Scotland is blessed with so many beautiful places: vibrant cities, quirky villages, majestic mountains, rugged coastlines and vast amounts of wilderness. This post is about my favourite photo-worthy villages and small towns in Scotland. From the colourful harbour towns dotted along the coast to romantic villages nestled among the mountains – these are real gems to include in your Scotland itinerary!
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Even though there are seven amazing cities to visit in Scotland, the real charm of Scottish culture lies in the pretty towns and villages dotted across the country. This is where you can mingle with locals down in the pub and experience what life is like in the Scottish countryside.
Immersive tourism is on the rise – people want to make authentic experiences, have easy access to Scotland’s natural beauty, go on unexpected adventures and have unscheduled encounters. Scotland’s small towns and villages offer all that and more.
I’m a “big city girl”. I love living in Glasgow and appreciate the thrill of a city break. But when I travel around Scotland, I also really appreciate the smaller places. Scottish towns are easy to navigate, there always seems to be the right amount of restaurants and pubs to choose from – always enough choice, never overwhelming – and locals are welcoming and open for chats with strangers. And boy, are those towns pretty!
This is a post about some of the most beautiful towns in Scotland. A hand-picked selection of 20 pretty towns and villages all over Scotland that I think are worth to be included in your itinerary.
All are picturesque and great photography locations, but they are also handy home bases for a trip to Scotland. With choices of accommodation, restaurants and pubs, activity providers and cultural sites nearby, and located in regions that are worth exploring in-depth.
I mulled over which towns to include forever. Every time I thought I had the perfect number of places together, I remembered another town or village to add…
I have purposefully left out some of the most famous towns like Oban, Portree or St Andrews in order to draw your attention to lesser-known hidden gems in Scotland. At the same time, I haven’t been everywhere and some villages you might expect to find here are still on my travel wish list – Plockton, Portpatrick, I’m looking your way!
If you can think of a town or village you love, but can’t find it on this list, add it in the comments – let’s grow this list of pretty Scottish towns together!
20 Pretty Villages & Towns in Scotland
Cullen, Moray Coast
Cullen on the Moray Coast is a hidden gem on Scotland’s north-east. Nestled between golden sands and dramatic cliffs that dominate the coastal scenery, Cullen is known as the birthplace of Cullen Skink soup. It is also famous for its beautiful viaduct which today is open to the public and makes for a fantastic walk with scenic views.
The village is split into a lower part by the waterfront and an upper town bustling with antique shops and quirky cafes.
Cullen is the perfect stopover after a hike along the Speyside Way or the Moray Coast Trail, and a great home base to explore the area.
Nestled around East Loch Tarbert, an inlet of Loch Fyne, Tarbert has a colourful horseshoe-shaped waterfront with restaurants, pubs and shops. The ruins of Tarbert Castle tower high above the harbour and offer sweeping views of the bay.
Guarding the narrow strip of land that connects the Kintyre peninsula to the rest of Argyll, the scenic village of Tarbert is perfectly located to explore the region. The village also sits on the Five Ferries Route, a road trip and cycle trail that connects the Ayrshire coast with the Isle of Arran, Kintyre Peninsula, Cowal Peninsula and the Isle of Bute.
Read up on my Kintyre guide to plan your trip.
Gairloch, North Coast 500
Gairloch is a small, but sprawling, coastal community on the famous North Coast 500 road trip with fantastic views towards the mountains of Torridon and Applecross. The heart of Gairloch centres around Strath where you can visit the amazing independent Hillbillies Book Store or stop for cake & coffee at the neighbouring Mountain Coffee Company.
There are several viewpoints along the bay, but in my opinion, it’s worth driving a bit further past the village until you reach Big Sands beach and spend a day there.
There is no shortage of pretty towns in the northern Highlands, but Gairloch is particularly well-located to explore south towards Torridon, Applecross or Plockton, and north to Ullapool, the Summer Isles and the mountains of Wester Ross. Check out my post about things to do on the NC500 for your trip.
St Abbs, Scottish Borders
Ten miles north of the Scottish-English border lies the picturesque seaside village of St Abbs. Located on the scenic Berwickshire coast and just a stone’s throw from the St Abbs Head Nature Reserve, it has always been a favourite among birders and outdoor enthusiasts, lovers of seafood and colourful harbours.
In recent years, the quaint village has even risen to world-fame as New Asgard in Avengers: Endgame. Do I need to say more?
St Abbs makes for a fab day trip from Melrose in the Scottish Borders.
Stretched along the northern shore of Loch Long, Arrochar is a beautiful village in the Scottish Highlands. Many people come through on their way to Oban or Inveraray, but it’s worth spending a few days here to explore the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park.
Climb a Munro in the Arrochar Alps, “thread the needle” on top of the Cobbler or hop across to nearby Loch Lomond. Wander along the scenic waterfront and book a table at the historic Village Inn.
On a trip to Arrochar, many of my favourite outdoor activities in Argyll are at your doorstep.
By far the largest town on this list, Dunfermline is Scotland’s former capital in the heart of Fife. Cobbled roads lead through the colourful town centre.
Stop at Dunfermline Abbey where you can visit the grave of Robert the Bruce. Swing by the new Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries. See the stunning French Gothic clock tower of the City Chambers and walk up the bustling High Street. I also recommend a walk down Pittencrieff Park!
Less than 20 miles from the capital, Dunfermline is a great day trip from Edinburgh but is also a great home base to explore more of Fife.
Crovie is easily one of the most remarkable villages I have ever come across in Scotland. Built on a narrow stretch of land by the sea, the “road” by the waterfront is not even wide enough to fit a car. The houses are battered by the wild waves of the North Sea and locals and visitors alike have to climb down to the village via a set of stairs.
It’s worth walking among the houses to get a taste of how isolating life could be on the Scottish coast and stop at the viewpoint above the village to see it in its full glory.
Many houses in the village have been turned into AirBnBs for a unique edge-of-the-world experience, but nearby Gardenstown and Pennan are more accessible and good alternative home bases on the Aberdeenshire coast.
Brodick, Isle of Arran
Nicknamed “Scotland in Miniature”, the Isle of Arran offers a little bit of everything that makes Scotland so special – a stunning mountain range, white sands, standing stones, whisky distilleries and of course some lovely island villages.
Brodick, the main community on Arran, is a bustling village with plenty of restaurants and quirky pubs, a cheese dairy, beer brewery and soap manufacturer (all great for souvenirs), a pretty castle and great hospitality. Perfect for an island getaway if you only have a few days!
For book lovers, Wigtown barely needs an introduction – for everyone else: welcome to Scotland’s National Book Town! The quirky village is home to 16 (!) book shops most of which are located in the colourful houses nestled around the central village square. The second-largest book festival in Scotland is held here every year in September.
Browse the bookshelves of second-hand bookshops for hidden treasures, discover the latest Scottish publication or mingle with other literary travellers in one of the cosy cafes.
If you follow my “Best of South Scotland” itinerary, choose Wigtown as your home base in Dumfries & Galloway!
The picturesque town of Aberlour (also: Charlestown of Aberlour) lies on the banks of the River Spey and is a welcoming destination in the productive Speyside whisky region of Scotland. Many of the houses built around the central square of Aberlour are made from beautiful red stone that is so characteristic for the area.
Make sure you stop by The Mash Tun for a whisky tasting and Aberlour distillery. Walk to Linn Falls and learn everything about the famous Walkers shortbread which originated from this Scottish town.
Aberlour was one of my favourite towns on the Speyside Way!
While I would not call it a hidden gem, I could not get myself to write a list of my favourite towns in Scotland without including Pitlochry! This lively town in the heart of Perthshire is a popular stopover for people travelling up and down the A9.
Hugging the banks of River Tummel, Pitlochry is an incredibly scenic Highland town. Stroll along the Victorian high street, poke your head down picturesque Mill Lane, wander down to the River and across a suspension bridge to Port-Na-Craig on the other side.
Like all of Perthshire, Pitlochry is particularly beautiful in autumn – plan your trip with my Perthshire travel guide.
St Monans, Fife
From Elie to Kingsbarns, the East Neuk of Fife is famous for its fishing villages with colourful harbours, quirky waterfronts and cobbled lanes. St Monans is easily one of the most beautiful villages in Scotland and has some quirky features that make it stand out from the others: the ruins of Newark Castle and a beautiful windmill overlooking the seaside.
White-washed houses with colourful window sills line the harbour, fishing boats bob up and down with the tides and a beautiful coastal path leads out to the windmill – a relic of the once-thriving sea salt industry in Scotland.
A great way to discover St Monans and other picturesque fishing villages in Fife is a day hike on the Fife Coastal Path from Elie to Anstruther.
Melrose, Scottish Borders
Melrose in the Scottish Borders has captured the hearts of many historic Scottish figures, including Robert the Bruce and Sir Walter Scott. While Broce asked for his heart to be buried at Melrose Abbey, Scott made his stunning home at nearby Abbotsford House – both worth a visit on a trip to Melrose.
The small town offers beautiful views of the Eildon Hills and the hiking path begins right at the Market Cross. There are gardens filled with flowers and fruit trees, the stunning ruins of the Abbey and more.
Use my Melrose travel guide to plan your visit to the Scottish Borders.
Kilchattan Bay, Isle of Bute
The tiny village of Kilchattan Bay on the Isle of Bute will always have a special place in my heart. The seaside community lies at the southern end of the West Island Way, a 30-mile trek across Bute. The main feature of the village is the pretty Victorian waterfront and stunning views across the Firth of Clyde towards Great Cumbrae and the Ayrshire coast.
I arrived here after a night of wild camping at a nearby beach, stopped for coffee at the village shop and dreamed of staying a few extra nights to take in the views.
Kilchattan Bay would be a great home base to hike the West Island Way or explore other parts of the Isle of Bute.
Ballater, Royal Deeside
The Royal Deeside has been a popular destination in Scotland since the days of Queen Victoria. When she decided to buy a large estate here and build the castle of her dreams (Balmoral Castle, which you can visit from Easter to July), many others followed suit.
Everyone who took the train from Aberdeen had to come through the nearby town of Ballater and the town grew into a bustling hub for the area. This is true until today!
The church at the heart of the village is surrounded by pretty shops, cafes and pubs, many houses have beautiful flower gardens and in the distance, there are always views of the beautiful hills of the valley.
The scenic Highland village of Killin lies a bit off the beaten path but is so worth the detour. Nestled at the western head of Loch Tay, the village is built around the magnificent Falls of Dochart.
A narrow, multi-arched stone bridge leads across the falls and down onto an ancient burial ground of the Clan MacNab. When the water is low, it is possible to hop down onto the rocks to the foot of the bridge, but after some rainfall, the Falls turns into a torrential river.
From Killin, you can explore Perthshire, the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park and the southern Highlands around Crianlarich and Tyndrum.
Stonehaven is a bustling seaside town on the Aberdeenshire coast, just 16 miles south of Aberdeen, particularly famous for the awe-inspiring ruins of Dunnottar Castle.
The town itself also has a lot to offer though – from a picture-perfect harbour with white-washed houses and colourful boats, to public art along the waterfront walkway, a long beach with views of nearby cliffs and pretty architecture around Market Square. Outdoor enthusiasts and foodies, history buffs and helpless romantics will all get their money’s worth here!
Glencoe Village sits at the northern end of the breathtaking Glen Coe valley – location of the Glencoe Massacre, home to the Aonach Eagach ridge and made of Highland dreams.
It stands out from the rest of the villages on this list because the built-up village itself is actually not super picturesque (although there are many beautiful buildings and scenic views to be found) – but the scenery around Glencoe is just too beautiful not to mention it here.
Huddled at the foot of the iconic Pap of Glencoe and framed by Loch Leven, it is the perfect location for an adventure trip to the Scottish Highlands. Use my Glencoe travel guide to plan your trip.
Inveraray is one of my favourite towns in Scotland – it is so pretty! Located on the banks of Loch Fyne, a 40-mile long sea loch off the Firth of Clyde, Inveraray is the ancestral home to the Duke of Argyll. The village was actually moved to its current location to make space for the construction of Inveraray Castle & Gardens – worth it if you ask me!
The high street is lined with white buildings with characteristic black door frames and window sills (even regular high street shops are bowing to the design) and the views over Loch Fyne are simply stunning.
Tobermory, Isle of Mull
The brightly coloured waterfront of Tobermory’s Main Street is famous around the world. Of course, the Isle of Mull is well worth a visit for many other reasons like stunning beaches, boat trips to nearby islands like Ulva, Iona or Staffa, hiking up Ben More or a visit to Duart Castle. But if you are already on the island, it would be a shame not to also visit the bustling village of Tobermory.
Apart from finding the best photo spots to capture the colourful houses by the water, you can find a whisky distillery, many local arts & crafts shops, the Mull Museum and a great arts centre.
My Isle of Mull travel guide is a great resource to plan your trip to Mull!
I could go on and on – there are so many beautiful villages and towns in Glasgow.
I hope that this list has inspired you to plan a trip to Scotland that takes in several of these scenic towns on the go. Whether you just stop for a stroll down the high street or base yourself in one of these places for several days – Scotland’s small towns have a lot to offer!
Now I’d love to hear from you – which villages or towns in Scotland are your favourites?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.