The Best Historical Attractions in Scotland
Collected by Barry Steven Shelby , AFAR Local Expert
Given its long history—including time before records or even writing—Scotland has a wealth of fascinating sites to visit. Spread across the country, from the Borders in the south to the Shetland Islands (which are closer to Norway than to most of Britain), these must-see attractions range from standing stones and prehistoric settlements to ancient abbeys, medieval battlegrounds, and Jacobite monuments.
Sumburgh, Shetland ZE3 9JN, UK
Sandwick, Stromness KW16 3LR, UK
On the principal Orkney island, some 30 miles from the north coast of mainland Scotland, sits the best-preserved Neolithic settlement in Western Europe. From 3000 to 2400 B.C.E.—long before Stonehenge or even the Egyptian pyramids—Skara Brae was a...
Callanish, Isle of Lewis HS2 9DY, UK
Jutting up from the crest of a flat-topped hill, the Callanish Standing Stones comprise one of the world’s best-preserved Neolithic monuments. Erected 5,000 years ago, they predate England’s famous Stonehenge and are believed to have...
Lewis and Harris Island, Isle of Lewis HS2 9AZ, UK
Just a few miles from the world-famous Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis sits Dun Carloway, also known as the Carloway Broch—an ancient, circular stone tower that was once 30 feet tall. Impressively, it remains almost the same...
Glenfinnan, Lochaber PH37 4LT, UK
Today, the fern-filled hillsides surrounding the Glenfinnan Monument regularly fill with camera-toting tourists, all eager to see the historic Jacobite Steam Train—which serves as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies—breeze...
Abbey St, Arbroath DD11 1EG, UK
If Scotland has an equivalent of the Magna Carta or the U.S. Declaration of Independence, it’s the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath—a letter sent by nobles to the pope swearing their independence from England. The document was signed here...
Isle of Iona PA76 6SQ, UK
After arriving on the tiny island of Iona near Mull in 563, Irish pilgrim Saint Columba proceeded to establish a Christian church and monastery, creating a vibrant religious community that lives on to this day. The monastery survived until the...
Kilmartin, Lochgilphead PA31 8RQ, UK
Before the well-known royal families of Scotland came to power, there was the ancient Kingdom of Dalriada, about which little is understood. Judging from the archaeology found on Kilmartin Glen, however, it was probably a remarkable, 6th- to...
Upper Colquhoun St, Helensburgh G84 9AJ, UK
In 1902, publisher Walter Blackie commissioned Charles Rennie Mackintosh to create this timeless mansion, now considered the architect’s domestic masterpiece. Mackintosh and his wife, the artist Mary Macdonald, designed almost everything...
Glasgow Road, Whins Of Milton, Stirling FK7 0LJ, UK
If you’re a fan of Outlaw King, then Bannockburn is a must-visit sight. It was here that the Scots, led by Robert the Bruce himself, achieved a remarkable victory in June 1314 over the largest English-led army ever to invade Scotland. The...
Culross Palace, Culross, Dunfermline KY12 8JH, UK
Culross is Scotland’s most complete example of a 17th-century burgh, featuring white-harled houses, cobbled streets, a hilltop abbey, and an ocher-colored palace. Visitors can wander along the charming streets, once filled with the hustle and...
477B Lawnmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2NT, UK
One of the oldest buildings on the Royal Mile, Gladstone’s Land stands as a tribute to tenement life in Edinburgh’s Old Town. It was once owned by merchant Thomas Gladstone, who extended and remodeled it to include opulently decorated...
Abbotsford House, Melrose TD6 9BQ, UK
The former home of Scottish historical novelist Sir Walter Scott, Abbotsford contains a treasure trove of objects that the great 19th-century author collected during his eventful life. Having popularized tartan, saved the Scottish banknote, and...
Abbey St, Melrose TD6 9LG, UK
The heart of Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots, is buried somewhere here, amid the magnificent ruins of Scotland’s first Cistercian monastery. Scholars believe Melrose Abbey dates back to the 7th century, though most of what remains today...
16 Alloway, Ayr KA7 4PY, UK
At this family-friendly museum, visitors can learn all about the Ayrshire Bard by listening to his words, playing games that unravel his mysteries, and examining the many books and manuscripts he wrote during his lifetime. Next door, in the cozy...
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