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.
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 © 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!
3. St Ninian’s Tombolo, Shetland
With 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
The 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 © 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
Considered 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
The 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.
8. St Kilda, Outer Hebrides
A 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 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.
10. Isle of Jura, Argyll
Did 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
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!
12. Loch Awe, Argyll
Loch 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
Set 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!
14. Perthshire Tourist Route
Kenmore 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
The 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.
16. Union Canal
The 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
Step 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
The 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 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 © 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
Starting 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!
22. Isle of May, Fife
The 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
Dolphin 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 © 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 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 © 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
Overlooked 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.