The historic town of Edinburgh, the iconic Scottish Highlands or the magical views of the Isle of Skye – what really are the top sights in Scotland? The result of our investigation is a list of mysterious medieval structures, breathtaking natural areas, modern works of art, deserted beaches, lovely villages, dramatic cliffs and ancient cobbled streets. In short: there are many different highlights to Scotland and here is our top 15 list.
1. Glen Coe
The Scottish Highlands cannot be missed on a list of the most beautiful places in Scotland. Of all the beautiful panoramas in the Scottish Highlands, Glen Coe is known as the most beautiful and romantic. Travelers are drawn to the turbulent past of this volcanic glacial valley and the unique peaks of the Three Sisters.
The attractive valley featured in several Hollywood movies, such as Braveheart and Skyfall. Climb the Devil’s Staircase on the West Highland Way for unforgettable views of Glen Coe, a quintessentially Scottish landscape.
2. Fort William
This typical Scottish village is also seen as the gateway to the Scottish Highlands. Fort William sits on the shores of Loch Linnhe and near Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest peak. It is a popular destination for hikers; the West Highland Way ends in Fort William and the Great Glen Way starts right here.
Fort William is an important base for those wishing to explore the area. However, the village itself is also worth a visit. Take a look at Fort William’s historic center and visit the West Highland Museum. Here visitors get to hear the story of local history.
3. The Kelpies
Scottish nature has done its best to provide the land with beauty, but a number of human creations also deserve a place on the list. These special sculptures in Falkirk are an impressive sight between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The two horse heads, each about 30 meters high, are lit up in different colors at night.
Opened in 2013, the artwork is already one of the top sights in Scotland and an iconic landmark. The horse heads were designed by Scottish sculptor Andy Scott and are located at the eastern entrance of the Forth and Clyde Canal.
4. Achmelvich Beach
Few people think of Scotland when it comes to a beach holiday, but make no mistake: there are also dream beaches here! Okay, first put the idea of palm trees and warm azure blue water out of your mind. The beach at Achmelvich is not a tropical bounty beach with coral reefs, but is nevertheless one of the most beautiful places in Scotland.
Clean sand and clear seawater are delineated by green rocks: Achmelvich Beach is without a doubt a fairytale destination, hidden in the Scottish Highlands. Hikers, surfers, kayakers and other nature lovers will absolutely feel at home here!
This ‘Capital of the Highlands’ is a major cultural heritage hotspot in the mountainous north of the country. Inverness is filled with attractions such as a castle, cathedral, art museum and an impressive Victorian market. Furthermore, the city is known as an important place for bagpipers and fans of the Scottish instrument.
Inverness is a friendly place where visitors can without a doubt enjoy themselves for a day or two. The center has several local restaurants and pubs. There are also several distilleries in and around the city where Scotch whisky is made. The nearby Speyside region is particularly famous for whisky and you can even combine hiking and whisky tasting here on the Speyside Way hiking trail.
6. Orkney Islands
Not only does the beauty of Scottish nature makes this archipelago one of the most pretty places in Scotland; the archaeological finds also add to the beauty of the Orkneys. These islands are known for their mysterious historical heritage, which points to a rich human history.
Prehistoric stone circles have been found on the Orkney Islands that can be compared to Stonehenge. The difference: the finds on the Orkney Islands are older and more extensive than the ancient stone formation in southern England. A Neolithic village, several stone circles and a seven meter high burial mound are part of the excavations at this site.
7. Downtown Edinburgh
Every European capital has a fascinating history and a collection of special buildings, but the Scottish capital is very special. The splendor of Edinburgh lies in the well-preserved medieval street plan, the magnificent castle in the center and the distinctive architecture of New Town. Make no mistake: the buildings in ‘New Town’ date back to the eighteenth century!
Visit Edinburgh Castle and learn about the history that is so evident in the city’s architecture. Climb the nearby peak of Arthur’s Seat for breathtaking views of the downtown area. But also take the time to enjoy modern Edinburgh, with trendy restaurants, streets full of pubs and friendly locals.
An unmissable event is the annual Fringe Festival, the world’s largest arts festival. During August, the city center is buzzing with (mostly free!) performances by musicians, comedians, dancers and other artists.
8. Mull of Galloway
The Scottish Highlands dominate northern Scotland, but the southernmost tip of the country is also worth a visit. The nature reserve around the Mull of Galloway does not have dramatic mountain peaks or glacial lakes, but boasts some unique features.
Enjoy pristine cliffs, a unique collection of wildlife and plants, and even views of Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man in good weather. Admire the wildflowers that bloom every year or point binoculars at the gannets that live here. Climb the iconic lighthouse built on the cliff for the ultimate view.
9. Isle of Skye
This island cannot possibly be missing from the top 15 sights in Scotland. The Isle of Skye is a nature lover’s dream destination for its varied landscapes surrounded by a rugged coastline. Bizarre rock formations, hidden waterfalls and mighty mountains await in this stretch of unspoilt Scotland. The island is ideal for walkers, bird watchers, peace seekers, history fans and actually anyone who can enjoy a breathtaking view.
A major attraction on the Isle of Skye is Talisker Distillery, one of Scotland’s best-known whisky brands. It goes without saying that the beautiful landscapes of Skye are also home to exceptional animal species. Seals, otters, deer and even whales can be admired on or around the island.
10. Glenfinnan Viaduct
This Scottish destination gained popularity through the silver screen. The Glenfinnan Viaduct played an important role in Harry Potter as it is crossed by the Hogwarts Express. The steam-spewing school train from the book and film series is real and still runs on this route. The unforgettable train journey is a popular activity for fans of Harry Potter and those who love the natural landscapes of the Scottish Highlands.
Would you like to take a ride yourself? The West Highland Way ends in Fort William, which is also featured in these top 15 sights in Scotland. From there, take the steam train to Mallaig and enjoy enchanting views over Loch Shiel from the iconic viaduct along the way!
12. Cave of Fingal
On the uninhabited island of Staffa, visitors can feast their eyes on the result of a bizarre phenomenon in Scottish nature. Basalt pillars of cooled lava decorate the island. The perfect hexagonal pillars seem to have been carved by humans, but have been created completely naturally.
The cave of Fingal is also decorated with this biological architecture. The ‘ceiling’ is curved, making the cave look like a kind of mystical cathedral built over time. Weather conditions permitting, Fingal Cave is best visited by boat trip but it’s worth it to see one of the top sights in Scotland.
11. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park
This protected nature reserve has a tremendous concentration of natural beauty. The most beautiful mountains, valleys, lakes and forests can be admired in Loch Lomond National Park and the Trossachs. If you want to experience the best of the Scottish Highlands in a few days, look no further than this beautiful area.
The ultimate way to explore Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is on foot. The iconic West Highland Way, one of Scotland’s most popular long distance walks, cuts through the park. This walking route largely follows the eastern banks of Loch Lomond into the Scottish Highlands.
13. Rosslyn Chapel
This Scottish landmark has also become famous because it appeared in a film. Rosslyn Chapel is located south of the Scottish capital on the River North Esk. This fascinating building dates back to the 15th century and is still in use today. When the church was featured in the popular movie The Da Vinci Code in 2006, it suddenly became a popular destination for travelers in Scotland.
Rosslyn Chapel is worth a visit not only for its remarkable architecture, but also for the sense of mystery surrounding the site. Various symbolic and mysterious messages can be read in the detailed decorations of the church. For example, there is an engraving of a corn cob, while the chapel was built before Columbus traveled to America, where Europeans first became acquainted with this crop.
Although Edinburgh is the country’s official capital, Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland. It is therefore not surprising that the port city is known as the cultural capital of Scotland. With dozens of museums, imposing churches, lush botanical gardens and fascinating architecture, Glasgow is an unforgettable destination.
Glasgow’s inner city is filled with a wide variety of restaurants and a good range of bars and pubs. In addition, there is almost always a party or event going on in the Scottish town, such as festivals dedicated to coffee, art, local food, movies and various musical genres. The city is known for the world famous artists who have performed in large halls.
15. Scott’s View
Scott’s View is located in the border area between Scotland and England. Rolling hills of varying shades of green stretch as far as the eye can see. Eildon Hill’s iconic three peaks draw the horizon. A bench invites visitors to take the time to enjoy the view.
This is said to have been the favorite spot of Sir Walter Scott, who lived nearby. The poet is said to have found inspiration here, enjoying a soothing view of a Scottish landscape around the River Tweed. True or false, this place deserves the last place in the top 15 sights in Scotland.