• Stephanie Koetsier

The Top Five Places I Have Visited in Scotland...And The Top Five I Want To Visit After Lockdown

Old time readers and long-time followers of mine will know that I used to work as a tourist advisor for Scotland. You’ll also know that I absolutely loved every minute of it, and had the opportunity to visit some pretty cool places around the country because of it. Now, with the current world situation and the whole lockdown thing in my own country, I’m finding myself really missing being able to go out on these wee adventures. So I figured, why not reminicise and blog about some of my favourite places in Scotland? And, look forward to and plan for the future, when I am once again able to go out and visit these incredible places right on my doorstep? So here they are – my top 5 places I have visited in Scotland, and the top 5 places I want to visit when all this is over!

Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire

Chilling on the cliff edge at Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire

Potentially one of the most dramatic castles in Scotland, the ruined Dunnottar sits on a rocky cliff edge overlooking the Sea. I’ve been quite lucky in that each time I visited it was just about sunset, and that made for an even more spectacular viewing experience. The walk towards the castle is full of uneven dirt paths and long grass, occasionally interrupted by little springs. Quite often the castle is closed to visitors due to high winds, and let me tell you, I’ve been there on a particularly windy day and it was NOT pleasant and I can understand why. That didn’t stop me going right up to the cliff edge, mind you, and chucking my legs over for a wee sit down (I got shouted at A LOT for this later). There’s no fence or barriers around some parts of the castle grounds so you do need to be careful. Yes, it’s amazing and breathtaking to be able to walk right up to the cliff edge and look down to the sharp rocks and smashing waves below but EQUALLY maybe not the safest thing to do.

Culross, Fife

Culross, Fife

On the east coast of Scotland, I was able to visit the wee village of Culross through a work trip. Specifically, I had been sent on an Outlander day trip, as a few scenes had been filmed in the village. Now it’s not hard to see why when you visit – it’s like stepping back in time (woohoo for cliches). For me, it was like walking straight into my greatest Beauty and the Beast fantasy, and you’ll see what I mean by the pictures included above. Yellow buildings, cobblestone streets, wee cafes with bunting strung outside and old metal signs for the local pub that creak in the wind. Any resident of Culross who would listen was told how much I loved their village. You could tell how much they loved hearing that, since everyone that lives there takes a great pride in the place.

We went into and visited the incredible Culross Palace and it’s unlike any castle I have ever visited before. For one, it’s not just bare walls with nothing to see – around every corner and in every crevice, there was some hidden detail, some weird and wonderful little fact to discover. We spent AGES in that castle talking to the incredibly knowledgeable and friendly staff. [The yellow building pictured above.]

Glencoe, Highlands

Myself posing at Glencoe

How could Glencoe NOT make the list? The most famous mountain valley in Scotland, Glencoe has featured as backdrop in many well-known films – Highlander, James Bond, Harry Potter to name just a few. And it’s not hard to see why film scouts would pick it. When you drive to the Three Sisters, or three mountains that are the pinnacle of the valley, it would be easy to believe that YOU were starring in your own dramatic film. When I went it was particularly grey and misty, which only added to the ambience of the place and made the mountains all the more tall and, well, intimidating.

Ness Islands, Inverness

One of the bridges that connects the islands [Note: Not my picture, taken from walkhighlands.co.uk an excellent resource for hillwalkers!]

The Ness Islands in Inverness will always be one of my favourite places in Scotland. They are basically little islands in the River Ness connected by footbridges and completely covered by trees. As you walk through, there’s a random circular stone court type-thing that reminds me of witches (and anyone who knows me knows I’m all about the magic life) and little wooden benches that are completely secluded off the main path and which look out over the river. Quite often as you sit on these benches, looking out across the river and right into the heart of Inverness, you see fishermen standing up to their knees in the fast water catching fish. So many times have I sat on those benches and just watched the world go by whilst listening to the water running down stream.

What’s particularly special about these islands is the fact that they are literally two minutes from the city centre. Plopped right in the centre of the capital of the Highlands is a little forest getaway that you can get lost in. Even better, there are old Gothic-style streetlamps that run throughout them, and they’re all linked up by old Christmas-style fairylights. Very scenic, and inspired many scenes in my own writing! So for that, the Ness Islands will always be a favourite – I just love that, a wee epoch of calmness and serenity in the midst of an otherwise busy and bustling city.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Some photos from our time in Edinburgh!

And lastly – the capital Edinburgh. Now I know what you’re thinking – Edinburgh is about as bog standard Scotland as you can get. The castle features on all the postcards, everyone knows it’s the capital, and if you ask anyone with not much knowledge of geography about Scotland, Edinburgh is probably the only city they’ll have heard of. BUT I didn’t really pick Edinburgh for the city itself, but for the memories I’ve had in it.

I lived in America for two years (from the ages of 11-13) and was fortunate enough to make two incredible friends Apshara and Katie, who I still talk to regularly and consider my closest best friends to this day. Now, one year in particular, both of them studied abroad for a semester in Europe (Apshara in Ireland and Katie in Italy) and so they both came over to Scotland for a visit. OBVIOUSLY I had to take them through to Edinburgh and we had a great time!

We visited the National Museum of Scotland which is still one of my favourite places I’ve ever visited. You can visit for free, and I had always known that Scotland was a country of great inventors – but I hadn’t realised just how much! For a wee tiny country, Scotland sure has contributed a LOT to the world, and the museum shows this in great detail.

We also touched the famous Greyfriar’s Bobby’s nose – a statue of a wee dog that sits outside of the Greyfriar’s pub in Edinburgh. Rumour has it that if you rub Greyfriar’s Bobby’s nose you get good luck, so obviously we all had to go and try and secure some for ourselves. (Greyfriar’s Bobby is an old Scottish story that, summarised, is basically the story of a dog who never leaves his master’s grave after he dies. Makes for one sad, heartbreaking film.)

We also walked up many winding, cobbled streets and felt, again, like we were back in the olden days and I LIVE for that feeling. I love escaping the ordinary and the boring and going to something a little more different. I could see why books such as Jekyll & Hyde were inspired by the cobbled streets of Edinburgh.

And that leads me to my other point – BOOKS. Edinburgh is a UNESCO City of Literature and lays claim to some incredible writers. For a literature graduate/book nerd like me, Edinburgh is a city I could get lost in. I actually need to take another trip back (when all this is done) and take a proper look round all the literary sites!

For one, it’s home to the famous Elephant Cafe where J.K. Rowling sat and wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (we went in the midst of summer so it was HEAVING with people so we couldn’t get in – saw it from the outside though). I saw the Frankenstein pub and I even went to the Writer’s Museum, a tiny, odd wee building hidden down a wee side street. It’s free to enter and is home to exhibits on the famous Scottish writers Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott. Basically, in a nutshell, if you like books Edinburgh is the place to be!

A bonus feature…?: St. Conan’s Kirk, Argyll

St. Conan’s Kirk, Argyll

Hi so I know I said top 5 but I remembered another place that I just HAD to include. Again, this was another gem of a discovery from my time working as a tourist advisor. I had been sent on an all day bus trip as part of my job, and we had been driving for ages down long roads with literally nothing but large expanses of grass and mountains in the distance. I was feeling pretty tired, gross from being on a bus all day and, to be honest, a little bit car sick, when we pulled up at St. Conan’s Kirk.

It’s a wee church at the side of the road that actually surprises you as it just seems to appear out of nowhere. You walk in and it’s beautifully quiet – I remember hearing my footsteps echo on the stone floor as I looked up at the high ceilings. The church looks as though it’s literally about to fall into the water of Loch Awe, as it sits right on a jagged cliff edge. You can see this, as there are grand windows that stretch up to the sky, and the light they draw in illuminates a large stone figure below. It’s a long statue of Robert the Bruce lying as though in a deep sleep (pictured above). They say that underneath it is a genuine bone of Robert the Bruce. Truly, it’s a BREATHTAKING place, as much as that word seems to have lost meaning by its overuse. BREATHTAKING. I was in AWE (at Loch Awe).

Arguably, I’d say St. Conan’s Kirk is the best place I have visited in Scotland so far. Purely because it was so surprising. I had no idea what I was going towards and when I did, I was so incredibly overwhelmed with the peacefulness of the place. Truly, I love that awestruck (man you could use a lot of puns for this place) feeling that just overwhelms you, and St. Conan’s Kirk is one of the few places that has done that to me.

If you walk out of the church to the back you can look out over the water and there’s a large sun dial that has writing going around it (MY AESTHETIC). Genuinely, and overall, it’s an incredibly beautiful site, and, if ever a tourist told me they were going further afield into Argyll, I would always tell them to visit St. Conan’s Kirk if I could.

If you do visit it’s completely free, but they do have a little donations bit and you can buy postcards with St. Conan’s Kirk on them.

Where to next…?

I actually really enjoyed writing this blog post because, in a way, I got to travel without really leaving my house. The situation in the world right now and the current lockdown in my country means, obviously, I cannot leave my home but it’s nice to reminicse on when I could and all the things I actually have done. There are many, many other adventures that didn’t make this Top 5 list, and I’m sure once I’ve posted this I’m going to be kicking myself and remembering other ones that I should have included but never mind (hey St. Conan’s Kirk). Truth is, every adventure I’ve went on around Scotland I’ve loved and I miss being able to go out and travel desperately. But there’s no point thinking like that – this was all blow over soon and I’ll once again be able to go out and travel. And so, that’s why I want to plan! Give myself stuff to look forward to.

There are some INCREDIBLE places I would love to visit in Scotland but never have for a variety of different reasons. Excuses, mainly. Bit harder to get to, chance of getting sea sick (you’ll see what I mean in a moment.) So these next 5, my Top 5 to travel to next, are going to be a bit more ‘out there’. I think if this lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that we’ve got to get out there and explore more and stop making excuses. SO here are my next Top 5 places to visit (and please note, these next few pictures are not mine as, obviously, I have not yet visited):

Fingal’s Cave

Fingal’s Cave[Picture taken from visitscotland.com, Scotland’s tourist board]


I am OBSESSED with mythology and have read so much about Irish warrior Fingal. This cave has long been on my ‘want-to-see’ list but it’s pretty hard to get to – try a few boat trips – and I get incredibly sea sick. BUT I guess I’m just going to have to deal with it now.

Corryvreckan Whirlpool

Corryvreckan Whirlpool[Photo taken from Wikipedia]

Third largest whirlpool in the world, the Corryvreckan is something that I just HAVE to see (though it’ll terrify me). There’s a lot of mythology surrounding the whirlpool as well (do you see a theme with me) and it interestingly once tugged on the boat of none other than George Orwell, who was staying on nearby island Jura. To visit, it’ll be a pretty interesting boat journey – but you only get one life, right?

Ben A’An

Ben A’An[Picture taken from flickr.com]

This is a bit of a shameless post. If I’m honest, I just want to climb this munro (or mountain) because I want to recreate this picture that literally everyone takes. Yeah I know. Sad. But look at those VIEWS!

The North Coast 500

The North Coast 500 route[Picture taken from wikipedia]

Okay this one is kind of cheating because it literally encompasses the whole of the North. Scotland’s answer to America’s Route 66, the North Coast 500 was only named so a couple years back. I remember it being announced because I was working in the tourist office at the time. It was amazing how popular it became, and how quickly. It was actually my FAVOURITE enquiry to answer when people came into the office – I loved getting out a map of Scotland and marking literally every little town or city or village on the route and telling people what they could do in each area. I used to live in Inverness so I know the city pretty well, and our family used to venture up north a lot so I was pretty knowledgeable on the area. Through my job I learnt even more, and with that came a knowledge of all the things and places I had never visited but suddenly HAD to. So yeah, North Coast 500.

Actually, this is the one that I plan on doing as soon as I can out of lockdown. I’ve literally wanted to drive the route for YEARS and stay over in each little village on the way. So, once all this is over, I’m definitely going to put that plan in motion. In fact, I think later on I will sit down and plan out an entire itinerary – give me something to look forward to!

The Merlin Trail

The Merlin Trail[Photo taken from themerlintrail.com]

Again, I’m cheating a bit because, like with the North Coast 500, the Merlin trail encompasses a wide part of Scotland. As I already mentioned, I’m pretty into all things fantasy, magical, mythological. About two years ago, they started marketing what’s known as the ‘Merlin Trail’ but that is definitely lesser known and not as popular as the North Coast 500. However, ya gal here LOVES anything Merlin, and so was taking ALL the leaflets and doing ALL the research on it. For a detailed itinerary of it, go here: http://merlintrail.com/

It starts from the Borders down in the very South of Scotland. Now I’m ashamed to say I have NEVER been to the Scottish Borders. Driven through them, yes, but never stopped to visit. This is even more shameful now as, after doing a family tree research, I found that most of my mum’s ancestors came from there (though she nor any of her family knew that, either!) So yes, it starts in the Borders and makes it’s way up to Glasgow, where I am from, so that’s pretty cool because some of the sites are literally on my doorstep (though I have actually visited them all).

Scotland = An Amazing Country

So there you have it! My Top 5, and my next Top 5! Obviously, I’ve had many great memories in Scotland, too many to list here. It’s been great reminicising for the sake of this post though. Again, I can’t travel just now but it was nice travelling in the mind for a bit. Hopefully, this was all blow over soon and we can get back out there and explore and make the most out of life again. For now, though, I hope you enjoyed reading this post. If anyone has any other suggestions of places to visit in Scotland please let me know – I’m always open to suggestions! It’s truly amazing how very little you actually know about the country you’re born and raised in! My goal, once all this is over, is to change that and never take for granted what’s on my door step again.

I hope you are all doing well during this scary and stressful time. Stay positive, think to the future, stay safe and take care.

Steph x

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