Best of Scotland: Five Destinations for Nature Lovers

by Keith Savage · 35 comments

The Hills of Perthshire

I get loads of questions every month from readers seeking my input on their itineraries and asking for recommendations for how they should spend their time in Scotland. I’m honored and happy to help, and it’s a task I take seriously. For many people, it will be their only trip to Scotland, the one they scrimped and saved to make a reality, the one they might’ve dreamed about for years.

I realized after my first consultation that I couldn’t just serve up my top five Scottish destinations to every inquirer. It wasn’t targeted, so it wasn’t very helpful. And when I pondered the situation, it didn’t feel right.

Looking at my notes, I started dividing my favorites into categories to help hasten my responses as many people request my help on a short timeframe. I started getting the sense that the information was more helpful, more actionable and relevant. It was working.

After receiving some more emails while I was in Italy these past couple weeks, a question bubbled up through my happy, wine-soaked consciousness: Why is this information where only I can see it?

So, after four years of Traveling Savage, a decade’s-worth of trips to Scotland, and more than 300 posts specifically about Scotland’s people, culture, history, and nature, I feel that now is the time to start rolling out a series of “Best Of” articles highlighting my favorite places and activities. These articles should serve as good starting points for plans – nothing like this can ever be truly static or definitive – that readers can use as shortcuts while I hash out more specific recommendations on a case-by-case basis.

I’m starting with one of my favorite things about Scotland: The natural beauty! Read on one and all. Nature lovers – this one’s for you.

The Hermitage in Perthshire

When I stumbled on The Hermitage in 2011, I was already in love with Perthshire’s heavily-forested interior. Within walking distance of magical Dunkeld, The Hermitage sits on the banks of the River Braan in the Craigvinean Forest, a woodland with soaring Douglas Fir trees that reach heights near 200 feet.

The maintained yet unobtrusive path winds through the wood, over mossy stone bridges, past Georgian follies and the fascinating Ossian’s Cave, before linking up with a 30-mile network of 18th-century paths leading to various parts of Dunkeld. This area suits both those who want a quick dip into nature and more serious hikers.

Scotland is a land full of gorgeous walks and hikes, but the walk I took through the Hermitage in early spring reigns as the best in my experience. The woods retains an ancient presence, and the ground cover is agreeably minimal thanks to the high canopy.

Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms National Park

As the A93 pushes westward through the region of Scotland known as Deeside, it runs into an immovable object at the highland village of Braemar: The Cairngorms National Park. There, as the A93 makes a left turn and shoots south toward the rolling hills of Perth and Tayside, an unclassified road pushes further west, deeper into the mountainous Cairngorms, toward a lesson in natural beauty. The Mar Lodge Estate.

The Mar Lodge Estate comprises more than 72,000 acres and four of the five highest peaks in the Cairngorms mountains. These towering mountains and a shock of dense forest crowd around the Linn of Dee, a natural rock gorge that coalesces the broad River Dee into a frothing monster.

Roads and hiking trails press on to high plateau covered by Caledonian pine forest, heathery moorland, and juniper scrub. Serious hikers will find a collection of mountain bothies for shelter. But for the roads, this part of the Cairngorms National Park feels like people have yet to discover it.

Staffa and Fingal’s Cave

Just west of the Isle of Mull lies an island the old Norse called “pillar island.” We call it Staffa, but you have to give credit to the Norse’s penchant for naming things accurately. Staffa rises from the surging sea like so many hexagonal straws clutched in your fist. It is a marvel of geology in the Treshnish archipelago, just a gorgeous boat ride from one of the docks on western Mull.

Grey seals bobbed in the water and lounged on the rocks, while bottlenose dolphins, whales, and scads of seabirds followed our Turus Mara boat. We peered into the dark recess of Fingal’s Cave, a place that has captivated artists for centuries, before disembarking on the tiny island.

As I climbed up the rickety stone-and-iron staircase to the grassy crown of the island, our boat sped off, leaving its passengers with some quiet time on Staffa. This is truly one of Scotland’s “thin spaces,” where something that you can’t quite name hovers within your perceptions.

The Isle of Skye’s Neist Point

The Isle of Skye has no shortage of natural wonders, but one of my all-time favorite places is Neist Point. It might just be Skye’s most westerly point as it lies beyond Dunvegan, past Milovaig, on the western edge of Skye’s northwestern peninsula, Duirinish.

Neist Point is little more than a finger of land jutting into The Minch with an old lighthouse standing on a cliff, but the wind there is otherworldly – the kind of constant, wind-tunnel-esque barrage of air that will loft you into the stratosphere like a kite if your jacket happens to be unzipped. More than one person leaned a few degrees over the cliff’s edge and marveled at the power of the wind to keep them upright. I abstained. Other than gravity and my wife’s displeasure at the prospect of me tumbling into the sea, I’m not one to trust invisible forces.

Neist Point offers perfect views of Skye’s rugged coastline, and, just maybe on a clear day, the Outer Hebrides.


Glencoe is one of Scotland’s most iconic glens for good reason. The A82 delves through this narrow valley beneath towering, snow-capped peaks hung with ice-white streams and grassy mantles. In fact, the drive from Invergarry through Glencoe and along Loch Leven down to Crianlarich is one that shouldn’t be missed. The Grampians and Rannoch Moor posses some of Scotland’s most austere beauty.

The hell of it is the drive always seems like a luge shooting me south toward Glasgow as I rarely stay in this part of Scotland. I will rectify this soon and you should avoid making this error, nature lovers. These west highlands are stunning and, barring Fort William, largely empty.

Hikers and walkers will find this part of Scotland a paradise of opportunities. Check out the great Walk Highlands site for detailed walks.

A year from now or two years from now, will these still be my top five destinations for nature lovers? Only time will tell, and despite all my travels around Scotland I’ve still got a lot left to see.

Karen HornerNo Gravatar March 16, 2017 at 9:32 AM

You mention in one of your posts that you always make your reservations in advance. I am going to Scotland in early September, 2017, just off summer season and hoped to just rent a car and drive around with various destinations in mind but no real time table. Does that sound like I need to revise my plan and set a more definite itinerary? Thanks for your help.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 16, 2017 at 9:56 AM

Hi Karen,

That’s just my travel style. I prefer to not have to worry about logistics while I’m on the trip. Of course I’m sacrificing some spontaneity to do that. You can definitely proceed with your plan so long as you aren’t too picky about where you lay your head at night.

NeysaNo Gravatar March 9, 2017 at 10:08 PM

My sister and i are planning a trip to Scotland this June..
First of all after a bike and hike we will check out the sculptures in Falkirk and thinking to stay in Loch Lamond but wondered if there is an off the beaten path stay you might recommend ?
We have 8 days to spend in the highlands. Will come from Loch Lamond or area…and would like to hit Port Appin, Gelncoe, Skye, Applecross, Torridon, Ullapool, Durness, Tounge (for ancestors:)) then scoot and end in Inverness.
Just not sure how long in each place will give time to hike etc. ?
Any recommendations for accommodation and stops ?
Thanks so much..

RachelNo Gravatar March 10, 2017 at 7:11 AM

I feel obligated to mention that last April I stayed at No.20 Boutique B&B, very close to Loch Lomond. It was amazing and you can see from the TripAdvisor reviews that everyone agrees. I think it is getting very popular though so I would try to book soon, if interested.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 10, 2017 at 7:46 AM

Hi Neysa. You will be visiting some off-the-beaten places with that whole NW corridor. The North Coast 500 is increasing tourism up that way, but it’s still far less than more touristed areas like Skye, the cities, and Inverness. For other out of the way spots consider Ardnamurchan and Moidart, Red Point Beach in Wester Ross, Achiltibuie just northwest of Ullapool, and Handa Island of the west Sutherland coast. I should point out that I offer trip-planning services that might be of use to you.

Cheers, Keith.

Jesse EnglishNo Gravatar December 9, 2016 at 11:45 AM

Dear Keith,
My wife and I are looking to visit Scotland next summer for roughly 8-9 days. Last year we had our honeymoon in a remote Swiss mountain village (Grindelwald). We LOVED it as neither of us are really touristy types, but we love nature (mountains, hiking, etc.).

If we wanted to stay in one place in Scotland for the duration of our vacation (minus day trips here and there) is there a beautiful (preferably off the beaten path) village or area you would recommend?

(From the sounds of it Fort William can get really busy?)

Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 9, 2016 at 11:54 AM

Hi Jesse,

I’ve been to Grindelwald so I know exactly what you mean. Such a beautiful place. Fort William is definitely not the place to go in Scotland. Given what you like, I suggest a town in Wester Ross, a place like Gairloch, for example. Incredibly beautiful there!

Jesse EnglishNo Gravatar December 9, 2016 at 2:30 PM

Thank you so much for your quick reply. I’ll definitely check into these areas 🙂

Danny D.No Gravatar August 5, 2016 at 5:52 AM

Hi Keith,

I was wondering if you had any luck booking any accommodations last minute in your travels in Scotland?

I’m doing a last minute trip to Scotland from London and I want to visit the places you mentioned but I’m having a hard time finding a place to base myself. Any tips or advice you could share?


Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 5, 2016 at 9:07 AM

Hi Danny,

That’s really tough. To be honest with you I never book accommodations last minute, so I have very little experience in that realm. The accommodations I’ve reviewed on this site usually book up months in advance, so I’m afraid you won’t have much luck getting in at the 11th hour. Sometimes people cancel, however, so if you’re really angling for these places you could contact them and ask to be notified in the event of a cancellation.

EllieNo Gravatar February 12, 2016 at 3:15 PM

Hi Keith,

My boyfriend and I are planning to take an 8 day, self-drive vacation to Scotland in September – I am big into historical sites, and he is enjoys the outdoors aspects. We are spending 2 days in Edinburgh, 2 days in Inverness and are debating on the remaining 2 (the last day will be back in Edinburgh). Our choices are the Isle of Skye or Glencoe. He favors Isle of Skye for the scenery, however I have a hesitation with that choice because of the drive time back to Edinburgh. Do you have any advice/suggestions?

Thank you!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 12, 2016 at 4:41 PM

Hi Ellie,

You know, both Skye and Glencoe are worth seeing. I suggest Skye for those last two days. The drive back to Edinburgh is about 5 hours, but it’s a beautiful one, very doable, and you’ll drive right through Glencoe – two birds with one stone!

Have a great trip!

RachelNo Gravatar January 19, 2016 at 2:33 PM

Keith, when planning a 6 day vacation to mostly stay in Edinburgh, is it worth spending a couple nights out west to go see Fingal’s Cave? I was thinking it is but I’ll feel terrible if I drag my husband out there and it’s so-so. It is a journey to make it to Staffa from the mainland.
I just want to see something stunningly beautiful and totally unique, is that too much to ask? 🙂

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 19, 2016 at 4:31 PM

Hi Rachel. Fingal’s Cave and Staffa are stunning. Truly an amazing sight. You can fit it in a 6-night stay. One day would be spent getting to the Isle of Mull. You’d then want another full day on Mull during which you’d sail out to Fingal’s Cave. The following day you could return to Edinburgh. In total, it would take two nights and most of three days to do it.

SharonNo Gravatar June 27, 2015 at 10:12 PM

Hi Keith,

It’s indeed a blessing to have stumbled on your website to read your beautiful experience in the places you had traveled to. As I would be planning a trip to Scotland, could you pls advise in which “order” should I be heading to capture the beautiful landscape & most amicable driving experience to cover within 6 to 7 days these following places Dunkeld -> Loch Lomond, Inverness, Fort william, Skye?
I assume my base should be one day at each location with extra days in Skye?

Look forward to hearing from you 🙂

Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 30, 2015 at 9:16 AM

Hi Sharon,

It makes sense to start from Glasgow and go through Loch Lomond and Fort William en route to Skye. Then head east to Inverness before turning south on the A9 toward Dunkeld.

If you’d like more in-depth help, I offer a consultation service. You can learn more about it here:

DivyaNo Gravatar May 23, 2015 at 2:10 PM

Hi there, Keith. I stumbled upon this page of yours, and this was just what I was looking for. I am from India, and will be in London during early July, with my husband and 15-month-old. I’m looking forward to a very short weekend visit to Scotland and need suggestions for a good accessible (from Edinburgh/Glasgow) “nature”-place in Scotland that I could chose to go. Looking forward to your suggestions.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 25, 2015 at 9:05 PM

Hi Divya,

I recommend the first place in this list. It’s about a 90-minute train ride from Edinburgh.

NicolaNo Gravatar January 14, 2015 at 7:49 PM

I’m planning my 4th trip to Scotland as we speak. I fell in love with it in 2009 as a college student trekking across Europe and I can’t get it out of my blood. This time instead of being a solo hiker I’ll be bringing my husband, 9 month old, and father along with me-I hope to inspire them with the same love I have.

I’m thinking it’ll be a bit different this time around . Do you know of an area that has reasonable / semi easy day hikes that is still beautiful? We have 6 days, we’ll be there in April. Any thoughts on accommodations for families?

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 14, 2015 at 8:24 PM

Hi Nicola,

I really like the hikes around Dunkeld for reasonable day hikes. Perthshire is quite beautiful in that region. As for accommodations for families, I recommend booking ahead where possible. Some accommodations don’t have rooms to fit a small family, or have already booked them by the time travelers show up. Booking ahead is especially important when you need two rooms, as it appears you will.

Have a great trip!

KristieNo Gravatar April 5, 2014 at 4:13 PM

Thanks for the suggestions! I am planning my first trip to Scotland next year and can really use the tips to make my trip great. Can you tell me about how much a room at a b&b usually runs? I will be traveling alone and I want to stay close to the best of nature! Thanks again.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar April 7, 2014 at 7:44 AM

Hi Kristie,

Normally an average B&B room costs about £30/person/night assuming two people are sharing it. As you’ll be traveling solo, as I often do, there is an extra fee for solely occupying a room that could hold two people that varies from place to place. Generally you’ll spend about £40-£50/night on decent accommodation as a solo traveler. Of course there are plenty of cheaper and more expensive options throughout Scotland.

StephanieNo Gravatar November 26, 2013 at 12:29 PM

My son and I are coming in late March and we are terrified that the coast guard will not have opened the season for boats to trek out to Staffa- we want to go soooo badly. I knew it already, but I am convinced more than ever that one week is not enough time. We are focusing on the Isle of Skye, with a day trip (waking up early) drive to Glen Coe, with stops along the way for anything that catches our fancy. I am so thankful to have found your blog, the way you write of your experiences is exactly the way our family appreciates and seeks out experiences in nature. I have already found a few of your “best of” lists extremely helpful and am looking forward to perusing more.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 26, 2013 at 12:35 PM

Contact Turus Mara ( and see what they have to say. This is the company that took me out to Staffa, and they did a wonderful job.

Glad to help!

Pam WoodsNo Gravatar October 11, 2013 at 9:16 AM

Very useful blog for nature lovers coming to Scotland. Fantastic wildlife also in the SW, with a gentler feel. You will have to visit us here in Dumfries & Galloway, Ayrshire & Arran.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar October 11, 2013 at 9:41 AM

Hi Pam! I definitely need to spend more time in Dumfries & Galloway and Ayrshire. I love Arran and need little excuse to go back.

Tina Somberg-BuiksNo Gravatar April 7, 2014 at 1:32 AM

Hi Pam,
I fully agree! It’s such a lovely area and quiet. We visited last year and last year and felt at home and so welcome.

JenNo Gravatar October 10, 2013 at 11:22 PM

Just found your blog and am enjoying reading it. I have yet to make it to Scotland, but it’s definitely on my list. Thanks for the post!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar October 11, 2013 at 8:29 AM

Hi Jen, welcome! There’s a wealth of information here for planning your trip to Scotland. Let me know if I can help in any way.

Tina Somberg-BuiksNo Gravatar October 9, 2013 at 10:01 AM

You certainly chose 5 of the most beautiful places in Scotland. If you are visiting Lewis in the future, perhaps the north point of the island is one to add! It’s awsome and so quiet!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar October 9, 2013 at 10:02 AM

The Outer Hebrides are on my travel wish list. Perhaps next year!

HoggaNo Gravatar October 8, 2013 at 4:15 PM

so beautiful

Keith SavageNo Gravatar October 9, 2013 at 10:06 AM

Have you been to Scotland?

RebeccaNo Gravatar October 8, 2013 at 3:03 PM

I have spent a bit of time in Scotland and would put it up there as one beautiful nature loving place… thats before even seeing these magical looking places. Great article thanks! You inspire the idea of returning back to Scotland again

Keith SavageNo Gravatar October 8, 2013 at 3:36 PM

It’s true that just about everywhere you turn in Scotland is a beautiful vista.

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