An overview of Scotland's regions and what makes them each so special. Which areas should you include in your itinerary?
The Regions of Scotland
Scotland is made up of many varied landscapes from the tall peaks of the Scottish Highlands and rugged coastlines of the north-west to the endless sandy beaches of the east coast and the lush rolling hills of southern Scotland.
The Highlands are not Scotland’s only gem – there are many destinations and regions waiting to be explored in-depth!
On this page, you can find an overview of Scotland’s regions, which will help you decide which ones to include in your itinerary.
Aberdeenshire & Aberdeen City
Aberdeenshire is famous for three things: fairytale castles, pristine beaches and Scottish lighthouses. And then, of course, there is the city of Aberdeen. A day to Aberdeenshire might start on the coast, continue inland to the feet of the Cairngorms and end with a relaxing evening stroll through a vibrant city.
This area has a lot to offer! Some highlights include:
- Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail
- Scottish Castle Trail
- Aberdeen City
- The Royal Deeside valley
- Mountains of the Cairngorms National Park
Angus & Dundee
Prepare for the complete contrast of the bustling UNESCO City of Design, Dundee and the serene countryside of the coast and the hills. After a few days in the city, make your way up the stunning coastline steeped in Scottish history and home to lots of wildlife. Turn west for a hike in the glens in the southern Cairngorms National Park and visit numerous historic houses and beautiful castle along the way.
Must-sees in Angus include:
- Dundee City
- The coast from Broughty Ferry to Arbroath and Montrose
- The turrets of Glamis Castle
- Unspoilt nature in the Angus Glens
Here’s my guide to things to do in Angus.
Argyll & The Isles
Argyll & The Isles spans such a vast region and large number of very different islands, it’s hard to summarise it in just a few sentences – but that is exactly what makes Argyll so appealing. It stretches from the banks of Loch Lomond, past numerous sea and freshwater lochs to the coast near Oban. Scenic towns, tall mountains, tranquil landscapes – that’s what makes Argyll so special.
Islay, Jura, Colonsay, Mull, Tiree and Coll – just to name some of the larger islands of the Inner Hebrides in this region. This is a paradise for island baggers, wildlife watchers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Some of my highlights in the Argyll region include:
- The Heart of Argyll: Kilmartin Glen, Loch Awe and Kilchurn Castle
- Oban, the Gateway to the Isles
- Driving down the Kintyre Peninsula
- The whisky distilleries on Islay and the Islay Whisky Festival
- Pristine beaches on Tiree, Coll and Colonsay
- Island hopping from Mull to Iona, Ulva, Staffa & co.
Ayrshire & Isle of Arran
Located just south of Glasgow, Ayrshire will go down like a treat. Ancient castles, Viking history, beautiful coastal towns and endless pastures of scenic farmland – this area is quintessentially Scottish.
A quick ferry ride, drops you off on islands like Great Cumbrae or the Isle of Arran. Arran is also known as “Scotland in Miniature” and offers just that: a taste of everything that makes Scotland so special. Pristine beaches, tall mountains, standing stones, charming coastal villages, distilleries and of course also castles!
On a tip to Ayrshire and the Isle of Arran make sure you visit…
- Robert Burns Country in Ayrshire
- Culzean Castle & Gardens
- Great Cumbrae for a bike ride
- Lochranza Distillery and Machrie Moor Standing Stones on Arran
- The top of Goatfell mountain
Dumfries & Galloway
Scotland’s southernmost region, Dumfries & Galloway stretches west from the English border and hugs the spectacular coastline of the the Solway Firth and the Irish Sea. The South West Coastal 300 road trip takes in some of the region’s highlights, while the mountains at its heart could easily rival the northern Highland views. Outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs and nature lovers will all fall in love with this region off the beaten path.
The south-west of Scotland is a region full of hidden gems, such as…
- The Galloway Hills and Dark Sky Park
- The Mull of Galloway
- Quirky villages like Wigtown and Kirkcudbright
- The market town of Dumfries
Edinburgh & The Lothians
Scotland’s capital barely needs an introduction: visit Edinburgh to see its medieval Old Town, wander its cobbled lanes and explore the Georgian architecture of its New Town. Particularly bustling during the summer time, Edinburgh is also famous for its Hogmanay celebrations and many hidden gems off the beaten track.
The Lothians stretch to east and west of the city, making for fantastic day trips to see castles, puffins and more. A little bit further west, you’ll find the beautiful Falkirk area.
Don’t leave Edinburgh and the Lothians without…
- Exploring the Unesco World Heritage Site of Edinburgh’s Old & New Town
- Go off the beaten path in Leith and Stockbridge
- Head out to North Berwick, Dunbar, Bass Rock and the Isle of May
- Stop in Falkirk to see the Kelpies
- Visit Blackness Castle and Linlithgow Palace
Kingdom of Fife
Stretching from Dunfermline, Scotland’s former capital, in the west to St Andrews on the East Neuk of Fife, the Kingdom of Fife is dominated by the beauty of its coast, the rusty red structure of the Forth Railway Bridge and the rich history of its towns and villages. With lots of Outlander sites scattered around the region, Fife is also popular among fans of this TV show.
Fife has a lot to offer – here are some of my top choices:
- Fishing villages on the East Neuk of Fife
- Golf & history in St Andrews
- Touring Outlander sites from Culross to Falkland
- Discovering Scotland’s history in Dunfermline
Glasgow & Clyde Valley
Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city and a thriving melting pot of cultures, histories and heritage. From the humble beginnings of a place of worship founded by St Mungo through to becoming the 2nd most important place in the British Empire and today’s status as a progressive and culturally rich city – Glasgow has gone through many transformations.
Glasgow was built on both sides of the River Clyde, a river bringing stunning natural surroundings to the doorsteps of the city.
The city of Glasgow might be an underdog on many itineraries, but there is a lot to do & see:
- The architecture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow & Helensburgh
- Glasgow’s City Centre Mural Trail
- Hiking in the Campsies or the Kilpatrick Hills
- Discovering the Falls of Clyde and the World Heritage Site at New Lanark
Isle of Skye & Small Isles
The Isle of Skye is Scotland’s most famous island and finds its way onto almost every single itinerary. Its magical mountains and rivers are said to be home to fairies and other mythical creatures, but the lighthouses, castles and scenic villages all over Skye are popular destinations as well.
Surrounding Skye, there are many smaller islands, including the Small Isles south of Skye, and others like Raasay or Scalpay.
Top sites on Skye and the Small Isles include:
- Portree and the Trotternish Peninsula
- Dunvegan and Neist Point Lighthouse
- The Sleat Peninsula
- The Isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna (Small Isles)
Moray & Speyside
A true gem off the beaten track, Moray and Speyside is a region for outdoor enthusiasts, lovers of colourful harbour towns and slow travellers. From Findhorn to Cullen, the Moray Coast is dotted with charming villages and seaside towns, while Speyside is famous as Scotland’s most productive whisky region! The River Spey and its many subsidiary streams are great for water sports, while the Speyside Way offers a pleasant long-distance hike through the region.
From the mountains to the coast, Moray and Speyside have a lot to offer:Browse posts about the Moray Coast & The Speyside
Made up of 70+ islands, the Orkney archipelago off the north coast of Scotland contains some of the best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe. From standing stones and Viking sites to places like the Italian chapel or the dramatic cliffs of Hoy, Orkney is perfect for an island hopping adventure in Scotland.
Highlights on a trip to Orkney include:
- Standing Stones of Stenness and Ring of Brodgar
- Island hopping to Hoy, Westray & more
- Skara Brae Unesco World Heritage Site
- The world’s shortest scheduled flight to Papa Westray
Also known as the Western Isles, the Outer Hebrides are a group of islands far off the west coast of Scotland. From Lewis and Harris in the north to Barra and Vatersay in the south, these islands have a lot to offer: ancient standing stones, endless white sands and temperamental mountain ranges. To top it off, the Outer Hebrides are also a stronghold of traditional Gaelic language and culture.
You could spend weeks exploring the islands. Some of my favourite places are:
- Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis
- Bosta Beach on Great Bernera
- The Golden Road on Harris
- A day trip to faraway St Kilda
- The beaches & Machair of Uist (Berneray to Eriskay)
- Hiking or cycling the Hebridean Way
Perthshire is also known as Scotland’s Big Tree Country – a central region covered by expansive woodlands that make Perthshire a particularly appealing destination in autumn. From the city of Perth and bustling Highland towns to the serene woodland trails, valleys with waterfalls and mountain tops, Perthshire is a region for adventurers, foodies and anyone who wants their fill of Scottish castles.
This area has a lot to offer! Some highlights include:
- Dunkeld & The Hermitage
- Pitlochry, Killiecrankie & Blair Atholl
- Aberfeldy, Loch Tay & Glenlyon
- Mountains in the southern Cairngorms National Park
The Scottish Borders
Stretching from the English border up the east coast towards Edinburgh, the Scottish Borders have seen many significant battles in Scotland’s past. Unsurprisingly the Borders are steeped in Scottish history. These lands have also inspired national poets and writers, offer beautiful landscapes for outdoor enthusiasts and will win you over with a thriving food & drink scene.
The Scottish Borders are full of hidden gems, such as…
- The Border Abbeys
- Berwickshire Coast
- The land of Sir Walter Scott
- The Tweed Valley
The Scottish Highlands
The Scottish Highlands are the biggest area in Scotland. The region is dominated by the towering peaks of different mountain ranges. Scenic villages are dotted along the coast and lochs, or around the narrows glens among the hills.
The Highlands have a lot to offer! Some areas you might want to explore include:
- Glencoe and Rannoch Moor
- Fort William and the Nevis Range
- Riding the Jacobite Steam Train
- The West Highland Peninsulas – Ardnamurchan & co.
- Badenoch, the area around Kingussie and Newtonmore
- Loch Ness and Inverness
- The North Coast 500
- Exploring the Flow Country in Caithness and Sutherland
The archipelago of Shetland is not only geographically removed from mainland Scotland (it lies around 110 miles north), but also culturally very different from the rest of the country. Fusing Scottish culture with Scandinavian/Viking heritage, Shetland offers a unique opportunity for history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts.
Don’t leave the Shetland Islands without…
- Exploring Viking history and culture
- Island hopping to Yell, Unst & more
- Spotting puffins and other wildlife
- A trip to Foula or Fair Isle
Stirling & The Trossachs
Stirling and the Trossachs is a stunning, scenic and varied region in central Scotland. From the historic Old Town of Stirling to the green woodlands and tall peaks of the Trossachs – perfect for outdoor enthusiasts – don’t underestimate this region, just because it’s close to the cities!
Must-sees is Stirlingshire include:Browse posts about Stirling & The Trossachs
Please note that officially, there are 32 regions or local authorities in Scotland, but for the purpose of planning your itinerary I have split Scotland into 17 regions, each offering a different experience to visitors.