Travel is one of the best ways to learn more about the world, the environment and other cultures. Scientific tourism experiences can take these learning experiences to the next level. Meet experts for science-based learning activities that can range from hands-on citizen science to immersive tours about nature, wildlife or history. Read on for amazing examples of scientific tourism experiences in Scotland and expand your mind on your next trip.

This post was commissioned by Wonder Seekers. All opinions are my own.

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When science and tourism come together, great things will happen!

I love learning when I travel. In fact, I think it’s inevitable to learn something new when you travel. On my Scotland trips, for example, I constantly learn about history and social developments, wildlife and ecology, geology and climate change.

The concept of learning-based tourism – or scientific tourism – isn’t new, but now, there is a platform where travellers who are hungry for knowledge can find learning experiences from a wide range of disciplines with ease: Wonder Seekers, a platform for immersive and science-based learning experiences in countries like Scotland, Finland, Iceland and Greenland.

I teamed up with Wonder Seekers to spend two days in the Highlands. We met experts in marine biology, ecology and geology, and learnt from them about some of Scotland’s most famous landscapes and inhabitants.

Let me take you on that journey here!

Of course there are many more science-based learning activities in Scotland, so Wonder Seekers has asked me to put together a list with some of the experiences listed on their platform.

Read on for:

  • More info about scientific tourism and why it’s for everyone!
  • An introduction to Wonder Seekers and what it’s all about.
  • Some amazing examples of scientific tourism in Scotland from whale watching to stargazing.

But before we get started let me just say: it doesn’t matter if you’ve studied before or if this is your first tango with science – these learning experiences are for everyone!

Observing the sea for signs of wildlife is a free scientific tourism activity in Scotland

Wonder Seekers

Wonder Seekers is a transnational collaboration with a passion for science and tourism. The platform features a carefully curated selection of scientific tourism experiences drawing from a wide range of disciplines and offering varying levels of immersion.

The participating countries are Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the Faroe Islands, and you can find science experiences from all these countries listed on the website – as well as a few other places.

The idea is that by connecting learning experiences with fun outdoor adventures in exciting new places, you go beyond the superficial and really connect with the places you visit.

Listen to my interview with Wonder Seekers’ Katie Murray on Wild for Scotland!

What is Scientific Tourism?

As the name suggests, scientific tourism sits where science and travel meet. 

Now, I know that “science isn’t for everyone” – especially the way we are made to study it in school. 

But really, science is for everyone – as long as it’s conveyed in a fun and hands-on fashion!

And that’s essentially what scientific tourism is all about. It bridges the gap between experts and lay people by wrapping facts and knowledge into immersive experiences in beautiful locations.

Meeting experts

To me, science communicators are some of the most fascinating people to speak with. They are experts in often very complex and hard to grasp subject matters, yet they manage to break down their very niche knowledge and make it engaging and easy to understand for lay people.

Wonder Seekers experiences are led by experts who channel their passion for science into the delivery of outstanding tourism activities – tours, wildlife watching, expeditions, masterclasses and skill sharing.

Scientific diversity

Scientific tourism experiences can cover a wide range of disciplines and topics.

In Scotland these learning-based activities may look into local animals and plants and the habitats they call their home. You might hear about Scottish history, how we can uncover more of it and what we can learn from it. You may discover the truth behind rock formations, what’s waiting below the water surface or high up in the skies. 

There is really no limit to what you can learn.

You might also like: 14 Ways to Support Responsible Tourism in Scotland

Enrich your trip

At the most basic level, scientific tourism aims to spark your curiosity for the world and inspire you to want to learn more. 

The experiences curated by Wonder Seekers allow you to turn a leisurely holiday into an impactful learning experience while also having a fun adventure.

The selection ranges from hands-on citizen science, where you can contribute to actual research projects, to more general tours that introduce you to a certain topic and how it relates to the landscape before you.

It doesn’t matter which aspect of science you’re interested in, or how deep you want to dive into it – scientific tourism or learning-based tourism is for everyone!

Science Tourism Experiences in Scotland

Whale watching with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust is a marine conservation charity that advocates for the conservation of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the waters of western Scotland.

The Trust is based on the Isle of Mull and runs a Discovery Centre in Tobermory where you can learn about their work, hear talks or join in for workshops.

They also organise guided coastal walks on the Isle of Mull which are led by local experts and offer the opportunity to learn about and spot some marine wildlife.

Arguably the most immersive experience though, is to join the Trust for a Research Expedition aboard the Silurian. Participants can look forward to unique wildlife encounters and the data they collect contributes significantly to the Trust’s conservation work.

Listen to my podcast story Never The Same for a taste of a coastal walk with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

Learning about the ocean at the Ocean Explorer Centre

The Ocean Explorer Centre near Oban is the visitor centre of the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) which is the oldest oceanographic institution in the UK.

Here visitors can get an insight into some of the research done at SAMS and learn about marine science and oceanography, see a sample of the most diverse collection of algae and protozoa in the world, and learn about the technologies used to study our oceans.

There is also a cafe and great gift shop featuring books, toys and designs from local makers. Behind the centre, there is a beach where you can often spot marine wildlife on shore and in the water.

The beach at SAMS is also a great place to try snorkelling among rock pools and kelp forests!

You might also like: A practical guide for snorkelling in Scotland

Studying rocks at Lochaber Geopark

The Lochaber Geopark covers a huge area in the central Highlands. The best place to begin your visit is the Visitor Centre in Fort William where you can learn the basics about geology, the age of our planet and the different layers of rocks that make up the mountains of Scotland.

To see more of the park, pick up the leaflets for the Lochaber Geotrails or follow the Rock Routes to visit the information boards all over the park.

Some particular places of geological interest include the Highland fault line that forms the Great Glen, the Nevis Range that was formed by volcanoes, glaciers and tectonic plates, the volcanic Ardnamurchan peninsula and the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy, which puzzled Charles Darwin for a long time.

For a more in-depth experience, book a guided tour with a local geologist to bring alive the rocks’ stories.

Learning about geology from an info board in the Lochaber Geopark is a free scientific tourism activity in Scotland

Spotting beavers at the Argyll Beaver Centre

Beavers are among the many species that were hunted to extinction in the UK. However, they were successfully re-introduced in various places – among them the Knapdale Forest in the Heart of Argyll.

The Argyll Beaver and Wildlife Centre is a great place to visit to learn about this industrious species of rodent.

While it’s not always easy to spot a beaver in the wild, it’s hard to miss the signs that they are there – felled trees, stripped branches, traces of gnawing and dams are all indicators for their presence.

The Beaver Centre has hands-on displays to learn more about beavers, a wildlife hide and a feeding station. From April to October, the centre also offers guided walks to spot beavers, bats or marine wildlife on a seashore safari near Tayvallich.

Wild Swimming and Snorkelling with Dan the Merman

To immerse yourself in the sea, is to immerse yourself in the same environment as marine species around you. Swimming is a great way to learn about the ocean and to get up close to the animals and plants that live in it. This is scientific tourism re-imagined.

Dan the Merman is an open water swim coach who offers guided wild swimming or open water coaching all over Argyll. Sessions focus on swim techniques and learning water safety skills, but always include an element of mindfulness and conservation effort too.

If you’d like to focus more on what’s below the surface, you can also bring a snorkel mask. Dan knows much about the local marine wildlife and their Gaelic names.

Dan offers sessions for beginners, intermediate as well as experienced swimmers, that last 45 minutes to an hour. He also works with several local tour operators to offer longer tours that may also include foraging for wild foods or a boat trip on a local sealoch.

Listen to my conversation with Dan the Merman on my podcast.

You might also like: Where to try wild swimming in Scotland

Photo by Andy McCandlish

Whale watching cruises with Hebridean Adventures

Hebridean Adventures offers wildlife tours and cruises aboard their converted fishing boat, the Monadhliath, and via mini-bus. They mostly operate out of their base on the Isle of Lewis to roam the Hebridean islands and the Scottish west coast, but some of their tours also lead further inland into the Highlands.

All of their wildlife watching cruises include an element of citizen science as the data gathered by their observations is passed on to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust for further research.

Their itineraries vary, but might include such unique islands like St Kilda or the Shiants. They also offer a West Coast Odyssey cruise from Mallaig to Ullapool that sticks closer to the dramatic scenery of the western Highlands.

Hebridean Adventures also offers day trips from Stornoway on land and by boat.

You might also like: Great places to see wildlife in Scotland

Dolphin and whale watching is a popular scientific tourism experience in Scotland

Bird watching with Speyside Wildlife

Bird watching is an easy way into scientific tourism – there is just so much to see and learn.

Speyside Wildlife runs wildlife tours all over Scotland. They offer multi-day tours in the Cairngorms National Park and beyond, bespoke day trips with wildlife guides and masterclasses for those who want to learn more about specific species – for example this one about raptors.

The day trips can be tailored to your interests and focus on a specific kind of habitat, a certain region or a new species you want to learn more about.

Here are some of their multi-day tours listed on Wonder Seekers:

  • Wildlife Bonanza: Aimed at general naturalists who want to learn about a wide range of species, exploring the Cairngorms and Glen Affric.
  • Bird watching in Speyside and Sutherland: Aimed at birders, exploring the Cairngorms and Handa Island.
  • Ultimate Uist: Aimed at birders, exploring the islands of North Uist, Berneray, Grimsay and South Uist in the Outer Hebrides

Listen to The Land of Stories for an audio journey to Badenoch.

You might also like: 35 Things to do on Uist (Eriskay to Berneray)

Slavonian Grebes Speyside Wildlife birdwatching Scotland Cairngorms

Studying basking sharks with Basking Shark Scotland

Basking sharks are a fascinating species. They are the second largest shark in the world, but they feed exclusively on plankton. Huge numbers of basking sharks aggregate on the Scottish west coast every summer to feed and bask near the surface.

Basking Sharks Scotland runs eco-conscious wildlife adventures including boat tours, scuba diving, wild swimming, snorkelling, paddle boarding and kayaking – anything that brings you out onto the water and potentially closer to these gentle giants.

Their tours always include an element of science as they record sightings, study abundance, take photos and video and collect plankton samples for lab analysis.

Listen to a conversation about Scotland’s Snorkel Trails on the Wild for Scotland Podcast.

Immersive hiking with Wild Roots

Hiking in the Scottish Highlands can be an immersive experience if you pay attention to the plants, wildlife and rock formations around you.

Mountain leader Anna Danby of Wild Roots Guiding has a background in environmental science and connects her scientific knowledge with outdoor education and a sense of adventure.

She offers guided hikes in the Nevis Range which explore not just the natural environment, but also the geology and the human history of the area.

Anna also runs wild camping experiences for beginners and women-only mindfulness retreats to the mountains.

You might also like: The benefits of booking an organised walking holiday

Steall Falls near Fort William

Stargazing with Wild Skies Shetland

Scotland is a great place for stargazing and dark sky exploration. There are several Dark Sky Parks and areas all over the country.

One of them is the Isle of Unst in Shetland, which is the northernmost inhabited island in the UK. It might not have official dark sky status, but the skies up here are marvellous regardless.

The local charity Wild Skies Shetland is developing the Unst Sky Trail, a self-guided tour of the island with 12 sky-stops which is expected to open in 2023.

Each sky-stop will cover a different scientific, cultural, historical and linguistic significance of the sky. Some will have audio benches where you can listen to local stories, others will have QR codes which direct you to more information.

Trails like these prove that scientific tourism doesn’t always have to cost something or be done with a guide – anyone can enjoy this learning experience.

Scientific tour of Scotland with Starfish Travel

Maybe you find yourself at the end of this article, inspired by all the potential learning experiences, but equally overwhelmed by the task of choosing one for your next trip. But don’t worry – I’ve got you covered.
Starfish Travel is a Scottish tour company that offers bespoke scientific tours of Scotland that may include several scientific experiences and “regular” activities in your itinerary.

Depending on what you’re interested in, they can design a tour for you that combines sightseeing with educational experiences like wildlife watching, learning Gaelic, visiting nature reserves or science centres, and more.

You might also like: How to connect with locals and their stories

Cairngorms National Park

I hope you feel inspired by all these examples of scientific tourism in Scotland. Whether you want to become a citizen scientist or just learn something new and exciting, browse the experiences listed on Wonder Seekers and expand your minds!

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