Time to stop daydreaming. Turn your travel plans into reality and let us be your guide for some Scottish inspiration! These Scottish gems have huge amounts to offer and several of them have exciting things to shout about in 2023.
1. DUNBAR, EAST LOTHIAN
A haven for outdoor adventure, take a walk on the wild side on Scotland’s East Coast.
Rocky coastline of Dunbar © VisitScotland / Kenny Lam
With a coastal outlook and train connections to Edinburgh, you can enjoy the seaside town of Dunbar and hop on the train to our capital city for a day trip.
Things to do: Get ready to stretch those legs and take on the Cliff Top Trail. The walk is perfect for family outings and takes just under an hour to complete. You’ll pass by redstone cliffs, a golf course, Dunbar Harbour and down the High Street where you’ll find popular attractions along the way including John Muir’s Birthplace. Explore the route on two wheels by hiring a bike from Belhaven Bikes. If you’re feeling adventurous, ditch dry land and go surfing. Brave the chilly sea temperatures with Coast to Coast Surf School who offer surf lessons and courses on Belhaven beach, or enjoy an adrenaline rush with Foxlake Adventures where you can try your hand at wakeboarding, test your skill, balance and willpower on the FoxFall obstacle course or slip and slide at the Aqua Park. Dunbar is home to two golf clubs, Winterfield Golf Course which offers impressive views of the Firth of Forth, the Bass Rock and the Isle of May while you play, and Dunbar Golf Course which has previously hosted many national and international championships.
You don’t have to break the bank to enjoy your time here in Dunbar. Take a self-guided tour around the town with the Dunbar Art Trail. There are lots of surprises at every corner you turn, from large sculptures and artefacts to colourful street art murals. The Dunbear is just one of the town’s star attractions. Created by Andy Scott, this 18 ft sculpture pays homage to conservationist John Muir who was born in Dunbar in 1838. The bear symbolises his work through the far-off wilderness of America’s west and his advocacy for National Parks.
Travel: Dunbar is well connected by rail with regular services running daily across Scotland. It’s also a regular stop on the East Coast mainline with trains travelling north from London, the east coast of England and even as far afield as Penzance in Cornwall. Enjoy a scenic bus journey with services running from Edinburgh and Berwick-Upon-Tweed with a journey time of just under an hour.
Food & Drink: Seek shelter at The Brig & Barrel. You’ll be served with a warm and exceptional service with delicious hearty pub fare. The pub is dog-friendly too so make sure to bring your beloved pooch along where they’ll be able to meet the resident pub dog, Fozzie.
Stay: Dunbar, Longniddry or North Berwick
2. ISLE OF RAASAY, NORTH WEST HIGHLANDS
A wee island, sitting just off the Isle of Skye’s eastern coast, is about to steal your heart.
Clachan, Isle of Raasay
Raasay is the isle on everyone’s wish list at the moment with its recent award from Conde Nast Traveller as one of the ‘Best Islands to Visit’.
Things to do: You’ll quickly find yourself on one of the most beautiful small islands of Scotland. Admire Skye’s Cuillin mountain range and beyond to the Outer Hebrides on clear days. Make a visit to the Isle of Raasay Distillery or climb the isle’s peak, Dun Caan.
Food & Drink: Tuck into delicious dishes at Raasay House Hotel.
Travel: It can be reached by a short 25-minute ferry ride (running regularly every day) from Sconser on the Isle of Skye.
Stay: Isle of Skye
3. ABERFELDY, PERTHSHIRE
This small market town certainly packs a punch on things to see and do. It’s even been given an honourable mention by our very own Rabbie Burns.
The Birks of Aberfeldy © VisitScotland / Kenny Lam
Feel a sense of adventure in Aberfeldy. There are castles to be explored, wildlife to meet and lots of whiskies that are waiting to be tasted.
Things to do: Follow in the footsteps of our National Bard along The Birks of Aberfeldy. Situated just on the outskirts of the town, this circular walk takes you through mixed woodland where you’ll find lots of pretty waterfalls along the way. It’s really no surprise that this beauty spot inspired Robert Burns to write the poem The Birks Of Aberfeldy when he visited the area with his friend William Nicol in 1787. For history buffs, take a step back in time and learn more about the Menzies Clan at Castle Menzies or spot your favourite animals on an off-road adventure with Highland Safaris & Red Deer Centre.
A day of sightseeing can be thirsty work. Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery run a range of tours where you’ll discover the process of crafting the Aberfeldy Single Malt, the artistry that goes into blending and be given the chance to sample some rare whiskies.
Travel: Travelling by car is the best way to see Aberfeldy in all its glory and is served by an extensive number of road networks across Scotland’s cities. You can use a combination of both train and bus by getting the train to Perth or Pitlochry and then by catching a bus with services running regularly throughout the day.
Food & Drink: It’s time to take a seat and sample the flavours of fine Scottish cuisine with an international twist at Thyme Bistro at Errichel. The restaurant prides itself on using fresh quality ingredients here.
Stay: Aberfeldy or Kenmore
Scotland’s sunniest city continues to shine bright this year!
Riverside Walk by the V&A Dundee © VisitScotland / Kenny Lam
Known as Scotland’s fourth largest city, Dundee has it all. From museums and art galleries to urban beaches and open-top tour buses, the city offers lots of inspiration for your next trip. Did you know it’s also a UNESCO City of Design?
Things to do: Birthday celebrations are in order for the V&A Dundee as it turns 5! A new year brings a new exhibition and it’s set to be a stylish one. From April, discover the history behind Scotland’s most iconic fabric at the Tartan exhibition. Learn more about how this textile revolutionised the fashion, film and art industries around the world up to the present day. Just next door, climb aboard the RRS Discovery at Discovery Point and follow in the footsteps of Captain Scott and his crew on their remarkable journey in the Antarctic. The attraction has recently undergone a major refurbishment, creating a new public art gallery with a 360° panoramic view over the city and the River Tay, which also features the brand-new art installation, Gaia.
We hope that you’ve got your bucket and spade at the ready. Feel the sand between your toes and put on those sunnies as we’re heading to the beach. This urban area has proved popular amongst families for a spot of relaxation. Admire the stunning Tay Whale sculpture, make a splash in the colour-lit fountains, or cool down with an ice cream from Jannettas Gelateria nearby.
With so many cool sights to see, there are plenty of ways to travel in style. Xplore Dundee’s open-top bus tours are ready to take you on a whistle-stop tour around the city. Running every 30 minutes from April to September, hop-on/hop-off at some fabulous places including The McManus, Verdant Works and the city centre where you might recognise some statues of familiar comic book characters. Why not swap four wheels for two wheels? Hire a bike at the Dundee Cycle Hub with a selection of electric bikes to choose from.
Travel: Dundee is easy to get by rail, with services running regularly from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth, Birmingham and London.
Food & Drink: Refuel your energy levels by stopping off at Vandal & Co. There’s lots of delicious food and drink options that are bound to whet your appetite. If that’s not enough, let us tempt you even further with its Main Eats Daily Deals available from Monday-Thursday. If you like all things beer, BBQ’s and live bands, we think Dukes Corner will be right up your street.
Stay: Sleeperz Hotel Dundee, Malmaison or Hotel Indigo
5. INVERCLYDE, AYRSHIRE & FIRTH OF CLYDE ISLANDS
The blissful isles of Cumbrae and Bute are both within an hour of Glasgow each with regular, short ferry crossings.
This part of the west coast is bursting with great things to see and do. Enjoy accessible islands reachable by public transport from Glasgow, fascinating maritime and cultural history, pretty beaches and even a clifftop castle.
Ayrshire is home to some truly scenic coastal towns which are lovely to visit and get to know.
Things to do: The new driving route, The Coig, is made up of five unique routes stretching from Ayrshire, Arran and Cumbrae to Inverclyde, Renfrewshire and Bute.
Travel: The blissful isles of Cumbrae and Bute are both within an hour of Glasgow each with regular, short ferry crossings.
Stay: Girvan or Troon.
6. CAITHNESS, HIGHLANDS
For fiery sunrises, colourful skies and remote beauty, look no further than Caithness.
Peedie Sands, Caithness
This eastern tip of north Scotland, part of the famous North Coast 500 driving route, is an untouched and beautiful part of Scotland, just waiting to be discovered.
Did you know it has the highest concentration of brochs and ancient monuments in Scotland?
Things to do: There are some incredible geological features here too such as the Whaligoe Steps, sea caves and castles on cliff edges, including Castle Sinclair Girnigoe and Keiss Castle.
Stay: John o’ Groats or Wick.
Visit Caithness and Sutherland
The smallest county in Scotland, this is a little countryside haven within close distance of Scotland’s most key historic moments.
Sandwiched between the Trossachs, Stirling and Perthshire, Clackmannanshire is full of little surprises and scenic spots. The Ochil Hills are a quiet paradise with far-stretching views, whilst the Alva and Dollar Glens lying at the foot of the hills are ideal for leafy, forest walks with waterfalls around every corner.
Things to do: Take in the historical highlights that include the 700-year old Alloa Tower or Castle Campbell, the Lowland stronghold of the powerful Clan Campbell in Dollar.
Food & Drink: Spend time wandering around the pretty loch at Gartmorn Dam, and enjoy a cup of tea at Dam Good Coffee.
Stay: Alloa, Tillicoultry or Menstrie.
8. BALLATER, ABERDEENSHIRE
This small village in Aberdeenshire has been given the royal seal of approval where you’ll find one of Scotland’s most famous castles.
Highland dancers perform traditional Scottish dance at The Ballater Highland Games © VisitScotland / David N Anderson
Situated in the heart of Royal Deeside, this beauty spot was a favourite with Queen Victoria describing it as, “my dear paradise in the Highlands”. Today, you’ll find visitors enjoying Ballater’s wide range of outdoor pursuits.
Things to do: Visit Balmoral Castle, the Scottish residence of the British Royal family. From April until August, the grounds, gardens and exhibitions are open to the public. A trip to Scotland wouldn’t be complete without some whisky tasting. Enjoy a distillery tour at Royal Lochnagar Distillery where you’ll learn the history behind one of Scotland’s most exclusive whiskies.
You’ll no doubt have a summer to remember in Ballater. The second Thursday in August marks The Ballater Highland Games where you can expect lots of fun. From piping competitions and Highland Dancing to caber tossing and tug o’ war. You might even be lucky enough to rub shoulders with the Royals as King Charles III has previously attended.
Travel: Ballater can be easily reached by car or public transport from across Scotland. Regular Stagecoach buses (201, 202, 203) travel through Ballater (to Braemar) from Aberdeen.
Food & Drink: Start your day off with a selection of hot filled rolls at the Bridge House Café. For lunch, satisfy your appetite with its deli sandwiches, homemade soups, baked potatoes and quiche. If you’re bringing the dog along, they’ll be able to enjoy some tasty treats too. Doggy ice cream and dog friendly chicken pancakes will certainly get tails wagging. In the evening, enjoy the very best of Scottish cuisine at Rothesay Rooms.
9. DUMFRIES, DUMFRIES & GALLOWAY
Robert Burns’ old stomping ground is a great base for exploring the glorious region of Dumfries & Galloway.
Loch Trool, Galloway Forest Park
From the town, you are just moments away from making memories. The Annandale Distillery is a short drive away and makes one of the newest whiskies in Scotland, with a state-of-the-art visitor centre and delicious café.
Things to do: Further south, travel to Gretna Green, just a short train journey from Dumfries to discover the romantic spot where young couples have travelled for centuries to tie the knot. There’s also great retail therapy at the Gretna Gateway outlet shopping centre.
To the west, head to the Galloway Forest Park for walks, wildlife and adventure. The Solway Coast is also on your doorstep for bright sunny days, with brilliant beaches and coastal walks with views for miles around – on clear days, you can even see out to Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.
Food & Drink: The Victorian town of Moffat is a great place to head for a lunch, a trip to the woollen mill and a chance to try the local specialty, Moffat Toffee!
10. KELSO, SCOTTISH BORDERS
Discover the picturesque town of Kelso, just an hour or so from Edinburgh.
Floors Castle, Kelso © VisitScotland / Ian Rutherford
You’ll quickly fall for Kelso, nestled in the heart of the Scottish Borders. There’s plenty to keep you busy – from marvelling at its grand architecture to hanging out with some new furry alpaca friends.
Things to do: Head to Floors Castle and marvel at its incredible interior and exterior design work. Just a short walk away, you’ll find the Victorian Walled Gardens and plenty of waymarked woodland and riverside walks to enjoy. Meet some new four-legged friends at Beirhope Alpacas. Choose between a leisurely stroll or if your legs are feeling up to the challenge, take on the Alpaca Trek where you’ll climb the hills of Beirhope and be treated to the stunning views of The Cheviots and Eildon Hills. Remember to bring your camera and smile with your new trekking buddy too!
Travel: Catch the train from Edinburgh Waverley to Galashiels/Tweedbank station. When you hop off the train, get the bus to Kelso from the main bus terminal situated across the road from the train station in Galashiels. Taxis are also available outside the station.
Food & Drink: Make a reservation at The Waggon Inn. This family restaurant caters for all tastes and budgets. On the menu you’ll find pub classics including steak & ale pie and fish and chips and a mouth-watering selection of stone baked pizzas and burgers. There is also a Kiddies Playroom for the little ones to let off some steam.
11. THE KINTYRE PENINSULA, ARGYLL
The long slither of land that stretches down the west coast is one of Scotland’s best kept secrets. Explore it along the area’s new driving route, the Kintyre 66.
Westport Beach from Machrihanish Dunes
The Kintyre Peninsula is home to a long stretch of deserted coastline, perfect for an escape from reality.
Things to do: The dunes of Machrihanish Bay are a stunning sight and nearby Westport Beach is a haven for surfers thanks to the Atlantic swells. Have you really been to Kintyre without seeing the Mull of Kintyre from the lighthouse?! There’s a handful of golf courses here too, all with incredible coastal views.
Take the wee ferry to the Isle of Gigha from Tayinloan, which takes just 20 minutes and spend a day wandering across the tiny island.
Visit Campbeltown for a journey back in time. A peaceful place with three working distilleries, Glen Scotia, Glengyle and Springbank, all of which offer incredible tours telling the story of the region. You can also try a local gin too, the Beinn an Tuirc Distillery produced at Kintyre Gin.
Food & Drink: Book into The Boathouse for a delectable meal. With a great selection of fresh seafood and recognition from the Michelin Guide five years running, it’ll be a fining dining experience for sure.
Visit Kintyre Peninsula & Isle of Gigha
12. LINLITHGOW, WEST LOTHIAN
This ancient town may be known for its abundance of wildlife but it’s certainly no stranger to the small screen.
A herd of Highland cattle at Beecraigs Country Park near Linlithgow; West Lothian © VisitScotland / Paul Tomkins
They say west is best and Linlithgow steps up to the mark. Once known as West Lothian’s county town, this historical gem lies between Edinburgh and Falkirk.
Things to do: Discover the sights and history of Linlithgow from the water as you take a leisurely cruise down the canal, or if you prefer to stay on dry land, climb up Cockleroy Hill. Country parks are a great way to connect with nature and offers hours of excitement and exploration. Take the family to Beecraigs Country Park where you can go for woodland walks, meet the resident wildlife, hone your mountain biking skills or improve your aim with archery. You can even make a weekend out of it by going camping and cook up a fireside feast with BBQ areas available. Of course, a visit to Linlithgow wouldn’t be complete without visiting Linlithgow Palace. The palace is currently closed but you can still explore the gatehouse and grounds. Eagle-eyed fans of Outlander might recognise the palace when it made a starring role in the show as Wentworth Prison.
Travel: Linlithgow is well served by rail routes connecting with Edinburgh, Glasgow, Falkirk, Stirling and Cumbernauld.
Food & Drink: Featuring in the Michelin Guide, find your favourite dishes under one roof at The Champany Inn. From succulent cuts of steak, mouth-watering burgers and delicious desserts, you’ll be spoiled for choice!
13. ISLE OF HOY, ORKNEY
Orkney’s second largest isle is a truly distinctive part of Orkney.
Rackwick Bay, Orkney
Hoy is a unique part of the archipelago. It might remind you more of the north Highlands than the other Orkney isles, with tall cliffs, sandy bays and heathery hills all around.
Things to do: It’s most famous for the iconic sea stack, the Old Man of Hoy, which stands at 137 m. You can see it along a three-hour round trip walk from the spectacular Rackwick Bay.
Berriedale Wood can be found in amongst the towering hills of Hoy, a unique and special place to visit at all times of the year. Head into this hidden gully to find various species including downy birch, rowan, aspen and willow, and all kinds of wildlife too. The dramatic summits of Ward Hill and the Cuilags stand in stark contrast to the rest of Orkney, and can be seen from almost anywhere on the Orcadian mainland.
The Dwarfie Stane is a huge boulder, left behind by a glacier, found in a deep valley and dating back to the last Ice Age. Remember to look upwards – a pair of white-tailed eagles have nested in the area in recent summers.
Food & Drink: Stop by Emily’s Tearoom & Ice Cream Parlour for delicious homemade cakes and treats after a busy day exploring Hoy.
Stay: Hoy or Stromness (for day trips)
14. UNST, SHETLAND
The most far-flung destination on this list, Unst is our most northerly inhabited island.
Away from it all, Unst offers an island escape like no other.
Unst is rich with Viking history and folklore. It is thought to be the first island where the Vikings landed when they sailed west, with tales of battles with the local Pictish folk before settlement began. There are over 60 Viking longhouses across the island, making it one of the richest Viking sites in Europe.
Things to do: You’ll see giant cliffs, sea stacks and sheltered bays which create a great home for a range of seabirds. Gannets, guillemots and kittiwakes can all be seen here in the summer months. Out at sea, you might see seals, porpoises and even whales. Take a coastal walk along the cliffs of the National Nature Reserve of Hermaness, one of the best places to see puffins up close.
Don’t miss the most famous bus stop in the world, carefully decorated inside.
You’ll find the most northerly distillery on Unst. Visit the Saxa Vord Distillery and try some Shetland whisky or the Shetland Reel Simmer Dim Gin, which is flavoured with orange peel, orris root, liquorice root, caraway and juniper.
Food & Drink: Treat yourself to a evening meal at Saxa Vord Restaurant & Bar which offers up mouth watering 3 course meals, all made with fresh local ingredients from across Unst.
Stay: Unst or Yell (for day trips)
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