Steeped in history and known for its whisky, bagpipes, rugged terrain, and haggis, Scotland is a great place to visit. There are so many good things to do in Scotland that any top-ten list will be missing something — but these ten things to do are a great place to start.
1. Drink some Scottish whisky
Scotland’s whisky is the real deal. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of the spirit, you should definitely have at least a wee dram.
There are distilleries all over the country that do tours and tastings; or head to a whisky bar or whisky experience in Edinburgh or Glasgow to try a few different flavours.
2. Visit Edinburgh
Scotland’s capital is also its prettiest city, with historical interest thrown in for good measure. Visit the closes (alleyways) off the Royal Mile, and allow at least half a day to explore the castle.
If you have a penchant for ghost stories, there are dozens of tours to choose from that explore the city’s hidden depths. We enjoyed the Real Mary King’s Close tour, but there’s something for everyone.
If you happen to be in the United Kingdom at New Years, Hogmanay in Edinburgh is the place to be!
3. Walk the West Highland Way
This 152km walk can be completed in as little as four or five days if you use a luggage transfer service and stay in B&Bs, or a little longer if you carry your own gear and camp along the way. We took eight days to do the walk with a tent and sleeping bags in 2008, and would love to do the luxury version!
However you choose to do it, walking the West Highland Way a great way to see some Scottish countryside.
4. Eat haggis
Although Scotland’s national dish doesn’t sound appealing when you think about what it’s made of (mostly offal) it’s surprisingly tasty. It’s typically paired with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes to the rest of the world) and you really should give it a try!
A great time to eat haggis in Scotland is on Burns Night, January 25. Robbie Burns, Scotland’s most famous poet, is remembered across the country with an evening of poetry, bagpiping, haggis, and whisky.
5. See the Falkirk Wheel
This rotating boat lift is a wonder of engineering that was dreamed up to restore navigability in Scottish canals. You can watch it in action from above or below, or even take a ride in it.
More recently, two enormous statues of canal horses (known as Kelpies) were erected on the other side of Falkirk, so a trip to this city is a must for canal enthusiasts. Even if you’re not so interested in boating, it’s worth a visit.
6. Bag a munro
Scottish mountains over a height of 3000 feet are known as munros, and climbing them (munro bagging) is a popular weekend activity. You probably won’t have time to climb all 282 but you can start with one!
As with any hiking, follow basic security measures like checking the weather before you go, making sure you have appropriate clothing and extra food, and letting someone know where you’re going!
If you don’t want a strenuous workout, there are also lots of short walks available — stop into a tourist office for a brochure.
7. Go to Kelvingrove
There are fascinating museums all throughout Scotland, but if you can only get to one, this would be it. Glasgow’s museum is an interesting mix of options, with plenty of kid-friendly exhibits and a constantly changing special exhibit. Plus, the building is beautiful too!
8. See some standing stones
Scotland has been inhabited since prehistory, and some of its earliest inhabitants have left their mark in the form of fascinating cairns and standing stones. What these stones were used for is now shrouded in mystery — though I did read a great theory recently in The Memory Code by Lynne Kelly. It’s amazing to wander among them, imagining other people doing the same thousands of years ago.
Head to the highlands for your best range of stones. The North Coast 500 (around the northern coast, starting from and finishing in Inverness) is a great route for a road trip. Make sure to stop in to Culloden Moor before or after you start the route (it’s near Inverness) to see the site of the last battle ever fought on British soil.
9. Look for Nessie in Loch Ness
Loch Ness is a beautiful lake that’s worth a visit on its own merit, but you might as well see if the Loch Ness Monster is around, right? The museum has a lot of interesting history about Nessie, but is a little pricey.
10. Cruise to the islands
In the tradition of including something in the list that we haven’t actually done yet, a visit to some Scottish islands is one of the things we plan to do in Scotland next time we visit.
Some islands (like Skye) are accessible by bridge, while the Orkney and Shetland Islands can be reached by ferry.
You might be interested in the spiritual island of Iona (once a monastic settlement, now a non-denominational Christian community) or, like me, want to visit the archaeological site of Skara Brae, a Neolithic settlement in the Orkney Islands.
Of course, the best things to do in Scotland will depend on your personal preferences, and I’m sure to have missed several absolute essentials! What’s your favourite thing to do in Scotland? What is on the top of the list for your visit there? Leave a comment below!