Top 10 things to do in Scotland

Days out, Rural, Nature

Posted by Clare on 28th July 2020

Scotland is unlike anywhere else in the world – with ancient castles, untouched wildernesses, pristine beaches, uninhabited islands, epic rail journeys and myriad  unique attractions, there’s enough things to do to fill ten holidays, let alone one!

With so much to see and do, the choice can be overwhelming, so we’ve picked out our top 10 attractions and activities in Scotland to help you plan your week or short break.

If you already know where you’re heading, take a look at our collection of holiday cottages in Scotland; if not, read on to be inspired…


1. Scotland Castle Trail

Home to over 260 castles, it's no wonder that Aberdeenshire is known as Scotland's Castle Country. The Scotland Castle Trail offers ‘outdoorsy’ families the opportunity to explore 19 castles, stately homes and ruins in the rugged landscape with its six-day itinerary.

The trail covers 311 miles and takes in an eclectic mix of sites whose histories range from opulent mansions born of wealth and status, to royal enclaves tainted by war and tragedy. As you embark on your Scottish adventure and start ticking off the castles as you go, you may discover you’ve found a new hobby in castle bagging!

Highlights:

Stay nearby:

Wardhill Castle, Meikle Wartle, Aberdeenshire | Sleeps 16

Where could be better to stay on your tour of Aberdeenshire castles, than at a castle itself?


2. Edinburgh Zoo

A trip to the zoo is guaranteed to be a hit with families. Home to over 1,000 rare and endangered animals including pandas, koalas, chimpanzees and zebras, Edinburgh Zoo offers a truly magical day out. The zoo is set in 82 acres of parkland just 3 miles from Edinburgh city centre. For something extra special, check out the zoo’s animal experiences.

There are hundreds of animals that call the zoo home, but some of the its most popular residents are the giant pandas that spend their days enjoying climbing, relaxing and exploring their spacious enclosures. Watch the penguins sliding and diving in their epic pool, learn about the chimpanzees in the Budongo Trail, and meet creatures from all over the world, including lions, tigers, koalas, birds, wallabies, meerkats, monkeys, ‘wee beasties’ and so many more. There are several play areas to let your own little monkeys let off steam, and as well as the on-site café, restaurant and food kiosks, or you could visit the zoo’s several picnic areas for your own al fresco feast.

The zoo is a leading centre of conservation, and it’s good to know that your visit and donations helps to fund their work and raise awareness of the issues facing these beautiful animals and their habitats.

Highlights:

  • The giant pandas – the only in the UK
  • Penguins' Rock – Europe’s largest outdoor penguin pool
  • Budongo Trail – interactive chimpanzee enclosure

Stay nearby:

Castle Skyline Apartment, Edinburgh, Edinburgh and the Lothians | Sleeps 4

A bright apartment, ideal for exploring the zoo and Edinburgh’s many other attractions.


3. Skiing, snowboarding and climbing at Nevis Range

Scotland truly makes the most of the colder weather with its spectacular ski resorts. Nevis Range is an incredibly popular resort offering opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, winter climbing, mountain biking and a high wire, perfect for adventurous families.

Unique in Britain is the Mountain Gondola which glides its way up Aonach Mor, offering a dual purpose as a visitor attraction to enjoy the scenery, and a means of transport for climbers and walkers to the more challenging routes at the top. During the summer, it’s also frequented by mountain bikers who go there to enjoy the thrilling downhill tracks, and also paragliders heading for the skies.

The winter season normally runs from late December to April (depending on the snowfall) and the pistes offer a range of runs, from beginner slopes to off-piste adventures in the Back Corries. Live webcams offer views of the pistes and build up the stoke to get out on the mountain. When the snow thaws, it’s time to take to your mountain bike to ride the trails, with bike schools and hire available. The lower forest trails can be enjoyed all year round and there’s something for all abilities, while the black-graded gondola-accessed downhill trails entice experienced riders to take on their challenges. There’s also an orange-graded World Cup downhill track reserved for experienced (and brave) riders.

If all that sounds a little too nerve-racking, stick to exploring the mountain on two feet with rambles through the Leanachan Forest and walks to the mountain view points of Sgurr Finnisg-aig and Meall Beag.

Highlights:

  • The views from the Mountain Gondola
  • Skiing in winter
  • Walking and mountain biking

Stay nearby:

Camisky Lodge, Torlundy, The Highlands | Sleeps 14 + 4 dogs

A huge holiday retreat for enjoying the activities on offer in the Nevis Range with all your friends and family.


4. Sea kayaking in Arisaig

Arisaig is a stunning location for a family sea kayaking trip on the west coast of Scotland. Taking to a kayak on the crystal-clear waters off Arisaig is an experience like no other. On a calm day, the glassy waters are like a window into the depths; you’ll feel like you’re on the edge of the world as you glide past towering cliffs, untouched islands and peaceful coves. No two days are the same; the view from your kayak is ever-changing, with a magical feeling of freedom and peace.

There are a few companies offering guided sea kayaking day trips around the local coastline, where you’ll spend 4 – 6 hours in the company of an expert. Look out for a variety of wildlife too, including seabirds and seals which you may spot within metres of your kayak.

Arisaig Sea Kayaking Centre offers double sea kayaks for smaller children, individual kayaks for children and canoes for adults and children.

Highlights:

  • Seal spotting
  • Paddling around the islands
  • Landing on white sand beaches

Stay nearby:

The Cabin, Fort William (17mls W), The Highlands | Sleeps 5 + 1 dog

A charming log cabin set within a tranquil picturesque setting with breathtaking views of the River Slatach and mountains.


5. Loch Lomond Bird of Prey Centre

Set on the banks of Loch Lomond, this thrilling attraction is perfect for wildlife enthusiasts and avid birdwatchers. Home to 35 birds of prey and owls including eagles, hawks, kestrels and falcons, Loch Lomond Bird of Prey Centre promises an exciting day out for the family. There are daily flying displays where you can see the birds swooping and diving in natural surroundings, learning more about their hearing and eyesight.

Get up close and personal with these fascinating creatures on one of the centre’s many experience activities. Choose the Hawk Walk to get to know the birds better as they follow you from tree to tree and come down to land on your hand and learn about their lives and survival methods. If you’d like to get closer to the owls, the 'Meet the Owls' session is for you, or accompany the falconry experts on a Hunting Expedition to learn about how the birds of prey hunt for their food. Other experiences are available, and if you take a shine to one of the birds during your visit, you can even sponsor it!

Before you leave, take some time to browse the gift shop which is packed with bird of prey themed souvenirs, artwork and gifts.

Highlights:

  • Interact with the birds on an experience day
  • Daily flying shows
  • Interesting education room

Stay nearby:

Claddochside, Loch Lomond, Glasgow and Clyde Valley | Sleeps 8 + 2 dogs

Set on the scenic shores of Loch Lomond, this is the perfect accommodation for a group of friends and family.


6. Glasgow Science Centre

Stuck on a rainy day in Scotland? Glasgow Science Centre is a fantastic place for the kids to explore vortex tunnels, robots and more. This exciting attraction presents science and technology in inspiring ways and has plenty to keep families entertained for hours. Don’t forget to visit the planetarium and IMAX cinema!

There are a whole host of intriguing and innovative exhibitions, including Idea No59 which focuses on innovation and change; A Question of Perception, full of illusions and mind-bending challenges; Body Works, about human bodily functions; and Powering the Future, which teaches about energy supply and sustainability – and that’s just a handful of the experiences on offer!

The Science Show Theatre brings science to life with live spectacles full of explosive and visually amazing science, and The Planetarium takes you on a journey into space with live shows and an awe-inspiring fulldome digital projection system.

The IMAX cinema next to the main Science Mall is striking both inside and out. The futuristic silver cocoon-like structure houses a huge IMAX screen where you can book to see a 3D film.

There’s a café to keep you nourished, and plenty of attractions to fill a whole day, not to mention the gift shop packed with souvenirs to remind you of your visit.

Highlights:

  • Planetarium
  • Science Show Theatre
  • A Question of Perception

Stay nearby:

Lochview Oakwood Lodge, Lochwinnoch, Glasgow and Clyde Valley | Sleeps 4 + 1 dog

A beautiful cabin with views over Lochwinnoch and its own private hot tub – a fab family retreat within easy reach of Glasgow.


7. Walk the Rob Roy Way

Active families will love exploring the Rob Roy Way, a 94-mile route passing through the Southern Highlands of Scotland. It's named after Rob Roy MacGregor who walked the paths in the 17th and 18th centuries. He was a notorious outlaw who fought in numerous battles, surviving several captures before eventually being allowed to live in peace from 1725 until his death in 1734.

Seven days is recommended to complete the walk which bears his namesake, starting in Drymen on the West Highland Way and ending in Pitlochry. If you don’t want to take on the whole 94 miles, you can pick a section and enjoy the scenery which varies from rivers and locks to mountains and glens. Long stretches of the walk are along Cycle Route 7, mainly on tarmac, but there are also hilly sections, varied terrain and a long section of road walking between Ardeonaig and Acharn.

The route passes through spectacular glens, rivers, lochs and mountains. Pick a section of the trail to explore and don’t forget to pack a picnic!

Highlights:

Stay nearby:

Endrick House, Drymen, Stirling and Clackmannanshire | Sleeps 9

Stunning accommodation for a walking holiday with friends, this spacious house is based close to the beginning of the Rob Roy Way.


8. Stargazing at Galloway Forest Park

With some of the darkest skies in Europe, Galloway Forest Park is the ideal place to spot stars, planets and the bright band of the Milky Way. Families can enjoy exploring the night skies in over 75,000 hectares of land.

The fourth park to achieve International Dark Sky status, very few people live in the area and light pollution is controlled locally so that the firmament is as visible as possible, allowing over 7,000 stars and planets to be seen with the naked eye. The view changes every night and can be appreciated from any of the three visitor centres of Galloway Forest Park as well as many other places across the park.

There is a handy guide to the Dark Sky Park detailing what to look out for and highlighting top spots to admire the celestial displays!

Highlights:

Stay nearby:

Bartaggart Farmhouse, Balmaclellan, Dumfries and Galloway | Sleeps 8 + 2 dogs

A spacious rural home in a tiny hamlet, close to Galloway Forest Park for adventures by day and by night.


9. Fishing

One of the things Scotland is most famous for is its fishing. With hundreds upon hundreds of streams, rivers and lakes dotted across the country, there are plenty of places to enjoy every type of fishing.

The epic surroundings only add to the allure; fishing against backdrops of beautiful highland lochs or stunning Scottish beaches makes for an unparalleled experience. There are numerous species to catch, both freshwater and salt water. Along the rugged coastline, you can catch skate, cot and beagle shark, amongst many other types of fish. In the rivers, you’ll find salmon and trout through fly fishing, coarse fishing and angling.

If you’re new to fishing, don’t let that hold you back – there are many companies offering lessons, and guides who can share their knowledge and hopefully their best fishing spots! A little friendly competition makes the experience all the more exciting, so get family and friends involved too and you may even bag yourself a fish supper to cook up in your holiday cottage.

Trout and salmon fishing in Scotland

Visit this comprehensive guide to game fishing in Scotland, featuring maps and information on the major Scottish salmon and sea-trout rivers and the top wild brown trout fishing locations, together with complementary articles and information on tackle shops, fishing clubs, tackle and techniques.

View guide

Highlights:

  • Loch Lomond – stunning scenery and a large variety of fish
  • River Spey – famous for its spring salmon fishing
  • Lake of Menteith – home of the National Fly Fishing Championships

Stay nearby:

The Potager, Poolewe, The Highlands | Sleeps 2

Right on the water’s edge at Loch Ewe, with fishing among the many activities available locally.


10. Explore Scotland from the West Highland Line

Any Harry Potter fan would be thrilled at the idea of following in the footsteps of the wizards themselves. The train journey along the West Highland Line not only passes through some of Scotland’s finest scenery, but also travels along the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct. The journey takes around five and a half hours and offers a unique perspective of the rugged Scottish landscape.

Starting in Glasgow, the railway carves its way into the wilderness of the west coast, offering views of scenery which can only be appreciated by rail. It takes in famous sites too, such as Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park and splitting to chug either past Loch Awe to Oban, or off into the remoteness of Rannoch Moor and on to Fort William and Mallaig.

Never has the saying ‘it’s all about the journey’ been so true. You’ll be glued to the window as you click-clack past alluring mountains, glistening lochs and beautiful countryside. There are many stops that you can make en route, including Ardlui to strike out on a hillwalk, and the Falls of Cruachan on the Oban line to take a tour of the Hollow Mountain’s hydro-electric power station.

Highlights:

  • Glenfinnan Viaduct on the Mallaig line
  • The rocky summit of the cobbler looming up near Arrochar
  • Awe-inspiring Monessie Gorge on the Mallaig line

Stay nearby:

Argyll View, Langbank, Glasgow and Clyde Valley | Sleeps 2 + 1 dog

A luxury detached lodge with incredible views of the Clyde Estuary, 18 miles from the start of the West Highland Line in Glasgow.


Planning a Scotland holiday?

Whether you’re packing the goggles and thermals for a ski holiday in Nevis Range, packing your tackle for salmon fishing on the Tweed, or breaking in your walking boots to head for the hills, you’ll find your perfect retreat among our holiday cottages in Scotland. Romantic boltholes, comfortable family cottages and grand group houses – there’s something to suit everyone.

Search Scotland cottages

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.