Only in Scotland: Five breathtaking Scottish cities to visit this summer (plus what to do when you get there)

Some of the world’s most spectacular sights are just a train ride away. Here’s what’s on our city break bucket list this summer.

In Partnership with VisitScotland

It just wouldn’t be summer without a city break. Art galleries, shopping, sitting on a cafe terrace and watching the world pass by, and this summer is the perfect opportunity to discover (and discover anew) the amazing cities right on our doorstep.

From mind-blowing scenery to buzzy bars, restaurants, galleries and shops, Scotland’s cities have it all. Only in Scotland can you climb an extinct volcano, explore a historic castle and treat yourself to a Michelin star meal all in one day (brownie points if you can guess which city we’re talking about). 

After almost a year of near-constant closure, it’s time to support local businesses and get back to what we do best: eating, drinking and exploring. Thinking of taking a trip? Here are five Scottish cities worth paying a visit to this summer, plus what to do when you get there. 

Five Scottish cities to put on your Summer 2021 bucket list 

Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens (credit: VisitScotland / Kenny Lam)

Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens (credit: VisitScotland / Kenny Lam)

Edinburgh is an enduringly popular choice for city breakers, and it isn’t hard to see why. Even if you’ve visited before, the Scottish capital is a city that never fails to show up new hidden gems – from breath-taking green spaces, to cosy pubs with oodles of charm. 

Places to see 

Renowned for its integration of city life with nature, from the historic old town to the Georgian new town, cities don’t get much more magical than Edinburgh. For museum lovers, the National Museum of Scotland is a must-see; filled with displays covering everything from history to natural heritage, world cultures, design, technology and much more. Of course, there’s also Edinburgh Castle – a non-negotiable for first time visitors that, yes, really is as good as everyone tells you it is. (Get there early, though, if you want to avoid the crowds.) Art lovers, meanwhile, will want to head straight to the Scottish National Gallery, The Fruitmarket Gallery (a haven for lovers of contemporary art) and the truly impressive City Art Centre

And no, before you ask, it wouldn’t be a trip to Edinburgh without a hike up Arthur’s Seat. Promising incredible panoramic views across the entire city (and even as far as The Kingdom of Fife) this is one view that simply can’t be replicated on Instagram, so go and see it for yourself ASAP. Scotland’s rich cultural heritage also makes it the perfect place to soak up the atmosphere at a live event.  With events beginning to restart across the country, like the renowned Edinburgh Festivals in August,  it’s yet another reason to start planning your trip!  

Places to eat & drink 

From fine dining to delicious cheap eats, Edinburgh is a foodie haven. For special occasions, be sure to visit one of the city’s four Michelin star restaurants – decadent diners will also love the Colonnades at the Signet Library or The Dome on bustling George Street. Or for a more casual vibe, hit up one of the many gorgeous restaurants on George IV Bridge or the Royal Mile, or sample some of Scotland’s best fish and chips at The Fishmarket Newhaven. Followed, of course, by a dram of whisky on picture-postcard Victoria Street. 

Glasgow

The view from Queen's Park, Glasgow (credit: Glasgow Life)

The view from Queen’s Park, Glasgow (credit: Glasgow Life)

Home to over 90 parks and gardens, a diverse culinary scene, and some of the best independent shopping in the UK, Glasgow is a city that never fails to impress. A UNESCO City of Music, it’s one of the most creative spots in the UK, too; beloved of artists and art-lovers alike. 

Places to see 

Glasgow is abuzz with creative spaces. A city that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it combines world-class museums and galleries, striking architecture and beautiful parks with signature Glasgow humour. For those who haven’t been, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in the city’s west end is a must-see. Filled with over 8,000 objects covering art, archaeology, and natural history, this beautiful red sandstone building is just as picturesque outside as it is in. 

Art lovers won’t want to miss the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), housed in a stunning neoclassical building in Royal Exchange Square, while the House for an Art Lover, a fitting homage to Charles Rennie Mackintosh, is breathtaking if you have some time to spare. Oh, and don’t forget the Glasgow Botanic Gardens – the prettiest location imaginable for an after dinner stroll. 

Places to eat & drink 

Speaking of dinner, Glasgow is second to none when it comes to diverse, unique dining. For cocktails and some of the best mac and cheese you’ve ever tasted, head to Absurd Bird in the city centre. Or for a little bit of everything, hit up Platform on Argyle Street – Scotland’s largest bar and restaurant housed beneath Glasgow Central Station – which has both a food hall and a micro brewery for beer lovers. We also love The Finnieston for the best of seasonal and sustainable Scottish seafood; while Hanoi Bike Shop is incredible for Vietnamese food served under the stars. And before you go thinking we’ve forgotten you vegans, there are plenty of amazing options for you, too. The city centre is home to some of the best veggie and vegan spots in the UK; like The 13th Note Cafe, which also happens to be open from midday to midnight seven days a week. 

Aberdeen

Aberdeen beach with South Breakwater Lighthouse in the distance (credit: VisitScotland/ Kenny Lam)

Aberdeen beach with South Breakwater Lighthouse in the distance (credit: VisitScotland/ Kenny Lam)

Aberdeen is where harbour meets city centre. Think: dolphins on your doorstep, sparkly granite buildings, and one of the UK’s most exceptional art galleries. Combining architecture with ancient charm, Aberdeen makes for the ultimate weekend getaway. (We’ll bet our right arm that you’ll want to stay for much longer, though.) 

Places to see

The Aberdeen Art Gallery is a must – even if visual art isn’t quite your thing. Having recently undergone a once-in-a-lifetime makeover, this stunning Victorian building is home to works by some of Scotland’s best and brightest. (And the rooftop café and terrace ain’t bad, either.) This summer you can catch British Art Show 9 (BAS9) – the Hayward Gallery Touring’s landmark exhibition – while fashion lovers can look forward to Fifty Years of Fabulous, a celebration of Zandra Rhodes, coming later this year. 

Art isn’t just relegated to the gallery in Aberdeen, though. A walk around the city’s NuArt trail is a lovely way to pass an afternoon. Make sure to bring your trainers with you and head along the promenade at Aberdeen Beach and all the way up to the River Don – who knows, in the summer you might even spot some leaping bottlenose dolphins around the harbour mouth and Torry Battery. 

Places to eat & drink 

Foodstory Cafe on Thistle Street, just a short walk from the Aberdeen Art Gallery, does great artisan coffee and delicious lunch (especially veggie and vegan dishes), so if you’re in the area be sure to stop in. It just wouldn’t be a trip to Aberdeen without sampling some of the incredible local catch, either. Our go-tos are the magnificent The Silver Darling on the harbour and Moon Fish Café in the city’s medieval merchant quarter. (Worry not non-seafood eaters. There are plenty of options for you, too.) 

Inverness

Inverness Castle on the River Ness (credit: VisitScotland/ Kenny Lam)

Inverness Castle on the River Ness (credit: VisitScotland/ Kenny Lam)

Compact and cosmopolitan, Inverness combines a whole lot of heart with the wonders of the Highlands right on its doorstep. Add to that the city’s flourishing culinary scene, charming city centre (hello, Inverness Castle and St Andrew’s Cathedral), and an unmissable outdoor summer festival, and you’ll find that this little city packs a cultural punch. 

Places to see 

Topping our Inverness bucket list is outdoor summer festival Under Canvas at Eden Court, next to the breathtaking banks of the River Ness. Running from now until 30 September, it’s a field day for live music lovers; with performance and DJ offered alongside delicious pizzas, local beers, gins and whisky. 

And of course, a trip to Inverness wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the world famous Loch Ness. Containing the largest volume of freshwater in the British Isles (that’s more than all the lakes in England and Wales combined), take a loch cruise or explore the ruined Urquhart Castle for a city break that won’t soon be forgotten

Places to eat & drink 

Inverness’s food scene is eclectic, offering everything from the best of Scottish cuisine cooked in a converted church, to luscious beer gardens and a cafe and bike shop combo to remember. For a truly authentic Highland pub experience, visit MacGregor’s Bar. Offering the very best of Scottish craft brewing and distilling alongside an incredible menu of local and seasonal dishes, it wouldn’t be a trip to Inverness without it. Veggies, meanwhile, will love the Velocity Café – a social enterprise that prioritises the community as much as it does delicious coffee and wholesome vegetarian dishes. 

Dundee

Caird Hall in the City Square, Dundee (credit: VisitScotland/ Kenny Lam)

Caird Hall in the City Square, Dundee (credit: VisitScotland/ Kenny Lam)

Not only is Dundee Scotland’s sunniest city (so feel free to leave your rain ponchos at home) it’s also the country’s coolest little city. A UNESCO City of Design, and home to the only V&A outside of London, Dundee is quickly becoming one of the country’s most exciting hot spots, and it isn’t hard to see why. 

Places to see

Yes, the V&A Dundee is worth the hype. The first museum of its kind outside of London, exhibits span everything from fashion and engineering to video game design. The building – designed by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma – is a work of art in its own right, and well worth spending a couple of hours marvelling at. Just a short walk away is the Verdant Works, which gives a fascinating insight into the history of Dundee’s industrial textile heritage and is also well worth a stop-over. Family city breakers will also love Dundee Science Centre, which has just reopened following a major refurbishment. And if you’re after some light relief following that, be sure to embrace your inner Tarzan as you take on the obstacles at Wildshore Dundee. It’s tons of fun, we promise. 

Places to eat & drink 

Dundee’s culinary scene is just as creative as its cultural one. Take, for example, Gallery 48 in the bustling Westport quarter – the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail, try some tapas and browse some of the city’s impeccable art all at once. Dundee is next to none when it comes to a good night out, and the bar scene is incredible. Some of our all-time favourites include cocktail bar The King of Islington, quirky speak-easy Draffens, and cosy bar-meets-restaurant-meets-ceilidh-hall Forgans in nearby Broughty Ferry. 

Ready to go? Before you set off on your city break, please ensure to check the latest government guidelines and always plan and book ahead.  Travel responsibly and where you can, choose to support local, independent businesses. We’ll bet that they’re just as excited to see you as you are to see them.  Please note, face coverings are required in Scotland. Find out more practical information around Covid-19 in Scotland here.

Happy holidays!

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