Scotland is a mystical country that many overlook in favour of neighbouring England or other European countries. However, what many people don’t expect is that Scotland is home to some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world, from breathtaking highlands, sweeping lochs, windswept beaches and remote islands. All of these are scattered with hundreds of years of history and Scotland is famous for its ancient castles and old architecture in famous cities such as Edinburgh and St. Andrews.
Scotland is also known for some of its more typical icons, such as strange food and drink like haggis, tatties and whisky, not to mention bagpipes and kilts, which are well-known features of Scotland. Scotland’s amazing natural beauty has also led it to be the filming location for many big movies, such as James Bond’s Skyfall and Braveheart, but most famous, Harry Potter, which was filmed in a variety of locations around the country. Visitors to Scotland shouldn’t just check out the Highlands either, but also the stunning landscapes of the Cairngorms and further afield, the wild islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides where you can spot wildlife and in winter, even the Northern Lights.
What Is Scotland Known For?
Edinburgh is one of the world’s most beautiful architectural cities, with historic buildings around every corner.
Scotland’s capital city has haunted underground vaults, narrow, cobblestone streets home to cute little cafes, independent shops and local restaurants, meaning you can easily spend a few days getting lost and discovering new things.
There are a few must-sees when in Edinburgh, such as Edinburgh Castle, which towers over the city from a hill and Holyrood House, which is the official residence of the royal family when they’re in the area.
Edinburgh is one of the most popular places to visit in Scotland and can get extremely busy in the summertime and when the Edinburgh Fringe takes place, but there are other scenic escapes in the city you should try, such as hiking up to Arthur’s Seat or Calton Hill for amazing views of the whole area.
2- St. Andrews
St. Andrews is another one of Scotland’s most famous cities, which most people know for its excellent university.
The University of St. Andrews is where famous names such as Prince William and Kate Middleton went to university.
While in this small city you can also explore sights such as St. Andrews Castle and St. Andrews Cathedral.
The charming little streets have teahouses and coffee shops, bookstores and boutiques which are perfect for picking up a souvenir or watching the people go by.
St. Andrew’s is also one of the most famous golf cities in Scotland, home to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews which is the world’s governing golf association, along with a variety of other courses open to beginners and pros.
Scotland is home to so many castles that it would take you years to see them all.
Castles can be found in Scotland’s major cities as well as dotted around the entire countryside, standing majestically in the highlands and mountains around the country.
One of the most famous castles, besides Edinburgh Castle, is Stirling Castle, home to Mary Queen of Scots, along with Eilean Castle, which overlooks the Isle of Skye and is Scotland’s most photographed castle.
Most of Scotland’s most famous castles allow tourists to visit, meaning you can explore the restored royal rooms and grand halls where lairds once held parties.
Other castles have been turned into private homes and hotels, allowing you to stay like royalty in the highlands, while others are now ruins but are still fascinating to see while driving around the countryside.
4- Lochs / Loch Ness
Lochs are one of the most famous parts of Scotland’s landscapes; vast, still lakes dot the country, with the most famous being Loch Ness.
While the mysteries surrounding Loch Ness and the monster that lurks below its surface still continue to attract thousands of tourists each year, there are almost 30,000 different lochs in Scotland, all of which are stunning and can be explored on a road trip.
The legend of the Loch Ness Monster started in the 7th century, and no matter what you believe might be in the loch, you can’t visit without taking a boat trip over Loch Ness, where you’ll get to use a radar to see if there’s anything swimming below you.
Another famous loch is Loch Lomond, which is the largest in the country, along with Loch Awe, Loch Maree and Loch Katrine, and you’ll spot many which are mostly devoid of tourists if you drive just a little way into the countryside.
5- The Highlands
Surrounding many of these lochs and covering a vast majority of northwest Scotland is the Scottish Highlands.
The Highlands stretch across 10,000 square miles and are home to dozens of mountains, including the highest in the UK, as well as more freshwater lakes than in both England and Wales combined.
You can enjoy an entire trip in Scotland that just explores the highlands on a winding road trip, visiting castles, lochs and whiskey distilleries, and driving through craggy mountain ranges covered in snow and lush green hills.
While exploring, make sure not to miss famous spots in the Highlands, such as the Glenfinnan Viaduct, Ben Nevis and the area around Glencoe.
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Scotland has a lot of traditional foods that might seem strange to outsiders but are in fact delicious once you try them.
One of the most well-known is haggis, which is a meat dish made up of sheep’s liver, lung and heart – which truthfully, doesn’t seem very appetising at all but almost everyone in Scotland loves this national dish.
The meat is mixed with tasty spices such as cayenne pepper and onions, before being stuffed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled.
Haggis is normally served with equally traditional sides, called neeps and tatties, which are turnips and potatoes, and often some sauce.
Even if you’re apprehensive, it’s worth trying at least once while in Scotland and actually tastes similar to a warming meat pie or stew, which can be particularly nice and hearty in the cold of winter.
Kilts, particularly tartan kilts, are traditional Scottish national dress and even though they may seem old-fashioned, they’re still commonly worn by many people in Scotland, either day to day or at special events and ceremonies such as weddings.
Tartan kilts don’t just look pretty either, each one has a deeper meaning – there are various unique tartan patterns of colours and lines which meaning different things.
Each Scottish family has its own individual tartan style, which is linked to their surname and can be worn by all members of the family.
Currently, in Scotland there are around 25,000 different styles of kilt registered in the country.
It might be unlikely you’ll wear it and well-made, authentic kilts can be very expensive, but buying a kilt makes a great souvenir and you can pick up a nice one in many shops in Scotland’s big cities.
Ireland, Japan and Scotland all contest who has the best whisky but don’t mention that when visiting Scotland, where you can visit a variety of distilleries around the country.
Scottish whisky dates back to the 15th Century and must be made from one of three ingredients to be a Scotch whisky: malted barley, wheat or rye, before being aged in an oak barrel for at least three years.
Whisky is also one of the country’s biggest exports, with more than 1 billion bottles shipped around the world each year.
Even if you’re not from the UK or surrounding countries, you’ve likely heard of some of Scotland’s most famous whisky brands which are sold worldwide, such as Laphroaig, Talisker, Glenmorangie and of course, Johnnie Walker, but there are hundreds more varieties to sample.
If you want to try the drink, which has a smokey, rich flavour, you can either order one from any pub, bar or restaurant in the country, or better yet, take a tour of a distillery where you’ll learn about the entire process and get to sample many different types of whisky.
Bagpipes are synonymous with Scottish culture and they’re a bit of a strange instrument that’s not to everyone’s tastes.
Bagpipes are still learnt by many Scots to this day and you’ll hear them at almost every important event or festival, from funerals to weddings and parties.
Bagpipes can be incredibly difficult to learn so you might not want to start lessons just yet, but if you want to hear a great example of excellent bagpipe playing, visit Scotland for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is a formal ceremonial event with lots of military splendour and live music, including bagpipe performances.
The history of bagpipes is also fascinating, as they were used by ancient Scottish clans during battle, however nowadays they’re just a fun icon of Scotland, and bagpipe players can often be spotted playing around the streets of Edinburgh or Glasgow.
10- The Cairngorms
The Cairngorms is one of the most beautiful areas of Scotland and this national park is the largest in the UK.
The Cairngorms are in the centre of the Scottish Highlands, but are a destination in themselves thanks to their wild natural beauty and range of outdoor activities, such as cycling and hiking.
However, in the villages and towns around the area you can also visit museums, castles, breweries and pubs, in case you’re not the active type.
If you are up for adventure however, the area is home to the Cairngorms mountain range, so this provides plenty of opportunity for overnight camping adventures, hikes, water and winter sports and summiting various stunning peaks with some pre-planning.
The Cairngorms is also home to wildlife such as stag and wild foxes, but more famously, the Cairngorms Reindeer Herd, which is the largest herd of reindeer in the UK which you can see and even feed when visiting, so make sure to keep a keen eye out when in the area as you never know what you might spot.
So you know that St Andrews is home to the world’s foremost golf organisation, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, but Scotland as a whole is world-renowned for its love of golf and stunning golf courses.
Although it isn’t confirmed, most believe and most Scots will tell you, that golf originated in the country sometime in the 15th century.
Later, golf became so popular that it had to be banned to stop soldiers from being distracted by the sport, but was later reinstated in the 1500s by King James IV.
There are more than 500 golf courses in Scotland, so if you’re keen to learn, just go putting or if you’re already a pro at the sport, there are literally hundreds of places to choose from to practice, including the world’s oldest golf course, Musselburgh Old Links, where Mary Queen of Scots apparently played.
Unsurprisingly, Scotland has also produced some of the world’s best golf players, such as Paul Lawrie and Sandy Lyle, and you can learn all about the history and players of the sport at the Golf Museum in St Andrews.
12- The Hebrides
Much of Scotland’s countryside can feel extremely remote, but if you want to truly feel off-grid, you should visit the Hebrides.
Comprised of the Inner and Outer Hebrides, these islands lie off the west coast of Scotland and are beautifully untouched, with swathes of beaches, coastal paths and countryside perfect for exploring.
The Hebrides are made up of various islands, some of the most beautiful of which include Skye, Jura and Lewis, so make sure to set aside at least a few days to get around them all.
Pack warm clothes and hiking boots, and you can wander along the coastline or stop by the tine villages – the islands are home to people, if only a small population.
There’s also beautiful wildlife, such as puffins and red deer, but it’s the marine life that steals the limelight, with whales, dolphins, seals and orcas all living off the coast here in the chilly Arctic waters.
13- Burns Night
You may have heard of Burns Night, but it isn’t celebrated anywhere else in the world.
A very traditional Scottish event, Burns Night is held each year on the 25th of January to celebrate the life of Robert Burns, who was a famous Scottish poet and lyricist.
The event is one of Scotland’s biggest celebrations where everyone gathers to enjoy good food – such as haggis, tatties and neeps; drink beer and whisky and listen to music, such as Auld Lang Syne, which is Burns’ most famous song.
The first Burns Night, or Burns Supper, was held in 1801, and you can still visit where it was held in Burns Cottage in Alloway, which also has a Robert Burns Museum, explaining the history of the event and the life of Robert Burns.
14- Famous Film Locations (Harry Potter, Skyfall, Braveheart)
Scotland’s sweeping landscapes, with mountainous backdrops, vast lochs and often eerie, mystical atmosphere, have been used as locations for dozens of famous movies.
The most famous of these is undoubtedly Harry Potter, which used various spots in the movies.
You can do Harry Potter tours while visiting, or just make your own; some of the most popular spots to visit are Glencoe, which was used in multiple Harry Potter films, the Glenfinnan Viaduct, where the Hogwarts Express appears, and many of the streets, shops and cafes in Edinburgh.
The Hogwarts Express is actually the Jacobite Stea Train, which you can ride through the countryside between April and October.
Other notable movies filmed in Scotland include Skyfall, where James Bond’s family home is in the movie; Braveheart, of course, which is about Scotland and its history, and also the hit TV series Outlander.
15- Andy Murray
Scotland has produced a whole host of famous names, including Alexander Fleming, Alexander Graham Bell, Sean Connery, Gerard Butler and even Robbie Coltrane, who starred in Harry Potter.
But if we have to pick one famous Scot, it should be Andy Murray, who has taken the world by storm with his tennis prowess.
Murray remains one of the world’s most successful tennis players in history, and he was born in Glasgow and grew up in Dunblane.
Although he moved to Barcelona as a teenager, thanks to the huge success of his career, in which he has won multiple Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon and the US Open and two Olympic gold medals, he bought a £1.8million abandoned hotel in Dunblane.
It’s now a five-star country house where you can book the ultimate stylish Scottish staycation.
Scots are extremely proud of Andy Murray’s legacy and he was even awarded an honorary doctorate by Stirling University.
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