5 Must Visit Cities on Scotland's Mainland
Arts & Culture
Scotland has a total of eight cities, each with its own special charm and attractions for visitors to enjoy. Surrounded by picturesque landscapes and steeped in captivating history, these cities are also home to various sites, delectable food and hidden gems. With its efficient railways system and relatively small size, Scotland is easy to navigate, not to mention the breathtaking natural scenery that is always a delight to behold.
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Where to stay in Scotland
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Things to do in Scotland
A town that walked off of the fairytale pages. That's what Edinburgh is for me. Its medieval and gothic Old Town and a neoclassical 18th-century New Town are UNESCO world heritage sites built over dramatic landscapes. This means that there are no modern high-rises/skyscrapers in the city. However, Old Town was one of the first places to have "high-rises" back in the day, as walls surrounded the town, and there was no room for expansion but up. It is said that some buildings went up beyond 10 stories high! The city is easily walkable with many great sites, shops, parks and an amazing food & drink scene. Let's also remember that J.K. Rowling lived here for awhile while she worked on some of her famous "Harry Potter" books.
Perth used to be the capital of Scotland until the mid-15th century, where many historical events took place, such as the displaying of William Wallace’s body after his death. It recently regained its status as a city after losing it about 50 years ago due to lost paperwork (oops). Perth is known for its architecture, live music, rich history (such as Scone Palace — where Scotland’s Kings were crowned), gorgeous nature trails, museums and castles (and castles that are museums). It is a delightful city that will charm you with its quaint streets and friendly people.
Glasgow is biggest city in Scotland, industrial and more Victorian in style than Edinburgh with two parts, East End and West End. It is said to be founded by Christian missionary St. Mungo, who is buried at Glasgow Cathedral. Glasgow differs from Edinburgh, so it is wise to come without expectations. As you explore it, you will peel layer after layer of this bustling city that will surprise you in one way or another. Since it's on a larger scale, the city has excellent transportation with its easy-to-navigate metro system and buses. Its slogan is "People Make Glasgow" for a reason, you'll encounter more locals here than in the capital. They are all very welcoming and always down for a good time. Glasgow is known for its rich culture, lively music scene & nightlife, vibrant food & drink scene, art scene (such as the Glasgow Mural Trail), museums and shopping. There is much to see here and explore.
Dundee is the sole city in the UK to be recognized as a City of Design by UNESCO. Here you can see the only Victoria & Albert (V&A) museum outside of England. And visit Arbroath Abbey, the birthplace of the Declaration of Arbroath, which inspired the Declaration of Independence. As much of Scotland, it is also known for its delicious & innovative food scene. And if you are a golf fan, you'd be pleased to know that there are over 50 golf courses within an hour's drive and only ~25 minutes until the famous St. Andrews, where golf has been played for over 600 years.
The Highlands capital should be on everyone's list with its breathtaking landscape, great for hiking, prehistoric sites and charming walks along the River Ness. Dive into an enchanting realm in one of the biggest second-hand bookstores in Scotland: Leakey's Bookshop. Trust me, you will not want to leave. Then there is something for everyone at Victorian Market, from diverse locally sourced food stalls to artisanal ice cream and bagpipes. There is much to explore in and around this town, such as Culloden Battlefield. And Ness Island is a must where you can take a relaxing walk. You can go dolphin sighting (yes, there are dolphins in Scotland). Or go to Speyside, the largest whisky-producing area in Scotland due to its abundance of water and quality of it.
Need to Know
For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Kelly Hendrix’s guide, Culture & Adventure in Scotland: Edinburgh and Loch Lomond.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Scotland.