21 Best Places to Visit in Scotland

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We’ve put together this guide of the best places to visit in Scotland so you can plan the perfect itinerary. From the medieval castles to cosmopolitan cities, this list covers all interests to make your Scottish holiday a trip to remember.

Conic Hill Trossachs Scotland

With rolling hills, quaint villages, hidden waterfalls, and rugged coastline, there are so many incredible places to visit in Scotland that will make you fall in love. 

And the really wonderful thing about Scotland is that most places are very close together, meaning you can see a lot of the country in one visit and you won’t have to drive very far.

We’ve rounded up some of the very best places in Scotland to put on your itinerary and bring you one step closer to planning the perfect trip.

For each place, we’re going to share the best things to do and where to stay, so grab a mug of coffee (or a glass of Scotch) and get your pen and paper ready to create a plan!

Scotland Travel Guide

We’ve also included some helpful resources for planning your trip to Scotland…

Top places to visit in Scotland

If you’re looking for the very best places to visit in Scotland, here are our top recommendations. 

  1. Edinburgh
  2. Glasgow
  3. Isle of Skye
  4. Inverness
  5. Loch Ness

Keep reading for more detailed information on each of these cities and more ideas for cool places to visit in Scotland. 

Trying to decide whether to visit Ireland or Scotland? You’re not alone! We’ve done both, and we have a whole guide where we compare the two and give our personal recommendation on the Scotland vs. Ireland debate.

1. Edinburgh

History, iconic sights and stunning architecture

Edinburgh Scotland

Scotland’s capital city may be the second largest by population, but there’s no denying that the cultural experience in Edinburgh is second to none. Hundreds of thousands of people flock from all over the world to visit this city for plenty of reasons.

After all, this city inspired J.K. Rowling’s enchanting world in the Harry Potter books! Which isn’t at all surprising when you take in the cobblestone streets, charming small town feel and Gothic and Medieval architecture abound.

Head into the medieval old town to learn about the interesting history and see some of the top tourist attractions in Edinburgh. 

The new town is filled with more modern Georgian architecture, tons of restaurants and Princes Street, the main shopping street that is overlooked by the castle.

Fun fact: The city even boasts the highest number of restaurants per capita in the UK! 

The best part about Edinburgh is that most of the historical tourist attractions are within easy walking distance of each other. You could spend days here and still not run out of things to do. It’s easy to see why Edinburgh is one of the top places to visit in Scotland.

Things to do in Edinburgh

Victoria Street Edinburgh Scotland
Victoria Street Edinburgh

We’ve got a huge list of all the best things to do in Edinburgh, but here are some highlights:

  • You can’t visit Edinburgh and not take a wander around Edinburgh Castle.
  • Wander up Calton Hill just at the top of Princes Street and take in beautiful views over the city and beyond.
  • Visit Mary Kings Close, a hidden street underneath the city that allows you to experience what life was like back in the 16th and 17th century in Edinburgh.
  • Hike to Arthur’s Seat atop an extinct volcano.
  • Visit the Elephant House and see where J.K. Rowling penned the Harry Potter books. (Oh and visit the nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard and see how many character names you can find amongst the headstones.)
  • Pop around to local pubs and try some typical Scottish foods like haggis, black pudding, and sticky toffee pudding!
  • Indulge in afternoon tea, a time honored tradition in the UK. 
  • Explore Dean Village, Edinburgh’s cutest neighborhood.

Where to stay in Edinburgh

Linton Blackfriars Lofts Edinburgh

Linton Collection – Blackfriars Lofts: Constructed in a former church dating back to 1871, this unique accommodation comes well-equipped with everything you need including a kitchenette, dining area and high speed wifi. 

This is where we stayed and we HIGHLY recommend it. Perfect location. Super cute and comfortable.

The Dunstane House Hotel Edinburgh

The Dunstane Houses: Nestled in the vibrant West End, this hotel is actually made up of two 1852 Victorian townhouses. It’s in a highly walkable area and offers upscale amenities, plus free parking (not common in the city!). The onsite bar has a fantastic selection of whiskey and gin, and offers tastings of both.

Edinburgh Backpackers Hostel

Edinburgh Backpackers Hostel: Situated in the heart of the old town on Cockburn Street, you couldn’t get any closer to the city center if you tried. With plenty of things to see, do and places to eat nearby it’s a great affordable option for exploring this magical city.

Psst! If hotel stays aren’t your thing, we have a curated list of the best Edinburgh Airbnbs for you to browse!

2. Glasgow

Music, culture, shopping and university vibes

Glasgow Scotland

Just 50 miles west of Edinburgh, Glasgow feels a world different.

A little grittier than Edinburgh at first glance, Glasgow isn’t as storybook-pretty as its neighbor to the east; but it makes up for it in other ways. 

Glasgow has the largest population of any city in Scotland, and most Scottish people we’ve spoken to claim it’s their favorite.

Perhaps it’s the fact that it doesn’t feel as saturated with tourists as Edinburgh. Or maybe it’s the enchanting combination of art, music and food. Perhaps it’s the vibe of a cool university city that’s hard to put into words…

Whatever the allure for you, we think Glasgow is definitely worth a gander. For us, it took a bit longer to really get it (whereas with Edinburgh, we fell in love immediately). But now we’re already itching to get back and explore more.

Things to do in Glasgow

Devil's Pulpit
Devil’s Pulpit hike near Glasgow

We’ve got a huge list of all the best things to do in Glasgow, but here are some highlights:

  • Take a Scottish food tour – we loved ours!
  • Walk through the cloisters on the University of Glasgow campus.
  • Indulge in a doughnut (or three!) at Tantrum Doughnuts.
  • Walk through Kelvingrove Park.
  • Check out a couple of the 22 galleries in Kelvingrove Museum.
    • Bonus: it’s free to explore!
  • Share several dishes in a family-style meal at Ubiquitous Chip, located on the charming Ashton Lane in the trendy West End neighborhood.
  • If you’re visiting on a weekend, head to The Barras and browse the hundreds of stalls where merchants and artisans sell their wares.
  • If you’re looking to escape the city and get outdoors, Milngavie is a small village on the outskirts of Glasgow. It is home to the beginning of West Highland Way—Scotland’s first and most famous long-distance hiking route.
    • FYI: The trail is 96 miles and takes roughly 7 days, but if you don’t have the time (or stamina!), just hike as long as you’d like before turning around.
  • Hike Finnich Glen to the Devil’s Pulpit rock, through a lush green gorge with otherworldly crimson red, swift-moving water, just north of Glasgow.

Where to stay in Glasgow

citizenM Glasgow

CitizenM: If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Glasgow that’s completely different to anywhere else in the city, then definitely check out this digitally advanced, space-saving hotel. (The beds literally go from wall to wall.) It’s located right in the city center and just minutes walk from the bus station and main shopping.

voco Grand Central Glasgow

voco Grand Central: In the heart of the city’s shopping district at Glasgow Central Station, the main transportation hub, this grand hotel is a local icon. The historic 1880s building is a sight to behold in its own right, and the convenient location makes it an easy choice. 

Euro Hostel Glasgow

Euro Hotel Glasgow: A budget-friendly hostel in the heart of Glasgow, including surprising perks such as free wi-fi, a view overlooking the River Clyde, a game room with pool tables, and an onsite restaurant and bike rental shop. There’s a variety of room types to choose from, including private rooms and dormitories.

3. Isle of Skye

Rugged natural landscapes, picturesque hikes, and medieval castles

Isle of Skye Scotland
Fairy Glen

Renowned for its breathtaking and dramatic scenery, Isle of Skye is easily one of the best places to visit in Scotland. 

As the northernmost major island in the Inner Hebrides archipelago, Skye embodies everything Scotland is so famous for. You’ll encounter rugged coastline dotted with quaint fishing villages, sprawling medieval castles, and lush green hills and cliffs in every direction. 

Needless to say, Isle of Skye is a bucket list-worthy destination, especially for nature lovers. The hiking here is straight out of a fairytale. You’ll find endless places to explore and there are also plenty of unique places to eat and stay.

We put together the ultimate guide to the Isle of Skye, which includes everything you need to know about planning your visit from essential tips to all the top attractions and fun things to do. Be sure to check out our guide and bookmark it to save for your travel planning!

To give you a little taste, here are some of the highlights…

Things to do in the Isle of Skye

Dunvegan Castle Isle of Skye Scotland
Dunvegan Castle
  • Start your day with a caffeine kick at Lean To Coffee.
  • Hike the Old Man of Storr trail.
  • Make the walk to the iconic Skye Fairy Pools.
  • Wander Fairy Glen at sunset.
  • See the Quiraing viewpoint and take the hike, if your heart desires.
  • Peep Dunvegan Castle from afar, or take a tour inside.
  • Walk up to the Duirinish Stone and pretend you’re in Outlander.
  • See Scottish Highland cows at this viewpoint.

Where to stay in Isle of Skye

Viewfield House Isle of Skye

Viewfield House: Located in Portree, this lovely B&B makes a great homebase. In addition to a full Scottish breakfast, guests can enjoy the onsite bar, large fireplace in the common area, and fast wi-fi. The property sits on 20 acres, so it feels secluded, yet it’s within easy walking distance of Portree proper. 

Sligachan Hotel Isle of Skye

Sligachan Hotel: Tucked into rural farmland on a scenic loch in Sconser, this hotel is in one of the best places to visit in Scotland if you’re hoping to spot Highland cows. The property is right next to the iconic Sligachan Old Bridge and less than 30 minutes from the Fairy Pools, plus it has its own micro-brewery and whiskey bar onsite. 

Kinloch Campsite Isle of Skye

Kinloch Campsite: If you are planning to go camping in Scotland, it doesn’t get much better than this small campground overlooking Loch Dunvegan (yep — Dunvegan Castle is just minutes away!). Campsites can accommodate tents, campervans, or motorhomes, and they’re thoughtfully tiered so everyone has a great view. Amenities include free hot showers and free wi-fi.

Looking for a way to fit all of this in one trip?

We traveled in Scotland for about 2 weeks and were able to visit most of the highlights of the country, including most of the top places to visit.

We took our 2-week travels and created the perfect Scotland road trip itinerary. We’ll send you our complete 2-week itinerary, filled with tips and advice. Just click below to get your 2-week Scotland road trip itinerary today!

4. Inverness

Cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands

Inverness Scotland

As the northernmost city in Scotland, Inverness offers a unique experience that combines the natural beauty of The Highlands with a modern city. In fact, more than one-third of The Highlands’ entire population lives in the Inverness metro area. The city is small, but rapidly changing as it’s one of the fastest growing cities in Europe. 

Inverness has all the modern amenities one could possibly need, while still providing easy access to Scotland’s beautiful mountains, lochs, and scenery of The Highlands. There is no shortage of castles, churches and cathedrals, distilleries, and historical sites to explore.

This beautiful city is also one of the best places to visit in Scotland because it’s the place where the North Coast 500 begins. (More on that in #12!)

Things to do in Inverness

Clava Cairns Inverness Scotland
Clava Cairns near Inverness

We’ve got a huge list of all the best things to do in Inverness, but here are some highlights:

  • Enjoy a 3-course lunch at The Mustard Seed.
  • Get lost in Leakey’s Bookshop.
  • Walk the path around Ness Islands.
  • Grab a coffee and breakfast at Velocity Cafe & Bicycle Workshop.
  • See live music at Hootenanny.
  • Indulge in a doughnut and cappuccino by day or an espresso martini by night at Perk Cafe.
  • Glimpse Inverness Castle from the outside (it’s currently undergoing renovations, and closed to the public).
  • If you’re a history buff, a visit to the Culloden Battlefield will likely be something you won’t want to miss.
  • Outlander fans will recognize the stones at Clara Cairns

Where to stay in Inverness

Inverness Student Hotel

Inverness Student Hotel: Tucked into the city center, this riverside hostel is both cozy and affordable. Dormitory-style rooms have 5-10 beds and the common area features a huge fireplace, river views, a shared kitchen, and complimentary coffee, tea, and hot cocoa. 

The Glenmoriston Townhouse Hotel Inverness

Glenmoriston Townhouse Hotel: Sitting right on the banks of the River Ness and just steps from the heart of the city, this chic hotel is the perfect jumping-off point for several places to visit in Scotland. The fast wi-fi and free parking are nice, but the real attraction is the extensive whisky bar, with nearly 300 varieties.

Camping Pod Heaven Inverness

Camping Pod Heaven: For truly unique accommodation in Inverness, Camping Pod Heaven combines all the best aspects of camping and more luxurious “glamping.” The pods each sleep four and include mattresses, heat, electrical sockets, and wi-fi. Just bring bedding and cooking supplies!

Psst! Read up on our guide to glamping in Scotland if you want more information on this unique style accommodation that’s become super popular.

5. Loch Ness

Home of the folklore, the Loch Ness Monster (or “Nessie” for short)

Dores Beach Loch Ness Scotland
Dores Beach on Loch Ness

It’s impossible to list the best places to visit in Scotland without mentioning Loch Ness. The storied home of the Loch Ness Monster, the world’s most famous mythical creature, this gorgeous loch near Inverness is full of intrigue. 

Although local folklore about Nessie dates back to the year 565 AD, it’s so elusive that the first real sighting (and photograph) wasn’t until 1933. Since then, there have been countless reports of something lurking in the water, but only a handful accompanied by photo or video proof. 

Needless to say, the “monster” is a theme woven into many attractions and even aspects of day-to-day life in Loch Ness, but even if you’re not necessarily a believer, there are plenty of other reasons to visit. 

The town is home to spectacular Urquhart Castle and several other historical sites, Loch Ness itself is jaw-dropping (it’s enormous — the deepest in Scotland and larger than all the lakes in England and Wales combined!), and it’s an easy side trip if you’re visiting Inverness. 

Things to do at Loch Ness

Loch Ness Boat Cruise Scotland
  • Enjoy the sunset on Dores Beach.
  • Grab a pint and pub food at The Dores Inn.
  • Take a boat cruise on Loch Ness and stop to explore Urquhart Castle.
  • Rent a bicycle to explore the Loch Ness 360 bike path.
  • Take a chilly dip in Loch Ness itself, entering from Loch Ness Beach or Lochend Beach.
    • The water averages just 41℉ year-round, but “wild swimming” is incredibly popular here!

6. Glencoe

Epic hiking and adventures

Glencoe Scotland

Nestled in Scotland’s Western Highlands, Glencoe sits in a valley formed by glaciers and volcanoes. Today, the dramatic, rugged landscape dotted with lochs and mountains provides a breathtaking backdrop for outdoor adventures, including some of the best hikes in Scotland. 

It’s no wonder that Glencoe has served as the filming location for several iconic movies, including Braveheart, James Bond, and Harry Potter.

Glencoe itself is actually an officially-designated National Nature Reserve, but it’s also a quaint historic village with quick access to scenic drives, epic hiking trails, and one of only five ski resorts in all of Scotland. It also plays host to some serious gems in the form of traditional Scottish pubs.

Things to do in Glencoe

Glencoe Scotland
Buachaille Etive Mòr in the distance

Where to stay in Glencoe

Clachaig Inn Glencoe

Clachaig Inn: Nestled in the valley and ideally located for exploring Steall Waterfall or visiting the Ben Nevis distillery, this inn is a great option. Rooms are private, there’s an onsite pub and restaurant, and the inn even has a children’s playground. 

Kingshouse Hotel Glencoe

Kingshouse Hotel: Part hostel and part traditional hotel, the Kingshouse offers classic guest rooms as well as a hostel-style bunkhouse, geared toward hikers. Linens are provided, breakfast is offered at an affordable rate, and laundry and gear storage services are available.

Bridge of Orchy Hotel Glencoe

Bridge of Orchy Hotel: Offering traditional rooms in the main building and suites in the annexes, Bridge of Orchy is situated right along the A82, the major thoroughfare into the Highlands. The train station is also within walking distance. Every room has spectacular views, and a full Scottish breakfast and parking are complimentary.

Wondering how to fit this all in one trip? Use our guide to planning the ultimate Scotland road trip, which covers everything from vehicle rentals to budget tips and itineraries. 

7. Portree

The bustling hub of the Isle of Skye

Portree Isle of Skye Scotland

The colorful and lively hub of activity on Skye, Portee offers an abundance of services and amenities for travelers. It serves as an excellent homebase for exploring the Isle of Skye, with quick access to boat tours and countless day trips. With plenty of charm, it’s also well worth a visit in its own right. 

You could easily spend several days just strolling around Portree, chasing waterfalls and snapping photos from different viewpoints. The town has several world-class dining options as well. 

One thing to keep in mind is that because Portree is Skye’s main hub, everything books up well in advance for peak season (summer). You’ll want to book your accommodation, tours, and even restaurant reservations as far in advance as possible.  

Things to do in Portree

  • Get a view above the colorful town at this viewpoint.
  • Enjoy a seafood dinner at Sea Breezes. We recommend ordering the hand-dived scallops!
  • Make a dinner reservation (at least a week early!) at The View, in the Cuillin Hills Hotel.  
  • Take a pony ride with Isle of Skye Trekking & Therapy Centre for some of the best views on the island. 
  • Take a whale- or dolphin-watching boat tour (the best time is between May and October).

Where to stay in Portree

Marmalade Hotel Portree

Marmalade Hotel: Housed in an early 1800s Georgian-style home, this beautiful hotel overlooks Portree Bay and well-manicured gardens. Dine in the onsite restaurant or garden, enjoy a cocktail in the heated courtyard, and take advantage of the boat and distillery tours that depart just minutes away.

Tianavaig View Apartments Portree

Tianavaig View Apartments: If a vacation rental is more your style, these apartments offer a perfect middle-ground. The self-contained, modern apartments are centrally located and well-equipped, but come with hotel-like amenities and services such as housekeeping. 

Portree Independent Hostel

Portree Independent Hostel: This hostel is ideally located right on Portree Bay. The shared kitchen, dining, and living rooms have fantastic views and great wi-fi connection, and dormitory-style rooms are spacious and comfy. 

8. Applecross

Remote peninsula in the Western Highlands known for its seafood and rugged scenery

Known by locals as “The Street,” tiny, remote Applecross is where you go to have an authentic Scottish experience. 

There’s little, if any, nightlife, and few restaurants and accommodations to choose from, but the outdoor adventure and scenery more than makes up for it. Plus, the village’s restaurants and pubs are shockingly good (like, Michelin-star good!).

The small fishing village overlooks the Sound of Raasay and offers views of several nearby islands. There are also small beaches and proper sand dunes in Applecross. It goes without saying that hiking, driving, and even just strolling through town are all accompanied by incredible views!

This is one of the best places to visit in Scotland for slowing down and truly taking in your surroundings. 

Things to do in Applecross

Bealach na Ba viewpoint Applecross Scotland_STOCK-Pix
Bealach na Ba viewpoint
  • Try local fish n’ chips and freshly-ground coffee from Applecross Inn-Side Out, a converted 1950s Airstream trailer. 
  • Stroll from Sand Bay to Applecross Bay, taking in coastal views of the isles of Skye and Raasay.  
  • Go sea kayaking with Mountain and Sea Guides.
  • Drive the winding Bealach na Ba (the Pass of the Cattle), the highest road in all of Great Britain at 2,053 feet above sea level. 
  • Treat yourself to dinner at Michelin-starred Applecross Inn

9. Cairngorms National Park

Largest national park in the UK, nestled in the Highlands

Cairngorms National Park

If you have limited time and have to decide on just one or two places to visit in Scotland, Cairngorms National Park should absolutely be one of them. National Geographic Traveller Magazine even named it one of the top 20 places to visit in the entire world!

Situated in the famed Scottish Highlands, Cairngorms has epic hiking and bicycling routes, castles, amazing wildlife, family-friendly attractions, museums, and even distilleries. 

The national park is also home to five of the six tallest mountains in the UK, plus a whopping 55 “Munros,” mountains taller than 3,000 feet (914.4m). And at 4,528 square kilometers (1,748 square miles), it’s the largest national park in the UK.

You could easily spend your entire visit here and still have a great time! 

Things to do in Cairngorms National Park

Reindeer in Cairngorms National Park Scotland
  • Trek to a reindeer herd in the mountains.
  • Do the epic Meall a’ Bhuachaille hike.
  • Wander the small town of Aviemore.
  • Catch live music at The Old Bridge Inn.
  • Take a tour of Balmoral Castle, a summer residence of the Royal family.
  • See the pyramid dedicated to Prince Albert, a strange sight to behold in the middle of a Scottish forest.

Where to stay in Cairngorms National Park

Blair Castle Caravan Park Cairngorm

Blair Castle Caravan Park (glamping): Situated at the park entrance in Blair Atholl, this spectacular glamping site offers a range of accommodations. Stay in a unique riverside camping pod, self-catering tiny homes, or wood cabins, or pitch your own tent in the campsite.

Cairngorm Hotel

Cairngorm Hotel: Ideally located on the main drag in Aviemore, the Cairngorm Hotel is the perfect basecamp for exploring the park and surrounding Highlands. Views, service, and dining options are all top-notch, and you’ll be within walking distance of shopping, hikes, and pubs. 

10. Outer Hebrides

Unique culture and remote, pristine beaches that rival those of the Caribbean 

Hebrides Scotland

Off Scotland’s rugged northwest coast, the Outer Hebrides is an archipelago comprised of 70 islands, only 15 of which are inhabited.

Each is a fascinating combination of quaint fishing villages, mountains, sand dunes, proper beaches, epic scenery, and diverse food scenes. 

There are many hidden gems in the Outer Hebrides, meaning you’ll get off the typical tourist path and have a very special experience.

Good to know: Scotland has both the Inner Hebrides and Outer Hebrides archipelagos. The Inner Hebrides are located closer to mainland Scotland and are comprised of 79 islands, including the Isle of Skye, the Isle of Mull, Jura and Islay, to name just a few of the more well-known isles.

The Outer Hebrides have been consistently occupied by various cultures since the Mesolithic period, so it comes as no surprise that the islands have a distinct culture all their own. Thanks to the different influences, you’ll experience bits of Gaelic, Norse, and Celtic culture, as well as warm, welcoming hospitality. 

Getting to the Outer Hebrides

If you have a bit more time in Scotland (or this is not your first trip to the country), we’d recommend adding this unique region to your list of places to visit in Scotland.

The reason we don’t necessarily recommend the Outer Hebrides as part of a shorter Scotland trip is that getting there does require a bit of time, making it difficult to squeeze into a limited itinerary (especially when you want to see many other places).

That said, there are multiple flights and ferries to the Outer Hebrides every day from mainland Scotland. In most cases, you can be in the isles in under two hours. 

Things to do in the Outer Hebrides

Isle of Lewis Hebrides Scotland
Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis
  • See the Black Houses in Gearrannan Blackhouse Village
  • Visit the Standing Stones from 2,000 years ago
  • Rent a bike and cycle from Lewis to Harris on the Hebridean Way
  • Pack a picnic and enjoy it on one of the beaches
  • Be sure to try the local delicacy: Charles MacLeod Black Pudding
  • Book an overnight stay at Amhuinnsuidhe Castle (which includes meals)

Where to stay in the Outer Hebrides

Hotel Hebrides

Hotel Hebrides: Conveniently located in Tarbert near some of the best beaches in the Outer Hebrides, this boutique hotel is a great choice. The rooms are comfortable, the restaurant and bar are exceptional, and it’s right at the ferry port. 

Ravenspoint Hostel Hebrides

Ravenspoint Hostel: In the Gaelic-speaking farming (“crofting” in Scotland) community of South Loch on the Isle of Lewis, this hostel offers ultra-affordable, comfy accommodation with a view. There are various room types, plus shared kitchen and laundry facilities.

11. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs

Scotland’s first national park and one of the country’s most popular destinations

Loch Lomond Scotland

Considered one of the most scenic parts of the country, The Trossachs National Park and Loch Lomond are some of the most popular places to visit in Scotland. (Many Scots take “staycations” here, which is really saying something!)

Loch Lomond is the park’s crown jewel, sitting right on a fault line that serves as the natural boundary between the Highlands and the lowlands. Its geographical diversity is truly a sight to behold, with different formations and terrain even from one end to the other. 

Best of all, The Trossachs is just 30 miles from Glasgow, making it easily accessible even if you only have time for a quick day trip. 

Things to do near Loch Lomond & The Trossachs

Trossachs Scotland
  • Hike to Conic Hill at sunset.
  • Get a taste of Scottish folklore by exploring the mysteries of Rob Roy’s Cave. 
  • Rent a kayak or paddleboard and explore the 22+ islands of Loch Lomond (look out for wild wallabies!)
  • Tour the Glengoyne or Loch Lomond distilleries.
  • Explore the cozy pubs and funky boutiques in the quaint village of Luss.  

12. North Coast 500 Highway

One of the most iconic and scenic driving routes in Europe

Loch Maree Scotland NC500 (Gemma Spence)
View of Loch Maree along the North Coast 500 (Image by Gemma Spence)

The North Coast 500 or NC500 as it’s often called, is Scotland’s version of the iconic American Route 66. Driving this road takes you through 516 miles of the most incredible Scottish landscapes with stops along the way in many little villages and sights with plenty of things to see and do.

The NC500 loop starts and ends at Inverness Castle, although many people choose to drive shorter sections of it, mostly for the sake of time. Whether you have a day or two weeks, you’ll be wowed by the scenery, impressive castles, hikes, Highland cow sightings, national parks, and random roadside pubs. 

No matter how much time you have and whether you’re driving the entire loop or just a section, here’s one important piece of advice: don’t over schedule yourself and build in (lots of!) time for detours. 

Things to do along the North Coast 500

John O'Groats Sign (The National)
Image source: The National

This is by no means a complete list. We have an entire guide to driving the North Coast 500 with much more detailed information if you’re interested in planning a road trip.

  • Stroll the beaches of Black Isle.
  • Tour the Glenmorangie Distillery (feel free to request your “wee dram” tasting to go if you’re hopping right back in the car!). 
  • Stop at Falls of Shin, where you can watch salmon leaping out of the water. Grab some locally-made souvenirs and a slice of cake from the cafe before leaving.
  • Take a picture with the iconic sign in John O’Groats, considered the northernmost point on mainland Scotland. 
  • Explore Ugly Hollow, an impressive box canyon, on a kayaking or canyoneering tour. 

Where to stay along the North Coast 500

Old Drynie House NC500

Old Drynie House, Black Isle: A true B&B with stunning water views, spacious private rooms, and a traditional, formal Scottish breakfast served in a group setting. 

John O'Groats NC500

Natural Retreats, John O’Groats: Luxury, self-catering eco-cottages with spectacular views of the ocean and Orkney Islands. Locally-sourced, sustainable materials are used throughout each cottage, alongside modern amenities including large flat-screen TVs with PS3 video game consoles. Onsite bicycle rentals are available. 

Kyle of Tongue Hostel NC500

Kyle of Tongue Hostel & Campsite: A former historic shooting lodge turned hostel, this is a fantastic affordable accommodation option with both private and shared rooms, plus a campsite. 

13. Oban

The “Gateway to the Isles” and the seafood capital of Scotland

Oban Scotland_STOCK-Pix

A quaint seaside town on Scotland’s west coast, Oban is considered the “Gateway to the Isles” but well worth a visit in its own right. It’s a quick (and very scenic!) detour if you’re traveling from Glasgow to the central Highlands, and serves as an excellent jumping-off point for island-hopping.

Offering a little something for everyone, Oban is renowned for its fresh-from-the-source seafood, variety of outdoor adventures, and unique cultural attractions. The fishing community is also home to one of the country’s oldest (and smallest!) distilleries — that in itself makes Oban one of the best places to visit in Scotland!

Things to do in Oban

Oban Scotland_STOCK-Pix
  • Pick up fresh seafood from the famous Green Shack, aka the Oban Seafood Hut. Bring it back to your vacation rental or request the local fishermen prepare it fresh onsite.
  • Climb up to McCaig’s Tower, also known as McCaig’s Folly, a huge unfinished replica of the Colosseum perched on a hill overlooking the town and Oban Bay. 
  • Tour the Oban Distillery, where you’ll get two tastings. 
  • Go island-hopping through the Inner Hebrides — the isles of Barra, Coll, Iona, Kerrera, Lismore, and Mull are all easily accessible with a short ferry ride from Oban’s ferry port (and you can visit multiple islands in one day!).
  • Book a puffin or other wildlife-watching tour with Basking Shark Scotland

Where to stay in Oban

The Perle Oban Hotel & Spa

The Perle Oban: This stylish waterfront hotel adds a touch of luxury to your Oban visit, but at a very reasonable pricepoint. The 1800s building is a local icon and guests can indulge at the spa or onsite Michelin-starred restaurant. The Oban Distillery is right next door!

The Kilchrenan Inn Oban

The Kilchrenan Inn: A cozy inn in a picturesque, somewhat secluded location with well-equipped rooms, strong wi-fi, free parking, and an elaborate daily Scottish breakfast. 

Oban Youth Hostel

Oban Youth Hostel: For travelers on a budget, this hostel is fantastic. It’s waterfront along Oban’s popular esplanade and within easy walking distance of the town center, rail station, and ferry port. Private and shared rooms are available, and perks include free parking and bicycle storage. 

14. Isle of Mull

The Inner Hebrides’ second-largest island

Isle of Mull Scotland

Largely considered something of a hidden gem because of the wild popularity of the slightly larger Isle of Skye, Mull definitely deserves a spot on your Scotland itinerary. Skye is the only isle larger than Mull in the Inner Hebrides, and it’s the fourth-largest Scottish island overall. 

You’ll find a great variety of shops and services in Tobermory, the capital town, but people primarily visit the Isle of Mull to enjoy slow living and take in the unique scenery, culture, and wildlife of the Inner Hebrides. 

Best of all, visiting Mull is as easy as taking a ferry ride from the mainland. Multiple daily trips are offered from Oban, Kilchoan, and Lochaline, and all three trips are under one hour. 

Insider tip: You can bring a vehicle over to the island on the ferry, but if you’re driving a rental car, be sure to check company policy to ensure doing that is permitted. 

Things to do in Isle of Mull

Puffins on the Isle of Mull Scotland
Puffins on the Isle of Lunga
  • Rent an e-bike from one of the local shops to explore the island on two wheels. 
  • Tour and enjoy samples of Scotch at Tobermory Distillery, the only one on the island. 
  • Take the ferry to the nearby Isle of Lunga, where puffins reside from April through August.
  • Visit the Duart Castle, which has been continuously occupied by the prominent Clan MacLean for over 700 years. 
  • Make the short hike to Aros Waterfall, starting from Tobermory.

Where to stay in Isle of Mull

Glengorm Castle Isle of Mull

Glengorm Castle: If you’ve always wanted to stay in a real castle (who doesn’t?!), here’s your chance. Set up as individual self-catering apartments within the castle, there’s a variety of rooms available ranging from studios to family-style flats with kitchens. Best feature: the library always has complimentary whiskey available!

Western Isles Hotel Isle of Mull

Western Isles Hotel: Overlooking Tobermory Bay, this is one of the best locations for exploring Mull. Views are fantastic and guests rave about the food — full Scottish breakfast is included!

Salen Bay Campsite Isle of Mull

Salen Bay Campsite: To truly immerse yourself in the Isle of Mull, consider camping for a night or two. This secluded campground feels as if it’s on an island of its own, but is just walking distance from the town center. Elevated sites have 360-degree views, and you can rent kayaks or SUPs onsite. 

15. Fort William

Known as the Outdoor Capital of the UK

Fort William Scotland

With a nickname like the “Outdoor Capital of the UK,” it goes without saying that there’s no shortage of epic adventure in Fort William. The area’s abundance of rivers and lochs position the town as a fantastic spot for water sports, and the surrounding mountains lend themselves to plenty of other outdoor recreation. 

That’s only the tip of the iceberg, though. Fort William has all the quintessentially Scottish elements as well, including historic castles, distilleries, and dramatic scenery. In fact, many scenes from Braveheart were filmed here!

Fort William is right next to the smaller village of Glencoe and both towns are easily accessible via train or car from Glasgow — just one more thing making it one of the best places to visit in Scotland. 

Things to do in Fort William

St. Andrews Church Fort William Scotland
St. Andrews steeple
  • Climb Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK (pack layers — there’s typically snow at the summit all year!). 
  • Visit the West Highland Museum, with elements of quintessential Highlands culture on display, including weapons and bagpipes. 
  • Check out the impressive architecture of St. Andrews church
  • Watch boats navigate Neptune’s Staircase, a series of unique staircase locks. 
  • Order a pint and pizza at Black Isle Bar.
  • See the statue that marks the official end to the West Highland Way.
  • Take a day trip from Fort William to the near by Glenfinnan Viaduct (see #16 on this list for more info!).

Where to stay in Fort William

The Garrison Fort William

The Garrison: One of the most unique (and dog-friendly!) accommodations in Fort William, this stylish hotel is a former police station. There are traditional hotel rooms, but guests can also book compact rooms that are converted jail cells!

Myrtle Bank Guest House Fort William

Myrtle Bank Guest House: This 1890s Victorian villa offers B&B-style guest rooms in a gorgeous waterfront setting on Loch Linnhe. Views are fantastic, it’s just a five-minute walk from the center of town, and parking and wi-fi are included. 

Ben Nevis Inn Fort William

Ben Nevis Inn (bunkhouse): Nestled at the foot of Ben Nevis, this hostel caters primarily to hikers. Ultra-affordable accommodation includes dormitory-style shared rooms or private rooms, and there’s a lively pub and restaurant upstairs. 

16. Glenfinnan

A popular stop on the Road to the Isles and the home of the famous “Harry Potter bridge”

Glenfinnan Viaduct Train Scotland 2

Glenfinnan is an easy stop along the picturesque Road to the Isles, A830, which connects Fort William to the port of Mallaig. The town itself is small but mighty, offering an impressive punch combining history and scenery, but the 43-mile scenic drive is worth the trip in itself. 

Of course, there’s another major reason people make the trip to Glenfinnan, Potterheads will recognize this one! The Glenfinnan Viaduct, a raised railway 100 feet off the ground, served as the Hogwarts Express train in the second and third movies. 

Unsurprisingly, today the viaduct is widely known as the “Harry Potter bridge.”

Things to do in Glenfinnan

Glenfinnan Viaduct Train Scotland
  • Photograph the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct train bridge (aka the “Harry Potter bridge”).
  • Grab a sandwich and soup inside an old railroad car
  • Visit the 60-foot Glenfinnan Monument, or the “Leaning Tower of Glenfinnan,” as the locals know it.
  • Take a day trip to Old Forge Pub, named the world’s most remote bar by the Guinness Book of World Records (fair warning: there’s literally no actual road to the pub, so this is more of an adventure than it initially seems!). 

17. Stirling

Gateway to the Highlands

Stirling Scotland

It may be a rather small city, but Stirling packs a serious punch. The city is located about one hour from Edinburgh and 30 minutes from Glasgow, situated right where the Scottish Lowlands meet the Highlands. 

Without a doubt, the main reason to visit Stirling is that it’s a passage on the journey to The Highlands. 

Outside of being a major thoroughfare for the Highlands, Stirling itself is actually a college town—and the entertainment and restaurant scenes reflect that. The younger, livelier population lends itself to buzzy bars and great nightlife, lots of great shopping, and events happening seemingly non-stop, year-round. 

Of course, if you’re looking for a quieter respite away from the rowdy party scene, there are also plenty of traditional Scottish pubs and restaurants. 

Things to do in Stirling

Stirling Castle Scotland
Stirling Castle
  • Explore the cobblestone streets of Stirling’s Old Town 
  • Head up to Stirling Castle for some panoramic views of the surrounding Highlands
  • Visit the National Wallace Monument in honor of Scottish warrior William Wallace, i.e.; Braveheart.
  • Have a hands-on experience at one of the farms in the surrounding Highlands.
    • Briarlands Farm is especially family-friendly, offering a petting zoo, seasonal berry picking, go-karting and other activities.

Where to stay in Stirling

Stirling Highland Hotel

Stirling Highland Hotel: Occupying a historic 1854 building, this former high school turned hotel is in one of the best parts of the city. The rail station and famed Stirling Castle are both within walking distance, and there’s a cheekily-named, school-themed restaurant and pub onsite (Scholars Restaurant and Headmaster’s Study Bar, respectively).

Friars Wynd Hotel Stirling

Friars Wynd Hotel: In the city center, this boutique hotel is well-equipped and extremely affordable. There’s a bar and lovely garden onsite, and guests rave about the hotel breakfast. 

Stirling Youth Hostel

Stirling Youth Hostel: Set on the grounds of a beautiful church perched above town and within walking distance of the Castle, this is an excellent affordable option for exploring Stirling. Choose from private en suite or shared rooms, and use the self-catering kitchen or order an inexpensive continental breakfast. 

18. Ullapool

Gateway to the Northern Highlands and a popular stop on the North Coast 500

Stac Pollaidh Ullapool Scotland

A sleepy fishing village in far northern Scotland on the shores of Loch Broom, Ullapool is widely considered one of the most unspoiled places in the UK. If you’re looking to enjoy the country’s iconic rolling green landscape dotted with bodies of water at a slow pace, Ullapool belongs near the top of your list of places to visit in Scotland. 

Don’t let the quiet pace fool you, though — Ullapool is frequently named to lists of the best outdoor destinations in the UK and has a strong sense of adventure. The small town boasts a combination of rocky coastline, mountains, excellent hiking, and unique wildlife and photography opportunities. 

Inverness is just an hour away by car and there are ferries to the Outer Hebrides close by, plus, of course, it’s right along the North Coast 500, making Ullapool the perfect basecamp for exploring northern Scotland.

Things to do in Ullapool

  • Rent a kayak or canoe from the Ullapool Pier and paddle Loch Broom. 
  • Catch sunset over the loch from Rhue Lighthouse.
  • Go tidepooling, crabbing, or skip rocks at Ardmair Beach. 
  • Enjoy langoustines and other seafood fare at the iconic Seafood Shack.
  • Grab a strong coffee and pastry at Cult Cafe.

Where to stay in Ullapool

The Arch Inn Ullapool

The Arch Inn: Family-friendly beachfront accommodation with an onsite bar, restaurant, and open-air terrace offering stunning views. Breakfast is included in the rate, and the inn has direct access to popular hiking and cycling trails. 

Riverside Ullapool

Riverside Guest House: Laid-back, inn-style accommodations within walking distance of the ferry port and harbor. Guests receive complimentary access to the Lochbroom Leisure Centre, with a swimming pool and gym facilities. 

Ullapool Youth Hostel

Ullapool Youth Hostel: A lovely waterfront option providing a fantastic value in the heart of Ullapool overlooking the harbor. Choose from private or shared rooms and enjoy communal kitchen and lounge facilities, plus wi-fi and bike storage. 

19. St. Andrews

An ancient seaside community known as the birthplace of golf

History buffs, architecture lovers, and fans of golf will all eagerly shout from the rooftops that St. Andrews is one of the best places to visit in Scotland. It was here that the game of golf was invented, way back in the 15th century. 

St. Andrews is also home to Scotland’s oldest and most prominent university — and the third-oldest in the modern world! The University of St. Andrews was established in the early 1400s, and many visitors call it a real-life Hogwarts. 

It should come as no surprise that there are a number of well-preserved medieval ruins in St. Andrews. What is a bit surprising, however, are the buzzy restaurants, pubs, and independent shopping boutiques in a town this tiny.

Things to do in St. Andrews

St. Andrews Scotland
Ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral
  • Play a round of golf at the Old Course, the oldest golf course in the entire world (you must enter a ballot-style lottery to try and get a tee time). Guided walks are also available April through October. 
  • If you can’t get a tee time at the Old Course, play at one of the city’s 10 other courses.
  • Visit the ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral, built in 1158 and at one time the country’s largest cathedral. 
  • Indulge in a scoop at Jannetta’s Gelateria, a fourth-generation shop dishing out over 100 flavors. 
  • Take a self-guided walking tour of the University of St. Andrews. 
  • Tip a few back at Eden Mill, part gin distillery, part brewery, entirely unique.  

Where to stay in St. Andrews

Drumoig Golf Hotel St. Andrews

Drumoig Golf Hotel: If golf is on your St. Andrews agenda, book a stay at the Drumoig, home to its very own 18-hole golf course. The onsite restaurant overlooks the 18th green, so you can get your golf fix even when you aren’t playing. 

The Spindle Guest Rooms St. Andrews

The Spindle Guest Rooms: Best described as an upscale, adults-only hostel, The Spindle offers private rooms with shared common areas, like the lounge and terrace. The university is literally feet away and the entire area is very walkable. 

Rufflets St Andrews

Rufflets: If you have a bit of wiggle room in your budget, Rufflets is a bit pricier than the other options but well worth the splurge. Set on a private 10 acres in a 1924 turreted mansion, everything about Rufflets is plush. If the weather is favorable, don’t miss an opportunity to dine in the award-winning gardens. 

20. Dundee

A major hub of architecture and visual arts

Dundee is a perfect example of history seamlessly combined with contemporary living. Situated on Scotland’s east coast, the city itself is pretty compact and very walkable. Plus, it’s an absolute dream for lovers of architecture. 

The city boasts tons of architectural landmarks, museums, and galleries. And in 2015, Dundee was named a UNESCO City of Design, the very first in the UK. Another fun tidbit: Grand Theft Auto, the video game with a longtime, cult-like following, was created here in Dundee.

Like Edinburgh, Dundee also hosts numerous festivals every year. They play host to a fantastic Jazz festival each November, as well as one of the biggest food festivals in Scotland. Speaking of which—Dundee’s food and bar scenes are also quite trendy with plenty of options to keep you satisfied. 

Things to do in Dundee

Dundee V&A Museum Scotland
  • Visit the Dundee V&A Museum, dedicated entirely to design, also the first of its kind in Scotland. 
  • Peruse the McManus Galleries.
  • Check out the architecture at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
  • Hike or drive to the top of Dundee Law, a long-dormant volcano, for an elevated 360-degree view of the city and river.
  • Go whitewater rafting in nearby Angus

Where to stay in Dundee

Hotel Indigo - Dundee

Hotel Indigo: Overlooking the River Tay and close to the center of town, this chic hotel is in a building that was once a textile mill. It’s in a very walkable location and every room has a dedicated workstation. 

Shaftesbury Hotel Dundee

The Shaftesbury Hotel: To really immerse yourself in the architecture Dundee is so famous for, choose this hotel. In the vibrant West End, the 19th century hotel has several original features including arched windows, stone fireplaces, and high ceilings. 

Dundee Backpackers Hostel

Dundee Backpackers Hostel: Housed in a group of five well-preserved 16th century buildings with many period furnishings intact, this hostel has an elevated feel and is situated on bustling High Street. There are both private and shared rooms, plus communal dining room, kitchen, lounge, and game room. 

21. Aberdeen

One of the sunniest places in the UK and considered Scotland’s “castle capital”

Aberdeen Scotland

Located near the coast in the northeastern part of the country, Aberdeen is the third largest city in Scotland. Fun fact: It’s considered the sunniest city in all of the UK, getting up to 195 hours of sunshine in May alone! 

The city’s favorable weather is the cherry on top as Aberdeen is one of the only places in the UK that has a proper sandy beach. Steady winds make Aberdeen a great spot for surfing, kitesurfing, or sailing. 

There’s also an amusement park at the beach and, in true Scottish fashion, an ice skating rink. 

Nightlife is surprisingly lively for a laid-back beach town, and the restaurant scene is robust as well. There are golf courses everywhere you look (did you know golf was invented in Scotland?!), cool museums (many of which are totally free!), nice public parks, and lots of history to enjoy in Aberdeen. 

Things to do in Aberdeen

Aberdeen Scotland
  • Visit at least a couple of Scotland’s castles! Start with Dunnottar Castle, one of the oldest and most formidable in the country, and the distinct pink Craigievar Castle.  
  • Grab a beer from the wildly popular BrewDog’s main brewery DogTap in Ellon. 
  • Visit Newburgh Beach to run up and down the sand dunes and check out the colony of hundreds of seals. 
  • Stroll through Old Aberdeen for eye-popping old architecture (it was founded in the 1400s!).  
  • Make a day trip to Cairngorms National Park (#9 on this list!). 

Where to stay in Aberdeen

Jurys Inn Aberdeen

Jurys Inn Aberdeen (Union Square): In a fantastic, highly walkable location adjacent to the train station, tons of shopping, and a fantastic selection of restaurants and cafes. The hotel also has signature Jurys Inn DREAM beds and deep soaking tubs. 

Malmaison Aberdeen

Malmaison Aberdeen: Set in a stately granite building that looks like a Victorian mansion, this posh hotel feels like an absolute steal. The rooms are plush and well-outfitted, and recent upgrades include a gym, wine tasting cellar, and Whiskey Snug bar. 

Deeside Holiday Park Aberdeen

Deeside Holiday Park: If camping or glamping is more your style as you tour the Castle Capital or visit Cairngorms National Park, Deeside is perfect. Choose from tent or campervan sites, or book a glamping pod or traditional cabin-style holiday home. 

Scotland itinerary

Fairy Glen Isle of Skye Scotland

Raise your hand if you don’t want to spend hours of time researching and you just want all the info right at your fingertips!

If your hand is up, keep reading…

If you like the research, all the power to you! Feel free to use our itinerary outlines as a starting point as well as our city guides for ideas of things to do (we’ve got a bunch of them!):

But if you want to save some hours of your life, we’ve already put in more than enough for you and us combined. Trust us.

And we’re happy to share everything we learned — from digging through reviews, Youtube and all sorts of Internet rabbit holes, as well as actually being in Scotland and taking our very own dream road trip!

We’ve curated what we think is the perfect Scotland road trip, and we want you to be able to copy our route! 

In this 2-week itinerary, you’ll find:

  • Can’t miss sights and experiences 
  • Where to eat
    • suggestions for what to order
  • Where to stay (whether you’re camping or doing hotels)
    • the best campsites to stay on the route
    • unique guesthouses along the way
  • Insider Tips
  • Suggestions for extending this trip

We’ve spent hours of research putting this all together, just for you!

In full transparency, this is a paid itinerary since it has taken an incredible amount of time for us to create. 

However, we keep all of our paid itineraries affordable – just $17 for an entire 2-week itinerary. We think this is an incredible value considering almost all your planning will be done for you!

What to pack for your trip to Scotland

Old Man of Storr walk Scotland

With variable weather conditions, excellent hiking opportunities, and plenty of city life, there are a few things you definitely don’t want to forget when you’re packing for a trip to Scotland.

Check out the exact items we recommend for traveling in Scotland. 

  • Rain gear
    • rain jacket (make sure it’s waterproof, not just water resistant)
    • travel umbrella
    • dry bag: to keep your valuables from getting wet on a hike
  • Hiking backpack
  • Hiking boots
  • Wool socks
  • Lots of layers
  • A couple nicer outfits for eating out
  • Bug repellent: midges are common in Scotland, especially during the summer months
  • Camera and lightweight tripod (optional)

Be sure to download our complete packing list for Scotland! It’s packed with good suggestions and insider tips to help plan your Scotland trip. And it’s completely FREE, so why not!?

Round up of the top places to visit in Scotland

Here’s a roundup of all the best places to visit in Scotland so you can see everything in one place.

  1. Edinburgh
  2. Glasgow
  3. Isle of Skye
  4. Inverness
  5. Loch Ness
  6. Glencoe
  7. Portree
  8. Applecross
  9. Cairngorms National Park
  10. Outer Hebrides
  11. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs
  12. North Coast 500
  13. Oban
  14. Isle of Mull
  15. Fort William
  16. Glenfinnan
  17. Stirling
  18. Ullapool
  19. St. Andrews
  20. Dundee
  21. Aberdeen

Are you planning a trip to Scotland?

We have lots of resources on travel in Scotland and destinations throughout the country. Check out our Scotland Travel Homepage for everything you need to know, or read some of our favorite articles below.

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Places to Visit in Scotland | Two Wandering Soles
Places to Visit in Scotland | Two Wandering Soles

We want to hear from you!

Which of these places to visit in Scotland are going straight to the top of your list? Are you planning a trip to Scotland and have more questions? Comment below and let us know!

Comments (10) on “21 Best Places to Visit in Scotland

    • Ben Zweber says:

      Oh, wow! There are so many good places. We are actually creating an article about Scottish foods and where to get order them. Check back soon!

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