Must Avoid in Scotland

Surely there can’t be places or things you must avoid in Scotland during your visit? Well, there are some experiences you definitely should keep out of your travel plans.

We sat around the office one morning and came up with a wee list. But the first thing to point out that it is, definitely, a short list.

We are relieved about that. Nope, we thought and thought and didn’t come up with a very long line of doom-laden warnings for you.

Basically, Scotland is a nice place to visit. You’ll have a great time. We have tried to make the list not just things that get our personal goat. (I’m thinking here of, say, cheap souvenirs on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, acrylic paintings of hairy coos and Irish-themed pubs.

Actually, Irish pubs are usually great - in Ireland.)

No, these are experiences etc you may not enjoy or do not merit your time - and they are all avoidable. NB List is not in any order:

Downtown Glasgow when Rangers play Celtic

Don’t want to see the worst side of sectarianism and drink-fuelled rowdiness? Then don’t stroll Glasgow city-centre after Rangers and Celtic have been playing.

They are two high-profile football teams that represent a vehicle for religious hatred between two camps, now that no-one much goes to church in Scotland any more. 

Edinburgh’s Royal Mile - top end - when the Edinburgh Military Tattoo is on

Tattoo crowds on Royal Mile
The tide surges up the top end of the Royal Mile, ready for an evening of martial spectacle and music. It's Tattoo time!

If you’ve got tickets for the Tattoo, this suggestion obviously won't apply!

But you may want to avoid being carried along by the multinational tide that ebbs and flows at the top of the city’s Royal Mile around the time of performances of the Tattoo on the Castle Esplanade.

Granted it’s atmospheric, but it’s also a bit claustrophobic and you may get the impression that everyone else seems to be going in the opposite direction to you.

But maybe you enjoy this kind of ambience - though there are plenty of other bits of Edinburgh for you to stroll around in a more relaxed way.

Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Great atmosphere - that's for sure - at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Just don't get caught up in the crowds unless you're actually going!

Rush hours in Scotland’s cities

Kinda obvious, in a way. Edinburgh city bypass clogs up, so does the M8 through Glasgow, Aberdeen is dreadful, though maybe improved by its bypass, Dundee is a pain... and so on.

Imagine picking up your hire car or worse, if you’re from the USA, having to manage a (gasp) manual gear shift in all that traffic.

And Johanna says make a special mention of Fort William at rush hour. Now, I wouldn’t have thought of that one. But it’s a reminder that ‘the Fort’ isn’t just a quaint wee Highland town, but a commercial centre for the area.

The golf venue for the British Open Championships, if in Scotland

Unless you are specifically going for the golf, again, obviously, give the area a wide berth.

Accommodation books out for miles around. Roads are jammed. Happily, you can ignore this one until the competition comes back to Scotland in 2021 (St Andrews, Fife - pandemics permitting.)

Beyond that, it’s not possible to say. By that time the Caliphate of Trump may have nuked Scotland for not allowing the Open to take place every year at the Turnberry Resort, Ayrshire, which he owns.

City of Aberdeen

What, a whole city? Yup. You don’t actually need to go there. Unless you want to see a place of missed opportunities.

Can’t think of a single thing Aberdeen has that counts as a 'magnet attraction'. Or that some other Scottish city doesn’t do better.

Oh, wait, maybe the re-vamped Aberdeen Art Gallery. It is worth a look. (Said he, grudgingly.)

PS I still have relatives there. I went to university there. And I have been visiting Aberdeen all my days. Trust me on this one.

Aberdeen Art Gallery
Aberdeen Art Gallery

Ben Nevis and the 'Tourist Path'

Oh, please, include Scotland’s highest mountain in pictures and views, certainly. And you’ll be fine choosing from the wide choice of accommodation the area of Lochaber offers. A stay in the area is thoroughly recommended.

Fort William - ‘in the shadow of the Ben’ as the brochures say - is also labelled Scotland’s Outdoor Capital. There’s lots to do all around.

But as for a day out on Ben Nevis itself, slogging up the path with hundreds of others, some in sneakers, some on sponsored walks or even endurance runs, then it’s probably Scotland’s worst hillwalking experience.

By all means enjoy the Ben at a distance. At time of writing, there were 281 other Munros for you to conquer. 

Ben Nevis summit cairn
A summer day on the summit of Ben Nevis and they are queuing to stand on the summit cairn.

Isle of Skye in July or August

(and at most other times, apparently)

Skye has the steepest mountains, the spikiest skyline and the most romantic image of all of Scotland’s islands.

KIlt Rock on Skye is on most visitors' check-lists
KIlt Rock on Skye is on most visitors' check-lists

It has dinosaur footprints, weird geology and some fine places to stay. So what’s it doing on a ‘must avoid’ list?

Well, it’s being loved to death. It’s crowded - jam-packed during the peak season, which seems to lengthen every year. You’d enjoy the Isle of Mull just as much. It’s not quite so spiky but still spectacular.

Isle of Mull when the Mull Rally is on

Wait, wait…did we say Isle of Mull? What, that island that is famed for wild landscapes, wild nature, wild cliffs and coasts and sea eagles - all that kind of wilderness stuff?

Well, hold on a moment. For one weekend in the year all that unspoilt, green, environmentally sensitive image goes out the window. The Mull Rally comes to town.

Actually, not so much town as a series of public roads, which are closed so that the petrol-infused enthusiasts can gawp at the boy (and girl)-racers speeding by.

So if you’ve come for the tranquillity and nature that weekend - too bad. Naturally, if you’re a motor-sport fan, then don’t miss that October weekend.

The Isle of Mull is a lovely place to visit at other times though - we love it.

Deep-fried Mars Bar

Instead of hanging its head in shame, a fish and chip shop in the town of Stonehaven, near Aberdeen, is proud to claim it invented this travesty of Scottish cuisine.

Maybe it was tongue in cheek, though it’s more likely your tongue will be stuck to the roof of your mouth by the sugar if you try one.

Deep fried Mars Bar - must avoid
And it's for sale in sophisticated Edinburgh as well!

No single stunt did more to damage the reputation of Scottish cooking than this gross offering.

But, hey, maybe, like the sugary empty calories offering of Scotland’s own ‘pepsi’ type drink, called Irn Bru, you could see this as an authentic Scottish experience.

If not, then this junk is a must avoid!

Balmoral Castle

OK, you may already have worked out that this site is far from royalist in its sympathies - but, really, with a wealth of other castles of historic significance or architectural beauty, should you really be spending time here?

Must avoid Balmoral Castle
Lots of visitors playing 'Spot the Neep' at Balmoral Caste. (Your ticket price includes getting to see the royal veg patch. Gasp.)

A visit to the royals’ holiday pad, originally Albert and Vicky’s love-nest-hideaway of 1856, does not involve actually seeing much of it. Just the ballroom with an exhibition and the stables, plus access to the grounds.

Oh and they say that included in the ticket price is ‘access to the formal and vegetable gardens’.

If you think that £11.50 (adult price - 2018) is worth it to see the queen’s neeps, then go ahead. But remember you don’t get to see rooms and interiors. If you want that kind of stuff you should visit the Royal Yacht Britannia at Leith, if you really, really must.


North Coast 500

Scotland’s heavily promoted northern rim road has enough users now, thank you. That’s all.


Damp Highland places on a still evening in summer

Well, this one had to be in, didn’t it? Yes, it’s the visitor’s favourite topic. The habitat of the Highland midge. Though Culicoides impugnatus makes it on to the must avoid list, it maybe sits better on a ‘can’t avoid’ list.

Face it, if you find yourself north of the Highland line between, say, May and October, if the wind drops and there is any damp or wet ground anywhere near ...then the beasties will come after you. It’s a fact of Highland touring. North Coast 500 midges bites per hour, perhaps.

Tons of advice on how to avoid midges right here on this site.


Stornoway on a Sunday

The last bastion of Sabbatarianism in Scotland contributes to the idiosyncrasy or charm of Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides.

The hard-liners, fundamentalists or whatever they are labelled, believe that Sunday should be a day of rest.

For example, some of the locals on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides worship a deity which, among other public misdemeanours, is apparently filled with cosmic wrath at the sight of washing drying on the washing line on a Sunday.

He/she/it is fine with tumble dryers though. Or at least that’s what a local told us she uses if she finds herself having to dry washing on a Sunday.

It’s not so much what you can’t do on a Sunday, but what you can’t be seen to be doing.

Hellfire awaits...or not

Anyway, the situation has changed (or eased) in recent years and some businesses and hotels have taken the risk of being consumed by eternal hellfire for making visitors welcome on the Sabbath.

However, others stay closed, just in case. (Finding visitor attractions that are open and fuel for your vehicle may be an issue for example.)

Do not flee off the island though as the Sabbath approaches. There’s still stuff to see. But you should be aware that Sunday closing still causes strong feeling. Here’s a report, for example, of a shop owner being harassed by Sabbatarians.

Based on your own belief system, you have to choose if this one goes on your must avoid list or not.


By the way, Glenfinnan on the Road to the Isles almost made it on to this list. The location can get pretty over-run at peak times. It's the Harry Potter viaduct that's done it.

However, (follow the links above) we do rate it as a must see, so we'd be a bit hypocritical to tell you not to visit now!

There now, that list didn't hurt a bit now, did it? There's nothing to be frightened of - nothing to justify staying away, in fact. So we look forward to seeing you here!

I'd still avoid the Mars Bars though.