Scotland is a region that is too often reduced to a joke by both the English and Americans. The romantic side of the country, with its beautiful highlands, introspective ruins and fascinating language, should never be ignored if you go there. And there’s a lot of history, culture and nature like you’ve never seen before. Here’s 22 unique places to visit and things to do in Scotland that tourists rarely see.
1. House For An Art Lover (Glasgow)
Starting at some of the country’s lower points, the gorgeous home and art venue known as House for an Art Lover is located in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park. The home offers gardens, walkways and exhibits ready for anyone who loves nature or interior design. Of particular note is the portico entrance and the spectacular music room. While you’re there, feel free to check out the café and its breathtaking view of the surrounding park.
2. Scott Monument (Edinburgh)
Dedicated to Walter Scott, one of Scotland’s most well-known authors and poets, this towering Gothic structure rests in the center of Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens. While it looks daunting from afar, up close its carefully chiseled statues and miraculous detail are stunning. And, if you’re up to it, you can visit its observation deck after a 288 step climb! Don’t pass this by; this is a beauty hiding in plain sight.
3. St. Giles Cathedral (Edinburgh)
The Royal Mile is not a place to go if you’re looking to avoid the tourist-y areas of Edinburgh. But trust us, despite this cathedral’s location on the Mile, it’s worth taking the trip. Whether it’s the stained glass windows, the old but vibrant Thistle Chapel or the little café in the basement, you’re bound to have a fun time looking around the place.
4. Seacliff Beach (North Berwick)
Despite the small fee of three pounds, Seacliff Beach remains one of the most beautiful spots in Scotland. You can stare out into the distant water, rest on the sand or explore the rock formations nearby. Of particular note is a small harbour on the leftmost side of the beach that is spectacular to look at. This is one of the most inspiring places to see of all the things to do in Scotland. Check it out! And be sure to stay in the area. There’s a place visible from the beach that you should definitely check out called…
5. Tantallon Castle (North Berwick)
The abandoned, ruined castle of Tantallon rests on a cliff jutting out into the North Sea. Once owned by the so called “Red Douglases,” a family including several Earls, now only these relics remain. Even so, they are gorgeous to look at. Their wide open spaces provide a nice introspective point. And from here, the view of Bass Rock, also visible from Seacliff Beach is even clearer. A must-see if you’re in the area.
6. Tappoch Broch/Torwood Castle (Falkirk)
This one’s a fun little adventure that’s about as far off the beaten path as you’re going to get! With only sign posts and trails to get there, Tappoch Broch is one of the lesser known things to do in Scotland. As far as ancient ruins go, it’s not as impressive as another “broch” (ancient rock roundhouse), we’ll see later in this list. But if you’re itching for a hike, this might be the best way to get it. And if you go further down the path a bit by about half a mile you’ll end up at the ruins of Torwood Castle. A great two-for-one attraction deal!
7. Falkirk Wheel/The Kelpies (Falkirk)
Falkirk Wheel is a one of a kind thing in the business of boat lift construction. Normally, these types of structures don’t inspire awe nor appreciation, but the Falkirk Wheel lifts boats when it spins. Mind you, this spin is slow and takes about ten minutes. While you’re here, check out the unique “Kelpies” horse statues. These statues are imposing, but fun and very pretty, and great for someone looking for artful things to do in Scotland.
8. Loch Lubnaig (Callander)
Almost every traveler to Scotland is going to visit Loch Ness while they’re there. What no one says before they go is how long the drive is! Why not take a pit-stop at one of the country’s lesser-known but just as beautiful lakes on the way? Loch Lubnaig (pronounced loob-neeg) is one of the most spectacular places to be around. Gaze at it and look at the vegetation near it. Stop for lunch or use the restroom if you need to. It’s much better than a gas station and much more inviting too!
9. Brig o’ Balgownie (Aberdeen)
Spanning the impressive River Don in one of the oldest portions of town, the Brig o’ Balgownie, or the Bridge of Don, is an architectural marvel. Although it was built long ago, it feels contemporary and wouldn’t be out of place in an area like NYC’s Central Park. Don’t forget to peek around the neighborhood surrounding the bridge though if you’re looking for something less modern in appearance.
10. The Torry Battery (Aberdeen)
The Torry Battery at Aberdeen is half abandoned monument/half observation deck and all-around excitement and fun. Originally built in the 1860’s and in use until the 1950’s, this battery today offers a great spot for tourists to take pictures by a harbor and watch for dolphins and seals in the North Sea. If you love nature or history, you’ll enjoy being here!
11. Clava Cairns (the Highlands)
A cairn (pronounced carn) is a pile of stacked stones. But Clava Cairns are the ruins of a Bronze Age structure, likely a burial site, which makes them far more fascinating than just any old rock pile. But don’t worry if you don’t see it that way; there is a set of standing stone in the site as well that’s just as pleasing. After all, the majority of the best things to do in Scotland have to do with rocks.
12. Eilan Donan Castle (Kyle of Lochalsh)
Eilan Donan Castle is one of those attractions that is best described by staring at a photo of it until you become obsessed with how beautiful it looks. It’s comprised of a small stone bridge, cottage for events, outstanding view of the lake around it and coffee shop for the exasperated visitor. Trust us, you will be kept awake far more due to how gorgeous the structure is than due to the coffee you get.
13. Rúm National Nature Reserve (Isle of Rúm)
There is no other place in the British Isles that is as close to nature as the Isle of Rúm. Head to its National Nature Reserve and you will see what we mean. From its various beautiful trails to its large diversity of species, there is truly an abundance of things to see on this isle. And that’s no understatement, one of the trails available (Rúm Cuillin) is a whopping 12 hour walk through the mountains! So find a bothy and start exploring; it might take a while but it’ll be worth it!
14. Greig Street Bridge (Inverness)
Ah, Inverness. Famous for its role in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the modern city is a masterpiece in its own right, and one of the most breathtaking things to do in Scotland. The Greig Street Bridge is the connector between it and its oldest parts and has served that purpose since its creation in 1881. It’s a glowing example of a suspension bridge, quite literally during Christmas when it’s strung with lights! Be careful walking across though, when more a few people are on it, it is known to sway a bit.
15. Old High St. Stephen’s Church (Inverness)
It’s the first thing while crossing the Greig Street Bridge into Old Town and it’s worth the stop while you’re there. While not as grand nor spectacular as other churches in the county, Old High St. Stephens is notable for its scenery and its quaintness. Its design is simple yet poignant. It’s a mixture of peach walls, stained glass and blue ceilings, but the focus is on function. Like all the best things to do in Scotland, it has a rare beauty in a way that’s not often seen.
16. Bealach na Ba Road and Viewpoint (Applecross)
Get ready for the most adventurous stop on this list. Bealach na Ba Road is one of the thinnest and steepest roads in the country. It is truly dangerous for those with less experience behind the wheel and is flat out impassible in harsher conditions. However, the views you can get on this road are beyond incredible, and the experience is an adrenaline rush to say the least. So if you’re into that kind of high action-adventure, then take the half-hour needed to complete it. It’s a doozy but one of the most exciting things to do in Scotland nonetheless!
17. Chanonry Point (Fortrose)
Chanonry Point is one of the most beautiful lighthouses around. And while that is something to admire in its own right, the site is far more famous for its proximity to the North Sea’s bottlenose dolphin habitats. Also visible are otters, seals and porpoises if you’re lucky. Sadly, the prospect of dolphins often ends up causing traffic and a lack of available parking so be careful when you go here. But when the space is clear, it’s all yours to enjoy.
18. Duncansby Head (John O’ Groats)
Lying in the northernmost town of the island of Great Britain, Duncansby Head is a lighthouse with the Arctic in its sights. Feel free to admire the landscape while you’re visiting and enjoy the sheep roaming around the area as well. The mainland is over and it’s all archipelago from here folks.
19. Burwick & Kirkwall (Orkney)
The small village of Burwick on the Orkney Islands is the closest to the main island of Great Britain and is, available by ferry from John O’Groats. Here, you can view the ruins of the Castle of Burwick and see a small but scenic church that’ll leave you spooked. From this village, it’s only a short car ride to the main city of Kirkwall. Kirkwall has ruins, distilleries, nature tours and much more. Get a tour guide and explore this area.
20. The Broch of Mousa (Shetland)
The most well-preserved broch in Scotland, the Broch of Mousa towers over its competition, providing an example of how utterly beautiful these Iron Age structures can be. Inside is a stony base and a staircase to the top. With its location by the sea and its fascinating history, this broch is not something to just glance at and take pictures, it’s something to take in, explore and ponder over. Look into it and think about the distant past. When you’re here, it’s almost like you can touch history.
21. Jarlshof (Sumbrugh)
Perhaps the most well-known archeological site on the Shetland islands, Jarlshof (pronounced yarlz-hoff) contains priceless examples of Norse Iron Age architecture. Here lie ruins of wheelhouses, farmhouses, a small castle and more brochs. Of note is the equally pretty view of the sea which this ancient town overlooked. It’s one of the most famous attractions in the region. Despite this, it remains a must of all the things to do in Scotland for anyone fascinated by history and especially the history of Norse Scotland.
22. The Standing Stones of Stenness (Stenness)
There’s a bizarreness to the Standing Stones of Stenness that is hard to describe in words. They just seem to shoot right out of the ground, as if they were natural formations. It almost appears as if some geological phenomenon was pushing them and that they’ll snap and topple over any second now. And yet, they don’t. And that’s what makes them so marvelous. They stand against the rural backdrop of the area and do nothing but stand. Truly, they are something that everyone needs to see, even if for a second, just for this alone. This is the definition of unique and unusual and must not be missed.
What are your favorite things to do in Scotland? Leave it in the comments section below!
Hi! I'm Tyler and I'm a sophomore student at the University of Vermont. I'm an English major and I'm minoring in French and Linguistics. I'm particularly interested in reading, writing, philosophy and the natural world (although the Internet is somewhere I hang out often too).