Castles

The clash and conflict of Scotland’s colourful history has left a legacy of military strongholds scattered across the country, from the border castles raised against English incursions to the island fortresses that controlled the seaways for the Lords of the Isles.

Edinburgh Castle The biggest, the most popular and the Scottish capital’s reason for being.

Stirling Castle Perched on a volcanic crag at the top of the town, this historic royal fortress and palace has the lot.

Craigievar Castle The epitome of the Scottish Baronial style, all towers and turrets.

Culzean Castle Enormous, palatial 18th-century mansion in a romantic coastal setting.

Eilean Donan The perfect loch-side location just by the main road to Skye makes this the Highlands’ most photographed castle.

Hermitage Castle Bleak and desolate borderland fortress speaking of a turbulent relationship with England.

Wild Beaches

Nothing clears a whisky hangover like a walk along a wind-whipped shoreline, and Scotland is blessed with a profusion of wild beaches. The west coast in particular has many fine stretches of blinding-white sands and turquoise waters that could pass for the Caribbean if not for the weather.

Kiloran Bay A perfect curve of deep golden sand – the ideal vantage point for stunning sunsets.

Sandwood Bay A sea stack, a ghost story and 2 miles of windblown sand – who could ask for more?

Bosta A beautiful and remote cove filled with white sand beside a reconstructed Iron Age house.

Durness A series of pristine sandy coves and duney headlands surrounds this northwestern village.

Scousburgh Sands Shetland’s finest beach is a top spot for birdwatching as well as a bracing walk.

Orkney’s Northern Islands Most have spectacular stretches of white sand with seabirds galore and seals lazing on the rocks.

Good Food

Scotland’s chefs have an enviable range of quality meat, game, seafood and vegetables at their disposal. The country has shaken off its once dismal culinary reputation as the land of deep-fried Mars Bars and now boasts countless regional specialities, farmers markets, artisan cheesemakers, smokeries and microbreweries.

Ondine Sustainably sourced seafood at one of Edinburgh’s finest restaurants.

Café 1 International menu based on quality Scottish produce at this Inverness bistro.

Café Fish Perched on the Tobermory waterfront, serving fresh seafood and shellfish straight off the boat.

Monachyle Mhor Utterly romantic location deep in the Trossachs and wonderful food with sound sustainable principles.

Peat Inn One of Scotland’s most acclaimed restaurants sits in a hamlet amid the peaceful Fife countryside.

Gamba In the top rank of Glasgow's seafood restaurants, serving sustainably sourced fish from Scotland and beyond.

Outdoor Adventures

Scotland is one of Europe’s finest outdoor-adventure playgrounds. The rugged mountain terrain and convoluted coastline of the Highlands and islands offer unlimited opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, surfing and snowboarding.

Fort William The self-styled Outdoor Capital of the UK, a centre for hiking, climbing, mountain biking, winter sports…

Shetland One of Scotland’s top coastlines for sea kayaking, with an abundance of bird and sea life to observe at close quarters.

7stanes Mountain-biking trails for all abilities in the forests of southern Scotland.

Cairngorms Winter skiing and summer hill walking amid the epic beauty of this high, subarctic plateau.

Thurso Right up the top of Scotland, this is an unlikely surfing hotspot, but the waves are pretty good.

River Tay Perhaps the finest salmon-fishing river in Europe, and famous for white-water rafting, too.

Live Music & Festivals

Scotland’s festival calendar is a crowded one, with music festivals springing up in the most unlikely corners. The ones that have stood the test of time are full of character, with superb settings and a smaller, more con­vivial scale than monster gigs like Glastonbury and Reading.

Groove Loch Ness Perhaps the most scenic festival site in the country, held in June with Loch Ness as a backdrop.

Arran Folk Festival June sees the fiddles pulled out all over this scenic island.

King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut Nightly live music at a legendary venue, one of many great places in Glasgow.

Orkney Folk Festival Stromness vibrates to the wail of the fiddle in this good-natured, late-partying island festival.

Hebridean Celtic Festival A feast of folk, rock and Celtic music held in the grounds of Stornoway's Lews Castle.

Rural Museums

Every bit as interesting and worthy of study as the ‘big picture’ history involving Mary, Queen of Scots, and Bonnie Prince Charlie – especially if you’re investigating your Scottish ancestry – the history of rural communities is preserved in a wide range of fascinating museums, often in original farm buildings and historic houses.

Arnol Blackhouse Preserved in peat smoke since its last inhabitant left in the 1960s.

Highland Folk Museum Fascinating outdoor museum in Newtonmore populated with real historic buildings reassembled here on site.

Scottish Crannog Centre Head back to the Bronze Age in this excellent archaeological reconstruction of a fortified loch house at Kenmore.

Tain Through Time Entertaining local museum with a comprehensive display on Scottish history and Tain’s silversmithing tradition.

Stromness Museum Delightful museum covering the Orkney fishing industry, the world wars and local marine wildlife.

Pubs

No visit to Scotland is complete without a night in a traditional Scottish hostelry, supping real ales, sipping whisky and tapping your toes to traditional music. The choice of pubs is huge, but in our opinion the old ones are the best.

Drover's Inn A classic Highland hostelry in Inverarnan with kilted staff, candlelight and a stuffed bear.

Sandy Bell’s A stalwart of the Edinburgh folk scene, with real ale and live trad music.

Glenelg Inn The beer garden here is actually a garden – with sensational views across the water to Skye.

Horse Shoe All real ales and polished brass, this is Glasgow’s best traditional pub.

Stein Inn A lochside pub in Skye with fine ales, fresh seafood and a view to die for.

The Lounge Earthy Shetland drinking den with live music upstairs.

Shopping

Scotland offers countless opportunities for shoppers to indulge in retail therapy, from designer frocks and shoes in city malls to local art, handmade pottery and traditional textiles in Highland and island workshops.

Glasgow A shopper’s paradise, with everything from designer boutiques to secondhand records.

Barras Glasgow’s legendary flea market is a boisterous place to browse for a taste of the city.

Edinburgh Boasts Harvey Nicks, malls, cashmere, tartan and quirky little gift shops.

Wigtown An amazing array of secondhand and specialist bookshops cluster around the square.

Isle of Skye Every second cottage on Skye seems to be home to a workshop or artist’s studio.

Classic Walks

Scotland’s wild, dramatic scenery and varied landscape has made hiking a hugely popular pastime. There’s something for all levels of fitness and enthusiasm, but the really keen hiker will want to tick off some (or all) of the classic walks.

West Highland Way Everyone wants to do the WHW, the granddaddy of Scottish long-distance walks.

Glen Affric to Shiel Bridge A classic two-day cross-country hike, with a night in a remote hostel.

Southern Upland Way Crosses Southern Scotland’s hills from coast to coast; longer and harder than the WHW.

Ben Lawers One of central Scotland’s classic hill walks, with super views over Loch Tay.

Fife Coastal Path Seascapes and cliff tops galore on this picturesque route right around the ‘Kingdom’.

Cape Wrath Trail Head for the northwestern corner from Fort William through some of Scotland’s remotest scenery.

Hidden Gems

For those who enjoy exploring off the beaten track, Scotland is littered with hidden corners, remote road-ends and quiet cul-de-sacs where you can feel as if you are discovering the place for the first time.

Glen Clova The loveliest of the Angus glens lies on the quiet side of Cairngorms National Park.

Falls of Clyde Normally associated with shipbuilding, the River Clyde reveals the bucolic side of its character further upstream.

Benmore Botanic Garden Tucked in the Cowal peninsula, this Victorian garden is a riot of colour in spring and early summer.

Scotland's Secret Bunker It's back to the Cold War in this nuclear hideout hidden in the middle of rural Fife.

Cape Wrath A boat-minibus combo grinds you through a missile range to this spectacular headland at Britain’s northwestern tip.

Duff House This outpost of the National Gallery of Scotland combines neoclassical architecture with a superb art collection.

Islands

Scotland has almost 800 islands scattered around its coastline. While the vast majority of visitors stick to the larger, better-known ones such as Arran, Skye, Mull and Lewis, it’s often the smaller, lesser-known islands that provide the real highlights.

Iona Beautiful, peaceful and of huge historic and cultural importance, Iona is the jewel of the Hebrides.

Eigg The most intriguing of the Small Isles, with its miniature mountain, massacre cave and singing sands.

Jura Wild and untamed, with more deer than people, and a dangerous whirlpool at its northern end.

Isle of May This mile-long island erupts to the clamour of hordes of puffins in spring and summer.

Westray & Papa Westray There’s something magical about these adjacent islands at the northern end of the Orkney archipelago.

Natural Wonders

Scotland’s stunning landscapes harbour many awe-inspiring natural features, including spectacular sea stacks and rock formations, thundering waterfalls, impressive gorges and swirling tidal whirlpools.

Old Man of Hoy The spectacular west coast of Orkney's Hoy includes Britain’s tallest sea stack.

Corryvreckan Whirlpool One of the world’s three most powerful tidal whirlpools, squeezed between Jura and Scarba.

Falls of Measach A trembling suspension bridge provides a scary viewpoint for one of Scotland’s most impressive waterfalls.

Quiraing This jumble of pinnacles and landslip blocks in northern Skye is one of the country's weirdest landscapes.

Fingal’s Cave Accessible only by boat, this columnar sea cave inspired Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture.