Scotland offers something for everyone and if you are interested in history and culture you won’t ever regret booking a trip around Scotland. But to me, Scotland is all about the great outdoors. Check out this packed list of fun outdoor activities in Scotland with ideas for thrill-seekers as well as more gentle family-friendly days out. Whether you visit in summer or come for winter sports – this post has something for you!
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Scotland is a great destination for active holidays in the UK. The Scottish Highlands are often regarded as the last wilderness of Britain (especially the Knoydart peninsula on the west coast) and they might just be one of the wildest places in Europe. Picture rugged mountain ranges, tall waterfalls, rapid white water, gentle rivers snaking their way through the landscape.
Remember also the coastlines, the sandy beaches and the rocky shores. The sea stacks that are home to precious colonies of seabirds, the shallow waters that are home to many marine mammals and the deep blue ocean that houses some of the rarest animals in Scottish waters.
Think of the Highlands in the summer and now imagine, that the mountains are covered in a thick layer of snow and ice. How different do they look – and how different would it be to experience them first-hand.
Road trips around the country are fun and allow you to cover a lot of ground to get an overview, but there is nothing like spending time outdoors in Scotland to get close up to nature. This post rounds up a packed list of fun outdoor activities that you can try in Scotland and includes:
- ideas for summer activities and winter sports in Scotland,
- suggested locations for these activities all over Scotland
- how to fit them into your overall Scotland itinerary,
- requirements and other things to consider,
- and suggested tour companies or professional guides you can hire if you are not comfortable doing the activity by yourself, or if it is simply not safe/possible to do so.
Summer Activities in Scotland
1. Hiking & Munro Bagging
Hiking, walking and hill-walking are by far some of the easiest outdoor activities to get started with and all have reasonably low access barriers. All you need are sturdy shoes (ideally hiking boots, but you can get started of low-lying routes with less), sports clothing (so sweating doesn’t feel uncomfortable) and determination.
As you gain elevation, hiking in Scotland becomes more challenging and there are many routes you should only attempt with mountaineering equipment, navigation skills and plenty of mountain experience – but there is a hike for all levels of experience in the Scottish Highlands.
Hikes for Beginners
To me, hiking is as much about the physical activity, as it is about being outdoors. Whether you can climb tall mountains or just wander a country park at the outskirts of Glasgow or Edinburgh, does not matter – what matters is that you are out there in the fresh air.
Here are some ideas to get you started – all of these are beginner-friendly (or the post contains easy options):
- Highlands: Hikes in Glencoe, A hiking weekend at Loch Ossian, Dumgoyne hiking day trip, Ben A’an hiking trail
- Isle of Skye: Hikes on the Isle of Skye
- Glasgow: Day hike in the Kilpatrick Hills,Trails at Seven Lochs Wetland Park
- Isle of Arran: Goat Fell hiking day trip
- Fife: Maspie Den hiking trail
- Aberdeenshire: Muir of Dinnet hiking trails
- South Scotland: Grey Mare’s Tail hiking trail
A Munro is a mountain in Scotland that is over 3,000 feet (approx. 914.4 m). There are 282 mountains in Scotland that are classified as Munros (based on a 2012 survey). The highest is Ben Nevis, which – at 4,411 ft (1,345 m) – is the tallest mountain in the UK. There are Munros that are fairly straight forward to climb, such as the Munros around Loch Ossian, while others require high technical skills to summit, like the Cuillin peaks on the Isle of Skye.
Munro Bagging is an activity that describes the attempt to climb ALL 282 Munros in Scotland. For some people, this activity stretches across their lifetime, while others walk them over and over again or break records in climbing them in a limited amount of time. If you are serious about Munro-bagging you can log your progress on Walk Highlands and seek out routes that include several summits in a day.
Accessible trails in Scotland
There is a lot of public land in Scotland which is made accessible by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. It educates people about their rights to roam the land and provides a code of conduct or a set of rules to abide by. The Code states clear that access rights apply to everyone and that also includes people with disabilities.
There are many trails in the Scottish countryside that are accessible. People with disabilities who want to go on outdoor adventures in Scotland can use resources, such as trail databases or maps highlighting potential physical barriers, or join organised day outs with local groups. Disability Information Scotland provides a great overview of resources. Here are some websites you might want to check out:
- Walks with Wheelchairs: lists wheelchair accessible trails
- Phototrails: provides lists of walks and ranks them according to several accessibility measures
- Walking on Wheels: a book with 50 wheel-chair accessible trails in Scotland
- Adventures Unlimited: a tour company that organises outdoor activities for people with disabilities
Where to go hiking in Scotland
There are hiking trails all over Scotland. Walk Highlands is a great resource to find trails in any region you might want to travel to. The website includes route descriptions, information about access, duration and length of trails, walk reports, grid references and a grading system for trail difficulty and bog factor.
Guides & Organised Walks
There are many ways to join organised hikes in Scotland or hire personal hiking guides. Tourism boards in areas such as Glencoe, Fort William, the Cairngorms or the Isle of Skye will be able to help find local guides or point out regularly organised hikes. One of my favourite companies is Girls on Hills, who offer guided trail-runs and can be hired as hiking guides in the Glencoe area. There are also many groups who arrange group walks via social media.
In fact, I co-founded a group with two friends called Women Hiking & Outdoors Scotland, which is a Facebook community for women (trans-inclusive) and non-binary people who want to get outside more often.
2. Trekking or Long-Distance Hiking
Long-distance hiking is the perfect outdoor activity for planning an active holiday in Scotland. You could easily combine a few days on the road with a few days on the trail, or plan an entire trip around this activity. I love long-distance hiking for many reasons, in particular, because it opens up a unique way of experiencing a country, its natural environment and its people.
Long-distance hikes in Scotland
There are long-distance hiking trails all over Scotland from St Cuthbert’s Way in the Scottish Borders to the Speyside Way in the north, from the Affric Kintail Trail in the Highlands to Fife Coastal Path around the coast of the East Neuk of Fife. Most islands also have long-distance trails, such as the Skye Trail, Arran Coastal Trail or the Hebridean Way. Which one you choose depends on your level of experience, how much time you have and what kind of infrastructure you require along the way.
Here are some of the long-distance hikes I have written about:
- Hebridean Way, Outer Hebrides
- Speyside Way, Moray & Speyside
- West Island Way, Isle of Bute
- West Highland Way, Central Highlands
Trekking for Beginners
In many ways, trekking can be a great activity for hiking beginners because you the trails often stick to lower ground, you can set your own distances and if you choose to camp along the way, you also carry everything to stay safe and sheltered on your back.
A good long-distance hike for beginners is the West Island Way on the Isle of Bute since it only covers 30 miles and can easily be done in 2-3 days. The West Highland Way is one of Scotland’s most popular long-distance trails and runs 96 miles from Milngavie (Glasgow) to Fort William.
Organised Walking Holidays
I love the process of planning my own hiking holidays – deciding on routes and daily distances, researching accommodation options and facilities along the way, planning what to pack, and putting together meal plans. But this can be a daunting task if you have never done it before.
There are many tour companies that offer organised walking holidays in Scotland. These can be guided with a hiking guide or self-guided where you walk on your own. Packages usually include accommodation, baggage transfer and information about the route, but may also include a guide, route material (maps, guide book), meals or additional activities depending on the route.
You can also make use of my travel consultation services! I’d be happy to help you plan a walking holiday on a route I’m familiar with. Check out my travel consultation page and fill in the Google Form to discuss details!
3. Bothying & Wild Camping
When you go hiking or trekking in Scotland, you might prefer to book accommodation so you can rest on a comfortable bed after a long day on the trail. Or you decide to rough it. There are two options for roughing it in Scottish mountains: bothying or wild camping.
Bothies in Scotland
Bothies are basic shelters in the countryside, usually in isolated regions of the Highlands, the islands or along the coast. There are around 100 bothies across Great Britain which are managed by the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA). Bothies are free to use, however, there are certain guidelines for safe and responsible use of these shelters, mostly concerned with respect for the bothy, other users, the environment and the sometimes private land the bothies are on. They are in no way to be understood as “free accommodation” and most of them require strenuous hikes to reach them. The book The Scottish Bothy Bible contains a list of bothies in Scotland, details about access and facilities and other important information for a stay at these bothies.
Check out this post about 10 breathtaking bothies in the Scottish Highlands.
Wild Camping in Scotland
Wild camping is legal in Scotland as long as you stick to the rules of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. The Code’s practical advice for campers includes guidelines on general, responsible behaviour in the outdoors, lighting fires in the wilderness and dealing with human waste. make yourself familiar with these rules and follow them to enable people coming after you to experience the same pristine Scottish nature you enjoyed on your trip.
I love wild camping during my hiking trips – there is hardly an experience as beautiful as waking up to a view of Scottish wilderness all to yourself!
4. Climbing & Bouldering
Climbing was the first new sport I tried when I moved to Glasgow. I joined the mountaineering and climbing club at uni and never looked back! It’s a brilliant activity: physically challenging but accessible without prior knowledge, social but not competitive, high amounts of reward and plenty of opportunities to take it from the indoor climbing walls outdoors to the Scottish Highlands.
Indoor Climbing & Bouldering
There are many indoor climbing centres and bouldering halls in Scotland, particularly around the larger cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, but you can also find climbing walls in the Scottish Highlands, for example in Kinlochleven near Glencoe, in Inverness or in Aviemore near the Cairngorms National Park. Climb Scotland is a great resource and provides a list of indoor climbing centres in Scotland.
If you have not heard about bouldering before, let me catch you up. Bouldering is climbing without a safety rope, but instead of gaining a lot of height, the routes are usually under 5 m and require more technical skills. I’m a little afraid of heights, so that’s one reason why I prefer bouldering over climbing. I’m also a natural problem solver and find boulder problems for up my street than traditional climbing routes.
Outdoor Climbing & Bouldering
Rock climbing is very popular in Scotland and there are many crags and walls suitable for sport climbing or traditional climbing with ropes.
While indoor climbing is very beginner-friendly, outdoor climbing is a whole other level. If you are new to climbing, you should join a guided climbing tour to make sure you are safe and learn the skills necessary to climb outdoors in the Scottish Highlands. Many of the climbing centres near outdoor walls offer climbing instructions and guided days out to get you started.
Mountaineering Scotland offers a list of popular climbing destinations all over Scotland including rock climbing in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, sea cliffs and stacks and bouldering places.
One of Scotland’s most famous climbing locations is Dumbarton Rock near Glasgow. The area underneath the ruins of Dumbarton castle has several boulder problems (mostly hard/advanced problems) and traditional climbing routes, incl. the hardest route in Scotland (a grade E11). Personally, I found the problems too hard for my climbing level, but it might be perfect for you if you are more advanced.
I also really enjoyed bouldering on the Isle of Rum. There is a large field of boulders called Coire nan Grunnd on the way to Dibidil (which is signposted) and you can download a guide to the different problems there here – find the Rum video and click the link next to it.
5. Kayaking, Sea-Kayaking, Canoeing and River Kayaking
Mainland Scotland has 6,160 miles (9,910 km) of coastline and there are over 31,000 freshwater lochs in the whole country. No wonder, there are many opportunities for kayaking and canoeing in Scotland!
The difference between kayaking and canoeing lies mostly in the paddles you use. For canoeing, you can sit in an open or closed-decked canoe and use a single-bladed paddle. For kayaking, your paddle has two-blades and you can choose between a closed kayak or a sit-on-top kayak. Another difference is the way you sit, but I will leave the nitty-gritty details to the canoeing and kayaking instructors of Scotland.
In Scotland, you can choose between sea-kayaking out in the ocean, along the coastline or in the many fjord-like sea lochs along the coast, kayaking and canoeing on freshwater lochs, or white water kayaking.
Freshwater kayaking/canoeing is certainly the most beginner-friendly activity because you don’t have to worry about currents or tides. Some lochs like Loch Lomond or Loch Ness are large enough to create their own microclimate and require a certain level of experience or guidance. Att many other lochs you can also just rent kayaks or canoes and head out by yourself, for example at Loch Morlich in the Cairngorms. Another lovely loch to rent kayaks, canoes or other boats is Loch Achray in Argyll where you can paddle all the way to the stunning ruins of Kilchurn Castle!
Sea-kayaking is slightly more advanced, although many adventure companies offer entirely beginner-friendly tours and courses. In order to rent sea-kayaks and head out by yourself, you need to prove a certain level of experience to the outfitters. You need to be able to read maps and tidal charts, execute rescues and know how to react in situations of radical weather changes or other emergencies. Ocean currents in Scotland can be rapid and it can quickly become dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing.
However, if you are an experiences sea-kayaker or if you join an organised tour, kayaking along the coastline of Scotland can be a magnificent experience! The land looks so different from the waterside and paddling in a small boat gives you the opportunity to get up close to the marine wildlife on Scotland.
White Water Kayaking is a fun activity for anyone who is looking for an adrenaline rush. The kayaks used for this sport are usually a lot shorter and agile than the long and steady sea-kayaks. This makes it easier to navigate narrow rivers and rapid currents. There are many rivers in Scotland that are suitable for white water kayaking, but it is important that you always consider the amount of water a river is carrying.
Where to Kayak in Scotland
One of my favourite places to go sea-kayaking is Oban. In the past, I have booked a kayaking skills course as well as a guided day trip with the National Kayak School. You can read more about my experience with them in this post I wrote about my time in Oban.
Oban is also on the route of the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail, a long-distance kayak route that covers 500 km from the Isle of Gigha in the south to the Summer Isles near Ullapool in the North. You can find out more about this trail here.
6. Wildlife Tours
There are innumerous Scottish animals to meet in the remote corners of the country and wildlife tours are a great way to get close up to them in a sustainable and responsible way.
There are many day tours offering different animal encounters in various regions, but also entire wildlife holidays in Scotland that spend several days in the Highlands or along the coast to “collect” multiple sightings. Here are some ideas:
- Puffin watching on Staffa and the Treshnish Islands – read about my experience with this organised tour here.
- Basing Shark tours from Oban with Basking Shark Scotland.
- Boat tour to a seal colony near Dunvegan Castle – one of my favourite things to do on Skye.
- Walk to a seal colony near Newburgh in Aberdeenshire (self-guided) – part of my 3-day Aberdeenshire itinerary.
- The Scottish Dolphin Centre in Spey Bay offers daily guided walks and land-based dolphin watching.
- A cruise to St Kilda is ideal for bird-watching – read about my experience of this bucket-list destination here.
- Stalk the white Eriskay ponies in the Outer Hebrides – they live on the Isle of Eriskay and locals will be able to point you in the right direction.
- Learn about local birds of prey at the Scottish Osprey Centre near Aviemore.
- Take a birding expedition to Bass Rock from North Berwick organised by the Scottish Seabird Centre.
7. Cycling & Mountain biking
Scotland is a fantastic cycling destination, whether you want to experience the remote roads through the mountains and along the coastline at your own pace, or get an adrenaline rush at a mountain biking route in the Scottish mountains.
There is a well-developed network of long-distance cycle paths in Scotland which are maintained by Sustrans. You could for example cycle from Glasgow to Edinburgh along the Union and the Forth and Clyde Canals; or go island hopping along the 5 Ferry Route taking in the Isle of Arran, Kintyre peninsula, the Firth of Clyde and the Isle of Bute. Another popular cycle route is the Hebridean Way, which I walked in 2018 – it’s much faster by bike!
There are many tour operators who offer a variety of different cycling holidays in Scotland, from individual tour packages to group tours or simple bike hire for your adventure.
For a more thrilling experience, try mountain biking in Scotland which is possible anywhere from the Scottish Borders to the northern Highlands and the Islands. Good places to start looking for routes are the ski resorts during the summer months as well as the numerous mountain biking centres around Scotland.
8. Wild Swimming
Only for the hardy, wild swimming lets you dive into the refreshing waters of Scotland. There are many popular wild swimming sites at freshwater lochs and rivers or sea lochs and along the coastline. You can jump in pretty much anywhere you see water, but it is always good to check online for water quality or other important information.
This website is a great resource for crowd-sourced wild swimming locations in Scotland.
Adventure Activities in Scotland
While some of the activities mentioned above are already quite adventurous, there are many more outdoor activities in Scotland that get your heart beat faster. Adrenaline junkies will not miss out in Scotland!
Coasteering combines wild swimming (in thick neoprene suits), light scrambling and climbing of low cliffs, exploring caves and cliff-jumping. There are many places around Scotland where you can try this activity, but one of the most beautiful places to go coasteering is certainly the East Neuk of Fife.
Vertical Descents offers coasteering near Elie, just one hour from Edinburgh!
10. Canyoning & Gorge Walking
Canyoning is a fun way to explore Scottish riverbeds and waterfalls, but certainly not for the faint-hearted. A canyoning trip might include sliding down natural rock slides, jumping into river pools and abseiling in a narrow gully.
If that sounds too much for your nerves, look for gorge-walking, which is a much calmer version of canyoning.
Great areas for canyoning and gorge walking in Scotland are Lochaber near Fort William and Perthshire, as they have a particularly high number of rivers and diverse canyons.
11. White water rafting and River Kayaking
If you like the idea of kayaking but want to get more of a kick out of it, look into white water rafting or river kayaking. Both are much faster activities than regular kayaking but also still family-friendly! There are many rivers around Fort William, Oban and Perthshire that are suitable for rafting, just choose one!
12. Bungee Jumping
Bungee Jump Scotland offers two locations for bungee jumping.
Near Glasgow, you can jump off an A-listed Titan crane which was once used by the local shipbuilding industry. The area is currently being renovated, but the bungee jump crane will reopen in Spring 2020.
You can also bungee jump in the beautiful surroundings of Killiecrankie in Perthshire. The jump is lower – “just” 40 metres – but you jump from the bottom of a bridge that is surrounded by a gorgeous forest and a crystal clear river.
13. Via Ferrata
The Via Ferrata in Kinlochleven is a unique climbing experience. It combines the experiences of climbing and canyoning as you follow the steel cables up next to Grey Mare’s Tail, the third tallest waterfall in Scotland – expect to get wet!
On a Via Ferrata, you wear a climbing harness and helmet and are continuously attached to a steel cable with two carabiners. It’s completely safe, but physically quite strenuous. This tour takes about 5 hours and once you are on the route there is not really a way to turn back. The Via Ferrata tour in Kinlochleven also includes two crossings on top of the 90-metre waterfall on steel cables and a short zip line over the waterfall.
14. Ziplining and Tree Top Walks
Speaking of ziplining – there are some amazing aerial adventure parks around Scotland including some of the longest zip lines in the UK!
Go Ape operates tree top routes near Aberfoyle in the Trossachs National Park, in Peebles in the Scottish Borders and on the grounds of Crathes Castle in Aberdeenshire. Go Ape Aberfoyle stands out with its two gigantic zip line crossings high above Queen Elizabeth Forest – read my review of the activity here.
There is also an aerial adventure park in Kinlochleven attached to the Ice Factor climbing centre and a zip line in Dumfries and Galloway (south-west Scotland).
Winter Sports in Scotland
During the winter, Scotland transforms into a paradise for winter sports. While you might only be thinking of the Rocky Mountains or the Austrian Alps for your next winter holiday, rest assured that there are plenty of winter activities you can do in the Scottish Highlands!
15. Winter Mountaineering
Even though the mountains in Scotland are not as high as the Alps or Rockies, there is plenty of snow and the sunny winter days are definitely worth the effort! Winter mountaineering in Scotland offers amazing mountain days.
Winter conditions in the Scottish Highlands can apply as early as November and last well into March. During these months, even fairly straight forward Munros like Ben Nevis or Buachaille Etive Mor can turn into complex winter ascents. You should know your way around crampons and an ice axe, or book a winter skills course to learn how to stay safe during winter hikes.
16. Skiing & Snowboarding
Ever thought about skiing holidays in Scotland? Admittedly, the skiing resorts here are much smaller than their big siblings in Europe or North America, but they are great value for money of you’d like to include just two or three days of skiing in your winter vacation.
There are five ski resorts in Scotland. Two in the Western Highlands in Glencoe and at the Nevis Range, three in the Eastern Highlands in the Cairngorms mountains – Glenshee, The Lecht and Cairngorm Mountain.
All offer different levels of difficulty and route networks of varying sizes. The biggest is definitely Glenshee, while The Lecht is particularly family-friendly. Glencoe and Nevis Range offer skiing in iconic regions of the Scottish Highlands and are particularly popular with day-trippers from the Glasgow region. On a sunny day (especially on weekends), plan to arrive as early as possible to beat the crowds!
If this is your first skiing trip, check out which essentials to pack.
17. Ice climbing
Ice climbing is taking your winter mountaineering and summer climbing skills to the next level! You can learn ice climbing in the safe and constant environment of the Ice Factor climbing centre in Kinlochleven. Their indoor ice wall is 12m high and is made from 500 tonnes of real ice.
Once you are comfortable with ice climbing at the artificial wall, you can take it outside. The climbing centre also offers bespoke guided winter climbing expeditions to improve your winter skills and give you real ice climbing experience.
If ice climbing sounds a little too adventurous for you, why not try your luck at snowshoeing?
The ski centre at the Nevis Range rents out snowshoes (half-day or full-day) which you can then take up the mountain on the gondola. There are two simple routes to viewpoints starting at the gondola’s top station. Snowshoeing here does not require any previous experience, just some determination depending on the firmness of the snow. It’s a challenging activity, but your reward is a delicious hot meal at the mountain restaurant!
Scotland is one of the best destinations in Europe for outdoor activities. It offers an incredible variety of summer and winter sports, family-friendly days our and adrenaline-inducing experiences. There is an outdoor activity for anyone – and what better way is there to experience the breathtaking landscapes of Scotland than spending time outside!
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.