In today’s interconnected world you can travel almost anywhere and do almost anything you fancy. Swimming with dolphins, skydiving in the Grand Canyon, going to a masquerade ball for the Venice carnival… who doesn’t have a travel bucket list? Unfortunately, to tick your way through the list of must-dos and must-sees you usually need plenty of time and money.
But you don’t have to travel to the other side of the world for a life-changing experience. Or spend thousands or even hundreds of hard earned cash. Put Scotland on your travel bucket list and a whole world of unique, exciting and awe-inspiring events and activities are yours to enjoy. Whether you’re riding the Hogwarts Express, hunting the Aurora Borealis or the owner of a VIP ticket to the world’s biggest New Year’s Eve Party, Scotland’s got you covered!
Read on for…
21 compelling reasons Scotland should be on your travel bucket list:
Create your own bucket list here and be inspired by others’ – and let us know which of the following you’ve ticked off by sharing with us on our Facebook page.
Scottish filming locations
Who doesn’t long to visit the location of their favourite film or series for real? Outlander, James Bond’s Skyfall, Harry Potter are just some of the multi-million pound productions that have chosen Scotland’s stunning landscape as their backdrop.
By the way: the real thing is always so much better than on screen.
Scotland’s golf courses
Or an eagle. Even an albatross. You don’t have to be Rory McIlroy to enjoy Scotland’s world-famous golf courses. The nearly 600 are yours to enjoy since almost all are open to the general public. And if you’re not a golfer, you can walk the course and enjoy the views. Completely free of charge.
By the way: if you fancy seeing some real eagles, Scotland’s your place.
Both in animal and vegetable form. Grab your camera (or smartphone) and be on high alert for those cute red squirrels, elusive red deer, acres of glorious purple heather, brooding lochs, snowy peaks…
By the way: Scotland’s photo opportunities are open all year-round and in all weathers. Check out this calendar of which wildlife can be snapped when.
There’s nothing like seeing one of nature’s most magnificent creatures up close and personal – a once-in-a-lifetime moment that you’ll look back on forever. That’s exactly what you can enjoy on a whale-watching trip off Scotland’s coast.
By the way: don’t forget the smaller cetaceans – watch the resident dolphin pod at Moray Firth.
Skiing in Scotland
Ski those slopes. Or sleigh down them, snowshoe along them, or take the easy way on a dog-drawn sledge. Scotland isn’t known for its tropical summers, but its winters are a completely different story. Enjoy the miles of unspoilt snowy pistes across the country from the Lecht Ski Centre in the Cairngorms to the 2000-acre Glenshee Ski Centre in Braemar.
By the way: how about adding a spot of curling to your travel bucket list for Scotland? You’ll need nerves of steel and precision vision for an icy sport that Scots have been playing for over 500 years and have been Olympic champions in.
Shopping breaks in Scotland
Scots loves shopping, hardly surprising given the long, long list of shops and stores at its two biggest cities. Edinburgh’s Prince’s Street and Royal Mile attract millions of shoppers and sightseers every year. And as for Glasgow, Lonely Planet calls it’s a “shopaholic’s paradise”. Visit the ‘Style Mile’ around Buchanan St and Merchant City, and you’ll see exactly what we mean.
By the way: retail therapy in Scotland isn’t just about high street stores and brands; Scotland also does some of the best souvenirs around: sheepskin slippers, handmade tartan, the world’s finest whisky…
Scotland has a long (and bloody) history that’s as complex as it is fascinating. Every century comes laden with landmark events from the battle between William Wallace and the English King Edward I in the early 1300s to the modern Holyrood Scottish parliament opened in 2004. And not forgetting the dozens of astonishing and life-changing discoveries and inventions made during the Scottish Enlightenment.
By the way: to give you an idea of the intensity behind Scottish history, take it from Braveheart himself: “They may take our lives. But they’ll never take OUR FREEDOM!” Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart, 1995
Breathe deep. How long is it since you had a breath of truly fresh air? You know, the sort that fills you with energy and vitality. Then it’s time you came to Scotland, home to some of the cleanest air in Europe thanks to its low population density and miles of open countryside. In some places, you’ll be the only one breathing it too.
By the way: once you taste it, you’ll want to bottle it and take it home.
Scotland’s food scene
Go gourmet. Scotland now ranks as a serious gourmet destination. Local smoked salmon, haggis, butter shortbread and cock-a-leekie soup are just some of the mouth-watering treats to try on your visit.
By the way: you can take your foodie passion up a notch and dine at 1 of Scotland’s 12 Michelin starred restaurants.
Skye’s Fairy Pools
Dive in with the fairies. Or if the water’s just that bit too chilly, watch them from the banks of the magical Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye. Formed by the crystal-clear waters of the Allt Coir a’ Mhadaidh as it flows off the Cuillin mountain range these stunning natural pools are as romantic as they are pretty. Link to romantic places in the UK piece.
By the way: if your bucket list includes more magical creatures, Scotland delivers here too. This is a land of cat siths, kelpies and wulvers. Keep your eyes peeled!
Ride the Hogwarts Express
Grab your fizzing whizbees and chocolate frogs for the ride of your life on the Hogwarts Express! Take the famous Jacobite steam train in Fort William along the famous viaduct featured in the films.
By the way: Scotland also provided other locations for antics of the world’s most famous wizard. Check them out here. But be warned, it takes four days to see them!
We’re slightly biased on this one but who wouldn’t want to play king or queen of the castle for a week, or even a night? If you like the idea of driving up a sweeping private driveway, dining in a great hall or sleeping in the luxurious four-poster…. a castle stay is perfect.
By the way: did we mention that we have literally hundreds of castles to rent?
Get really wet. And not because it’s raining but because you want to. Choose between an adrenaline pumping adventure as you wild-water raft down a fast-flowing river. Or take a more sedate approach with a gentle morning sea-kayaking around the coast.
By the way: Scotland has over 10,000 miles of coastline so there’s really no excuse.
Admire a view
For example, this…
By the way: we’re biased in this one too, but Scotland really is one big view.
Festivals in Scotland
As one of the world’s most welcoming people, the Scottish do festivals with a capital F. The Edinburgh Festival, Military Tattoo and the Highland Games are just three festivals that draw the crowds every year. But there are loads more.
By the way: there are over 200 festivals a year so you’ll be able to enjoy at least one whenever you pop Scotland on your travel bucket list.
The North Coast 500 is a circular route around the Highlands, taking in the unspoilt dramatic scenery of the far North as well as the romance and white sandy beaches of the coast. While you don’t have to do all 500 miles take in at least a couple of stages – the abundance of history, views and nature will mean you can tick off a few other things on your list too.
By the way: you can do the North Coast 500 by car, camper van, motorbike or bike.
The chance of seeing Nessy
Or probably not given his/her poor track record of sightings. But there’s nothing like investigating Scotland’s most enduring mystery with a trip to Loch Ness, a hauntingly dark loch whose deep, deep waters have never been properly explored. And who knows, you may well be looking through your binoculars and spot Nessie himself/herself ….
By the way: Nessie’s gender is just as mythical as his/her presence.
Scotland is famous for its whisky and if you take a tour of one of its many distilleries you’ll soon see why. Just take it easy on the tasting because Scottish whiskies weigh in at at least 40% proof.
By the way: sample a few wee drams and you’ll discover that Mark Twain was right when he said that “too much of anything is bad, but too much good whisky is barely enough”.
The Northern Lights
Seeing the Northern Lights features on travel bucket lists the world over. After all, what’s more magical than the Aurora Borealis playing its colourful, dancing magic on the night sky. And there’s no need to rush off to Iceland or the Arctic Circle either – the Northern Lights are visible in many parts of Scotland at any time during the autumn and winter.
By the way: don’t sit in the cold for hours and see nothing – check out the potential for successful Aurora Hunting here.
Sandy beaches in Scotland
With a coastline that literally stretches for thousands of miles, Scotland provides plenty of opportunities to sit on the sands. Choose from pure white beaches reminiscent of the Caribbean (but all to yourself and probably without the sunshine) to urban sands where you’ll enjoy a classic British day at the beach.
By the way: there’s no need to go off the beaten track to see some of the best sands – see some of the amazing beaches near Edinburgh here.
There are New Year’s Eve parties and then there’s Hogmanay in Scotland. And once you’ve seen the New Year in in Scotland no other celebration quite delivers. For the best, join the fun in Edinburgh where the Scottish capital welcomes another year in style with live music, fireworks and the biggest party of the year.
By the way: perhaps more than any of the other 20 items on this bucket list for Scotland, this one is NOT TO BE MISSED.
What have we missed? Why else should Scotland feature on your travel bucket list? Share your thoughts on the Facebook page.