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.
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!
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.
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!
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
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!
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.
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.
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!
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
Spend a weekend at Loch Ossian Youth Hostel
Explore the Scottish Castle Trail in Aberdeenshire
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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