What is Scotland famous for?

Written by Chris Thornton | 29th of December 2022
What is Scotland famous for?

Scotland is famous for bagpipes, tartan kilts, haggis, the Loch Ness Monster, highland cows and, of course, Scottish whisky - but there is more to Scotland than just those items that instantly spring to mind. Scotland is a country full of history, culture, and natural beauty. From its stunning landscapes to its unique cities and customs, there is something for everyone in Scotland.

Let's explore what Scotland is famous for and give you some ideas of what you could expect on a trip to the best wee country in the world!

The Landscapes

Stunning landscapes are everywhere you look in Scotland. From the Highlands' rolling hills to the glens' beautiful lochs, Scotland has so much to see and explore.

Scotland is the perfect place for you if you love being outdoors. There are plenty of opportunities for hiking, fishing, and wild camping. If you're a bit more adventurous, you can try quad biking, bungee jumping, tree-top aerial assault courses or white water rafting!

Or, if you prefer something a little more relaxed, you can enjoy the views from one of the many scenic viewpoints or a fine spa hotel.

Unlike other countries, most areas of the Scottish countryside are accessible through its unique "right to roam" legislation, also known as the "Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003".

Scotland's most famous landscapes:

  • Glen Coe

  • Ben Nevis

  • Cairngorms Mountain Range and National Park

  • Loch Sunart

  • The Trossachs National Park

  • Loch Ness

  • Isle of Skye

  • Camusdarach Beach

Old Man of Storr. Fairy pools.
Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye, a very famous landscape.

Lochs & Rivers

It rains a lot in Scotland, and as a result, we have many lochs and rivers. As a result, Scotland has more fresh water than the rest of the UK combined! Waterfalls are abundant, too, often in very magical settings.

Lochs in Scotland are a massive draw for tourists due to their pure beauty, but other activities are common, including boat tours, diving, and watersports.

Two personal favourites of mine are Loch Morlich and Loch An Eilean near Aviemore; I have kayaked on both, and it was a lovely experience. Loch Morlich is bordered by the Glenmore Forest and Cairngorms mountain range, a very magical place to visit or camp.

Famous lochs in Scotland:

  • Loch Lomond

  • Loch Ness

  • Loch Maree

  • Loch Affric

  • Loch Morar

  • Loch Katrine

For me, locally, the River Spey is a personal favourite which travels from beyond Aviemore all the way to near my home at Spey Bay. The Spey is the fastest river in Scotland.

Famous rivers in Scotland:

  • River Tay

  • River Clyde

  • River Forth

  • River Don

  • River Ness

  • River Spey

Craigellachie Bridge.
Craigellachie Bridge, spanning The Spey.

The Scottish Highlands

The Scottish Highlands, a vast and sparsely populated region of Scotland, are a treasure trove of natural beauty and historical significance.

Some of my favourite places in Scotland are in the Highlands:

  • Aviemore - One of my favourite places to stay; there is so much to do in Aviemore and many great places to eat.

  • Loch Garten - Located within one of the remaining sections of the ancient Caledonian pine forest.

  • Loch Morlich - A stunning loch with fantastic walks framed by the Cairngorm Mountains.

  • Steall Falls - an impressive 120-metre waterfall near Fort William.

In addition to its stunning landscapes, the Highlands are also home to many important historical sites such as castles, battlefields, and ancient ruins. One of the most popular attractions in the region is Culloden Moor, the location of the last battle fought on British soil. Clava Cairns and Culloden Viaduct are not far from Culloden Moor, all worthy of your time in the Highlands.

Loch Morlich and Cairngorm Mountain range.
Loch Morlich.

The Scottish Islands

The Hebrides is a group of over 790 islands off the coast of Scotland, offering visitors a diverse range of experiences. While only around 130 of these islands are inhabited, the Inner Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides offer unique attractions, such as some of the oldest and most impressive standing stones in Scotland.

The Inner Hebrides, located closer to the Scottish mainland, are home to some of the country's most popular tourist destinations, such as Skye, Mull, and Iona.

The Outer Hebrides, located farther out to sea, are home to the largest island in Scotland, Lewis and Harris. Please read my article on Stornoway.

Most islands can be accessed via ferry, which makes for a great adventure, but some also offer short flights from the major cities. Due to depopulation, why not consider moving to a Scottish island?

Isle of Iona.
Isle of Iona.

National Parks

As mentioned above, Scotland is famed for its landscapes, and thankfully the Scottish Government has seen fit to create two national parks to protect these stunningly beautiful areas.

Scotland's two national parks are:

  • Cairngorms National Park

  • Loch Lomand and The Trossachs National Park

Trossachs National Park in Scotland.
Loch Lomand and The Trossachs National Park.

Scottish Cities

Scotland also has some great cities which are worth exploring. Edinburgh, the capital city, is home to some of the best museums and galleries in the country. Glasgow is another great city which is known for its shopping, science centre, motor museum and great nightlife.

Aberdeen and Dundee are also worth visiting if you want to experience some of the smaller cities in Scotland. Inverness is the gateway to the highlands and the beginning of the famous NC500 coastal route.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Edinburgh in August is an exciting time to be in Scotland's capital city as it plays host to the largest arts festival in the world – the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Established in 1947 the Fringe has grown into a massive event featuring a wide array of performances, including comedy, theatre, dance, and traditional Scottish music. The Royal Mile is alive with street performers and other interesting events, it's a fantastic time to visit Edinburgh and the Dunediners.

Edinburgh skyline.
Edinburgh.

Scottish People

The Scots are some of the most down-to-earth people you will meet. Genuine, honest, funny and often natural storytellers. For a country of 5 million people, Scots are very well known on the world stage, having been used in many works of fiction. Would Scotty from Star Trek have been as famous without that accent?

For such a small country, it's amazing to hear the diversity of accents - people from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness have very different dialects, and there can even be differences in the towns between the cities. For example, towns like Buckie, Huntly and Keith have their own version of doric.

All Scots speak English, sadly, only around 1% still speak Scottish Gaelic (mostly located on the islands and west coast), but it's hoped the language will be revived through community and government schemes.

Famous Scots

Here are a few famous Scots from history that have significantly impacted Scotland and the modern world.

  • Robert Burns - Scotland's National Bard.

  • Charles Rennie Mackintosh - famous architect and designer.

  • Robert the Bruce - A famous Scottish King, crowned in 1306.

  • Mary Queen of Scots - A queen from Scottish history with a tragic life.

  • JM Barrie - Author of Peter Pan.

  • John Logie Baird - Inventor of the television.

  • Sir Alexander Fleming - Penicillin/Antibiotics.

The Culture

Scotland has a rich culture which can be experienced through its music, food, and art. Traditional Scottish music is very popular, and live performances often occur in the cities.

Tartan & Kilts

Tartan is a fabric closely tied to Scotland and consists of crossed horizontal and vertical bands of different colours woven into the fabric. Each tartan is specific to a Scottish clan and can be used to make kilts, scarves, and other clothing items. Tartan originated in Scotland and was originally worn by Highland clans, but now worn worldwide, often as a symbol of Scottish heritage.

If you're visiting Scotland, a tartan scarf or kilt is a must-have! Wearing a kilt is a long-standing Scottish tradition, and many men still choose to don one on special occasions. To get your hands on some authentic tartan, check out one of the many kilt-makers in Edinburgh – they'll help you choose the perfect tartan.

One of my favourite purveyors of tartan is the Tartan Artisan; I own one of his scarves and wall-mounted artworks.

What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt?

Red kilt tartan and kilt pin.
Tartan kilt, with kilt pin.
 
A selection of kilted men. Live music.
Kilted men.

Bagpipes

One of the most famous symbols of Scotland are the bagpipes, often joked about around the world as being horrifically noisy and terrible to listen to, the bagpipes have wrongly received a bad rap.

Played property, the bagpipes are beautiful and haunting, and it's common to see street performers playing tunes like Highland Cathedral in most Scottish cities.

The ancient Picts were said to have adopted bagpipes after the Romans used them to scare horses on battlefields; they were thought to be magical.

Dunnottar Castle.
Bag piper at Dunnottar Castle.

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an annual event that takes place on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle in Scotland's capital city. It features military bands and performance teams from the British Armed Forces, the Commonwealth, and beyond. The tattoo happens every August as part of the Edinburgh Festival. It's a must-see for anyone interested in military music and culture.

Burns Night

Many Scots celebrate the life of Robert Burns, one Scotland's most famous poets. Burns Night is held on the 25th of January each year (Burn's birthday) and can include bagpiping, poetry reading and musical performances.

My favourite part of Burns Night is the Burns supper, where it's customary to eat haggis neeps and tatties.

Burns Night at my house!
My family on Burns Night, with haggis neeps and tatties.

Ceilidh Dancing

Are you looking to have a taste of Scottish culture? A ceilidh dance might be the best way! You may feel hesitant to get involved, but once you get the hang of it, it's great fun and a fantastic way to meet new people. At many dances, the band will typically give the audience a refresher on the dance moves, so not knowing what to do is no excuse. So have a small whisky and gain some dutch courage!

"Ceilidh" means party or gathering in Gaelic. The dances can happen at all times of the year but tend to also occur most frequently at weddings, celebrations, Christmas and new year / Hogmanay. The Speyfest music festival held each July in Fochabers (Moray) has a fantastic ceilidh dance each year.

Ceilidh Dance
A posh Ceilidh dance with a few Scottish celebrities!

Ancient Castles

Castles in Scotland are a massive draw for tourists, especially as some have been used in films such as "Highlander" and the phenomenally popular Outlander TV show. Visiting castles is a great way to learn about Scottish history.

Here are some of the most famous castles in Scotland:

  • Edinburgh Castle

  • Stirling Castle

  • Urquhart Castle

  • Dunrobin Castle

  • Eilean Donan Castle

  • Doune Castle

  • Braemar Castle

  • Balmoral Castle

  • Ballindalloch Castle

But if you fancy visiting some fantastic ruins a little more off the beaten track, I would highly recommend:

Auchindoun Castle near Dufftown.
Auchindoun Castle near Dufftown.

Scottish Wool

For centuries, sheep have been a vital part of Scotland's landscape and culture, with their wool used to create various products, including clothing, blankets, and more. Renowned worldwide for its exceptional quality, Scottish wool has been utilized to produce some of the world's most iconic garments, such as the kilt, Harris Tweed, and cashmere. The country's woolen tartan fabric has gained global recognition and is one of Scotland's most well-known exports.

Those interested in experiencing sheep farming and wool production firsthand can visit one of the many sheep farms scattered throughout Scotland. They can observe the animals up close and even participate in shearing. Alternatively, visitors can tour a wool mill to witness the transformation of fleece into the fabric.

One such mill, Johnstons of Elgin, has been producing top-notch fabrics since 1797 and offers guided tours of their facility, allowing visitors to see every step of the process from raw fleece to finished product.

Scottish Food

The Scots have a long history of farming and rearing animals. We have world-class beef, lamb, pork and seafood, all naturally produced (no growth hormones here!) in the fields and seas around Scotland. Some foods have Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, i.e. Scotch Beef, Lamb and Scotch Whisky.

While it sounds like we are a very meat-oriented country, there is a solid vegan scene, and the vegan haggis is very nice!

Let's look at some of Scotland's most popular traditional foods.

Haggis Neeps and Tatties

Haggis (the national dish) is perhaps Scotland's most famous food. This traditional food comprises sheep's heart, liver and lungs, minced together with onions, oats and spices. Historically it was then sealed within the sheep's stomach and then cooked. However, haggis sold commercially today usually have an artificial casing, but artisan products may still use the stomach itself.

It does not sound nice to eat, but haggis is actually lovely and used in many different ways. For example, as chicken stuffing or in bonbons, the Cairngorm Hotel in Aviemore even sell a beautiful haggis lasagne.

Haggis neeps and tatties are the most famous use of haggis and are customarily eaten on Burns Night to celebrate Robert Burns, one of Scotland's most loved poets.

You should try it while in Scotland; you might be surprised how much you like it.

Haggis
Haggis is delicious!

Cullen Skink

The small town of Cullen on the Moray Coast has its own unique dish named Cullen Skink - a rich, creamy fish soup made with smoked haddock, potatoes, onions and milk. Americans might call it a chowder, but it is pretty unique in its own right. If you love eating fish, why not try it in Cullen? A fantastic town.

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Cock-a-leekie soup, known as Scotland's national soup, is a mild, aromatic dish made with peppered chicken stock, leeks, and sometimes prunes. It can be thickened with rice or barley and is a classic Scottish twist on chicken soup. With roots dating back to the 16th century, this hearty meal is perfect for warming up on a chilly day in Scotland's unpredictable weather.

A traditional Scottish breakfast

A traditional Scottish breakfast is similar to a "full English breakfast" but differs by adding food typical of Scotland:

  • Bacon

  • Eggs

  • Grilled tomatoes

  • Link sausage twisted to make links.

  • Lorne sausage, flat square sausage.

  • Black pudding, made from pig's blood and oats.

  • Tattie scone, mashed potato mixed with flour and then fried on a griddle.

  • Haggis, portioned in discs like a sausage or just crumbled.

Bacon, eggs, sausage and black pudding are usually fried. A traditional Scottish breakfast is a great way to start the day, and it's sure to keep you fueled all morning, if not all day!

Porridge has also been a staple Scottish breakfast for hundreds of years and is often served with milk or cream and sweetened with sugar, honey, or fruit.

A traditional Scottish breakfast.
A Scottish breakfast from Cobbs Cafe, Aviemore.

Other famous Scottish foods:

  • Fish and chips: Fried fish, usually cod or haddock, served with chips (French fries) and often with tartar sauce and salt vinegar.

  • Scotch pie: A savoury meat pie filled with minced lamb or beef and traditionally served with mashed potatoes and gravy.

  • Scottish Shortbread: A type of biscuit (cookie) made from butter, sugar, and flour, often served with tea or coffee.

  • Scottish tablet: Scottish tablet is a small, sweet snack made with sugar, condensed milk, and butter that's crystallized into semi-hard, bite-sized pieces of candy. Similar to fudge but not as soft, this tasty treat is often flavoured with vanilla or whisky and can be found in shops throughout Scotland. If you have a sweet tooth, traditional Scottish tablet is the sweetest thing you will taste anywhere!

Scottish fish and chips
Fish and chips, as served at the Cairngorm Hotel, Aviemore.
 
Scottish tablet.
Scottish tablet, made by my brother James.

The Wildlife

The Highland cow is usually the first animal that springs to mind when thinking of Scotland, but our country has so much to offer regarding wildlife.

On land, osprey, pine martins, otters and capercaillie are just a few of the unique species that make their home in Scotland. Large populations of bottlenose dolphins and seals can be seen at sea, a huge tourist attraction.

Pine Marten.
A pine marten, one of the most elusive animals in Scotland.

Highland Cows

Scotland's other national animal, the Highland cow, is synonymous with Scotland. In tourist hot spots all over the country, gift shops are rammed full of Highland cow-themed items... but how can you blame them? They are such amazing animals. Their long shaggy red fur coats and long arcing horns make them stand out from your standard cow.

Highland cattle can be seen in most areas of Scotland if you keep your eyes open for them.

Three highland cows.
Highland cows.

Highland Wildlife Park

Many of Scotland's species can be seen at Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie/Aviemore, including the Grey Wolf (now extinct in Scotland). The biggest draw to the park are the polar bears.

Highland Wildlife Park safari.
The safari portion of Highland Wildlife Park.

Scottish Whisky

One of Scotland's most famous export products is whisky, famed worldwide for its flavour... and high ticket price! Amazingly there are more than 140 distilleries around Scotland, with the majority of them located in the northeast of Scotland in my home county of Moray, in the Speyside area.

The whisky of each distillery has a distinct flavour profile due to the distilling process, the water source and the maturation process. So why not book a whisky tour and try some for yourself?

Scottish whisky contributes a massive £5.5 billion to the Scottish economy from the billion-plus bottles it produces each year.

Some of the most famous whisky distilleries in Scotland:

  • Highland Park Whisky Distillery

  • Glenfiddich Distillery

  • Glenlivet Distillery

  • Laphroaig Distillery

  • Talisker Distillery

Talisker Distillery
Talisker Distillery.
 
Scotch whisky Scotland.
A selection of famous Scottish whisky at Spey Larder, Aberlour.

The Loch Ness Monster

Loch Ness is one of Scotland's most mysterious lochs. Holding a larger volume of water than the rest of the UK's lakes put together, it is the perfect hiding place for the Loch Ness Monster. "Nessie" is one of Scotland's most famous legends from as early as 565, with Saint Columba's encounter with the beast.

No evidence has been found to prove the monster's existence other than grainy photos often proven fake. Widespread interest was boosted in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with many sightings reported of a giant creature with a long neck and large body. The descriptions resemble that of a prehistoric plesiosaur dinosaur! Loch Ness is so deep and expansive that a large aquatic animal could hide within its depths.

Urquart Castle is a popular place to try and spot the Loch Ness Monster.

The North Coast 500 (NC500)

The NC500 is by far the most famous road trip in Scotland. Traversing 500 miles of road in the most northern area of Scotland, it begins and ends in the capital of the Highlands - Inverness. Going anti-clockwise around the route, you will travel through the Black Isle, Easter Ross, Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross. The landscapes are breathtaking, and there are so many places of interest to stop along the way.

Highlights include:

  • Stunning coastal scenery

  • White sandy beaches

  • Rugged mountains

  • Fishing villages

  • Caves

  • Castles

  • Brochs

Dunrobin Castle.
Dunrobin Castle on the NC500.

Golf

Thought to have originated in Scotland in the 15th century, golf is one of Scotland's most famous sports, exported to all corners of the world. Scotland has more than 550 courses, many located in the most picturesque areas of our wee country, a golfer's paradise.

Jacobite Steam Train
The Jacobite Steam Train, made famous by Harry Potter.

Harry Potter

JK Rowling, the author of the now super famous Harry Potter franchise, wrote all of her books in Scotland, often in coffee shops throughout Edinburgh. The majority of the story also takes place in Scotland, the location of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The film series has many filming locations in Scotland, including Steall Falls and Edinburgh. Still, perhaps the most famous is the Hogwarts Express, which is actually the Fort William to Mallaig Jacobite train - very popular with tourists.

Harry Potter fans will be spoilt for choice for tourist locations in Scotland.

Scotland is famous for golf. Lossiemouth Golf Course.
Lossiemouth Golf Course.

Scottish architecture and monuments

Scotland is famous for its historical monuments and many stunning modern sculptures, here is a quick overview of my favourites.

  • St. Giles' Cathedral: A historic church located in the heart of Edinburgh and known for its Gothic architecture and stunning stained glass windows.

  • Holyrood Palace: The official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, located in Edinburgh, known for its grand architecture.

  • The Kelpies: A pair of striking horse-head sculptures in Falkirk and inspired by Scottish folklore and mythology.

  • The Falkirk Wheel: Also located in Falkirk, this rotating boat lift is a marvel of modern engineering.

  • The Scott Monument: A gothic spire located in Edinburgh and dedicated to the memory of the Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott.

  • The Wallace Monument: Another Gothic tower located near Stirling and dedicated to the memory of the Scottish hero Sir William Wallace.

  • The Glenfinnan Monument: A graceful obelisk near Fort William and dedicated to the memory of Charles Edward Stuart, would be King of Scotland.

  • The Old Course at St. Andrews: One of the world's most famous and historic golf courses, located in the town of St. Andrews and known for its challenging layout and beautiful setting.

The Kelpies, Falkirk.
The Kelpies, horse head sculptures in Falkirk.
 
Wallace Monument.
The Wallace Monument, near Stirling.
 
Glenfinnan Monument. Scottish National War Memorial.
The Glenfinnan Monument.

Inventors and inventions

Scotland is a small country, but despite that, it has likely contributed more to the scientific and modern worlds than any other country. "Yeah, right!" I hear you say, but when you list just a few Scottish inventions, it is easy to see that Scotland is punching above its weight class.

  • Antibiotics

  • Television

  • Contact lenses

  • RADAR

  • Colour photography

Please read my dedicated article on Scottish inventions for more information on amazing Scottish inventors and their world-changing inventions.

Key takeaways

Scotland is famous for:

  • Stunning scenery with rivers and lochs.

  • Friendly and enthusiastic people.

  • The Scottish accent.

  • Redheads / Ginger people.

  • Kilts and tartan/plaid.

  • Scottish whisky.

  • The Loch Ness Monster.

  • Highland cows.

  • Haggis, neeps and tatties!

  • Ancient Castles.

  • Brochs.

  • Stone age settlements, stone circles and cairns.

  • The North Coast 500 road trip.

  • Golf.

  • World-renowned inventions and inventors.

  • Braveheart, Brave and Highlander motion pictures.

Stirling Castle. Visit Scotland!
The famous castle at Stirling.

Conclusion

I'm sure you'll agree that Scotland is famous for many reasons. Has any other country in the world punched above its weight class more than Scotland?

Scotland has everything if you yearn for stunning landscapes, vibrant cities, and rich culture. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip today!

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