If you’re looking for places to visit in Scotland off the beaten path, you’re about to discover some of the best hidden gems that no one knows about.
I’ve been living in Scotland for two years now and I feel it is my duty to encourage travellers to get off the tourist track that has become Edinburgh to Loch Lomond to the Isle of Skye and back again.
So I’m letting you in on a few of my favourite secret places in Scotland.
Even if you add just one of these non-touristy things to do in Scotland to your itinerary, you’ll experience a part of Scotland that very few others do.
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Not all of these places are easy to reach. Some require a hike or a paddle to reach them. Others require you to hire a car and drive for miles. But the difficulty in reaching them makes visiting them all the more special. Nothing good comes easy!
I’ve marked each of my Scotland off the beaten path destinations on a map to make finding them easier.
Here are 10 of my favourite secret places in Scotland. I hope you feel inspired to visit!
Scotland Off The Beaten Path: 11 Secret Places in Scotland
1. Loch Glencoul & Glencoul Bothy
Loch Glencoul and the bothy that sits at its head is one of my favourite secret places in Scotland. You can gaze out to the loch from the parking area at Kylesku bridge, but the best views of the loch are from Glencoul bothy.
A trip to Glencoul bothy is suited to the adventurous. To get to the bothy you need to hike from Inchnadamph or Kylesku through some of Scotland’s roughest unmarked terrain. If you go via Inchnadamph you’ll have the chance to see Britain’s highest waterfall, Eas a’ Chual Aluinn. You can also reach the bothy by sea kayak or boat [Kylesku Boat Tours have a tour of this area].
The effort is worth it however. There are some fabulous bothies throughout Scotland, but the location of Glencoul bothy makes it all the more special, nestled between craggy mountains with some of the best views of Loch Glencoul at sunset.
The bothy is equipped with one bedroom that sleeps up to 6, and a common area with a fireplace. There are abundant wild camping opportunities outside too.
You can also spot common and grey seals in this area.
It’s a truly special feeling being in an area of Scotland so few people see.
Many people drive right by Cluanie in favour of reaching Eilean Donan Castle or the Isle of Skye without realising this hidden gem.
Cluanie has some of the best hiking in Scotland that is very much off the beaten track. The section from Cluanie to Morvich on the Cape Wrath Trail is one of Scotland’s most spectacular trails.
Loch Cluanie is located nearby. One of the best viewpoints of the loch is via a 4×4 track that leads up the hillside. I also once discovered a large herd of wild deer from this viewpoint!
The track is mainly used by walkers on the Cape Wrath Trail, so you can park somewhere safe at the bottom of the track and walk up.
The Cluanie Inn is one of the best pubs in Scotland and a great place to stop for a bite to eat to take in the gorgeous scenery. It’s a nice place to grab a bite to eat or a dram [if you’re not driving].
3. Cairnpapple Hill
West Lothian isn’t known as a tourist hotspot, however it offers plenty of non-touristy things to do in Scotland, including many interesting historical attractions.
Most people tend to whizz past West Lothian on their way to Glasgow or the highlands, but I highly recommend stopping at Cairnpapple Hill, an ancient burial and ceremonial ground that dates back 5,500 years! And while many travellers flock to Inverness to see Clava Cairns, very few realise Cairnpapple Hill is located a short drive from Edinburgh.
From the modest parking lot, it is a short walk to reach the hill, which has lovely views of Edinburgh and on a clear day you may even spot the Isle of Arran.
While there aren’t any standing stones here, the henge is nevertheless enthralling. The best time to visit Cairnpapple Hill is during March- October so you can see inside the cairn.
+ Read more: 50+ places on my Scotland bucket list
4. The Four Border Abbeys
Visiting the Four Border Abbeys in the Scottish Borders makes for a wonderful day trip from Edinburgh or Glasgow. The abbeys were all established in the 1100s and have spectacular architecture.
Many think the majority of Scotland’s history lies in the highlands, but it is really in the Scottish Borders. It makes perfect sense, as ancient armies would take the route through the Scottish Borders to reach Edinburgh or Stirling, resulting in skirmishes and a lot of activity taking place.
Many important Scottish figures also chose the Scottish Borders as their final resting place.
Melrose Abbey is where Robert the Bruce’s heart is buried. Why only his heart? When he died he demanded his heart be removed from his chest and taken on crusade. It is said his heart was thrown at an enemy in battle, recovered and hidden for many years before it was rediscovered and buried at Melrose Abbey. A plaque commemorating the mighty Scottish King marks its burial. Alexander II of Scotland is also buried here.
Built in 1150, Dryburgh Abbey is considered one of the most beautiful abbeys in Scotland and is also the site where Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott is buried. A magnificent ruin survives despite the abbey being set on fire three times!
Jedburgh Abbey is a spectacular abbey that was often fought over due to its ties to royalty and proximity. It served the royal castle in Jedburgh; part of the abbey church where Alexander III of Scotland and Yolande de Dreux were married survives to this day.
It was fought over between the Scottish and the English during the Wars of Independence [1296-1356] and again in the sixteenth century. As a result it suffered a lot of damage. The ruin gives an insight into just how remarkable this abbey would have been.
The fourth abbey, Kelso Abbey was founded by monks invited by King David I. Like Jedburgh Abbey, it suffered from English invasions, and not much of the abbey remains. It is still worth visiting as the church ruin is one of the greatest examples of Romanesque architecture in Scotland.
Read more: 21 tips for sustainable tourism in Scotland
5. Falls of Glomach
The 113m Falls of Glomach is one of the tallest waterfalls in the United Kingdom. The area is also one of the wildest.
I once wild camped next to the falls; listening to the powerful waterfall through the walls of my tent is one of my fondest memories.
To reach the Falls of Glomach you need to hike for three hours from Morvich. You’ll follow a stalkers path through Bealach na Sroine, which means ‘the pass of the nose.’
When you reach the falls, there is a warning sign before the path that leads down to the gorge for closer views. Only attempt the path if you’re an experienced hiker, as it is rough and slippery, sometimes requiring a scramble.
6. Bealach na Bà, Applecross
Bealach na Bà was a nail-biting experience yet one of the most beautiful passes I’ve driven through.
It is the third highest road in Scotland at 626 metres, thus not for the faint hearted!
If driving from the east, the pass will take you to Applecross, a peninsula which is home to just a few hundred people.
There is a car park at the top of the pass so you can get out and enjoy the views.
7. Handa Island
Located on the north-west coast, Handa Island is a good off-beat excursion if you’re driving the North Coast 500.
Handa Island is a bird sanctuary. Some of the birds you’ll see on Handa island include puffins, guillemots, razorbills , fulmars, kittiwakes and great skuas.
One of my favourite memories of this island is lying down and watching the thousands of birds that nesting in the cliffs. It’s an experience that makes you stop and just be in the moment.
It only takes 3 hours to walk the circumference of this tiny island, making it a perfect half-day activity if you’re in the area, or a full day trip from Inverness.
To reach Handa Island you must go by ferry, or rather, a small speed-boat which the Scots like to call a ferry. The ferry takes just 10 minutes, and after taking part in a short educational talk, you’re free to explore the island by yourself.
8. Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve
The Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve is Britain’s first National Nature Reserve, and a nature lover’s playground.
There is diverse wildlife in the nature reserve, including golden eagles, pine marten, and crossbills.
I recommend hiking The Mountain Trail, Britain’s only waymarked mountain walk, which takes you through Scots pines and a scramble up quartzite rocks to reach panoramic views of the nature reserve.
This walk offers amazing views of my favourite mountain, Slioch. You’ll also see Loch Maree and the ridges of Beinn Eighe.
9. Glen Feshie
Glen Feshie is a wildly beautiful glen that has inspired some of the United Kingdom’s greatest artists. From its enchanting Scots pinewoods to the River Feshie that flows through the glen, it’s easy to understand why.
The glen that Sir Edwin Landseer was referring to in his famous painting ‘The Monarch of the Glen’ is actually Glen Feshie!
Landseer spent some time visiting his friend that owned a house in the glen. All that is left of the house now is the chimney, which can be spotted in the open area near Ruigh Aiteachain bothy.
Glen Feshie has also been used as a filming location for various television and film including Mary Queen of Scots, The Queen, and Netflix series The Crown.
Today Glen Feshie attracts hiking enthusiasts.
To reach the glen you must walk and ford a few rivers. The effort is well worth it.
10. Loch Ossian
Loch Ossian in Rannoch Moor is one of the wildest places in Scotland you can reach by public transport.
I spent a weekend at Loch Ossian with a girlfriend where we went hiking and had some much needed time to disconnect from our phones and be in nature. Loch Ossian itself is surrounded by munros and hiking trails suitable for all levels, making it the perfect base for lovers of the outdoors.
To get here there is a direct train that leaves Glasgow and takes three hours to reach Corrour station, the most remote train station in Scotland. It is then just a 20 minute walk via a shingle track to reach the loch.
All that exists in the area is the Corrour Station House, the UK’s remotest restaurant which also offers accommodation, directly next to the train station; an award-winning eco-hostel located at the bottom of the loch, and the Corrour Shooting Lodge which offers luxury accommodation.
A scene from the cult-classic Trainspotting was also filmed at Corrour station.
11. Invergarry Castle
Invergarry Castle is one of my favourite Scotland off the beaten path castle ruins. I may be biased because it is the castle of my Scottish clan, Clan MacDonnell of Glengarry, but I can safely argue it’s the location and history of this castle that makes it special.
The ruin of Invergarry Castle is now located within the grounds of the Glengarry Castle Hotel and on the bonnie banks of Loch Oich.
Bonnie Prince Charlie visited the castle twice, and supposedly rested here after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden. The castle was partially blown up shortly afterwards by the Duke of Cumberland and his English troops in 1746. The castle didn’t completely yield however, as you’ll see from the impressive ruin it is today.
Invergarry Castle is particularly beautiful in spring when the rhododendrons are in bloom.