Scotland travel guide

2 minute summary

Take the sleeper train from London and you wake up to everything that a Scotland vacation has to offer. Deserted mountains glistening with silvery threads of icy rivers, waterfalls tumbling from highlands to lowlands, small villages with stations where you need to put your hand out to request the train to stop and suddenly, out of nowhere, a gleaming great loch. You have to wipe the sleep from your eyes to believe it.
Scotland has also woken up. Moving away from the old image of tartan
and shortbread, the highlands, lowlands and islands are alive with
hikers, cyclists, canoeists and climbers. All immersing themselves in landscapes so wild you can almost see history in front of you, as nothing has changed in generations.
And with some of the most progressive 'right to roam' laws in Europe, you can forget the myths of a closed, clannish people. It's an open door policy in Scotland, revealing a truly wild world for all to see.
Scotland is...

where the wild things are
Scotland isn't...

about coach tours to castles

What we rate & what we don't's best and worst


Wildlife watching Land access Food Winter

Wildlife watching

If you dont usually travel with binoculars, this is your time to invest. Not only is it teeming with wildlife but it is so accessible. Small and perfectly formed you can see a lot of habitats in a short period of time.

Land access

There is an ancient, traditional right for all people to access the countryside in Scotland, and this was enshrined in law in 2003. This gives greater recreational freedom than most other countries in Europe including England and Wales, and applies to hikers, cyclists, horseriders, low impact water users and campers.


Haggis and deep fried Mars Bars have a lot to answer for, with few people associating food as a top experience in Scotland. And then you remember Aberdeen Angus Beef, Scottish mussels and oysters, Scottish salmon, the Arbroath Smokie and world class game. All exported as world class delicacies for years. It just took a while for Scots to show them off at home.


Wild and wet, it is also empty in winter and, when the snow falls, a winter wonderland. The Cairngorms National Park is the place to go in the snow, with Aviemore accessible by train so you can avoid the hassle of driving on winter roads. With downhill and cross country skiing, snowboarding and winter walking, as well as magical wildlife watching opportunities even at this time of year, Scotland is snow-tastic.


Caledonian Sleeper train Bagging a Munro Islands The demon drink

Caledonian Sleeper train

The atmosphere in the famous Caledonian Sleeper train bar, at ten oclock at night, is one of those charming travel experiences. It is full of hikers comparing routes, and whisky drinking adventurers revving up for the wilds. And when you wake up in the morning, enveloped by said wilds, you will gasp in awe.

Bagging a Munro

The Scottish name for a mountain over 3000 feet (914 m), many hillwalkers aim to climb all of them, a feat known as "Munro bagging". A walker who has climbed all Munros is entitled to be called a Munroist. See the Scottish Mountaineering Club for details


You canѝt do them all in a week, but you can make a fine start. There are 790 offshore islands in the following groups: Shetland, Orkney, and the Hebrides, sub-divided into the Inner Hebrides and Outer Hebrides.

The demon drink

Whisky goes without saying, with myriad malts to savour and salivate over. However, there is also a burgeoning brewery scene in Scotland now, with artisan ale popping up everywhere from Stornoway in the Hebrides to Speyside Craft brewery in the Moray Firth.


Moaning about midges Overtourism Castles Peak practice

Moaning about midges

There is no getting away from the fact that between May and October, especially on the west coast, there are midges. However, they are more prevalent at waters edges, at dusk and when there is little wind, than on a mountain top in the middle of the day. So yes, they exist, but not everywhere, and there are plenty of ways to cope with them. Check out for details.


For a country with so many celebrated wild spaces, it is a shock to see the issue of overtourism hitting some of its bonniest spots. Giant cruise ships to the Isle of Skye are causing mayhem for local people. Edinburgh is bursting and far from bonny during peak summer months and still the tourism authorities refuse to sit up and take action. Read more of our stance and tips in our overtourism guides.


and all things bonny are really so last century. There are stunning ones, but you have to pay an arm and a leg to stay in a top quality one. And although visiting them is great, its the small communities and backroads that hold the truly majestic Scotland.

Peak practice

the charity climb epidemic hit Ben Nevis some time ago, with thousands landing on the hills, trampling and littering, with little financial benefit for local people and huge environmental destruction. Few people realise, but this is not a National Park and so does not have the funding to fix it. Charity is good, churning up a precious landscape, not so much.

Food, shopping & people

Travel like a local with our Scotland travel guide

Eating & drinking

Malt whisky from Scotland is sought all over the world, so here is your opportunity to lie at the feet of the malt masters
Seafood used to be exported, but with the culinary scene moving on in leaps and bounds they keep a lot more of it for themselves now. Check out the Scottish Seafood Trail.
Aberdeen Angus beef and venison make any vacation in Scotland a veritable carnival for carnivores.
Cheese lovers should go in search of Morangie Brie, Isle of Mull cheddar and Dunsyre Blue. To name but a few.
Scotland is not cheesy. Unless you mean literally. Artisan cheesemaking is taking off here now, all over our highlands and islands.

People & language

The reputation for being closed and clannish, miserly and mean is a myth. The reality is an intellectual people full of creativity and a love of landscape. Scottish Gaelic, still spoken, has a rich oral and written tradition and if you don't get a Scot to tell a good story on vacation, you havent experienced the real Scotland. Scots is an official language, derived from old English. Use a few Scots words and your glass will never be empty. Call them Scotch, Jock or English, and it will never be full.
Oh aye (not och aye)- I know, I agree or really?
Away ye go - no way!
Burn - stream
Ben - mountain
Cilidh Folk dance event (from Scottish Gaelic)

Gifts & shopping

With singing and storytelling at the heart of their culture, buy a CD from a local band, or a novel from a contemporary Scottish author.
Although cashmere goats wool is not from Scotland but Mongolia, it is a world leader in finishing, knitting and weaving it. Cheap versions from China abound, but if you want quality, Scotland is the place.
Tweed is no longer twee. The most prestigious of the lot is Harris Tweed, protected by the Harris Tweed Act of Parliament, which strictly outlines the conditions in which the cloth can genuinely be made. Recognise the real thing by its well-known orb logo.

Fast facts

We do not just travel when we go about Scotland, we walk through time

Ian Hamilton, author, A Touch of Treason

How much does it cost?

Ferry trip from Oban to Isle of Mull:
5.55 one way for foot passenger or 49.50 for a car
Two person canoe rental on Caledonian canal: 50 for two days
Arborath Smokie: 5 for two
Arran Sunset beer: 2.85
Caledonian Sleeper train London to Fort William: From 68 one way

A brief history of Scotland

Traveling around Scotland is like combining a history and geography lesson into one. Cross the border at Hadrian's Wall and you see some of the finest remains of the Roman invaders of 43 AD who occupied the southern half of Scotland, which they named Caledonia, but turned back after fierce resistance from local people. In Shetland, you can see evidence of the Vikings who invaded the North of the country. But Scotland's truly ancient origins can best be seen on Lewis and Orkney, where the famous standing stones are thought to have been planted by prehistoric settlers as far back as 9400 BC.Read more ▼
Photo credits: [Loch: Akuppa John Wigham] [Wildlife watching: CaptainOates] [Wild camping: hendry_670] [Salmon: torbakhopper] [Snowboarding: Robin McConnell] [Caledonian Sleeper train: Tim Regan] [Mountains: Ben Salter] [Islands : Inaki Queralt] [Speyside Craft Brewery : Speyside Craft Brewery ] [Midges: S. Rae] [Overtourism: Alan Jaimieson] [Castles : Paisley Scotland] [Ben Nevis: Derek Hatfield] [Cheese: Graeme Maclean] [Sign: Chen Zhao] [Harris Tweed: ] [Ferry: whyohwhyohwhyoh]
Written by Catherine Mack
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