Edinburgh Skyline, Balmoral Clocktower, Scotland.

Edinburgh Skyline, Balmoral Clocktower, Scotland.Getty: Images

Take the high road or the low road, but if you're visiting Britain, make sure you get to Scotland

The North of Britain has it's own identity. Dialect and DNA, history and culture: Scotland is a land apart.

Blessed with an abundance of wild natural beauty, with distinctive folkways that tug at the heart, and a heroic history, it is easy indeed to fall in love with the country of heather and bagpipes.

Here is our list of great visits where the essential Scotland can be found. Put several visits together for an adventurous itinerary. There’ll be plenty of tartan and whisky along the way. 

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1. The Royal Mile, Edinburgh

Scotland’s capital city is the most popular visitor destination in the country, and for good reason.

The full panoply of the nation’s history and culture is on display in the museums, shops and pubs of its most famous street, from Edinburgh Castle it’s all downhill past St. Giles Cathedral to the Palace at Holyroodhouse.

View across Old Town with St Giles' Cathedral tower and the Royal Mile (left). Salisbury Crags (right). Horizon has three bridges The Queensferry Crossing, the Forth Road Bridge and the Forth Bridge

View across Old Town with St Giles' Cathedral tower and the Royal Mile (left). Salisbury Crags (right). Horizon has three bridges The Queensferry Crossing, the Forth Road Bridge and the Forth Bridge

 

2. St. Andrews

With the dramatic ruins of its ancient cathedral and castle, the oldest and most famous golf course in the world (and Britain’s Golf Museum) and the venerable university where Prince William met the Duchess all perched on the North Sea coast: What’s not to love?

St. Andrews, Scotland

St. Andrews, Scotland

3. The Kyle Line, Western Highlands

For one of the great scenic rail journeys of the world, take an observation car.

The single-track rail runs through the forests and glens of Western Highlands from Inverness to the Kyle of Lochalash, and back. For extra kick, try August or September when the mountains are purple with heather.

The Glenfinnan railway viaduct in the Western Highlands of Scotland

The Glenfinnan railway viaduct in the Western Highlands of Scotland

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4. Holy Island, Iona

Getting there is half the fun, when you take a ferry from Oban and cross the Isle of Mull to remote Iona, where Christianity first came to Scotland with St. Columba in the 6th century. Today, Iona Abbey is an ecumenical church and the island and its single village a place of pilgrimage.

Iona Abbey, founded by St Columba in AD 563 on the tiny island of Iona just off the Isle of Mull in Western Scotland.

Iona Abbey, founded by St Columba in AD 563 on the tiny island of Iona just off the Isle of Mull in Western Scotland.

5. Melrose, Borders

Tucked under the Eildon Hills on a bend in the River Tweed, this small Borders town sitting next to beautiful Melrose Abbey makes a perfect base for exploring Sir Walter Scott Country and the border abbeys. Visit Scott’s home at Abbotsford, Floors Castle, Jedburgh and Drybugh abbeys and Smailholm Tower, too.

 the great abbey church of St Mary the Virgin at Melrose, or Melrose Abbey, the first Cistercian monastery in Scotland, in 1136 beside the River Tweed. The Abbey was largely destroyed by Richard II's English army in 1385 and the present building of rose-colored stone dates almost entirely to the post-1385 rebuilding. This is a full south view of the abbey with many gravestones dotting the foreground. Alexander II (died 1249) was among the privileged people to be buried here along with the heart of Robert the Bruce (died 1329).

the great abbey church of St Mary the Virgin at Melrose, or Melrose Abbey, the first Cistercian monastery in Scotland, in 1136 beside the River Tweed. The Abbey was largely destroyed by Richard II's English army in 1385 and the present building of rose-colored stone dates almost entirely to the post-1385 rebuilding. This is a full south view of the abbey with many gravestones dotting the foreground. Alexander II (died 1249) was among the privileged people to be buried here along with the heart of Robert the Bruce (died 1329).

 

6. Discovery Point, Dundee

On the Firth of Tay in drydock sits RRS Discovery, built for Robert Falcon Scott’s extraordinary Antarctic expeditions, and the first ship designed for scientific purposes. Both Scott’s story and Discovery’s come to amazing life in a superb visitor center, here where the ship was built.

Low Angle View Of Silhouette Rrs Discovery Against Orange Sky - stock photo

Low Angle View Of Silhouette Rrs Discovery Against Orange Sky - stock photo

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7. North Aberdeenshire Coast

Follow the A98 from Fraserburgh to Inverness along the North Sea. You might dip down to the harbor at Pennan (Local Hero), detour to Keith’s Strathisla Distillery and Huntly Castle, visit Baxters at Fochabers and Elgin Cathedral—“The Lantern of the North.” Yes, do this one in summer.

Part of Scotland's NE Coastline called the Bullers of Buchan

Part of Scotland's NE Coastline called the Bullers of Buchan

8. The Trossachs

North of Glasgow and west of Perth, The Troassachs are famed as romantic Scotland at its scenic best: Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine, Rob Roy’s grave beneath the Braes of Balquhidder and an occasional castle or priory ruins to set off the landscape. Just ride around for a day, or stay along the A84 from Dunblane to Lochearnhead.

Wide angle view from peak of Ben A'an over Loch Katerine at sunset in summer (Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park)

Wide angle view from peak of Ben A'an over Loch Katerine at sunset in summer (Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park)

9. New Lanark, South Lanarkshire

On the banks of the River Clyde less than an hour south of Glasgow and Edinburgh, the cotton mills and workers’ village of New Lanark were built in 1786, and became a model of social reform and urban planning. Operating mills until 1968, today the complex is a World Heritage site.

Waterfalls at the New Lanark World Heritage Site a unique 18th century mill village sitting alongside the picturesque River Clyde in Scotland

Waterfalls at the New Lanark World Heritage Site a unique 18th century mill village sitting alongside the picturesque River Clyde in Scotland

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10. Stirling

The Bannockburn Heritage Centre, Stirling Castle, Holy Rude church and the Wallace Monument are highlights of this medieval seat of Stuart kings on the River Forth. Strategically located as “Gateway to the Highlands,” Stirling evokes centuries Scottish history—from Robert the Bruce to John Knox and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Wallace Monument, Stirling, Scotland, UK

Wallace Monument, Stirling, Scotland, UK