What to see in Scotland

First my bias. I live between Glasgow and Edinburgh. I have links with both cities. I do not like “touristy” places like Stonehenge, nor do I go much for “Celtic”** culture. But if someone like me were to visit Scotland, the places I’d recommend:

  1. The Barrowland in Glasgow … it’s a market with a warren of small shops. It feels like it ought to be full of pick-pockets, but I’ve never had my wallet stolen.
  2. Glasgow itself has some superb architecture. I hadn’t e.g. realised that Glasgow has the only building in the Crystal palace style. There are some superb buildings (but it took a guide to point these out) Glasgow University is where the Hunterian Museum & McIntosh Architectural museum are, Kelvingrove museum is good, but Byres Road has some interesting shops on the way to the Botanical gardens back via the subway.
  3. Orkney (several days needed), Kilmartin Glen (day visit from Glasgow) or Arran (an island fairly easy to get to with an hour ferry either way and a modest collection of ancient sites maybe stay overnight). These three areas have a concentration of megalithic monuments in good preservation.
  4. Bo’ness railway (on the Forth) – a railway museum, a trip on a steam train and then a visit to a fireclay mine. Near enough to Callendar House (Falkirk) & Linlithgow palace.
    … If you want to see what modern Scotland really looks like: go to Falkirk. It is a modest town with a good range of shops and almost no tourists. Totally unpretentious and we had a great day shopping there.
  5. Roman: The Antonine wall isn’t up to much.  The Hunterian and Edinburgh museum have many of the stones. The best preserved sites are Roughcastle (big lumps and bumps 1/2 mile from Falkirk wheel canal lift which is interesting) and Bearsden Bath house (about a 20 minute visit in the middle of houses). So, the best sites for Roman would be…
  6. (England) Hadrian’s wall (Vindolanda is the best fort) and Bath (400miles away). The baths at Bath are not too far from Stonehenge, Avebury, West Kennet Long Barrow, Cheltenham, Cirencester and the Cotswold villages & churches.
  7. St. Andrews … castle (+tunnel!!), cathedral, town and beaches (and golf). There are also small fishing villages with harbours like Crail.
  8. The Trossachs area (scenery) … combined with a steamer down Loch Katrine (or hire a bike)
  9. Perth area, there’s a few good places. E.g. Loch Tay Crannog centre, Scone (not seen inside – and it was raining). There are several tourist towns in the area.
  10. Glencoe …. A good day visit from Glasgow (don’t bother with the tourist centre just admire the scenery) ending up in Fort William.
  11. My favourite is the NW coast. The sunsets are just fantastic. The sense of open space and isolation is awe inspiring. But I’ve not been back since they started putting up windmills so it may all be ruined. I think my favourite place is Applecross and the very NW corner of the mainland (Smoo Cave) where you suddenly find a building full of craft shops (last time I visited)

Have I forgotten anywhere? No! Edinburgh/castle is a tourist money-trap particularly the “royal mile”. The centre of Edinburgh has been a building site due to Trams. The shops are not as good as Glasgow (possibly because all you get is tourist trash) Stirling castle & the Wallace monument are not quite so bad but otherwise similar. I particularly dislike what they have done with the “stone of destiny” … it looks like a huge giant sandstone brick (allegedly a drain cover) … and they don’t let anyone photograph it. (Best boycotted!)
In a class of its own:

  1. The Antonine wall ditch … it was 40miles long. It is now just a ditch, not even that for most of its length. There is the odd feature, but the thing you expect to see: the turf wall is almost impossible to see. There is a long section in the middle (from Castlecary not marked and no easy path) to Twechar which just goes on and on and on and on. It’s not till you are bored sick of this ditch, that you suddenly realise just what an enormous task it was to dig by hand. The easiest section to turn into a circular walk would be to start at Auchinstarry (or Croy station – parking is not safe near wall at Croy!!), go along the Forth Clyde canal, up Croy hill (west) walk along the wall to barhill Roman Fort, down to Twechar and then back via the canal.


  1. Grangemouth oil refinery (near Bo’ness)… this is going to sound strange (and I will be alone on this), but personally I’ve not seen anything quite as beautiful/Scottish/awe inspiring as Grangemouth oil refinery on a still summer morning at 7am from the line of the Antonine wall (a road). It helped, that I was walking the Antonine wall and it seemed to take almost an hour to pass Grangemouth. People visit the Pompidou Centre in Paris and gush praise, but comparing the Pompidou centre to Grangemouth is like comparing reading porn to having sex. And there can be too much of a good thing!
  2. Forth Railbridge … it’s still impressive today. View it from Queensferry on the South or the Sealife centre on the North.
  3. The squinty bridge in Glasgow  … I hate it, but you can’t escape the fact it is very different. I think it, along with the science museum & SECC, are supposed to make the area inspiring or something – a bit like a face lift is supposed to make someone look younger. I prefer authentic culture like the Barrowland.
  4. Erskine bridge. This is best seen from a disance. Kilpatrick town doesn’t have much to offer but is a good place to look up. …. I think there is a pub at the bottom which might be a place to stop on the way to Dumbarton Rock which was a British Stronghold in Roman times.
  5. Cumbernauld … this is the worst possible architecture. It is awe inspiring … or should I say eye-watering, for no other reason than it contains all that is worst about the 1960s … particularly the inability to find it!!! I usually end up in the centre by mistake. Leave plenty of time, take GPS, map, sedatives, sunglasses … and an overnight bag.
  6. Aberdeen harbour — if you like boats and a long drive. I think Archaeolink may still be open. There are a few stone circles peculiar to the area. Balmoral isn’t visitable, but the area is pretty, as is the Cairngorms, but it is an awful long drive from Aberdeen via Aviemore back to civilisation.

Dundee has Scot’s Antarctic ship – Dundee was famous for jute & jam, but I can’t recall any tourist places. Some interesting buildings best part is the Tay bridge escaping to Fife.  The transport museum in Glasgow was ruined when it moved, but also has some boat (which is extra).
I should also mention: Shetland – really a mini Scotland with ancient monuments, oil and rock. There is also fishing. Mousa broch was the highlight for me (daytrip) So were the puffins. Lerwick seems to be caught in a timewarp.
The Hebrides … I’ve only been once and visited the broch and stone circle in whirlwind tour. I was there to survey a windfarm – so I don’t remember much except the wonderful scenery the windfarm was going to destroy.
Lindisfarne or holy island (time it right so you are first across the causeway – if you are rich enough and foolhardy enough … try crossing when the tide is just coming in and spend a few hours in the halfway hotel watching the sea consume your car).
Others: Scottish Coalmining Museum, Burns .. stuff, Edinbrugh grass market, Lanark mill (a whole day needed), Distilleries (another tourist trap),
Finally, I have to put in a word for Lenzie Moss & Lenzie Village, a curious juxtaposition of a oh so posh Victorian commuter estate, mental asylum, a 4500year old midge infested peat bog and a industrial landscape encompassing most of the important developments in Scotland. You’ll need the guidebook (not written yet). Bring wellies, a stiff upper lip, a sense of humour & social injustice and don’t get stuck here because we all turn into vampires at night.
**Celtic. Like a growing number of archaeologists and historians I think the idea of the Scots being the Keltoi of Roman writers is just pure fancy.

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9 Responses to What to see in Scotland

  1. Evan Highlander says:

    Well, I JUST HAD to …. ! 🙂 wot about the Highlands and there’s that Place called LochNess – y’know – just ap the road and aroon’ the corner a bittie !
    Strathspey Railway if ye turn aroon’ in e opposite direction…. an well………… if ye gang clean aroon e Bend…………………….. !!
    I’ll let someone else finish this off LOL

    • wot about the highlands … yes, what about the highlands?
      I said my “My favourite place is the NW coast”, and particularly mentioned Applecross. These are in the centre of the Gaelic speaking area, although … Applecross is from old welsh “Abercrossan” or mouth of the river crossan. Which probably stems from Welsh missionaries in the dark ages. Although this wasn’t long after the Gaelic speaking Scots arrived from Ireland. But the linguistics show large numbers of place names on the other side of the country from Norse speaking communities which shows that Scotland owes as much to its historic links to the east (scandanavia) as those to the west (Ireland).
      Historically, William Roy splits his maps of Scotland between the lowlands/highlands, with a divide just north of the old Antonine wall. Linguistic evidence suggests that the Gaelic speaking area was North and West dividing roughly down the Cairngorms. However even by the 1750s Gaelic speakers were very much a minority at less than a quarter of Scots.

  2. Stuart Greig says:

    The Whaligoe Steps are also worth a look. It is a shame they aren’t promoted due to public liability issues.
    BTW: Whats this ‘awful long drive’ talk. The whole place is 1/3 the size of the state of Victoria 😉

    • I live and learn … Whaligoe steps, south of Wick, a steep set of steps going down to a harbour which the elf-n-safety brigade would hate … a must see! Not far from the grey cairns of Camster … a series of crawls to see well preserved neolithic tombs.

  3. nzrobin says:

    Hi again. Thanks so much for posting this. As you know, I am planning a visit in early July, and although much of the route is already selected (travelling in a group of four), your ideas are very much appreciated. There’s a lot of places on your list, and it’ll take a bit of sorting: but Mr Google Maps and me – we’ll sort out the spots.
    For me, this is a very cool post.

    • Nzrobin, my wife laughed when I mentioned Cumbernauld and was horrified when I mentioned grangemouth … but my son who did the Antonine walk (not marked) understood.
      She also chided me for not mentioning Edinburgh … but everyone does Edinburgh. Have to mention the Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo.
      I should to be fair and mention there’s a place called London. Sites worth seeing (as family): Underground, pop out of the subway and stand looking at all the tourists looking at Big Ben. London eye, head to Trafalgar square. Walk up to the British Museum. Next day: Covent garden, science museum. St. Pauls. Another day needed for London zoo (with kids).
      Tips for London … take food and drink. Wear bright distinctive clothing (so you can stay together) Do not put anything valuable in a rucksack – tourists are obvious and someone will get in at some point – either that, or something in London makes the zips open by themselves. To make it more difficult I snapped off the zips (the second time we went)

  4. And another thing you may not be aware of is that international mobile phone calls are a rip off. When we went to Denmark for a couple of weeks I bought pay-as-you-go package from a Danish supplier and used that throughout the visit. The other advantage, is you then decide who you give the new phone number to … which makes for a quiet holiday. However, if you are going to remote places, you may not get coverage in Scotland. I believe Vodafone have a better coverage because they operate at 900MHz – but not all phones are dual frequency. If in doubt tesco have a £10 phone which you should be able to get mail order.

    • nzrobin says:

      Yup. Agreed. International mobile is a waste of money. I intend to bring my iPad and use free WIFI at the hotels where I stay. Email and facebook every couple of days do it for me (and some selected blogs).

  5. Miruna says:

    Very nice post. I can’t wait to visit Scotland. Thanks for the tips!

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