If you love to explore Scotland’s majestic landscapes, it makes sense to take steps to ensure you leave it undamaged for generations to come. Explore your local area or learn how to travel from Fort William to Inverness or from Glasgow to Edinburgh without needing a car. Here’s how to discover Scotland’s breath-taking gems while keeping your carbon footprint to an absolute minimum with our 16 suggestions.
The majority of Scotland is now under a temporary lockdown, though some island communities are under level 3 restrictions. Please follow any current restrictions – you might need to save these ideas to try later on a future trip.
Find out what level each area is under and read more about the 5-level Covid-19 restrictions to plan and book ahead when considering a future trip. You can search for businesses that are Good to Go, where they have a Covid-19 risk assessment.
Explore Scotland via its natural waterways
What do you see when you picture some of Scotland’s pristine waters? Do you imagine its breath-taking beauty, sprightly salmon jumping out of the water, or simply as a way to travel?
Great Glen Canoe Trail – see Scotland unfold as you glide through the majestic Great Glen from Fort William to Inverness across the Caledonian Canal in your canoe, kayak or SUP. Savour the awe-inspiring view of Ben Nevis piercing the clouds or maybe that of Nessie’s shadow in the water! Plan a paddle and check out more useful tips on the website or check out Explore Highland’s interactive map with useful markers such as places to spend the night, food and drink stops, things to do and safety information.
Snorkel Trails – sure, you may have hiked along many a trail, but have you done so underwater? The Scottish Wildlife Trust has created three magnificent routes. Don’t be surprised on the Berwickshire Trail if you witness thousands of gannets dive into the water with you.
The Northwest Highlands Trail is another lovely excursion for when you journey down the North Coast 500 (in your electric vehicle of course). There’s also the Harris Trail where you can see so much of Scotland’s underwater (kelp) heather in bloom.
Please read the safety guidance and advice on the Snorkel Trails website before setting out underwater.
Outdoor Explore – discover the wild landscapes of Perthshire and the surrounding areas and help keep the environment clean during a litter-picking kayak trip. This activity has everything; an epic kayak adventure with a special feel-good factor thanks to the knowledge that Scotland is even more beautiful because of you. Outdoor Explore also has an outdoor hub in Alyth, where you can enjoy a cup of coffee with a slice of home-baked cake before exploring the surrounding regions of Perthshire and Angus.
In Scotland, we love our coast and waters so much that we we’ve decided to celebrate them throughout 2021.
This land was made for walking
Do you know the phrase “blink and you’ll miss it”? When you race a mile a minute through our country trying to see everything, there will be plenty you’ll miss out on. Better to explore Scotland on two feet and truly absorb your surroundings.
St Magnus Way – this historic pilgrim’s route, turned six-part hiking gem, lets you discover Orkney’s lesser-known areas. Avoid the crowds and reconnect with nature. Alternatively, you could treat each section as a lovely main route, from which you can take brief side trips to some of Orkney’s main attractions. What’s more, travelling to Orkney has never been this green thanks to Pentland Ferries, believed to be the most sustainable ferry in Scotland.
Fife Coastal Path – if walking is about all the things you get to see and do along the way, then this path has you more than sorted. Stretching from Kincardine to Newburgh and spanning eight sections, this route will lead you past filming locations for the Avengers, the historic Culross Palace, picturesque fishing villages, the iconic Forth Rail Bridge, beaches perfect for land yachting, the scenic Lady’s Tower viewpoint, fresh seafood, and much, much more.
Whithorn Way – this newly mapped 143-mile route spans several stages, a recreation of the old pilgrimage from 1600 years ago, starts in Glasgow, a UNESCO Music City. From there, you can see the monster from the movie Alien (1979) at Paisley Abbey, play on one of Troon’s many championship courses, admire Culzean Castle which was one of the main filming locations for The Wicker Man (1973). Cross the immortalised Brig O’ Doon and finish your unforgettable journey with a well-deserved trip to the serene St Ninian’s Cave.
Southern Upland Way – if you’re looking for a real walking challenge, you need to try the UK’s first coast-to-coast long-distance route. Instead of following the path of least resistance, this route simply cuts across towering hills to find the shortest path possible. Discover the many gems of South Scotland, including Abbotsford, the home of famed novelist Sir Walter Scott. 2021 marks the 250th anniversary of his birth.
John Muir Way – cross Scotland from sea-to-sea at its narrowest point and discover many of the beautiful places that inspired a young John Muir to become the father of National Parks. The stunning route is divided up into 10 sections, making some ideal to tackle when visiting Edinburgh, Falkirk and even Glasgow.
There’s a real benefit to slow travel and being a responsible tourist. But even when you go exploring within your compact area, you might still need public transportation to get from your accommodation to your walking route and back. Use this chart from the Scottish Government to help pick the greenest travel option available to you:
|Average bus:||103 grams of CO2 per km|
|National rail:||47 grams of CO2 per km|
|Light rail / tram:||44 grams of CO2 per km|
|Average coach:||28 grams of CO2 per km|
Watch the world go round on a bicycle
One of the main reasons why transportation can be a big contributor to carbon emissions is because almost every vehicle runs on fossil fuels. Fortunately, you don’t need a car to explore your local area if you have a bike. And as luck would have it, some of Scotland’s most beautiful areas can be explored by bicycle or mountain bike.
7Stanes – mountain biking – this collection of seven centres in the south of Scotland offers exhilarating mountain bike trails for all abilities as well as routes for families and practise areas. Some of these centres, like the ones surrounding Dumfries, are so close to one another that you could arguably hop from one to the other on your mountain bike for the ultimate tour through our Lowland countryside.
Edinburgh City Cycleways – explore gorgeous areas of Scotland’s capital that other visitors seldomly discover. Did you know that Edinburgh has a charming hidden village within the shadow of an extinct volcano? If not, you might want to take the green route towards Duddingston. Take the scenic coastal route from Cramond to Leith. But be warned! If you ‘accidentally’ take the wrong path you might find yourself taking in the splendid view on a stupendously high bridge in Roseburn or the intriguing ambiance of the secret tunnels under the New Town.
Hebridean Way Cycling Route – from Vatersay, it takes you only two ferries and six causeways to finish your epic 185-mile (297 km) cycling adventure through the Outer-Hebrides to the Butt of Lewis. Take in the stunning turquoise sea, white beaches, palm trees (that’s right, palm trees!) flowery machairs, soaring eagles and the mysterious Calanais Standing Stones (nice for sketching). While it’s only one signposted route, the NCR 780, it is recommended that you take at least six days if you’d wish to do the route in its entirety.
Loch Ness 360 Trail – in just six breath-taking stages, you could explore all the hidden gems surrounding Loch Ness, such as the ruins of Urquhart Castle or the ‘real’ grave of Jamie Fraser’s granddad from Outlander.
Top tip: the Velocity Café & Bicycle Workshop in Inverness can help you with useful cycling advice. Plus, it doubles as a café for when you need to rest your feet and fill your tummy.
Perthshire Gravel Trails – take mountain biking to its extreme with these brand-new six-day rides, plus one epic four-day circular though the Highlands of Perthshire. With different routes suited for all ages and abilities, you can discover an awe-inspiring collection of colourful forests and blooming heathers. If that wasn’t enough, Highland coos are known to welcome visitors along some of the routes from Aberfeldy.
BikePacking Trails – Perfect for if you like to explore all that Berwickshire has to offer while caring for the environment. You can easily reach this lovely spot within 30 minutes from Edinburgh via rail.
Some of our favourite routes in Scotland are so long, you’d have to be Mark Beaumont to do them on a bicycle! Still, if you have to use a vehicle, consider going carbon neutral with an electric car or motorhome.
Don’t forget to horse around
Can we tell you a secret? In Scotland, we LOVE horses. They feature prominently in our favourite myths, as our favourite sculptures, our national animal is a unicorn, and riding on horseback makes you feel like a king or queen. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, they’re also carbon neutral!
Ride Scottish Borders – the Scottish Borders have always been a land of horse riders, where mounted knights and noble families defended their domains from cattle thieves, enemies and each other. Experience this noble tradition yourself and discover the trails of a land that was made for people and their noble steeds. Ride Scottish Borders also has info on places to eat and drink, fun activities and horse-friendly accommodation.
British Horse Society recommended trails – Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code has opened up countless paths for exploring, horse riders included. Do you want to feel like Outlander’s Claire and Jamie on their honeymoon? There’s a path for that. Want to visit Scotland’s Border Abbeys? There’s a path for that too. Want to explore whisky regions like Moray Speyside and Campbeltown, the land of Rob Roy, or go island-hopping on horseback? There are paths galore for you to choose from! You could even feel like the horse-riding cattle rustlers of old on the Cateran Trail, or visit Falkirk, once the home of Carnera, the biggest workhorse ever. Check the link above for a map with all the routes.
The British Horse Society has in-depth guidance on every route, making you well-prepared before setting off to discover Scotland with your trusty steed.
As you can see, Scotland is incredibly green. Add in eco-friendly accommodation, vegan food or foraging and you could very well return home with a negative carbon footprint! If you’re up for that challenge, check out these Scottish businesses that use carbon off-setting to pull that trick off. How green will you go? #RespectProtectEnjoy