Are you going to Scotland and looking for the best things to do in Scotland? Are you embarking on a Scotland road trip itinerary and you’re looking for the best places to visit in Scotland or the best hikes in Scotland? Scotland is without a doubt one of the best places to visit in the UK, and well worth a visit if you ever get a chance!
If you’re planning on visiting Scotland, but you aren’t sure where to go and what to add to your Scotland bucket list, this post will take you through all the best things to do in Scotland.
There are so many beautiful places to visit in Scotland and the hiking in Scotland is fantastic, especially within the National Parks and Scottish Highlands. There are actually two of the UK’s National Parks in Scotland: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, and Cairngorms National Park. More of the best things to do in Scotland include ambling through the idyllic streets of Edinburgh – one of the most beautiful capital cities in Europe, riding the Hogwarts Express through Glencoe, hiking through the highland national parks, visiting magical lochs, and even enjoying a beach day – on white sand! There are also the many islands in Scotland that cling onto the mainland, like the Isle of Skye, Isle of Mull and Isle of Harris.
Most countries in the UK tend not to be high on travellers’ bucket lists, but I’m hoping this blog post will convince you otherwise. Even though Wales, England and Northern Ireland should also be on your list, Scotland deserves a spot at the top of that list. Scotland has a special place in my heart, as it does for many travellers.
I’ve been to Scotland three times now, with the last two during the global pandemic. Ever since my 10-day Scotland road trip in 2020, I keep finding excuses and pack my bags and head back up there. If you’re looking for ideas on what to do in Scotland, then you’ve come to the right place!
In this blog post I’m going to share the 17 best things to do in Scotland. From my personal favourite things to do in Scotland through to the best places to visit in Scotland and the best hikes in Scotland, I want to inspire you to add to your Scotland bucket list and enjoy some adventure in one of the best places to visit in the UK.
Scotland has something to offer everyone and here I’m going to do my very best to tempt you into choosing it as your next destination!
Other blog posts you might be interested in…
- The best places to visit in Scotland
- The best walks and hikes in Scotland
- The best things to do on the Isle of Skye
- How to plan your Scotland road trip
- A 10-day West Scotland road trip itinerary
- A 2-week Scotland road trip itinerary
- Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park: my guide and the best things to do
- Cairngorms National Park: my guide and the best things to do
- The best things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland
The best things to do in Scotland...
1. Hike the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye
The Old Man of Storr is top of most travellers’ Scotland bucket list because it’s one of the best hikes in Scotland. Known for its pointy rock structure that is surrounded by some of the most breathtaking views in Scotland, visiting this place is certainly one of the best things to do in Scotland, never mind one of the top things to do on the Isle of Skye. The hike up to the viewpoint overlooking the Storr is only 3.5km and perfectly suitable for beginners. It can be a little steep in places, but the view from the top is worth it.
2. Enjoy an afternoon at Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Edinburgh is renowned for the Fringe Festival – and rightly so! Edinburgh Fringe Festival is one of the largest arts festivals in the world and most definitely needs to be on your Scotland bucket list!
You don’t need to be a theatre fanatic to attend the festival; it’s open access so quite literally anyone can perform and there is such a wide variety of acts. If art really isn’t your thing, then you can just attend the festival for the amazing food stalls and the great vibes. The streets of Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival come alive, with street parties throughout all of August, so it really is the place to be this summer.
3. Experience the outdoors in Scotland's National Parks
Just 14 miles outside of Glasgow, you have one of the best places to visit in Scotland: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. This is one of just two national parks in Scotland and somewhere not to miss out on your Scotland bucket list. Consisting of 22 lochs, including the largest loch in Scotland, Loch Lomond, the hikes in the national park (which are some of the best hikes in Scotland) offer stunning waterside views and trails along woodlands and hills that engulf the lochs. Given the sheer size of the national park, travellers have over 20 trails and hikes to choose from, but if you want to do something other than hiking, then why not enjoy a bike ride, boat tour or freezing cold swim.
Cairngorms National Park, the largest in Scotland, is found right in the heart of the highlands. It’s a top attraction with extensive hiking trails, easy mountain biking and in the winter even skiing! One of the best places to visit in the Cairngorms is Aviemore, a town in the National Park, as it’s in a fantastic location for visiting the secluded lochs, ancient Rothiemurchus Forest, mountain hiking trails and ski runs.
In my opinion, these Scottish national parks are two of the best places to visit in the UK.
4. Enjoy the NC500 road trip.
Undecided about what to do in Scotland if you’re not that big on hiking? Take one of the UK’s most epic road trips: The NC500 route! This is probably the most popular thing to do in Scotland and is also one of the best things to do in the UK for that matter. The NC500 (North Coast 500) route has become so popular amongst travellers and road trip lovers that it’s now synonymous with summer in Scotland.
The NC500 road trip is a loop route all around Scotland, starting from Inverness and heading up to the most northerly point in Scotland, John O’ Groats. It then loops back down the East coast and through the beautiful highlands. This is one of THE best things to do in Scotland as there really is no other way to experience as much of what Scotland has to offer. In my opinion, the NC500 really is one of the best things to do in the UK, so it should certainly be on your list for the next adventure.
5. Go wild camping on the Isle of Skye or in the Scottish Highlands
If you love the solitude of a ‘wild camping’ experience and a night under the stars, there are plenty of great places to go wild camping in Scotland. Scotland is a very popular destination for those seeking an outdoor camping experience, which can easily be classed as one of the best things to do in Scotland, and one of the best things to do in the UK for that matter.
Scotland is one of the few places in the UK where wild camping is legally allowed and is high on nature-lovers’ Scotland bucket lists. As part of Scotland’s access legislation, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, you are allowed to camp on most unenclosed land. This type of camping is lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place.
One of the best things to do in Scotland is to find a quiet space away from roads and attractions, pitch up a tent, and enjoy being at one with nature. If you want to escape the city and urban living, then Scotland has got a lot (and I mean a lot) of places for your next camping trip. Glen Etive, the Isle of Skye and Sandwood Bay are three great locations to get you started. Just pitch up, find a beautiful spot and enjoy some much-needed nature.
Note that the rules are different if you want to camp with a campervan – you should have permission to park or a permit. Having said that, wild camping with a campervan in Scotland is often tolerated if you stay away from main roads and attractions, and respect the area you are in. See more about responsible van life here.
6. Visit Glen Etive & the James Bond Skyfall road
If camping really isn’t your thing or you just don’t have that much faith in the Scottish weather, then driving down Glen Etive and the now famously known James Bond Skyfall road should be on your Scotland bucket list.
This single-lane winds through a valley reminiscent of the Swiss alps, alongside the Glen Etive river, with multiple waterfalls and bathing lagoons dotted along the route. Its popularity ranks it as easily one of the best places to visit in Scotland, and even if you’re not interested in the James Bond filming locations, it’s still well worth spending a full-day here taking in the landscape.
7. Venture to the most westerly point of the Isle of Skye, Neist Point Lighthouse
Popular amongst photographers and adventure travellers, Neist Point is on everybody’s Scotland bucket list, so it has to be on this list as one of the best places to visit in Scotland. Defined by its dramatic views and gnarly winds, Neist Point boasts one of the most stunning sunsets in Scotland. Most enjoy the view from the clifftop, but it is possible to walk out along the pointy headland to visit the lighthouse, where you might be able to spot dolphins, whales and porpoises… if you’re lucky.
8. Walk to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh
If you ask almost anyone what the best things to do in Scotland are, especially if you’re looking for the best things to do in Edinburgh, then hiking up to Arthur’s Seat is bound to be one of their top recommendations (if not THE top)! Arthur’s Seat is one of the most popular things to do in Edinburgh as it offers beautiful landscape views of the city, and for sunrise lovers – like me, this is the best place to watch the sun come up over Edinburgh!
9. Hike Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK
If you’re an avid hiker or an adventure seeker then hiking up Ben Nevis is a great challenge to include on the Scotland bucket list. Ben Nevis is the highest peak in Scotland, at 4,400ft above sea level. Hiking Ben Nevis, one of the UK’s 3 National Peaks (alongside Scafell Pike in England and Snowdon in Wales) is one of the best hikes in the UK, never mind one of the best hikes in Scotland.
As expected then, the walk to the summit and back takes between 7 – 9 hours to complete, so you might want to set aside a couple of days for this one – the first to hike and the second to let those legs recover. The best time to hike up Ben Nevis largely depends on weather, with May and September being the best months. We all know Scottish weather doesn’t always play ball though…!
10. Find a highland cow
There’s something special about highland cows, isn’t there? They’ve become a symbol of the Scottish highlands and can only really be found in some of the most remote parts of Scotland and its isles. The Isle of Skye and on the edges of Cairngorms National Park are usually the best locations to spot these majestic balls of fluff, who you’ll notice are far more at home in the wind and the rain than us mere tourists.
I must admit they can be quite hard to find, but keep your eyes peeled and one might just surprise you. I was lucky enough to encounter this guy (and his friends) while chasing down the sunset over Neist Point. I think we can agree he was waiting to have his picture taken.
11. Ride the Hogwarts Express
Wondering what to do in Scotland if you love Harry Potter? You can actually ride the Hogwarts Express (actually known as the Jacobite Express)! You read that right. The train used in Harry Potter is an actual train line and it’s become a super popular attraction in Scotland, earning its place on this list as one the best things to do in Scotland.
While the main reason the Jacobite train line has become as popular as it is today is because of the Harry Potter franchise, it has long been known as one the most beautiful train rides in Europe. Starting at Fort William, the Jacobite train line runs through the depths of the Scottish Highlands, all the way down to the West Coast, near Mallaig. If you’re looking for a whistle-stop tour of some of the best places to visit in Scotland then this is a great option!
For those enjoying a less luxurious Scotland road trip, it’s well worth stopping at Glenfinnan to watch the Jacobite train cross the famous 1000ft long Glenfinnan Viaduct – a scene immortalised by the Harry Potter films.
12. Visit the puffins in Durness
Whether you’re a wildlife lover or not, you won’t want to miss seeing puffins in Durness. They are one of the cutest and most peculiar animals, and popping up to Scotland to say hi is one of the best things to do in the UK. The best time to spot these guys is between April and July on the very north shores of Scotland.
13. Walk the West Highland Way
The West Highland Way is a very popular hiking trail in Scotland. This 155km route takes you from the lowlands, starting at Milngavie all the way to Fort William, known as the base camp of the Scottish Highlands. The full hike takes around 8 days to complete but it’s totally worth it as you’ll hike through some of the best places to visit in Scotland, like Loch Lomond, Steal Waterfall, Falls of Falloch and many untouched landscapes in between.
If an 8-day hike in Scottish weather is not your jam, then you may choose to cycle or break the journey into three separate trips. Either way, it really is one of the best things to do in the UK.
14. Go on a whisky distillery tour
If you’re still wondering what to do in Scotland, then you might have forgotten that it’s the land of whisky! There are so many distilleries dotted around, you’ll find them in even the smallest. Some of the most noteworthy are Isle of Harris Distillery, Kingsbarn in Fife and Talsiker in the Isle of Skye.
For the hardcore whisky lovers, you can even take a 4-day whisky tour and see them all! Definitely one of the best things to do in Scotland if you enjoy a tipple!
15. Go swimming in the famous Scottish Lochs
If you don’t know what a loch is, it’s the Scottish version of a lake – but they’re so special they deserve their own Scottish name! Scotland is known as the land of lochs, and getting to swim in one of these breathtaking canyons of water is one of the best things to do in Scotland.
Keep an eye out for Nessy though if you’re heading to Loch Ness… I hear she gets hungry this time of year… Lake monsters aside, Loch Ness is one of the most popular lochs to swim in in Scotland, along with Loch Lomond, Loch Ard and Loch Morlich. Mind you, these are only 4 out of the 350 lochs in Scotland, so if you want to explore others you are spoilt for choice.
16. Stay in a castle like royalty
If you’re still deciding what to do in Scotland, make sure you don’t miss their castles! Scotland has around 3,000 castles of all shapes and sizes dotted around the country, and you can stay in 65 of them.
As luxurious as this may sound, not all the castles come with a large price tag. There are stays that are more on the affordable side of the scale. If however, you do want to go for a more luxurious experience, these are the most sought after castle stays in Scotland:
- Inverlochy Castle
- Fonab Castle
- Mar Hall.
I mean, you’re staying in a castle already, so why not splash out and live like a prince or princess for a few days? Staying in a castle in Scotland is so unique and one of the best things to do in the UK.
If you don’t want to splash out on royal accommodation, visiting some of the castles is still one of the best things to do in Scotland!
17. Venture to the beaches of the North Coast
The north coast of Scotland is quite a mission to get to and it does feel like you’re at the edge of the world, but it is so worth the time to visit as some of the beaches up here are otherworldly! Alchmelvish & Sandwood Bay could easily be confused with a beach on Mauritius. If you’re looking for a secret beach escape, then the north coast of Scotland has some of the best beaches to visit in the UK. Things like this make Scotland one of the best places to visit in the UK!
What do you think are the best things to do in Scotland?
Where are your favourite places to visit in Scotland? Anything you’d add to this Scotland bucket list?
Love as always and happy adventuring…
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