Powder-white beaches, food festivals and amazing cities on your doorstep: Scotland’s top secrets

Just an hour’s flight from London, it’s never been easier to explore Scotland’s romantic highlands, historic cities and jaw-dropping beaches.

For the perfect city break or Highlands holiday, Scotland boasts a wealth of great activities right on your doorstep. 

With fantastic train links from London (or a one hour flight), it’s never been easier to visit Scotland’s famous lochs, islands and cities and enjoy the artisan food and culture in this magical part of the world. 

The lochs

Looking across the calm waters of Loch Awe to the ruins of Kilchurn Castle. Photo from VisitScotland

What could be more idyllic than time spent admiring the scenic lochs? For nature lovers, the miles of emerald green waters are home to rare sea birds, eagles and an abundance of wildlife and with such incredible scenery around every corner it’s no surprise Scotland is a must-visit for 2015. 

Our top 5 lochs

1. Loch Ness
Located in the heart of the Highlands, this legendary loch is home to the mythical Loch Ness Monster known as ‘Nessie’ and is surrounded by stunning woodland and mountains.

2. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
The stunning Trossachs National Park. Photo from VisitScotland

The UK’s largest freshwater expanse offers 720 square miles of stunning walks.

Visitors can spot a huge array of rare birds, flowers, plants and trees and then hit the water for a spot of kayaking, wind surfing or relaxed sailing. You might even see the famed golden eagle.

3. Loch Awe

The longest loch and one of the most picturesque. The ancient St Conan’s Chapel sits on the shore and dates back to 1883. Renowned for salmon fishing, visitors can try their hand at fishing or take a boat charter around the loch. 

4 Loch Maree

The A832 road through Glen Docherty, heading down towards Loch Maree, Highlands of Scotland 620
Looking towards Loch Maree in the Highlands of Scotland. Photo from VisitScotland

With 30 wooded islands to explore this is a perfect place for those wanting to get back to nature.   

5 Loch Morar

The deepest loch in Scotland has salmon and trout fishing and visitors can see red deer, sea eagles and otters.

Scotland’s gourmet scene – foodie trails you’ll love…

A platter of Loch Fyne oysters served from a food outlet at Connect Music Festival, Inveraray Castle, Inveraray 620
A platter of Loch Fyne oysters served at Connect Music Festival, Inveraray Castle. Photo from VisitScotland

Scotland is highly regarded for its artisan produce and there’s never been a better time to experience it than in the Year of Food & Drink Scotland 2015.

There’s a fantastic calendar of gourmet events from the buzzing food and drink festivals in Paisley, Loch Fyne or Dumfries to the food and music festivals in Montrose and Orkney and the scrumptious sounding Cake Fest in Edinburgh.

The North Highlands Children’s Food Festival is also tipped as a great family day out.

Arbroath smokies being prepared by Iain R Spink on the beach at Auchmithie 620
Arbroath smokies being prepared by Iain R Spink on the beach at Auchmithie. Photo from VisitScotland

For a taste of traditional Scotland, head to the family-run smokehouses of Iain Spink’s Original Smokies in the charming fishing town of Arbroath. 

The Scottish delicacy (made from haddock smoked over smouldering oak chips) can be found year-round at farmers’ markets in Kirkcaldy, Fife and Dunfermline.

For a loch-to-plate dining experience, head to Loch Fyne Oyster Bar. Photo from VisitScotland

For those looking to enjoy spellbinding scenery and a true loch-to-plate experience, Loch Fyne Oyster Bar is a must-visit.

Frequented by politicians, celebrities and royalty, this restaurant serves oysters, scallops and the day’s freshest catch overlooking the crystal clear waters.

Chocolate lovers – A very sweet treat 

Haggis chocolate. Visit Scotland
The Scottish Chocolate trail uncovers unusual flavours. Photo from VisitScotland

Scotland produces the finest chocolate, so why not head out on the Scottish Chocolate Trail? Uncover patriotic tartan chocolate by Dumfries & Galloway-based Moniaive Chocolatiers and even haggis-flavoured delights at Edinburgh’s Coco Chocolates.

Malt whisky chocolates by The Tobermory Chocolate Shop can be found on the stunning island of Mull whilst Shetland Fudge comes in a huge range of flavours including Cappuccino and Gin & Lime.

Hand-made bars made with the finest cocoa and fresh Scottish ingredients can be enjoyed at Cocoa Mountain in beautiful and wild Durness and the award-winning Iain Burnett Highland Chocolatier has shops in St Andrews, Edinburgh and Grandtully.

Insider tip: Take a trip to Grandtully on the River Tay and visit The Scottish Chocolate Centre; a 4-star, multimedia visitor attraction where you can watch the chocolatiers in action.

Whisky Trails – Highlands, islands and city tours

The Laphroaig Distillery on the Isle of Islay, Inner Hebrides. 620
The Laphroaig Distillery on the Isle of Islay, Inner Hebrides. Photo from VisitScotland

Synonymous with Scotland, there are an impressive 98 operational malt whisky distilleries to discover. Even visitors on a short city break can indulge in the whisky tradition with the Glenkinchie Distillery  located near Edinburgh and Auchentoshan and Glengyone, both near Glasgow.

For those visiting the country’s best-known whisky region, Speyside, the renowned Malt Whisky Trail is a must. The Glenlivet Distillery (winner of the Best Visitor Attraction Award at the 2013 Scottish Thistle Awards) reveals the art of whisky creation with its behind-the-scenes tour.

Other whisky trail hotspots include the small island of Islay, which is home to eight distilleries including Laphroig. For information on all the above distilleries click here.

The Scottish islands: Europe’s best-kept secret

A family on Hosta Beach or Traigh stir, North Uist, Outer Hebrides 620
A family on Hosta Beach or Traigh stir, North Uist, Outer Hebrides. Photo from VisitScotland

Scotland’s pristine white beaches and jaw-droppingly beautiful islands are some of the best-kept secrets in Europe, if not the world. 

Sea Kayaking with Clearwater Paddling, Isle of Barra, Outer Hebrides. Taking a break on a beach on the Isle of Vatersay
Taking a break on a beach on the Isle of Vatersay. Photo from VisitScotland

From picturesque Shetland, famous for its handmade knitted woollen goods, to the neolithic heritage of Orkney and the spectacular Outer Hebrides it has never been easier to explore.

To make the most of your time, book an island hopping tour and explore this magical coastline.

The American Monument on the Mull of Oa on the Isle of Islay, Inner Hebrides.620
The American Monument on the Mull of Oa on the Isle of Islay, Inner Hebrides. 

Island hopping in Scotland

Fly to Barra in the Outer Hebrides and land on the sand! The ‘terminal’ has unrivalled sea views and serves homemade Scottish scones.

Mull on Scotland’s west coast was made famous in Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre and is renowned for its colourful houses in Tobermory. Watch out for white-tailed sea eagles among the wildlife.

Check out lots of island itineraries here

Great Scottish Train journeys

The Jacobite steam train passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct at the head of Loch Shiel, Lochaber, Highlands of Scotland Picture 620
The Jacobite steam train passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct at the head of Loch Shiel. Photo from Highlands of Scotland

With Edinburgh only just over four hours from London, one of the best ways to explore Scotland is by train. Further north, the Highlands’ lines glide past mist-shrouded mountains, glistening lochs and quaint villages, giving you a wonderful sense of this epic landscape.

The West Highland Line

Widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest steam train journeys and famous as the railway that took Harry Potter to Hogwarts, this route takes you from Fort William to Mallaig on the west coast, passes over the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct and enjoys breathtaking views of Loch Shiel, Loch Eilt and the highest mountain in the British Isles, Ben Nevis.

The Far North Line

For an amazing city break adventure visit the historic city of Inverness on the Far North Line. Explore the northern outer limits of Scotland and enjoy four hours of incredible scenery.

And for a once in a lifetime trip…

The Royal Scotsman

Experience the romance of a forgotten age on this ultra exclusive steam train. Departing from Edinburgh, set off in luxury to discover ancient castles, glorious gardens and famous distilleries.

Expect only fine dining and five-star hospitality as you are whisked around the country.