Scotland has a fascinating heritage and there’s plenty of places to delve deep into the country’s vibrant culture.
From art galleries to royal palaces, our experts have put together this list of the best cultural things to do in Scotland.
Home to world-renowned museums and galleries, a vibrant arts scene and some of Scotland’s most loved cultural institutions, Glasgow is one of the country’s most dynamic cities. It’s an excellent city for art lovers, and provides plenty of opportunity for discovery of Scotland’s history and artistic heritage. One of the best places in Glasgow to delve into the city’s history is Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. This long running establishment has been open since 1901, and is a firm favourite with local people and visitors alike. With 22 different exhibitions on at any one time, you can discover everything from classic art to organ recitals at this homage to Glasgow’s cultural heritage.
As the Queen’s official Edinburgh residence, the Palace of Holyrood House is every bit as grandiose as you’d expect. Standing proud at the end of the Scottish capital’s Royal Mile, this home of Scottish history is a fascinating place to explore. The Palace dates back to the 17th century, and those visiting can learn about the close associations with some of Scotland’s most well-known historical figures, such as Mary, Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Visitors also get an unrivalled insight into the life of the royals today, and are able to see how the Palace is used by the Queen when carrying out official engagements in Scotland.
Perched on Scotland’s West Coast, Inveraray Castle looks as though it has been lifted straight from a fairytale. The ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll, this castle is one of Scotland’s grandest stately homes. Inveraray was put firmly on Scotland’s tourist trail map more recently though, thanks to its feature as Duneagle Castle in hit TV show Downton Abbey. Beyond the beautiful grounds, the castle pays homage to its history with an impressive collection of swords, muskets and other weapons.
The Braemar Gathering, also known as the Highland Games, is held on the first Saturday of September each year. The Highland Games have been an integral part of the village of Braemar’s fabric since 1832. They have royal roots, with the Gathering regularly attended by Queen Victoria and ever since, her successors. With the official purpose of the games to ‘promote the education of the general public about the history, traditions, sports, language, culture and heritage of Scotland,’ it’s fair to say attending is one of the best cultural things to do in Scotland. With events ranging from a Tug o War to a Highland Dancing Band competition, the Scottish Highland Games make for a day full of entertainment.
There’s no drink as Scottish as whisky, and nowhere is as intrinsically linked to the tipple as the region of Speyside. To make the whisky here, Barley is distilled in fresh Highland water and as a result the final product takes on a distinctive taste. In Speyside, the whiskies have either a light and grassy or rich and sweet palette, so there’s an option to suit every taste. There’s no shortage of producers in the region either, with the largest concentration of distilleries in Scotland based here. From the manufacturing process to the final product, a whisky tour of Speyside is both educational and intriguing.
Sitting on the banks of the river Tay, the village of Dunkeld is a charming slice of the Scottish countryside. The majestic Dunkeld cathedral dominates this Perthshire village, and is home to the tomb of the infamous Wolf of Badenoch. Alexander Stewart, the first Earl of Buchan – more commonly known as the Wolf of Badenoch – was notorious for imprisoning and murdering those who offended him throughout his rule. After you’ve explored the cathedral, meander through Atholl Street’s various speciality shops or take a scenic walk down by the river. The brightly coloured houses dating back to the early 1700s are Dunkeld’s trademark and they’re now part of a wonderful initiative. Run by the National Trust for Scotland, these homes have been beautifully restored to provide homes for local people.
Seeing Scotland by rail is somewhat of a rite of passage, and one of the most scenic railway lines in the country is the West Highland line. Running from Fort William to the port town of Mallaig on the edge of Scotland’s West Coast, this line is considered by many to be the most scenic rail journey in the world. It’s a real nod to Scotland’s heritage, as it still follows the same route as it did in the 19th century.
The real highlight though, is the Jacobite steam train. The locomotive made famous for transporting Harry Potter to Hogwarts, the Jacobite steam train transports passengers through verdant rolling hills and back into a bygone era. Another don’t miss spot along the way is the Great Moor of Rannoch, one of the last true remaining wildernesses in Europe. The only way to see the moor is by rail, so don’t pass up the opportunity to discover Scotland’s best kept secret.
An icon of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle dominates the UNESCO Heritage Old and New Towns of the city. Recently voted top UK Heritage Attraction in the British Travel Awards, this is the go-to place for anyone looking to delve deeper into Scotland’s history. The oldest part, St Margaret’s Chapel, dates from the 12th century and the robust structure of the wider castle survived the First World War. With guided tours provided by the castle stewards and an audio tour available in eight languages, there’s no excuse for missing out on this fascinating insight into Edinburgh’s heritage.
Opened in 1998, the National Museum of Scotland is home to over 10,000 items tracing back the origins of Scotland’s culture and history. The exhibitions are a real journey through time, and allow visitors to travel back as far as the geological origins of Scotland itself, making for a fascinating visit. The collections are categorised based on time period, ranging from prehistoric Scotland to present day. The seventh floor terrace is a lovely spot with which to end your visit – the bird’s eye view of Edinburgh here is pretty unbeatable!
Similarly to the Palace of Holyrood House, the Royal Yacht Britannia offers a captivating insight into the lives of Scottish royals. This yacht served as the royal yacht of Queen Elizabeth from 1945 until 1997, and is full of character. Over the course of its career, it transported Her Majesty to various countries across the globe. Although it’s now been decommissioned, the yacht still serves an important purpose – docked at Leith in Edinburgh, the decadent ship offers a tantalizing insight into some of the former private spaces that the British Royal Family have enjoyed.
Feeling inspired? Our expert travel designers are always on hand to help you discover Scotland.