Scotland’s major cities: 7 places to visit

Most people know of Scotland from the two major cities: Glasgow and Edinburgh. But there’s actually some other cities that are well worth exploring if you want to see another side to the country.

I’ve been to all of these cities over my years growing up in Scotland and also as and adult too. It’s amazing to see how they’ve changed over the years – one wasn’t even a city until very recently!

I hope you find this post helpful when planning your Scotland trip.

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How many cities are in Scotland?

Scotland has 7 cities through the whole country:

  • Edinburgh
  • Glasgow
  • Stirling
  • Inverness
  • Dundee
  • Aberdeen
  • Dunfermline

A note from the writer: Hey! I’m Kirsty and I’m a UK travel expert – while I grew up in Scotland, as an adult I now return to visit almost every year – there’s so much to see! Shout (or comment below) if you have any questions about your next trip and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

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street in old town of Edinburgh as part of a one day itinerary


The capital city of Scotland is Edinburgh and it’s where many tourists start their Scotland explorations.

Edinburgh has history everywhere you look from the Old Town that has tall tenement buildings crowded around you to the New Town with spacious Georgian architecture. The difference is quite striking.

You can explore castles, palaces, gruesome history or more palatial royal yachts. The Royal Mile is a great place to start, although I’ll warn you that it can be quite busy with tourists!

Whether you only have one day in Edinburgh or a lot longer, it’s a fantastic introduction to the country and will have you clamouring for more.

Edinburgh is well connected to almost everywhere in Scotland. You can get around without a car quite well from here using trains, ferries and even planes. Glasgow is only around 1 hour away by train so you’ll be able to enjoy the next city on the list!

Kelvingrove art gallery in city of Glasgow in Scotland


Glasgow is a much bigger city than Edinburgh, which is quite compact in comparison. Glasgow feels a lot more industrial, raw and in some ways more Scottish. Edinburgh definitely attracts almost every tourist where Glasgow has distinctly less.

That doesn’t mean Glasgow isn’t worth visiting – it absolutely is and if you can I highly recommend it.

You have some amazing Scottish landmarks such as the Kelvingrove art museum which houses some fantastic Scottish art and cultural artefacts. The Charles Rennie Mackintosh exhibitions are great if you’re a fan of the art deco style. And if you’re a fan of shopping you won’t be dissappointed – Glasgow is excellent for that!

Glasgow, like Edinburgh, is well placed to explore the rest of Scotland and especially the many lochs and islands on the west coast. Trains, buses and ferries will get you almost everywhere from Glasgow.

Stirling castle on a hill


This is the city that I’d spend many a weekend in growing up. It’s not a huge city but has a number of things going for it and plenty to attract tourists to.

The main attraction has to be Stirling Castle which dominates the skyline and dates back to ancient times, although the building isn’t quite that old! It was a childhood home of Mary, Queen of Scots so definitely one to add if you’re interested in her life.

If history is your thing then don’t miss the Battle of Bannockburn site and also Wallace Monument – both slightly outside the city but any fan of Scottish history, or at least the film Braveheart should definitely visit.

Stirling is very much on the edge of the Highlands and a great place to jump off and explore. You can see amazing views of the Ochil hills from the city which give a tantalising glimpse into what Scotland can offer in terms of the outdoors!

River Ness and Inverness skyline


Inverness is the capital city of the Highlands, not hard when most places in the north of the country are a little bit on the small side! Inverness itself is a small city but has plenty of things to do and is a great base to explore.

The city itself is easily walkable with gorgeous views along the River Ness – make sure to check out the quirky bookshop in the city, Leakeys’ Bookshop. It’s a wonder inside and a perfect place to while away some hours.

If you’re wondering what you can do around Inverness here are some things that are just outside the city – take a trip on a boat towards Loch Ness, explore the Black Isle and see dolphins, or maybe get lost in the history of Clava Cairns and Culloden.

Inverness is easily reached by train from other parts of Scotland or even by car along the A9 road. It’s a jumping off point for many to explore the NC500 – the North Coast 500 – road which takes you to the far north and west of the country.

RRS Discovery ship in Dundee


Dundee is a city that many overlook since it’s a) on the east coast and b) not that famous compared to other Scottish cities.

It’s actually been designated a UNESCO city of design, the UK’s only one, and it’s due to the cities contributions over the years in discoveries, inventions and culture. Pretty special really!

There’s a lot to do if you enjoy museums here with the RRS Discovery, V&A Dundee and science museums (to name just a few!)

Mercat cross in Aberdeen city centre, Scotland


Aberdeen is known as Scotland’s Granite City because the buildings here are mainly made out of the stone. Unfortunately, even though granite is very hard wearing, it’s pretty grey so Aberdeen also has the reputation of being a bit dull, at least to look at!

Situated on the east coast, Aberdeen gets its wealth from the many North Sea Oil rigs off shore and as such the population can rise and fall from many workers coming and going.

Don’t miss the old town where you’ll see a 15th century cathedral which is Aberdeen’s oldest building and was where the university was founded.

Aberdeen is a great jumping off point to explore the cairngorms and Balmoral, where the King has his summer home. And if castles are your thing there’s a lot to be seen not too far from the city. The east coast also has the plus point of being a midge free part of Scotland!

Dunfermline Abbey and graveyard


Scotland’s newest city, having recently been named as such during the Queen’s Jubilee Celebrations, is a great day trip from the bigger cities being just over the Forth bridges from Edinburgh.

The main attraction is Dunfermline Abbey which is where Scotland’s kings, including Robert the Bruce (Scotland’s hero against the English in the 13th century) are buried (although his heart is apparently in Melrose in the Scottish Borders).

Dunfermline is a quaint place, not huge, and can be explored easily on foot.

If you have time you must visit Culross, just outside the city, a well known Outlander filming location and also a beautiful place to see an old preserved town. We used to go a lot a few years back before it got even more famous!

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Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty Bartholomew is a travel expert and has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for over 10 of those. She loves to help people explore her favourite places in Scotland, England and beyond. She cannot stay away from historical sites.

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