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Things to Do in Scotland - page 5

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Machrie Moor Standing Stones (Machrie Moor Stone Circles)
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Machrie Moor Standing Stones (Machrie Moor Stone Circles) is a collection of six prehistoric monuments dating back to the Neolithic period and the early Bronze Age. They were found and first recorded in 1861 by Irish naturalist James Bryce, who numbered them from 1 to 5. In addition to the standing stones, there are hut circles, ancient cisterns and burial cairns on site. It is believed that the most prominent stone circles were strategically placed so as to be as widely visible from every vantage point nearby. Rising starkly from the middle of rural fields, the three tallest pillars are made of red sandstone with the tallest at 18 meters. It is estimated that the stones were used for astrological purposes, often representing legendary figures in ancient folklore. The mystery and ancient history surrounding these stone structures makes for them particularly fascinating to visit. Summer Solstice is a notable time to see them, as they are specifically lit at sunrise at this time — which historians claim may point to their significance.

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Blair Castle
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Reflecting more than 700 years of Scottish history, the 13th century Blair Castle is a must see for anyone visiting Scotland. Spread out over 30 rooms, the castle’s collections provide a broad overview of Scottish life over the centuries. Displays include furniture, artwork, arms and armor, porcelain, embroidery, lace, relics and various family treasures.

Visitors touring the castle learn about the history of the building and its owners, the Dukes and Earls of Atholl. The Picture Staircase is home to the family portrait gallery, while the Tapestry Room features tapestries that once belonged to King Charles I. The 18th century Dining Room showcases local landscape scenes and ceiling plasterwork depicting the four seasons and the Ante Room commemorates the life of the 10th Duke, who gave the castle and grounds in trust to the nation of Scotland. The largest room in the castle, the Ballroom remains unchanged from when it was completed in 1876 and is still used for balls, wedding receptions and private dinners.

The castle grounds are well worth a stroll as well. Laid out in the 18th century, they include a walled garden, a wooded grove, and an adventure playground for children.

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Standing Stones of Stenness
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Old Norse for “Stone Headland,” the towering Standing Stones of Stenness are truly giant, some shooting up to 19 feet tall. Recent research suggests that the stones, only four of which remain, could date back to 3300 BC, making them quite possible the oldest standing stones in the British Isles.

Pronounced “Stane-is” in the lilting Orcadian dialect, the standing stones are less than a mile from the younger Ring of Brodgar, both of which are part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage site.

On a narrow strip of land between the lochs of Harray and Stenness, the Stone Age function of Stenness is still unknown, but it is thought that the stone circle may have been used in ceremonies to celebrate the relationship between the living and past communities.

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St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art
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Named after Glasgow’s patron saint, St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art focuses on six major world religions—Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Sikhism—and the sacred art they’ve spawned. The museum is set in a reproduction of a medieval building on the site of Bishop’s Castle and features a own Zen garden.

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Gladstone’s Land
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Tucked away between the many attractions of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, the looming tenement building known as Gladstone’s Land is easily overlooked, but behind its unassuming façade is one of the capital’s most fascinating historic gems.

The six-story complex was developed by wealthy local merchant Thomas Gledstanes in 1617 and was renowned as one of the first ‘high-rise’ buildings of its time. Now preserved as a National Trust property, Gladstone’s Land has been restored to its former glory, offering visitors the chance to step back in time to 17th-century Edinburgh. Along with the original painted ceilings and beams, and an impressive collection of antique furniture, highlights include a traditional ‘luckenbooth’ shop-front, a 16th-century kitchen, a spinet and a selection of old maps and photographs of Edinburgh.

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Forth Road Bridge
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Spanning the Firth of Forth between Edinburgh and the Kingdom of Fife, the Forth Road Bridge opened up in 1964 and runs parallel with the famous Forth railway bridge. As well as offering the quickest driving route from the capital to the Scottish Highlands, the Forth Road Bridge also has cycling and walking lanes that are open to the public.

The Forth Road Bridge is perhaps best known for its dramatic views of the neighboring Forth Bridge, the world's longest cantilever bridge and recently inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The striking red bridge is one of Scotland's most famous architectural icons and a remarkable feat of modern civil engineering, dating back over 125 years.

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Museum of Edinburgh (Huntly House)
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Occupying a 16th-century house with a bright red and yellow facade, the Museum of Edinburgh (formerly Huntly House) tells the rich history of the city, from prehistoric times to the present day. Among the star exhibits is the collar and bowl of Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who kept watch at his master’s Edinburgh grave for 14 years.

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Bannockburn
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As every Scot knows, Bannockburn was where King Robert the Bruce led Scottish forces to victory over a much larger English force led by Edward II in 1314. Moviegoers may remember the decisive battle from the end of the filmBraveheart.

This event, so critical to the development of Scottish national identity, is now marked by an imposing equestrian statue of Robert, from where you can survey the surrounding countryside. There is also a more modern monument at the spot where soldiers camped on the eve of the battle. The Bannockburn Heritage Centre explains the historical importance of this conflict amidst the long, fraught relations between Scotland and the “Sassenachs” to the south.

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Aberdour Castle
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Believed to be the oldest standing castle in Scotland, austere Aberdour overlooks the Firth of Forth and has its origins in the 12th century. Built of stone and starting life as a narrow, tall ‘hall-house’, it was the work of the aristocratic De Mortimer family and was later fortified and repeatedly extended until the 17th century.

Today sections of the castle’s gently crumbling ruins are open to the public and visitors can wander around at will. The roof has caved in on the older part of the construction but the later additions are better preserved; the chapel retains some of its original stained glass and there’s a quasi-preserved ceiling painting depicting fruit and trees on the first floor of the eastern wing. Adjacent is a fragrant 17th-century walled garden with formal plantings of flowers and a round hive-shaped dovecote to admire.

Recently the castle has reached a brand-new audience as the stand in for Sainte Anne de Beaupré’s monastery in France from the hit television series ‘Outlander’, written by US writer Diana Gabaldon.

The ancient church of St Fillan’s stands right next to the castle and is also worth stopping by; it dates from 1123. Aberdour Castle is included on private ‘Outlander’ tours and royal tours of the palaces of central Scotland, both of which depart from Edinburgh.

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Melrose Abbey
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Even in its ruined state Melrose Abbey exudes an air of authority. The site, a product of the 12th-century ecclesiastical building boom, was built for the Cistercian order during the reign of King David I. The graceful arched window frames are a product of later rebuilding in the Gothic style, and the intricate stone carvings of that era are still very much in evidence.

As well as its spiritual role, this is an important historic location as the burial place of Robert the Bruce’s heart. The site was much envied by the English who attacked it repeatedly over the centuries, and you can still see marks left by Oliver Cromwell’s cannons during the English Civil Wars.

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More Things to Do in Scotland

Greyfriars Kirk

Greyfriars Kirk

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The 17th-century Greyfriars Kirk is one of Edinburgh’s most historically important churches. The National Covenant was signed here in 1638, plunging Scotland into civil war. Exhibitions in the Kirk Museum document the church’s history, while the surrounding graveyard houses the tombs of notable historical figures.

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Scotch Whisky Experience

Scotch Whisky Experience

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Established in 1988 in an old private-school building, the Scotch Whisky Experience offers visitors a range of tours and tastings. The center, located in the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Old Town of Edinburgh, houses the world’s largest collection of Scotch whisky—nearly 3,400 bottles—as well as a restaurant, bar, and shop.

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Fairy Glen (Faerie Glen)

Fairy Glen (Faerie Glen)

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The Fairy Glen (or Faerie Glen) on the Isle of Skye in northern Scotland is a bizarre miniature landscape with grassy, cone-shaped hills, ponds, and moss-covered trees. It is a beautiful natural area to walk through, especially during the summer. Legends dating back to prehistoric times tell tales about the existence of fairies that live in this area. The fairies were once believed to have evil overtones and live in beehive houses deep in the heather in the area called the Fairy Glen.

Some residents of the area still believe in the existence of fairies. However, not everyone agrees on what they wear and how they live. Green seems to be the most widely accepted color of clothing for the fairies, although some accounts from medieval times describe them as wearing gold and silver clothing made of gossamer and silk. The queen of the fairies is described as wearing white linen and pearls in her hair. Visitors are advised not to go to spy on the fairies, and that those who doubt will be ignored.

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Butt of Lewis Lighthouse

Butt of Lewis Lighthouse

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Standing proud against the fearsome storms that ravage the north coast of Lewis is the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse. Designed by Scottish lighthouse engineer David Stevenson in the 1860s, the watchtower wasn’t automated until 1998, making it one of the last in the British Isles to lose its lighthouse keeper.

While you can no longer go inside, there are information plaques outside, and it’s interesting just to see the lighthouse in all its exposed red-brick glory instead of the usual white.

A birdwatcher’s paradise, look out for buzzards, gulls and the occasional puffin soaring around the cliffs. Also, take a close look at the crags being buffeted by the North Sea, some of the oldest exposed rock in Europe, created up to 300 million years ago back in the Cambrian period. While you’re here, follow the coast southwest past the lighthouse. You’ll soon see a natural sea cave, known as the Eye of the Butt.

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Inverness Cathedral (St. Andrew's Cathedral)

Inverness Cathedral (St. Andrew's Cathedral)

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With its imposing pink sandstone turrets presiding over the River Ness, Inverness Cathedral (St. Andrew's Cathedral or, less commonly, the Cathedral Church of St. Andrew) is one of the most striking of the city’s many churches. The 19th-century Gothic-style structure is conspicuously spire-free. Though architect Alexander Ross put them in his original design, they had to be scrapped due to lack of funds.

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St. Magnus Cathedral

St. Magnus Cathedral

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Towering over the narrow streets of Kirkwall in all its red sandstone glory, St. Magnus Cathedral is a testament to the Vikings’ ability to create real beauty amid all that pillaging and plundering.

Commissioned by viking Earl Rögnvald in 1137 to honor his saintly uncle, Magnus Erlendsson, it took over 300 years for St. Magnus Cathedral to become the beauty we see today, all Romanesque flourishes and heavy Norman influences.

The only medieval cathedral in Scotland, look out for the hidden dungeon known as Marwick’s Hole, where hundreds of people were imprisoned over the years before being hanged for witchcraft. Today, though, the northern cathedral is much more benign. Come for a Sunday service to listen to the organ being played beautifully, and try to visit the upper tower for 360-degree views of Kirkwall and the sea beyond.

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Falkland Palace and Garden

Falkland Palace and Garden

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Once the favored countryside retreat of the Stuart kings and queens, the magnificent Falkland Palace has seen a long list of famous royals pass through its grand gateway. First built as a hunting lodge in the 12th century, the residence was transformed into a French Renaissance-style palace in the 16th century by King James IV and King James V, complete with 3 hectares of parks, orchards and flower gardens.

Now a National Trust property, Falkland Palace and Garden is a popular tourist attraction and an easy day trip from Edinburgh, offering visitors a fascinating insight into the lavish lives of the Scottish royals. As well as exploring the beautifully restored Royal Apartments and drawing room, visitors can take a peek at the Royal Chapel, admire the fine artworks on display in the Tapestry Gallery and Edwardian Library, visit the Gatehouse and walk around the vast grounds. Don’t forget to visit the Royal Tennis Court, allegedly frequented by Mary, Queen of Scots and now Britain’s oldest tennis court still in use.

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Glen Ord Distillery

Glen Ord Distillery

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Founded in 1838, Glen Ord Distillery is one of the oldest in Scotland. Here, at the only remaining malt whisky distillery on the remote Black Isle, it’s possible to go on a behind-the-scenes tour to see and understand the process of making a single malt from start to finish. You’ll get to check out the barley maltings as well as the fermentation and distillation methods, wandering among the barrels and huge copper stills as you go.

As is tradition, at the end of the hour-long tour you’ll get to enjoy a single malt tasting or two. As you sip, you’ll learn how to compare and identify the flavors in whisky. And be sure to make the most of your swig; you won’t be able to buy and enjoy Glen Ord whisky anywhere else in the country, as outside the distillery’s whisky store, the single malt is only sold in Asia.

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St. Andrews

St. Andrews

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The seaside town of St. Andrews is known for its magnificent 12th-century cathedral ruins and elite university, which was founded in the 15th century. Both Prince William and Kate Middleton attended the school. St. Andrews is also a pilgrimage site for golfers, who come to try out the famous Old Course, which dates back some 600 years.

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Trotternish Ridge

Trotternish Ridge

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Trotternish Ridge is a large wilderness area on the Isle of Skye in northern Scotland. It is a 20 mile walking trail and has some of the most spectacular scenery in Scotland. Though most of the summits aren't very high, it is a challenging walk with many ascents and descents. There isn't a distinct path in most places, but firm grassy areas will keep you on track. Due to the length of the walk, many people break up the hike into two days and camp on the ridge.

Walking Trotternish Ridge is a constant up and down as you make your way through the many peaks. The highest point of the ridge is Storr at 2,359 feet high. It is one of the most photographed parts of the region, though the entire ridge walk provides stunning views. The ridge is best hiked in good weather since poor conditions can make it difficult to see the edge of the cliffs.

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Real Mary King's Close

Real Mary King's Close

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Hidden away beneath the cobbled streets of Edinburgh Old Town, the Real Mary King’s Close is a historic street that disappeared from view in the 1800s, when Edinburgh’s lower classes were forced underground to allow for the city’s modernisation. The street offers a family-friendly glimpse into Edinburgh’s past, with tours led by costumed character guides.

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Glasgow West End

Glasgow West End

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Relaxed and trendy, lively and culturally diverse, the West End area offers some of the best things to do and see in Glasgow. Its Victorian architecture and cobblestone alleyways keep with tradition, while its many boutique shops, coffee shops, and Bohemian cafes present the modern side of the city. While vintage and antique shops keep the past alive, the student scene of the nearby, world renowned University of Glasgow keeps things current. Other don’t-miss sights include the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, the Botanic Gardens, and the famous Grosvenor Cinema.

A variety of parks, galleries and museums provide dozens of options for an afternoon. A stroll in the streets or along the river — or an evening in one of the many bookstores, tea rooms, pubs, or unique restaurants — is also an option. Each summer the area is home to the famous West End Festival.

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Duncansby Head

Duncansby Head

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Duncansby Head, located in northern Scotland, is the northernmost point on the British mainland. It is a set of dramatic sandstone cliffs that overlook the sea. Some of the cliffs reach up to 200 feet high. Exploring the area along the coastal pathway will give you a great opportunity to see some of the region's unique seabirds and other wildlife. Some of the birds you might see include guillemot, kittiwakes, and puffins, depending on the time of year.

From Duncansby Head, visitors will have a view of the Duncansby Stacks, a group of large jagged sea rocks, and Thirle Door, a rocky arch. Sometimes it is also possible to catch a glimpse of some of the sea life here, including seals, dolphins, minke and killer whales. The nearby village of John O'Groats is the northernmost settlement on the mainland of Britain, and the Duncansby Head Lighthouse marks the northernmost point.

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Isle of Islay

Isle of Islay

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Scotland’s Isle of Islay is a land of dramatic coastal scenery, vibrant bid life, and fine seafood, but it’s Islay’s distinctive smoky whiskies that really draws the visitors. Home to nearly a dozen working distilleries, including Lagavulin and Bowmore, Islay’s distinctive single malt makes it a bucket list destination for whisky lovers from across the world.

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