Great minds and innovations itinerary

Robert the Bruce statue at Bannockburn Heritage Centre
Scotland's heroes  ››

Follow this itinerary and find out about Scotland's heroes. Delve into the turbulent yet fascinating history of Scotland.

A detail of the ornate embellishment in one of the rooms of the House for an Art Lover, Bellahouston Park, Glasgow.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh ››

Charles Rennie Mackintosh is one of the most renowned architects and designers of the 20th century.

Looking up to Edinburgh Castle at the top of Arthur's Seat
History ››

Uncover Scotland’s literary greats, trace back your family history and marvel at some truly breathtaking castles and monuments.

The statue of Adam Smith on Edinburgh's Royal Mile.
Famous Scots ››

Discover famous scots and how they made a significant contribution to their genre.

Follow this fascinating itinerary to discover Scotland’s great minds and innovations. From the father of modern geology to Robert Owen's social pioneering, some of Scotland’s ideas have surely shaped the world as we know it.

  • Looking onto the Falkirk Wheel
    Falkirk Wheel
  • Exterior shot of the Glasgow School of Art lit up
    The Glasgow School of Art
  • New Lanark, South Lanarkshire
    New Lanark
  • Boats sailing up the Caledonian Canal
    Boats sailing up the Caledonian Canal
  • The Animal World Gallery at the National Museum of Scotland
    The National Museum of Scotland

Edinburgh has inspired generations of inventors, scientists and scholars. The city was the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th century and was known to many as the ‘Athens of the North’.

The king’s chemist, John Amyat, summed up this intellectual flowering by stating that he could stand on the Royal Mile, by the Mercat Cross, and "in a few minutes take 50 men of genius by the hand”. 

Near the foot of today’s Royal Mile is Our Dynamic Earth, located in the shadow of Salisbury Craigs where the father of modern geology, James Hutton (1726–1797), proved that the world is much older than 6,000 years old.

Whilst exploring Edinburgh & The Lothians, make sure to travel east towards Musselburgh to visit Newhailes, an extraordinary survival of early 18th century decorative art and collections. This grand house was the former home of the Dalrymples, an influential family in law and politics at the time of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Spend the night in Edinburgh and make the most of the fantastic accommodation offerings available in the area.

With numerous universities and colleges, Edinburgh has long been a centre of academic excellence and continues to be a hub for research today. The Surgeons' Hall Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons is a key memorial to the link between Scotland and pioneering surgery, and features artefacts of Joseph Lister (1827–1912), a pioneer of antiseptic surgery. The University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute is where the very first cloned animal, Dolly the Sheep, was created and born.

Other notable attractions in Edinburgh include the National Museum of Scotland where you can learn about the events and achievements which shaped the Scottish nation, and the National Library of Scotland, the world's leading centre for the study of Scotland and the Scots.

Why not make use of one of the many Edinburgh tours available? With a historic centre that is compact and easy to get around, Edinburgh offers a variety of walking and bus tours with heritage, literary and even ghostly themes - a great way to encounter the city's past.

Travel north towards the Highlands, and if time allows, stop off at the historic town of Falkirk. Here you will find the world's only rotating boat lift, The Falkirk Wheel. Linking the Forth & Clyde and Union canals, this iconic landmark was designed to replace a series of lock gates built in the 19th century and today boasts a fascinating visitor centre with interactive displays on the history of the canals.

Via the M80 and the M9, travel to Dunkeld. This is where the Dukes of Atholl, known as 'The Planting Dukes', held enlightened views on developing their estates with new forestry techniques. See the last surviving original tree, 'The Parent Larch', by Dunkeld Cathedral, planted by the 2nd Duke in the 1730s. This was the parent of many of the estimated 14 million trees planted in Perthshire in the following century.

Further up the A9, turn west at Dalwhinnie for more magnificent scenery, reaching the Great Glen at Spean Bridge. Stay overnight in this area of the Highlands before heading to Fort Augustus to the north.

Fort Augustus is a good place to see the 19th century engineering of the locks on the Caledonian Canal. This coast-to-coast link took 19 years to complete, starting in 1803 under the innovative Scots engineer, Thomas Telford (1757–1834). Travel south down the Great Glen, where you will find even more spectacular locks at Neptune’s Staircase near Fort William.

The West Highland Railway which runs from Fort William to Mallaig is one of Scotland’s greatest travel experiences, sometimes described as Britain’s most scenic rail journey. As well as the Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous through its appearances in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, look out for Borrodale Bridge, east of Arisaig - in its day a sensation in the engineering world for the size of its single concrete arch. Also look out for the superb views of the Small Isles beyond Arisaig.

Return to Fort William then depart for Glasgow. The road south from Fort William leads through the mountain spectacle of Glencoe and on to Rannoch Moor. Continue to Crianlarich, reaching Glasgow via the beauties of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, a reminder of the modern conservation movement and the national parks system which was originally founded by a Scot, John Muir (1838-1914).

Explore Glasgow’s Mackintosh connections. The legacy of the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) can be seen today in and around the city of his birth, both in individual buildings, such as the Glasgow School of Art and in museum displays in the Hunterian. The Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society has its headquarters in the Mackintosh Church at Queen’s Cross.

A special Mackintosh Trail Ticket is available to use on public transport, and participating attractions include The Lighthouse, Scotland Street School and House for an Art Lover.

After staying overnight in Glasgow, travel south east from the city to the town of Lanark, from where it is easy to find New Lanark, now a World Heritage Site. This village became an 18th century innovative social experiment in workers’ care and welfare - an initiative of enterprising Scottish merchant David Dale (1739-1806) and his son-in-law Robert Adam (1771-1858), a social pioneer who introduced changes that would improve the lives of those living and working in the village. Find preserved dwellings and mills from the time of this experiment in workers’ welfare, and attractive walks along the wooded river banks to see the waterfalls. It was the force of this water that was originally harnessed to supply power to the mill community.