Beautiful beaches, rewarding country walks, big (and sometimes demanding) hill walks, brilliant views and places to see wildlife: the best of outdoor Scotland – this is a summary page with five categories of rewarding outdoor experiences – though for some of the views we’d let you stay in the car!
Here are the five categories: beaches, country walks, hill walks, views, places to see wildlife. All involve the outdoors.
NB This page is a summary. Follow the links below for individual pages and descriptions of the top tens by topic.
Hmm. Maybe I’m overthinking this…
Anyway, apart from the views category, where some of them can be enjoyed literally from inside a vehicle, to get the most from the suggestions you’ll have to stir yourself a bit.
This is because as well as the beaches, views, country walks and nature reserves, we have included some longer day hikes into the mountains – mostly for those who are new to Scotland’s high places.
It goes almost without saying that you need to be fit, careful and be properly equipped if you are tackling any of these longer walks especially.
And, please, tell someone – for instance, your hotel reception – where you are going. It’s quite usual for walkers and climbers to do this in Scotland.
Scotland’s ‘Right to Roam’
We often get asked ‘can we walk there?’ and ‘is it private?’ Remember that Scotland’s ‘right to roam’ is enforced by legislation.
Yes, you can wander (or, in Scots, stravaig) over much of Scotland’s countryside – but with that access comes responsibility and consideration.
Scotland’s beaches? This is a tough top ten. Most people’s idea of a beach is a golden sandy one, so, using this criterion, as a general rule, the east coast has the widest choice.
North-East Scotland, on the south shore of the Moray Firth and towards Aberdeenshire, has some outstanding sands. And while there are fine sands in places on the west coast mainland – for example, Big Sand at Gairloch – another part of Scotland with outstanding beaches is the Outer Hebrides, notably the Isle of Harris.
The other criterion is the size of the beach – this list tends towards the larger sweeps of shore.
Missing from this list are some small beaches and coves – a north coast speciality – but good examples of smaller gems also include popular places such as Coldingham Sands in Berwickshire and Sandend in Aberdeenshire.
Note that for all of the listings – not just for beaches – the ten or so selected are pretty much of the same quality – there isn’t a number one as such.
Ten Best Beaches
- Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire
- Roseisle, Moray
- Lunan Bay, Angus
- Traigh Luskentyre, Harris
- Traigh Eais, Isle of Barra
- Dunnet Bay, Caithness
- Belhaven Bay, East Lothian
- Balnakeil Bay, Sutherland
In choosing some favourite country walks in Scotland, the usual rules apply – nothing is quite objective: the writer’s prejudices or inclinations influence the choice!
I like mixed woods. I like varied habitat for casual birdwatching. I dislike these thoughtfully signposted walks into Forestry Commission plantings that sometimes tend to drag on through miles of monotonous conifers – even if you do sometimes get a view somewhere on the route.
However, I do like the fact that the Forestry Commission’s role isn’t just about commercial forestry – as a government agency they are also obliged to consider recreation in the forest – and they do a great job. Anyway, the walks given here have been chosen for the views, the setting or historical significance.
Och, basically, they are all just nice walks!
Ten Good Walks
- Ullapool Hill, Sutherland
- Torlum Hill walk, near Crieff, Perthshire
- Callander Crags
- St Ninian’s Cave, near Isle of Whithorn, Galloway
- The Whangie
- Isle of Bute, south end
- North to the point, from Shieldaig
- East Lothian riverbank – East Linton
- Burnmouth to Eyemouth, Berwickshire
- Loch an Eilein, Rothiemurchus near Aviemore
Defining a ‘Munro’ in Scotland
Lucky Scotland to have big and handsome hills. Many are classified as Munros. These are hills of more than 3000ft / 914m with a certain amount of re-ascent between one summit and the next.
You get 282 Munros and a further 272 subsidiary ‘’tops’ to choose from if you want to take to the heights on your visit. Lots of nations have higher mountains – but the mountains of Scotland nearly all fall into the category of strenuous day excursions.
In short, in most but not all cases, you can bag your summit and afterwards still enjoy a fine dinner back in your cosy hotel.
However, bear one important point in mind if you are new to walking in Scotland. Remember Scotland’s geographical position, sticking out on the edge of Europe.
It’s a meteorological battleground up there with Atlantic and Continental weather systems endlessly arm-wrestling their wettish or drier regimes.
So conditions can change quickly. In short, you have to be fit, well-shod and well-prepared kit-wise.
I’m afraid people die on Scotland’s craggy tops. Promise me you’ll take care (I would say ‘caa canny’) up there? Let people know where you are going. And don’t forget a map. OS Landranger 1:50,000 is best.
Here are ten different kinds of hills in Scotland, each offering a different experience. Most are Munros (except for Stac Pollaidh and Ben Ledi.)
- Meall nan Tarmachan, near Killin, Perthshire
- Lochnagar, near Ballater, Deeside, Aberdeenshire
- Ben Chonzie, near Crieff, Perthshire
- Ben Ledi, near Callander
- Stac Pollaidh, near Ullapool
- Bynack Mor, near Aviemore
- Ben Wyvis, near Inverness (sort of…)
- Carn Eighe (with Mam Soul), west of the Great Glen
- Ben More (with Stobinian), near Crianlarich
- Ben More Assynt (via Conival), Sutherland
- Ladhar Bheinn, Knoydart
Scotland does views rather well – because it has great scenic variety in a small area.
And, thanks to the ‘cult of the picturesque’ – which we can trace all the way back to the days of the Romantic poets – Scotland’s particular ambience of moody skies, craggy mountains, mossy woods and wild moors still appeals today.
Most of the views selected here have another advantage: you can park the car and step outside, take one look and then scrabble around for the camera, or, in season, the anti-midge cream. You don’t even have to walk anywhere.
But if you do, the chances are the view will get even better. In short, here are some views you can enjoy for next to no effort – as an alternative to hiking up the big hills selected in the list above.
- Duncryne Hill, by Gartocharn, Loch Lomond
- The Queen’s View, Aberdeenshire, the B9119, near Tarland, Aberdeenshire
- The Coulin Pass, near Kinlochewe, Highland
- Hume Tower, near Greenlaw, Scottish Borders
- Knock Hill, Crieff, Perthshire
- Queen’s View, near Pitlochry, Perthshire
- Upper Deeside, west of Braemar, Aberdeenshire
- Tullochgrue, near Aviemore, Highlands
- Cairn o’ Mount, south of Banchory, Aberdeenshire
- From the A896 between Torridon and Shieldaig
Oh, and here’s a couple more. I just couldn’t stop.
- Elgol, Skye
- Loch Garry, on the road to Skye
Top Ten Scottish Nature Reserves – or places to see wildlife
In Scotland Scottish Natural Heritage is the government-funded agency whose main concern is the protection of important bits of natural diversity and special landscapes (among other things).
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is Scotland’s largest nature charity. The National Trust for Scotland is our largest conservation charity.
There are others, such as the John Muir Trust and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and wild land can also be designated by sometimes overlapping designations, such as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (sometimes called a ‘triple SI’) or…OK, stop, that’s quite enough.
This isn’t the place for strict definitions of everything from national parks to local nature reserves. Really, all you need to know are some of the best places where the natural setting will possibly be matched by the sight of something spectacular with fur or feathers sneaking or soaring past, but not too quickly for the camera auto-focus.
However, there is a further complication. Sometimes nature and wildlife in Scotland (as elsewhere) doesn’t package itself neatly into nature reserves.
The best place I could take you in summer to see what may be Scotland’s most northerly breeding yellow wagtail – a lovely bird – is about 30 yards from a main road in a very nondescript east-coast field.
And the best otter view I’ve had for years wasn’t on some remote point on Shetland or the Outer Hebrides but on an equally ordinary bit of coastline, close to the East Coast Main Railway Line in the south of Scotland.
Anyway, here are some worthwhile places where nature has priority.
- St Abb’s Head, Berwickshire
- Loch of Strathbeg
- Muir of Dinnet and Glen Tanar
- Beinn Eighe
- The Flow Country – Forsinard
- Loch Druidibeg
- Ariundle Oakwood
Let’s add a couple more places in the South-East. Check out St Abb’s Head for its ‘seabird city’.
And the area has a good number of rewarding walks along a grand coastline..