Where to go in Scotland

Like so many countries, tourists come en masse to its capital, Edinburgh and rightly so, with its majestic castle, vibrant culture and, if you are a student, gay, backpacker or all three, a party all night vibe about it. It can get wild out there on Princes Street. For the natural wild highlights, you just need to travel for an hour or two out of its cities. Breakfast in Edinburgh and you can watch dolphins dance and golden eagles fly before lunch. And from Glasgow, you can head from its Natural History Museum to the living natural wonders of the highlands within a few hours. Yes, its Botanic Gardens are gorgeous, but there are islands boasting unique ecosystems just a quick train and ferry ride away. Another world away, in fact. Because that is what these, our Scotland highlights, feel like.
1. Cairngorms National Park
2. Caledonian Canal
3. Edinburgh
4. Fort William
5. Isle of Eigg
6. Isle of Iona
7. Isle of Mull
8. John Muir Way
9. Knoydart Peninsula
10. Lewis and Harris
11. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs NP
12. Speyside
13. Ullapool
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.
Edinburgh

3. Edinburgh

Itís the capital and it is cool. A world famous festival, classy cuisine, an omnipresent and ominous castle, elegant architecture and an equally elegant gay scene. Itís also so near the beach, it could almost be Barcelona. Wrapped in tweed and tartan. And a lot of it, because of the ever so slightly different climate. You couldnít order a hot toddy in a Barcelona bar though.
Fort William

4. 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 Eigg

5. Isle of Eigg

Wildlife lovers have known about Eigg for years, but when the small, local community bought out their whole landscape in order to protect its future, it hit headlines. And, judging by the fact that they have the first completely wind, water and sun-powered electricity grid in the world, the future will continue to be green and gorgeous.
Isle of Iona

6. 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

7. 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.
John Muir Way

8. John Muir Way

Named after the pioneering Scot who created the worldwide national park movement, this new 215 kms long trail goes from coast to coast. From Helensburgh in the west to Dunbar (John Muirís birthplace) in the east, walkers and cyclists have a whole new Muirean perspective on Scotland. Which is all about celebrating wild places.
Knoydart Peninsula

9. Knoydart Peninsula

When a community comes together to create a Foundation to protect and preserve its precious natural resources, you know it is a special place to visit. Although it is attached to land, it is not on the main road system, so you can only get there by boat. Or serious hikers indulge in what feels like a 26 kms pilgrimage.
Lewis and Harris

10. Lewis and 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.
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs NP

11. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs NP

One of Scotlandís two national parks, the name is deceptive because there are actually 22 large lochs, numerous smaller lochs and over fifty burns, or rivers, flowing through the Park too. All enveloped and sheltered by hills and mountains. With facilities to canoe, sail, fish and swim this is a place to go wild in the water, and enjoy water in the wild.
Speyside

12. Speyside

This valley of the River Spey is whisky galore. With more than half of Scotlandís malt whiskies in this region, take on the Spey Whisky Trail. It is wildlife galore too with a plethora of habitats in one small region, from the Monadhliath Mountains in the west to the Moray Firth coastal plain in the east. An expert guide is highly recommended for wildlife spotting. That and a hipflask.
Ullapool

13. Ullapool

Just the name is poetic. As is its location on the shores of Lough Broom, a sea inlet on the north west coast, with a hinterland of munros and mountains. A small fishing village, it has a strong community tourism vibe making it a family favourite. And with festivals such as the super cool Loopallu in September, Ullapool turns ultracool.

Our top Scotland Vacation

Orkney & Shetland self drive holiday, Scotland

Orkney & Shetland self drive vacation, Scotland

Self-drive island-hopping through the Northern Isles

From £800 to £925 7 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Scotland or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Travel times in Scotland

London to Inverness - 13 hours by sleeper train Oban to Craignure on Isle of Mull Ė 50 minutes by ferry Fortwilliam to Inverness Ė 2 hours by car along the quiet B852 south side of Loch Ness route Edinburgh to Aviemore Ė 2 hours 45 mins by train
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Krisjanis Mezulis] [Cairngorms National Park: Ungry Young Man] [Caledonian Canal: Gregory J Kingsley] [Edinburgh: Adam Wilson] [Fort William: IK's World Trip] [Isle of Eigg: Odd Wellies] [Isle of Iona: Gitta Zahn] [Isle of Mull: William Marnoch] [John Muir Way: David Gilmour] [Knoydart Peninsula: WelshGandalf] [Lewis and Harris: papagnoc] [Loch Lomond & The Trossachs NP: Colin] [Speyside: Y. Kohno] [Ullapool: J. Drevet] [Travel times in Scotland: James Johnstone]
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