Scotland overview

Take the sleeper train from London and you wake up to everything that a Scotland vacation has to offer. Deserted mountains glistening with silvery threads of icy rivers, waterfalls tumbling from highlands to lowlands, villages with stations where you need to put your hand out to request the train to stop and suddenly, out of nowhere, a gleaming great loch. You have to wipe the sleep from your eyes to believe it. Moving away from the old image of tartan and shortbread, the highlands, lowlands and islands are alive with hikers, cyclists, canoeists and climbers. Find out more in our Scotland travel guide.

Our top Scotland vacations

Orkney & Shetland self drive vacation, Scotland

From £825 to £940
7 days ex flights
Self-drive island-hopping through the Northern Isles

Scotland by railway vacation

From £1135 to £1195
8 days ex flights
Experience authentic Scotland independently and car-free

Best time to go to Scotland

The Scots have invented hundreds of words to describe the weather. Some are as bleak they sound: dreich; snell; fret. Others are pure poetry: gloaming, for that gold-dark twilight; feefle for powdery swirling snow; stermm is when you can see every star in the sky. And thanks to the changeable Scottish weather, you could get them all in a week. Just go when itís best for what you want to do Ė perhaps summer for less choppy seas, autumn for wildlife photography, or early spring for empty rail routes and a dusting of snow. Read more about the best time to go to Scotland.
Scotland temperature and rainfall chart

Map & highlights

Scotland’s highlights range from the distant islands of the Hebrides (say, Mull, Iona, Lewis or Harris) to landlocked national parks like the Cairngorms that are less than a three-hour train journey away from Edinburgh. The Caledonian Canal is a shortcut from the west to east coasts, meticulously designed to slice from loch to loch by the Victorians. Fort William is your terminus if you arrive on the Caledonian sleeper train from London; from here, you can continue your rail journey beneath Ben Nevis through the West Highlands. Read more about where to go in Scotland.
Cairngorms National Park

1. Cairngorms National Park

With Aviemore at its core, it is already known as a skiing center. However, with mountain biking, canoeing, climbing, white water rafting and gorge walking also on offer, as well as some eco chic yoga, the Cairngorms have a cool thing going down. Literally. Just check out the CairnGorm Mountain Centre’s funicular train that takes you up, and then allows you to cycle all the way back down.
Caledonian Canal

2. Caledonian Canal

Created by those genius Victorians so that ships could traverse the country instead of tackling its treacherous tip. This aquatic artery which cuts straight through the glens from Corpach in the west to Inverness in the east, is now a trail of outdoorsiness. Cruise it, canoe it, cycle it or hike it or do a bit of all four. It is also part of the long distance Great Glen Way.
Fort William

3. Fort William

Sitting at the head of Loch Linnhe, a sea loch, and at the foot of Ben Nevis, this is the hub for hikers, bikers and all round outsiders. It is also the terminus of the historic Caledonian Sleeper Train, which transports you overnight from London to luscious lochs and wild moors.
Isle of Iona

4. Isle of Iona

A small island off an island. Off the Highlands. We like that. Iona is a spiritual place for many. Known also as the Isle of Colm Cille, after the Irish priest who first founded a monastery here in the 6th century. Go for the Abbey alone, built on the site of the original and run as a residential center with daily worship. If worshipping a god isnít your thing, you will leave worshipping nature at least.
Isle of Mull

5. Isle of Mull

From the candy coloured sea front terrace in Tobermorey, to the prolific arts center, Comar, this is a vibrant island. However, for natural as well as cultural exhilaration, nothing beats watching whales in the wild, with puffins, golden and white tailed eagles thrown into the magical mix of Mull. The more adventurous can take wildlife cruises to St Kilda, Canna, Mingulay and the Monach Islands from here.
Lewis & Harris

6. Lewis & Harris

Although often considered separate, this is one island, the northern half being Lewis and the southern half Harris. It is part of the Outer Hebrides, with Harris totally mountainous and Lewis contrastingly flat. Lewis also has the main town of Stornoway, and Harris the world famous eponymous tweed. Both have stunning beaches and wildlife. Island addicts beware. You are in danger of never wanting to leave.

Read our top Scotland travel guides

Our collection of in-depth, honest travel guides delves a little deeper into some of our favourite bits of Scotland. Read up on how to travel Scotland by rail and find out why you should explore the nooks and crannies of the coast and islands on a small ship cruise. Our Scottish wildlife guide leaves no stone unturned when it comes to revealing which creatures you can see where – and how.

Railway vacations

The romance of rail travel is alive and well in Scotland. You’ve just got to get out of Glasgow and onto the West Highland Line, where you can skim past looking-glass lochs and pretend you’re on the Hogwarts Express as you chug over the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Or take the Kyle Line, which starts at Eilean Donan Castle, near Inverness, before tugging you away from the rumble of day-trip coaches and through the towering munros of the Torridon Peaks instead. With no need to keep your eyes on the road or hands on the wheel, you can busy yourself looking out for golden eagles.

Small ship cruises

Small ship cruises in Scotland are voyages on boats designed to navigate the remote islands, skinny inlets and sandy seal beaches of the jagged Scottish coast. Small means small, so you’ll probably be in a boat with no more than six cabins – all the better for watching dolphins, puffins, whales and sea eagles supremely unbothered by your little vessel. In true Victorian style, cruises along the Caledonian Canal set a more sedate pace, stretching from coast to coast via a gorgeous gauntlet of lochs and villages.

More vacation ideas

Hebrides cruise, The Sounds of Mull, Luing, Shuna and Jura

From £660 to £1680
7 days ex flights
Cruise the Sounds of the Hebrides: Mull, Luing, Jura, Shuna
Small group2020: 2 Oct, 5 Oct, 2021: 12 Jun, 28 Jun, 29 Aug, 22 Sep, 25 Sep, 3 Oct, 7 Oct, 10 Oct, 2022: 10 Jun, 8 Jul, 8 Sep, 9 Sep, 3 Oct

West Highland Line railway vacation in Scotland

From £695 to £755
4 days ex flights
Take the "The World's Best Rail Journey" to the Isle of Skye

Isle of Mull and Small Isles explorer

From £1155 to £1995
8 days ex flights
An extraordinary voyage exploring Mull & the Small Isles.
Small group2021: 9 Apr, 21 Aug, 6 Sep, 16 Sep, 2022: 29 Jun, 5 Aug, 18 Aug, 30 Aug, 31 Aug, 17 Sep, 23 Sep, 28 Sep

Scotland island hopping vacation, car free

From £1195 to £1295
8 days ex flights
Explore three contrasting Scottish islands car-free

Isle of Mull wildlife vacation in Scotland

From £945 to £995
7 days ex flights
Ultimate week of wildlife spotting on the Isle of Mull

The Cairngorms wildlife vacation in Scotland

From £400
7 days ex flights
A wildlife camping experience in Scotland without the hassle
Small group2020: 17 Aug, 2021: 1 Mar, 8 Mar, 15 Mar, 22 Mar, 29 Mar, 5 Apr, 12 Apr, 19 Apr, 26 Apr, 3 May, 10 May
Quote. The secret to a great holiday is that it's great for everyone - you, local communities and nature.
Tourist and Masai

More on Scotland

Watching wildlife

A sleeper train from London wheels you to right where you want to be for a wildlife vacation in Scotland: the wild heart of the Cairngorms National Park. Red deer, pine martens, golden eagles, otters and red squirrels flicker through the heathery hills and pine forests – and the more people who visit to see these beasts, the less land that’s set aside for the hunting of them. Head to the wild, watery worlds of Orkney and the Shetland Islands for whales, puffins and even – if you’re very lucky, like Tessa from our Travel Team – a pod of orcas.

Types of vacations

The pinprick villages and people-free mountains of Scotland lend themselves to small group vacations. You’ll ditch the coaches that trace the same old routes and viewpoints like it’s Groundhog Day, and instead hop from port to village to hiking trail by train or on a small ship. If you’re arriving from the UK or mainland Europe, your vacation can be completely flight-free. The sleeper train from London delivers you directly into the Highlands, while ferries and a hire car are all you need to get to far-flung archipelagos like the Outer Hebrides.

Where to go in Scotland

Vacations to Scotland introduce you to the faraway isles of the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Orkney and the Shetland Islands – archipelagos of cairn-like churches and guillotine puffin cliffs. Further south, you could explore the Highlands and islands, where railway stations pair up with ferry terminals that launch you into the beautiful – and environmentally astute – communities on Skye, Eigg and the Knoydart Peninsula. And Edinburgh is always a good place to start; its fairy tale streets and historic hills are a runaway highlight of many vacations to Scotland.
[Railway vacations : Jack Anstey] [Small ship cruises : pxhere] [Watching wildlife: eric niven] [Types of vacations : Petr Meissner] [Where to go in Scotland : Nathan Anderson]
Photo credits: [Page banner: Krisjanis Mezulis] [Railway vacations : Jack Anstey] [Small ship cruises : pxhere] [Watching wildlife: eric niven] [Types of vacations : Petr Meissner] [Where to go in Scotland : Nathan Anderson]
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