The most beautiful places in Scotland

Joanne Owen

written by
Joanne Owen

updated 26.04.2024

Awe-inspiring glens, castle-topped crags, and culture-rich cities — it’s clear why Scotland is considered one of the most beautiful places in the world. But with such variety, deciding where to go in Scotland isn’t easy. So we asked you to share your insights in our “where's the most beautiful place in Scotland?” survey.

With the results now in, read on to discover the ten most beautiful places in Scotland, as voted by Rough Guides readers in 2022. It'll also arm you with tips on where to find the best accommodation, whether you're looking to discover 7 must-visit places in Scotland you've probably never heard of or are in the market for 7 uniquely Scottish experiences. There's a reason Scotland was included in our round-up of amazing traditional dress around the world.

10. Orkney - one of the northeastern coast's most beautiful places in Scotland

What you love: “The lovely beaches and open scenery” 

Rich in mystery-shrouded Stone Age sites, Orkney is a veritable living museum. The four sites that make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney near Stromness were awarded World Heritage status in 1999. Stromness also happens to be one of the 30 best seaside towns UK

The ancient settlement of Skara Brae is a must-visit. Stunningly sited by the sweeping curve of the Bay of Skaill, the remains of this 5000-year-old fishing and farming village are astoundingly well-preserved, and especially beautiful on bright days.

Then there’s the Ring of Brodgar, the monumental Stones of Stenness, and the nearby Maes Howe burial site. Arguably Europe’s most impressive burial chamber complex, Maes Howe’s most extraordinary feature is the way the tomb aligns with the winter solstice sun. That and the runic graffiti left by the Vikings back in the 12th century.  

Alongside loving Orkney’s spectacular scenery and historic attractions, you also mentioned its excellent opportunities for outdoor adventuring, with one respondent declaring Orkney to have “some of Scotland's best walking routes”. If hikes are your thing, you’ll want to discover 10 great places to go walking in Scotland

    Where to stay in Orkney

  • For cosy stays: The Stromness Hotel by Paymán Club is a comfortable 3-star hotel only a short drive from the Ring of Brogdar and Standing Stones of Stenness.
  • For scenic stays: Merkister Hotel sit on the shores of Harray Loch. Family-run for over 30 years it's home to an award winning restaurant and guests can fish off the hotel pier.
  • For family stays: Standing Stones Hotel in Stromness features a restaurant, bar and large, scenic garden. Good sized family rooms are available as well as a range of spacious doubles.

Find more accommodation options in Orkney

What to do in Orkney

If you're staying in Inverness a 3-day guided tour to Orkney is one of the best ways to explore this fascinating and mysterious area of Scotland.  

Skara Brae, a stone-built Neolithic settlement on the Bay of Skaill on the Mainland, the largest island in the Orkney archipelago of Scotland @ LouieLea/Shutterstock

Orkney's spectacular Skara Brae settlement © LouieLea/Shutterstock

Start planning your unforgettable trip to Scotland today! Simply get in touch with our local experts who will tailor a unique Scottish itinerary to suit all your wishes.

9. Pitlochry – in the heart of Scotland

What you love: “the wild forests and rivers” 

Located in the spectacular Highlands of Perthshire, it’s clear to see why the peaceful, picturesque town of Pitlochry made it into your top ten most beautiful places in Scotland.

Pitlochry is certainly one the best places in Scotland for foodies — think distilleries, pubs, restaurants and tearooms — with easy access to a host of rewarding walks and exhilarating outdoor activities

After visiting and sampling the wares of one of Scotland’s oldest working distilleries, Blair Athol Distillery, head to Queen’s View for a variety of woodland walks and (you guessed it) excellent views over Loch Tummel. 

Lovers of the glorious outdoors will also want to explore Ben Vrackie (“speckled mountain”), with its 841m summit providing a splendid backdrop to town, and its peak offering fine views of the Beinn a Ghlo range to the north. 

Looking for more pulse-quickening experiences? Go gorge-jumping at Killiecrankie Gorge, which also happens to be the site of one of the bloodiest battles of Jacobean history. Meanwhile, mountain biking, canyoning, quad-biking and white-water rafting adventures await in the countryside around nearby Aberfeldy. 

Considering a holiday in the Highlands with kids? Read about 7 things every family must do in the Scottish Highlands

  • For secluded staysPine Trees is a 4-star Victorian mansion set in 10 acres of lush gardens and woodland, it also specialises in Scottish cuisine and features log fires.
  • For luxury stays: Fonab Castle Hotel is a refurbished Highland castle offering luxurious rooms with large bathrooms, as well as scenic views, mature gardens and two restaurants.
  • For budget stays: Pitlochry Backpackers is based in a former hotel and offers dorms, twin and double rooms, a self-catering kitchen, communal lounge, bike storage and a drying room.

Find more places to stay in Perthshire.

What to do in Pitlochry

To make the most of your journey, try a Highlands tour from Edinburgh that takes in Fort William and Loch Ness en route to pretty Pitlochry.

 Loch Tummel And Tay Forest Park To The Mountains Of Glencoe From Queen's View Near Pitlochry In Scotland © grafxart/Shutterstock

Loch Tummel and Tay Forest Park as seen from Queen's View © grafxart/Shutterstock

8. Bealach na Bà – in Wester Ross in the Scottish Highlands

What you love: “the rustic, remote beauty” 

Bealach na Bà ("Pass of the Cattle") is a bona fide bucket-list beauty spot. An exhilarating rollercoaster of a road that connects Torridon to Applecross. In fact, its epic nature earned it a spot in our feature on the world’s most extreme drives, and our overview of the best road-trips in the UK.  

While Applecross may sound like a pretty Cotswold village, its name is a corruption of the Gaelic for “estuary”— Apor Crosan. What’s more, driving Bealach na Bà is certainly no walk in an English country garden.

This former drovers’ route has a 20 percent gradient and countless hair-raising hairpins that make for a thrilling ride while offering jaw-dropping views over to Skye (more on that later). 

If that’s sparked your interest in finding the freedom of the open road, discover more fantastic Scottish road-trips, and read the Rough Guide to the North Coast 500. Bealach na Bà is part of this 516-mile route that takes in everything from stunning coastal scenery and expansive sandy beaches, to rugged mountains and remote villages. 

Talking of which, if it’s seclusion you’re after, check out our guide to the most spectacular remote places in Scotland. Alternatively, if adventure is on your mind, Scotland happens to feature in our overview of where to go for a serious adventure in some of the world’s wildest places. 

    Where to stay in Wester Ross

  • For active staysHartfield House Hostel offers pet-friendly accommodation in Applecross with extensive grounds and covered space for bikes, ideal for cyclists and walkers.
  • For budget stays: The Bunkhouse in Applecross offers a choice of single rooms and small dorms and features a shared kitchen and lounge in a scenic, rural location.
  • For scenic stays: Applecross B&B features a shared lounge, a garden and a terrace all rooms have private bathrooms with shower and breakfast is full English/Irish or vegetarian.

Explore more places to stay in the Highlands.

What to do in Wester Ross

If you're in Inverness and short on time, take an Inverness day trip to discover the wonderful wildness of Torridon, Bealach na Bà, Applecross and Eilean Donan Castle.

Bealach na Bà, Applecross peninsula, Scotland © Jaroslav Sekeres/Shutterstock

The breathtaking hairpin bends of Bealach na Bà, Scotland © Jaroslav Sekeres/Shutterstock

7. Glen Coe – a village in western Scotland

What you love: “the scenery is spectacular and it feels like home” 

Quite simply, Glen Coe is “just magnificent”, as one of our respondents enthused, while another of you celebrated its capacity to “take you back to times gone by”. 

Sixteen miles south of Fort William, Glen Coe (“Valley of Weeping”) serves up breathtakingly beautiful views of a mountain valley tucked between cloud-shrouded, conical peaks. The epic nature of the landscape also matches its dramatic clan history.

This is the perfect destination for ramblers and hikers of all abilities, with the half-day hike over the Devil’s Staircase especially recommended. Part of the West Highland Way, this spectacular trail starts in the village of Kinlochleven. Follow the thistle signs up to the 1804ft pass before ambling down into Glen Coe. 

The awe-inspiring Allt Coire Gabhail hike also affords plenty of opportunities to see exactly why Rough Guides readers voted Glen Coe one of the most beautiful places in Scotland.

The hiking route begins opposite the Three Sisters massif and leads walkers into the Lost Valley. Prepared to be stirred by views of the upper slopes of Bidean nan Bian, Gearr Aonach and Beinn Fhada.

    Where to stay in Glen Coe

  • For grand stays: near Fort William, Glencoe House offers suites in a stately mansion house where you occupy your own wing and enjoy panoramic loch and mountain vistas.
  • For authentic stays: Clachaig Inn is the liveliest and best known hotel in Glen Coe, expect cask-conditioned ales and heaped platefuls of food and comfy en-suite rooms.
  • For lochside stays: The Isles of Glencoe Hotel sits on a peninsula in Loch Leven at the foot of Glencoe. The hotel offers spacious rooms with breathtaking loch and mountain views.

Find more accommodation near Glen Coe.

What to do in Glen Coe

If you're based in Edinburgh and want to explore this world famous area of Scotland, book a day trip that takes-in Loch Ness and Glen Coe.

river etive glen coe rannoch moor scotland uk

The brooding River Etive in Rannoch Moor near Glen Coe © Shutterstock

6. Isle of Iona – a small island in the inner Hebrides

What you love: “it talks to the soul” 

Located less than a mile off the Isle of Mull, with a population of 177, if there’s one word that sums up your feelings about the Isle of Iona, that word is “soulfulness”.  

At just three miles long and a little over a mile wide, it’s been a petite pocket of pilgrimage for centuries. As one of you remarked, the island’s “rich spiritual history set amongst such wild natural beauty leads to a visit that speaks to all five senses on a soul-level”. 

While most visitors come for a day-trip, to truly experience the tranquillity of the Isle of Iona, consider overnighting. It’s home to a host of historic sites, among them Iona Abbey and Dunbhuirg Iron Age fort.

Iona is also blessed with beautiful walks and a stunning coastline, with one of our respondents waxing lyrical about the “turquoise sea and white beaches”. 

Interested in other destinations with spiritual depth? Read our run-down of places to experience awe-inspiring religious ceremonies. And, if you’re seeking the ultimate secluded experience, arm yourselves with our tips for surviving solo travel.

    Where to stay in Iona 

  • For scenic staysIona Pods feature mountain views, 10-minute walk to beaches. The pods are set on a working croft and complimentary WiFi is provided throughout.
  • For family stays: St Columba Hotel is set in large gardens in Iona, it offers a restaurant and bar, as well as a range of family rooms and concierge service for guests.
  • For cosy stays: Ardoran House is close to Iona Ferry Terminal and features a sun terrace and a private beach area. Iona Abbey is a pretty and easy walk from the guest house.

Discover more places to stay in the Inner Hebrides.

What to do in Iona 

Spend some dedicated time exploring the best of Scotland’s West Highlands with local guides on a four-day tour of Mull and Iona

White Sand Beach with Turquoise Sea and Red Lewisian Gneiss on the Isle of Iona in Scotland © yvonnestewarthenderson/Shutterstock

The Isle of Iona is a calm and colourful charmer © yvonnestewarthenderson/Shutterstock

5. Loch Lomond – a lake in southern Scotland

What you love: “the combination of water, mountains, islands and woodland”

At 23 miles long and up to five miles wide, Loch Lomond is Britain’s largest stretch of water. It also presents the very epitome of Scotland’s scenic majesty, as immortalised in the ballad that describes its “bonnie, bonnie banks”. In fact, one of you pointed out that “its banks are called bonnie for a reason”. 

Designated Scotland’s first national park back in 2002, the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park stretch from the lochs of the Clyde Estuary to Loch Tay in Perthshire, with Loch Lomond at its heart. 

While the western edge of the loch can become packed with day-tripping coach tours from Glasgow, the eastern side has an altogether more pastoral feel — think wooden ferryboats, and tree-shrouded islands, with excellent opportunities to walk or take a serene boat trip. 

That said, since you happen to be in the general neighbourhoon, a visit to Loch Lomond is a good excuse to discover Scotland's city of cool: why Glasgow should be your next weekend break with more travel tips from our insider’s guide to Glasgow

    Where to stay in Loch Lomond

  • For luxury stays: five-star Cameron House in Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park offers luxurious en suite bedrooms, a golf course, rooftop infinity pool and four restaurants.
  • For independent stays: The Coachouse is close to Balloch Castle Country Park and features fully-equipped self-catering units with kitchens, lounge areas and private bathrooms.
  • For family stays: Loch Lomond Luxury Lodges in Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park offers 1,2 or 3 bedroom lodges with hot tubs, saunas and spa baths.

Find more places to stay near Loch Lomond.

What to do in Loch Lomond

One of the most magical ways to explore Loch Lomond is to take a cruise with views set sail on an island discovery tour around Scotland's most famous loch.


Lovely Loch Lomond, Scotland © Shutterstock

4. Glenfinnan – a hamlet in the Lochaber area of the Highlands

What you love: “I'm not sure I have the words, it's just so beautiful"

Spectacularly sited at the head of Loch Shiel, respondents praised the sleepy village of Glenfinnan for its “peace, beauty, landscape and diversity”, with many of you highlighting the viaduct and steam train.  

Traversed by the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films, travellers of all ages will delight in taking a trip across the elegant, multi-arched bridge. 

During the summer, a Jacobite steam train runs from Glenfinnan to Fort William and Mallaig, with conventional trains running the rest of the year. There’s a reason this route was included in our round-up of unforgettable train journeys. If it’s old-world charm you’re after, discover more Britain's top five steam railways.

Alongside the viaduct, visitors are drawn to Glenfinnan for the walks and history. It was here in 1745 that Bonnie Prince Charlie rallied forces before the ill-fated march on London, with the Glenfinnan Monument marking the exact spot he raised his battle standard. 

One of Scotland’s most iconic structures, this 60ft column crowned with a Highland clansman in full battle dress occupies a beautiful, brooding spot at the head of the loch, best appreciated from a viewpoint behind the Visitor Centre.  

    Where to stay in Glenfinnan

  • For family stays: Prince’s House offers spacious rooms with en suite bathroom, as well as family rooms. The hotel restaurant is excellent and several rooms enjoy mountain views.
  • Best for walkers: The Armoury villa.

Find more places to stay in the Highlands.

What to do in Glenfinnan

While you won’t want to miss boarding the Hogwarts Express, history buffs might want to consider booking a 4-day Outlander Trail from Edinburgh.

Glenfinnan Railway Viaduct, Scotland © Nick Fox/Shutterstock

Glenfinnan Railway Viaduct — one of your deserving most beautiful places in Scotland © Nick Fox/Shutterstock

3. Isle of Harris – the southern part of a Scottish Hebridean island

What you love: “Atmospheric and wonderfully restoring, it’s a total balm!”

Part of the Western Isles, you adored the Isle of Harris (Na Hearadh, from the old Norse for “high land”) for being “tranquil, beautiful, and full of fond memories”, and for its “beyond spectacular” beaches.

In actual fact, the Isle of Harris is connected to Lewis, with the “division” deriving from a historical split in the MacLeod clan. Harris is hillier than low-lying Lewis, with boulder-dappled slopes descending to dazzling white sands and azure waters that make it one of the best islands in Scotland.

Sheltered in a green valley on the narrow isthmus, charming Tarbet is Harris’ largest settlement. The port’s mountainous backdrop is breathtaking, with the town itself attractively laid out on steep terraces. North Harris is especially spectacular, with bulging, pyramidal mountains of gneiss looming over fjord-like Loch Seaforth.

Meanwhile, though the scenery of South Harris is less dramatic, it’s another stunning area, with its west coast boasting some of the finest stretches of golden sand in the Western Isles, which is really saying something. It's also a big reason Harris was one of your most beautiful places in Scotland.

Find more places to stay on the Isle of Harris.

What to do:

Want to blend a city break with exploring the best of the Western Isles? Take a multi-day trip from Edinburgh or Inverness.


Beautiful beaches abound on the Isle of Harris, bagging it a spot in your most beautiful places in Scotland © Shutterstock

2. Edinburgh – Scotland's compact, hilly capital

What you love: “the craggy castle looming over the city, the sweeping views from Arthur's Seat, the heritage and culture"

Robert Burns described Edinburgh as “Scotia’s darling seat”, Walter Scott called it “mine own romantic town”, and you hailed it "an absolute stunner”. 

Part-built on Arthur’s Seat, a dormant volcano with a jawbone of crags so striking it almost puts Edinburgh’s showpiece castle in the shade, Scotland’s capital is something of a living fairy-tale. Its cobbled wynds wind from the Royal Mile in the Old Town into an old New Town that served as the grid blueprint for Manhattan.

But it’s not all about the past, Edinburgh is a hotbed of art and culture, with a thriving food scene that showcases Scotland’s best eating and drinking options. It's one of our 30 best places to go with kids as well, and one of the best UK city break destinations.

Read our guide to Edinburgh accommodation and find more places to stay in Edinburgh.

What to do:

From going underground in Old Town’s spooky vaults, to heading off on a Harry Potter tour, Edinburgh isn’t short of rewarding activities for all ages and tastes. Talking of which, this History of Whiskey storytelling and tasting tour comes highly recommended.

Cityscape of Edinburgh Arthur's Seat © S-F/Shutterstock

Edinburgh's stunning cityscape from Arthur's Seat © S-F/Shutterstock

1. Isle of Skye – our readers' most beautiful place in Scotland

What you love: “fabulous scenery, hidden lochs, rugged coastline, gorgeous towns, beautiful people” 

With over 18% of votes, the Isle of Skye is your number one most beautiful place in Scotland, drawing enthusiasm for its “vast wilderness and scenery”, and for being so darn “beautiful and wild”. What’s more, our experts selected the Isle of Skye as one of the best places on earth for 2022. 

Though featured in our round-up of the best UK places to visit in spring due to this being the perfect time to appreciate its budding natural beauty, the Isle of Skye is a divine year-round destination. Indeed, a number of you remarked on its varied “scenery and changing weather” throughout the year. 

With its mysterious moors, mountains, cliffs and lochs, Skye is the perfect place to be astounded by nature — there’s a reason it earned a place in our gallery of the world’s best sunset spots

It’s a place of enchantment, too, as seen in the Fairy Glen’s landscape of emerald valleys, miniature mountains and babbling brooks, and at the Fairy Pools. Not only are these breathtakingly beautiful, but they’re also one of the best places in Britain for wild swimming

If you fancy exploring the isle of Skye alongside visiting Loch Ness and Edinburgh, our tailor-made Highland Tour might be of interest. Curated by a local expert, it can be fully customised. 

For more information, see our comprehensive guidebook to the Scottish highlands and islands. You might also want to look at a guide to the best Scottish islands

Find more places to stay on the Isle of Skye.

What to do:

Book a full-day Best of Skye tour from Portree to explore the Fairy Pools, Talisker Distillery, Dunvegan Castle, the Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock, the Quiraing, and the Fairy Glen.  

The Quiraing, Skye, Scotland © orxy/Shutterstock

The Quiraing on the Isle of Skye - your vote for the most beautiful place in Scotland - © orxy/Shutterstock

Ready for a trip to Scotland? Check out the Rough Guide to Scotland. If you travel further in Portugal read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit. For inspiration speak to our local experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there. And don't forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this does not influence our editorial standards - we only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Joanne Owen

written by
Joanne Owen

updated 26.04.2024

Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

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