It has been five years since I moved to Scotland and in that time, I have ticked off a lot of major things on my Scotland bucket list. But with every place I visit and every activity I try, a new one joins the list – often two, keeping my bucket list ever-growing.

Having visited many of the most popular places and destinations around Scotland, my travel wishlist becomes more and more focused on the off-beat highlights and the hidden gems of this country.

Here are 12 things to add to your Scotland bucket list for 2021.

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Even though I have some international trips planned for the new year already – three weeks in Berlin, a family visit to Ghana and hopefully at least one film festival abroad, I also hope to travel the far and wide corners of Scotland. There are adventures waiting for me, of that I’m sure! Here are 12 places on top of my bucket list right now.

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1) A Road trip along the North Coast 500 route

I feel like I’m a bit late to the game, but I still have not travelled around the North Coast 500 route in the northwest of Scotland. It’s the perfect road trip itinerary, and this year, I hope to finally make this trip a reality with Yvette from Wayfaring Kiwi! We started travelling together this year – check out our hiking trip to Loch Ossian here – and both have a deep desire to finally make it up north.

The route NC500 starts in Inverness and leads around the north-west tip of Scotland, along the rugged coastlines and past some beautiful castles and beaches. I would probably want to put a week aside for this trip, including driving from Glasgow to Inverness and back.

For inspiration, I like to look at Two Scot’s Abroad full NC500 guide.

Ticked off! Read my 25 unmissable things to do on the North Coast 500!

North Coast 500 beach in Scotland
Photo by Two Scots Abroad

2) Standing Stones on Orkney

After visiting the Shetland Islands in 2016, Orkney is very high up on my Scotland bucket list. It almost happened in 2018, but the trip had to be cancelled last minute. I’ve promised myself to make it a reality in 2019 – luckily, Orkney is very easy to combine with a trip around the North Coast 500!

I am particularly interested in seeing the medieval excavation sites and the standing stones. I find it fascinating to think that thousands of years ago, people were able to make, transport and erect these standing stones! I can’t wait to learn more!

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3) Hike part of the Cape Wrath Trail

After completing the challenging 156 miles (252km) on the Hebridean Way in summer 2017, I am keen to do another big long-distance hike in the Scottish Highlands next year.

I have my eye on the Cap Wrath Trail which leads from Fort William through the mountains to the north coast of Scotland and Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point in mainland Britain.

The hike will be a lot more challenging because facilities along the way are sparse and the lack of way markers means that I will have to apply my navigation skills on a daily basis.

I plan to hike the northernmost section from Ullapool to Cape Wrath, which is about 90 miles (144km). I hope to stay in bothies and wild camp along the way and experience the Scottish Highlands by my lonesome.

View from Shenavall bothy on Cape Wrath Trail in Scotland
Photo by Wayfaring Kiwi

4) The Islay Festival of Malt and Music

Seeing that I recently discovered my growing love for Scottish whisky, I feel like the Islay Festival of Malt & Music would be the perfect occasion to learn more about Scotland’s most iconic single malts.

The festival takes places in the last week of May every year and offers a programme of whisky tastings, distillery tours, ceilidh dances, Gaelic lessons and of course traditional music performances.

5) Visit Barra and Vatersay

Vatersay and Barra were the first two islands I crossed on my trek in the Outer Hebrides, but I have a deep desire to return next year and see more of these islands. I only stayed on Barra for 2 nights and most of the time it was raining so heavily, that you couldn’t see the beaches, the mountains and the stunning views. I know there is a lot more beauty to these islands than the beauty of the trail, and I’m determined to explore it!

For more Outer Hebrides inspiration, check out these 11 reasons to visit Lewis & Harris!

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Day 1 Walking across Barra - Hebridean Way in 12 days

6) A weekend trip to Dundee

I visited Dundee for the first time in 2018 to attend a press viewing at the newly opened V&A Dundee – what a wonderful building and new art institution for Scotland. I barely had time to explore more of Dundee, but from the little I saw, I know that a weekend getaway to the city would be absolutely worth it!

There are more museums to visit, more street art to discover, vegan food to be devoured and certainly more fresh air waiting along the River Tay.

7) Nuart Street Art Festival in Aberdeen

The artist festival North East Open Studios was my first taste of Aberdeen’s many festivals, but what I really want to experience next year, is the Nuart Street Art Festival.

It takes place every year and brings the best local and international street artists together to create huge murals and artwork across the city.

This means the trail of street art in Aberdeen is ever growing and that makes it one of the coolest cities in Scotland!

A mural at the Green on the Nuart street art trail in Aberdeen

8) Visit Linlithgow Palace

Linlithgow Palace was home of the Scottish monarchs in the 15th and 16th centuries, including Mary, Queen of Scots, who was born here. I finally visited Linlithgow and got a closer look at the palace earlier in 2018, but since we went for a music festival, we did not have the chance to actually visit it.

With a new film about Mary, Queen of Scots hitting US and UK cinemas very soon, I’m keen to learn more about the real history behind it as well. Apart from Linlithgow Palace, I’d also like to visit Loch Leven Castle, where Mary was imprisoned.

9) Finally, hike the Aonach Eagach

In case you didn’t know – I love hiking. I constantly find inspiration for new hiking trips on Instagram and Facebook groups, and my list of long-distance hikes to trek and munros to climb keeps growing. One hiking trail that has been on my bucket list for a long time is Aonach Eagach, an intimidating-looking ridge at the northern slopes of Glencoe.

From the valley, it looks threatening and way too difficult to tackle for anybody, but during the summer months, it is actually a pleasant day hike for experienced hikers.

While I consider myself experienced enough to trek for multiple days or hike a simple munro, I’m not sure I dare to hike such a treacherous ridge as Aonach Eagach. Instead, I’d like to get a group of eager hikers together and book a guided hike with the fantastic mountain guides from Girls On Hills.

Think you've seen Scotland after a trip to Edinburgh, Skye and the Highlands? Think again! Here is my off-beat Scotland bucket list for 2017!

10) Learn more about Scottish wildlife

This autumn, I saw my first red squirrel in Scotland, and if you’re not sure why that is so exciting, let me tell you that they have become incredibly rare. Red squirrels are such elusive and graceful creatures, my friend Frida and I held as still as possible, to avoid scaring it away.

Now I’m hooked and would like to learn more about native Scottish wildlife. I’d love to learn more about the Scottish Wildcat Centre (watch the documentary The Tigers of Scotland to begin with) and visit the Osprey Centre in the Abernethy Forest. The Scottish Wildlife Trust also runs several reserves and visitor centres highlighting the uniqueness of Scotland’s wildlife.

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11) Explore the Scottish Borders region

While there are many areas in Scotland I haven’t seen yet, there is one entire region where I have never been – the Scottish Borders region in the south. Somehow it never crossed my mind to venture further south than the central belt and to be very honest I don’t know what would expect me.

In my mind, there are images of rolling hills all the way to Hadrian’s Wall in England. I’d like to see what else this region has up its sleeve!

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St Abbs in the Scottish Borders in Scotland

12) Join a rural film festival

There are many film festivals in Glasgow. Being a film student and festival organiser, it is the perfect city for me to live in. However, there are also many other, smaller film festivals happening all over the country.

There are community cinemas and mobile cinema trucks in the most remote places of Scotland and film screenings are extremely popular. It must be an amazing experience to share my love of cinema with locals in small communities in Scotland and see how much joy films can bring to people.

At the moment, I’m looking at the dates for the Hebridean International Film Festival across the Western Isles, and am keeping an eye on announcements by the Screen Tiree community cinema on the Isle of Tiree!

Ticked off Scotland bucket list items:

Ride the Hogwarts Express aka. Harry Potter Train aka. Jacobite Steam Train

Visit the Isle of Staffa & see puffins in Scotland

Visit the Outer Hebrides -> I spend two weeks in the Western Isles, hiking the Hebridean Way

Hike the West Highland Way -> well, I did half of it!

Celebrate Hogmanay in Edinburgh at the Street Party

Experience the Up Helly Aa Viking festival in Shetland

A day tour to St Kilda

Spend a weekend at Loch Ossian Youth Hostel

Try GoApe in Aberfoyle

Visit the Kelpies in Falkirk

Explore the Scottish Castle Trail in Aberdeenshire

Visit Balmoral Castle

With twelve new items on my Scotland bucket list, I will make the ambitious attempt to do one little trip every month and see a new corner of Scotland every few weeks. Some might require only a day or weekend trip, others will turn into longer journeys, but the goal is to every month go somewhere I haven’t been before.

What’s on your Scotland bucket list?

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49 thoughts on “12 Places for your Off-Beat Scotland Bucket List

  1. Colleen Collette says:

    Could you suggest any festivals, gatherings, etc to attend at the end of September 2019? We’ll be staying near Perth but are willing to travel. Anything involving whisky would be great!

  2. Pingback: 5 Reasons to Fly with Go Ape Aberfoyle | Watch Me See

  3. Tessa says:

    Ooh let me know if you do the NC500 and stop by Dornoch/Tain. Would love to say hello πŸ™‚ It’s so beautiful up here!

    • Kathi says:

      I’m actually going to do it around Easter next year! My friend is doing our itinerary (he’s writing an article about it for an Austrian magazine), but I’ll let you know I’d that’s on our schedule πŸ™‚

    • Marcia says:

      Hi Tessa,

      I will be visiting the Tain Scottish Festival this year. (2018) My friend and I can’t wait to get there.

  4. Tim R says:

    Dont forget the beautiful Moray firth, National Geographic lists it amongst the top ten coastal destinations in the world.. Miles of empty sandy beaches, and one of the best places in europe to watch bottlenose dolphins (you don’t even need to leave the beach to see them close up).. More than half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries are situated in the Speyside area of Moray – and there are less midges than the west coast!

    • Kathi says:

      I’d love to explore that area – Speyside whiskies are my favourite πŸ™‚ I’ve been as far as Banff, but not further West – next time!!

  5. Chantal says:

    Oh I love this list!
    I’ve been to Inverness in December 2015 and I’m planning to go to Edinburgh in late October (or early December).
    But I got the Scotland bug again and looking at a roadtrip by train through the country. Starting in Glasgow and ending in Inverness. Just need to figure some things out and if it fits in my life right now πŸ™‚

    • Kathi says:

      Sounds like a lovely plan! In December you’d have the Christmas markets already open… just saying ** Be aware though, that there is no train connection between Fort William and Inverness – trains to Inverness run along the east coast of the country, not through the Highlands! There are busses though, and the train from Glasgow to Fort William is amazing!

  6. Gary Fruland says:

    Was just in Scotland in May and canoed and camped with 9 others in the Nortwest Highlands. Probably the highlight was canoeing close to Suilven and then climbing it. There is something about that mountain! I live near Chicago and We have some pretty majestic mountains in our country but Suilven has a mystery about it that I can’t quite figure out. Scotland is my favorite country and this was my 10th trip to Europe. Your people and your beautiful country are second to none!

    • Kathi says:

      Thanks for telling me about Suilven – I love anything to do with kayaks/canoes and would love to do a holiday like the one you described – did you go with a tour company? I’m glad you enjoyed Scotland; hearing things like that always makes me proud calling it my home πŸ™‚

  7. Anne says:

    I hope you do manage the Borders – always overlooked as everyone heads north for Edinburgh, Glasgow and points north. You will need your own transport as public transport is almost insignificant. Lots of great houses to visit – the silver staircase at Mellerstain, Sir Walter Scott’s home at Abbotsford for example ; Berwick, the last town in Britain to be fortified by walls (by Elizabeth I of England against the Scots) and although technically in England, it’s as much a part of the Borders as if it was on the other side of the Border; lots of pretty villages as you pass through (usually with tasty tea shops); walking – the Southern Upland way as an alternative to the West Highland Way; castles – especially in the west, such as Threave and Caerlaverock or Drumlanrig if you want something with a roof on. Of course, you can combine it with a trip south to Hadrian’s Wall which should include a trip to Hexham or Carlisle Castle if you have time.
    It’s a big area and lots to do. Have fun!

    • Kathi says:

      Thanks for all the tips! Sounds like I should take at least a week off and explore the Borders πŸ˜€ Can your recommend a section of the Southern Upland Way that you find particularly beautiful for a day- or 2 day-trip?

  8. Joella says:

    I don’t live in Scotland but have been to many of these places and they are all wonderful. I did a great write up in puffins and the tour that took me there. You should really head that way it is amazing.

    • Kathi says:

      Lucky you! I’m going to Mull in August and a Staffa boat tour is high on my list. Maybe we can do one with a focus on wildlife <3

  9. Betty Lou says:

    Spent 9 days (Not Enough!) in Scotland for our second honeymoon last May. The Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies were cool 😎. We only did part of the NC500, beautiful! The cliffs at Dunnet Head are amazing, take binoculars to get the best views of the many birds. We’ll be back!

    • Kathi says:

      How lovely – and what a choice for a honeymoon πŸ˜€ I’ll make sure to stop at those cliffs when I finally make it up there! Thanks of the tip!!

  10. Rosalie says:

    Walking the West Highland Way is my absolute dream! I also really want to take a journey on the Belmond Express. If you haven’t heard of it yet – you’re going to die. I may have to save up for quite a while for that one though!

    • Kathi says:

      Oh, I’ll need to look into that! I love train travel πŸ™‚ I’m going o. The Harry Potter train in May! Thanks for your comment. X

  11. Charlotte Fleming says:

    What about coming over to Angus and the Mearns, Kathi? We have some great walking in the Glens, beaches of sand and shingle, cliffs, historic buildings, big sunset skies – and even distilleries πŸ™‚

  12. PTucker says:

    Question! Just traveled to Iceland last April where we could pull over on the roads at our leisure, hop out and hike a mountain wherever we pleased. It was our own isolated piece of the world for miles and miles. Would you say that Scotland has the same appeal?

    • Kathi says:

      Thanks for your question! I think it really depends on where in Scotland you go… The main roads between Glasgow and Skye will be quite busy between May and August, so are the more popular hiking trails; but you will always find a calmer side road or hiking trails off the beaten track. I think it many ways the Scottish and Icelandic landscape are similar, mostly due to the absence of trees (for most of the Scottish Highlands anyways) – so if you liked Iceland, you wil lalso love Scotland!

    • Kathi says:

      Thanks for your comment! I hope the whole world sees my blogpost πŸ˜€ Road trips in Scotland are among the best, such beautiful roads!!

  13. Krystal Brauer says:

    I’m planning a solo trip for 3 weeks in JUNE to Scotland, I’m pretty nervous about going alone. This blog has given me a jumping point get my planning started!!

  14. Anisa says:

    What a great list. I did spend a little time in Scotland and I didn’t do any of these things, so it is a great starting point for when I plan my next trip! I pinned for later.

    • Kathi says:

      Absolutely – this is not a list of all the highlights typically for a first-time in Scotland, but rather little gems to discover on a return trip. I hope you make it back soon πŸ™‚

    • Kathi says:

      Oh yes, the puffins are high up on my list as well! I saw them in the Faroe Islands last summer – they’re just the cutest <3 Thanks for your comment!

  15. Camila says:

    A great list! I definitely have a lot of those on my Scottish Bucket List as well πŸ™‚ I’ve done a few and I highly recommend them – except for GoApe, I was let down by it (I’ve done much better courses in North America). A friend of mine did the West Highland Way hike last year to celebrate her 30th and she said it was tough but oh so worth it!

    • Kathi says:

      Oh really? That’s sad to hear about GoApe – but I guess it might just be more geared at families, right? Definitely want to do the West Highland Way soon – before turning 30 sounds like a good plan! Thanks for your comment!

  16. Danielle says:

    Love this! I have a mini love affair with Scotland. We were only there for three days and I am itching to go back. Actually, we glamped near Loch Ness in May at Loch Ness Glamping. We weren’t a huge fan of Loch Ness, but glamping was fantastic!

  17. Marteen says:

    Scotland is so beautiful. I have the Isle of Skye on my bucket list and Edinburgh. So I’m staying in Edinburgh for five days in January and would love if you could recommend some unusual things to do their if you know of anything πŸ™‚

    • Kathi says:

      Hi Marteen, thanks for you comment! Have a look around my Edinburgh section – I’ve done several weekend trips there and wrote plenty about cool activities and great restaurants! I loved the Botanic Gardens in particular and think you should definitely head to Leith & Leith Water!

  18. Dinah says:

    I am actually looking into preparing tours in Scotland for a travel agency, and your blog post helped me with inspiration. The pics show the fairytale side of it and the Go Ape walk in the woods seems alot of fun! Thank you πŸ™‚

  19. Jessica says:

    Yes, I think it is easy to go explore places outside the one you live – we have been in Scotland for almost a year and while we’ve been to several places on your list, there are many places we have yet to see. We haven’t done any of the walks, visited any of the islands other than Skye, or done any of the long-distance hikes among others! Just a note, Hadrian’s Wall is in northern England not Scotland, but is an easy day trip from the Scottish Borders which is a beautiful region.

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