A Simple Guide to the Regions of Scotland
Are you wondering where you should visit in Scotland? It can be confusing, I totally get it. There are literally so many things to see and do that it can feel a little overwhelming!
To help you get your bearings, I’ve created this guide to the regions of Scotland. In this guide I’ll tell you what each area is known for, what you can do there, and point you to helpful resources to help you plan.
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Aberdeenshire & Moray
Aberdeenshire isn’t a tourist hotspot- which is great if you want to get off the beaten path! It comprises of the city of Aberdeen, and stretches across the east side of the Cairngorms National Park.
Aberdeenshire is primarily known for having some of Scotland’s most spectacular castles. These castles formed The Castle Trail, which is a self-guided driving tour of 14 castles scattered around the region.
If you’re visiting Aberdeenshire I recommend driving The Castle Trail, exploring the ‘granite city’ of Aberdeen and going hiking in the Cairngorms National Park.
Moray is an area known for its whisky; it is home to the Speyside [a whisky region] and the famous Malt Whisky Trail. The Malt Whisky Trail links eight whisky distilleries and one cooperage. The Spirit of Speyside whisky festival also happens each spring!
Argyll and the Isles
The region of Argyll and the Isles is known as Scotland’s Adventure Coast due to its rugged landscape. It’s also known for its cute seaside villages, delicious fresh seafood and whisky! This region is home to 23 inhabited islands and seven National Nature Reserves.
I recommend going sea kayaking or even hiking a section of the The Loch Lomond and Cowal Way. It’s also the perfect destination for wildlife spotting.
Oban is a seaside town known as the Gateway to the Isles [also known as the sourthern part of the Inner Hebrides]. Go on an island hopping adventure and visit islands with incredible histories such as Jura, where George Orwell wrote 1984, or Iona, where St Columba is buried. Other islands in this region include Coll, Tiree, Mull, Islay, Gigha, and Colonsay.
I also recommend visiting Campbeltown; it was once known as the ”whisky capital of the world” and was home to 28 whisky distilleries. It now has just three, making it Scotland’s smallest whisky producing region. The Springbank Distillery is the most popular of the three- so I suggest doing a tour of this distillery.
Ayrshire & Arran
The region of Ayrshire and Arran is located on the south west coast of Scotland. Ayrshire isn’t a typically touristy area, which makes it a great place to experience local life in Scotland. In Ayrshire you’ll find seaside villages and freshly caught seafood, farmland and over 50 golf courses! Culzean Castle and Country Park is a great place to explore history in the area.
The Isle of Arran is nicknamed ”Scotland in miniature” so if you have a short amount of time in Scotland, I highly recommend visiting! It’s one of the easiest islands in Scotland to get to- simply catch the train to Ardrossan and ride the ferry across. Explore Brodick Castle and Gardens, marvel at the mystical Machrie Moor Stone Circles and hike Goat Fell, the highest point of Arran.
Dumfries and Galloway
Tucked away in the south west of Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway is often missed by tourists. This region is known for its rugged coast and dense woodland- and for inspiring many artists and writers.
This region is home to Scotland’s National Book Town, Wigtown. If you’re visiting Scotland in autumn, make sure you go to the annual Wigtown Book Festival.
The region is also home to Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, which is Scotland’s largest forest park. It is also a designated ‘Dark Sky Park’. Here you have the opportunity to spot shooting stars, the rare Andromeda Galaxy, the Aurora Borealis and stellar nurseries, where stars are born!
Dundee & Angus
The region of Angus is known for its outstanding glens, innovation in design, and Arbroath Smokies [smoked haddock]!
Arbroath Abbey, in the coastal town Arbroath, is where the Declaration of Arbroath was signed- which sealed Scotland’s independence. Angus is also home to Glamis Castle, reputed to be Scotland’s most haunted castle.
Dundee is Scotland’s sunniest city- catching the most rays in Scotland per year. Often the butt of many jokes, Dundee has undergone a transformation in recent years and has been labeled a UNESCO City of Design thanks to its contribution to medical research, comics, and video games to name a few. It’s also home to V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first design museum.
Dundee also has an awesome Kiwi restaurant called The Bach that I highly recommend!
Edinburgh & The Lothians
Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, is one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world. Edinburgh is also a fantastic city to explore on foot.
Visit Scotland’s most well known castle- Edinburgh Castle, tour Holyrood Palace [the Queen’s Scotland summer residence] and induldge in Afternoon Tea at The Witchery. For ourdoor lovers, hike Arthur’s Seat for amazing views of the city or spend the day exploring the hiking trails at the Pentlands Regional Park.
Don’t just explore Edinburgh- there is a lot to cover in the Lothains. Catch the train to Linlithgow in West Lothian to visit Linlithgow Palace where Mary Queen of Scots was born, or visit North Berwick beach in East Lothian.
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Affectionately known as ‘The Kingdom of Fife’ by locals, this region is filled with hidden gems and was used as a filming location for the television series Outlander.
Fife is easily accessible from Edinburgh- it is connected to Edinburgh by the Three Bridges- the Forth Rail Bridge, the Forth Road Bridge and the Queensferry Crossing.
I recommend visiting St Andrews, which was once home to Scotland’s largest cathedral, St Andrews Cathedral, now a romantically glorious ruin. St Andrews is also is the ‘Home of Golf’ and is the location of the world’s oldest golf course- The Old Course. Visit the picturesque villages of Falkland and Culross, where Outlander was filmed. If the weather is nice I also recommend walking a section of the Fife Coastal Path.
Greater Glasgow & The Clyde Valley
Glasgow and The Clyde Valley is known for its parks and green spaces, colourful and quirky characters and entertaining nightlife.
‘People Make Glasgow’ is the slogan for this vibrant city filled with colourful characters. I love visiting Glasgow for its bustling pubs and cocktail bars, abundant dining options, music and sporting entertainment and shopping.
I recommend walking to Glasgow Cathedral from the city centre and also admiring the Necropolis that sits on a hill behind it. You can spot street art on the Glasgow Mural Trail along the way!
If you venture out to the Clyde Valley you’ll find rolling countryside with plenty of walking opportunities and gems such as the Falls of Clyde in the old mill town of New Lanark.
The Highlands alone are a great reason to visit Scotland. Misty mountains, enormous lochs, cosy cabins, ancient castles and craggy coastline- the Highlands really are Scotland’s playground!
The Highlands cover a vast range of Scotland’s mainland; west of the mainland you’ll find the otherwordly island, the Isle of Skye, which is linked to the mainland via a bridge. I’ve also included the surrounding islands of the Small Isles in this section, which include Canna, Rum, Muck, Eigg, Raasay, Ronay and Scalpay. All of these islands make up the northern part of the Inner Hebrides.
The city of Inverness is known as the ‘capital of the Highlands’. Nearby you’ll find historically significant sites including the Battlefield of Culloden Moor where the 1945 Jacobite Rebellion came to a dramatic climax and Clava Cairns, burial cairns and standing stones from the Bronze Age.
I recommend soaking up the Highlands for at least one week by driving the North Coast 500– one of the world’s most spectacular drives.
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Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park & Stirlingshire
From Stirling Castle to the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond– this region the perfect mix of history and nature.
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park is Scotland’s first national park filled with exciting things to see and do. To reach the national park from the east, you may drive through Stirlingshire.
The Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre is a must see for those who wish to learn more about the iconic battle won by Robert the Bruce, King of Scots during the Wars of Scottish Independence. This region also features The Kelpies– the world’s largest equine statues!
I recommend renting a log cabin for a nature break in Killin, an enchanting wee village at the foot of Loch Tay. From here you can go hiking in Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve, explore the enchanting Finlarig Castle ruin, and drive the route around Loch Tay.
Orkney, an island north of Scotland, is a Neolithic marvel.
Orkney is an archipelago that is made up of more than 70 islands. The islands are surrounded by towering sandstone cliffs, glorious white sandy beaches and crystal clear water. The largest island is known as ‘the mainland’ and is 523 square kilometres in size.
Visit the group of monuments that make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The most famous is Skara Brae, Europe’s most complete Neolithic village. There is also the Ring of Brodgar, a Neolithic henge and stone circle, and the Standing Stones of Stenness.
Orkney is also one of the best places to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Don’t get too excited- they’re pretty rare in Scotland!
The Outer Hebrides are often regarded as one of the best places to go off the beaten track in Scotland. They’re an archipelago chain of over 100 islands spanning 150 miles, and they are one of Europe’s last untouched natural habitats.
The Outer Hebrides are made up of Lewis and Harris, Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay, Barra and Vatersay. St Kilda is located to the west and is home to an estimated 1 million seabirds, including the puffin. The largest island is Lewis and Harris [also the largest island in Scotland], followed by North Uist and South Uist. To reach the Outer Hebrides you can catch the ferry from Ullapool or fly!
On these islands you can listen to locals speaking in Gaelic, cosy up in a pub while enjoying traditional folk music, and explore the otherworldly white sandy beaches with a backdrop of crater-like rugged mountains. A must-see is the Calanais Standing Stones, arguably Scotland’s most picturesque standing stones. For bird nerds the Birds of Prey Trail is a beautiful journey that can be explored by car, bike or on foot.
Perthshire is the colourful beating heart of Scotland. With tranquil walking trails, bubbling brooks and cosy villages- Perthshire is the perfect destination for a quiet nature escape.
Perth, known as the ‘fair city’, has everything you’d expect in a small Scottish city but also offers visitors a slower pace. On its doorstep is Kinnoull Hill, a wonderful area with many walking trails which offer views of the River Tay and surrounding valley.
Scone Palace, near Perth, is the location where the ancient kings of Scotland were once crowned. Today you can explore the palace and the magnificent gardens surrounding it!
Perthshire is the best area to visit in Scotland in autumn, when the trees turn several shades of golden. I recommend doing The Hermitage walk to enjoy the best of the autumn colours!
The Scottish Borders is a region that has witnessed a lot of history. The road that soldiers would take either heading north to Edinburgh or south to London went straight through the Scottish Borders- so many skirmishes happened along the way!
In the Scottish Borders you will find rolling hills and farmland, with views to The Cheviots in England from the southern border.
It’s also a popular area for horse riding and hill walking.
The area is home to the glorious ruins of the Four Border Abbeys: Melrose Abbey, Jedburgh Abbey, Dryburgh Abbey and Kelso Abbey. They, in my opinion, are a must-see when visiting Scotland.
It’s also the area where Sir Walter Scott, author of the Waverley novels, once lived. You can visit the graveyard of which he is buried inside Dryburgh Abbey.
Located 100ish miles from the north of the Scottish mainland, you’ll find the Shetland islands. Shetland is actually closer to Norway than to Scotland- and so Shetland is known for it’s Viking heritage with a Scottish twist.
Visualise crystal clear waters washing onto sandy white beaches with thousands of seabirds nesting in the caverns of the tall cliffs; ancient standing stones and Iron Age brochs. It’s no wonder Shetland was named in Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Europe 2019’ list.
The Up Helly Aa festival is a local tradition and celebration of the island’s Viking heritage. The Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement is a must-see; the land was first occupied during the Neolithic period. Also make sure you look out for Shetland ponies, who have been roaming the hills and moors of Shetland for over 4000 years.