Updated August 2019
As a Scottish travel blogger I get asked a lot about where to visit in Scotland from people who are just beginning to plan their trip. They have an idea of a couple of places but want to know where to go to see the locations they see on TV and in magazines such as the vast lochs, the mighty mountains and the cute colourful villages. Often people who visit will take a day trip in Scotland, or several, from their base in one of the cities which is a great idea. It means of course that you can settle into your accommodation knowing you won't be moving for a while. A good idea is to spend a few days in one city, exploring and taking day trips to nearby sights and attractions then moving to another city in another area and doing the same. This A-Z of places to take a day trip in Scotland should give you loads of ideas. I've included some possible bases you can choose from, these places have all the amenities you will need and some lovely restaurants and cafes.
This island in the Firth of Clyde is nicknamed Scotland in miniature. As it crosses the highland boundary line the north of the island is dramatic and awe inspiring not disimilar to the mountain ranges in the highlands. The south is filled with lush green fields, cute villages and beautiful beaches. If you are short on time while you're visiting Scotland but want to head to an island this one is a good bet. You can catch a train from Glasgow which takes just over an hour, arrive in Adrossan and hop on a ferry to Brodick on Arran. The ferry takes 55 minutes. Even if you have all the time in the world I’d still highly recommend Arran, it’s my favourite island I have visited so far.
Possible bases - Glasgow, Largs, Ayr
Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, can be found not far from the town of Fort William and stands at an impressive 1346 metres high. One to tick off your bucket list if you're feeling energetic or jump on the Gondola on the nearby Aonach Mor for breathtaking views over the Nevis Range and the Scottish highlands.
Possible bases - Fort William, Oban
The Cairngorms national park is a haven for winter sports but the summer is also a great time to stick on your hiking boots and explore. You can take a guided hike to discover the arctic fauna on the mountain trails, paddle board or canoe the River Spey or visit one of the five whisky distilleries. If you are lucky you can spot wildlife such as wildcats, ospreys and mountain hares. The pretty town of Aviemore is the perfect base to explore this stunning mountain range.
Possible bases - Aviemore, Pitlochry, Newtonmore
This historic city is a hub of design and creative talent. With a brand new £1 billion redesign of the waterfront taking shape and the highly inticipated new V+A Museum of Design opening in 2018 this city is becoming a top destination, in fact it’s recently been ranked number 5 in the Wall Street Journal’s “Worldwide Hot Destinations In 2018”. Once the home to “jute, jam and journalism” the city is now the country’s first UNESCO City of Design.
Possible bases - Dundee itself, Fife, Perth, Edinburgh
Scotland’s capital city oozes history from every grey stoned nook and cranny. The mighty castle, cobbled old town, grand hotels, street cafes, fascinating museums and art galleries, quirky shops… I could go on all day. Living in Fife, it's one of my favourite day trips in Scotland if I fancy a day in a city. You don’t want to leave this off your itinerary. I’d recommend more than a day but if a day is all you’ve got head to the Old Town if you are after a history fix. Stroll down the Royal Mile, visit the castle at the top and the Palace of Holyrood at the bottom and maybe one of the museum in between. If you would prefer to shop head to the New Town.
Possible bases - Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fife, Lothians, Dundee
With 118 miles of coastal path, pretty fishing villages, award winning restaurants and the world’s oldest university Fife is a popular destination, made more popular recently through the new TV show Outlander as Fife was used often in the filming. Of course it’s also one of the most sought after golf courses in the world in St Andrews. The train from Edinburgh will take you along the Fife Circle and you can disembark in Burntisland, Kinghorn, Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline. If you want to visit the East Neuk and St Andrews hop on a bus in Fife or get one from Edinburgh.
Possible bases - Edinburgh, Perth, Dundee
Perhaps Scotland’s most scenic and talked about area, Glencoe’s rugged peaks and unspoilt nature have been used in films such as Braveheart and James Bond’s Skyfall. It's absolutely mesmerising and one of the most loved day trips in Scotland.
Possible bases - Fort William, Oban
Historic Scotland Properties
There are Historic Scotland properties all over the country so no matter where you are based there should be one near by. Some of the most popular properties include Antonine Wall, Edinburgh Castle, Caerlaverock Castle, Dunfermline Abbey, Culross Palace and Glasgow Cathedral. You can find a map of all the locations here.
Iona, an island in the Inner Hebrides, is a serene, peaceful and beautiful island. It’s particularly significant to the Christian community as it was lived in by Saint Columbus. St Oran’s chapel is said to be the burial place of 48 Scottish kings including MacBeth. It's only really practical to go for the day if you are already on the Isle of Mull. If you are, it's a stunning drive down to Fionnphort where you can jump on a small ferry across, you can't take your car but it's a small island (1 mile across) and relatively easy to walk around.
Possible bases - Isle of Mull, Oban
Jacobite steam train
Who doesn’t want to travel like Harry Potter? The famous scene when they cross the arched bridge on the way to Hogwarts was filmed on the Jacobite steam train which travels between Fort William and Mallaig and the arched bridge is the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
Possible bases - Fort William, Mallaig
These bizarre mythical creatures made of steel are situated in the town of Falkirk and are loved by anyone who visits them. Designed by Glasgow born Andy Scott, the two giant horse heads can be seen from miles away. They stand at 30 metres high and are modelled on the mythical Kelpie, a transforming beast with the strength of 10 horses. The Helix, the park the models are in, is also worth exploring and not too far away is the Falkirk Wheel, the world's first and only rotting boat lift.
Possible bases - Falkirk, Stirling, Edinburgh, Linlithgow, Glasgow
Whether you believe in Nessie or not I can bet you’ll still look while you’re there. The loch itself is the biggest in Scotland by volume and is 20miles long and 1 mile wide. You can take a boat ride out on the loch, visit the Loch Ness centre and exhibition and marvel at one of the most photographed castles in the world, Urquhart Castle.
Possible bases - Inverness, Fort Augustus
When you see a row of pretty colourful houses when your perusing images of Scottish islands, that’s Tobermory, on the Island of Mull. One of the most popular islands to visit but far quieter than the Isle of Skye. You can read more about the Isle of Mull on my blog here
Possible bases - Oban
Often ranked as one of Scotland’s prettiest villages North Berwick is also home to the Scottish Seabird Centre where you can take a boat out to the famous Bass Rock. There are other types of boat trips available and nearby is the National Museum of Flight where you can board Scotland's only Concorde and explore the history of aviation from WW1 to the present day with interactive displays and hands-on exhibitions.
Possible bases - Edinburgh, Falkirk, Fife
One of Scotland’s 10 best islands, Orkney sits off the upper tip of the country. It’s culture, history, landscape and beaches make it a must see if you are travelling around the east coast. This is an island that many people are determined to squeeze in a visit to. It's possible but ideal you should spend at least a few days there. You can visit the 5000-year-old Neolithic village of Skara Brae, the ancient stone circles of Brodgar and Stenness and the brilliantly impressive St Magnus Cathedral. The massive array of wildlife and outstanding scenery alone deserve more than a day. If you really want a day trip though it is possible to get a ferry from Gills Bay (4 miles west of John O'Groats) to Margaret's Hope which takes 1 hour. You can then get the bus or drive to Kirkwall.
Possible bases - John O'Groats, Thurso, Wick
An area often overlooked by tourists who arrive in Edinburgh and head straight to the Highlands, but with the new Borders railway this stunning area of the country is more accessible than ever. It’s easy to see why Sir Walter Scott fell in love with the place. The Scottish Borders has four fantastic ruined Abbeys, an abundance of monuments and castles and lush green rolling field it’s a truly gorgeous area to explore.
Possible bases - Edinburgh, Fife
North Queensferry, Fife and the north are linked to South Queensferry, Edinburgh and the Lothians by the Forth Road Bridge, the Forth Rail Bridge and the new Queensferry Crossing. Adorning many a postcard, these mighty feats of engineering are very photogenic. South Queensferry has some lovely restaurants where you can enjoy a meal or a glass of wine and soak up the fantastic views.
Possible bases - Fife, Edinburgh, Perth
This 50 square mile barren, rocky and bare expanse of land is just outside Glencoe and best seen via train on the West Highland route. It’s atmospheric and is a complete contrast from the dominating views of Glencoe.
Possible bases - Perth, Pitlochry
Dramatic cliffs, breathtaking scenery and enchanting tales of fairies who wouldn’t want to go over the sea to Skye? Recently named the 4th best island in the world it’s a major one to add to your list but I'd highly recommend avoiding the height of summer. Due to a recent surge in popularity the island gets extremely busy in the summer, so much so that the island is struggling, the roads are too narrow and there is not enough accommodation to cope with the hordes of people arriving. I've visited in the summer and it did feel like a conveyor belt of cars, trudging around each 'attraction'. It is a fantastic island but you will appreciate it more if you visit when it is quieter. There are several other islands which are just as beautiful and a lot more pleasant to experience if you are coming in the summer.
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is a haven for scenery seekers, and the shopping at the southern tip, at Loch Lomond Shores, is brilliant. You can have a Michilin starred meal, see Ben Lomond, Scotland’s most southern Munro or sail on the loch itself. You won’t be bored here.
Possible bases - Stirling, Glasgow
If you want a base to explore the Highlands you can’t go wrong with Ullapool. A cute fishing town surrounded by lovely beaches, great places to eat and drink and a ferry port if you want to visit the Outer Hebrides.
Possible bases - Ullapool is really a base itself
If you do decide to visit the Outer Hebrides be sure not to miss Vatersay. Grab a CalMac Hopscotch ticket so you can explore from top to bottom, ending your trip on the desolate but awe inspiring beaches of Vatersay. If you are feeling more adventurous try the new cycle route The Herbidean Way, 185 miles from the Butt of Lewis in the north to Vatersay in the south.
Ok, not a place but a must do on every itinerary. Luckily you can find distilleries in almost every area. Scotland’s national drink has to be tried, and where better than where it’s made.
Possible bases - Speyside, Islay
Nobody is more disappointed than me to not find a X! Anyone with any ideas feel free to let me know in the comments below.
Help me with this one too...
You might think this ones a bit of a cop out on my quest to find a “Z” but Scotland actually has some pretty fab zoos. You can find our two gorgeous pandas in Edinburgh zoo, there is a zoo with a view in Newtonmore at the edge of the Cairngorms and a brilliant family day out to be had at Blairdrummond Safari Park near Stirling.
And here you have it – My guide to the day trips in Scotland. Of course I could easily do another (minus the Z, U and X!). I actually had a strange amount of of “C” places to choose from- Culross, Clava Cairns, and the tonne of castles we have here. I also only mentioned Edinburgh and Dundee but Scotland has 5 other amazing cities, a visit to at least one would finish your trip off nicely. Look out for further advice posts including travelling in Scotland and budget. Where would you most like to visit from this list?