Renowned for its deep, striking mountains, stately castles, misty lochs, and a fascinating history – Not to mention its mythological monsters – Scotland is arguably the most ruggedly beautiful of all the four United Kingdom nations.
Like its southern neighbor, England, Scotland has its own share of major cities – Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Glasgow, to name a few – however, we want to focus on the smaller gems scattered across the glens and valleys of the Scottish landscape, uncovering the 8 Best Small Towns that Scotland has to offer.
Fort Augustus, Lochaber
Situated on the southeast end of Loch ness, Fort Augustus started as an 18th-century military garrison, but today, the little town is the heart of an entirely different battle: the battle to prove the existence of Nessie (The Lochness Monster).
Travelers visit this quaint town from all across the world to enjoy a cruise on the most famous of all the Scottish lochs, scouring the surface for telltale signs of the cryptozoological monster, before checking out the town’s 19th-century abbey and learning about Highlands culture at Clansman Center.
Travel Tip: Fort Augustus makes for a great homebase for travelers looking to road trip into the Bucolic, heather-strewn mountains of the deeper Highlands.
Killin, Loch Tay
A quick and easy drive from the historic city of Stirling, Killin is a popular spot for sailing and kayaking on the spectacular Loch Tay.
Killin is also home to the Falls of Dochart, a cascade of waterfalls at the western end of the loch, where locals sprawl on the rocks in the summer months, pint or picnic basket in hand.
The town boasts a number of great places to stay and eat, as well as the fascinating Breadalbane Folklore Center, dedicated to the myths and legends of the area.
Other great places and sites to visit include the ruins of Finlarig Castle, where you can also explore a traditional Scottish longhouse. The hike on nearby Mountain Beinn Ghlas is also worth the experience.
Tobermory, Isle of Mull
The quaint capital of the Isle of Mull, Tobermory is famed for its rainbow-hued houses, its delicious single malt whisky, and its beautiful fishing port – one of the most beautiful in Scotland.
Getting here is all part of the adventure as you catch a ride in one of Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, with ferries from the mainland (Kilchoan) taking 35 minutes.
Private water taxis are also an option, and when getting Tobermory, there are art galleries, restaurants, and old-fashioned inns for you to explore – just don’t leave without buying one of the famous ceramic water jugs from the Tobermory Distillery to complete your visit (and a bottle of whisky to go with it, naturally).
Braemar is a pretty little village, situated in a location with strong royal ties. For instance, Balmoral Castle, The Queen’s beautiful Scottish retreat, is just a few miles down the road and open to the public when the royals are not over.
Braemar is also home to the legendary Braemar Gathering, a traditional Highland games contest that takes place in September and has been attended by the British royal family since the 1840s. Otherwise, there are two ancient castles to explore and the Highland Games Center for those interested in charting the roots and rules of some of the strangest Scottish sports.
Plockton sits on a sheltered bay with a breathtaking view overlooking Loch Carron. Many have often regarded Plockton to be the “Jewel of the Highlands”, and offers travelers stunning scenery and landscapes, secluded bays, coral beaches, islands, panoramic views and the possibility of seeing an array of marine life at close quarters.
The sea is a key component to Plockton. The community once thrived on fishing and crofting, and now during the summer, the bay is a popular anchorage for visiting yachts and famous for its fortnight Sailing Regatta.
Plockton offers many opportunities and activities to get out on the water: from Calum’s Seal Trips, one of the longest running and most well-known boat trips in Scotland; to kayaking and sailing and rowing.
Roslin is a tranquil village that is located 7 miles south of Edinburgh. The village is known for two unusual reasons namely; the world’s first cloned sheep, Dolly, as well as being home to the mysterious, richly decorated late-Gothic Rosslyn Chapel.
The 15th-century Gothic masterpiece, festooned with elaborate flourishes and symbolic images, is one of the most romantic spots in the country, immortalized first by William Wordsworth, and later on by Dan Brown’s, “The Da Vinci Code.”
While in town make sure to check out the rugged ruins of Roslin Castle and the hiking trails of Pentland Hills, which rewards hikers with picturesque views of Edinburgh’s venerable skyline.
Portree, Isle of Skye
The town of Portree is situated on the east side of the Skye, overlooking a sheltered bay, and is the largest and livliest town on the island.
The town of Portree is the capital of Skye and is surrounded by hills – Ben Tianavaig to the south, Suidh Fhinn or Fingal’s Seat to the west, and Ben Chrachaig to the north.
Portree is only about 200 years old and was created as a fishing village at the beginning of the 19th-century by Lord Mcdonald, and today has everything a visitor could wish for in a vacation destination. Banks, churches, cafes and restaurants, a tourist information center, petrol filling stations and supermarkets.
Portree makes for the perfect homebase for travelers looking to venture out and explore the Isle of Skye, as the countryside doesn’t have petrol stations and supermarkets. So gear up!
Kelso, Roxburghshire is nestled in the heart of the Scottish Borders. Although Kelso is surrounded by the countryside, the town is stocked full of attractions and activities.
If you enjoy the finer things in life, then a weekend break in Kelso is just perfect for you. Farmer’s markets, art galleries, and folk music nights, travelers get to enjoy a flurry of great experiences in a relatively short time.
The town is home to many spectacular sights, such as the Floors Castle & Gardens, the heart-pounding Kelso racecourse, and a chance to explore the Scottish Borders to name a few.
Ready to explore Scotland? Check out our Exclusive Journey’s, and start planning the trip of a lifetime alongside our team of travel experts. For more inspiration check out our Curated Journey’s.