Scotland is home to both cosmopolitan cities and rugged mountain landscape. If you stick to the city, one of the top things to do in Edinburgh is to explore its Old Town and its many attractions, like Edinburgh Castle and the National Museum of Scotland. Visiting this interactive museum is also one of the best things to do in Scotland with kids. Meanwhile, things to do in Glasgow include visiting Pollock Country Park and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
As for non-touristy things to do in Scotland, head to its remote islands to see places like beautiful Luskentyre Beach. One of the best things to do in Scotland in October is to explore the Scottish Highlands to see the trees change color. Keep reading for more things to do in Scotland with teenagers, as a couple, or for solo adventurers.
1. Edinburgh Castle
Sitting atop an extinct volcano at the end of the city’s famous Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle has sweeping city views. With its oldest section dating back to the 12th century, Edinburgh Castle has acted as both a Middle Ages royal residence and a military fortress until the 18th century. Today, more than 1.5 million people visit the castle’s museum annually to see exhibits like the Scottish Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny, the One O’Clock Gun, and the Scottish National War Memorial.
2. Loch Ness
Located in the Scottish Highlands near Inverness, Loch Ness is a large and deep freshwater loch. It’s most well-known for being home to the Loch Ness Monster (affectionally called Nessie). Over 1000 eye-witness accounts describe her as being a shy but large long-necked creature. Top things to do around Loch Ness include seasonal boat cruises to spot Nessie with your own eyes, visiting historic Urquhart Castle sitting on its bank, and hiking or biking a section of the 80-mile Loch Ness 360° Trail.
3. Loch Lomond
Another freshwater loch located closer to major cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow is Loch Lomond. The star attraction of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, make Loch Lomond Shores your first stop, as it’s home to indoor and outdoor activities and rentals, shops, restaurants, and the family-friendly SEA Life Aquarium. For the best Loch Lomond views, go on a scenic boat cruise or hike up one of the national park’s “wee hills with big views.”
4. Palace of Holyroodhouse
A historic bookend, the Palace of Holyroodhouse (also known as Holyrood Palace) is located directly at the opposite end of the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. It’s Queen Elizabeth II’s official Scottish residence and is open to visitors year-round. Highlights of the Palace of Holyroodhouse include the remains of the 12th-century Holyrood Abbey, the opulent State Apartments that feature an unparalleled French and Flemish tapestry collection, the Palace gardens, and stories on famous former residents like Bonnie Prince Charlie and Mary, Queen of Scots.
5. Stirling Castle
Sitting atop Stirling’s Castle Hill, Stirling Castle is one of the country’s most historically significant sights, as it was a favored residence of Stewart kings and queens. Today, visitors are greeted by costumed staff who welcome you to 16th-century castle life. Open year-round, Stirling Castle highlights include The Great Hall, The Royal Palace, the peaceful Queen Anne Gardens, the interactive Palace Vaults, The Castle Exhibition, and the Stirling Heads Gallery – one of the country’s most treasured art collections.
6. Arthur’s Seat
One of the coolest things to do in Scotland is to climb Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano in Holyrood Park. A Royal Park adjacent to the aforementioned Palace of Holyroodhouse, it’s conveniently located only one mile east of Edinburgh Castle. Rising 822 feet above the city, Arthur’s Seat is a jagged but grassy landmark with amazing panoramic views from its summit. Fortunately, there are many hiking trails available to take you to the top of Arthur’s Seat.
7. Calton Hill
Calton Hill is another place to visit in Edinburgh’s city center for epic views. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s a five-minute staircase climb to reach the historic hill and its many iconic monuments and buildings, including the unfinished National Monument that was inspired by Athens’ Parthenon, the Old Royal High School, and the City Observatory, which also resembles a Greek temple. For even better views (if that’s possible), visitors can also climb 143 stairs to the top of Calton Hill’s Nelson Monument.
8. Ben Nevis
Reaching 1345 meters above sea level, Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles. Located in the Scottish Highlands, its closest town is Fort Williams. More than 125,000 avid climbers scale the mountain annually. If you’d also like to tackle Ben Nevis, there are two paths to the summit. The 10.5-mile Mountain Path Trail is the easiest route and best for beginners, while the Carn Mor Dearg Arête route is a challenging ridge climb suitable for experienced hikers.
9. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews
Did you know that one of the most iconic things to do in Scotland is to play a round of golf? Founded in the 18th century, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is the world’s oldest and most prestigious golf club. Regarded worldwide as the Home of Golf, the town of St Andrews is, in fact, home to seven golf courses. Adjacent to the Golf Club, the British Golf Museum is home to Europe’s largest golf memorabilia collection.
10. Isle of Skye
The world-famous Isle of Skye is located off the country’s northwest coast and is connected to the mainland by a bridge. The Isle of Skye is known for its rugged landscape (peninsulas, narrow lochs, and mountains included), picture-perfect fishing villages, and historic medieval castles. Isle of Skye attractions not to be missed include the seaside town of Portree, Dunvegan Castle and Gardens, the Skye Museum of Island Life, the country’s only traditional exhibition tannery at Skyeskyns, and The Cuillin, an infamous mountain range.
11. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Established in 1901, Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is one of the country’s top free tourist attractions. With 22 state-of-the-art galleries display 8000 objects, check out the internationally-significant collection of 17th-century Dutch Old Masters at The Dutch Gallery, The Arms and Armour Collection, Salvador Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross masterpiece, and the 19th-century Fulton’s Orrery, which is a 3D solar system model. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum also features a magnificent organ, with daily recitals at 1 pm.
12. National Museum of Scotland
Speaking of free attractions, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh has exhibits on a diverse range of topics, including natural history, art and design, world history, science and technology, and Scottish history. With 20,000 objects on display, here’s a glimpse at the museum’s highlights: see the world-famous Dolly the Sheep, have a run on the human hamster wheel, see the T-Rex skeleton in the Natural World gallery, and learn more about Mary, Queen of Scots. Don’t leave without seeing the city views from the museum’s rooftop terrace either.
13. Edinburgh Old Town
Edinburgh’s city center is neatly divided into the New Town and the Old Town. The Old Town is characterized by its labyrinth of narrow alleys, cobblestone streets, and historic brick buildings. Its main thoroughfare is The Royal Mile, which connects Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and is lined with eateries and shops. Besides these two landmarks, other places to visit in the Old Town include the National Museum of Scotland, Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, St Giles Cathedral, and Victoria Street’s colorful buildings.
14. Royal Yacht Britannia
Docked at Edinburgh’s Ocean Terminal, the Royal Yacht Britannia is the British monarch’s former royal yacht. In service from 1954 until 1997, today you can follow in the footsteps of royalty and step aboard this imperial tourist attraction. Pick up an audio tour and get set to explore the floating palace’s five main decks. Some of the sights to see include the Royal Apartments, the Sun Room (Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite room), historic exhibits, and the Royal Deck Tea Room.
Located on the Isle of Harris’s west coast in the country’s remote Outer Hebrides, Luskentyre is the definition of a hidden gem. The small settlement is home to Luskentyre Beach, which is frequently named one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. The beach is known for its clear and calm azure waters, miles of soft white sand and sand dunes, and mountainous surroundings. So if you want to get off the beaten track, head to Luskentyre.
16. The Northern Highlands
The Northern Highlands are indeed the northern part of the Scottish Highlands. Characterized by rugged mountains, breathtaking beaches, a windswept coastline, and ruined castles, there is lots to see and do in the Northern Highlands. Visit two historic castles – Dunrobin Castle and Eilean Donan Castle (known as the country’s most picturesque castle), the Northwest Highlands Geopark, Inverewe Garden, and Smoo Cave, which is a large saltwater and freshwater cave that can be explored on a boat tour.
17. Isle of Arran
The Isle of Arran is another rugged Scottish island located an easy ferry ride from the mainland. Top things to do on the island include visiting Brodick Castle and Country Gardens; climbing Goat Fell, the island’s highest point; having an Outlander moment at the Machrie Moor Stone Circles; playing a round of golf; and exploring the great outdoors with Arran Outdoor Center. Reward a day of exploration by visiting either the Isle of Arran Distillery or the Isle of Arran Brewery.
18. Orkney: Skara Brae
Another remote tourist attraction to visit is Skara Brae Prehistoric Village. Discovered thanks to a storm in 1850, Europe’s most complete Neolithic village is located on the west coast of Mainland – the largest island in the Orkney archipelago. The Neolithic settlement is said to have been occupied from 3180 BC to 2500 BC. Visit Skara Brae and see its eight stone-built clustered houses, which feature stone beds, dressers, and seats. Skara Brae also has a cafe, gift shop, and visitor center with interactive and historic exhibits.
19. Pollok Country Park
Located on the south side of Glasgow, Pollok Country Park has previously been named Europe’s best park. The tranquil space is home to extensive woodlands and wide-open spaces, as well as the Burrell Collection and Pollock House. The Maxwell family lived in the grand Pollock House for six centuries. Today, it’s open to visitors and houses an impressive Spanish art collection and the Edwardian Kitchen cafe. Pollock Country Park also has three mountain biking routes that suit different skill levels.
20. The Falkirk Wheel
Opening in 2002 in the town of Falkirk, the Falkirk Wheel is the world’s first and only rotating boat lift. It reconnects the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal for the first time since the 1930s; allowing for coast to coast navigation in central Scotland. Standing 115ft tall, the Falkirk Wheel has been described as both an engineering feat and a work of art. With 500,000 annual visitors, people can watch the wheel turn from the comfort of the visitor center, or experience it for themselves on a boat cruise.
21. Scottish dark sky observatory
One of the most interesting things to do in Scotland is to see the night sky from the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, which is located on a hilltop in the world-renowned Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park. Open to the public, visitors can observe some of the UK’s darkest night skies from the observatory’s two large telescopes. The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory also has an elevated observation deck and a planetarium. If interested, visit their website as advanced bookings are required.