Your Ultimate Scotland Bucket List

Highland cow on Arran Island, Scotland

I’ve lived in Scotland for a year now. In that time I’ve bagged a Munro, tasted a tattie scone, and worked out in the gym next to Jamie Fraser from Outlander. (Definitely the highlight of my year). 

While I still sometimes struggle to understand the Glaswegian patter, my knowledge of all things Scotland has grown more than a wee bit. And now I want to pass my love of my adopted country on to you. 

This list was first written for my sister. She recently flew over to Scotland and we set off for an epic road trip from Glasgow to the Scottish Highlands. As it was her first time in the country, I sought to educate her on the full Scottish experience. 

I set out to make The List. 

The List would be filled with unmissable Scottish experiences. From haggis, neeps and tatties to Irn Bru, taps aff to Loch Ness, The List would be my gift to her. A first-timer’s guide to Scotland. A checklist of all the things she should seek to eat, do and see on her trip. And now I’m passing it on to you. (Because you’re basically like my sister, too). 

So if you’re heading to Scotland and looking for the ultimate Scottish experience, this is it. The List of 12 things you must do in Scotland is for you. Aye, go on, get into it!

12 Things You Must Do In Scotland

1. Haggis, Neeps and Tatties

As one of Scotland’s national dishes, haggis should absolutely be on your Scotland bucket list. While it can look a little unappealing, nothing gets more Scottish than haggis. 

Traditionally served with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes), haggis is a crumbly kind of meat pudding made from offal, oats, onion and spices. And honestly, I’ve over ever had vegetarian haggis (sans sheep stomach), but it was pretty damn good. 

Scots will traditionally eat haggis on Burns Night, but you can find it at any good Scottish restaurant. For great haggis in Glasgow head to Ardnamurchan Scottish Restaurant & Bar. This cosy country food restaurant has great food, excellent service and a good whisky menu too. 

2. Go Nessie Hunting at Loch Ness

Would your trip to Scotland be complete without visiting Loch Ness to hunt for one of the world’s most famous monsters?

Located near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, Loch Ness is a beautiful freshwater loch (Scottish lake) complete with dramatic scenery, castles, oh, and a monster. Tales of Nessie have circulated the world since the first photo of this Scottish water creature emerged in 1933. Almost a century later there’s been over 1000 eye-witness accounts, sightings and unexplained evidence… yet no concrete proof that Nessie actually lurks beneath the depths.

Still, if you fancy a spot of Nessie hunting, a great way to do it is with a cruise with Loch Ness by Jacobite. This fun, informative tour takes you over the lake to Urquhart Castle where you can disembark and explore for 1-2 hours. A great day out is guaranteed, even if a Nessie sighting isn’t.

Girl Looking at Loch Ness Inverness
Urquhart Castle Inverness

Read More: Top 10 Things To Do In Inverness

3. Go ‘Taps Aff’ (Anytime the Temperature Goes Above 15°C)

While 15°C would be a mild winters day in New Zealand, in Glasgow the mercury hitting 15°C means one thing; taps aff.

Having lived in Scotland for a year, and having experienced the gloominess of a Glaswegian winter, I now kinda get it. 15°C is, in fact, a warm day in Scotland. 

To celebrate this rare weather phenomenon, Scots will immediately strip down to the waist, effectively soaking in a year’s worth of Vitamin D. Parks, public walkways and even shopping malls will be filled with half naked Scots having a good time. Taps aff is definitely a Scottish cultural experience, and is one not to be missed (if the temperature ever hits 15°C).

4. Tattie Scones

In the country’s long history, Scotland has invented some pretty cool things. From TV and refrigerators to chicken tikka masala and penicillin, this wee country has changed the world as we know it. 

Scotland’s best invention, though? Tattie scones.

A breakfast food usually accompanied by a proper fry up, tattie scones are delicious at any time of the day. These flatbreads are made with potatoes and flour, and are best served hot with a good dash of butter. 

5. Bag a Munro

A land of beautiful landscapes, mountains, and forests. Endless hill walks, grassy moors and caves to explore. I’m talking about New Zealand, but Scotland is up there too.

Despite their similar appearances and (almost) equal natural beauty, Scotland has one thing New Zealand doesn’t; Munros.

Munros are classified as Scottish mountains that are over 3000 ft high. There are 282 Munros in Scotland, and bagging at least one of them should be on your Scotland bucket list. The highest Munro in Scotland is Ben Nevis. At 4411 ft Ben Nevis can be a challenging climb, though there are other, lower peaks that are arguably even tougher. Another popular Munro is Ben Lomond in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park.

Read More: Top 5 Glasgow Day Hikes

6. Fish & Chips With Vinegar (or Curry Sauce/Brown Sauce)

Let’s be honest, New Zealand has pretty great fish and chips. We even have a song about it sung by children in primary schools nationwide. Seriously (*actual lyrics from the iconic kiwi song Fish and Chips):

Fish and chips

Fish and chips

Makes me want to lick my lips

I eat them for breakfast lunch and tea

Fish and chips are for me!

I literally sang that as I typed.

Anyway, in New Zealand fish and chips are traditionally served with tomato sauce, another kiwi icon. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, you might even get some aioli.

So for the full Scottish experience, then, you’ll need to try your fish and chips another way. I was a little disturbed the first time the lady at my local chippie offered me vinegar with my meal, but it’s actually kinda good. Brown sauce (still don’t know what that is) or curry sauce are also popular Scottish fish and chips accompaniments. 

7. Have a Dram of Whisky

Ooh yes, you knew this was coming, didn’t you? As Scottish as haggis or taps aff, whisky is the country’s national drink, and having a dram (or two) should definitely be on your Scotland bucket list.

Scotch whisky has a history in Scotland stretching over 500 years. With the earliest documented record of whisky distilling in Scotland dating back to 1494, this is one drink with a lot of love, and a lot of history. Today, there are over 120 active distilleries in Scotland, each crafting their own unique whisky.

One of the top ways to experience Scottish whisky (other than ordering it at the pub) is to do a whisky distillery tour. Glen Ord Distillery (just outside of Inverness) do a great tour that gives an in-depth look into the whisky manufacturing process. Plus, you get to taste their 12-year-old Singleton of Glen Ord. Sláinte!

8. Spy a Man in a Kilt

Not in a creepy way, ya’ll.

Seriously though, one of the first things that made me really stop and go huh, I’m in Scotland now, was seeing a kilt-wearing bagpipe player on the streets of Edinburgh. Now, kilt-wearing bagpiping buskers are as commonplace to me as well, the lack of sunshine, but it’s still something unique to Scotland. 

Looking to find a sexy man in a kilt? Two Scots Abroad have a great guide on exactly that. Read on, ladies (or gents).

9. Tunnocks Tea Cakes

For the sweet tooths out there, Scotland has plenty to love. My favourite Scottish sweet treat? Tunnocks Tea Cakes.

Established by (the great) Thomas Tunnock in 1890, Tunnocks Tea Cakes are essentially made of soft marshmallows on a biscuit base coated in milk chocolate. Sounds kinda simple, but I don’t know what it is about them; they’re fricking amazing. I seriously don’t know what I’ll do without Tunnock’s Tea Cakes when my 2-year visa expires and I’m kicked out of the UK.

10. Visit a Scottish Beach

Coming from New Zealand I’m absolutely spoilt when it comes to amazing beaches. Growing up summer holidays were spent at the family beach bach (holiday home), and roadies to various beaches were par for the course.

I was kinda surprised then, to discover that actually, Scotland has amazing beaches too. Seriously; the beaches in Scotland are consistently voted the best in the world.

While you wouldn’t necessarily go for a swim, and it might not be warm enough for sunbathing, you should definitely make sure to check out a beach (or two) while in Scotland. For something close to Edinburgh and Glasgow, West Sands Beach in St Andrews makes for a great day out. Further afield, but worth the trek, Luskentyre Beach and Tolsta Beach on the isles of Lewis and Harris offer dramatic scenery and azure waters.

11. Try Scotland’s Other National Drink… Irn-Bru

Did you know Scotland is the only Western country in the world to have a soft drink that outsells Coca Cola as the number one soft drink? 

Created in 1901 under the name Strachan’s Brew, this fizzy orange concoction is claimed to be the ultimate hangover cure and is loved by Scots nationwide. Just don’t get them started on the Irn-Bru recipe change of 2018.

12. Conquer a Castle

Even if you’re not an Outlander fan, your Scotland trip wouldn’t be complete without indulging in a little Scottish history and exploring a castle or two.

Scotland was once home to over 3000 castles, but today a lot of them lie in ruin or are only known about through historic records. While in the Highlands make sure to check out Cawdor Castle. The fictional home of the Thane of Cawdor in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Cawdor Castle is today occupied by the Dowager Countess Cawdor. Visitors can pay to enter and explore the castle or wander the beautiful gardens outside.

One of Scotland’s most famous castles is Edinburgh Castle. Located in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh Castle dominates the Edinburgh skyline and is a fascinating visit for those interested in Scottish history. Time your visit with the firing of the One O’ Clock Gun. 

Mural of St Enoch and Child, Glasgow

Scotland is a remarkable country. Filled with dramatic landscapes, culture and history and an unusual culinary scene, there’s an endless amount of things to do here. But hey, this list of 12 things you must do in Scotland should be enough to get you started. 

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12 Things You Must Try in Scotland
12 Things You Must Try in Scotland

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