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The gems of secret Scotland: 27 things that you must try next

Enchanted by your first visit to Scotland, you’ve vowed to return and are now planning your next trip. But this time want to go a little further off the beaten path and explore beyond the top attractions. Where to start?

Check out these 27 attractions and experiences that are Scotland’s hidden gems. They may not receive the same fanfare as their more popular siblings but are every bit as intriguing as the big-hitters. If they haven’t made the cut on your first visit, make sure you visit them on your next trip to Scotland in 2017.

Castles

1. Dunrobin Castle, North Highlands

Marvel at the stunning French design of Dunrobin Castle, one of Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited houses and the largest castle in the northern Highlands with 189 rooms. Its superb architecture and fairy-tale spires were added by Sir Charles Barry, who also designed London’s Houses of Parliament.

2. Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfriesshire

Caerlaverock Castle, near the town of Dumfries, Dumfries & GallowayCaerlaverock Castle © Damien Shields

This imposing castle is in the shape of a triangle, and along with its atmospheric green moat and setting within a nature reserve, these features give Caerlaverock Castle a story-book quality. There’s simply no other castle in the world like it!

Neither of these tickle your fancy? We’ve got hundreds of stunning castles and historic houses in Scotland!

Beaches

3. St Ninian’s Tombolo, Shetland

St Ninian's Isle, near Bigton, ShetlandWith pristine sands and blue waters just as vivid as those found in Barbados, Shetland’s very own St Ninian’s Isle never fails to capture the heart of beach-goers. It’s regularly compared to the tropical beaches of the Caribbean, and deservedly so!

4. Sandwood Bay, northern Highlands

Sandwood Bay, Sutherland in HighlandsThe hidden Sandwood Bay may seem a little tricky to get to, but the effort of hiking here is well worth it when a mile-long stretch of golden sand unfurls in front of you. The chances are it will just be you – perfect for budding Robinson Crusoes!

Caves and underground wonders

5. Smoo Cave, Sutherland

Smoo Cave, near Durness, Sutherland in the Highlands © Jenny DouglasSmoo Cave © Jenny Douglas

Set into the limestone cliffs at the head of a narrow sea inlet, Smoo Cave is Britain’s biggest sea cave, and a marvellous sight to behold. Head to Durness and explore the site with its underground pools and local legends.

Standing stones and circles

6. Kilmartin Glen, Argyll

The Kilmartin Glen, ArgyllConsidered to be one of Europe’s most concentrated areas for prehistoric remains, Kilmartin Glen is home to over 800 structures within a 6-mile radius including burial sites and standing stones; look out for the Dunadd Fort, where ancient kings were crowned and the early Scottish nation forged.

7. Sueno’s Stone, Moray

Sueno's Stone, Forres, MorayThe Picts were the indigenous people of the north and left behind remarkable ancient relics. The impressive Sueno’s Stone in Forres is Scotland’s tallest sculpted standing stone. It features carvings of rare battle scenes from the 10th century.

Did you know? Aberdeenshire is one of the richest areas for standing stones and ancient monuments – so much so that there even is a dedicated Stone Circle Trail.

Heritage sites

8. St Kilda, Outer Hebrides

St Kilda from the skye, Outer Hebrides © istockphotoA boat trip to the remote and majestic island of St Kilda is a great way to combine adventure and nature in this wonderful part of Scotland. Did you know that the island is one of the premier birdwatching sites in the world?

9. Skara Brae, Orkney

Skara Brae, OrkneySkara Brae is one of the best preserved stone villages in the whole of western Europe. Experience the incredible sense of how people lived their day to day lives 5,000 years ago.

Islands

10. Isle of Jura, Argyll

Isle of Jura, Argyll & The IslesDid you know that Jura has a larger population of deer than people? Nearby you can witness the dramatic Corryvreckan Whirlpool, the world’s third largest whirlpool on a guided boat trip. The pounding roar of the swirling waters can sometimes be heard over 10 miles away!

11. Islay, Argyll

The Lagavulin Distillery, Islay.On Islay, there are eight distilleries where you can taste the distinctively peaty flavours of the Whisky Coast. This is the greatest of whisky-producing islands. It is only 25 miles long, but has no fewer than eight distilleries!

Lochs

12. Loch Awe, Argyll

Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe, ArgyllLoch Awe is a scenic loch, gently fringed with thick conifer forests and beautiful oak woods. It’s most famous for the marvellously evocative ruin of Kilchurn Castle. Gazing out over the water from its tower you can take in the view of Ben Cruachan – truly awe-some!

13. St Mary’s Loch, Scottish Borders

St Mary's Loch Scottish BordersSet in the midst of the Southern Uplands, St Mary’s Loch is less than an hour’s drive from Edinburgh yet offers a feeling of tranquil remoteness. Serene rolling hills, wild moorland and extensive woodland – you name it and you’ll find it!

Road trips

14. Perthshire Tourist Route

Kenmore village on Loch Tay, PerthshireKenmore village on Loch Tay © Kenny Lam

Beginning just north of Dunblane, the Perthshire Tourist Route is a short but spectacular drive. It’s a tale of non-stop scenery on an epic scale along with plenty hidden gems and secrets. You’ll want to stop off and take a closer look at en-route!

15. Angus Coastal Route and Deeside Tourist Route

Montrose, AngusThe Angus Coastal Route begins in the city of Dundee, which has top attractions such as the RSS Discovery, and takes you 58 miles through Angus and north to Aberdeen. On the way back, follow the Deeside Tourist Route and as you drive through Royal Deeside, you will pass Balmoral Castle, a summer residence of the Royal Family and part of Scotland’s only Castle Trail.

Call us biased, but we believe there is no such thing as a dull and boring drive through Scotland. Find more ideas for a scenic road trip in Scotland.

Boat rides

16. Union Canal

The Falkirk Wheel connecting the Union Canal and the Forth & Clyde CanalThe Union Canal runs for a little over 30 miles from central Edinburgh to the amazing Falkirk Wheel where it links with the Forth & Clyde Canal. Hire a boat or join a cruise and admire the landmarks along the canal. You can even dine in a restaurant boat!

17. Loch Katrine, Stirlingshire

Loch Katrine, The TrossachsStep on board the historic SS Sir Walter Scott steamship, sit back and witness the inspiring scenery that inspired the poet as it sails down the tranquil Loch Katrine in the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park.

Museums and art galleries

18. Highland Folk Museum, Highlands

Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, HighlandsThe past is written all over the Highlands landscape and the Highland Folk Museum brings to life the domestic and working conditions of earlier Highland people. Learn how Scottish Highlanders lived, how they built their homes, dressed and more.

19. Pier Arts Centre, Orkney

Pier Artsd Centre, Stromness, Orkney © Ioana MarinescuPier Arts Centre © Ioana Marinescu

Wander through the cobbled streets of Stromness to discover a variety of creative wares in galleries and shops. The Pier Arts Centre by the harbour hosts local and international exhibitions which are free to browse and also displays a wide range of local arts and crafts.

Glens and hills

20. Glen Trool, Dumfries & Galloway

Glen Trool, GallowayGlen Trool © Damien Shields

Not every beautiful glen is in the Highlands! Glen Trool in the Galloway Forest Park is a lush, loch-side hideaway with idyllic forest walks. If you’re into mountain biking, this glen has some truly wild and wonderful downhill trails.

21. Dun na Cuaiche hill, Argyll

Inveraray, Cowal Peninsula, ArgyllStarting in the shadow of the neo-Gothic Inveraray Castle, Dun na Cuaiche is a great, waymarked, short but steep walk up to an 18th century watch-tower above Inveraray village on Loch Fyne. The views from the top are simply stunning!

Wildlife watching

22. Isle of May, Fife

Puffins on the Isle of May, FifeThe Isle of May is a nature reserve of national importance for a large number of seabird species with a bird observatory. In summer, the cliffs of the islands’ west coast are a hive of activity – you can see over 25,000 or so breeding pairs of puffins!

23. Banffshire & Moray coast

Passengers viewing Dolphins, Moray FirthDolphin watching in Banffshire © EcoVentures

Known as ‘Dolphin Coast’, Banffshire and the Moray coast are a mecca for anyone wanting to see these magnificent creatures in their natural environment. Aberdeenshire’s coastline has been known to attract killer whales and the occasional humpback whales offshore, too!

Gardens & parks

24. Culzean Castle and Country Park, Ayrshire

Culzean Castle, AyrshireCulzean Castle © Ayrshire & Arran tourism

Surrounded by surging seas, lush forests and secrets gardens, Culzean Castle and Country Park is the perfect place for a day out whether you’re a keen walker, enjoy admiring gardens, have an interest in architecture or just enjoy soaking up some history.

25. Logan Botanic Gardens, Dumfries & Galloway

Logan Botanic Garden, AyrshireLogan Botanic Gardens © Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Pay a visit to the country’s most exotic garden, Logan Botanic Gardens, in Port Logan and discover a horticulturalist’s dream. Plants from the southern hemisphere thrive here, from Himalayan poppies to New Zealand forget-me-nots and African daisies.

Marvels of engineering

26. Bell Rock Lighthouse, Angus

Bell Rock Lighthouse, AngusBell Rock Lighthouse © VisitAngus

The impressive Bell Rock Lighthouse – also known as Stevenson’s Lighthouse – is the world’s oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse. It’s often regarded as the most outstanding engineering achievement of the 19th century.

27. Neptune’s Staircase

Corpach Basin on the Caledonian Canal, HighlandsOverlooked by Ben Nevis, Neptune’s Staircase is a dramatic eight lock flight situated just north of Fort William. This spectacular feat of engineering is the longest staircase lock in Britain. It takes around 90 minutes for a boat to go up or down the locks. Fancy a ride?

Did you know that there are over a hundred whisky distilleries, 500 golf courses, and thousands of castles, museums and galleries in Scotland, not to mention the abundance of stunning gardens, lochs and mountains to explore?  Find more things to see and do in Scotland, or head over to the iKnow Community to find out what people are recommending.

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Aldona Krzemien

Originally from Poland, she's now based in Edinburgh and can't imagine life without four things: travels, photography, fishing for antiques and haggis! Motto: ‘I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list’ - Susan Sontag

Comments

  • Lou Ann Schafer

    My first trip is coming up in June and I cannot wait.

    • Hi Lou Ann. That’s fantastic! 🙂 Hope you have brilliant time on your holiday. -Aldona

  • Kirsty Cameron

    I’ve been to quite a few places on this list, but anyone looking to find Logan Botanic Gardens in Ayrshire is going to be sorely disappointed. Last time I visited it was in the Rhins of Galloway!

    • Hi Kirsty. Oops, this was clearly an error and I apologies for it – it’s been fixed. Hope you still enjoyed reading the article and finding out about the secret and beautiful parts of Scotland. Best wishes. -Aldona

  • R Russell

    I think you forgot North Berwick with the Scottish Seabird Centre, the beach and views of Bass Rock.

  • Fantastic list! I’ve only been to one and I was born in Scotland!

    • Hi Christine. Great to hear you enjoyed it! There are thousands of stunning places all around Scotland – stay tuned for more holiday and road trips ideas! -Aldona

  • Why not start ticking those sites off your list, Holiday Highlands? 😉 -Aldona

  • Tony Grisdale

    Myself and a friend recently completed the SUW (Southern Upland Way) walk and at least two of the above places are on the route, plus many more spectacular panorama’s and some art installations (Including one of Andy Goldsworthy’s striding arches) and the best thing is you will probably find that you are the only ones out there enjoying the views.

    • Thanks for your comment, Tony! Yes, definitely an amazing route to walk, even if just sections of it. Remember to share you pictures with us! 😉

  • Gina North

    I didn’t realise you could visit St Kilda. I bought a book on my last holiday in Tarbert on life on the island. Love to go.

    • You definitely can, Gina! 🙂 Getting to St Kilda isn’t really difficult and most visits begin in the Western Isles. You can charter a private boat or join an organised trip. Hope you get there! 🙂 -Aldona

  • Anita Berry

    Planning on spending a month touring Highlands and islands next year.

  • brendaintheboro

    hope to get up to Orkney again in July

    • Sounds great, brendaintheboro! Enjoy 🙂 -Aldona

  • Peter & Irene Golden

    We have planned our holiday in Scotland beginning on May 9and it can’t come soon enough! We have visited Scotland ever since our honeymoon in 1968. Now we have a motorhome and will be travelling up the East coast,across the top and down the West. Let’s hope for some good weather. Beautiful Scotland always in our hearts.

    • Hi Peter and Irene. Ah, the right leisure vehicle to get you on the road to freedom! 😉 You might like our guide trip to road trips in Scotland: https://roadtrips.visitscotland.com/ Rain or sun – holiday in Scotland is always great! 🙂 -Aldona

  • Geoff

    Going back to Scotland in 2018, with friends who love the outdoors, love whiskey, and have never been to the Highlands or the islands. Some of these are on our list! Can’t wait!

    • That sounds lovely, Geoff! If you need any help planning where to take your friends, give us a shout or ask for advise on our iKnow Scotland community forum http://bit.ly/1PiM5fU, or check out our website – we’ve got loads of great information, itineraries, eBooks and more! -Aldona

  • Terri Brisbin

    Darn it! Did you have to tell everyone about Smoo Cave? Now it will be full of tourists! LOL!

    • It would be a shame not to, Terri! 😉 Such a wonderful place – I think everyone should visit at least once to really appreciate its uniqueness. -Aldona

  • Jason Redd

    My family and I will be landing in Edinburgh on May 20, 8 days of sightseeing including a trip to Sterling which I’m told is our ancestrial home… I cannot wait!!

    • That’s really exciting! Stirling is a wonderful city – make sure you don’t leave before you visit the Castle, Bannockburn and The National Wallace Monument! Have a lovely holiday, Jason 🙂 -Aldona

  • Najla Salehi Zekria

    I am planning a trip summer of 2018 and wanted to rent a car and drive around. Please let me know if driving is on the right side or left?

    • Hi Najla. Touring Scotland by car is a great choice to discover the country! We drive on the left side of the road in Scotland and the rest of the UK, too. I would strongly recommend that you watch our video on Driving in Scotland –
      it includes very useful safety tips and advice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABFnk3rJBXE We also have this video available in various languages. Let me know if you would prefer a language version and I will check if we have it avialable in your language. More information on Driving in Scotland http://bit.ly/1Y2BHy3, Road trips http://bit.ly/1UqtwNS and Itineraries http://bit.ly/1oNEMFO. Hope this helps! 🙂 -Aldona

      • Najla Salehi Zekria

        Thank you.

  • Raúl cintero

    Still the same way : with my best friend we came from paris to edimburg, we rent a car and go to glasgow,loch lomond, oban ,glencoe ,inverness, skye….welcome to heaven!!!!

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