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Inspiring Your Travel: The best cities to visit in Scotland

Edinburgh cityscape, with Edinburgh Castle in the background
Edinburgh cityscape, with Edinburgh Castle in the background

Here at Inspiring Travel, we try our best to write useful and entertaining blogs that serve as mini guides to traveling around Scotland. However, we wanted to write something a little more focused, designed to help people create their perfect Scottish trip. We offer a  fully customised Scotland tour service where we create tours tailormade to our clients’ hopes and desires. However, we’ve noticed that some people are so overwhelmed by all of the beauty and cultural riches on offer in Scotland that they don’t know how or where to start creating their customised tour. If you get in touch, we are more than happy to offer some advice, but we thought we’d put together a short tourist’s guide to five of Scotland’s best cities, based on our knowledge and our clients’ feedback. This, we hope will allow you to work out which cities you most want to see when you visit Scotland. Of course, if you have the time, we could always take you to every city on this list!

Edinburgh

View of Edinburgh Castle from West Princes Street Gardens
View of Edinburgh Castle from West Princes Street Gardens

Why visit Edinburgh?

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, and it’s one of the top tourist hotspots in Europe. Edinburgh more than earns all of the praise and attention it gets. Not only is the city beautiful – with beautiful architecture and Edinburgh Castle overlooking the city – it is also packed with fun activities for visitors to enjoy. You will never run out of things to do in Edinburgh – from comedy shows and theatre productions to the Edinburgh Dungeons and the Edinburgh Festival (the biggest festival in the world). 

Edinburgh has more parks and trees per head of population than any other city in the UK, so you’ll want to spend some time in a few of the city’s beautiful green spaces. Edinburgh Castle’s position atop the extinct volcano above the city has earned Edinburgh the nickname ‘Athens of the North’ – comparing the castle to the Parthenon. A tour of Edinburgh Castle will not disappoint history buffs; in fact, a tour of any part of the city will not disappoint history buffs as this ancient city is packed with fascinating stories. For fans of Harry Potter, Edinburgh is the home of author J.K. Rowling and she based many aspects of her books on parts of the city. If this interests you, you should check out our blog about the 10 Scottish locations Harry Potter fans must visit

Glasgow

Glasgow, on the River Clyde
Glasgow, on the River Clyde

Why visit Glasgow?

While Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital city, Glasgow is its biggest city, and if you go right back to St Mungo’s church, it can be argued that Glasgow is a few centuries older than Edinburgh. Due to the great river Clyde and Glasgow’s position on the west coast, Glasgow became Scotland’s most important trade city, and for centuries its merchants were easily the richest people in Scotland. The affluence afforded to Glasgow from its trade routes meant that it could build vast, ornate buildings in a way few other cities in the UK were able to. If you love architecture, then Glasgow is the city for you.

Glasgow has a thriving nightlife, and many of the best restaurants in Scotland. While the city is very large, it is split into different sections. Explore the centre of the city for the best shopping in all of Scotland. If you go slightly to the east of the centre, you’ll find yourself in the extremely affluent Merchant City. A little further east and you’ll find the stunning Glasgow Cathedral and the impressive Necropolis (city of the dead), which is a huge hill with graves, crypts, and mausoleums. This is where the city’s richest merchants were buried, so the obelisks and structures built to commemorate them are incredibly elaborate. If you go to the West End, you’ll find the impressive University of Glasgow, and the Kelvingrove Art Museum (with work from Dante Gabriel Rosseti, Vincent van Gogh, Titian, Claude Monet, and a huge collection of Charles Rennie Machintosh). Glasgow is also less touristy than Edinburgh, so many feel they get a more authentically ‘Scottish’ experience there. 

St Andrews

St Andrews Cathedral
St Andrews Cathedral and St Rules Tower

Why visit St Andrews?

St Andrews is much much smaller than Edinburgh and Glasgow, which is perhaps exactly why visitors to Scotland love it. St Andrews can technically be classed as a city because it has a cathedral, and that is why it has made it on to this list. St Andrews is on the east coast of Scotland, roughly 90 minutes by car from Edinburgh. The city is most famous for its golf, as people have been playing golf there for the last six centuries – with some claim to the idea that golf was invented there. St Andrews’ historic golf courses pull professional and amateur golfers from all across the world. St Andrews Links Old Course is one of the oldest golf courses in the world, and The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews has some truly incredible terrain. For such a small city/town, there are many more golf courses to choose between. It’s difficult to think of a better city in the world for golf – both to play it and to learn about its history.

St Andrews is also by the sea and enjoys some exceptional sea views. Take a beach walk, then stop in one of the city’s many quaint cafés and tearooms. St Andrews University is also the oldest university in Scotland, and the building is incredibly beautiful. The university is widely considered to be the third best in the UK, with only Oxford and Cambridge above it. After visiting the university, you should visit the spellbinding St Andrews Cathedral; the quaint beauty of both the current building and the ruins will impress even the most experienced travellers. St Andrews is so different to the rest of Scotland’s cities, and it’s this uniqueness that has impressed so many of our guests. 

Inverness

Inverness cityscape
Inverness cityscape

Why visit Inverness?

Inverness is another smaller Scottish city – though it isn’t nearly as small as St Andrews. Given its placement on the banks of River Ness, near Loch Ness, Inverness is the biggest, most important city in the Scottish Highlands. This means that it is often regarded as the ‘capital of the Highlands’.  The city is much further to the north than any of the other cities on this list and its remote location will allow visitors to enjoy the world-famous Scottish countryside. 

A quick Google image search will convince most people to add Inverness to their customised Scotland tour. The architecture and overall aesthetic is incredibly traditional and the city is exactly what people imagine Scotland will look like before they visit. What we mean is that Scotland’s reputation for quaint buildings and a general sense of idyllic scenery is exactly what Inverness delivers on. Any visit to Inverness would be incomplete without visiting one or two of the Highland distilleries for whisky tours. Inverness’s location, right in the heart of the Highlands, makes it the perfect base for exploring Scotland’s most famous landscapes. In recent years, Scotland continuously wins awards for being the most beautiful country in the world, and most of the places that push Scotland ahead of New Zealand and Canada can be found a short drive from Inverness!

Stirling

The Wallace Monument on the outskirts of Stirling
The Wallace Monument on the outskirts of Stirling

Why visit Stirling?

The last city on our list is Stirling. This historic city is almost equidistant from Glasgow and Edinburgh and it was once the capital of Scotland before Edinburgh took the top spot. Stirling’s positioning in the centre of Scotland made it the ideal choice as the capital city and you can see signs of its former glory in the grand buildings and the incredibly impressive Stirling Castle. In fact, many people (some of our clients included) even prefer Stirling Castle to Edinburgh Castle. 

Beyond the castle, there is history everywhere you look in Stirling. One of the most popular historic sites is the Wallace Monument – a tower erected in 1869 to honour Sir William Wallace, the nobleman who became one of Scotland’s main leaders during the First War of Scottish Independence against the English. Nearby, you will also find Bannockburn, where Robert the Bruce won his famous victory over the English. The Battle of Bannockburn Experience offers an unparalleled opportunity to experience the historic battle with the help of 3D scenes, art, and artefact exhibits. You can also visit the impressive Airthrey Castle and the old picturesque grounds of the University of Stirling. History buffs visiting Scotland cannot, and should not, exclude Stirling from their itinerary! 

We hope this guide has helped a few readers work out one or two cities they’d like to visit most on their own customised tour of Scotland. Our wee country is overflowing with natural beauty and history, and fitting one or two of our cities into your trip is essential! If you have any questions about Scotland’s cities or about our range of Scottish tours, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Start planning your dream Scotland tour, and let us inspire you!

 

Edinburgh cityscape, with Edinburgh Castle in the background

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