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Scotland

Main attractions

Fingal's Cave, Argyll and Bute
Fingal's Cave, Argyll and Bute / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Some of the landmarks of Scotland are well known internationally but nevertheless most people do not realise how rich and distinctive is the cultural and natural heritage of this country.

Among the highlights of Scotland can be mentioned:

  • Castles. If United Kingdom has some of the best castles in the world, Scotland has some of the best in United Kingdom. Much of the effect is created by the expressive scenery around the castles.
  • Palaces. Scottish palaces (most of them modestly called - "houses") often are preserved in excellent state. They house very valuable art collections.
  • Ancient settlements and megalithic monuments. Scotland is the home of the best preserved prehistoric architecture north from Alps.
  • Cliffs and sea caves. In many locations of Scotland the rugged cliff scenery creates harsh nordic mood of unique beauty.

Natural landmarks

Caves, cliffs and rock spires

  • Conachair precipice - Na h-Eileanan Siar, Hirta Island in St. Kilda Islands. Up to 427 m tall precipice, rising up from the sea.
  • Stac an Armin and Stac Lee - Na h-Eileanan Siar, St. Kilda Islands. Tallest sea stacks in Britain. Stac an Armin is 196 m tall, Stac Lee – 172 m high. Droppings of numerous Northern Gannets have turned these stacks white.
  • Old Man of Hoy - Orkney Islands. 137 m tall, incredibly thin sea stack which may colapse soon.
  • Fingal’s Cave - Argyll and Bute. Highly unusual sea cave, formed by basalt columns and overlaid with arched roof. Inside the cave can be experienced echo effect. Cave is 85 m long, up to 23 m high.
  • Smoo Cave - Highland. Combined sea cave and stream cave, 83 m long. At the sea it represents a very impressive, 15 m high and 40 m wide grotto. River enters the cave with a 20 m tall waterfall.
The Bass Rock, East Lothian
The Bass Rock, East Lothian / Tom Jervis, / CC BY 2.0

Other natural landmarks

  • Loch Ness monster – Nessie - Highland. Best known cryptid in the world albeit not too credible. Nessie is a supposed creature living in Loch Ness – large lake in Scottish Highlands. By many considered to be a surviving reptile similar to plesiosaurs. Attained world wide fame in 1933 although supposedly mentioned already in 6th century AD. Numerous search expeditions with state of the art technologies have found some unexplained phenomena but there have been no convincing proofs for existance of Nessie.
  • The Bass Rock - East Lothian. Small island, towering 107 m high and almost totally surrounded by steep cliffs. Island hosts the largest colony of gannets in the world – more than 150,000 birds. Due to the incredible number of white birds and their droppings the island looks white.
  • Falls of Glomach - Highland. 113 m tall waterfall, one of the most impressive ones in United Kingdom.
  • The Fortingall Yew - the oldest known yew (Taxus baccata). In 18th century the tree had a girth of 17.2 m. Now two parts remain.
  • Stronardron Tree - Argyll and Bute. Tallest tree in Britain – in February 2009 it was measured to be 63,79 m tall.
  • Corrywreckan whirlpool - Argyll and Bute. Whirlpool, created by tidal currents in Corrywreckan straits between Jura and Scarba islands. Speed of current reaches 16 km/h. This rises waves up to 9 m high and the roar of whirlpool is heard even 16 km far away.

Man made landmarks

Hirta medieval village, St. Kilda Islands
Hirta medieval village, St. Kilda Islands / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Urban planning monuments

  • Hirta medieval village - Na h-Eileanan Siar, Hirta Island in St. Kilda Islands. Unique monument of settlement planning where people adjusted their lives on a limited land area with harsh climate.
  • Edinburgh New Town - City of Edinburgh. Masterpiece of Neo-Classical urban planning and architecture, developed mainly in 1765 – 1850. This part of Edinburgh represents the philosophy of Enlightement. Contains numerous valuable monuments of Neo-Classicism architecture, such as Bute House, Dundas House, Regent Terrace.
  • Edinburgh Old Town - City of Edinburgh. This part of Edinburgh has retained medieval street network and numerous old buildings. Contains numerous underground passages, very narrow streets. Edinburgh Castle rises above the city, adding special charm. Many buildings are very tall for their time.
  • New Lanark - South Lanarkshire. Industrial village, developed by David Dale – cotton mill owner in 1786. His son-in-law Robert Owen planned the village in such a way as to make the life of workers possibly happy. Village consists of rows of communal houses and public institutions – school and others.
  • Portree Quayside - Highland. Picturesque rows of colourful houses between the sea and cliffs.
Castle Stalker, Argyll and Bute
Castle Stalker, Argyll and Bute / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Castles

  • Balmoral Castle - Aberdeenshire. Favourite summer residence of Brittish royal family. Construction of estate started in 1390, mainly built in 15th century. Royal family extended it in 1856.
  • Caerlaverock Castle - Dumfries and Galloway. Very impressive castle built in 1270ies. The massive triangular castle is surrounded by large moat. Abandoned since 1640, but well preserved.
  • Dunnottar Castle - Aberdeenshire. Ruins of medieval castle in dramatic location – secluded, 50 m tall cliff at the sea. Ruins are remnants of structures built in 13th – 17th centuries, but fortress built here well before. First mentioned already in 681 AD.
  • Dunvegan Castle - Highland. Medieval castle, seat of MacLeods for 800 years. Oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. Castle houses important relics of MacLeod clan, some with purported magical properties, like Fairy Flag.
  • Edinburgh Castle - City of Edinburgh. Dominating element of Edinburgh City, hilltop castle fortress. Royal castle located here since 12th century, built in many phases over 12th – 16th century and later. Historically very important complex of buildings.
  • Eilean Donan Castle - Highland. Beautiful medieval castle on an island in the lake, connected to the mainland over stone bridge from early 20th century. Originally built in 13th century to defend from Vikings. Demolished in 1719, restored in 1919 – 1932. Very picturesque structure.
  • Glamis Castle - Angus. Ancient, legendary castle, inhabited by lords of Glamis since 1372 (although existing before). Exquisite plasterwork ceilings in several rooms. Place, where William Shakespeare’s play Makbeth takes place. Unusual and weird stories about this castle, like story about Monster of Glamis – a crippled child kept in the castle away from other people.
  • Smailholm Tower - Scottish Borders. 15th – 16th century structure – tower house near the English borders. Represents a spectacular monument due to its dramatic location on mountaintop. Four floors, walls are up to 2.4 m thick.
  • Castle Stalker - Argyll and Bute. Massive four-storey keep – tower on a tidal islet on Loch Laich. One of the most picturesque Scottish castles, also preserved in authentic state. Small fort built circa 1320, present structure – around 1440ies. Abandoned in 1840ies but repaired already in 1908.
  • Stirling Castle - Stirling. One of largest and most important castles in Scotland, located on clifftop. For most part built in 15th – 16th centuries, although mentioned already in 1110. Nowadays the architecture of this well preserved castle represents a valuable example of Renaissance archtiecture in this region. Important monument is the beautiful Renaissance Great Hall, built in 1497 and Royal Palace – one of the greatest Renaissance style buildings in Great Britain, adorned with intricate stone carvings.
  • Tantallon Castle - East Lothian. Impressive ruins of medieval fortress, towering above steep sea coast. Cosntructed in the middle of 14th century, in ruins since 1651. Unusual structure, basically consisting of a single, over 15m tall and 90 m long wall, delimiting a narrow promontory. This old structure together with rough sea and coastal cliff landscape provides very impressive sights. Stories and images of ghosts.
Culzean Castle, South Ayrshire
Culzean Castle, South Ayrshire / , user StaraBlazkova / CC BY-SA 3.0

Palaces

  • Cairness House - Aberdeenshire. Magnificent country house, built between 1791 – 1797, one of the finest examples of Neo-Classical architecture in Britain. One of the rare calendar houses of the world, with planning representing calendar numbers, includes also many masonic and pagan symbols.
  • Culzean Castle - South Ayrshire. Enormous house, which was built in 1777 – 1792 in the site of former castle. Below the castle are sea caves. Stories about ghosts.
  • Duff House - Aberdeenshire. One of the most exquisite Georgian country houses in Britain, built in 1735 – 1740. The beautiful rooms now house art gallery.
  • Dumfries House - East Ayrshire. Country house in Palladian style, built in 1750ies. Well preserved, even most of furniture is original. House has very valuable Chippendale furniture.
  • Falkland Palace - Fife. Former royal palace of Scottish Kings. Castle already existed when it was acquired by Scottish Crown. Transformed into beautiful Renaissance palace in 1501 – 1541.
  • Holyrood Palace - City of Edinburgh. Official residence of the monarch of Scotland since 15th century. Current palace built in 1498 – 1501. Many valuable interior items, museum (Queen’s Gallery).
  • Hopetoun House - West Lothian. Suburban redidence – enormous stately home. Built in 1699 – 1701, largely extended in 1721 – 1748. Magnificent interiors.
  • Mount Stuart House - Argyll and Bute. Large and ornate country house in Neo-Gothic style. Originally built in 1719, rebuilt after 1877. The very first house with heated pool inside and the first house in Scotland to be lit by electricity.
  • Paxton House - Scottish Borders. Beautiful country house, built in 1758 – 1766, with beautiful interiors and Chippendale furniture. Contains fine art gallery with European paintings.
  • Taymouth Castle - Perth and Kinross. Large country house built in the site of earlier Balloch Castle. Present country house is built in early 19th century in Gothic Revival style. Sumptuous interiors with numerous valuable artworks.

Churches and monasteries

  • Glasgow Cathedral - Glasgow City. Beautiful example of Scottish Gothic architecture. Constructed in 13th – 15th century and, happily, survived Reformation without much damage. Beautiful pulpitum – richly carved stone screen between choir and nave as well as many other details.
  • Glasgow Queen’s Cross Church - Glasgow City. The only church designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and built in 1898 – 1899. The simple, harmonious design represents early Art Nouoveau style.
  • Iona Abbey - Argyll and Bute. Once one of the largest religious centres in Western Europe, established in 563 and serving as a centre for the spread of Western Christianity. 48 kings of different Western European countries are thought to be buried here.
  • Kirkwall St. Magnus Cathedral - Orkney Islands. Northernmost cathedral in the British isles, excellent example of Romanesque architecture. Construction started in 1137, built over 300 years. Dungeon – prison under the church.
  • Rosslyn Chapel - Midlothian. Construction of this extremely ornate and symbolically rich chapel started in 1456. Recently gained unexpected popularity due to speculative theories regarding Freemasonry and the Knights Templar.
  • St Margaret’s Chapel - City of Edinburgh. Oldest existing building in Edinburgh, example of Romanesque architecture. Built in 1124, with well preserved interior. Small structure – inside only 3 m wide and 4,87 m long.
Skara Brae, Orkney Islands
Skara Brae, Orkney Islands / yellowbook, / CC BY 2.0.

Ancient settlements

  • Jarlshof - Shetland Islands. Ancient settlement made of dry stone without mortar. Development started in 2500 BC, in Bronze Age, when several oval houses were built. Supplemented with broch and defensive wall in Iron Age, remnants of Pictish times. Notable additions left in Viking times (longhouse) and finally – medieval times, when fortified manor house was built here.
  • Knap of Howar - Orkney Islands, Papa Westray island. The oldest preserved house in Northern Europe, one of the best preserved Neolithic settlements in Europe, occupied in 3500 – 3100 BC. Similar to the more famous Skara Brae but older. Consists of two dry stone houses.
  • Broch of Mousa - Shetland Islands. The best example of broch – prehistoric dry stone tower, great achievement of ancient constructors. Possibly the best preserved prehistoric structure in Europe, built circa 100 BC. Conical tower is 13 m high, has preserved intramural stair.
  • Ness of Brodgar - Orkney Islands. Important Neolithic settlement with interesting finds which show how people lived here 3500 BC and later. Found remnants of houses, which were painted in bright colors, pottery, tools. Remnants of some 100 m long stone wall – possible border between nearby sacred sites and village. Found also temple like structure.
  • Skara Brae - Orkney Islands. Mainland Orkney. Impressive, extremely well preserved Neolithic settlement. Occupied in 3180 BC – 2500 BC. Remaining ten stone houses.
Callanish Standing Stones, Outer Hebrides
Callanish Standing Stones, Outer Hebrides / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Ancient burials and megaliths

  • Aberlemno Standing Stones - Angus. Group of five Early Medieval Pictish stones. Most ancient seems to be Aberlemno 1 stone – Serpent Stone – with carved serpent and prehistoric cupmarks. Valuable monument is Aberlemno 2 – intricately shaped cross-slab with Pictish and Christian symbols from mid 9th century AD. Back side shows nine figures which seem to represent a battle scheme.
  • Ring of Brodgar - Orkney Islands. Circle of standing stones inside of a henge. Developed circa 2500 – 2000 BC. Northernmost circle henge in Britain. Diameter of stone circle is 104 m – the third largest in British isles.
  • Callanish Standing Stones - Na h-Eileanan Siar (Outer Hebrides). One of the most impressive arrangements of standing stones, circa 2900 – 2600 BC.
  • Dwarfie Stane - Orkney Islands. Hoy Island. Unique monument – chambered tomb carved in single block of sandstone. Possibly the only sample of Neolithic rock cut structures in Britain.
  • Maeshowe - Orkney Islands. Mainland Orkney. Enormous Neolithic cairn and passage grave. Represents a grass covered, 7.3 m high and 35 m wide mound with a ditch around it. Inside the mound are passages and grave built of stone slabs weighing up to 30 t. Rear wall in the central chamber is illuminated in winter solstice. Built before 3000 BC. Contains numerous runic inscriptions left by Vikings.
  • Standing Stones of Stenness - Orkney Islands. Mainland Orkney. Group of prehistoric standing stones. Central structure is a ring of thin stone slabs – only 4 of the original 12 stone slabs still are standing. Around this ring there is cut a ditch in the rock – up to 2 m deep. Possibly developed 3000 BC.
  • Unstan Chambered Cairn - Orkney Islands. Large Neolithic chambered cairn of unusual type, built between 3400 and 2800 BC. Very well preserved, original roof replaced with modern concrete roof. Type locality of Unstan pottery – shallow, elegant bowls.

Parks and gardens

  • Edzell Castle Gardens - Angus. Walled garden, laid in 1604 – 1610. Such Renaissance garden with intricate reliev carvings is unique in Scotland. The design of this garden is linked to medieval esotheric teachings.
  • Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh - City of Edinburgh. Old botanical garden, established in 1670. Very rich plant collections from all over the world, one of the richest herbariums of the world.
Forth Bridge, City of Edinburgh
Forth Bridge, City of Edinburgh / , user George Gastin / CC BY-SA 3.0

Bridges

  • Brig o’ Balgownie - Aberdeen City. Medieval stone bridge with a single Gothic arc, one of the oldest in Scotland. Built in late 13th century – 1320. Rises 17 m above the stream, arch is 12 m wide.
  • Forth Bridge - City of Edinburgh. Landmark structure – cantilever railway bridge, built in 1890. The first steel bridge in Britain. The bridge would be high achievement also today – it is 2.5 km long and rises up to 46 m above the water. Four cantilevers are 100.6 m tall.

Museums

  • Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum - Glasgow City. One of the great art collections of Europe, housed in a beautiful Spanish Baroque Revival building, constructed in 1901. Most visited museum in United Kingdom outside London. Art galleries include numerous valuable works of Italian Renaissance, French Impressionists, Dutch Renaissance.
  • National Gallery of Scotland - City of Edinburgh. National art gallery of Scotland, houed in outstanding Neo-Classical building. Constructed in 1859. Includes also artwork by renowned artists from other parts of world, including Da Vinci, Van Dyck, Tiepolo, Botticelli, Gauguin, El Greco, van Gogh and many others.
Wallace Monument, Stirling
Wallace Monument, Stirling / , user Finaly McWalter / CC BY-SA 3.0

Other man made landmarks

  • Antonine Wall, Rough Castle Fort - Falkirk. Antonine Wall crosses whole Scotland. This is stone and turf wall built by Romans circa 142 – 154 AD. Remnants of this 63km long wall are not very prominent, but initially were 3 m high and 5 m wide. There were built 19 forts along it, the best preserved is Rough Castle Fort.
  • Glasgow School of Art building - Glasgow City. One of iconic Art Nouveau style buildings, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and built in 1899 – 1909.
  • Glasgow University’s main building - Glasgow City. One of the greatest representatives of Gothic Revival style worldwide. Designed by George Gilbert Scott, built in 1870.
  • Holmwood House - Glasgow City. Elaborate Neo-Classical villa, designed by Alexander Thomson. Constructed in 1857 – 1858. It is possible that this building served as inspiration to the modern architecture of 20th century.
  • Wallace Monument - Stirling. Beautiful, 67 metres tall sandstone tower rising above the trees. Built to commemorate national Scottish hero William Wallace.

List of described attractions by council areas

Scotland consists of 32 council areas.

Aberdeen City
Aberdeenshire
Angus
Argyll and Bute
Clackmannanshire
Dumfries and Galloway
Dundee City
East Ayrshire
East Dunbartonshire
East Lothian
East Renwrefshire
City of Edinburgh
Falkirk
Fife
Glasgow City
Highland
Inverclyde
Midlothian
Moray
Na h-Eileanan Siar (Outer Hebrides)
North Ayrshire
North Lanarkshire
Orkney Islands
Perth and Kinross
Renfrewshire
Scottish Borders
Shetland Islands
South Ayrshire
South Lanarkshire
Stirling
West Dunbartonshire
West Lothian

Map of Scotland