By homing in on the highlights, we've only introduced a handful of the Scottish getaways that you'll want to sample more of, time and again. You can visit each one individually or try to enjoy them all in a single trip to get an all-encompassing view of the stunning landscapes and cityscapes of the country.
Small but perfectly formed, Scotland has everything to offer for an action-packed staycation. From whisky trails in the Scottish Highlands to breathtaking walks and city culture right through to complete wilderness. The vibrant cities of Glasgow to Edinburgh, with some gems in between, are all worth seven days' holiday alone, but capturing all five in a week is undoubtedly doable.
Getting around in Scotland
The best way to explore Scotland is usually by car – simply to get into all the nooks and crannies worth investigating! The rail network is good, especially for some of the more remote journeys or for a trip on the West Highland Railway, which takes you from Glasgow to the famous fishing port of Mallaig on the west coast, which is also the gateway to the Western Isles.
Nothing is that far away, so you can easily manage your schedule to take in as much or as little as you feel will work.
From the most populated city of Glasgow, with 1.7 million residents, to the capital itself, with just over 550,000 – Scotland is a land of diversity in its many shapes and forms.
Let's look at where you should be going!
People make Glasgow
The city of Glasgow adopted the tagline of 'People Make Glasgow' before the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and it has stuck. Glasgow is famed for its friendliness. There is a humour and warmth about the people that feel like a welcoming, cosy blanket.
Just as Glasgow embraces every culture, it caters for every whim. There is the luxury of One Devonshire in the trendy West End, edgier establishments like Malmaison in the city centre or the usual plethora of Premier Inn and budget options.
Bed & breakfasts are not what you would necessarily opt for in the city. Instead, reserve those for the more rural venues where you will find the inviting atmosphere of home-from-home accommodation.
Charles Rennie Macintosh is one of Glasgow's most famous sons. As an architect and designer well ahead of his time, the city has paid homage to his creativity in various locations. The House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park is a beautiful display of his art nouveau designs. Considering he died in 1928, his building, furniture and interior decorations are a phenomenal futuristic view – and a style revered in houses across Glasgow and Scotland.
You can also find his work in Kelvingrove Art Gallery in the West End of Glasgow – in the thick of the University of Glasgow student community. The Botanic Gardens is an exotic diversion in the bustle of the city, and the grounds draw the populous of Glasgow's West End flat dwellers to enjoy the sunshine and the open space.
With a superb collection of seafood, beef, game and foraged delicacies, Scotland has dishes for all palates. The city has everything from cheap pub grub to top-class fine dining. This is where chefs sharpen their knives before taking to the world stage with their culinary excellence. Of course, a 'must try' in Scotland is haggis - and the vegetarian version is becoming as popular as the traditional.
There are also plenty of quirky pubs in Glasgow where dancing is not restricted to the evening. From karaoke to cabaret – people rock up to several venues in the city centre from 3 pm and dance around their shopping for the next few hours!
West Highland Way
Venturing out of Glasgow and through the affluent suburbs of Bearsden and Milngavie takes you to the start of the West Highland Way - one of Scotland's diamonds. It's a 96-mile walk from Milngavie to Fort William, enjoyed by millions each year. It's not compulsory, of course, and a car journey will show you many of the sights from the comfort of four wheels.
Part of the route passes Loch Lomond - a 40-minute drive from Glasgow - which has some stunning scenery and quirky little coves for picnics. Those considering walking the West Highland Way will find a whole host of companies that organise picking up luggage and dropping it off at the next leg of the journey. You can tailor your trip and these services to fit the number of days you plan to spend here and how far you will walk each day. Several stopovers have the added luxury of a hot tub to rest weary limbs.
Even picking up shorter parts of the West Highland Way lets you enjoy true Scottish wild landscapes. Driving gives you a different experience but allows you to add amazing sights in Stirling, the Trossachs and Perthshire, including The Falls of Dochart in Killin. Taking the car also allows you to sample the quaint coffee shops on the beaten track – in contrast to the few peppered stops of the walking route itself.
An oasis in the Highlands
The penultimate stop for the West Highland Way (although many have done it in one go!) is Glen Coe. Rounding the corner into the pass of Glen Coe is awe-inspiring. Dominated by the Buachaille Etive Mòr, one of the best-known and loved of all the Munro peaks, this epic view is one of the most photographed sights in Scotland.
There are plenty of walking options around here, and nestled right in the heart of the valley lies a luxurious stop in the King's Hotel. Once a bunkhouse, this exceptional hotel has mastered the art of Scottish food and drink to offer an authentic taste of Highland fayre and hospitality.
Take in a Sunday night, and there are usually good deals to be had. During the day – the boot bar in the Clachaig Inn, 5 minutes up the road by car, is an experience in itself. It's where walkers congregate after choosing one of the many challenging walks nearby. At the weekends, there is often live local music to keep toes tapping.
Camping with the squirrels
There are log cabins to camp out at close to the chair lift at Glen Coe. For the braver explorers, the Red Squirrel campsite is another mile down the road towards Glen Coe village. It offers pitches by the riverside and the opportunity to have open fires in the evening to provide an authentic wild camping experience in the natural beauty of the surrounding dramatic landscape.
Moving out of Glen Coe and to the end of West Highland Way in Fort William, you can head north to Aviemore on the A86. A slow but picturesque route takes you into an area steeped in whisky history.
A dram good time
Aviemore, which is in the Highlands National Park, has a host of great walks, including scaling Cairngorm, Scotland's favourite mountain destination. With the help of the funicular railway – you can take in the views without the exertion of climbing the peak if you would rather.
Aviemore itself has a good variety of accommodation options and is a perfect starting point for the Speyside Whisky Trail. While there are over 50 distilleries in Scotland, Speyside has the highest concentration. So Aviemore is the ideal spot to enjoy woodland walks and day tours to whisky-tasting venues if a wee dram is what you need to warm to the Scottish way of life.
Aviemore captures the epitome of Scottish wildlife and leisure; best of all, most of the best accommodation options are in the centre of the town. From four-star hotels to cosy little guest houses – all accommodation is within easy walking distance of a pub!
Aviemore is also well positioned for a day trip to Inverness and its famous Loch Ness for those curious Nessie chasers.
For the active
Golf, walking, watersports and cycling are popular in Aviemore. Despite the steepness of Cairngorm, the valley floor is relatively flat, and there are some beautiful flat walking and cycling tracks around the town. In the summer, you can even sunbathe at Loch Morlich. This freshwater loch is surrounded by a sandy beach and is home to a water sports centre and yacht club.
Sitting at the foot of the Cairngorms is the award-winning beach is an ideal site for enjoying a wide range of activities, including lochside forest walks. It must be one of the few places in the world where you can lie on the beach and admire the snow-clad surrounding peaks – even in summer!
You have the same experience on the golf course in Aviemore – although you might not wish to be so close to the sand there! The Spey Valley championship golf course in Aviemore has incredible surroundings and offers a challenging 18 holes.
It's long, but as you marvel at the views and your phenomenal drives, it's well worth the walk. It's also a course where non-golfers could tag along to enjoy the amble and the stunning scenery.
St. Andrews’ epic beach scene
The classic scene everyone remembers about St. Andrews is Eric Liddell's race across the beach in 'Chariots of Fire'. The legacy is kept alive each year in June, when students, residents and visitors run a 5km race in white t-shirts and bare feet (if they wish), all accompanied by that famous Vangelis classic booming in the background - quite a spectacle!
Home of golf
St. Andrews is one of Scotland's special towns and is known as the "Home of Golf" because the sport was first played on the Links at St Andrew's in the early 15th century. There are now seven courses in the town and many championship courses nearby. If you're a golfer, this is the place to play. There are links courses on the seafront, but the Dukes Golf Course, about a mile inland, gives you all the views but less of the challenges the links courses can throw up.
World Summit in the East Neuk
The oldest university in Scotland resides in St. Andrews and stands out in all the best photos of the town thanks to its regal splendour. It draws students from worldwide, generating a vibrancy in the food and drink establishments and the shops that visitors can enjoy more in the summer when the students have travelled home. There's everything you could want, from coffee shops with cakes to die for to plush cocktail bars and fine-dining restaurants.
There are also ice cream parlours with every flavour you could imagine – including that tremendous Scottish classic - Irn Bru sorbet! Everything in St. Andrews is walkable. The standard of accommodation ranges from five-star luxury in the Old Course Hotel overlooking the famous Swilkan Bridge on the 18th hole of the Old Course and the breathtaking views out to sea to just as scenic (but much less expensive) self-catering apartments on the front.
From St. Andrews, there are many places to visit to enhance a visit to the East Neuk of Fife. About 15 minutes further south in Anstruther, they sell the best fish and chips in the country.
Looking out over the harbour while munching the fruits of the sea is an experience in itself. Anstruther has some quirky little guest houses and holiday cottages with the sea lapping right up onto the back door!
St. Andrews is a Scottish pride and joy. That's what you will always take away from it.
From the microcosm of university life in St. Andrews to the full-blown version, Edinburgh has everything you would expect from a capital. A regal castle towers over the city, and Princes Street Gardens allows you to meander through in the summer, enjoying the random street acts. Sometimes these are live advertisements for the Fringe Festival entertainment, but generally, Edinburgh is the place for random culture.
Set up as an offshoot of the Edinburgh Festival, the Fringe has now become more popular. For most of August, Edinburgh is a never-ending vault of comedy, music, cabaret and classical performances, and plenty more that doesn't fall into these categories. Festival time in Edinburgh is crammed with people. It's fun. It's dynamic. It's expensive! But armed with this information, it's an experience to be had. Book well in advance.
More accommodation opens up in the city around festival time, and you can also find some student accommodation popping up for rental, so it is important to keep expectations low!
The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile befitted that unforgettable procession behind the late Queen Elizabeth's coffin in 2022. Every day it is full of people from all corners of the world either puffing their way up or nonchalantly wandering down, taking in the many tartan-clad shops lining the footpaths.
At festival time, the Military Tattoo is the 'piece de resistance'. Crowds from the pomp and ceremony of beautifully choreographed military pipe bands at the castle spill out of the esplanade to meet the theatregoers on tight schedules fitting in as many acts as they can from the Fringe. It is an atmosphere that you'll never forget!
The Scottish Parliament
The Scottish Parliament and Palace of Holyrood House lie at the back of the Royal Mile, and the walk to Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park is a 251m climb, opening up a 360-degree view of Edinburgh and the Lothians. The open-top buses do the same job but require a lot less exertion!