18 Unmissable Things to Do In Scotland – Sights, Activities, and Attractions

Looking for the best things to do in Scotland? Here are 18 incredible options to include on your Caledonian itinerary.

Today’s post is all about the best things to do in Scotland. Not necessarily the most popular or touristy. The best…in my opinion, at least.

I’ve been to Scotland twice. First, on a school trip about 15 years ago. And then again in 2022, when I ran from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

That second visit really introduced me to the country, and I instantly fell in love with it. Everything from the wild landscapes and historic towns to the welcoming locals made me eager to go back and see more of Scotland ASAP. If you’re heading there soon, then here are 18 things I recommend you do…

1. Explore Edinburgh

Edinburgh
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Edinburgh is the second most popular city in the UK (London taking poll position). Almost 2 million people visited in 2022, eager to wander along its cobbled streets, explore Edinburgh Castle, go to renowned museums, climb Arthur’s Seat, and so much more.

If you love history and want easy access to nature, Auld Reekie (Edinburgh’s nickname) is an excellent place to be.

2. Go to the Scottish Islands

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Scotland has almost 800 offshore islands, 93 of which have people living there. Your trip to Caledonia will be far more memorable if you visit one or two of them!

That vast collection of islands narrows down to four main groups: the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands, and the Inner and Outer Hebrides. All boast rugged coastal beauty, but a few of particular note include the Isle of Skye, the Isle of Jura, and the Isle of Arran.

3. Visit the Scottish Highlands

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The Scottish highlands are as famous as its islands. According to Highland Titles, with a few exceptions, this part of the country refers “to the area north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault, which crosses mainland Scotland almost in a straight line from Helensburgh north-west of Glasgow, to Stonehaven near Aberdeen.”

This is quintessential Scotland in my mind – rugged and remote. It’s the sort of place that breeds tough people. It’s just you and nature. Hills, mountains, lochs, and beaches make it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.

One highland destination that deserves special mention is Glencoe. It’s a magical place with incredible mountain views and natural attractions.

4. Go to John O’Groats

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Located at the northern tip of Scotland, John O’Groats is one of the UK’s remotest places. There’s not much to do other than get outside and enjoy the scenery! But, if you’re going to the highlands, it’s worth visiting – even if it’s just to say you’ve been.

There’s no doubting its beauty, either. The air is fresh, cliffs drop into the North Sea, and the Orkney Islands sit on the horizon. Go for a walk, grab a beer, look for the orcas that swim off the coast here, and enjoy another unique thing to do in Scotland.

5. See the Highland Games

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The Highland Games are like Scotland’s very own Olympics. However, instead of lycra-clad athletes sprinting around a track or flinging javelins, giant men in kilts lift logs, pull ropes, and hurl stones.

It’s one of the oldest Scottish events, making it a massive part of Scottish culture. So, if you’re in town when the Games occur (throughout summer, from May until the end of September), be sure to go along and watch.

6. See Loch Ness

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You can’t list the best things to do in Scotland without mentioning Loch Ness. It’s a highlight of the Highlands, known everywhere for the elusive monster, Nessie, said to inhabit it.

Yet the loch doesn’t need a mythical creature to be noteworthy. It’s around 37km long, making it the largest freshwater loch in the highlands. It’s stunning, surrounded by mountains and forests, and has the mighty Urquhart Castle on its shore for even more iconic photo opportunities.

7. Explore the Cairngorms

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Cairngorms National Park is one of the most beautiful and famous places in Scotland. It’s in the eastern highlands – a vast wilderness characterized by cute villages, castles, lakes, hills, and wildlife. You might spot ospreys, red deer, and wild cats.

Do you love snow sports? Head here in winter. Snow is common in the Cairngorms, drawing many people eager to go skiing and snowboarding.

8. Visit Some Castles

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Scotland feels old – there’s just something in the air. Its castles make that sense of history tangible, though. From world-famous fortresses still frequented by British royalty to lesser-known ruins on tiny islands, there could have been up to 3000 castles here at one point.

Exploring them is another of the best things to do in Scotland. Edinburgh, Balmoral, and Dunnottar Castles stand out, but the list is endless.

9. Do a Whisky Tour

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Scotland converted me to whisky. I’d never liked it until I went to a Scottish bar with my dad. It was a cold and dreary evening in the middle of nowhere, and we ordered a whisky – mainly because that’s what you do in Scotland. It went down so smoothly that we both bought a bottle.

One of the best ways to sample whisky and learn more about the tipple is on a distillery tour. Here are five of the most famous distilleries in Scotland:

  • Glengoyne Distillery in Dumgoyne
  • Glenfiddich Distillery in Dufftown
  • Glenlivet Distillery in Ballindalloch
  • Dalmore Distillery in Invergordon
  • Laphroaig Distillery on the Isle of Islay

10. Play Some Golf

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I’m not a golfer. But if I were, I’d be up to Scotland in a heartbeat. The eastern coast is literally where the game started. Back then, you’d have been using a bent stick to hit pebbles over sand dunes (literally). Nowadays, you can play on some of the oldest golf courses on the planet, often surrounded by gorgeous coastal views.

A few of the most famous fairways to check out include:

  • Old Course in St. Andrews
  • North Berwick
  • Royal Dornoch
  • Cruden Bay
  • Castle Stuart

11. Eat Quintessentially Scottish Cuisine

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Scotland might not have the same reputation for its culinary scene as places like France and Italy. But it definitely has some unique dishes and foods to try while you’re there.

A few examples include Scottish Breakfasts, potato scones, Scotch pies, and Cullen Skink. But the most famous is Haggis. The Scottish national dish involves boiling sheep innards, onions, oatmeal, suet, stock, and herbs inside a sheep’s stomach lining to create a kind of sausage meat.

12. Indulge on Scottish Sweet Treats

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Got a sweet tooth? You’re in luck. Scotland is famous for its deep-fried Mars Bars and Scottish Tablet. The former does exactly what it says on the tin. You take a Mars Bar, coat it in batter, then pop it in the deep-fat fryer for a decadent treat.

The latter, Scottish Tablet, is a traditional sweet treat similar to fudge, just with a slightly different texture. The basic recipe is said to date back hundreds of years.

13. Try to See the Northern Lights

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Did you know northern Scotland has roughly the same latitude as some parts of Norway? This helps explain how – if you’re lucky – you can see the Aurora Borealis (AKA the northern lights).

Remember those Scottish islands? That’s where you’re most likely to see them – especially in wintertime, between September and March. Nights are at their longest and darkest, boosting the chance of seeing the Mirrie Dancers (Shetland’s name for the Aurora Borealis).

14. Hike, Camp, Explore the Outdoors

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One thing I love about visiting Scotland compared to England is that you have the right to roam. It means you can enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and camping (almost) anywhere, as long as you behave responsibly. Try that in most parts of England, where your land rights differ, and you commit a civil offense.

Combine Scotland’s right to roam with its immense natural landscapes, and the stage is set for outdoor fun. You can hike, climb, kayak, and camp until your heart’s content.

15. Stay in a Bothy

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If you do take advantage of the right to roam, keep an eye out for Scotland’s bothies. Located across the country in remote destinations, these simple shelters (“bothan” is the Gaelic word for hut) are available for anybody to stay in for free.

They’re generally unlocked and have a sleeping platform, table and chairs, and somewhere to light a fire (although not necessarily any wood to burn). With no electricity, toilet, or running water, bothies are by no means luxurious. But this free shelter in wild, beautiful, and inaccessible places will feel amazing – especially if it’s raining.

16. Walk the West Highland Way

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The West Highland Way is one of Scotland’s most popular multi-day hikes. The trail extends 154km (96 miles) from Milngavie to Fort William, taking you through stunning and diverse landscapes.

Expect mountains, rivers, and lochs, incredible valleys, and densely forested areas. There are pubs to rest your legs at, too, campsites to meet fellow hikers at, distilleries to explore (for research purposes only, of course), and a whole lot of other unique sights to enjoy.

17. Ride the Harry Potter Train

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Calling all Harry Potter fans! Remember those iconic shots of the Hogwarts Express chugging along a viaduct through rolling hills on its way to Hogwarts? Well, you can see it for yourself in Scotland.

In real life, you can watch the Jacobite Steam Train run across the Glenfinnan Viaduct by driving to the Glenfinnan Viaduct car park. From there, a signposted trail takes you to the perfect viewing point. Want to ride the train itself? It runs all week long from Fort William to Mallaig.

18. Indulge in Some Culture

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It would take too long to list them all, but here’s a selection of the best things to do in Scotland for culture:

  • Culloden Battlefield – the site of the last pitched battle ever fought on UK soil
  • Edinburgh Fringe Festival – a huge annual event showcasing a diverse array of arts and entertainment
  • Highland Folk Museum – an open-air museum showcasing Highland life from the 18th through to the 20th Century
  • Hogmanay – Scotland’s traditional New Year’s celebration on December 31st

Consider a visit to Glasgow, too. It’s famous for its architecture and arts scene – not to mention the other perks of a big city.

Enjoy the Best Things to Do In Scotland

when to visit Scotland
In the following section, we’ll run through the key factors to consider when visiting Scotland… Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

As you can tell, there are masses of incredible things to do in Scotland! I hope this list has given you some new ideas for how to spend your time there.

Whether you’re exploring its cities, hiking in the Highlands, spending time on the Scottish islands, or sampling whisky at a distillery, you’re sure to leave this beautiful country with some fantastic memories.

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Author: Danny Newman

Title: Writer and Content Creator

Expertise: Travel, Digital Nomadry, Outdoors, Blogging

Danny Newman is a writer, content creator, and digital nomad from the UK. He founded the travel and lifestyle blog What’s Danny Doing, a popular resource for people seeking more adventure, self-discovery, and purpose. A nationally syndicated writer, Danny’s work features in dozens of online publications, including MSN.com and news sites across the US.

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