First Visit To Scotland

10th April 2024

If you are visiting Scotland for the first time, you will want to hit all the ‘must-see’ sites, but these are different for everyone. Okay… just about every visitor is desperate to see Glencoe! But where you go after our most famous magical glen, is all down to personal preference. 

What to see on your first tour of Scotland

Our guests generally have a keen interest in one of the following;

  • Scottish history - castles, battlefields, museums and monuments
  • Scottish landscapes - mountains, beaches, glens and forests
  • Scottish culture - local cuisine, traditional music, sheepdog demos

First, we will explain where you should prioritize depending on your particular interest, and then we will take you through some of our best tours for first-timers. By the end of this blog, you should have figured out the ideal first tour of Scotland for you. Of course, if you still aren’t sure, we are more than happy to chat with you about the options.

Scottish History

If you love history, we recommend a visit to Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. Stroll along the royal mile, take in the Gothic architecture, and visit the world-famous Edinburgh Castle. If you are spending the night in the city, be sure to wander along Prince’s Street after dark to see the castle lit up in beautiful, but ominous colors. If you enjoy spooky history and the macabre, check out the city Dungeon or take a tour of the terrifying vaults underneath the city.

Not too far from Edinburgh is the city of Stirling, which is full of historical sights. Stirling Castle was the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots and it is where almost every Scottish monarch throughout history was crowned. Bannockburn however, is arguably the biggest draw for history buffs in Stirling. The museum and visitor experience has been built on the site of one of Scotland’s most famous battles, which took place in 1314 during the Scottish Wars of Independence. Immerse yourself in the 3D experience, and learn how King Robert the Bruce and his army defeated the largest army ever to have invaded Scotland. 

If you want to go even further back, uncover our ancient history on the Scottish Islands. Orkney is the best representation of our ancient heritage, thanks to the 5,000-year-old Skara Brae, Western Europe’s best-preserved Neolithic settlement. Another fascinating feature of this World Heritage Site is the Standing Stones of Stenness - these are actually hundreds of years older than the more widely known Stonehenge.

If you are visiting the Isle of Skye be sure to head to the Museum of Island Life, housed in thatched cottages shown as they would have been at the end of the 18th century. You will also get a great insight into what island life would have been like in centuries gone by when visiting the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village or the restored Arnol Blackhouse, both on the Isle of Lewis.

Scottish Landscapes

There are some Scottish landscapes we know you will have heard of - Loch Lomond, Glencoe, The Isle of Skye, The Cairngorm Caledonian Pine Forests, the white sandy beaches of Harris… but have you considered tranquil Highland Perthshire? The rolling hills of the Scottish Borders? The remote and spectacular Torridon Hills?

You can’t drive very far in Scotland without finding yourself in a beautiful location, it is the reason you love us eh! No matter which tour you choose, you are guaranteed to see some of the world’s most captivating landscapes.

So does that make your decision any easier? Of course not! We recommend that you consider which type of landscapes are your priority (e.g. mountains, beaches, or glens) and then ask our team which of our tours suits your interests. If you want a mix of everything, we have tours for that too. Our team can guide you to the best itinerary for you.

Scottish Culture

Scotland’s culture is famous the world over, from kilted men to runaway haggis, booming bagpipes to quirky accents, and we love nothing more than to share it with visitors. 

One thing you won’t need to worry about when choosing your tour is food. On every tour we run, our guests stay in hand-picked venues. We scrutinize their dinner and breakfast offerings very carefully! Our accommodation partners offer some of the most delicious Scottish delicacies, and many use hyper-locally sourced ingredients. 

If our food is good, our whisky is even better! There are distilleries all over Scotland, but the Island of Islay houses many of our most interesting distilleries, producing bold, peaty whiskies. Take a look at our blog detailing 10 of the best distilleries in Scotland.

If you love live music, then spend a night in Edinburgh. Check out our Top Ten Live Music Venues in Edinburgh blog to figure out where to go.. Edinburgh is similarly a great city for festivals, with a variety of literary, comedy, musical, and theatrical festivals running throughout spring and summer; and a sprawling Christmas Market in November and December. 

If you happen to be in our largest city, Glasgow, in January - book a ticket to one of the Celtic Connections events, and enjoy some amazing traditional Scottish music. 

The best way to enjoy Scottish culture is to strike up a conversation. The Scot’s reputation for being friendly folk is absolutely true! You’ll be sure to hear some fantastic stories during your visit. 

Our Best Tours for First-Time Visitors to Scotland

Choosing the best itinerary for your first visit to Scotland can be really tough, even if you think you know what you are looking for. So here are three recommendations for first-timers.

7 Day Best of Scotland with Jacobite Steam Train

Are you dreaming of a tour where you get to sit back and marvel at Scotland’s many wonderful landscapes? Then the 7 Day Best of Scotland with Jacobite Steam Train is the perfect tour for you. 

We kick things off with a bang, visiting Loch Lomond and then Glencoe on the first day of our tour. Be warned, you may have trouble picking your jaw off the floor by the end of the day!

We will also visit the Isle of Skye - yes it can be rather busy at times, but once your ferry docks, you will understand why. The mountains, glens, and waterfalls on Skye are unrivaled. In spring and summer, it is a green and floral paradise, in fall, it is coloured in the most vibrant autumnal hues. And if you brave a winter tour… the snowy Cuillin Mountains will take your breath away.

This tour is especially popular with Harry Potter fans or anyone who loves trains or transport. We arrange for our guests to catch a ride on the world-famous Jacobite Express - yes that train you see swooping through lush green Highlands on its way to Hogwarts is a functioning train! It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Loch Ness, Culloden Battlefield, the Cairngorms, and Highland Perthshire also feature on this tour… we get through a lot in 7 days! Having said that, we pride ourselves on taking a relaxed pace. We want to make sure you have time to enjoy every stop while seeing as much as possible. It’s a fine balance… but we’ve got over 20 years of experience in creating the perfect Scotland itineraries.

9 Day Highlands & Islands tour

For anyone interested in history, the 9 Day Highlands and Islands tour is a perfect match. We kick things off with a visit to Loch Lomond and Scotland’s first National Park, followed by our first castle visit - Inveraray Castle. 

The following day you’ll head to Skye where you will get to visit another of Scotland’s most spectacular castles - Dunvegan Castle, located on Skye’s glistening coastline and surrounded by elegant castle gardens. We also visit the Museum of Island Life.  

Ancient island history is on the itinerary too as we journey to the islands of Harris and Lewis after Skye. Lewis is home to the 5,000-year-old Calanais Standing Stones, the Dun Carloway Broch, and the fascinating traditional Blackhouse Village - the latter is one of our favorite historic sites in the whole of Scotland. You may even get to see a weaver making Harris Tweed on a traditional pedal-powered loom.

Another top historical site on this 9 day tour is the famous Culloden Battlefield, where you will learn about the last Jacobite rebels who fell there in a captivating immersive experience. Our final day includes a visit to the beautiful Rosslyn Chapel, made famous by Dan Brown's book ‘The Da Vinci Code’, and we end the adventure with a walk down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, allowing you to take in the impressive medieval architecture that our capital city is famous for.

10 Grand Tour incl. Sheepdog demonstration

Our 10 Day Grand Tour was the original “first timers” tour, developed to give a varied tour that combines all of Scotland’s best elements. If you really aren’t sure which tour to choose, this is a safe bet. Ten days is also a good amount of time to ensure you see a real breadth of Scotland. We might be a wee country, but there is so much to see… and the small country roads don’t make for the fastest journey times! Fortunately, the landscapes running by your window are so enchanting that the journey there is an experience in itself.

This tour starts off in the Scottish Borders to view the gently rolling hills of the south and travels all the way to the rugged Isle of Skye, taking you through the dramatic Western Highlands on the way up, and the splendid Cairngorms and tranquil Fife harbors on the return leg to Edinburgh.

Bonus activity! If you want to experience Scotland’s culture, a sheepdog demonstration version of this tour is perfect. You’ll get to visit a real working farm and hang out with the adorable (but very hard-working!) sheepdogs. 

This tour will ensure you tick off all the ‘must-see’ locations on your vacation in Scotland.

Your First Tour of Scotland

Whichever tour you choose, we promise that you are going to have the most amazing time. Even if you pick a wildcard or develop a bespoke itinerary that isn’t on this list, you will love your first visit to Scotland.

So don’t waste any more time! Get in touch and let’s start planning your Scottish adventure.

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