It was only a matter of time before word got out. That Scotland, with its full-figured glens, heathery hills and castle-topped crags, is one of the most beautiful countries on Earth. And we’ve got pure photographic proof. From coastlines to castles, here are Scotland’s top ten most beautiful places – as voted for by you.
10. Dunnottar Castle
More snaggle-tooth ruin than Cinderella chateau, this scotched medieval fortress is chiselled into a rocky headland south of Stonehaven on the Aberdeenshire coast.
It was the inspiration for the DunBroch family home in Pixar’s Brave, yet has historical aches and pains more in keeping with Shakespeare’s Celtic tragedy Macbeth. After twilight, it’s not hard to imagine a witches’ sabbath taking place in the keep.
Scotland old-hands will know that gliding out across Loch Broom from this fishing village to the Summer Isles is one of the UK’s great holiday pleasures. Boats leave from the quayside, a mix of repurposed chalky crofts and seafood specialist pubs, passing fishermen who still land langoustines using creel traps.
North of here, the Assynt mountains give way to the grass-fringed beaches of Clachtoll and Achmelvich, both ideal for watching seals and snorkelling. The water is arctic-cold if you can brave it. As dusk falls, picture a whisky-coloured sky over the sandstone hills of An Teallach and the reverie is complete.
8. Rannoch Moor
One of Europe’s largest tracts of wilderness, this rampant bogland is mind-bending, seismic, total. Walkers meet it head-on while at the midpoint of the West Highland Way cross-country hike.
There are few roads in and only one train station (Corrour, made famous by its appearance in Trainspotting), but it rewards the intrepid with a lifetime’s worth of deer sightings and heather-stained hills. To come back alive, take some industrial-strength midge repellant.
Robert Burns said it was “Scotia’s darling seat”, while Walter Scott called it “mine own romantic town”. Neither can be argued with. Scotland’s capital is a fairytale sprung to life, its cobbled wynds funneling from the Royal Mile – down, down, down – into an old New Town, that served as the grid blueprint for Manhattan.
More than that: it’s the home of Sean Connery, the telephone, Sherlock Holmes, penicillin, Jekyll and Hyde, digestive biscuits, Peter Pan, anaesthesia, Inspector Rebus, bank overdrafts, Harry Potter and plenty more. Plus, it’s part-built on Arthur’s Seat, a dormant volcano with a jawbone of crags so striking it puts the city’s showpiece castle in the shade.
One standout is The Ness of Brodgar excavation, an under-threat neolithic site on a spit of land dissecting Loch Stenness and Loch Harray. A theory places the site between the symbolic land of the living at the Stones of Stenness and the land of the dead at the Ring of Brodgar, two of the island’s preeminent UNESCO World Heritage must-sees.
5. Bealach na Bà
In a country blessed with a mother lode of dazzling Highland roads, few rival the bucket-list potential of this uppy-downy, twisty-turny big dipper connecting Torridon to Applecross. On a typically Scottish slate-gray day, the mountains may vanish in a film noir fug, the road little more than a hard, outside line, but when the clouds part you’ll find it fully coloured-in.
You may not stay here long, but the views of Wester Ross from the Applecross Inn will never leave you.
4. Isle of Mull
The first reason people come is the toy-town strip of red, yellow and blue houses in island capital Tobermory. But that’s missing the point. Because Mull is Scotland in microcosm, with stark beaches, centrefold hills, a corker of a whisky distillery, wildlife galore and the Gribun Cliffs, a puzzle of rock, sea and sky.
For yet another highlight, make the 10-minute ferry trip to neighbouring Iona to discover its monastic abbey, where Columba first landed in Scotland to spread the good word.
3. Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond is one of Scotland’s greatest obsessions. Ever since the folk song The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond debuted in 1841, Scots have romanticised its waters, pined for its hills and sought inspiration in its forests.
The country has lochs ten-a-penny, but by any measure Loch Lomond is extraordinary. The largest in the country, it’s best seen from the top of Ben Lomond’s signature scrawl, then celebrated from across the water at The Drovers Inn, a stopped-clock pub in Inverarnan that hasn’t changed since the turn of the century.
2. Glen Coe
The road north reveals the knuckle-shaped Buachaille Etive Mòr hogging the skyline, then the A82 dips, roller coaster-like, to unveil a landscape with enough blockbuster razzmatazz to fill an IMAX theatre. The thrills of the glen – its Machiavellian clan history, charmingly ragged pubs and Harry Potter and James Bond patronage – say much about this storied landscape.
But the real beauty can be found while hiking in the Lost Valley on Bidean nam Bian, or from atop the Aonach Eagach playing peek-a-boo with the clouds.
Not for the first time has the sublime drama of this Inner Hebridean island caused a fuss. Try approaching the Quiraing or The Old Man of Storr, two geological riddles on the Trotternish peninsula, without stopping to gawp. Then consider the Fairy Pools, a cascading tier of glacier-clear jacuzzis, or the Black Cuillin Ridge, a leviathan of rock topped-out by the 986m-high splinter of the Inaccessible Pinnacle.
The ever-changing light on the sharp-cliffs and sea lochs matches the unpredictability of the weather, but when that damp blanket is pulled back, you’ll find yourself in a very special place indeed.