Scotland is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with millions of trips made to the historic country every year – and it’s not difficult to see why, with it’s breathtaking scenery, fascinating medieval history and world-famous culture.
Whether you are driving up from England or Wales, or making the trip from overseas, here’s a list of 5 essential destination that will be well worth the trip.
Fingal’s Cave, Isle of Staffa
Known by the ancient Celts as Uamh-Binn or “The Cave of Melody”, this breathtaking 72-foot tall sea cave is lined with hexagon columns, similar to those seen in Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. The stunning basalt columns (in both Scotland and Ireland) were formed by ancient lava flows.
The cave was rediscovered by Sir Joseph Banks in 1772, who took the name from Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books – a popular series of books at the time.
Staffa is a small island off Scotland’s rugged west coast. Although the island is uninhabited, it can be reached via a ferry from the nearby Isle of Mull. Although they don’t go inside, ships regularly pass the island giving tourists a good view of the cave. Alternatively, you can take a ferry to the island and hike to the caves if you wish to go inside and explore.
Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye
Looking like something taken straight from The Lord of the Rings, the Fairy Pools are a collection of pristine swimming holes and small waterfalls, found at the foot of the Cuillin Mountains on the Isle of Skye.
The pools are the subject of numerous ancient myths and tales, and it’s easy to see why. On a sunny day, you can see right through the sparkling water to the moss-covered rocks underneath.
The Isle of Skye can be accessed by car thanks to a bridge from the mainland. After parking up, it takes around an hour of hiking across rugged terrain to get to the pools.
Kilchurn Castle, Argyll and Bute
Strutting out in to the waters of Loch Awe with the Tyndrum mountains in the background, Kilchurn Castle is a medieval ruin dating back to around 1450. During the high tide, the castle is cut-off from the shore, becoming a miniature island. Kilchurn was once the home of the powerful Campbell clan, and played a key role in Scotland’s early political history.
These days, the castle is a ruin that is constantly exposed to the elements, however staircases and walkways have been built so that visitors can explore the historic structure and climb up near the top.
Eilean Donan, Ross-shire
One of the most famous images of Scotland, Eilean Donan has been seen in numerous films, ad campaigns and photos, and is a popular wedding venue. The small island near the village of Dornie was first occupied in 634 AD, home to the monastic cell of Bishop Donan. The actual castle didn’t appear until the 13th century, when Alexander II needed to defend the surrounding areas from Viking invaders.
The castle was left in a state of ruin from the 18th century up until 1911, when Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island and restored the castle, finally opening it back up in 1932. The modern castle is still owned by the MacRae family, who run a tourist centre and restaurant.
Skara Brae, Orkney
Skara Brae is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to a ruined Neolithic settlement, located on the Bay of Skaill on Orkney. The ancient settlement consists of ten clustered houses built from flat stones. It is estimated that no more than fifty people lived in Skara Brae at any given time. Visitors can view the stone dwellings along with other historic artefacts, such as stone furniture, pottery and other mysterious carved stone artefacts, whose purpose is still unknown.
Orkney is a group of islands located off the northern tip of the Scottish mainland, with a population of around 20,000. The main island can be reached by ferry or plane. Skara Brae is located around 19 miles away from Kirkwall, the largest town on the island.
All images from visitscotland.com