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The best free places to visit in Scotland include; Holyrood Park, The Botanic Gardens, and St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Glasgow Cathedral, The Riverside Museum and the Tall Ship in Glasgow, and Ben Nevis, Glencoe, and Loch Ness in the Highlands.
Discover a collection of the very best free Scottish attractions in this ultimate visitor guide which includes a handy map, sightseeing advice, and details of each location.
The best FREE places to visit in Scotland – from Edinburgh to the Highlands
As one of Europe’s most attractive destinations for tourists, Scotland has become a bit of a victim of its own success. Visit any big-name attraction in Edinburgh for example, and you’ll find yourself wincing at the sight of the ticket prices as well as the length of the queues.
There’s seemingly no end to the number of visitors that choose to come here each year and sadly, many attractions take advantage of their visitors by ramping up their prices year-on-year, to the point where a family of four will now find themselves handing over the best part of a hundred pounds for the pleasure of walking around a castle for a couple of hours.
That being said, there are just as many attractions that are completely free – as long as you know where to find them.
In Edinburgh you can hike up an extinct volcano in Holyrood Park, wander around one of the oldest Botanic Gardens in Britain, see beautiful artworks in the National Gallery, marvel at the exhibits in the National Museum, and be awe-struck by the architecture of St. Giles Cathedral, all for the price of… exactly nothing.
Glasgow fares just as well on the free-attractions front with the stunning Glasgow Cathedral, the fascinating Riverside Museum of Transport, the amazing Tall Ship, the fantastic Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the wonderful Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art… and too many others to mention in this article.
Then, of course, there are the Highlands.
How about climbing up Ben Nevis – the highest mountain in the United Kingdom, or exploring Scotland’s most beautiful landscape at Glencoe?
If you fancy discovering the country’s most picturesque loch and woodland areas you can head to Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve, Lochaber Geopark, or the mysterious waters of Loch Ness.
In this article you’ll find a comprehensive list of the top free places to visit in Scotland that are guaranteed to offer an enjoyable experience, most of which can be enjoyed at any time of the year.
The list is broken down into the country’s main tourist areas so hopefully you’ll find something that’ll interest you, but if not take a look at the links to more articles about free Scottish attractions at the end of each section.
Map of free places to visit in Scotland
Click and drag to move and zoom in and out of this interactive map. Click the markers to visit each Out About Scotland attraction information page.
The best free places to visit in Aberdeenshire
Aberdeen is one of the largest cities in Northern Scotland and is the perfect hub for tours into the Highlands.
Although the city is best known for its links to the oil and gas industry it also has a vibrant nightlife and extensive shopping areas, as well as the historic Old Town which features the 525-year-old Aberdeen University.
In addition, there are a number of award-winning beaches, and ferry travel to Orkney and the Shetland Islands is easy from Aberdeen Ferry Terminal.
Aberdeen Maritime Museum
- Address: Shiprow, Aberdeen, AB11 5BY
- Contact details: Tel 01224 337700
- Website: Aberdeen Maritime Museum
As the former fishing capital of Europe, Aberdeen has a long association with the sea and this museum located in the historic Shiprow area showcases the proud heritage of Aberdeen’s long seafaring history.
This 16th-century building is owned by the National Trust for Scotland who took ownership of it after it fell into ruin in the 1950s, and it’s now joint-managed by the NTS and Aberdeen city council.
There are actually two parts to this attraction – the old Lord Provost’s house which is built of traditional stone, and a modern steel and glass building.
It’s fitting that the old building contains all the traditional examples of shipbuilding, fishing, and harbour life while the new building contains all the ultra-modern offshore oil and gas exhibits.
It’s a nice touch and one of the reasons the museum is rated a four-star visitor attraction by Visit Scotland.
Inside the museum you’ll find a collection of exhibits that cover the entirety of Aberdeen’s sailing and shipbuilding past as well as the city’s current use as a fishing port and hub for oil exploration and extraction in the North Sea.
They’ve done a great job of making the museum interesting to all ages and you’ll find an assortment of touch screen consoles alongside more traditional hands-on exhibits. Both children and adults will have a great time exploring the story of how this former shipping port became one of Scotland’s major industrial powerhouses.
As with all attractions like this, there’s a souvenir shop on-site that sells a wide range of gifts, crafts and books, and there’s a great café that’s a bit of a tourist attraction in its own right thanks to the harbour-side views from its floor-to-ceiling windows.
Aberdeen Zoology Museum and Botanic Garden
- Address: Tillydrone Ave, Aberdeen, AB24 2TZ
- Contact details: Tel 01224 274330
- Website: Aberdeen Botanic Gardens / Aberdeen University Zoology Museum
The Zoology Museum is located in the Aberdeen University zoology building where it showcases numerous exhibits that cover the complete spectrum of worldwide animal research, from the smallest protozoa to the largest whales.
During your time at the Aberdeen Zoology Museum you’ll see skeletons and models of a variety of animals, from monkeys to snakes and everything in-between, as well as a fascinating collection of skulls and preserved animals.
There are several taxidermy specimens in the collection as well so if you’ve got children, taking them to this university museum is a good way to help them develop an interest in biology and the animal kingdom.
The entire collection is the result of over 200 years of university research by staff and students and it has obviously been a work of love putting it all together. What’s even more impressive is the fact the university has made the collection available to the public with no entrance cost, especially considering there are over 75,000 exhibits to view.
Even better, the displays frequently change so that new specimens are added to the permanent vertebrate and invertebrate collections so there’s a good chance there’ll be something new to see if you visit the museum another time.
Covering a surprisingly large 11 acres, the botanic garden is full of plants that have been collected from all over the world and there are over 2,500 specimens to view in the shrub borders, rose garden, water garden, and arboretum.
The gardens are exceptionally pretty and they bloom with colour in summer which makes this corner of Aberdeen University a great place to relax after a visit to the busy city centre.
The gardens are located just 3 miles from Aberdeen train station and you can easily get there by bus (see the First Bus Aberdeen route planner for details).
Balmedie Country Park
- Address: Balmedie, AB23 8XG
- Contact details: NA
- Website: Balmedie Country Park
This park covers 14 miles (22.53 km) of coastline from Aberdeen to just north of the mouth of the River Ythan at Newburgh, and it’s home to a diverse range of animals and plants in the wide stretches of sand dunes that border the golden beaches.
There always seems to be something new to watch whenever I’ve visited Balmedie Country Park so if you’re a bird watcher I recommend you take your binoculars and camera with you.
Check out my recommended birdwatching binoculars if you don’t already have a pair.
Oh, and don’t forget to look out towards the sea because there’s a good chance you’ll catch sight of bottlenose dolphins and harbour seals that live around this part of the coastline.
The dunes at Balmedie Country Park reach 30-feet high in some places so here’s a tip for when you visit – bring a plastic sledge. The dunes are steep enough to act as a fantastic slide so you can go hurtling down them with a soft cushion of golden sand waiting for you at the bottom.
Smaller children will have a great time at the play park (located next to the car park) and if you’ve got a dog I can’t think of anywhere they’ll enjoy more, but as there are often horse riders on the beach you might want to keep them on a lead.
Aberdeen Council have worked wonders to make the park accessible with one mile of wooden boardwalks that have been installed throughout the dunes, so even if you’ve got mobility issues you’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
The car park is a decent size so you shouldn’t have any problems finding a parking space, and they’ve even installed picnic benches and barbecue fire stands so you can have an al-fresco family munch. Well done Aberdeen Council!
More free places to visit in Aberdeenshire
Aberdeen Art Gallery. Address: Schoolhill, Aberdeen, AB10 1FQ. Aberdeen Art Gallery is a world-class visitor attraction that celebrates the inspiring power of art and music. The collection is one of the largest in Scotland and offers something of interest for art lovers of all ages.
Fraserburgh Esplanade. Address: AB43 8TL. The Esplanade can be reached via the A90 turn-off to Harbour Road. Fraserburgh Bay is a 2.5 mile (4.02 km) inlet of the North Sea on the Buchan coast that has golden sand beaches and is a popular location for water-sports.
Cairngorms National Park. The Cairngorms National Park is an area of outstanding natural beauty that caters to every interest, from long walks along mountainous trails to relaxing afternoons on loch-side beaches. The area is rich in wildlife and is popular with cyclists and hikers.
Cruden Bay. Address: AB42 0NN. Head north from Aberdeen by car via the A90. Cruden Bay is a firm favourite with tourists thanks to its white sand beaches, crystal clear sea, and quaint fishing harbour. There is a golf club, an ancient castle, and steep cliffs with nesting puffins nearby.
Duthie Park. Address: Polmuir Road, Aberdeen. Duthie Park is a beautiful park located close to Aberdeen city centre which opened in 1883. It features mature deciduous and evergreen trees, stunning flower beds, wide-open spaces, an ornamental pond and a wetland area.
Logie Estate. Address: Logie, Forres, Moray, IV36 2QN. Logie Estate offers opportunities for salmon fishing on the River Findhorn as well as several walks by the river and through Logie House Gardens. The gardens include a playground, café, and artisan shops.
Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve. Address: Dinnet, Aboyne, AB34 5NB. The Muir of Dinnet is a forest area that includes woodland, heathland, a loch, and caves. You can wander through dense thickets of birch trees on designated paths, see beautiful damselflies and rare butterflies, and enjoy peace and quiet on the many way-marked trails that thread their way through the nature reserve.
Nairn Beach. Address: Nairn, The Highlands, IV12 9AE. Nairn’s sandy beach makes for the perfect family holiday with lots of activities for the whole family to enjoy with clean sand, promenade walks, a putting green, a leisure park, and a swimming pool.
Discover more free places to visit in Aberdeenshire with: The Complete Guide to Free Attractions in Aberdeenshire and Moray
The best free places to visit in Argyll & Bute
The mainland area of Argyll and Bute is located on the south-west corner of the Highlands where visitors can explore popular tourist destinations including Oban, Campbeltown, and Helensburgh.
In addition, this tourist-favourite region is home to 7 nature reserves and a coastline that offers lots of places to see the country’s iconic wildlife such as puffins, otters, seals and sea eagles.
Argyll and Bute is renowned for its historic attractions too, and visitors can enjoy highlights including Inveraray Castle, Dunstaffnage Castle, Inveraray Jail and Bonawe Iron Furnace, to name just a few.
- Address: Lochawe, Dalmally, PA33 1AF
- Contact details: NA
- Out About Scotland complete guide: Kilchurn Castle
Kilchurn Castle has to be one of the most picturesque castles in Scotland, so it’s surprising that visiting this historic attraction at the head of Loch Awe is completely free of charge.
To find it, look for a car park on the side of the A85 at the northern end of Loch Awe, around 2 miles (3.22 kilometres) north of St. Conan’s Kirk. There’s a walk of perhaps one mile from the car park to the castle through grassland, after which you’ll find yourself outside at the main entrance.
Kilchurn Castle was built in the mid-1400s to serve as the main seat of power for Clan Campbell of Glenorchy and was extended several times as the Campbells became more powerful. When it ceased being used as an ancestral home in the 1680s it was converted to a military garrison that was eventually abandoned due to lack of use.
As the castle is unmanned there’s no guarantee the main gate will be open, though summer visitors should find the castle is accessible all day, every day. Visiting in winter is another story however, so be prepared to find the gate closed outside of the tourist season.
If you do manage to enter the castle you’ll find it’s roofless and almost entirely in ruin, though there’s a staircase leading up to one of the main towers that lets you soak up the gorgeous views across Loch Awe that Kilchurn Castle is famous for.
Wandering around the interior won’t take long – maybe half an hour – so you should have plenty of time to head back outside to admire the view, but be aware this is the Highlands and you’ll be near water – which equals millions of biting midges in the morning and evening.
Read this article to learn how to avoid getting bitten: How to Avoid Midges in Scotland
One wee tip I have for you, is you’ll get a superb view of the castle from a designated viewpoint on the southern side of the loch. Follow the A85 east when you depart and take the turning down the A819 to find it.
- Address: Oban, PA34 4AA
- Contact details: NA
- Out About Scotland complete guide: McCaig’s Tower
For the majority of visitors, Oban is little more than a ferry gateway to the Western Isles, but there’s much more to this quaint fishing town than first meets the eye.
Not only is it renowned for its incredibly fresh seafood, but there’s a good whisky distillery in the high street and McCaig’s Tower – a large Victorian monument – is situated on the hill above.
The tower (it’s really more like a mini coliseum than a tower) is perched on top of Battery Hill where it has loomed over Oban for more than 120 years.
It was built by philanthropist John Stuart McCaig as a monument to his family and was originally intended to include a museum, but after his death construction ceased and the multi-arched outer wall was left unfinished.
It’s worth taking the 10-minute walk up the hill to take a look at this curiosity for no other reason than to enjoy the spectacular viewpoint at the top that offers views of Kerra, Lismore, and Mull, as well as the ferries that sail in and out of the harbour almost hourly.
There are flowerbeds and landscaped lawns inside the tower and a path that circles it so you can peer through the 94 arches set into the stonework, but the best views can be found on the other side where the panorama is unobstructed by the walls.
I certainly wouldn’t say McCaig’s Tower is worthy of a journey specifically to see it, but if you’re in Oban it makes a nice addition to a sightseeing tour of the town.
St. Conan’s Kirk
- Address: Lochawe, Dalmally, PA33 1AQ
- Contact details: email@example.com
- Out About Scotland complete guide: St. Conan’s Kirk
There are hundreds of picturesque churches in the Scottish Highlands, and St. Conan’s Kirk near Dalmally is up there with the best of them.
Although it looks medieval it is, in fact, a ‘mere’ 135 years old and was built by a Walter Campbell – a wealthy architect – as a place of worship for his mother. Many of the ornate decorations inside the building were carved by Campbell himself, as were the intricate stone carvings on the outside walls.
The kirk’s location on the western shore of Loch Awe is exceptionally pretty and easily rivals the views from Kilchurn Castle (widely acknowledged as one of the most scenic places in Scotland), and the interior isn’t far off the stunning Rosslyn Chapel in East Lothian.
There’s a small garden with managed flowerbeds and a Celtic cross on top of a small hill to the side of the main building, and another garden to the rear features a seating area with views across the loch.
It’s not exactly the biggest attraction in Scotland so plan no more than an hour in total unless you intend to eat in the tearoom next door, though there are a couple of other attractions in the immediate area that can be visited in addition to the kirk.
First off is Ben Cruachan which is one of the few Munros that has a tarmac path running up it thanks to the dam near the top, and the second is the Hollow Mountain visitor centre which has an exhibition about hydroelectricity as well as a gift shop and a café.
More free places to visit in Argyll & Bute
Argyll Forest Park. Address: Glenbranter, Cairndow, PA27 8DJ. Argyll Forest Park is a particularly scenic region of Argyll & Bute that is known for its craggy peaks, hidden glens, peaceful sea lochs, and white-water rivers. The park stretches from the Holy Loch on the Firth of Clyde to the mighty peaks of the Arrochar Alps.
Keil Caves and St Columba’s Footprints. Address: Southend, Mull of Kintyre, Argyll & The Isles, PA28 6RW. Keil Caves at the southern end of Kintyre is a superb place for families to explore. Although long abandoned, the caves were inhabited for centuries and are worth a visit after exploring the nearby St. Columba’s Chapel and St. Columba’s Well.
Ben Cruachan Reservoir. Address: Ben Cruachan, Dalmally, PA33 1AN. Ben Cruachan is regarded as one of the finest Munros in the Southern Highlands. It is very popular with hillwalkers due to the rock outcrops that offer spectacular views and the ridge walk that provides a circular route around the scenic Cruachan dam.
Ganavan Beach. Address: Oban, PA34 5TB. Ganavan Beach features stunning views across the sea to Mull, Lismore and Morven, and is a favourite location for walkers thanks to the adjacent coastal path where seabirds including guillemot, terns and gannets and can be viewed at all times of the day.
Machrihanish Seabird Observatory. Address: Lossit Park, Machrihanish, Argyll, PA28 6PZ. Machrihanish offers an unparalleled wildlife experience with superb bird watching opportunities and spectacular scenery. The purpose-built sea-watching hide provides shelter for bird enthusiasts as they keep watch for the 200 species that are recorded annually.
Oban War and Peace Museum. Address: Old Oban Times Building, Corran Esplanade, Oban, Argyll, PA345P. The Oban War & Peace Museum contains a fascinating collection of artefacts depicting the cultural history of Oban and its people throughout history. The museum also serves to teach visitors about the town’s fishing and maritime industries, railways, road transport, and the iconic McCaig’s Tower.
Pucks Glen. Address: Dunoon, PA23 8QT. Pucks Glen has two superb trails on offer for walkers of all ages. One winds through a jaw-dropping gorge with tumbling waterfalls, while the other provides amazing viewpoints and some of the finest rhododendron displays in the country.
The Falls of Lora. Address: Connel Bridge, Connel, Oban, Argyll, PA37 1PH. The Falls of Lora generate powerful currents when the tide level in the Firth of Lorn drops below the level of the water in Loch Etive. The falls provide white-water rapids for kayakers and an exciting spectacle for tourists and photographers.
Discover more free places to visit in Argyll with: The Complete Guide to Free Attractions in Argyll & Bute
The best free places to visit in the Scottish Borders
The Scottish Borders (usually just called ‘The Borders’) mark the boundary between England and Scotland. The region sits between the River Tweed and the Cheviot Hills on the southern side and the Pentland, Lammermuir, and Moorfoot Hills on the northern side.
Although the Borders are located in the part of Scotland known as ‘The Lowlands’, the landscape is surprisingly diverse with ranges of rolling hills to the west, a very pretty coastline to the east, and vast stretches of farmland and forests in the middle.
Visitors are spoilt for choice for places to visit but the highlights have to be the pretty towns of Peebles, Melrose, and Selkirk, and the historic abbeys of Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh.
- Address: 12 Market Square, Coldstream, TD12 4BD
- Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: Coldstream Museum
The upmarket village of Coldstream has had a long association with the British Army and is best known as the permanent barracks of the Coldstream Guards regiment.
The guards are one of the oldest continuously serving regiments in the army and has a long tradition of protecting the British monarchy, which in turn means they’re one of the most widely recognized military units in the world thanks to their bright red tunics and bearskin hats that you’ll see at Buckingham Palace.
This museum in the centre of Coldstream features a large collection of exhibits and memorabilia from the regiment’s long history, including collections of uniforms, weaponry, items collected during various conflicts and lots of information boards that explain the history of the guards from the days when the regiment was founded to their current operations.
This is a great wee museum that’s certainly worth visiting if you’re travelling through Coldstream or looking for an indoors attraction after exploring the nearby Hirsel Estate country park.
The facilities are pretty good for a free attraction and include an interactive children’s play area and a gift shop, and there’s a small courtyard with picnic tables if the weather allows for a spot of al-fresco munching.
As a top-tip, after a visit to the museum you might consider driving 12 miles (19.31 km) south on the A697 to Northumberland National Park which is a stunning landscape of forests and open countryside, or drive 20 miles (32.19 km) west to Holy Island which is famous for its medieval priory.
Mary Queen of Scots Visitor Centre
- Address: Queen Street, Jedburgh, Roxburghshire, TD8 6EN
- Contact details: email@example.com
- Website: Mary Queen of Scots visitor centre
As well as being one of the Scottish Border’s most attractive towns, Jedburgh has some of the best historic attractions in the region including Jedburgh Abbey, Jedburgh Castle Jail, and the fascinating Mary Queen of Scots Visitor Centre.
This four-star visitor attraction tells the story of the tragic queen from her childhood at Stirling Castle and her ascension as the Queen of Scotland to her Execution at Fotheringhay Castle in England.
Mary spent a month in Jedburgh in 1566 when she was recovering from an illness and the museum in the building where she stayed has been restored to the same condition it was in when Mary was there.
Visitors to the house can learn how the young queen spent her days in Edinburgh and the subsequent events that lead to her accusations of treason. There are a number of rooms that feature paintings and storyboards that depict the life of the queen, and there are audio guides that explain the history behind each exhibit.
Everything has been put together incredibly well and I would have to say the Mary Queen of Scots Visitor Centre rivals any other independent museum in Scotland, which makes the fact there is absolutely no entrance fee a remarkable achievement.
After walking around the house there are attractive gardens to explore and a gift shop to buy a memento or two, after which I recommend heading to Jedburgh Abbey (see the Historic Environment Scotland website for admission) and a bite to eat in one of the artisan cafés in Jedburgh high street.
- Address: Kelso, Roxburghshire, TD5 7JF
- Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: Kelso Abbey
Kelso Abbey was founded in the 1100s when David I of Scotland invited monks from Tiron Abbey in France to relocate to the Scottish Borders village of Selkirk. When King David built a new castle at Roxburgh, the monks decided to move closer to him, which is why they founded an abbey at Kelso.
As far as Borders abbeys go, Kelso is one of the smallest, but it’s also one of the most interesting.
After being founded it soon grew into one of the largest and wealthiest in Scotland, which in turn meant it was also one of the most powerful – hence the reason why the Abbot of Kelso was given more authority than any other Scottish Abbot.
The abbey amassed great wealth in the form of land, schools, and farms, but it was partially destroyed by the armies of Henry VIII in the 1540s, after which it was left to fall into ruin.
It’s actually surprising that so much of the original building is still standing after all this time and visitors can view the nave, the western transept and most of the western front which escaped Henry’s cannons virtually unscathed.
The abbey is free to visit but it is also unmanned so there are no facilities inside, but to be honest that’s not too much of a problem as most visitors will only need an hour to see the majority of the site.
After a walk around the abbey, tourists might like to pop into Kelso town centre which features a traditional high street with over fifty local traders. While there, keep an eye out for the cobbled town square which is the largest in Scotland.
More free places to visit in the Scottish Borders
Eyemouth Museum. Address: Auld Kirk Manse Road, Eyemouth, Berwickshire, TD14 5JE. Eyemouth Museum documents the fishing and social heritage of Eyemouth where exhibits bring to life the stories of local people. In addition to the museum, there is a visitor information centre, an exhibition gallery and a gift shop.
Borders Textile Towerhouse. Address: 1 Tower Knowe, Hawick, TD9 9BZ. The Borders Textile Tower was built as a defensive tower in the mid-1500s, making it the oldest building in Hawick. The museum celebrates the Borders’ textile industry through exhibits of garments, artefacts, and photographs from over 200 years of Scotland’s knitwear and tweed industries.
Hume Castle. Address: Hume, Berwickshire, TD5 7TR. Hume Castle is situated on a hill 750 feet (0.23 km) above sea level, which for centuries was the major defensive site in the Eastern section of the Scottish Borders. Today, the castle ruin is famed for the beautiful landscape that surrounds it.
The Jim Clark Room. Address: 44 Newtown Street, Duns, Berwickshire, TD11 3AU. Jim Clark was a leading motor racing driver of the 1960s who won two world championships in 1963 and 1965. The Jim Clark Room provides a full account of his life in motor racing through a display of trophies, photographs, and other memorabilia.
Locharron of Scotland Visitor Centre. Address: Dunsdale Road, Selkirk, Selkirkshire, TD7 5DZ. Lochcarron of Scotland has been specializing in textiles since its inception in 1947, and it is one of the Border’s leading producers of tartan, tweed, cashmere, and knitwear. The visitor centre stocks a vast range of clothes and accessories made from wool as well as over 700 tartans used in the making of Highland dress.
Philiphaugh Salmon Viewing Centre. Address: Philiphaugh Estate Office, Selkirk, TD7 5LX. This salmon viewing centre features informative displays that teach visitors all about the life cycle of Scottish salmon as well as explaining the dangers that await them in the river. There is an interactive video screen where you can watch 4 different cameras around the edge of the Ettrick river, along with a fish counter that monitors their numbers.
St. Abbs Head Nature Reserve. Address: St Abbs, Eyemouth, Borders, TD14 5QF. St. Abbs Head nature reserve is a bird-watchers paradise where thousands of seabirds can be seen nesting high on the monumental cliffs that define this part of Scotland’s coastline. The site features a visitor centre that explores the wildlife, geology, and history of St. Abbs Head.
St. Ronan’s Well Visitor Centre. Address: Wells Brae, Innerleithen, Tweeddale, EH44 6JE. This historic spa has several displays and exhibits that inform visitors about the story of Innerleithen and St Ronan’s Wells, as well as describing their connections with the Scottish writers Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg. In addition, there are extensive gardens surrounding the spa that feature a number of detailed stone sculptures.
The Polish Map of Scotland. Address: Barony Castle Hotel UK, Eddleston, EH45 8QW. This unusual attraction is a large physical relief map of Scotland that was sculpted in concrete by a Polish soldier who was stationed in Scotland during WWII. The map measures around 40 m by 50 m and lies in the grounds of Barony Castle, once the home of the Murrays of Elibank and later the Hotel Black Barony.
Discover more free places to visit in the Borders with: The Complete Guide to Free Attractions in the Scottish Borders
The best free places to visit in Central Scotland
The central belt of Scotland stretches east to west between the areas of Edinburgh and Glasgow and includes the counties immediately to the north including Perthshire, Angus, Stirling, and Fife.
The region extends partially into the Highlands and the Lowlands and is best known for its varied landscapes that comprise the best of both areas, with hundreds of lochs, mountains, and forests for visitors to explore.
Because Central Scotland has so many outdoor attractions it’s one of the top destinations for wildlife enthusiasts and is highly regarded for its walking trails that include the John Muir Way and the Fife Coastal Path.
Loch Leven Heritage Trail
- Address: Kinross, KY13.
- Contact details: NA
- Out About Scotland complete guide: Loch Leven
The immense Loch Leven is located on the eastern side of the M90 in Kinross, around a 20-minute drive from Dunfermline.
The loch is well known as a haven for wildfowl and there is an RSPB visitor centre on the loch’s eastern side that has information about the wetlands and the birds that can be seen in them, as well as a café and a gift shop.
On the eastern side of the loch there is another visitor centre in Kinross that has a waterside café, next to which is a ticket office for a ferry boat that takes foot passengers onto a small island with a castle that was once the prison of Mary Queen of Scots.
Suffice to say, this loch has a lot going on.
Topping off those activities is the 13-mile Loch Leven heritage trail that circles the entire site on a wide gravel track. The footpath allows cyclists and walkers to enjoy the diverse habitats of Loch Leven from moorland to woodland and pastures to beaches.
It’s a stunning trail that’s one of the most scenic footpath walks in Scotland, and it has the added bonus that virtually the entire trail has disabled access so all abilities can enjoy it.
Both visitor centres have large car parks but RSPB Vane Farm is slightly preferable as it’s not quite as busy as Kinross and it’s closest to the bird hides where visitors can watch some of the biggest flocks of breeding ducks in Europe, as well as less-viewed birds such as lapwings, ospreys, and kingfishers.
Visiting Loch Leven with binoculars is a must, so if you haven’t already got a pair take a look at this guide – The Best Budget Birdwatching Binoculars.
Fife Coastal Path
- Address: See website
- Contact details: Tel 01592 656 080
- Website: Fife Coast & Countryside Trust
Fife is a region of Scotland that has a lot of offer visitors, yet international tourists always seem to pass it by on their way between Edinburgh and the Highlands. That’s a shame, as this east-coast county is one of the most scenic in the country and has a surprising amount of coastline due to it bordering two major estuaries at the Firth of Forth and Firth of Tay.
Without a doubt the best way to explore Fife’s coastline is to walk the Fife Coastal Path that stretches for 117 miles (188.29 km) from Kincardine in the south to Newburgh in the north. The route offers a superb walking experience with difficulty levels ranging from flat and easy-going to steep and demanding.
Starting in Kincardine, the path allows walkers to enjoy Fife’s always-popular coastline on well-maintained paths that are mostly tarmac but occasionally divert onto grass tracks.
Along the way there’s a surprisingly diverse range of landscapes that blend nature reserves, historic villages, long-abandoned industries, iconic bridges and beaches, all within a short drive of Edinburgh.
As you progress further along the route it transitions between golden beaches and rough shingle that are interspersed with a number of tourist-worthy villages and towns including Elie and St. Andrews, before rounding the headland at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve.
The Fife Coastal Path is a bit of a hidden gem amongst Scotland’s wonderful walking trails, but to really make the most of it you need to know the features to look for in each section.
There’s an official guide book that can be purchased from the website shown above, or visitors can purchase detailed maps from Ordnance Survey that show exactly which paths to follow for each section (OS Explorer Maps #367 and #371 cover the majority of the route).
Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve
- Address: Tentsmuir Forest, Tayport, Fife, DD6 9PF
- Contact details: Tel 01738 458818
- Website: Nature.Scot
Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve is located in the north of Fife, midway between St. Andrews and Dundee. The reserve is one of the best wildlife tourism destinations in Scotland thanks to its ever-changing coastline comprised of sand dunes, mudflats, and grassland that attract teal, kingfishers, otters and many more species.
In addition to the coastline, Tentsmuir NNR is home to an expansive forest comprised of pines and mixed woodland as well as the pretty Morton Loch which is a haven for insects and freshwater fish.
All areas of the reserve are linked by a network of well-maintained paths that are predominantly gravel and tarmac, through there are a few areas where the path becomes a rough track.
The majority of the paths running through Tentsmuir Forest are designated as walking and cycling trails of varying grades, from a short 4-mile trail to an ice house and WWII defenses, to longer trails that run though the forest and out to the Tay Road Bridge which visitors can cross to enter the city of Dundee.
Most people will find these tracks easy-going and they are suitable for both walkers and cyclists. The paths near the main car park are mostly laid to tarmac and are suitable for pushchairs and wheelchair users.
There are a number of free cars parks on the reserve but they can be difficult to find so the best option is to head to the main car park off the B945 between Leuchars and Tayport (postcode KY16 0DR). The car park is quite sizeable and includes a children’s play park, public toilets, a snack van, and a BBQ area.
More free places to visit in Central Scotland
Callandar House. Address: Callendar Rd, Falkirk, FK1 1Y. Callendar House is set in the historic landscape of Callendar Park which also contains a section of the Antonine Wall World Heritage Site. The House features informative displays including The Story of Callendar House, The Antonine Wall, Rome’s Northern Frontier, and Falkirk: Crucible of Revolution 1750-1850.
Cambuskenneth Abbey. Address: Ladysneuk Rd, Stirling, FK9 5NG. This Abbey was founded in 1140 by King David I to serve Stirling Castle which stands a short distance to the west. The abbey is unusual in that it has a bell tower that is built unlike any other in Scotland.
Dollar Museum. Address: Castle Campbell Hall, 1 High St, Dollar, FK14 7AY. Dollar Museum is an independent museum dedicated to the history and heritage of the village of Dollar in the county of Clackmannanshire. The Museum includes an archive room as well as an extensive display on the Devon Valley Railway.
Stirling Smith Museum and Gallery. Address. 40 Albert Pl, Stirling FK8 2RQ. The Stirling Smith Museum functions as a gallery and museum for historic and contemporary artefacts and paintings from the Stirling area. The building also houses a lecture theatre, a café, and a biodiversity garden.
Kinneil Museum. Address: Duchess Anne Cottages, Bo’ness, EH51 0PR. Kinneil Museum is located in the 17th-century stable building of Kinneil House. The museum tells the story of Bo’ness town and the Roman remains on which it was built. Kinneil Estate contains part of the Antonine Wall World Heritage Site and also includes the site of a deserted medieval village.
Maid of the Loch. Address: Loch Lomond Marina, Riverside, Balloch, Alexandria, G83 8LF. The Maid of the Loch is a fine example of Clyde-built shipping and features a beautiful art-deco inspired interior. The vessel is located on the banks of Loch Lomond and has been renovated into a fully operational paddle steamer.
North Queensferry Harbour Light Tower. Address: 60 Main St, North Queensferry, Inverkeithing, KY11 1JG. The harbour light tower in North Queensferry is an interesting example of 19th-century engineering that sits nearby the UNESCO world heritage Forth Rail Bridge. It is famous for holding the title of the world’s smallest working light tower.
St. Cyrus National Nature Reserve. Address: The Old Lifeboat Station, Nether Warburton, Montrose, DD10 0AQ. The St. Cyrus grasslands are protected from the ravages of the weather by the natural barriers of inland cliffs and a seaward ridge of sand dunes. In summer the reserve is home to countless butterflies and moths, and peregrine falcons can be frequently seen in search of prey.
The Church of the Holy Rude. Address: St John Street, Stirling, FK8 1ED. This fascinating building has been the Parish Church of Stirling for over 900 years. It is the only church still in active use – apart from Westminster Abbey in London – that has hosted a coronation, when King James VI of Scotland was crowned there in 1567.
The River Tay Public Art Trail. Address: River Tay, Perth, PH1. There are various points of entry. The art trail of Perth takes you along Tay Street, over the river, and through a beautiful riverside park. There are many gardens and flower beds to discover as well as fascinating pieces of public art that are on permanent display.
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The best free places to visit in Dumfries and Galloway
Dumfries and Galloway is a region of lowland Scotland that’s best known for its sandy beaches on the coastline and its undulating hills that are covered by many of the remotest forests in Scotland.
As a place to visit for anyone that loves the great outdoors it ranks amongst the best in the country, with highlights including Galloway Forest Park and the Solway Firth. It also has three designated National Scenic Areas at Nith Estuary, East Stewartry Coast, and Fleet Valley, and a number of wildlife reserves that include the Mull of Galloway, Mereshead, and Ken Dee Marshes.
The Solway Firth
- Address: See website
- Contact details: NA
- Out About Scotland guide: Solway Firth
The Solway Firth is an area of outstanding natural beauty that borders England and Scotland from St. Bees Head in Cumbria to the Mull of Galloway on the western edge of Dumfries and Galloway.
It’s the third-largest estuary in Britain and comprises a number of different habitats from sand dunes and mudflats to salt marshes, which is the main reason why the area is regarded as one of the best in the United Kingdom for birdwatching.
The tidal sand flats are home to vast flocks of breeding waders and in winter the coastline comes alive with the raucous calls of tens of thousands of migrating barnacle geese
The Solway Firth was designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty in 1964 and has been managed as an area for wildlife preservation since then, with an RSPB reserve at Mereshead and a national nature reserve at Caerlaverock (home to the one-of-a-kind triangular Caerlaverock Castle).
In addition to the wildlife, visitors can enjoy coastal walks on footpaths that pass through woodland and rolling fields in-between peat bogs and sand dunes for an outdoors experience that’s rarely beaten anywhere else in Scotland.
There are too many points of interest to include in this article, but a recommended highlight is Caerlaverock Nature Reserve which is free to enter and has wooden boardwalks running through dense wild grasses that are home to countless waders and wild fowl.
Kirroughtree Visitor Centre
- Address: Postcode DG8 7BE.
- Contact details: Tel 0300 067 6900
- Website: Forestry and Land Scotland
The visitor centre at Kirroughtree is just one tiny part of the enormous Galloway Forest Park that covers a broad swathe of the landscape between Girvan and Kircudbright.
Although there are two other visitor centres in the park (Glentrool and Clatteringshaws), the one at Kirroughtree has arguably the best facilities with a large car park, a café, outside seating areas, a shop, wildlife hides, children’s play areas and much more besides.
Kirroughtree is also the best centre to explore the forest and there are four superb trails that offer walks of varying lengths for all ability levels. Wheelchair users can enjoy an excellent path from the visitor centre to a forest wildlife hide, and walkers can challenge themselves to a strenuous climb up Larg Hill which has stunning panoramic views at the top.
There are also designated mountain bike trails at Kirroughtree that rival anywhere else in Scotland and I have to highlight the skills area located close to the visitor centre which is a great place to hone your mountain biking skills.
Kirroughtree is part of the 7Stanes mountain biking trails that are widely regarded as among the best bike trails in the world, so if you’ve a passion for being on two wheels you really owe it to yourself to visit the centre.
Finally, Kirroughtree visitor centre is located in the heart of the Galloway Forest Park dark sky area which is one of the few places in the country where it’s possible to see the night sky unobscured by light pollution.
If you’ve never visited a dark sky park before I highly recommend staying after the sun goes down to watch the spectacle of the stars in all their glory.
Mossburn Community Farm
- Address: Hightae, Lockerbie DG11 1LE
- Contact details: Tel 01387 811288
- Website: Mossburn Community Farm
Mossburn Community Farm near Hightae is one of the smallest free attractions in this list, but I have to include it as it’s a wonderful wee place that absolutely deserves a mention. The farm is a charity that’s almost entirely run by volunteers who work hard to provide help for unwanted and abused farm and domestic animals.
The team care for a number of very cute furry critters including goats, cattle, horses, and rabbits, and visitors are welcome to wander amongst the animals who will be only too happy to get a pat on the head and a good scratch behind the ear.
The volunteer staff are incredibly helpful and will gladly show you around the paddocks, after which you can have a cake and a cuppa at the on-site tearoom, and buy a keepsake from the small shop.
Mossburn Community Farm has been running for over 30 years and their dedication to animals has been unwavering in that time, which is remarkable considering they have to rely purely on donations and the income from their small shop.
If you can, please visit the farm and say hello to the team and the animals, but if you’re unable to make the journey there will be some very thankful furries if you can make a donation online.
See the Mossburn Community Farm donations page here.
More free places to visit in Dumfries & Galloway
Agnew Park. Address: Agnew Crescent, Stranraer, Wigtownshire, DG9 7JZ. Agnew Park has a wide range of leisure facilities including a boating lake, a miniature railway that takes a complete tour of the park, a play island, an 18-hole putting green, and a mini car racing circuit. In addition, there is a café serving a range of hot and cold refreshments.
Dalbeattie Museum. Address: Southwick Rd, Dalbeattie, DG5 4BS. Dalbeattie Museum is a fascinating wee museum that was set up with a vision to record the town’s history through a collection of artefacts, displays, and photographs that have been chosen for their contribution to the social history of Dalbeattie.
Dock Park. Address: Dock Park, Dumfries, DG1 2RY. The most prominent feature of Dock Park is the nineteenth-century bandstand that plays host to frequent events throughout the year. The rest of the park borders a riverside that is extremely popular in summer, while a large children’s play park, a historic maze, and a Peter Pan-themed mini golf area are used by families year-round.
Grey Mares Trail Nature Reserve. Address: Moffat Valley, Moffat, Dumfriesshire, DG10 9DP. This spectacular trail features one of the highest waterfalls in the UK where the tumbling waters of Loch Skeen plunge 60 metres down the Moffat Water Valley. Walkers often catch sight of ospreys, peregrine falcons and wild goats as they traverse the glacier-scarred terrain.
Red Deer Range Trail. Address: Castle Douglas, DG7 2BL. The Red Deer Range offers visitors the chance to see over 60 red deer in their natural environment thanks to a purpose-built viewing area and hide. Numerous paths allow visitors to experience all areas of the forest and guided walks are available in summer.
Sanquhar Tolbooth Museum. Address: High Street, Sanquhar, Dumfries & Galloway, DG4 6BN. This museum is dedicated to Sanquhar’s renowned knitting industry as well as the mines and miners of Sanquhar and Kirkconnel. The 18th-century tollbooth is a fascinating backdrop to the audiovisual presentations which include explanations of what prison life was like in Sanquhar jail.
St. Ninians Cave. Address: St Ninian’s Cave, Nr Whithorn, Dumfries & Galloway, DG8. St. Ninians cave lies in an area of outstanding natural beauty on the beach of Physgill, close to Whithorn. Visitors can explore the dark and gloomy depths of the sea-cave where St. Ninian supposedly had a hermitage, while the stony beach is perfect for taking a relaxing afternoon stroll.
Station Park. Address: Beattock Road, A701, Moffat, DG10 9HF. This family park and boating pond, set in beautiful surroundings, is a superb place for families to enjoy a wide range of activities. In addition to the manicured gardens there is a boating lake, a putting green, an interactive water feature, and a children’s play park.
The Mill on the Fleet. Address: High Street, Gatehouse of Fleet, DG7 2HS. The Mill on the Fleet was built in 1788 as a cotton spinning mill, but today it is used as an exhibition centre for the heritage of the local area. The main exhibition floor houses displays that provide a glimpse into the life and times of Gatehouse and Fleet Valley, and there is also a café and a bookshop.
The Mull of Galloway Trail. The Mull of Galloway Trail runs from Mull to Stranraer, and Stranraer to Glenapp, across 35 miles (56.33 km) of stunning south Scotland terrain that not only provides breathtaking views but is also rich in wildlife. Visitors to the trail will frequently see red deer, red squirrels, seals and a wide variety of wild Scottish flora and fauna.
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The best free places to visit in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the compact and hilly capital city of Scotland that offers a wide range of family-friendly tourist attractions.
As well as an expansive parkland formed from an extinct volcano the city boasts Scotland’s most-visited attraction at the impressive Edinburgh Castle.
Edinburgh also plays host to the world’s biggest multi-arts festival as well as the Royal Military Tattoo, which draws thousands of visitors each year and is one of the world’s most-viewed televised events.
The National Museum of Scotland
- Address: Chambers St, Edinburgh, EH1 1JF
- Contact details: Tel 0300 123 6789
- Website: The National Museum of Scotland
This enormous museum easily rivals any other worldwide, and not only can you get lost in the wonders of history in the ultra-modern exhibitions, but you can also marvel at the fully-restored architecture of the Victorian Grand Gallery.
One of the things I love about the National Museum of Scotland is that it’s full of an incredibly diverse range of exhibits that include the fields of nature, art, design, fashion, science, and technology (to name just a few).
There are galleries containing meteorites from the dawn of our planet, galleries depicting the somewhat later history of Scotland, galleries displaying incredibly lifelike animals from an extinct T. rex to an endangered Scottish wildcat, galleries focussed on world culture, and galleries showing just about everything else in-between.
The curators have done a wonderful job of presenting each area as a mixture of education and fun so you’ll likely find yourself getting as excited about the story of meteorites and dinosaurs as your kids will.
The science and technology galleries, in particular, are great fun, and you can compete with each other in games such as seeing how much energy you can burn in a giant hamster wheel, or trying to get the fastest lap in an F1 racing car simulator, or even attempting to beat a cheetah in a race.
If you have extra time on your hands the museum presents premium exhibitions that showcase everything from the history of video games to the history of fashion, and while the tickets can be a bit pricey they’re free if you become a National Museums of Scotland member.
There are also a couple of cafés if you feel the need to take a break, and the gift shop sells lots of quality souvenirs.
The Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens
- Address: Inverleith Row, Edinburgh, EH3 5LR
- Contact details: Tel 0131 248 2909
- Out About Scotland complete guide: The Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens
One of the best botanic gardens in the UK is located in Edinburgh, and a short bus ride from the city centre will allow you to explore over 13,000 different plant species in the most beautifully landscaped and manicured grounds you’re ever likely to see.
Founded in 1670, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is the second-oldest botanic garden in Britain after the gardens in Oxford.
What makes the Edinburgh gardens so special is that they boast the most diverse collection of plants in Britain and across 70 acres you’ll find yourself transported all over the world from the low-lying mosses that live on Peruvian mountains to the dense green vegetation of the Brazilian jungles.
As a place to relax away from the busy city centre the gardens are only equalled by the Water of Leith, and the facilities easily rival those found at any other Edinburgh attraction with cafés, a restaurant, snack stations, a gift shop, and an information centre.
The gardens themselves are divided into the regions of the world which all flow seamlessly into one another so that walking from alpine rockeries into a Chinese hillside feels completely natural.
If you want to explore the wilds of Scotland then a walk around the Scottish heather garden will transport you deep into the Highlands and there’s even an old abandoned croft to enhance the experience.
Although the gardens are free to enter it’s worth paying the small fee to get into the premier attraction of the RBGE which is the tropical jungle that lives inside a giant glasshouse.
The glasshouse contains some of the oldest plants in the entire collection (as well as some of the largest) and there are more than 3,000 exotic species that have been collected from all over the world.
Other highlights of the RBGE include a woodland garden, an arboretum, a Rhododendron collection, alpine houses, and a botanic cottage (which is used for education and community sessions), while the visitor centre houses exhibitions that change on a regular basis.
St. Giles Cathedral
- Address: High St, Edinburgh, EH1 1RE
- Contact details: Tel 0131 226 0674
- Out About Scotland complete guide: St. Giles Cathedral
If you’ve ever looked through photos of Edinburgh on the internet there’s no doubt you’ll have seen Saint Giles Cathedral dominating The Royal Mile in the middle of the city’s Old Town.
The cathedral has been a focal point in Edinburgh for over 900 years, although the present structure that we see today can trace its roots back to the 14th-century.
Due to its central location on The Royal Mile, St. Giles has become a popular tourist attraction and it’s an ideal stop-off point between excursions to the palace at the bottom and the castle at the top.
One thing I should point out is that the cathedral is still an active place of worship so entrance might not be possible during times of prayer, but mid-week tourists are free to enter and explore the interior as much as they like.
There are five services held every Sunday and on average fourteen acts of worship take place each week, often with the St. Giles Cathedral Choir singing in full voice. The choir is acclaimed throughout Europe and America and it’s quite an experience to listen to them during the leading of the worship.
They’ve even released a few albums which can be purchased from the gift shop alongside other souvenirs to remind you of your time in Edinburgh.
More free places to visit in Edinburgh
Calton Hill. Address: Edinburgh, EH7 5AA. Calton Hill is a landmark situated at the eastern end of Princes Street that features popular attractions including the Edinburgh Monument, The Dugald Stewart Monument, The Royal Observatory and Nelson’s Tower.
Dean Village. Address: Dean Path, Edinburgh, EH8 8BH. A small village on the Water of Leith that’s located 5 minutes from Edinburgh’s Princes Street. Once famous for its multitude of grain mills and textile factories, the area now attracts tourists to its iconic architecture that includes the historic Wells Court.
Holyrood Park. Address: Queen’s Dr, Edinburgh, EH8 8HG. A remarkable extinct volcano in the heart of the city, Holyrood Park is an impressive 2.6 km area of mountain-like peaks (the famous Arthur’s Seat rises 251 metres above sea level), lochs and walking trails that allow superb 360-degree views across the city and beyond.
The People’s Story Museum. Address: 163 Canongate, Edinburgh, EH8 8BN. The People’s Story Museum aims to educate and entertain visitors with stories of the residents of Edinburgh through a collection of interactive displays. Learn how Edinburgh’s past residents lived and worked, what they did for leisure, and how they coped with the terrible living conditions of years gone by.
The Scottish National Gallery. Address: The Mound, Edinburgh, EH2 2EL. The Scottish National Gallery is located on The Mound in central Edinburgh in a neoclassical building designed by William Henry Playfair. The gallery – which opened to the public in 1859 – houses the national collection of fine art and spans Scottish and international art from the beginning of the Renaissance up to the beginning of the 20th century.
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Address: 75 Belford Road, Edinburgh, EH4 3DR. Modern Art from the 20th and 21st centuries come alive across the two impressive Scottish National Gallery buildings located a short distance outside the city centre. Browse hundreds of beautiful artworks in an ever-changing collection that are presented both inside the gallery buildings and outside in the immaculate gardens.
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Address: 1 Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1JD. The neo-Gothic National Portrait Gallery stands proudly on Edinburgh’s Queen Street where the red sandstone façade has impressed visitors since its construction in 1889. Inside, you will find important works of art depicting the story of Scotland and its people in a regularly changing collection.
The Scottish Parliament Visitor Centre. Address: Edinburgh, EH99 1SP. A modern architectural wonder, the Scottish Parliament building was designed to represent the history and culture of Scotland through a combination of modern design and its location opposite Holyrood Palace and Holyrood Park. Visitors can tour the debating chambers and see for themselves where the important decisions that affect Scotland are made.
The Water of Leith. A hidden oasis of tranquillity only a few minutes from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. The Water of Leith stretches all the way from the distant Pentland Hills to the historic port of Leith. Along the walkway you will discover a wide variety of wildlife hidden amongst the woodlands that surround the river.
The Writers Museum. Address: Lawnmarket, Lady Stair’s Close, Edinburgh, EH1 2PA. Situated in a close just off Edinburgh’s famous Royal Mile, The Writers Museum celebrates the life and works of three of Edinburgh’s most revered storytellers and poets. Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson are brought to life through displays of their personal effects and collections of their literary masterpieces.
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The best free places to visit in Glasgow
Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city and is renowned for its culture, style, and its variety of tourist attractions. The city provides one of the best shopping experiences in Scotland and it’s home to lots of big attractions like the SECC and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
Glasgow also offers a diverse range of internationally acclaimed museums, beautiful architecture, vibrant nightlife, and a selection of quality restaurants and bars.
If you’d like to learn a few interesting facts about the city check out this article: 30 Interesting Facts About Glasgow.
The Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art
- Address: Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow, G1 3AH
- Contact details: Tel 0141 287 3050
- Out About Scotland complete guide: The GOMA
The Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art (or the GOMA as it’s often called) is Scotland’s most-visited art gallery, beating the national galleries of Edinburgh for annual footfall numbers.
You’ll probably recognize the GOMA from the hundreds of photos on the internet where a Duke of Wellington statue stands proudly outside a very grand neoclassical building… with a traffic cone stuck on his head.
The cone has embedded itself into Glasgow culture over the last thirty years since it was first placed there and the council seems to have given up trying to remove it, mainly because as soon as they do it’s put back by more late-night revellers.
The museum is relatively new to the city having only opened in 1996 but the building itself dates back to 1778 when it was built as a town house for a wealthy tobacco trader.
There’s a lot to see in this gallery and not only are there permanent displays from local and international artists but there’s an ever-changing collection of temporary exhibitions loaned from other Glasgow city collections.
The gallery has been set up to display the artworks in a way that’s both educational and enjoyable and there are lots of information boards to let visitors know the story behind each artwork as well as the artist that created it.
Because the GOMA is so centrally located it’s a good place to visit if you get fed up with shopping and there are plenty of nearby bars and restaurants to pop into if you stay until closing time (particularly Thursday when it’s open till 8 pm).
If you’re a weary parent that’s tired of excitable children racing around the gallery you’ll be pleased to know there’s also a top-notch café on-site as well as a decent shop and a library.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
- Address: Argyle St, Glasgow, G3 8AG
- Contact details: Tel 0141 276 9599
- Out About Scotland complete guide: Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is the focal point of the beautiful Kelvingrove Park, the 84-acre green space that was created in 1852 as a place of recreation for the city’s residents.
The constantly changing exhibitions in the museum and art gallery are displayed across multiple sections and visitors can enjoy over 9,000 artefacts and paintings that cover themes from modern art, the animal kingdom, Ancient Egypt, Scottish history and much more.
Designed to be informative as well as entertaining, Kelvingrove has gained a reputation for being one of the top places in Glasgow for family days out, with the bonus being that like most museums in the city there’s absolutely no fee to get in.
As part of a major restoration project the museum was extensively renovated over three years and was re-opened in 2006 with the exhibits organized into two halves; Life and Expression.
The Life galleries represent natural history, human history and prehistory, while the Expression galleries include fine art collections. Both are hosted across 22 state-of-the-art displays that are large enough to easily take up most of your day.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is second only to the museums of London for the number of annual visitors, partially due to the art collection which is among the best in Europe.
The artworks include masterpieces from Rembrandt, Renoir, Salvador Dali and others alongside antiquities from Europe and modern works from the celebrated Glasgow designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
The Riverside Museum of Transport
- Address: 100 Pointhouse Place, Glasgow, G3 8RS
- Contact details: 0141 287 2720
- Out About Scotland complete guide: The Riverside Museum
The Riverside Museum is home to a huge collection of cars, motorbikes, boats and trains, and there are so many travel-related exhibits on display you can easily spend an entire afternoon viewing them.
This museum was awarded the European Museum of the Year in 2013 and it regularly attracts over a million visitors annually, making it the fourth most popular attraction in Scotland.
Amazingly, the Riverside Museum cost nearly £75 million to build and since opening in June 2011 it has amassed over 3,000 exhibits.
Inside you’ll find examples of every conceivable form of transport from skateboards to racing cars, with examples dating from the earliest days of the combustion engine all the way to the modern era.
There’s so much to explore at this museum that you’ll likely have to make a return visit just to see everything, with vintage motorbikes, old buses, even older trams, fire engines, steam trains and interactive displays all explaining the story of man’s fascination with getting from A to B.
There are a couple of highlights that might surprise you about the Riverside Museum of Transport. First is the recreation of one of Glasgow’s yesteryear streets, complete with cobbled paving stones and shops dating from 1895 to the 1980s.
The second highlight is actually located outside the museum on the River Clyde, where The Tall Ship (a sailing ship called the Glenlee) is moored up alongside.
The Glenlee first took to the water in 1896 and is one of only five ships built on the Clyde that’s still afloat today. She’s in an immaculate condition considering her age, and visitors can pretty much explore every single nook and cranny from the galley to the captain’s quarters.
More free places to visit in Glasgow
Glasgow Cathedral. Address: Castle St, Glasgow, G4 0QZ. Glasgow is home to the most complete medieval cathedral on the Scottish mainland with a building that features stunning stained-glass windows and incredibly well-preserved ancient chapels.
Glasgow Green and The People’s Palace. Address: Greendyke Street, Saltmarket, Glasgow, G1 5DB. Glasgow Green is one of the largest green areas in the city, covering 136 acres within walking distance of the city centre. The grounds feature a variety of activities including a play village, an orienteering course and viewing platforms over the River Clyde. The park is also home to the magnificent People’s Palace which is home to a museum, café, and a glasshouse.
Kelvingrove Park. Address: Glasgow, G12 8QQ. Surrounding the Kelvingrove Art Gallery is the extremely popular Kelvingrove Park which stretches across 85 acres in the heart of the city. Visitors can enjoy the River Kelvin which runs through the park as well as five bowling greens, four tennis courts, an orienteering course, a skateboard park, cafés, and beautifully landscaped gardens.
Mugdock Country Park. Address: Milngavie, Mugdock, Glasgow, G62 8EL. Mugdock Country Park is situated north of East Dunbartonshire and south-west of Stirling. It comprises 270 hectares of woodland, moorland, and heathland and is connected by a network of paths. It contains a loch, two castles, a stables complex and a walled garden. Keen walkers can enjoy several orienteering trails while children can go wild in the play park and adventure trail.
Pollok Country Park. Address: Pollokshaws Rd, Glasgow, G43 1AT. This Green Flag award-winner provides a quiet sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre and has a wide variety of exciting features such as a play park, orienteering course, old stables, heavy horses and roaming Highland cattle.
Strathclyde Country Park. Address: Hamilton Road, Motherwell, Lanarkshire, ML1 3ED. Strathclyde Country Park played host to the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and the excitement of that year lives on through a number of fun activities that are available throughout the 400 hectares of countryside that comprise the park grounds. There are outdoor adventure playgrounds, bike trails, a fitness gym, and a water sports centre with a café.
The Glasgow Botanic Gardens. Address: Great Western Rd, Glasgow, G12 0UE. Glasgow’s famous Botanic Gardens are open all year for visitors to enjoy over 200 years of history with plant species that have been collected from around the world. In addition to the beautifully managed plant specimens there is an arboretum and a heritage trail to explore, while guided tours are available for those wishing to learn more about Glasgow’s garden heritage
The Lighthouse Art Gallery. Address: 11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow, G1 3NU. The Lighthouse was the first public commission designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the celebrated Glasgow architect, designer, and artist. The gallery showcases a variety of art exhibitions as well as the Mackintosh Centre which features a variety of art-themed exhibits.
The Tall Ship. Address: 150 Pointhouse Place, Glasgow, G3 8RS. Glasgow was once home to shipbuilders that produced sea-faring craft that spanned the globe, and this important part of the city’s history is celebrated with the faithfully restored Glenlee which is one of many hundreds of sailing ships that were built on the banks of the River Clyde. Tourists can explore the restored sailing ship thanks to the ongoing efforts of the Clyde Maritime Trust who also provide an interesting audio tour guide so that you can learn about the ship’s history.
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The best places to visit in the Highlands
The Scottish Highlands is the largest area of Scotland, encompassing an area of more than 30,000 square kilometres, yet it has a population of fewer than 250,000 people.
Almost entirely mountainous and dotted with dense pine forests and hundreds of lochs, visiting the Highlands offers a unique experience that’s unmatched anywhere else in Europe.
The remote wilderness of some of the UK’s most beautiful national parks makes this region the perfect place to get outside and enjoy the fresh air, whether it’s going for a leisurely walk or climbing an immense mountain.
Inverness Botanic Gardens
- Address: Bught Lane, Inverness, IV3 5SS
- Contact details: Tel 01463 713553
- Website: Inverness Botanic Gardens
There’s a lot of things to enjoy at the Inverness Botanic Gardens and visitors can explore a mixture of formal gardens, wildflower meadows, cactus houses, ponds, and a tropical house in this volunteer-run attraction.
The glasshouses are worth visiting in their own right as they feature lots of tropical plants and it’s quite an experience to walk out of the cold Scottish air and into the balmy heat of a rainforest.
Once you step inside you’ll find a cascading waterfall in the glasshouse with a pool full of beautiful (and inquisitive) Koi Carp which makes the whole experience very relaxing, if slightly surreal.
Some of the plants will be immediately recognizable to anyone with an interest in flora and fauna, but there are many more that you probably haven’t seen before like the beautiful bird of paradise plants with their lovely yellow and orange flowers.
Next door to the rainforest is a cactus house that showcases hundreds of different species of cacti that survive in extremes of temperature. It’s quite a bit cooler in there than the rainforest so you’ll be able to acclimatize before heading to the outdoor gardens.
The lawns, trees, shrubs, and borders of this section of the botanic gardens are linked by meandering paths that take you past rockeries and cottage gardens while a ramshackle gate at the back of the formal gardens leads you into a pretty ‘secret garden’ which is managed by a group of adults with special needs.
- Address: Glenfinnan, Highlands, PH37 4LT
- Contact details: Tel 01397 722250
- Out About Scotland complete guide: The Glenfinnan Monument
The village of Glenfinnan in the Lochaber area of the Highlands is famous for having three major tourist attractions on its doorstep, with the first being the Glenfinnan viaduct which offers one of the most spectacular photo opportunities in Scotland.
The viaduct has been one of Scotland’s top tourist attractions for many years and it offers superb views of The Jacobite steam train that transports tourists from Fort William to Mallaig.
The sight of this vintage train puffing its way across the viaduct attracts thousands of visitors each year and their numbers have exploded since it was featured in the Harry Potter movies as the Hogwarts Express.
The second attraction is the view at the foot of Loch Shiel with the Sgurr Ghiubhsachain mountain rising on one side and Rois-Bheinn rising on the other.
The third attraction is the Glenfinnan Monument which sits at the north-east head of Loch Shiel where it has commanded spectacular views of the Highland landscape since its construction in 1815.
The monument was commissioned by a member of Clan Macdonald of Glenaladale to commemorate the raising of the standard by the ‘young pretender‘ prince, and in 1835 the statue of the anonymous Highlander was placed at the top.
The tower has been a respected Highland landmark ever since which is why it is now in the care of The National Trust for Scotland who has maintained it since 1938.
The Trust has built a car park and pathway to the monument so that it can be accessed by people of all abilities, and a visitor centre has been constructed to educate tourists about the ill-fated Jacobite uprising and the history that led up to this important moment in Scotland’s history.
The centre also includes educational exhibitions and displays about the area as well as a café and gift shop.
- Address: Glenmore village, PH22 1QU
- Contact details: NA
- Out About Scotland complete guide: Loch Morlich
Deep in the heart of Scotland’s beautiful Strathspey area lies Loch Morlich, a natural freshwater loch that’s considered by many to be the most attractive in the Highlands.
The loch is situated at the bottom of the Cairngorm mountain range just a few miles from Aviemore where it is surrounded on all sides by the lovely Glenmore Forest.
The area is one of the best in the Highlands for mountain sports and hill walking, and it’s within easy reach of a number of superb mountain biking trails.
It’s the view that first hits you when you visit, and I guarantee you’ll have trouble taking it all in as you walk out of the adjoining car park and set foot on the golden beach.
The vast snow-capped peaks of the Cairngorms rise high into the clouds on one side and the deep-green Scottish pines of Glenmore Forest sweep away into the distance in every other direction.
It really is a very pretty place and it’s a must-visit for nature enthusiasts.
The visitor centre across the road has plenty of snacks and ice creams and there’s also a picnic area on the site if you want to bring your own packed lunch. The only thing you’re not allowed to do is camp in the recreational areas, which is necessary to keep discarded plastics to a minimum.
More free places to visit in the Highlands
Ben Nevis. Address: PH33 6PF (Visitor centre). Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles. It is particularly popular with walkers due to the well-constructed mountain track from Glen Nevis on the south side of the mountain, while climbers can enjoy some of the best rock and ice climbs in the country.
Loch Ness. Address: Loch Ness, Inverness-shire, IV63 6TU. The area around Loch Ness is awash with picturesque towns, untamed wilderness, and breathtaking rolling hills that surround the world-famous loch that is home to the legendary Loch Ness monster.
Culloden Battlefield. Address: Culloden Moor, Inverness, IV2 5EU. The Culloden Visitor Centre, which stands beside the battlefield, features artefacts from both sides of the battle and has interactive displays that reveal the background to the conflict. The site is also home to a number of monuments as well as a restored traditional Highland cottage.
Glen Coe. Address: Glencoe, Argyll, PH49 4HX. Glencoe is Scotland’s most famous and scenic glen. Glencoe is not only a holiday centre for hill walking and mountaineering, but it is also the perfect base to explore the Highlands. There are a number of accessible Munros in the area, including Bidean Nam Bian and Buachaille Etive Mor.
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Address: Castle Wynd, Inverness, IV2 3EB. The Inverness Museum and Art Gallery aims to teach visitors about Scottish history while also showing them how the Scottish Highlands are linked with the rest of the world. After browsing the collections you can relax in the café or browse the extensive shop.
Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve. Address: Balmaha, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, G63 0JQ. There are lots of activities for visitors to get involved with at this nature reserve. You can take tranquil walks on a wooded isle or head down to the loch shore to watch osprey on the hunt for fish. There are also geese, wigeon, teal, and shelduck to keep a look-out for against a background of dramatic mountain peaks.
Lochaber Geopark. Address: 55A High St, Fort William, PH33 6DH (visitor centre). Lochaber Geopark boasts some of the best geology in the world, along with the UK’s highest mountains and deepest lochs. Outdoor adventure enthusiasts will love the mountain trails and the beautiful landscapes.
Steall Waterfall. Address: Old Military Rd, Fort William, PH33 6SY. Steall Falls offers a first-class walk below Ben Nevis and the surrounding mountains as it passes through the stunning Glen Nevis. The lower falls are impressive after a rainfall and the glen is particularly scenic in summer when it blooms with a carpet of wild flowers.
The Commando Memorial. Address: Spean Bridge, PH34 4EG. This monument in Spean Bridge is the site where thousands of allied troops came to train for warfare during World War II. The three-figure bronze statue commemorates the sacrifice given by thousands of Allied troops and is fittingly set against the mountain backdrop where they trained.
The West Highland Museum. Address: Cameron Square, Fort William, PH33 6AJ. The West Highland Museum tells the story of the region, its people, and its history and includes fascinating artefacts from the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite uprising.
Discover more free places to visit in the Highlands with: The Complete Guide to Free Attractions in the Highlands
Frequently asked questions
How can I save money on Scotland’s trains?
How can I save money on Scottish accommodation?
Hostels offer same-sex and mixed-sex dorm rooms in city centres like Edinburgh and Glasgow for as little as £20 per night. An alternative option is to book a budget hotel room out of season when you’ll find city centre rooms for £50 or less, which is 2 to 3 times cheaper than the same room in peak (summer) season.
What is the cheapest way to travel in Scotland?
Buses are the cheapest way to travel between cities in Scotland and you will often find coach companies like Mega Bus and Citylink with special offers of £1 between Edinburgh and Glasgow. At other times a cheap-rate bus ticket between the cities costs around £5.
How can I save money on Scottish tourist attractions?
Many of the best attractions in Scotland are the historic buildings managed by Historic Environment Scotland. The cheapest way to visit these attractions is to by a HES membership which costs around £4 per month for an adult.
More free places to visit in Scotland
- Glen Ogle – Stirling: Complete Visitor GuideGlen Ogle lies in a particularly scenic area of Stirlingshire, 2 miles northwest of the village of Lochearnhead. The Glen is a popular tourist destination thanks to the Sustrans Route 7 which offers a superb cycle and walking route through the glen, where stunning views are on offer from Loch Earn to the Glen Ogle railway viaduct and beyond.
- Seacliff Beach – East Lothian: Complete Visitor GuideSeacliff Beach is situated 5 miles south of North Berwick in East Lothian. This remote beach is overlooked by the dramatic ruins of Tantallon Castle and is best known for its unusual sandstone harbour which is said to be the smallest in the UK.
- Preston Mill – East Lothian: Complete Visitor GuidePreston Mill is located next to the River Tyne in picturesque farming country in the heart of East Lothian. The mill dates from the 18th-century and was used commercially until the 1950s but is now open as a tourist attraction managed by the National Trust for Scotland. Discover this unique historic attraction with this guide which includes a 360° virtual tour.
- Silver Sands of Morar – Inverness: Complete Visitor GuideThe Silver Sands of Morar are a series of celebrated beaches located on the Morar Peninsula, south of Mallaig. These stunning white-sand beaches are a favourite spot for tourists due to the crystal-clear turquoise waters along this stretch of coastline, as well as the stunning views of the Small Isles.