling vessel where Glasgow’s industrial brilliance and shipbuilding heritage come to life in an award-winning building that pays homage to the city’s nautical prowess.
  • Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis: Step into the spiritual resonance of the Glasgow Cathedral and watch as history unfolds before you, then ascend to the nearby Necropolis, a venerable city of the dead, offering panoramic views entwined with poignant memorials.
  • West End: Channel your inner bon vivant as you embrace the West End’s bohemian streets brimming with charming cafes, arthouse cinemas, and the enchanting University of Glasgow.

Best season: Heading to Glasgow from March through August will amaze you with the city's vibrant atmosphere, as it hosts various music festivals and cultural events such as the Glasgow International Comedy Festival and the World Pipe Band Championships.

5. Drive to the village of Glencoe

Steam Train on Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland
With a length of 380 meters, Glenfinnan Viaduct is the longest concrete railway bridge in Scotland

You'll find yourself enveloped by the grandeur of nature and the brooding presence of the Three Sisters standing guard over the glen's fabled landscapes. Glencoe isn't just a destination — it's a narrative woven with the threads of Scottish lore, adventure, and the unyielding spirit of the Highlands. Here, you can tread lightly on paths once carved by clansmen and let the dramatic vistas narrate their ancient stories to your heart.

Alternative experiences:

  • Hike Ben Nevis: For the more adventurous travelers, conquer the highest mountain in the British Isles and take breathtaking views of the surrounding wilderness.
  • Glenfinnan: Visit the famed Glenfinnan Viaduct and see the picturesque landscapes featured in the Harry Potter series.

Best season: The best time to visit Glencoe is during summer (June to August) when the weather is mild, making outdoor activities more enjoyable.

6. Marvel at Stirling Castle

Entrance gate to Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle provides a glimpse of rich Scottish history and stunning architecture.

Perched high on volcanic rock, Stirling Castle is not just a cold slab of history but a Renaissance gem where Scotland's past performs daily. Here, you'll feel the pulse of Scottish heritage beating through the grandeur of the Great Hall, the intricate beauty of the Stirling heads, and the regal charm of the Royal Palace.

Alternative experiences:

  • The Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre: Dive into interactive exhibits that transport you to a pivotal moment in Scottish history, where kings and clansmen clashed for the nation’s heart.
  • Wallace Monument: Stand in the shadow of the towering tribute to Sir William Wallace and let the panoramic views from the top spark a sense of awe for Scotland's enduring spirit.

Best season: Stirling Castle is a year-round destination, but for something extraordinary, visit in summer for vibrant living history displays or during autumn to witness a majestic canvas of fall colors enveloping the castle.

7. Ride the Jacobite Steam Train

Urquhart Castle, Loch Noss, Scotland.
Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands extends approximately 37 kilometers southwest of Inverness.

All aboard for nostalgic and fun things to do in Scotland? Chug along the Jacobite Steam Train rails, fondly nicknamed the real-world Hogwarts Express. Picture this: a billowing steam plume against rugged mountains, the whistle echoing off the lochs while you sip local brews, mulling over the same majestic landscapes that inspired novelists and filmmakers alike.

Alternative experiences:

  • Mallaig Stopover: Stroll through this picturesque fishing village; maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of local life or perhaps savor a fresh seafood treat.
  • Glenfinnan Station Museum: Alight to delve into the romance of the railways and discover a treasure of train memorabilia.
  • Highland Wildlife Safari: Keep your eyes peeled for the elusive red deer or golden eagles as you pass through Scotland’s untamed wilderness.

Best season: The peak season for riding the Jacobite Steam Train runs from April to October, offering a blend of blooming spring colors and the glory of the Scottish summer.

8. Catch the Northern Lights on the Shetland Islands

Witness the amazing Northern Lights on your Scottish holiday.
View the Northern Lights in Scotland on your trip to Shetland Islands.

Witness the ballet of the Aurora Borealis across the sky on a trip to the Shetland Islands. Far removed from the clutches of city lights, these remote islands are the watchtowers for nature's most electrifying performance. Wrap up warm and step out under the vast northern sky as swathes of iridescent greens and purples flirt with the stars. This isn't just star-gazing; it's an appointment with the cosmos.

Alternative experiences:

  • Sumburgh Head Lighthouse: Daytime adventurers can discover the rugged coastline and puffin colonies that make this place a sanctuary for more than just humans.
  • Shetland Museum and Archives: For a day indoors, learn the tales and crafts of this archipelago and become an expert in ‘Up Helly Aa,’ the legendary Viking fire festival.

Best season: The best time to chase the Northern Lights in Shetland is from late autumn to early spring, when the nights are the longest, providing the darkest canvas for this extraordinary light show.

9. Tour Culloden Battlefield

Scotland highlands on their autumnal stage.
During Fall, Scotland turns into the perfect destination for cycling and hiking, amidst yellow and golden landscape.

The Culloden Battlefield stands as a solemn ground where the echoes of a fierce and defining battle resonate through time. It's a poignant tribute to the 1745 Jacobite Rising, where visitors can pay their respects and reflect on the tumultuous events that shaped the fate of Scotland.

Alternative experiences:

  • Clava Cairns: Just a stone's throw away, explore the enigmatic standing stones and burial mounds dating back to the Bronze Age.
  • Culloden Viaduct: Behold the impressive architecture of this rail viaduct and consider the contrast between the ancient battlefield and modern-day engineering.

Best season: For a truly atmospheric experience, go in the autumn season when the heather is in bloom and the crisp air adds to the gravity of this sacred place.

10. Experience serenity at Loch Lomond

Beautiful mirror like conditions at the head of Loch Lomond.
The Loch Lomond lake in southern Scotland is a must-visit destination for hikers, wildlife enthusiasts, adventure seekers, and tourists.

Nestled at the gateway to the Scottish Highlands, Loch Lomond is a haven of tranquility and a mirror reflecting the beauty of towering mountains and lush glens. As Britain's largest freshwater expanse, the loch beckons visitors to sail its serene waters or hike along the idyllic trails of Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. Loch Lomond is on the list of things to do in Scotland for many travelers, and for a good reason.

Alternative experiences:

  • Ben Lomond Hike: Conquer the peak of Ben Lomond for panoramic views that stretch as far as the eye can see.
  • Loch Lomond Bird of Prey Centre: Encounter Scotland's majestic birds of prey up close and learn about the local efforts in conservation.

Best season: Visit Loch Lomond in the spring for a colorful and lively time when the flora and fauna burst to life and outdoor activities are plentiful.

Scotland's vibrant tapestry of history, culture, and natural wonders invites you on an unforgettable journey. Let this be the year you embrace the adventure of a lifetime with a customized Scotland trip. For an even better understanding of Scotland's weather and seasons, check out our article on the best time to visit Scotland.

Published by Emily Brown, updated on February 9, 2024
Plan a trip to ScotlandWe offer different tour types. You can also chat with a local travel specialist if you want a customized tour to Scotland.
Our travel experts are recommended by:
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  • Lonely Planet