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20 Secret Places in Scotland Off The Beaten Path

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!

>> Planning a trip to Scotland? Be sure to read my ultimate guide

Scotland Off The Beaten Path: 20 Secret Places in Scotland

1. Loch Glencoul, Assynt

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.

If you intend to visit the bothy you may need to contact the estate first. You can read more about that here, and always adhere to the bothy code when visiting bothies.

It’s a truly special feeling being in an area of Scotland so few people see.

Glencoul bothy and the glencoul bothy in kylesku
Hidden gems Scotland: Loch Glencoul and the bothy in the distance

2. Cluanie, Scottish Highlands

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].

Read more: Overtourism in Scotland and where to go instead

the bothy at cluanie on the cape wrath trail
Camban bothy offer shelter on the Cape Wrath Trail in the Cluanie to Morvich section

3. Cairnpapple Hill, West Lothian

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!

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.

It is truly one of the best hidden gems Scotland has to offer.

+ Read more: 50+ places on my Scotland bucket list

Cairnpapple hill in west lothian in scotland
Cairnpapple Hill – one of the best hidden gems Scotland has

4. The Four Border Abbeys, Scottish Borders

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: Hidden Gems in the Scottish Borders

Melrose abbey in the scottish borders
Melrose Abbey

5. Falls of Glomach, Scottish Highlands

The Falls of Glomach is one of the tallest waterfalls in the United Kingdom, standing at 113 metres. This area is also one of the wildest places in Scotland.

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 stalker’s 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.

Read more: 25 tips for sustainable tourism in Scotland

falls of glomach in the scottish highlands
Falls of Glomach

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.

bealach na ba in scotland on the north coast 500
Bealach na Bà

7. Handa Island, Inner Hebrides

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 and one of the best birdwatching sites in Scotland. 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.

bird watching on Handa island is one of my favourite secret places in scotland
Birds on the sea cliffs of Handa Island

8. Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, Scottish Highlands

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.

Beinn Eighe national nature reserve in the north-west highlands of Scotland
Views from the top of The Mountain Trail

9. Glen Feshie, Cairngorms National Park

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.

Scots pines trees in Glen Feshie in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Scots pinewoods in Glen Feshie

10. Loch Ossian, Rannoch Moor

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.

loch ossian scotland off the beaten path
Loch Ossian

11. Invergarry Castle, Scottish Highlands

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.

non touristy things to do in scotland invergarry castle
Invergarry Castle

12. Ruthven Barracks, Kingussie

Ruthven Barracks is quite a sight- and I’m surprised it’s not very well known. Maybe it’s because many people pass it unknowingly, as the A9 (which connects Inverness to Edinburgh) bypasses this striking ruin.

The Ruthven Barracks was once used by the English to control the Scottish Highlands. It was situated on General Wade’s Military Road, a road that ran through the highlands in the mid-18th century to bring order to the Highlands during the time of the Jacobite Rebellion.

Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army successfully took control of Ruthven Barracks during the 1746 Jacobite Rebellion, however, when they lost the Battle of Culloden, they eventually deserted the place.

Today Ruthven Barracks is a beautiful ruin located near the town of Kingussie. The ruin is free to visit, and an excellent place to stop if you are driving from Edinburgh to Inverness or vice versa.

ruthven barracks near kingussie in the cairngorms national park
Ruthven Barracks

13. Singing Sands, Islay

The Singing Sands beach on Islay is pure magic. The beach gets its name because if you rub the sole of your shoe against the sand, it makes a singing noise.

This is due to the silica content in the sand and the weather conditions.

This beach is also a lovely place to have a picnic or sunbathe on a nice day. It’s not recommended you swim here as it can be unsafe, but the temperature of the water is probably more than enough to put you off!

Rather than swimming, just relax and enjoy the view of the crystal clear water. This beach is a slice of heaven and remains firmly on my list of the best beaches in Scotland.

How to get there: Drive toward the Oa Peninsula from Port Ellen. There is a car parking space for a couple of cars located around 50 yards before you reach Carraig Fhada Lighthouse. You will walk around the coast from here- be sure to explore the lighthouse too- it’s the only square-shaped lighthouse in Scotland!

Singing Sands, Islay

14. Finlarig Castle, Killin

Not only is Killin one of my favourite villages in Scotland, but it’s also home to one of my favourite castle ruins: Finlarig Castle.

Finlarig Castle is tucked away in the forest at the heel of Loch Tay; it was built by ‘Black’ Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy in the first half of the 17th century. He was known as an evil man, who would hang commoners from an oak tree outside the castle.

There’s also a rumour that the pit located outside the old kitchen was a beheading pit, however, this is folklore, as it was most likely used as a run-off for excess water.

Fun fact: Rob Roy once visited Finlarig Castle. Covered in overgrown ivy and moss, this castle is a spectacularly beautiful ruin.

finlarig castle killin
Finlarig Castle, Killin

15. Eilean Munde, Glencoe

While Glencoe is a tourist hotspot, not many people know about the wee island Eilean Munde- the ‘’graveyard island.’’

Eilean Munde is located north of the village of Glencoe in the middle of Loch Leven. It’s the site where the highlanders of Clan Cameron of Callart, the Stewarts of Ballachulish, and the MacDonalds of Glencoe are buried. It’s also thought that a witch named Corrag who was favoured by the MacDonald’s, is buried here too. 

A small chapel was built on the island in the 7th century, however, it was burned and rebuilt in the 16th century. 

The only way to reach the island is by boat- either your own or a chartered boat. This obstacle prevents many from setting foot on the island, however, you are allowed to visit it.

If viewed from the mainland, the best spot is from the grassy banks near the Isles of Glencoe hotel.

Psst. You visit Eilean Munde in my 2-day Glencoe itinerary.

Eilean Munde island, Glencoe Scotland
Eilean Munde, Glencoe

16. Constantine’s Cave, Crail 

Constantine’s Cave is one of my favourite hidden gems in Scotland I discovered. The natural sea cave is named after Constantine II, an early Scottish king who ruled during the 10th century. He was allegedly killed inside the cave in 952 after a battle with the Danes. 

Constantine’s Cave is located in Crail, Fife; it’s 4 metres tall, 3 metres wide and 8 metres deep. After excavation, it was discovered the cave had been occupied on and off from the prehistoric period. Roman glass and pottery were discovered, as well as amphorae, iron and bone tools. Several incised crosses and Celtic animal engravings were also found on the walls.

Constantine’s Cave is accessible from the coastal walking path, next to the Balcomie Golf Course. 

constantine's cave near crail in fife
Constantine’s Cave, Crail

17. Callendar House, Falkirk

I first stumbled across Callendar House by accident- and boy, what a wonderful surprise! The 14th century French chateau-style house has an incredible history as being home to one of the richest and most powerful families in Scotland, the Livingstons.

Alexander, 5th Lord Livingston, was guardian of Mary Queen of Scots when she was a child. Queen Mary’s marriage agreement to Francis II was also signed at Callendar House.

There is so much to see inside and outside the mansion’s walls, including 300 acres of parkland and a section of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Antonines Wall. The informational displays inside the house tell the fascinating story of the Livingston family- they are not to be missed!

Scenes from Outlander were also filmed in the kitchen here.

The best part? Entry to this historical house is free!

Callendar House on the Scottish National Trail
Callendar House in Falkirk

18. The Cheese Well, Traquair

The Cheese Well is a natural spring found on Minch Moor, near the village of Traquair. It is called The Cheese Well due to the custom of travellers leaving small pieces of cheese as an offering to the ‘faeries’ who guarded the spring.

It is said that the faeries would grant you a safe passage if you left them a little present!

Today the site of the well is marked by an engraved stone along the Southern Upland Way. Travellers continue the tradition of leaving gifts to placate the faeries, although coins rather than cheese are usually left in the spring.

the cheese well traquair scottish borders
The Cheese Well, Traquair

19. Cape Wrath

Cape Wrath is one of the best hidden gems on the west coast of Scotland. It’s also the most north-western point of Scotland and is marked by the Cape Wrath Lighthouse.

It is truly Scotland off the beaten path as the lighthouse is hard to access.

There are just two ways to reach Cape Wrath Lighthouse- by foot, either by hiking north on the Cape Wrath Trail; or by ferry/ Cape Wrath Minibus that departs the west side of the Kyle of Durness.

Only the determined will reach the Cape Wrath Lighthouse, which has a cafe on-site where you can enjoy your hard efforts!

Cape Wrath lighthouse the most north western point of scotland
Cape Wrath Lighthouse

20. Isle of May

The Isle of May is a magical island located off the coast off the east coast of Scotland.

The Isle of May is Scotland’s oldest bird sanctuary; during the summer it’s home to over 200,000 nesting seabirds. It’s also one of the best places to see puffins in Scotland! Up to 90,000 puffins make their nests in burrows and inside cliff faces.

Anstruther Pleasure Cruises operate a ferry that transports you to the island, where you can roam the island for 3 hours before returning to the mainland.

isle of may scotland
The North Horn on the Isle of May

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Cami | The Wandering Fox

Saturday 13th of February 2021

All of these places look so cool! I am planning to spend next fall in Scotland so I'll definitely have to check some of these out, especially the hiking spots : )

Yvette Webster

Tuesday 16th of February 2021

You will love the hiking trails in Scotland. I highly recommend hiking in both the Scottish Borders and in the north-western Highlands to see just how diverse the terrain in Scotland is!

Gordon

Thursday 6th of February 2020

I can't wait to add these places to my list and yet to see them