Only in Scotland: Five Scottish day trips you need to make this summer

Haven’t managed to book a summer staycation yet? Here are some of the dreamiest day trips to take before the summer’s out.

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In Partnership with VisitScotland

From landscapes that stretch for miles, to vibrant cities bursting with things to see and do, despite being right on our doorstep, Scotland can often feel like a different world. Combining one of the UK’s most exciting cultural scenes with breathtaking scenery, diverse cuisine and a warm Scottish welcome, whatever your interests, a trip to Scotland is just what the doctor ordered this summer. 

Whether you’re a seasoned visitor or an absolute beginner – are taking the train for the day, or are coming from further afield and staying for the weekend – Scotland never fails to reveal hidden gems. From spontaneous last-minute trips, to ideas to help curate a dream weekend break, here are the day trips worth putting on your travel bucket list this summer.  

Five Scottish day trip ideas to add to your bucket list ASAP 

 Take a hike 

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Image locator: Glenfinnan Monument Loch Shiel, Highlands (credit: VisitScotland / Paul Tomkins)

The best way to take in Scotland’s famous scenery is on foot. From city summits to mountain peaks and coastal paths, spectacular views abound in Scotland – and after a year of staring at laptop screens, it’s just what our bodies need.

The Glenfinnan Viaduct Trail looks straight out of a storybook, well, because it is. Featuring the majestic railway bridge from the Harry Potter films (selfie sticks at the ready), this 1 to 2 hour walk is 2.5 miles in length and offers views of Loch Shiel and a visit to the Glenfinnan Monument. If you’re after more of a challenge, try the beautiful Southern Upland Way, a coast to coast route which runs for 212 miles from Portpatrick on the west coast to Cockburnspath in the east.  

If you’re a walker who likes to pack in as many sights as possible on your travels, the John Muir Way, meanwhile, takes in some of Central Scotland’s must-sees, including Scotland’s famously picturesque Forth Bridges. And of course, Cairngorms National Park boasts some of the UK’s most spectacular scenery. Twice the size of the lake district, and with five of the UK’s six highest mountains to explore, it’s nature’s very own treasure trove.  

Before you head off, be sure to check out the Scottish Outdoor Access Code for all the info you need on enjoying the country’s great outdoors responsibly. 

Escape the city and head to Cramond Island 

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Image locator: Cramond Island causeway, Edinburgh (credit: VisitScotland / Kenny Lam)

The best thing about Scotland is how swiftly city meets sea. The country is brimming with scenic coastal gems worth visiting, but Cramond Island, connected to the shoreline of Edinburgh, is one of our favourite ways to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Take a stroll along the causeway at low tide to admire all that this fascinating uninhabited island has to offer. With amazing views towards Granton and Leith, Cramond Island is brimming with old ruins and defences from two world wars to explore. Oh, and don’t forget to take a picnic from one of Edinburgh’s amazing street food spots for lunch.  

(Note that it’s crucial you check the tide before you head out, though.) 

Take a day by the coast  

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Image locator: Tobermory, Mull (credit: VisitScotland / John Duncan)

Scotland is home to some of the most picturesque beaches in the UK, whose surrounding towns are as fittingly pretty. From the Highlands to the Scottish Borders, wild swimming to coastal walks, there’s no lovelier way to spend an out of office day (or three) by the sea, especially during Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters.

Topping our summer 2021 wish list is Tobermory, the capital of Mull. Undisputedly one of the prettiest ports in Scotland, its colourful houses and lovely arts and crafts scene make for the perfect spot for a family day out. Head to Café Fish or The Mishnish Hotel for a slap-up seafood lunch.  

If it’s more of a buckets, spades and sun shades affair you’re after, though, Aberdeen beach, winner of the 2021 Scotland beach awards, boasts an art-deco inspired esplanade, 3km of golden coast, and one of the best spots to watch bottlenose dolphins. Add to that, it’s just a short jaunt away from Aberdeen’s incredible selection of restaurants or shops. Hit up Moon Fish Café or Silver Darling for dinner.  

If you’re in East Lothian for the weekend, meanwhile, you’ll be spoilt for choice – with Longniddry Bents, Yellowcraig and Gullane all offering large car parks, toilets and showers to ensure their stunning sands are as accessible as possible.  

 Explore Scotland’s historic castles (AKA fantasy house hunting) 

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Image locator: Stirling Castle, Stirling (credit: VisitScotland / John Duncan)

Scotland is home to many castles, but it’s the ones that are in the heart of its city centres that never fail to take our breath away. Situated in the heart of Central Scotland, Stirling Castle is one of the country’s most historically important buildings, as well as one of its most uniquely fascinating ones. From its Great Hall, to its Great Kitchens, this former residence of Stewart kings and queens is a day trip destination of dreams. (It helps that Stirling’s renowned restaurants are just around the corner. For tasty local produce that all the family will love, try Fletchers in the city centre. Or, for something extra special, Cromlix marries the best of Scottish cuisine with the best of Scottish scenery, and is the perfect way to round off a day out.)  

 See the secrets behind Scotland’s famous whisky  

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Image locator: Johnnie Walker Princes Street, Edinburgh (credit: Diageo)

There are over 130 active whisky distilleries spread across Scotland, which are split into five whisky-producing regions: Campbeltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland and Speyside. Whisky aficionados will know that where a whisky is made can have a huge bearing on its flavour – owing to everything from the source of the water to the presence of peat in the local area. But you don’t have to be a whisky expert (or even a whisky drinker) to enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour of Scotland’s distilleries.  

From Glenfiddich in Speyside, one of the oldest family-owned Scotch whisky distilleries, all the way to Highland Park in Orkney, the country’s most northerly whisky distillerythe history of Scotland’s signature tipple is as fascinating as the way in which it’s made, and well worth spending an afternoon learning about.  

If you’re taking a trip up to Edinburgh soon, be sure to drop into Johnnie Walker Princes Street opening in early September. (Though available for pre-booking now.) Complete with a rooftop cocktail bar – so even those who aren’t so keen on the strong stuff can enjoy a drink or two – and an Explorer’s Bothy offering the most sought-after whiskies from across Scotland, it’ll doubtlessly become an Edinburgh must-see in years to come; so make sure you’re booked in to be among the first to experience it.  

Ready to go? Before you set off on your day trip, 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 also that face coverings are required in Scotland. Find out more practical information around Covid-19 in Scotland here. 

What's top of your 2021 Scottish day trip must-visit list?

Kate McCusker

Kate McCusker is a freelance writer at Marie Claire UK, having joined the team in 2019. She studied fashion journalism at Central Saint Martins, and her byline has also appeared in Dezeen, British Vogue, The Times and woman&home. In no particular order, her big loves are: design, good fiction, bad reality shows and the risible interiors of celebrity houses.