Loch Ness Monster - fact or fiction? Find out for yourself when you visit this infamous Scottish loch! An enjoyable day trip from Edinburgh, your journey to the loch will take you through the lush Scottish Highlands, providing you with plenty of sightseeing and photo opportunities of castles and the countryside along the way. Once at Loch Ness, take in the views from the shore of this vast freshwater pool or even take a boat ride across--just look out for "Nessie"!
Scotland’s legendary West Highland Line is dubbed the Hogwarts Express Train line, photogenically featured in the Harry Potter films when Harry and crew are transported by train to Hogwarts School from King’s Cross Station’s Platform 9 3/4.
Away from the cameras, the historic steam train is called The Jacobite and runs from Fort William to Mallaig, essential destinations if you’re touring Scotland’s West Coast. The route winds through Highlands valleys and beside lochs and glens. It begins in the Highlands capital, Fort William, under the shadow of Ben Nevis at the southern end of the Great Glen. One of the main highlights of the journey is crossing the 21 arches of the Glenfinnan viaduct, memorably captured in the Harry Potter films and overlooking Loch Shiel. You can alight at Glenfinnan station to stretch your legs and visit the West Highland Railway Museum.
Glencoe offers some of the finest landscape in Scotland, indeed the whole of the UK, where dramatic mountains sweep down to glens (valleys) until they meet the moody waters of the lochs.
While this is a site of historical significance due to the Glencoe Massacre of 1692, the primary draw is the magnificent natural surrounds. There are numerous well-marked walks in the area and it is also popular with rock-climbers. This is one of Britain’s premier ski areas in winter, but a chairlift operates year round to offer the best views of the area.
Bookended by Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, the Royal Mile (it's actually slightly longer than a mile) is the grand center of Edinburgh's Old Town. The Royal Mile is dominated by granite, giving it a dark, Gothic feel, and lined with majestic buildings - banks, churches, courthouses.
It was first modeled in the 12th century, when it was called Via Regis (the Way of the King). It’s not many thoroughfares that can claim to follow a path carved out by a glacier!
Even though these days it's Tourist Central - it's jam-packed during the Edinburgh Festival, and year-round is heavy on the tartan'n' shortbread kitsch - it still somehow manages to maintain its feeling of splendor.
Look up anywhere in Edinburgh's old town and you'll see Edinburgh Castle, seeming to grow out of the blackened cold volcano that forms its plinth. There's evidence of human habitation on this spot that dates back to 900 BC, and the Castle has been a royal stronghold since the Middle Ages.
The place is steeped in history. There’s the Honours of Scotland – the oldest crown jewels in the United Kingdom, no less – and the Stone of Destiny, the coronation seat of ancient kings. There’s St Margaret’s Chapel, Edinburgh’s oldest building, and a cluster of military museums. You can take guided tours and see costumed performers bring the history of the Castle to life.
The ruins of Urquhart Castle sit on the shores of Loch Ness. Visitors can still climb the Grant Tower, which offers scenic views of the famous loch and Great Gen. It was once one of Scotland's largest castles, and it spent hundreds of years as an important medieval fortress. The castle was frequently invaded and taken over by enemies only to be won back later. It also played a big role during the Scots’ struggle for independence in the 1300s and came under the control of Robert the Bruce after he became King of Scots in 1306. The castle was blown up in 1692 to prevent it from becoming a Jacobite stronghold.
Visitors can learn about Urquhart Castle in the visitor center which includes an exhibition, film show, gift shop and restaurant. Items in the exhibition include a collection of artifacts left by the castle's former residents and historic replicas. Urquhart Castle is also one of the main sites for reported sightings of the legendary Loch Ness Monster.
Originally built in the 13th century as a defense against Vikings, Eilean Donan Castle is one of Scotland’s best-known architectural treasures. It last played a historical role during the 18th century Jacobite uprisings, and was subsequently left in ruins until it was rediscovered and lovingly restored in the early 20th century.
The castle sits proudly on a peninsula in Loch Duich, ringed by rugged hills, and you can immediately see why this is one of the most-photographed sites in Scotland. Walk the shore of the loch to find your own vantage point and then explore the castle itself, where you can visit the banqueting hall, kitchens and bedrooms.
The Isle of Skye is Scotland's largest island, and justly famous on the tourist circuit. However, most visitors stick to the beaten track, and if you've a longing for solitude it won't take you long to find your own corner of this little paradise.
When the sun's out, there's nowhere quite as enchanting as Skye, with its vivid blue lochs and seas glittering in the light and its green crags glowing. However, if it's raining (and the weather can turn in an instant here, so definitely be prepared to get wet), there's still an eerie beauty to the place. And hey, what better excuse than to enjoy it through the window of a cosy pub?
Britain's largest lake, Loch Lomond is part of the Trossachs, Scotland's first national park. An angler paradise with plenty trouts and salmons, Loch Lomond is also highly appreciated by hikers and watersports amateurs alike. Take a boat trip on the lake or hike nearby Ben Lomond (3,192ft / 973m) for super views of the Scottish Highlands. On your way to the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, visit Stirling Castle, Scotland's most important medieval stronghold and a popular day trip from Edinburgh.
In a country of castles, Stirling Castle may just be the ultimate royal stronghold. In fact, it was once rumored to be the home of King Arthur and his knights. Like Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle dominates the surroundings, looming over it from a plug of volcanic rock. This impressive pile has seen it all, from a sacking by Robert the Bruce to the coronation of the infant Mary Queen of Scots to the premiere of the movie Braveheart in 1993.
The castle has been involved in some famous battles (most notably the Battle of Bannockburn, after which Robert the Bruce took the castle from the English), but it was also a royal residence. The Stewart monarchs roamed the gardens, watching archery, playing bowls and mingling with peacocks and cranes. Mary Queen of Scots is said to have fell in love here. Kings hunted red deer and wild boar in the park.
On the southwestern shore of Loch Ness, Fort Augustus is a picturesque village of 600 that gets packed with visitors during the summer months. Originally an 18th-century garrison, Fort August lies at the junction of four old military roads.
Surrounded by heather hills and cut in two by the Caledonian Canal, Fort Augustus serves as a spot for day-trippers to relax and watch the boats master the longest lock system on the canal. Running from coast to coast, the Caledonian Canal was designed in 1822 to give merchant skippers a shortcut across the country and to help keep boats out of harm’s way. At the time, pesky French pirates were prone to scouring the open seas! Those interested in the canal can find out more at the Caledonian Canal Heritage Centre. Also of interest is the Clansman Centre, which provides insight into 17th-century Highland life.
Just 5 miles from Iverness, the historic Culloden Battlefield is one of Scotland’s most significant battle sites, commemorated by the Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre and protected by the Scottish National Trust. It was here, on the Culloden moor, that Bonnie Prince Charlie and an army of 5000 Jacobite Highlanders faced off against the Duke of Cumberland and his 9000 Hanoverian Government troops on April 16 1746. It was one of Britain’s most important battles and the last to be fought on British soil.
Today, the Visitor Centre is dedicated to retelling the events of the battle and the battlefield has been reconstructed in memorial to the Jacobites’ defeat, with burial sites and flags marking out their positions at the battle’s gruesome end.
A wild landscape of granite mountains, heather-covered moors and gentle glens covering 1,500 square miles of the Scottish Highlands, Cairngorms National Park was named one of the world’s “Last Great Places” by National Geographic.
Formed 40 million years before the last ice age, the Cairngorms are especially popular among mountain bikers, snowboarders, sea kayakers and hikers. They’re also a hit with the Scottish Queen: she spends every summer there at Balmoral Castle and Estate.
More than 50 of the Cairngorms’ mountains reach over 2,953 feet, and the national park boasts five of the United Kingdom’s six highest mountain summits. Those looking for a challenge can hike up the summit of Cairngorm’s namesake mountain, while the more leisurely crowd can take the much-used mountain railway to the top. Once up there, remember that it’s a Scottish tradition to take a “wee nip” of whisky. Cheers!
Five miles west of the town of Dunblane, Doune Castle is one of the best-preserved medieval buildings in Scotland. The setting for the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Doune Castle offers fans of the comedy an audio guide narrated by Monty Python member Terry Jones. The castle has also been used for filming in Game of Thrones and Outlander.
With its 100-foot-high gatehouse walls, Doune Castle is a rather austere, high-walled kind of a place that was originally built for the First Duke of Albany over seven centuries ago. As you wander, imagine the past guests who walked its echoing stairwells, like Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie — he used to imprison government troops here.
The historic heart of Edinburgh and home to many of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, the atmospheric Old Town became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. Watched over by the striking Edinburgh Castle, the Old Town is most famous for the central boulevard which runs between the hilltop castle and the Royal Palace of Holyrood, four sequential streets known as the Royal Mile.
The main starting point for walking tours of the city, the Royal Mile is teeming with landmark buildings and iconic sights. The 12th century St Giles Cathedral, the National Museum of Scotland, the John Knox house and the underground streets of Mary King's Close are all popular visitor attractions, dotted between the throngs of souvenir shops, historic pubs and cafés. The final section of the Royal Mile, Canongate, is the most architecturally varied, with the 16th century Canongate Tollbooth and Canongate Kirk, the modern Scottish Parliament complex and the wacky Our Dynamic Earth building.
The iconic Forth Bridge is a cantilever railway bridge that arches over the Firth of Forth in Scotland. Situated 14 kilometers from Edinburgh’s city center, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was designed by English engineers, John Fowler and Benjamin Baker. The bridge and its associated railway infrastructure is owned by Network Rail.
The distinctive red bridge, which links the villages of South Queensferry and North Queensferry, was opened by the Prince of Wales in March 1890, although was only classified as a UNESCO site on its 125th anniversary in 2015. The bridge spans a total length of almost 2500 meters and is an iconic symbol of Scotland’s engineering and architectural prowess and ingenuity. It also transports approximately 200 local and intercity trains across the Forth every single day.
Alnwick Castle has been home to the aristocratic Percy family, who hold the ancient title of the Dukes of Northumberland. It is one of the largest inhabited castles in the UK and is now perhaps best known as the setting for Hogwarts Academy in the Harry Potter movies.
Starting life at the end of the 11th century as a Norman motte and bailey defence castle, Alnwick has expanded piecemeal and been consistently restored down the centuries; a visit today encompasses architectural styles from medieval through Gothic and on to Italianate neo-classicism. Alnwick has one of the finest private collections of decorative arts in the country as well as several museums or weaponry, war and archaeology – plus one dedicated to the successful TV series Downtown Abbey – housed in the castle’s towers, courtyards, keep and ornate state apartments, which were decorated by Robert Adam in the late 18th century and are crammed with paintings from the likes of Titian and Caneletto.
At 4,409 feet (1,344 meters), Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles, a status which makes it a popular destination for climbers. The most frequently used route to the summit is via the Pony Track which begins at Achintee, just outside of Fort William, but even that takes up to nine hours for a round trip and is not recommended for complete beginners.
Thankfully the area also offers a huge range of less arduous activities, including fly fishing, golf, mountain bike riding, pony trekking, kayaking and lowland walking. Pick up a guide in Fort William and set out on one of the numerous well-marked paths, many of which will offer majestic views of Ben Nevis. There's also a popular cycling route along the Caledonian Canal.
First settled as a missionary post around 730 AD, Dunkeld was where Celtic monks set about converting the Pictish tribes to Christianity. By the middle of the ninth century, the town was Scotland's capital and the base of Kenneth MacAlpin, widely recognized as the first King of the Picts.
Over the following centuries, a massive gray sandstone church was built in Norman and Gothic styles to house the bishopric of Dunkeld, one of the most powerful in Scotland. Its tower once stood 96 feet (30 meters) high, but this, along with the rest of the cathedral, was destroyed in the Protestant Reformation of 1560.
Today the photogenic ruins sit in manicured grounds above the banks of the River Tay; the choir at the eastern end of the cathedral was restored in the early 20th century and is once again used for services.
The Palace of Holyrood House, most often called Holyrood Palace, faces Edinburgh Castle along the length of the Royal Mile. Like its majestic companion, it's riddled with some of Scotland's most potent history.
The Abbey in the grounds was founded in 1128, and the palace itself is baroque. These days Holyrood Palace is the Scottish residence of Queen Elizabeth II, but it's probably best known for its association with another royal figure, Mary Queen of Scots. She was married here, lived here and saw her secretary murdered here.
As you'd expect, the apartments are lavishly decorated and the collection of tapestries and paintings top-notch. Drift around the gardens and make believe you're a monarch.