Places to Visit in Scotland
- All of Scotland's Five-Star Tourist Attractions
The Scottish tourist agency, VisitScotland has a grading scheme covering over 900 attractions across the country. A 5 star award is the highest accolade and only a small percentage of the best locations achieve this level in recognition of an exceptionally high standard of facilities and services for visitors.
While many of these (like Edinburgh and Stirling Castles) are no surprise, some are not so well known to tourists from either home or abroad. So here are all these first class attractions, with links to where you can find out more about them. Have a virtual tour or plan for that vacation!
Aberdeen Maritime Museum, Shiprow, Aberdeen
Bringing the history of the North Sea to life, there are multimedia displays and exciting exhibitions on the offshore oil industry, shipbuilding, fishing and clipper ships. You can experience what it is like being on an oil production platform and lots more interactive exhibits.
Aberlour Distillery, near Elgin, Moray
Visitors are shown into a warehouse where they can nose and taste six different whiskies, four of which are cask strength. They can then purchase a 70cl bottle of bourbon or sherry cask strength whisky which they fill themselves straight from the cask, cork and capsule the bottle, label and number the bottle which will be registered in a ledger.
Arbroath Abbey, Angus
The substantial ruins of a monastery founded by William the Lion in 1178 who is buried in the Abbey. Parts of the abbey church and domestic buildings remain, notably the gatehouse range and the abbot's house. The Abbey is famously associated with the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320, which asserted Scotland's independence from England. There are displays on abbey life in the ground floor of the Abbot's House, and on the declaration of Arbroath in the ground floor of the Gatehouse.
Arnol Black House, Isle of Lewis
A traditional Lewis thatched house, fully furnished, complete with attached barn, byre and stackyard. A peat fire burns in the open hearth with the smoke filtering out through the roof. A furnished 1920s crofthouse is also open to view. New visitor centre with interpretative displays.
Established in 1823, this Lowlands Malt Distillery is situated between Glasgow and Loch Lomond, at the foot of the Kilpatrick Hills, overlooking the famous River Clyde. Its spirit is made by the unique Triple Distillation process, whereby the spirit is not distilled twice, as elsewhere in Scotland, but instead, distilled three times. Auchentoshan has been extensively refurbished since its acquisition by Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd in 1984. Take a guided tour of the distillery, sample a wee dram, and browse round the gift shop which stocks our full range of Auchentoshan Lowland Single Malt Whiskies and a selection of branded merchandise.
Balmoral Castle, Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire
Access to the grounds and the ballroom only when the monarch is not in residence. Coffee shop and unique souvenirs available from the gift shop.
Blair Castle, Perthshire
The ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl and home to the Atholl Highlanders, the last remaining private army in Europe. Family treasures fill over 30 rooms, portraying Scottish life over 700 years. After a tour of the castle you can enjoy the variety and tranquility of the grounds and gardens which form part of one of Scotland's great estates.
Bowhill House & Country Park, Selkirk, Scottish Borders
Home of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry, the 18th, 19th century house in beautiful countryside has an outstanding collection of paintings, superb silverware, porcelain and French furniture. Relics of Duke of Monmouth, Queen Victoria and Sir Walter Scott. Exhibition of life of James Hogg. Refresh yourself with home baking in the licensed Minstrel Tearoom and visit the restored Victorian kitchen.
Bowmore Distillery, Islay
The joys of three malting floors in a traditional whisky distillery to see and savour. Attractive buildings and the opportunity to nose the `angels share’ in the traditional warehouse.
British Golf Museum, Bruce Embankment, St Andrews, Fife
A wide collection of golf memorabilia, telling the history of British golf from the earliest times to the present day. There are 17 galleries from the origins of golf through the Open Championships to modern golf.
Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries, Dumfriesshire
"Caerlaverock" (lark's nest) is an imposing, historic castle, in a lovely setting, surrounded by a moat and with marvellous views of the Solway Firth from the battlements. With a children's adventure park, two model siege engines, and nature trail in its grounds.
Cardhu Distillery Visitor Centre, Knockando, Aberlour, Banffshire
Located between the villages of Knockando and Craigellachie, high above the river Spey. The whisky made here is used in the making of Johnnie Walker's Red and Black Label brands.
Cawdor Castle, Nairn, Inverness-shire
Not just a great castle but gardens, an ancient wood, a duck pond, a 9-hole golf course, restaurant, shops - and a Shakespeare/Macbeth connection.
Chatelherault Country Park, Near Hamilton, South Lanarkshire
Chatelherault was designed by W.M. Adam in 1732 and includes a Georgian Hunting Lodge, visitor centre, gallery, shop, cafe, gardens, river and woodland walks, adventure playground and Ranger Service.
Clydebuilt Scottish Maritime Museum, Braehead, Glasgow
The story of the River Clyde and the contribution it made to the development of West Central Scotland brought to life at Clydebuilt. The latest technology is used to lead you into the past - 18th century tobacco lord John Glassford recounts his own tale, the river flows through its own changing history from meandering stream to mighty waterway and a giant stage set recreates the building of a liner in the 1940's.
Cruachan Power Station, Dalmally, Argyll
This is a working power station which unusually pumps water at night to a storage area so that it can be used during the day to generate enough electricity to power a city the size of Edinburgh. A unique 30-minute guided tour takes you 1km underground past tropical plants into the machine hall. Learn about electricity and its production at Cruachan, through touch screen technology, video graphics and interactive displays.
Culzean Castle and Country Park, South Ayrshire
Culzean isn't just the "jewel in the crown" of the National Trust for Scotland, it is the crowning glory of the heritage organisation and rightly the most visited property in the trust's portfolio. Fine, historical architecture, glorious views, wildlife, formal gardens, woodland trails and excellent catering facilities. In my view, Culzean is worth six stars at least!
Dawyck Botanic Garden, Near Peebles, Scottish Borders
Dawyck Botanic Garden has a huge collection of trees and shrubs and Dawyck boasts a world famous arboreta with mature specimens of Brewer's Spruce, the unique Dawyck Beech and some giant trees from North America. In the spring, there are highly scented azaleas and unusually hardy rhododendrons. There is also an abundance of wildlife and, if you are lucky, you might see a red squirrel or a colourful woodpecker.
Discovery Point, Dundee, Angus
The sailing ship "Discovery" which took Robert Falcon Scott to Antarctica is the centre-piece of this visitor centre. But in addition to exploring the restored ship there is an interesting exhibition ashore.
Duff House Country House Gallery, Banff, Banff-shire
An out-station of the National Galleries of Scotland, Duff House houses a rich collection of paintings, furniture and works of art in a Baroque house designed by William Adam. It is situated in parkland and also features the Gothic Mausoleum of the Duff family.
Understandably, this is the most popular tourist attraction in Scotland. Not just because it is in the capital but because it has so much on display in a fabulous setting. The picture here was taken in winter time, after a fall of snow made the castle look even more attractive.
Glamis Castle, Angus
Looking like a Walt Disney icing-sugar encrusted fairy-tale, Glamis Castle was originally a 14th century keep which has been extended extensively over the years. The 9th Earl became a Bowes-Lyon when he married a Yorkshire heiress. The late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother came from this family and spent much of her childhood at Glamis. There is a large park, nature trail and an Italian-style garden.
Glasgow Science Centre, Pacific Quay, Glasgow
The gleaming titanium crescent overlooking the Clyde has three floors packed with hundreds of interactive exhibits that will fascinate you. The Science Mall also plays host to interactive workshops where you can get up close and personal with Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches, make hot air balloons or build your own rocket to launch. You can also visit the Science Show Theatre, the lab and Planetarium - one of the finest planetaria in the world. Next door is the large-screen Imax cinema and the 400 feet high Glasgow Tower gives a bird's eye view of the city and the river Clyde.
Began operating on Christmas Day 1887 and five generations later the distillery is still owned and managed by the Grant family. It is the only Highland Single Malt that is distilled, matured and bottled at its own distillery.
Glen Grant Distillery, Rothes, Banffshire
Built at the northern end of Rothes in Moray, Glen Grant is the second-best-selling malt whisky, due to a domination (70%) of the Italian malt whisky market. There are traditional wooden vats and large copper stills and Major Grant's Study brings the distillery to life in a most surprising way. A woodland path takes you through the garden to the heather thatched dram pavilion and tumbling waterfall beyond.
Glenkinchie Distillery, Pencaitland, Tranent, East Lothian
South of the village of Pencaitland in east Lothian, 10 miles from the centre of Edinburgh, there is a museum of distilling which includes a scale model of a distillery.
Glenlivet Distillery, Ballindalloch, Banffshire
Off minor roads from the B9136, south of the village of Glenlivet. It was the first Highland distillery established after the Excise Act of 1823. Glenlivet was purchased by Seagrams of Canada in 1977.
Glen Ord Distillery, Black Isle, near Inverness
Glen Ord distillery was founded in 1838, making it one of the oldest in Scotland. Visitors can purchase "The Singleton Of Glen Ord"©, matured in European oak. It is sold mainly in Asia and is not available anywhere else in the UK. Glen Ord continues to malt its own barley and to use the long fermentation and slow distillation methods followed there for generations.
Highland Park Distillery, Orkney
Founded in 1798 by notorious smuggler Magnus Eunson, Highland Park is one of only six remaining distilleries in Scotland which malts its own barley. So visitors have the opportunity to see the entire process at the distillery from malting to distillation.
Famous Grouse Experience, Crieff, Perthshire
Claims to be Scotland's oldest distillery with a 'flight of the grouse' show, which allows you to take to the sky and enjoy a virtual grouse eye view of some stunning Scottish scenery and challenge your senses in the nosing and tasting bar. Then pay a visit to the marring warehouse for a live demonstration of what skills you need to blend the perfect dram. And don't overlook the statue to the former resident cat "Towser" who lived in the distillery for almost 24 years. During that time she caught 28,899 mice and is now in the Guinness Book of Records as a result of her feat!
Glenkinchie Distillery & Visitors Centre, East Lothian, Near Edinburgh
Distilling (mostly illegal) was taking place here long before Glenkinchie was founded in 1837. In 1777 Edinburgh housed perhaps four hundred illicit distilleries. When the law was changed to permit smaller licensed distilleries, many farmers took out licenses.
Gordon Highlanders Museum, Viewfield Road, Aberdeen
The spectacular exhibition dedicated to this famous regiment includes 200 years of items from its history including 12 Victoria Crosses. There are lots of interactive displays, state of the art touch screens, an audio-visual theatre and film presentations. You can dress up in Gordon uniform and discover what equipment a soldier would have to carry. Tearoom and gardens too.
Gretna Gateway Outlet Village, Gretna, Dumfries & Galloway
Opened in 1999, there are world famous designer fashions at outlet prices. At Gretna Gateway you'll find Polo Ralph Lauren, DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger, Tag Heuer, Reebok and Rockport outlet stores - and lots more!
Hugh Miller's Cottage, Cromarty
Hugh Miller was born in this 17th century thatched cottage in 1802 and rose to international acclaim as a geologist, editor and writer. The furnished cottage contains an exhibition and video on his life and work. To the rear is a Scottish wild garden of colourful native plants, redesigned to reflect Millers own love of nature.
Isle of Arran Distillery and Visitor Centre, Lochranza, Isle of Arran
This is the only distillery on the island of Arran in the Firth of Clyde. It is east of the village of Lochranza, on the north of the island. It is the newest distillery to be built in Scotland, created by a retired managing director of Chivas Brothers in the 1990s.
Jedburgh Abbey, Jedburgh, Borders
King David I founded the Augustinian priory in 1138 to demonstrate to his own subjects - and to those in England - that he could create a magnificent building in the southernmost part of his kingdom.
Johnstons Of Elgin Cashmere Heritage Centre
Established in 1797 Johnstons specialise in the manufacture of cashmere and luxury fibres. Their Heritage Centre and Shop was officially re-opened after a major refurbishment by TRH The Duke and Duchess of Rothesay in April, 2008. The new steading and courtyard development houses a retail shop selling the new Johnstons Home products, as well as a state of the art Heritage Centre focusing on Johnstons worldwide design and product development. Johnstons is the UK's last remaining vertical woollen mill and the only one still to carry out all processes from raw material to finished garments.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
Kelvingrove reopened its doors in July 2006 after a £28M restoration project and now has more space with over 8000 objects on display. A unique Glasgow Style Gallery features the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The new restaurant looks out across the river Kelvin to Glasgow University.
Lochcarron Mill Visitor Centre, Selkirk, Scottish Borders
The Lochcarron Visitor Centre showcases the company's range of knitwear and accessories in cashmere and the finest natural fibres, tartans and tweeds, Scottish jewellery and other gifts. The mill tours have been operating for more than 30 years through the mill to show all aspects of production from spinning the yarn to the finished article.
Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition Experience, Drumnadrochit, Loch Ness
Originally the Official Loch Ness Exhibition Centre, the facility opened over 30 years ago. Now a hi-tech multi-media presentation leads you through 7 themed areas and 500 million years of history, natural mystery and legend revealing the unique environment of Loch Ness and the famous Nessie legend.
Low Parks Museum, Hamilton, South Lanarkshire
Combines displays on local history and industry with the collection of the Cameronians (Scottish rifles) Regiment as well as a programme of changing exhibitions and activities.
Mary King's Close, High Street, Edinburgh
Beneath the City Chambers on the Royal Mile lies a warren of hidden streets where real people lived, worked and died between the 17th and the 19th centuries. Now visitors can step back in time and be guided around these underground closes by a one time resident and witness some of the dramatic episodes and extraordinary apparitions from this site's fascinating and historically rich past.
Mercat Tours (Ghost/History Tours in Edinburgh
A journey into the past with guides who are passionate historians with a talent for storytelling. They introduce you to the characters who lived in the Old Town of Edinburgh in times gone by and have exclusive access to dark underground vaults reputed to be the most haunted place in Britain. Join them - if you dare...
Mey Castle and Gardens, Caithness
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother first saw what was then Barrogill Castle in 1952, while mourning the death of her husband, King George VI. She decided to save the abandoned castle, renamed Castle of Mey, and visitors can see the rooms used by Her Majesty when she stayed there, including her homely and comfortable bedroom. Her enthusiastic gardening has left another lasting legacy for visitors and the local community.
Museum on the Mound, Edinburgh
Part of the former HQ of the Bank of Scotland (founded in 1695 under an Act of the Scottish Parliament and now part of the Lloyds Banking Group), the museum has a number of bank-related exhibits including Scotland's oldest surviving bank note - and a million pounds in banknotes on display. It features the art, design, security - and crime - relating to money.
National Museum of Rural Life, Kittochside, East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire
An award-winning museum, open fields and a historic farmhouse – not to mention sheep, cows, horses and hens. Each season there’s something new – lambing, sowing, harvesting, hay-making.
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
From Viking chessmen to Dolly the first cloned sheep, the museum's collections tell the story of Scotland, the influence the world has had on Scotland, and Scotland on the world. Lots of working exhibits as well as Pictish stones and Queen Mary’s clarsach.
Newhailes, Dalkeith, East Lothian
A fine late 17th century house with impressive 18th century additions and interiors, set in a fascinating 18th century designed landscape. The house has one of the most important rococo interiors in Scotland which played host to many famous figures of the Scottish Enlightenment and was reportedly described by Dr Johnson as 'the most learned room in Europe'. Much of the original decoration and furnishing has survived intact.
Oban Distillery, Argyll
Built in the town of Oban on the west coast of Scotland, below the landmark McCaig's Folly, the distillery produces one of United Distillers' "Classic Malts".
Old Town Jail, St John Street, Stirling
The building was used as a jail in the 19th century - when life was hard for prisoners. On the guided tour you are met by the Governor, the jailers - and a desperate escaped convict - all of whom enter into the spirit of the presentation with creaking hinges, shuffling feet and vivid descriptions. The tourists get sucked into the action too. Not for the faint-hearted!
Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh
Explore our planet's past present and future. In the process, you'll be shaken by volcanoes, fly over glaciers, feel the chill of polar ice, and even get caught in a tropical rainstorm. Discover Scotland's geological heritage in a new free external gallery Earthscape Scotland. You can also take your crew seat in the all new FutureDome to travel forward in time to debate our planet's future.
Paxton House, Berwick upon Tweed, Berwickshire
Another out-station of the National galleries of Scotland, Paxton House is one of the finest Palladian country houses in Scotland and contains a pre-eminent collection of Chippendale furniture, set in 80 acres of gardens, woodland and parkland on the bank of the river Tweed.
Royal Lochnagar Distillery, Crathie, Ballater, Aberdeenshire
This distillery, overlooking Balmoral Castle at Ballater on Royal Deeside, got its Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria after she and Prince Albert visited the premises in 1848. Royal Lochnagar is owned by Diageo and the distillery produces a relatively small amount of whisky, most of which is used in Johnnie Walker black and blue label.
Royal Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh
The new Museum of Scotland brings thousands of years of Scottish history to life from before the Romans to the present day while the Royal Museum (pictured here) next door is full of interactive exhibits.
Royal Yacht Britannia, Leith, Edinburgh
The former royal yacht has become a tourist attraction at Leith Docks which was voted "Best New Attraction in the UK" in 1999. You can stroll around the five main decks, following in the footsteps of the British Royal Family and their guests. Highlights include the State Dining Room, the Sun Lounge, The Queen’s Bedroom, the Crew’s Quarters and the Engine Room. Almost all of the furniture and paintings in the State Apartments are on loan with kind permission of Her Majesty The Queen.
Scone Palace, Perth
Where Scottish Kings, ranging from Macbeth, Robert the Bruce and Charles II were crowned. It is now the family home of the Earls of Mansfield and you can see where the stone of Scone once stood. During the Jacobite rebellions, The Old Pretender spent 3 weeks at Scone and his son Bonnie Prince Charlie visited in 1745. Scone is a treasury of furniture and paintings, porcelain and other objets d'art. The Palace is surrounded by beautiful gardens and peaceful woodland - all under the watchful eye of the ever curious peacocks. There's a great adventure playground for the children to burn of that excess energy, not to mention the unique 'tartan' maze of 2000 beech trees planted in the shape of the heraldic Murray Star. Gift shop, food shop, Old Servants Hall Coffee Shop.
Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, Castlehill, Royal Mile, Edinburgh
Not a distillery but a visitor attraction on Castlehill, part of the Royal Mile near Edinburgh castle. It presents all the information you would ever want to know about whisky in an entertaining way.
Scotland's Lighthouse Museum, Kinnaird Head, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire
Kinnaird Head was the first lighthouse to be built by the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1787 and the only lighthouse to be built on top of a fortified castle. In 1824, the lighthouse was reconstructed inside Kinnaird Castle by Robert Stevenson, engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board. The original lighthouse and engine room are now preserved as they were the day the last keeper left.
Scottish Crannog Centre, Kenmore, Perthshire
A crannog was a wooden dwelling, built on stilts offshore from the banks of a loch and reached by a narrow walkway. They were built around 2,500 years ago to provide protection for the inhabitants of the area at that time. The Crannog Centre at Loch Tay has Scotland's only authentic recreation of this type of Celtic loch-dwelling. Artefacts, wet-tanks, video, ancient crafts, friendly staff and personal attention bring the past to life.
Scottish Football Museum, Hampden Park Stadium, Glasgow
The world's first international football museum, you can experience the magical history of this hallowed National Football Stadium in the unique surroundings of the Scottish Football Museum. The Museum reveals the sights, sounds and stories of the world's favourite game with over 2,500 exhibits making up the most impressive collection of football memorabilia in the world. You can also include the Hampden Stadium Tour and experience the Stadium from a players view, visiting the underground roadway, dressing rooms, warm-up area, and walking down the players tunnel to enter the Stadium to the sound of the famous Hampden Roar.
Scottish Mining Museum, Newtongrange, Midlothian
Created in a former coal mine, visitors can experience the sights, sounds and smells of colliery life and what it was like to be a miner - from men who once went underground themselves.
Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick, East Lothian
Open all year, enjoy exhilarating sea air and breathtaking views and control live video cameras to see puffins and gannets, seals and even dolphins and whales. 150,000 birds come to nest on the islands off the North Berwick coast, particularly on the renowned Bass Rock and the Isle of May. Licensed Café and open sundeck. Boat trips in summer and safe sandy beaches nearby.
Shetland Museum and Archives, Lerwick
The place to discover Shetland’s story, from its geological beginnings to the present day. From folklore to fine lace, boats to bones, underwater creatures to Up Helly Aa and ponies to Pictish art, the Museum and Archives hold large collections relating to all aspects of island life: industry, history, environment and culture. Introducing Shetland’s story and the network of heritage sites throughout the isles, this is the ideal place to begin your Shetland voyage of discovery.
Skara Brae, Kirkwall, Orkney
Uncovered from under the sand after a storm, Skara Brae is a well preserved Neolithic village, inhabited between 3200 BC and 2200 BC. This is the best preserved group of Stone Age houses in Western Europe, containing stone furniture, hearths and drains to give a remarkable picture of life in Neolithic times.
Smailholm Tower, Scottish Borders
Sited high on a rocky outcrop, Smailholm is a small rectangular tower set high on a rocky outcrop. Inside the tower is a model of this Pringle residence and a collection of costume figures and tapestries relating to Sir Walter Scott. It was Smailholm that fired Walter Scott's imagination when, as a young boy, he was brought up by his grandparents at the nearby farm of Sandyknowe.
Speyside Cooperage Visitor Centre, Craigellachie
This is the only cooperage in Britain with a Visitor Centre where you can watch the coopers make and repair the barrels for the whisky industry. After the tour you can browse in a Gift Shop where you can find exclusive gifts and then enjoy coffee/tea and Scottish homebakes in the cafe and all weather picnic area.
Mary Queen of Scots is often associated with Stirling Castle. The Great Hall of the castle has been restored to its former splendour and work on restoring the Palace of King James VI is even more impressive. Museum of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders is located in the castle too. Views to the Ochil Hills and the Wallace Monument overlooking the site of his victory at Stirling Bridge.
Strathisla Distillery, Keith, Speyside
Founded in 1786, Strathisla is the oldest continuously operating distillery in the Scottish Highlands. Distinctive pagodas, cobbled courtyard and picturesque buildings, Strathisla Distillery is arguably the most beautiful distillery in Scotland. Now part of the Chivas Brothers Group.
Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness
Overlooking Loch Ness, Urquhart is one of the largest castles in Scotland. it was built in the 1230s but sacked by the MacDonald Lord of the Isles in 1545 and left to fall into decay after 1689. Most of the existing buildings date from the 14th century. Great views of the loch from visitor centre veranda.
Verdant Works, West Henderson's Wynd, Dundee
Jute works at Verdant with original working machinery, computer displays and film show. In addition to the story of jute there is a background to the social history of Dundee when it was the world centre for the manufacture of jute.
Xtreme Karting, Falkirk
Xtreme Karting allows you to experience the thrills of motorsport in a comfortable, fun filled and safe environment! It features state of the art customer facilities that includes a comfortable lounge viewing area to allow you to spectate in comfort.