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9 Incredible Places to Visit in Scotland

For a relatively small country, Scotland sometimes seems huge. There are countless charming villages and historic castles to visit, numerous remote islands and pretty harbours to explore, plentiful hidden valleys and heather-clad hills to discover - one could spend a lifetime touring Scotland and there still would be a myriad of hidden treasures to unearth.

Even the not-so-hidden treasures are stunning! You will have surely heard of historic Edinburgh, our majestic capital city and host to the Fringe - the largest arts festival in the world­­. Loch Ness and resident Nessie have made headlines for centuries, while the Isle of Skye has had recent recognition and subsequent buzz, due to its outstandingly magical scenery. And beautiful St Andrews, sitting on the east coast of Fife, is well known as the home of golf. 

Yet, the list of wonderful places to visit in Scotland is never-ending and with 15 years' experience of arranging award-winning self-drive holidays in Scotland, Absolute Escapes know a thing or two about the best places to visit. 

Here are our top 9 locations, which you might not have heard much about, but which should make it to the top of your list for a trip to Scotland.

Stirling

Once the ancient capital of Scotland, Stirling is known as the Gateway to the Highlands. Being the smallest city in Scotland, Stirling has a wonderful atmosphere of history and antiquity, while simultaneously hosting a vibrant student population. Stirling Castle sits prominently on Castle Hill, above the picturesque Old Town. It was once a favoured residence of the Stewart monarchs and today, it is a wonderful place to roam around and pretend you are a lord or lady living it grand in the 16th century.

Wallace Monument is another lovely viewpoint, commemorating Sir William Wallace. You might have heard a romanticised version of Wallace’s life in the 1990s film Braveheart, where Wallace and the Scots defeated the English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in the late 1200s.

From the top of Wallace monument, there are wonderful and expansive views to be had of the striking Stirlingshire landscape and winding course of the River Forth. You might also spot Stirling Old Bridge, a new bridge constructed after the famous 13th century battle. 

East Neuk of Fife

Each year, flocks of visitors visit St Andrews, the home of golf and of the oldest of the four ancient universities of Scotland. While St Andrews is certainly worth a visit, many visitors miss out on the picturesque fishing villages and sandy beaches that make up the rugged coastline of the East Neuk of Fife. Neuk is a Scots word for nook or corner, and the delightful villages of Crail, Pittenweem, St Monans, Anstruther, Elie and Lower Largo make up this charming wee neuk.

Featuring medieval Dutch-style architecture and cobblestone streets, these colourful villages are lined with lovely harbours, art galleries, seafood restaurants, and cosy pubs. The Anstruther Fish Bar has been previously voted to serve the best Fish and Chips in the UK.

If this wasn’t reason enough to visit, there are also boat trips to the Isle of May, a National Nature Reserve and home to the UK’s largest puffin colony. 

Plockton

Located in a quiet and sheltered bay just outside the Isle of Skye, sits Plockton - the Jewel of the Highlands. This small coastal village overlooks Loch Carron and the harbour is lined with charming cottages and palm trees. Beyond, views of the islands and the stunning mountains of Wester Ross create an idyllic background.

Plockton is a place to relax and take in the fresh sea air. There are various pubs and restaurants in the village, such as the Plockton Hotel, serving the freshest of local seafood. In summer, you could go on a wildlife adventure aboard the Sula Mhor, operated by Calum’s Seal Trips. Or you might prefer to hire sea kayaks and admire incredible views of Skye, Applecross and the Torridon mountains, and explore hidden coral beaches.

At other times of the year, Plockton could be the perfect base to visit the Isle of Skye as a day trip, avoiding the Portree crowds at the end of the day. Furthermore, visitors could treat themselves by staying at the stunning Duncraig Castle Hotel, due to re-open in 2020 after a major refurbishment.

Pitlochry and Highland Perthshire

When it comes to visiting the Highlands, many opt to travel to the West Coast, which indeed, features dramatic and barren mountainous landscapes. And yet, Highland Perthshire, on the east of the country, features an entirely different scenery with sprawling pine forests and green rolling landscapes, lush farmland, lochs and rivers, glens and hills. This is undeniably one of the most striking regions in Scotland and a popular weekend getaway for those living in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Pitlochry is located at the very heart of Highland Perthshire and is a bustling Victorian town. After a long day exploring the Hermitage and admiring the Queen’s View, one can spend a leisurely afternoon in this picturesque town packed with artisan gift shops, tearooms and cafes, and cosy pubs. For those who fancy a local tipple, distillery tours are available at Blair Atholl and Edradour distilleries, or you could relax at the snug Moulin Inn, which has its own brewery.

Shetland

The Shetland Isles, the northernmost of the inhabited British Isles, became part of Scotland in the 15th century, having previously belonged to Denmark. Centuries later, there is still a distinctive Nordic feel to this archipelago of remote islands, which are actually located closer to Norway than mainland Scotland. Surrounded by the wild Atlantic Ocean, the landscape is that of rugged sea cliffs and incredibly green and tree-less pastures.

Shetland is in equal measure a walker’s and a photographer's paradise. One of the best ways to explore the islands is by taking short walks to the various nature reserves and scenic points. From gentle coastal walks, such as St Ninian’s Isle tombolo, to hiking Rona's Hill, there are spectacular views to be had.

The Hermaness Nature Reserve in the remote island of Unst is one of the most special places to visit, with otherworldly views across the sea and a large gannet colony perched high in the cliffs. If you are lucky, you might meet some puffins too!

There are also various fascinating archaeological sites to visit, such as the Mousa Broch in the Isle of Mousa and Jarlshof, a prehistoric archaeological site.

Luss and Loch Lomond

Since medieval times, Loch Ness has had an eerie aura, which has attracted tons of scientists and curious tourists alike. And yet, there is an undeniably prettier loch, which has featured in traditional song and verse for just as long. 

Loch Lomond is located just north of Glasgow and it offers impossibly beautiful scenery and a variety of different activities. From hiking Ben Lomond or walking part of the West Highland Way, to kayaking or paddleboarding in Rowardennan, or taking a boat cruise from Luss Pier, Loch Lomond is the perfect spot for a sunny weekend adventure. 

The picturesque conservation village of Luss is most certainly worth a visit. Sitting on the western shores of Loch Lomond, it features pretty neat rows of 18th and 19th-century quarry cottages and intricate flower displays. Here, you can enjoy a stroll along one of Luss Village Paths, or enjoy an ice cream while sitting on the beach and admiring views of the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

Achmelvich Bay

The introduction of the North Coast 500 Route has been incredibly popular with worldwide visitors, who now flock North to experience remote landscapes and authentic highland communities. The North Coast 500 incorporates 6 incredible regions, including Sutherland, known as Europe’s “last great wilderness.” 

North West Sutherland features unspoiled, natural landscapes, with spectacular mountain ranges and idyllic white-sand beaches. Achmelvich Beach is one of these beaches, hiding in a remote corner on the western coastline; it is difficult to reach and there isn’t much else besides a youth hostel and a campsite. And yet, it is gloriously scenic and unquestionably worth a trip.

If it wasn’t for the icy wind buffeting your face, you could be in the Caribbean. With pristine white sands and deep turquoise blue water, this is a majestic haven of solitude. Nearby, visitors can explore Hermit’s Castle - the smallest castle in Europe - or go on a hillwalking adventure atop Suilven. 

Ballater and Royal Deeside

The village of Ballater sits in the heart of Royal Deeside, in the northeast of Scotland. The area was a popular destination during Victorian times, with its most famous tourist being Queen Victoria herself. Continuing her great-great-grandmother’s tradition, Queen Elizabeth still spends her August holidays in Balmoral Castle, located just a few miles from Ballater.  

With the sound of river Dee in the background and its pretty pepper pot turrets towering the forest, Balmoral is certainly a sight to take one’s breath away. Visitors can spend the day wandering around the castle grounds, taking in the variety of smells from its wonderful lush gardens, and marveling at the stunning Scots Baronial style architecture. 

Balmoral is just one example of the incredible collection of romantic Medieval ruins and grand country houses that incorporate the Aberdeenshire Castle Trail. From charismatic structures such as Drum Castle and Crathes Castle to grand estates, this area teems with history. Bordered by the breath-taking slopes of the Cairngorms National Park, Ballater is not just a great base from which to explore the castle trail, but also to enjoy the great outdoors.  

Jura

One of the wildest and remotest islands in the West Coast of Scotland is the Isle of Jura, with a population of around 200 people and over 5,000 deer. The main village, Craighouse, has but one road, one hotel, one pub, one café, one shop, and a whisky distillery.

As discovered by George Orwell, who wrote his famous novel 1984 on the island, Jura is an ideal escape for some quiet and solitude. However, there are various activities on the island for those who are more adventurous. A challenging climb up the Paps of Jura will offer incredible views of the wild island and the coast. There are also RIB boat trips available from Craighouse, where you could see the Corryvreckan whirlpool or even spot some dolphins and orca whales!

A taste of Jura whisky at the distillery is the highlight for many visitors. But there is a fun new addition to the island: Lussa Gin, a small craft gin distillery run in the remote village of Ardlussa. Lussa Gin has been crafted on the island by three local friends, using a selection of locally grown botanicals.

Katia Mayo Fernandez

P.S. Established in Edinburgh in 2004, Absolute Escapes are award-winning specialists in self-drive holidays in Scotland. Our team have turned our love of exploring Scotland into our day job - we know exactly where to find the best accommodation, the best food and drink experiences, and how to turn your trip into an unforgettable one. Send us an enquiry now and start planning your Absolute Escape.

 

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