From staggering views over the Highlands and remote, picturesque islands to richly scented pine forests and mysterious rock formations, Scotland is an organic playground for nature lovers. Just as diverse as its stunning landscapes? The incredible amount of activities and experiences to be enjoyed there. Watch for whales along the spectacular west coast. Go forest-bathing in an ancient Caledonian Forest. Get your adrenaline pumping on a hardcore mountain-biking trail in Trossachs National Park. Whether you’re obsessed with wildlife, looking for an adventure, or just craving some fresh air, here are seven wild ways to experience the country’s wide-open spaces.
Go island hopping.
Outer Hebrides, Scotland
An interconnected chain of islands situated off the west coast of Scotland, the Outer Hebrides appeal to thrill-seekers and wildlife aficionados alike. For the best view of the area’s pristine, powder-white beaches and rough Atlantic waves, cycle, walk, or drive along the Hebridean Way, a breathtaking route that spans nearly 200 miles across 10 islands and rugged coastline. Along the isles of Lewis, Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay, and Barra, you can go snorkeling, kayaking, and even surfing (just be sure to pack an extra-thick wetsuit). Follow points on the Hebridean Whale Trail and keep your eyes open for humpbacks, orcas, dolphins, and more.
Play a round at the birthplace of golf.
St. Andrews, Scotland
Boasting 10 unique golf courses, including the celebrated Old Course, there’s no better place in the world to perfect your swing than the home of golf, St Andrews, where the sport was invented in the 15th century. Warm up on one of the area’s famous links courses or, for a historic twist, head to Kingarrock, where you can play with traditional hickory golf clubs.
Explore Fingal’s Cave
Inner Hebrides, Scotland
Created around 60 million years ago by the same lava flow that carved out the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, Fingal’s Cave marks one of the world’s best examples of volcanic basalt columns. Take a cruise boat to Staffa in the Inner Hebrides where the sea cave is located and marvel at this natural, otherworldly wonder. Along the way, you can enjoy puffin-spotting in summer. Don’t forget to listen to the hypnotic echo of the crashing ocean waves, which the cave’s naturally formed arched roof turns into melodic acoustics. It even inspired Mendelssohn to compose his Hebrides Overture.
Try your hand at forest-bathing.
No trip to Scotland is complete without spending time in the country’s majestic forests. Perhaps the best way to appreciate them: forest-bathing, a practice that involves sitting quietly and using your senses to mindfully connect with the natural surroundings. Tay Forest Park contains some of the country’s tallest trees and a magical Douglas fir forest, while Abernethy Forest in the Scottish Highlands is the largest area of ancient Caledonian Forest in Great Britain where you can take a deep breath and inhale the scent of the rich Scots pine trees.
With some of the largest expanses of dark sky in Europe, Scotland makes an ideal destination for amateur astronomers and night-time photographers. There, you’ll find Galloway Forest Park, the very first U.K. forest park to be honored with Dark Sky Park status, places with low or non-existent levels of light pollution so visitors can gaze at brilliant stars. Scotland is also home to the northernmost Dark Sky Park in the world and the darkest park in the British Isles, the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Cairngorms Dark Sky Park. Don’t miss a trip out to North Ronaldsay, officially recognized as a “dark sky island,” where on winter nights you may spot the Northern Lights dancing in red and green.
Discover a national park.
Trossachs National Park, Scotland
One of the country’s top destinations for nature and wildlife and home to Great Britain’s largest Scottish lake by surface area, Loch Lomond and the surrounding Trossachs National Park have plenty to do, including cycling, golfing, hiking along rugged hills and rocky peaks, and exploring wooded nooks. The real attraction, however, is the lake itself. Set off in a kayak, canoe, Jet Ski, or cruiser, test your luck at fishing, go swimming, or simply enjoy the idyllic view from the bonnie banks.
Stroll among the flowers.
You don’t have to go far to find the great outdoors in Scotland. Just one mile from the city center, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh boasts 72 acres of dreamy, landscaped scenery. The second-oldest U.K. botanic garden, its history dates back 350 years. Learn about its fascinating history, wander along the Chinese Hillside, look for tranquility in the Rock Garden, and gaze at the giant redwood trees. From three other Royal Botanic Gardens to grand castle estates, Scotland has no shortage of colorful flower beds and lush trees to admire.