10 Must-Visit Historical Sites in Scotland

It goes without saying that the magnificent country of Scotland is home to some incredible history. From 5,000-year-old standing stones built in the late Neolithic era to an unusual naturally-formed sea cave, and from one of the oldest Scotch whisky distilleries to a striking Italian chapel built by prisoners of war in the 1940s, Scotland really does have something for everyone.

We’ve rounded up 10 of our favourite historic sites, experiences and natural wonders that will give you an authentic taste of the culture, legacy and archaeology of this wild and beautiful destination.

Aberlemno Pictish Stones

The Picts were long considered to be a mysterious people from a dark age, to the extent that erroneous origin myths were created about them in recent centuries. Even though they left behind no surviving documents, the Picts helped lay the foundation of modern Scotland. In the small village of Aberlemno, there are four magnificent Pictish stones, inscribed with symbols.

Visit this site on our In the Footsteps of the Picts tour. 

Fingal's Cave

Boasting unusual hexagonal basalt columns, this incredible cave – also known as the Cave of Melody – is situated on the remote and uninhabited island of Staffa. The symmetry on display here is simply remarkable and the cave’s columns are believed to have been formed as the result of volcanic eruptions over 50 million years ago. The cave was discovered by Sir Joseph Banks in 1772 and composer Felix Mendelssohn famously visited in 1829, which resulted in his fantastic ‘Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave)’.

Visit this site on our Grand Tour of the Inner Hebrides trip.

You can also visit it on our Mull, Staffa and Iona tour. 

Standing Stones of Callanish

Archaeology lovers will enjoy a visit to the 5,000-year-old standing stones located on the west coast of Lewis. Here, a collection of almost 50 stones forms a megalithic avenue, comprising 19 monoliths and ending in a striking circle of 13 stones, with a great cairn marking its centre. The purpose of the stones remains unknown, but one of the most likely reasons for their arrangement may be to do with ancient astronomy.

Visit this site on our Tour of the Outer Hebrides tour. 

Prehistoric and Norse Settlement of Jarlshof

Here, over 3 acres of remains that span 3,000 years since the days of the Stone Age can be observed. Oval-shaped Bronze Age houses, Iron Age brochs and wheel houses, Viking long houses and even medieval farmhouses can be seen in situ here. History buffs will enjoy the array of ancient artefacts on display at the informative visitors’ centre.

Visit this site on our Highlights of Orkney and Shetland tour. 

You can also visit it on the following tours:

Shetland & its Outer Isles, Archaeologist's View of Orkney & Shetland, and Up Helly Aa

Balmoral Castle

The Royal Family’s private home at Balmoral Castle is a true Scottish icon and a visit there is never dull. The centrepiece of Royal Deeside and built for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Balmoral estate covers around 50,000 acres. The ballroom is the only part of the castle that may be accessed by members of the public, but the property’s gardens are truly spectacular.

Visit this site on our Historic Houses of Scotland tour. 

Up Helly Aa

Known for being one of Europe’s biggest fire festivals, Scotland’s Up Helly Aa has been running since 1880. Every year, around a thousand people join a spectacular torchlit procession through the town of Lerwick, which culminates with the dramatic burning of a replica Viking ship. This is Up Helly Aa, the annual winter festival of Shetland, which celebrates the lengthening of the days and the coming of another year, not to mention the chance of a good old knees-up. It’s run by Shetlanders for Shetlanders, but that’s not to say visitors aren’t welcome and the island hospitality will be as warm as ever.

Experience this cultural event on our Up Helly Aa tour. 

Glenfinnan Viaduct

The Glenfinnan Viaduct is one of Scotland’s most iconic sights and taking a train ride across it is a truly memorable experience. You might recognise this imposing 21-arched viaduct from the Harry Potter films, which overlooks both the Jacobite monument and Loch Shiel, and crosses the River Finnan at a height of 100ft.

Take a train over this monument on our Lord of the Glens tour. 

Bowmore Distillery

If you like your whisky, you’ll love this. Home to the oldest Scotch whisky maturation space in the world, the Bowmore Distillery on Islay is also one of the oldest as it first began distilling in 1779. Interestingly, one of the oldest-ever recorded whiskies to be sold at auction was from Bowmore.

Visit the Bowmore Distillery on our Islay and Jura tour. 

Italian Chapel

Perched among stunning countryside in Orkney is a beautiful Italian Chapel, built on the site of a former prisoner of war camp. Several hundred Italians, captured during the North African campaign of World War II, were sent here to work on the Causeways and converted two huts into a chapel. The marvellous paintings that can be admired in its striking interior were done by Domenico Chiocchetti, one of the prisoners who returned several times to restore and repaint parts of the building.

Visit this site on our Highlights of Orkney and Shetland tour. 

Ring of Brodgar

Dating back to 2,500 BC, the stone ring of Brodgar is 104 metres wide and once contained around 60 megaliths. Today, however, only 27 remain. Considered part of the heart of Neolithic Orkney, which earned UNESCO status in 1999, this archaeological site is impressive and the tallest stone to stand here is 4.5 metres.

Visit this site on our Highlights of Orkney and Shetland tour. 


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10 Must-Visit Historical Sites in Scotland was published on 3 May 2019