Consisting of nearly 800 islands and the mainland, Scotland is a place of both great beauty and rich history. Visitors come from all over the world to experience Scottish culture, from its food and drink to its literature and art.
Home to mythical creatures such as the Loch Ness monster, breathtaking castles full of antiquities, and a stunning environment that outdoorsy visitors will love, Scotland has something for everyone in the family to enjoy.
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The most significant structure on Edinburgh's skyline, Edinburgh Castle is a historic fortress that stands tall in the Old Town. The presence of a royal structure on Castle Rock goes back to the 12th century, and its rich history includes being a royal residence and military barracks. It is now one of the most popular attractions in Scotland and welcomes over a million visitors annually from all over the world.
The castle is filled with exhibits and artifacts, with some of the most famed being the 450-year-old Portcullis Gate, the Royal Apartments where monarchs once stayed, St. Margaret's Chapel – the oldest building in the castle – and the Stone of Destiny, which has witnessed the coronations of kings for hundreds of years. Read more
Edinburgh Castle, Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NG, Phone: +44-0-131-225-9846
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One of the only boat lifts of its kind in the entire world, the Falkirk Wheel connects the Union Canal with the Forth and Clyde Canal. The lift opened in 2002 and other than its useful purpose of transporting boats, it has also become a popular tourist attraction. Visitors can see the boats raised or lowered nearly 24 meters from one canal to the other with an exciting wheel rotation that takes less than 10 minutes.
Visitors can take a boat trip and explore the canals and the wheel itself. Tickets can be purchased at the visitor center near the lower basin and boat trips are scheduled every hour. Over 400,000 people visit the Falkirk Wheel annually as it offers a fun experience and stunning views.
Lime Rd, Tamfourhill, Falkirk FK1 4RS, UK, Phone: +44-870-050-0208
3.Glasgow Science Centre
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One of the most-visited attractions in Scotland, visitors can spend the entire day exploring all the cool things to see and do at the Glasgow Science Centre. Home to a planetarium, a science show theatre, and Scotland's largest IMAX cinema screen, a day just might not be enough.
Visitors of all ages will love the hundreds of interactive exhibits that are available at the Science Mall. Some of these include the Quantum Technologies exhibit, where visitors can get hands on and explore the quantum world, and BodyWorks, where visitors can run on a giant hamster wheel, dance at the DNA disco, or perform a virtual autopsy. The Science Centre is also home to Glasgow Tower, where visitors can enjoy panoramic views of Glasgow.
50 Pacific Quay, Glasgow, G51 1EA, Phone: +44-141-420-5000
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Scotland's most scenic highland glen, Glencoe attracts visitors from all over the world. The panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, lakes, and other scenery is absolutely breathtaking. One of the main views of Glencoe is the peak of Buachaille Etive Mor, which rises over 1,000 feet over the great wilderness.
There's always something to see and do at this stunning year-round destination. Visitors can go on photography tours, visit the nearby Holroyd Art Gallery Exhibition, or attend music concerts and other live entertainment. Visitors will also enjoy mountaineering, hillwalking, rock climbing, and tons of water sports on the River Etive.
5.Great Scenic Rail Journeys
© Great Scenic Rail Journeys
For a truly unforgettable experience, explore Scotland on a Great Scenic Rail Journey with ScotRail. Scotland has been voted as the best cinematic travel destination in the world by USA Today and visitors can take in all these beautiful sites from the comfort of a train.
There are six different routes to choose from and each of them takes visitors on a journey through Scotland's rich lands, colorful history, and stunning beauty. The routes include the Kyle Line, the Far North Line, Glasgow-Kilmarnock-Carlisle, Borders Railway, Glasgow-Ayr-Stranraer, and the West Highland Line, which takes visitors through the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct and Fort William.
6.Isle of Arran
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The seventh-largest Scottish island, the Isle of Arran is a diverse land filled with flora, fauna, culture, and history. Trivago's "Top European Island in 2016," the Isle of Arran has so much for visitors to do, such as hiking, visiting museums, and spending the day at the beach.
Outdoor enthusiasts will love participating in adventure sports, such as a powerboat trip, which takes visitors up close and personal with whales, sharks, dolphins, and seals, or the exhilarating experience of abseiling over a waterfall. Art lovers can participate in one of the many photography workshops or photo tours or explore the Arran Art Gallery or Fiddlers' Music Bar & Bistro, which combines great live music with delicious home-cooked food.
7.Isle of Skye
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Recently voted the "4th Best Island in the World" by National Geographic, the Isle of Skye is known for its tourism, agriculture, forestry, and fishing. It is also the second-largest island in Scotland and is a stunning wonder of biodiversity.
Visitors will come across eagles, hawks, wild geese, cranes, seabirds, mountain hares, wild cats, and so much more. The land has such a vibrant, fascinating history because it has been occupied since the Mesolithic. Other than getting a better understanding of local legends, visitors can partake in outdoor activities such as kayaking, diving, sailing, hiking, and exploring caves and sea cliffs.
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8.Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
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The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is located in Glasgow near the university campus. It has grown to become one of Scotland's most popular attractions since it reopened after its refurbishment in 2006. There are over 9,000 objects in its collection, including the "Christ of Saint John of the Cross" by Salvador Dali, Vincent Van Gogh's "Portrait of the Art Dealer Alexander Reid," and "A Man in Armour" by Rembrandt.
The building itself is a work of art that was designed by E.J. Milner Allen and Sir John W. Simpson in the 1900s; visitors can appreciate the Spanish Baroque style and the use of the Locharbriggs red sandstone. Entrance to the museum and gallery is free to visitors.
Argyle Street, Glasgow G3 8AG, Phone: 0141-276-9599,
Next read: Scotland Cottages
9.Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park
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A national park in Loch Lomond, Scotland, the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park is filled with hills, mountains, and lochs. Visitors will love the exquisite scenery, which they will come across whether they choose to explore during sunrise or sunset.
Other than trekking and hiking through the park and mountains, visitors can also visit the charming towns and villages within the park, including Aberfoyle, Croftamie, and Carrick Castle. There are 21 munros in the national park for more adventurous visitors, with Ben Lomond being the most popular mountain for climbing.
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority, Carrochan, Carrochan Road, Balloch, G83 8EG, Phone: +44-1389-722600
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Best known as the home of the Loch Ness monster, lovingly called Nessie, Loch Ness is a large freshwater lake in the Scottish Highlands. Since the early 1900s, the loch has drawn visitors from all over the world, hoping to catch a glimpse of the mythological creature.
Visitors can go on one of the many boat cruises available, giving them an opportunity to spot the monster themselves as well as learn about its history. Visitors who aren't interested in the Loch Ness monster might enjoy spending their time participating in active sports such as kayaking, mountain climbing, or hiking.
11.North Coast 500
© North Coast 500
Scotland's version of "Route 66," the North Coast 500 offers the road trip of a lifetime. Visitors can cruise the long open roads, explore the backroads, wander over the country dirt roads, and know that there is something beautiful around every corner.
Taking visitors through some of Scotland's finest coastal scenery, the route starts at Inverness and goes through Applecross, Torridon, Ullapool, Caithness, and so much more. There are so many amazing places to stop at and fun things to do see and do along the way, including surfing at Thurso, spotting dolphins from Chanonry Point, having a cool drink at the Black Isle Brewery, or exploring historic Dunrobin Castle.
12.Princes Street Gardens
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A public park in the heart of Edinburgh, Princes Street Gardens is one of the most popular places for both visitors and locals to spend a day with friends and family. There are many events held throughout the year, such as live musical concerts, fireworks displays, and the city's Hogmanay celebrations.
Various statues and monuments can be found throughout the park; some of them include statues of the poet Allan Ramsay and explorer David Livingstone. Visitors who are there during the Christmas holiday season will get to see the annual Winter Wonderland, where parts of the garden are converted into a Christmas market with amusement rides and food stalls.
Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2HG, UK, Phone: +44-131-529-7921
13.Real Ale Trail
© Real Ale Trail
Beer has been a part of Scotland's history for over 5,000 years, with sources claiming that the famous Neolithic village, Skara Brae, produced ale from barley. It's a thriving business in Scotland, assuring visitors that they are never too far from a nice, chilled pint no matter where they are in the country.
The Real Ale Trail allows visitors to find the best breweries and pubs as they travel; there are over 70 breweries operating across Scotland as well as an innumerable number of pubs. Brewery tours are a great experience for visitors to go behind the scenes, better understand the beer-making process, and give the end product a taste. There are even some breweries that allow visitors to be a brewer for a day and produce their own ales with the help of expert brewers.
© Riverside Museum
One of the most popular attractions in Scotland, over a million visitors come from all over the world annually to explore the Riverside Museum. The museum, which was the winner of the 2013 European Museum of the Year Award, houses over 3,000 objects dedicated to portraying Glasgow's rich history.
Highlighting everything from daily Glasgow life to its days as a maritime powerhouse, visitors will find displays that range from paintings and vintage cars to a Stormtrooper and numerous locomotives. The interactive displays range from touchscreen panels that tell stories to rail-related vehicles that visitors can climb aboard, such as trams, subway cars, and a train carriage.
100 Pointhouse Place, Glasgow, G3 8RS, Phone: 0141-287-2720
15.Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
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The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh began in 1670 as a physic garden; it is now home to a rich living collection of plants, making it a world-renowned center for horticulture and plant science. Dedicated to the study of plants and their conservation, the garden is split across four sites – Logan, Benmore, Dawyck, and Edinburgh – each of which specializes in a particular collection.
Some of the most notable collections in the garden include the Chinese Hillside, the Rock Garden, the Scottish Heath Garden, and the Rainforest Riches. Visitors of all ages will enjoy a relaxing day exploring the garden and its many exhibits.
Arboretum Pl, Edinburgh EH3 5NZ, UK, Phone: +44-131-248-2909
16.Royal Mile of Edinburgh
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The busiest tourist street in the Old Town of Edinburgh, the Royal Mile comprises a succession of streets that run between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. In between, visitors can explore several other sites such as Castle Hill, the Lawnmarket, Parliament Square, High Street, Canongate, and Holyrood Park.
All in all, there are numerous museums, libraries, statues, shops, cafes, restaurants, and other significant sites on the Royal Mile. Some of the things visitors enjoy here include the Edinburgh Dungeon, a pub crawl, and going on a witchery or ghost tour to see the spookier side of the Royal Mile.
Edinburgh, EH1 1SG, UK
17.Royal Yacht Britannia
© Royal Yacht Britannia
The Royal Yacht Britannia, also known as Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia, is the former royal yacht of Queen Elizabeth II and was in service from 1954 to 1997. Visitors can now tour the decadent three-mast ship designed and built by John Brown & Co. Ltd. in the 1950s.
The yacht has a rich history that includes hosting US Presidents Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan; it was also the yacht on which Prince Charles and Princess Diana took their honeymoon cruise in 1981. Now all five decks are open to the public and visitors can see the Queen's bedroom, the state dining and drawing rooms, and the royal deck tea room while on a tour of the yacht.
Ocean Terminal, Ocean Dr, Edinburgh EH6 6JJ, UK, Phone: +44-131-555-5566
18.Scotland's Castle Trail
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Popularly known as Scotland's Castle Country, Aberdeenshire has more castles per acre than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. There are over 300 stately mansions, castles, and ruins that make up Scotland's Castle Trail.
Visitors can explore the sites and their rich, and sometimes dramatic, histories and discover the royal residencies, their regal gardens, and their antiquities and art. Some of the most stunning castles include Crathes Castle, Drum Castle, and Dunnottar Castle, which was used as the set of Franco Zeffirelli's production of Hamlet in 1991.
19.Scottish Island Boat Tours
© Scottish Island Boat Tours
Visitors can go on an island-hopping extravaganza with Go Scotland Tours and their many island boat tours. The tours range from short to long, depending on the visitor's needs, and visit the Isles of Scotland, The Isle of Skye, the whisky Isle of Islay, the Outer Hebrides, and the Orkney Islands.
The tours start at various ports in Scotland, with the most popular being Edinburgh. One of the most popular tours lasts 17 days and lets visitors discover the wonders of Scotland, from peaceful Columba's Iona and the white beaches of Harris to the charming village of Inveraray and the ancient kingdom of Dalriada.
7 Harbour Place., Portobello, Edinburgh, EH15 1TQ, Scotland, Phone: +44-131-258-3306
20.Scottish National Gallery
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Housing one of the most excellent fine art collections in the world, the Scottish National Gallery invites visitors to explore a historical side of Scotland they are yet to see anywhere else. Admission is free to all visitors, allowing them to see almost all of the exhibitions in the gallery, including international and Scottish art from the Renaissance to the 20th century.
The paintings were acquired long before the gallery opened in 1828 and include the "Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child" by Sandro Botticelli, "Old Woman Frying Eggs" by Diego Velazquez, and "Haystacks" by Claude Monet.
The Mound, Edinburgh EH2 2EL, UK, Phone: +44-131-624-6200
21.Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
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Part of the National Galleries of Scotland, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art was founded in the 1960s. The museum houses an extensive collection of contemporary and modern art dating back to the 1900s. There are over 6,000 paintings, installations, sculptures, prints, drawings, and video works in the two buildings that comprise the museum.
Visitors can explore the renowned collection, which has some stunning international post-war works as well as a large number of modern Scottish art. Some of the artists on display include Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, and Joan Eardley with more modern artists being Douglas Gordon and Tracey Emin.
75 Belford Road, Edinburgh EH4 3DR, UK, Phone: +44-131-624-6200
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A stone-built Neolithic settlement, Skara Brae is located in the Orkney archipelago of Scotland. It is the most complete Neolithic village in Europe and its level of detail and preservation attracts visitors from all over the world. UNESCO declared Skara Brae, as well as one of four locations that comprise "The Heart of Neolithic Orkney," a World Heritage Site.
Visitors can explore the ancient site with its excavated structures, including houses that all use the same basic design, with a central fireplace and a large square room. An interesting part of Skara Brae is the stone-built furniture that can be found there, such as dressers, cupboards, seats, and storage boxes.
Sandwick, Stromness KW16 3LR, UK, Phone: +44-1856-841815
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Stirling Castle is one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland. Sitting atop Castle Hill, Stirling Castle is surrounded by steep cliffs and was an important fortification in Scotland's history. Visitors can explore everything from the Great Hall built by James IV in the 1500s to the Queen Anne Gardens located on the south side of the castle.
The interactive exhibitions will excite visitors of all ages as it tells the story of the castle's earliest times to the present day. After a day of exploring, visitors can buy souvenirs, such as designer Scottish crafts, at the gift shop or have a meal at the Unicorn Cafe, named after the many statues of unicorns that can be found around the castle.
Castle Esplanade, Stirling FK8 1EJ, UK, Phone: +44-1786-450000
24.The Kelpies and Helix Park
© The Kelpies and Helix Park
Home to the world's largest equine sculptures, the Kelpies are 30-meter-high sculptures of horse heads that were designed by sculptor Andy Scott. A monument dedicated to the horse-powered heritage of Scotland, the sculptures were unveiled in 2014 and have since been attracting visitors from all over the world.
The Helix is an urban greenspace that has pathways for walking, jogging, and cycling, play areas for younger visitors, a performance area for events, and watersports facilities in the nearby lagoon. Other than offering a great photo opportunity, visitors can enjoy kayaking, paddle boating, canoeing, or playing in the splash play area. Read more
The Helix, Grangemouth, Falkirk FK2 7ZT, UK, Phone: +44-1324-590600
© Whisky Tours
Whisky is Scotland's most famous export and has been produced in the country for as long its history has been documented. Going on a distillery tour and tasting the famous elixirs of the land is one of the best ways to experience Scotland.
Visitors are invited to go behind the scenes of the distilleries and to experience and appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into creating the spirit. The tours take visitors on a guided jaunt through five different whisky distilling regions in Scotland and invites them to have exclusive tastings in the historic surroundings.
25 Best Things to Do in Scotland
- Edinburgh Castle, Photo: Courtesy of Sam Spiro - Fotolia.com
- Falkirk Wheel, Photo: Courtesy of Waldteufel - Fotolia.com
- Glasgow Science Centre, Photo: Courtesy of David Woods - Fotolia.com
- Glencoe, Photo: Courtesy of shaiith - Fotolia.com
- Great Scenic Rail Journeys, Photo: Great Scenic Rail Journeys
- Isle of Arran, Photo: Courtesy of S.R.Miller - Fotolia.com
- Isle of Skye, Photo: Courtesy of shaiith - Fotolia.com
- Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Leonid Andronov - Fotolia.com
- Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Chee-Onn Leong - Fotolia.com
- Loch Ness, Photo: Courtesy of imacture - Fotolia.com
- North Coast 500, Photo: North Coast 500
- Princes Street Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of Jeni foto - Fotolia.com
- Real Ale Trail, Photo: Real Ale Trail
- Riverside Museum, Photo: Riverside Museum
- Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Photo: Courtesy of Karol Kozlowski - Fotolia.com
- Royal Mile of Edinburgh, Photo: Courtesy of Richie Chan - Fotolia.com
- Royal Yacht Britannia, Photo: Royal Yacht Britannia
- Scotland's Castle Trail, Photo: Courtesy of Hans-Martin Goede - Fotolia.com
- Scottish Island Boat Tours, Photo: Scottish Island Boat Tours
- Scottish National Gallery, Photo: Courtesy of Sakhan Photography - Fotolia.com
- Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Photo: Courtesy of Karol Kozlowski - Fotolia.com
- Skara Brae, Photo: Courtesy of h368k742 - Fotolia.com
- Stirling Castle, Photo: Courtesy of cornfield - Fotolia.com
- The Kelpies and Helix Park, Photo: The Kelpies and Helix Park
- Whisky Tours, Photo: Whisky Tours
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of cornfield - Fotolia.com