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14 Hidden Gems in Scotland You Need to Visit

Of the dozens of countries I’ve visited over my 20+ years of travel, Scotland is a definite favorite. After my first trip in 2007, I’ve returned again and again to go well beyond the beaten tourist path. While Edinburgh and its grand castle, the Isle of Skye, Loch Ness, and all of the other popular destinations are well worth a visit, some spots are often overlooked but really shouldn’t be. If you’re hoping to explore some gems without the massive tourist crowds, be sure to put some of these off-the-beaten-path places on your itinerary.

Culloden Battlefield - Inverness Highland Cow next to Culloden Battlefield
Credit: Highland Cow next to Culloden Battlefield by K.C. Dermody

Culloden Battlefield - Inverness

If you’re a fan of Scottish history or of the popular “Outlander” series, you’re probably familiar with the Culloden Battlefield. While it may no longer be off-the-beaten-path, if you’re hoping to see one of Scotland’s most iconic animals, this is one of the easiest places to see Highland cows, or “hairy coos” as the Scots refer to them. They’ve been grazing on the mainland and throughout the Scottish Isles since the 6th century. With their reddish, shaggy coats and impressive horns, the large and docile cattle make for some of the best photo-ops.

While you’re here, you can pay tribute to those who lost their lives at this site of the last battle of the Jacobite Rising. The visitor center is more like a museum, with informative displays that will walk you through the history along with a wide range of artifacts, like the famous Brodie Sword. It contains beautiful imagery of Medusa and dolphins on its hilt and a rare blunderbuss taken from the battlefield by a Government soldier.

Puffin Croft Petting Farm & Majestic Caithness - John o' Groats Puffin Croft
Credit: Puffin Croft by Puffin Croft

Puffin Croft Petting Farm & Majestic Caithness - John o' Groats

The far north of Scotland is one of the least populated regions, yet it’s filled with dramatic landscapes, from precipitous cliffs thrashed by the waves to remote beaches that look as if they should be in the Caribbean. It’s worth spending some time here with everything from epic walks to wildlife watching and day trips to the Orkney Islands. You’ll also find a unique attraction, the Puffin Croft Petting Farm, where you can get up close to and feed friendly farm animals like miniature horses, pigs, goats, donkeys, rabbits, and more.

Falls of Glomach - Morvich Falls of Glomach, Scotland
Credit: Falls of Glomach, Scotland by © TheUntravelledWorld - Dreamstime.com

Falls of Glomach - Morvich

One of the tallest waterfalls in the United Kingdom, the Falls of Glomach plunge for nearly 371 feet, located in a remote and wild area that requires a three-hour trek from Morvich via the Bealach na Sroine pass, which is over 1,800 feet in altitude. This is only for experienced hikers with appropriate clothing and footwear. If you’re especially adventurous, you can bring a tent and camp, letting the sounds of the cascading water lull you to sleep.

Ballater and The Royal Deeside Ballater, Scotland
Credit: Ballater, Scotland by © Kristin Greenwood | Dreamstime.com

Ballater and The Royal Deeside

Located within Cairngorms National Park in the heart of Royal Deeside in northeast Scotland, Ballater is a unique village that combines striking natural and designed beauty with a serene soundtrack of the River Dee enjoyed throughout. While it may not be often talked about, it’s a thriving hub with everything from historical tours to an endless array of outdoor activities available. There are many scenic walks that wind through the spectacular Cairngorm surroundings, while a gorgeous golf course surrounds the village itself. Balmoral Castle, where the late Queen Elizabeth often stayed, is just a few miles away. There are many other grand country homes and romantic medieval ruins that can be discovered along the Aberdeenshire Castle Trail as well.

Invergarry Castle - Invergarry Invergarry castle on the banks of Loch Oich, Scotland
Credit: Invergarry castle on the banks of Loch Oich, Scotland by © Paula Fisher | Dreamstime.com

Invergarry Castle - Invergarry

Located along the banks of Loch Oich on the grounds of the Glengarry Castle Hotel, Invergarry Castle is one of the most hauntingly beautiful castle ruins in Scotland, though few other than guests of the hotel nearby seem to visit. Its location in the Highlands, just 26 miles southwest of Loch Ness, combined with an interesting history, makes it well worth of visit. Bonnie Prince Charlie visited it twice and is said to have rested here after the bloody defeat at the Battle of Culloden. It was partially blown up not long afterward by the Duke of Cumberland and his English troops.

Isle of Mull Tobermory, Isle of Mull, Scotland
Credit: Tobermory, Isle of Mull, Scotland by © Salvatore Conte - Dreamstime.com

Isle of Mull

The Isle of Mull is located off the west coast of mainland Scotland and offers stunning bays and some of the most pristine beaches scattered along 300 miles of beautifully rugged coastline. The magnificent mountain landscapes in the interior are especially impressive, and the island is also known for having the greatest biodiversity of any place of comparable size in the UK.

The opportunities for wildlife watching include birds like golden eagles and white-tailed sea eagles, along with seals, basking sharks, dolphins, whales, otters, and red deer. While the peak tourist season between May and August does see many visitors, you won’t have to deal with the big crowds common on the famous Isle of Skye. Most of the year, Mull is wonderfully quiet, providing the perfect stop to enjoy the tranquility and outdoor adventures.

St. Kilda Islands

St. Kilda Islands

Located off the western edge of the Outer Hebrides, the St. Kilda Islands include the four islands of Boreray, Dun, Soay, and Hirta, the largest and most popular tourist destination for the few visitors who manage to get to this remote area of Scotland. The limited number of tourists it receives every year means you can enjoy its beauty practically all to yourself with perhaps just a few other day trippers. There is no overnight accommodation here, but you can visit on a day trip from the Isle of Harris via Kilda Cruises or Sea Harris. A walk here brings the chance to the highest sea stacks in Europe, which are home to nearly a million seabirds, including puffins. You won’t want to miss Hirta’s abandoned village, left behind due to the harsh conditions and isolated location, with the final few inhabitants leaving in 1930.

Singing Sands & the Isle of Eigg Singing Sands on the Isle of Eigg looking out to the Isle of Rum
Credit: Singing Sands on the Isle of Eigg looking out to the Isle of Rum by © Lewis King - Dreamstime.com

Singing Sands & the Isle of Eigg

The Isle of Eigg is one of the least-visited western isles despite being close to the popular Isle of Skye. It covers just 12 square miles as one of the smaller Hebride islands but has plenty to offer. People have been living here since the Bronze Age, and traces of weapons like arrowheads, axes, and knives uncovered date to the Neolithic era. Burial mounds, ancient forts, early Christian crosses, and historic farmhouses are all here, similar to what you’d find in the Shetland and Orkney islands farther north. There are many scenic walks, including the short trek to the singing sands – when dry, the sand makes a squeaking, raspy noise if you stand on it or it’s scuffed by the wind. It also offers a beautiful view over to the isle of Rum.

Peebles Bridge over the Tweed, Pee
Credit: Bridge over the Tweed, Pee by © Neil Machin - Dreamstime.com


Peebles is a historic Borders town, and it’s highly underrated despite being a gateway to one of Scotland’s most enticing regions. A wide range of outdoor activities can be enjoyed here, including access to the Tweed Cycleway that runs for 90 miles across the unspoiled countryside between Biggar and Berwick-Upon-Tweed, with Peebles about midway. Scenic walks, horseback riding, fishing, and golfing can be enjoyed as well, while the old market town itself features medieval closes and alleyways that have remained virtually unchanged since the 12th century. You’ll find plenty of shops to explore and lots of places to dine in the town center while tranquil walkways run right alongside the River Tweed.

East Lothian Tantallon Castle, North Berwick, Scotland
Credit: Tantallon Castle, North Berwick, Scotland by © Creativehearts - Dreamstime.com

East Lothian

Most visitors to Scotland bypass the southeast, venturing to Edinburgh before heading west or north. But East Lothian is a beautiful county with rolling hills, woodland, charming beach towns, and castles. The 14th-century Tantallon Castle near North Berwick offers fabulous coastal views from atop a promontory, and you can watch the seabird colonies fly to and from Bass Rock. Or, take a scenic walk along Seacliff Beach, which lies below. North Berwick itself makes a great base with a historic harbor, a picturesque beach, and lots of fun craft shops and tasty artisan restaurants.

Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve - Achnasheen red deer, Beinn Eighe National Nature Preserve, Scotland
Credit: red deer, Beinn Eighe National Nature Preserve, Scotland by © P Bannon - Dreamstime.com

Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve - Achnasheen

The oldest National Nature Preserve in Britain, Beinn Eighe is made up of mountains and woodlands that are home to an array of quintessential Scottish wildlife, including red deer, pine martens, and golden eagles. Located just over an hour from Inverness, it’s filled with scenic trails like The Mountain Trail which winds through Scots pines and a scramble up quartzite rocks while revealing awe-inspiring views of Mount Slioch, the ridges of Beinn Eighe, and Loch Maree.

Hermaness National Nature Reserve on Unst Island - Shetland Islands Atlantic puffins, Shetland Islands, Scotland
Credit: Atlantic puffins, Shetland Islands, Scotland by © David Havel - Dreamstime.com

Hermaness National Nature Reserve on Unst Island - Shetland Islands

The Shetlands are less visited, but if you want to go even more remote, meaning few other tourists will be there, consider the island of Unst. There may be no better place for this type of getaway in all of Scotland as this is the northernmost of the inhabited British Isles. It’s one of Europe’s richest Viking heritage sites, with over 60 longhouses uncovered by archaeologists here. Plus, at the northern tip of the island, you’ll find Hermaness National Nature Reserve. It sits along wildly dramatic cliffs with all kinds of birds, including puffins. Just below, seals bask in the sun. During the summer, the landscapes will be blanketed in color with heather, mosses, and crowberry on the moor while flowering sea pinks brighten coastal grasslands.

Applecross Peninsula Bealach na Ba mountain pass, Applecross Peninsula, Scotland
Credit: Bealach na Ba mountain pass, Applecross Peninsula, Scotland by © Helen Hotson - Dreamstime.com

Applecross Peninsula

Applecross is a peninsula that lies northwest of Kyle of Lochalsh near the Isle of Skye. It boasts one of the most scenic drives in the country, the Bealach na Ba mountain pass, where you’ll enjoy breathtaking views from the 2,054-foot-high summit of the isles of Skye, Raasay, Rum, Rona, Harris, and Lewis. It’s one of the best places to explore in the Highlands, yet few seem to make it here. It even includes some prehistoric mounds for those into ancient sites.

Smoo Cave - Durness Smoo Cave Waterfall
Credit: Smoo Cave Waterfall by Wikimedia Commons

Smoo Cave - Durness

A sea cave carved into high limestone cliffs near the town of Durness, Smoo Cave boasts three natural chambers, including one with a waterfall thundering down from a sinkhole that sits high above. It can be visited free of charge, but if you want to venture further inside while learning about the cave’s natural and human history, take a guided tour.

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