Best Scotland Landmarks for History and Culture

Whilst the scenery is spectacular and the cities intriguing, it can be hard to know what you simply must-see if your time in Scotland is short, and what and where the best Scotland landmarks for history and culture are.

The solution is to be sure to put some time in your schedule for the favorite cultural and historical sites of well-known travel writers.

From neolithic villages and standing stones to stately palaces and ruined castles, read on to find these famous landmarks in Scotland – some will be a surprise!

Skara Brae

Skara Brae is located in the far north of Scotland in the Orkney Islands.  It is an often overlooked place but is older than Stonehenge or the Pyramids at Giza. 

Archaeological site of Skara Brae, a Neolithic village in the Orkney Islands, Scotland
Archaeological site of Skara Brae, a Neolithic village in the Orkney Islands, Scotland

The site is what remains of a Neolithic village, inhabited in 3100BC and abandoned at some point although the reasons are unclear. 

Along with the nearby Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe, and the Standing Stones of Stenness, it is designated as the Hearth of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In 1850 a winter storm exposed the village and excavations over the years have revealed a number of houses with the bed boxes, dressers, and hearths still in places as they would have been 4000 years ago.

This beautiful location is the perfect place to spend an afternoon, exploring the remains of the village and learning about all the finds that have been made during the excavations.

It makes you realize that despite modern technology our home comforts really haven’t changed over the centuries.

It is an adventure to get to Orkney with a ferry from the north coast of Scotland or a flight from a Scottish city and this brings home the exposed past of our ancestors.

by Suzanne from meanderingwild.com

Kilmartin Glen

Few places are so steeped in Scottish history as Kilmartin Glen in the Heart of Argyll. This beautiful valley on the Scottish west coast is home to over 300 historic sites.

Standing Stones of Temple Wood, Kilmartin Glen, Scotland
Standing Stones of Temple Wood, Kilmartin Glen, Scotland

Many of them are ancient, prehistoric monuments, like standing stones, stone circles, and chambered cairns, but there are also ruins of forts and castles – and much more to discover.

Many of them are ancient, prehistoric monuments, like standing stones, stone circles, and chambered cairns, but there are also ruins of forts and castles – and much more to discover.

Start in the village of Kilmartin to visit the local museum. Here you can learn about the wide range of historic sites in the area, where to find them, and how to travel through time with them.

An absolute must-see in Kilmartin Glen is a group of five standing stones at Temple Wood, which were erected over 3,000 years ago and align perfectly with the moon.

Another place you must not miss is Dunadd Fort, only a few minutes’ drive from Temple Wood. After a short uphill climb, you can see the remains of this ancient fort.

It was once the seat of the Gaelic Kings of Dalriada who ruled this part of Scotland from 500-800 AD.

The views are also not bad from up there, making Kilmartin Glen not only a great destination for history buffs, but also for nature lovers.

by Kathi from watchmesee.com

Edinburgh Castle

One of Scotland’s most iconic landmarks, Edinburgh Castle has loomed above the city since the 12th century.

edinburgh castle
Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Built by David I as a private chapel for the royal family and dedicated to his mother, Saint Margaret of Scotland, the castle remained a military base for centuries. It was later also used to keep military prisoners from England’s wars.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the castle was restored to its former glory.

This national monument now serves as the Scottish National War Memorial and is a great place to get a better understanding of the country’s history and culture.

One of the most famous Scottish landmarks as well as the country’s most popular tourist attractions, Castle Rock is well worth the visit. Visitors will get to see the Crown Jewels, the Honours of Scotland, and the Stone of Destiny.

During August each year, the castle also plays host to the Military Tattoo Festival.

Allow at least 2 hours to see all of the castle highlights which are a must-visit on a trip to Edinburgh.

by Rai from araioflight.com

Dunfermline Palace and Abbey

Dunfermline is a very quiet little town these days. So quiet that it’s hard to believe it used to be the capital of Scotland. But while it may not have much nightlife, history buffs and cultural tourists will love the place.

Dunfermline Abbey Scotland
Dunfermline Abbey Scotland

The primary point of interest is Dunfermline Palace and the attached Abbey. Of the two, the abbey is older and was constructed back in the 11th century.

It stills serves as the final resting place of a number of Scottish rulers, the most famous of which is Robert the Bruce.

The palace came later, sometime in the 16th century, but its glory days didn’t last long as it was soon sacked during the Scottish Reformation.

Both the palace and abbey lie in ruins today, but this just adds to the mystery and wonder of the place.

The one fully functioning building here is the modern church built on top of the abbey’s transept and chancel, which holds regular services.

While you’re in the area, consider exploring the nearby countryside and surrounding villages as well. Crossford, which is about a 45-minute walk away, is home to the first vegan B&B in Scotland, so you could even base yourself there for further exploration.

by Wendy from thenomadicvegan.com

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan (or the Island of Donan) is a 13th Century Castle that is nestled between the sea lochs of Loch Duich, Loch Alsh, and Loch Long in the Highlands of Scotland.

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Originally used as a defensive fortification to protect the surrounding lands from Viking invasions it was decimated in 1719 at the Battle of Eilean Donan Castle. 

After laying in ruins for over 200 years and rebuilt in1932, Eilean Donan is now one of the most photographed castles in Scotland.

This incredible castle is steeped in a unique history and provides visitors with an awesome setting for learning about Scottish Highland culture.

Visitors can tour the castle and visitor center which takes about 2 hours for a full visit. Don’t forget to take some photos from the numerous vantage points around the castle. Eilean Donan doesn’t have a bad angle.

To get there, you can get the Citylink bus to Dornie or rent a car and drive from Inverness (1.5 hrs), Glasgow (4 hrs) or Edinburgh (4-5 hrs).

If you do visit, I highly recommend that you incorporate a multi-day trip so you can visit the nearby Isle of Skye which provides ample outdoor hiking in a picturesque setting. 

by Ashley from impactwinder.com

Callanish Standing Stones

The Callanish Standing Stones are located on the northwest coast of the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles (or the Outer Hebrides) of Scotland.

Standing Stones of Callanish, Scotland
Callanish Standing Stones, Isle of Lewis, Scotland

These 5000-year-old standing stones are in the shape of a cross and were erected even before Stonehenge! I think they’re one of the most spectacular things on the planet.

While they are more out of the way than most historic sites to visit in Scotland, they are well worth the trip.

The surrounding landscape is starkly different from much of the UK and there are lots of historic things to see on the Isle of Lewis and Harris too.

Like most Standing Stones, their initial purpose is unknown, other than that they were used for ritual purposes throughout the Bronze Age.

There is a central stone that’s 4.8 meters high, surrounded by a circle of thirteen stones, there are then 5 rows of stones stretching out from the circle, two of which are parallel and form a sort of avenue to walk up to the circle.

Visiting the Callanish Standing Stones is a magical experience, especially at sunrise or sunset. It’s amazing to walk amongst the towering stones and imagine what life may have been like for all of the people who lived here over the centuries.

by Sonja from migratingmiss.com

Doune Castle

Doune Castle is a 14th-century fortress located on the outskirts of Stirling in central Scotland that was built for Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany.

Doune Castle
Doune Castle, Scotland

The courtyard-style castle is well known for its 100ft-high gatehouse which protected the Lord’s Tower as well as being famed for having one of the best-preserved Great Halls in Scotland.

When visiting the castle kitchens and the Great Hall, you can just imagine the grand banquets that were thrown here for the Duke and his family in centuries gone by!

Not only is the castle structure itself picture-perfect, but the landscape surrounding the fortress – the woodland location where the Ardoch Burn flows into the River Teith – is breathtaking too.

As the castle is so photogenic, it has been used in many TV shows and films, perhaps most famously Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Game of Thrones, and the popular TV series Outlander.

by Chrysoula from historiceuropeancastles.com

Palace of Holyroodhouse

The official residence in Scotland of the British Monarch is that of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, otherwise known as Holyrood Palace.

palace-of-holyroodhouse-travel-around-ireland
Palace of Holyrood House, Scotland

It is located at the end of the famous Royal Mile in Edinburgh and is a must-visit if you are in the city. You can walk to the royal palace, at the opposite end of Edinburgh Castle, or take one of the sightseeing buses.

Each year, the British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, spends one week every summer at the palace conducting royal duties and holding official ceremonies.

However, when the queen and other members of the royal family are not in residence, the State Apartments and Historic Apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots, are open to the public for viewing.

You can take a guided or self-guided tour of the palace and I highly recommend the self-guided tour as you can work your way through the stunning apartments at your own pace. This is done by way of a complimentary multimedia tour with a speaker.

Learn about the history of both the English and Scottish monarchs who have resided there, learn about the palace and the furnishings, and marvel at the beautiful staterooms.

You can also visit the ruins of an Augustinian abbey at the rear of the palace before returning your self-guided speakers at the front of the palace.

Just be warned, you cannot take pictures within the palace, but pictures of the gardens and abbey are permitted.

If you are visiting Edinburgh and would like to know some more about its history and that of the British monarchy in Scotland, a visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse is a must.

by Cath from travelaroundireland.com

Stirling Castle

As far as famous Scottish landmarks go, this is a definite must-see experience! This stupendous castle has played an enormous role in Scottish history and is an important aspect of Scottish national culture.

Stirling Castle on top of hill
Stirling Castle, Scotland

The first records of Stirling Castle are of the chapel endowed in 1107 by Alexander I.

It is perfectly positioned as a massive defensive fortress, atop Castle Hill which is itself atop a large geological formation known as the Sterling Sill.

Steep stone walls rise up to meet the castle on three sides.

It makes for a most imposing sight!

The Castle was both a fortress that has withstood eight recorded sieges and an important palace. Births, deaths, and coronations of many Scottish kings and queens have taken place here, including the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots in 1542.

This Scheduled Ancient Monument has perhaps the most developed tourist infrastructure in Scotland with its own App, a web page dedicated to different itineraries of the castle and its gardens, and a full annual calendar of events.

It is an easy drive north to Stirling from Edinburgh or Glasgow and this visually impressive and historically significant castle is the equal of the better-known Edinburgh Castle.

Fort William

The rugged Scottish highlands are famous as much for the gloomy beauty of its lochs (such as Loch Ness, Loch Lomond, and Loch Linnhe) as it is for the imposing Ben Nevis in the Grampian Mountain Range.

Loch Linnhe, Fort William, Scotland, UK
Loch Linnhe and Fort William, Scotland, UK

Ben Nevis is one of the best-known 20th-century United Kingdom attractions due to the large number of mountaineers and hikers who scale the mountain each year.

Ben Nevis rises above the town of Fort William on the shores of Loch Linnhe and this old town is a must for anyone who wants to explore Scotland from a historical perspective.

In 1654 a Cromwellian fort was built here to restrain the power of the Clan Cameron after the British Civil Wars. In the mid-1700s, the Jacobites unsuccessfully laid siege to the Fort.

Situated at the head of one of Scotland’s longest seaways, and at the mouth of the Nevis and Lochy Rivers, this Fort town has been an important part of the fight for control of the Scottish highlands and has been a prominent military site. 

It is also the starting place of the Road to the Isles and is close to another famous landmark, the rail bridge that appeared in the Harry Potter films.

In such an important strategic location and surrounded by some much natural beauty, it is unsurprising that this Fort is, in the twenty-first century, now besieged not by Cromwellians or Jacobites but by history and adventure enthusiasts!

Other Famous Landmarks in Scotland

While we’ve chosen our favorites, there are, of course, a wealth of famous landmarks in Scotland, each with its own fascinating history.

If your travels take you in their direction, make an effort to see these natural landmarks, iconic castles, and famous buildings:

Loch Ness

Loch Ness is an incredible landscape in its own right and the largest body of water in the United Kingdom.

Photo over the water of Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle under cloudy skies, Scotland
Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle under cloudy skies, Scotland

It has been made madly popular by the famous Loch Ness monster myths and stories.

Urquhart Castle

If you go hunting the Loch Ness monster, take the opportunity to visit another one of Scotland’s famous landmarks, Urquhart Castle, both of which are a short distance from Inverness.

Photo of the ruins of Urquhart Castle along Loch Ness, Scotland, Great Britain after a rain shower
Ruins of Urquhart Castle along Loch Ness, Scotland, Great Britain

The views of Loch Ness are breathtaking from the ruined castle on the shores of Loch Ness that played its role in the 14th-century Wars of Scottish Independence.

In 1692 it was deliberately partially destroyed to stop the Jacobites from being able to use it. Of all the Scotland landmarks, it is one of the most visited.

The Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel

Falkirk is less than an hour from Scotland’s capital city and there are several Scotland landmarks that make for interesting excursions.

Photo of the Kelpies, two 30-meter-high horse-head sculptures by artist Andy Scott and are located in Helix Park Falkirk next to the Forth and Clyde Canal in Scotland
The Kelpies, by artist Andy Scott in Helix Park Falkirk next to the Forth and Clyde Canal

Although they have been constructed this century, these cultural landmarks are quickly becoming some of the most famous landmarks in Scotland.

The Kelpies are two sculptures of horse heads in Falkirk, each 30 meters tall and made of stainless steel, that have been placed near the Forth and Clyde Canal in Helix Park.

They mark the industrial history of the region and the role that the waterways and Clydesdale horses played in supporting those industries.

The Falkirk wheel is a modern famous Scottish landmark. It’s a rotating boat life that transports boats between the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal.

Fingal’s Cave

On the west coast of Scotland is another of Scotland’s natural landmarks.

Photo taken from the sea of the basalt rock formation and Fingal's Cave on the island of Staffa off the west coast of Scotland
Basalt rock formation and Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa off the west coast of Scotland

Fingal’s cave is simply astonishing and made from the same hexagonally jointed basalt columns as the Giant’s Causeway across the water in Northern Ireland.

It is a sea cave on the Isle of Staffa in the Treshnish Islands in the inner Hebrides, It was made popular by Sir Joseph Banks in 1772, and also by the composer, Mendelssohn, for his Fingal’s Cave Overture.

It’s possible to land on the island and walk to the cave in calm sea conditions and when the tide is low.

Fingal’s cave has strange acoustics and appears regularly in art and literature as one of the most famous landmarks in Scotland.

National Wallace Monument

If you are visiting Sterling Castle, try to fit in a visit to the 67-meter-high tower known as the National Wallace Monument.

National Wallace Monument overlooking the city of Sterling in Scotland
National Wallace Monument overlooking the city of Sterling, Scotland

Castle Rock and the National Wallace Monument are the most famous landmarks and most popular tourist attractions in Stirling.

The monument was built in 1869 in memory of William Wallace who was a Scottish freedom fighter. It is an architecturally interesting tower with stunning stained glass.

Balmoral Castle

This famous castle dates from 1863 and was built in the Scots baronial revival style. It is one of the residences of the British royal family.

Photo of a famous scotland landmarks - Balmoral Castle and Grounds, Royal Deeside, Scotland on a bright blue summer day
Balmoral Castle and Grounds, Royal Deeside, Scotland

Balmoral Castle is open to the public when the royal family is not in residence. The ballroom is one of the most interesting parts of the castle to visit and it’s also possible to wander the grounds and gardens.

It was the favorite home of the late Queen Elizabeth II who died there in 2022. Balmoral Castle is an important Scottish landmark to British people interested in the history and lives of the British royal family.

2 thoughts on “Best Scotland Landmarks for History and Culture”

  1. What an inspiring list with corners all over Scotland! There’s so much history to discover here – hard to choose where to begin 🙂

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