To sentimental souls especially, visiting Scotland is like coming home. Graced with an abundance of first-rate attractions, there’s never any shortage of epic things to explore. From the hypnotic to the historic, here are the 20 must-visit Scottish attractions worth savouring.
An unmissable Scottish attraction basking on the Bay of Skaill in the Orkney archipelago, Skara Brae is a pristinely preserved Neolithic settlement. Discovered by chance in 1850 due to a treacherous storm, this stone-built settlement is a reminder of a bygone past. Skara Brae is dubbed the ‘Scottish Pompeii’ and is older than the Great Pyramids and Stonehenge.
The Scottish Storytelling Centre puts on a variety of performances and other events | Courtesy of Scottish International Storytelling Festival
There’s no better way to suss out a place than exploring its stories! The Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh is a vehicle for preserving, celebrating and sharing Scotland’s oral narratives. As the first purpose-built contemporary space for live storytelling in the world, this story sanctuary is deeply woven into the cultural fabric of Edinburgh and Scotland, just like the stories uttered within.
Coined as a ‘beacon for Scotland’s Creative Industries’, The Lighthouse is Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s first ever public commission. This former Glasgow Herald building is Scotland’s Centre For Design and Architecture and also boasts sublime panoramic views, a myriad of cool events spaces and exhibitions galore. A total day-maker.
Rosslyn Chapel has a divine essence. Located outside Edinburgh in the village of Roslin, this holy place is shrouded in speculation as the key to the Holy Grail, thanks to cult-following book and film adaptation The Da Vinci Code. This 15th-century chapel boasts ornate pillars and intricate carvings, with a history as enthralling as the building itself.
Home to Salvador Dalí’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross, Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is beautiful inside and out. With 8000-some curiosities to its name and 22 themed galleries, it’s easy to get lost in fascinating thoughts. The handsome £28 million refurb job in 2006 only adds to its unwavering allure.
Bonnie and majestic, Edinburgh Castle has dominated the capital’s skyline for almost 1000 years. Perched atop the remnants of an extinct volcano, this mighty fortress would do Game of Thrones proud, with its lengthy maze of rooms, breathtaking views and deep-woven history. With each step and tour, many whisperings from the past — think pirates, prisoners, kings, queens and soldiers — flood the thoughts.You might also like:The T2 Trainspotting Locations of Edinburgh
Camera Obscura, Edinburgh’s oldest purpose-built visitor attraction, descended upon the city over 175 years ago. Between its mirror maze, morph machine, magic gallery and many dreamlike rooms of trippy illusions, there’s enough banter in this house of fun for one and all, and high in the Victorian tower sits the camera obscura herself.
From the ‘coned’ Duke of Wellington statue outside to the mind-reeling array of exhibits, GoMA is medicine to the soul for artists, thinkers, dreamers and creatives alike. Housed inside a stunning neoclassical building, the works within this modern masterpiece champion both Scottish artists and those from afar.
Savour a taste of Scotland with a tour around Glenlivet Distillery. Deemed as ‘the single malt that started it all’, Glenlivet was founded in 1824 and still proved popular during the Great Depression. After sampling every dram in sight, walk in the shoes of a smuggler venturing through the Glenlivet Valley with the range of self-guided smuggler’s hiking trails.
As bonnie as it is braw, Stirling Castle is large in both size and appeal. Situated on Castle Hill and surrounded by vertigo-inducing cliffs, this fortress was praised for its defensive prowess and positioning back in the day, rendering it popular with kings and queens. Mary, Queen of Scots was one of the many Royals crowned at Stirling Castle.
There’s only one way to unearth the secrets, stories and speculations surrounding Mary King’s Close, an age-old maze of subterranean narrow streets in Edinburgh’s Old Town — visit The Real Mary King’s Close. From spine-tingling accounts of the Great Plague to the cramped conditions, take an actor-led tour and admire as they impersonate historically accurate characters to help set the scene.
Special in its status as the only boat lift of its kind out there, the Falkirk Wheel is a product of masterful engineering and breathtaking design. This pivoting boat lift links the Forth and Clyde Canal to Union Canal. The Falkirk wheel boasts a fancy locking system and lifts boats to a height of 24 metres.
Noble and mesmerising, The Kelpies are the epitome of all things Instagrammable! Standing tall at 30 metres, these colossal horse head sculptures are the work of deft Scottish figurative sculptor Andy Scott. The Kelpies are a resplendent symbol of Scotland’s horse-powered heritage and await in The Helix near the Forth and Clyde Canal extension.
Jupiter Artland is a playground of creativity, with a new surprise looming around every twist and turn. This critically acclaimed sculpture park and art gallery is found in West Lothian, a mere hop from Edinburgh and boasts epic amounts of alluring artistic masterpieces. Perfect for those seeking a unique adventure with an out-the-box twist.
The year 1898 saw People’s Palace ‘open to the people for ever and ever’. A place of never-ending fascination, this museum and glasshouse plays host to a plenitude of photographs, prints, film and historical artefacts, each pertaining to Glasgow’s amazing people and their heritage. Prolific Scots artist Ken Currie created a series of paintings for the ceiling dome as part of the restoration.
Step into the shoes of Scotland’s very own Bard and discover personal snippets of his life and upbringing at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Based in his birth place of Alloway, this informative museum features six sites, each located in the village. From manuscripts and artefacts, to artworks, books and more, there’s no better way to celebrate this brilliant mind.
House For An Art Lover is a dreamlike abode in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park. Opened in 1996, the building was constructed from a design by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, which he crafted for an architecture competition (he was actually disqualified). Today, this art space and events venue is a popular attraction with its enchanting Mackintosh essence and overall commendable design qualities.
If blood curdling tales, guts and gore don’t scare the living daylights out of you, then make way for The Edinburgh Dungeon. This underground attraction takes visitors through numerous centuries on an epic 80-minute tour of Scottish history. With 11 live shows and two subterranean rides, nobody tells a story quite like the Scots! And this is one worth hearing.
Built in the 1700s, Culzean Castle is an absolute beauty. From whispering woods and rugged sandy beaches to flashy grounds, towers of turrets and ornate accents, this 260 hectare estate and castle was once the stomping ground of David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassillis. Today, hours can be spent investigating every historic nook and cranny.