From Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye, these are 15 of Scotland's most spectacular sights.
This sweeping glen lies at the head of Loch Shiel, a long, placid stretch of water bordered by rolling mountains. By the loch’s shore, the Glenfinnan Monument is a lonely tribute to those clansmen who died for Bonnie Prince Charlie. Higher up you’ll find the famous viaduct curving across the narrow valley, its uniform arches famously pictured in the Harry Potter movies.
Loch Lomond is split between two landscapes. To the south, the peaceful waters of the loch, dotted with 22 emerald islands (and some 27 islets), are lined by woods and meadows – the famed “bonnie banks” of the Scottish song. To the north, the landscape becomes wilder, the loch dominated by Ben Lomond and the mountainous peaks of the Trossachs. Climb tiny Duncryne hill – known locally as “the Dumpling” – to the south of the loch for sweeping views.
Wrapped around a series of rocky hills, Edinburgh is strikingly beautiful. Whether it’s the iconic castle perched atop its stony plinth, the medieval Old Town’s narrow wynds, cobbled streets and towering spires, or the wide avenues and elegant architecture of the New Town, Edinburgh exudes a timeless romance. For a perfect panorama, head to the top of Arthur’s Seat, a 251-m (823-ft) high extinct volcano that boasts breathtaking views of the city’s skyline.
Neist Point, Isle of Skye
The Neist Point headland is both Skye’s most westerly tip and one of the island’s most dramatic sights. Jutting out into the North Minch, this long finger of rock is dominated by An t-Aigeach (meaning “the Stallion”), a towering crag projecting from the middle of the rugged peninsula. Perched at the point’s far end is a yellow-and-white lighthouse, from where you might glimpse minke whales, porpoises and basking sharks.
Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan is one of Scotland’s most iconic – and most photographed – sights. Surrounded by forested mountains, this 13th-century castle lies on a tiny island at the point where three great sea lochs converge. Admire its brooding beauty from the shore, or cross the weathered bridge to explore its interior, brimming with local history.
The most remote part of the British Isles, this cluster of rocky islands rises dramatically out of the Atlantic Ocean and is home to an abundance of wildlife. Around half a million seabirds live amidst St Kilda’s towering cliffs and immense sea stacks, from puffins and guillemots to gannets and fulmars. The islands were once inhabited by a handful of families, but hardly anything remains of their presence apart from an eerie row of derelict houses on the largest island, Hirta.
Tobermory, Isle of Mull
Situated in a sheltered bay, Tobermory is one of the prettiest harbour towns in Scotland. Backed by gently rolling, wooded hills, its waterfront is lined with an array of brightly hued houses – the setting for popular children’s show Balamory. Perfect for a stroll, this colourful pier overlooks the bleak beauty of Calve Island.
With its steep-sided mountains and tumbling waterfalls, Glencoe boasts some of Scotland’s most dramatic scenery. This untamed valley is encircled by spectacular Munros (mountains at least 914 m/3,000 ft high), from the distinctive pyramid of Buachaille Etive Mor to the rounded humps of the Three Sisters. If you’re feeling adventurous, try and bag a Munro. If not, simply meander along one of the gentler footpaths that crisscross this windswept landscape.
Occupying a gentle curve on Harris’s remote west coast, Luskentyre is possibly Scotland’s best beach. Bordered by beautifully clear turquoise waters, swathes of white sand stretch for miles, with the bleak hills of North Harris providing a rugged backdrop. Apart from the odd kitesurfer, you’ll probably have this unspoilt beach all to yourself.
Bow Fiddle Rock, Moray
This striking natural arch – named after its resemblance to the tip of a fiddle bow – lies in a sheltered cove close to the tiny fishing village of Portknockie. Clifftop paths provide excellent views of its steeply slanted form, home to nesting seabirds. Visit at night and, if you’re lucky, you may see this curious arch backlit by the dancing veils of the Aurora Borealis.
Brilliantly green, moss-covered stone walls combine with tiered waterfalls and amber-coloured pools to make Finnich Glen a truly magical spot. The only way to enter this deep, narrow-walled chasm is by descending Jacob’s Ladder, a steep stone staircase clinging to the glen’s sheer-sided walls. Keep an eye out for the Devil’s Pulpit, an emerald-hued circular rock from which Satan himself is said to have preached.
Callanish Stones, Isle of Lewis
These ancient megaliths, erected 5,000 years ago, are one of the best-preserved Neolithic monuments in Europe. Jutting out of the windswept ridge, these slender stones pre-date Stonehenge and are thought to have been used for both rituals and astronomical observation. Visit at either dusk or dawn, when the sun’s low light accentuates the stark forms of the stones.
Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Few places are more magical than Skye’s Fairy Pools. Nestled beneath the jagged pinnacles of the Black Cuillins and surrounded by lush grass and purple heather, these crystal-clear pools are linked by a series of gentle cascades. If you’re feeling particularly brave, a dip in the icy turquoise water is a refreshing experience.
Overlooking the iron waters of the North Sea, this haunting ruin is all that’s left of a once impregnable fortress. Built atop a spectacular, sheer-sided rocky outcrop, Dunnottar Castle is a window to the past. Once home to the powerful Earls of Marischal, this ancient stronghold has been attacked by historical figures as diverse as William Wallace and Oliver Cromwell.
With soaring mountains, vast windswept plateaux, golden beaches and ancient forests of Caledonian pine, the Cairngorms boast one of the most diverse landscapes in Scotland. Tackle one of the area’s many walking routes, keeping an eye out for rare wildlife such as the elusive Scottish wildcat and bushy-tailed red squirrel, or take the funicular up Cairn Gorm mountain to enjoy arresting views over the surrounding terrain.