Most beautiful places to visit in Scotland

21 of the most beautiful places to visit in Scotland

Lonely Planet once mentioned it as one of the must-see countries to visit and if you’re a regular reader of this blog you will know how much we love the place. Yes parts of it can be remote, yes a trip here needs a little planning but Scotland (especially the Highlands) is where you’ll find some of the best natural scenery in Europe, if not the world. From its grand historic capital to its picture-perfect lochs, here are 21 of the most beautiful places to visit in Scotland…

Our videographer Gary’s beautiful 3-day road trip around Scotland with drone footage…

Glencoe – a jaw-droppingly beautiful valley and one of the best places to visit in Scotland

Glencoe - one of the best places to visit in Scotland

Glencoe - a jaw-droppingly beautiful valley

If you were to pick a place that represents Scotland’s wild natural beauty at its finest then many would choose Glencoe. It’s an ancient volcanic glen with a grim history and breathtakingly beautiful scenery – the valley is flanked by imposing velvety-green peaks so tall that their tops are often shrouded in grey misty clouds.

It was also the site of the infamous Glencoe massacre where in 1692 the MacDonald clan was ruthlessly slaughtered by the government in power at the time. It’s a sixteen-mile drive from Fort William and although it will probably be raining when you arrive, this will only add to its mysterious atmosphere.

Isle of Skye – once voted one of the most beautiful places to visit in the world

Isle of Skye - stunning places to visit in Scotland

Isle of Skye beautiful scenery and a town

Once voted the fourth best island in the world (by National Geographic magazine) the tranquil and stunningly beautiful Isle of Skye – part of the Hebridean islands located off the northwest shore of Scotland – offers particularly beguiling scenery.

This is where the waves of the turbulent Atlantic sea crash against the rough and rugged shores, towering sea cliffs, and long sweeping sandy beaches. Inland scenery doesn’t get any less dramatic with formidable mountain ranges, boggy moorland, and vast expanses of barren wilderness punctuated with tiny lochs and pretty villages.

Edinburgh – Scotland’s fine and majestic capital

Edinburgh - the best places to visit in Scotland

Edinburgh - Scotland's fine and majestic capital

Scotland’s proud and grand capital easily deserves a place on this list. One of the UK’s most visited tourist destinations (after London) this city mixes old-world charm and historic architectural grandeur with a dash of the contemporary thrown in for good measure. It’s orientation probably helps too – Edinburgh’s skyline is dominated by the castle which sits atop a craggy volcano, gazing down over the city.

For other city highlights head for the labyrinthine of beautifully preserved medieval cobbled streets which make up the Old Town, Prince’s Street (Scotland’s most famous shopping street) and the spooky – and supposedly haunted – series of underground chambers otherwise known as the ‘vaults’. If you’re planning a longer stay check out our post on cool and unusual hotels to stay in Edinburgh.

Lochan na h-Achlaise – one of the most scenic places to visit in Scotland

Lochan na h-Achlaise - one of the most scenic places to visit in Scotland

A small loch, or lochan, Lochan na h-Achlaise is a much-photographed beauty spot and one of the most beautiful lakes in Scotland. Set on the wild and rural Rannoch Moor, this lochan is surrounded by Black Mount – an imposing snow-capped mountain range.

Rannoch Moor is a wet and boggy landscape, so suitable footwear is a must. Another great way to see this part of Scotland is by train – the West Highland Railway runs between Glasgow and Fort William, and was once voted the top rail journey in the world.

Dean Village – a very pretty former village immediately northwest of the city centre of Edinburgh

Dean Village - great places to visit in Scotland

This charming and very easy-on-the-eye former village can be found just northwest of the city centre of Edinburgh, Scotland. Beautifully located right on the Water of Leith this little oasis seemingly a long way from all the city hassles is actually only a five-minute walk from Princes Street.

It was once a thriving grain milling village but now it’s an Edinburgh World Heritage Site and people visit for the pretty and colourful historic buildings, to see the impressive Dean Bridge designed by Thomas Telford and of course its very alluring picturesque charm.

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park – a unique and romantic protected area filled with pristine lochs, rolling hills and thick forests

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park - a unique and romantic place in Scotland to visit

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park views

A relatively new National Park, having been officially created in 2002, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs is a 720 square mile wild haven – complete with a host of mountains and lochs to explore. There are 21 mountains above 3000 feet, and nearly as many above 2500 feet. The park is located in the central Highlands and consists of four distinct areas; the vast Loch Lomond, Bredalbane – the ‘high ground of Scotland’, Argyll Forest – a forest park perfect for hiking, and The Trossachs – a beautiful woodland glen.

This is also Rob Roy’s stomping ground, the folk hero made famous by Daniel Defoe and Sir Walter Scott. Wherever you decide to start exploring this huge National Park from, you’re guaranteed of some seriously spectacular Scottish scenery.

Glasgow Cathedral – one of the oldest and most spectacular cathedrals on mainland Scotland

Glasgow Cathedral - one of the most spectacular cathedrals in Scotland

The city of Glasgow is a fun, friendly and vibrant city and is well worth a visit. One of its most beautiful attractions is its focal point, Glasgow Cathedral (also called the High Kirk of Glasgow or St Mungo’s Cathedral). It was built between the 13th & 15th Centuries and is the oldest cathedral on the mainland of Scotland and is the oldest building in Glasgow. Today the medieval is a magnificent example of Scottish Gothic architecture and if you visit it will instantly transport you back to a time now long forgotten.

Ben Nevis – the highest mountain in the British Isles and a popular beauty spot

Ben Nevis - best places to go in Scotland

Standing at 1,344 metres, Ben Nevis is the highest peak in the United Kingdom and is the mountain that all visiting climbers want to conquer. Many base themselves at nearby town Fort William to give them a few days to explore the imposing peak and its tranquil neighbour, Glen Nevis.

Both places offer scenery of outstanding beauty – Glen Nevis is one of the best examples of a glaciated valley in Scotland with cascading waterfalls, a dramatic gorge and bracken-covered slopes and Ben Nevis, once climbed, offers some the best views in the country. If you are considering tackling the climb just make you go fully prepared, check the weather conditions before you go, and allow for a full day’s climbing.

Glenfinnan Viaduct – the scenic railway viaduct made famous by the Harry Potter films

Glenfinnan Viaduct - great places to visit in Scotland

The Glenfinnan Viaduct is now one of the most popular places to visit in Scotland thanks to it starring in many a Harry Potter film. Attracting thousands from all over the globe, it’s a beautiful railway viaduct built in 1901 with a curving, 21-arch span, on the West Highland Line in Glenfinnan, Inverness-shire. A Jacobite steam train also runs from here all the way to Fort William and Mallaig in summer months with regular trains available the rest of the year. As well as being visually striking with truly stunning surroundings (the railway overlooks beautiful Loch Shiel), it’s also a special place with a very unique atmosphere!

Eilean Donan – one of the most photogenic and recognised castles in Scotland

Eilean Donan - one of the most photogenic castles in Scotland

This tiny tidal island located in Loch Duich is adorned with the most photographed castle in Scotland. It’s arguably Scotland’s most famous view and appears on everything from calendars, shortbread tins, and even films and television adverts.

If you visit you’ll see why – it’s a truly picturesque spot looking out to the Isle of Skye, surrounded by the forested mountains of Kintail with regular sightings of dolphins, otters, and birdlife. The first castle dates from the 13th century and over the centuries Eilean Donan castle has been expanded many times and finally restored in the 20th century.   

Cairngorms National Park – the heart of the Highlands and the largest national park in the UK

Cairngorms - beautiful places to visit in Scotland

Cairngorms National Park Scotland beautiful scenery

Established in 2003, a year after Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, the Cairngorms is the largest National Park in the UK, and is a vast area of natural beauty, wildlife and major towns covering 1700 square miles. With around 1.4 million visitors a year, the scenic Cairngorms has something to offer everyone.

Five of the six highest mountains in Scotland are here, and the diversity of the habitats, vegetation, and geology is unrivalled in the UK. From climbing to mountain biking, and from skiing to bungee jumping, the Cairngorms has so much to offer and is easily one the best places to visit in Scotland. Why not head to the Glenlivet or Dalwhinnie distilleries for a taste of authentic Scottish whiskey or join an organised tour of Balmoral Castle (when the Royal Family aren’t at home of course!).

Loch Shiel – a beautiful lake located in the northwest Highlands of Scotland

Loch Shiel - a beautiful lake in Scotland

Within easy reach of Fort William, this is another loch of natural and historical importance. Picturesque Loch Shiel has recently gained fame by doubling as Black Lake in the Harry Potter film franchise. One of Scotland’s largest freshwater lochs, it is best explored by boat – take a guided cruise on the water to spot a vast array of wildlife including red deer and golden eagle.

Much like Loch Ness, Shiel has its own monster inhabitant legend – at 70 feet long, the three-humped ‘Seilag’ apparently patrols the depths of the loch, and has been seen multiple times, dating back to the late 1800s.

Isle of Harris – a stunningly beautiful jewel in the Hebridean archipelago known for its gorgeous beaches and rugged inland scenery

A beautiful beach in the Isle of Harris Scotland

Isle of Harris rugged landscapes

This is a beautiful Scottish Hebridean island which is home to some truly extraordinary scenery. It’s mostly known for its stunning Caribbean-esque beaches such as Luskentyre and Scarista which can be found on the west coast of the island but it is also home to other beautiful scenery too.

For example, there are the rugged mountains in the north, and on the east side is a unique area filled with miniature fjords. Venture inland and you’ll see rolling hills, pristine lochs and peaty moorland lined with brilliant yellow heather. That coupled with a slower pace of life and quite a large collection of fine Highland Cows it really does make a fantastic place to visit in Scotland.

Loch Maree – a beautiful lake and some of the best scenery Scotland has to offer

Loch Maree - great places to visit in Scotland

A 12-mile long expanse of water in the Northwest Highlands, Loch Maree is often considered one of the most beautiful places to visit in Scotland. Its unique feature is the series of small islands at its centre – around forty wooded islands and islets – one of which (Isle Maree) still has the remains of an ancient chapel and graveyard, dating back to the 8th century.

The pure waters of the loch were once thought to cure lunacy, and the area’s spiritual history is clearly evident – exploring Isle Maree will reveal a druid circle and an ancient Money Tree, where if the coin you offer stays embedded in the tree, your wish will be granted.

Kilchurn Castle – a romantic and evocative ruin located in a stunning setting on Loch Awe

Kilchurn Castle - a romantic and evocative ruin on Loch Awe

Although this castle isn’t perfectly intact Kilchurn Castle still packs a very photogenic punch! The ancient ruined building sits majestically on a rocky peninsula at the northeastern tip of Loch Awe, in the Argyll and Bute region.

It was built in the mid 1400’s as the base of the Campbells of Glenorchy and wasn’t abandoned until the 1700s. Today it sits perfectly framed by its truly stunning surroundings at the foot and is well worth a visit if you’re touring around the beautiful Highlands.

Loch Ness – Scotland’s most famous lake surrounded by myth and legend

Loch Ness - Scotland's most famous lake surrounded by myth and legend

The most famous Scottish loch in the world is also one of the best and most beautiful places to visit in Scotland, it’s also extremely deep and is the largest body of fresh water in Britain – maybe that’s why the famous ‘Nessie’ monster choose this for his/her home! There have been thousands of sightings of the mythical creature over the decades and a number of theories too.

Located 37 kilometres southwest of Inverness, whether you believe in the Loch Ness Monster or not there’s no denying that this is a very beautiful spot in Scotland. Visitor’s tip – to visit the most photogenic place of the 23-mile long loch, head to where the ruins of the medieval fortress Urquhart Castle sit.

Gruinard Bay – a world-renowned beauty spot in the Scottish Highlands

Gruinard Bay - a world-renowned beauty spot in the Scottish Highlands

Scotland is home to some very beautiful and unspoiled beaches which are well worth exploring. Gruinard Bay located 12 miles north of Poolewe on the west coast of Scotland is home to some of the best.

As well as spectacular and sweeping views the bay is home to rocky coves and vast pink sand beaches, from here it’s possible to see stunning views of An Teallach and the northern Highlands. You can also see wonderful views across island-studded waters to the Coigach Hills. This is Scotland’s coastline at its most stunning and unspoiled best!

Dunnottar Castle – a dramatic and romantic castle set in stunning surroundings

Dunnottar Castle - a dramatic and romantic castle

In the mid-1600’s Scottish fortresses needed to be tough, and this particular one was thought to be the most impenetrable in the whole of Scotland. Nestled majestically on a rocky headland on the northeastern coast of Scotland today it cuts a striking and romantic (if sadly ruined) structure and is easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in Scotland.

Kintyre Peninsula – a famously beautiful long, tranquil and romantic Scottish Peninsula

Kintyre Peninsula - a famously beautiful long, tranquil and romantic Scottish Peninsula

Kintyre Peninsula - a famously beautiful place in Scotland

You may have heard of the famous Paul McCartney song “Mull of Kintyre” well the song was inspired by this beautiful and tranquil part of Scotland and this was the place he retreated to after the break up of the Beatles. Once visited it’s easy to why – this place is seriously stunning with gorgeous beaches, beautiful coastline, and plenty of ancient history and opportunities to merrily sup on wee drams of whiskey.

It stretches for 30 miles from the Mull of Kintyre in the south to East Loch Tarbert in the north and can be found in western Scotland, in the southwest area of Argyll and Bute. Don’t miss Carradale Bay, the bustling harbour town of Tarbert, the Mull of Kintyre Lighthouse, and the  Tuirc Distillery where they produce the acclaimed Kintyre gin.

Balnakeil Bay – one of the most beautiful beaches in the Highlands

Balnakeil Bay - one of the most beautiful beaches in the Highlands

This is another of the most beautiful beaches to visit in Scotland which could easily rival the beaches of the Mediterranean and the Caribbean (but without the crowds), this gorgeous gem of a place can be found in a tiny hamlet in the parish of Durness on the North Coast of Scotland.

It’s a long pristine stretch of pale sand backed by huge sand dunes and from here you can walk out to Faraid Head a small and pretty peninsula which is home to nesting seabirds. Also make time to visit the nearby historic watermill, Balnakeil House, which was built in 1744, the ruined church of Balnakeil which dates from 1619 and the Balnakeil Craft Village.

Isle of Jura – known for its whiskey and being one of the last untamed gems of Scotland

The Isle of Jura ferry

Isle of Jura - the beautiful gems of Scotland

Famous for both its whiskey (produced in Jura Whisky Distillery) and it’s wild rugged lands this place is one the last untamed gems of Scotland. It can be reached by passenger ferry from the mainland and its remote location is what keeps this place so special.  It even beguiled one of the most famous writers of the 20th century – George Orwell once travelled here to find the tranquility he needed to complete his most famous novel, 1984.

Located off the peaceful and unspoiled west of Scotland the small number of human residents (200) is easily outnumbered by the wild deer population (which is said to be over 5,000). Visit for its soaring mountains, its famous whirlpool (the Corryvreckan Whirlpool), its divine whiskey, and its wonderful raw rugged beauty.

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Born in England, with a few family roots from Bavaria, and a heart in Scandinavia I've always been a bit of a restless soul. My first true adventure began as a six month voyage around South East Asia as a fresh faced backpacker and ever since I've lived a semi nomadic existence, clocking up over 40 countries on trips and living in Dublin, South East Asia and Australia. I'm a lover of US Road Trips, deserted beaches bathed in warm glow of a sunset, Cuban mojitos, easy-on-the-eye travel destinations far away from the tourist crowds and all things Scandinavian - from cloudberry liquors to Scandi Noirs. When not wandering the world, you'll find me walking my rescue dog in leafy South West London, strolling around the Brighton Laines on random day trips, hunting for photogenic landscapes or daydreaming about returning to my all time favourite places in the world; Havana, Copenhagen, Italy, Thailand and the frozen landscapes of a wintry Iceland. Follow Becky on Twitter and Google+.

30 Comments

  • Avatar

    Neil

    2 December, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Hi guys, great post that hits most of the top spots for sure. It’s an great time to visit, so much going on. Would say the Isle of Harris needs a mention too, out of this world!

    Reply
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    Ian Smith

    24 November, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    As an exiled Scot it did my heart proud to see the photographs in this blog. I’m not sure I agree with your choices though as certainly not all of your selection would be readily accessible to a 70 year old, Ben Nevis for example. My favourite view of all is on my infrequent trips to Edinburgh is to stand of the Castle Esplanade and look down on Edinburgh and equally to stand on Princes Street and look up at the castle.
    Thanks for a great article

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    jade

    22 November, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    Scotland is one of my absolute favorite places. Edinburgh, right after London, is my favorite city. Such history, great shopping and easy to get around!

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    Mike

    19 November, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    I love lakes at the foot of spiraling mountains so Loch Maree would definitely be my first choice, Becky! Then quickly followed by Glencoe. The photos you’ve chosen are terrific.

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    Mellisa Turner

    18 November, 2013 at 6:14 am

    Great post! Beautiful pictures of a beautiful place. I have been to Edinburgh only, but now I am thinking of exploring other destinations too.

    Reply

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