Seven Scottish walks for history lovers

From seeking out Queen Victoria’s cairns around Balmoral estate to following the trails of whisky smugglers in a remote glen, discover the country’s history and heritage on these seven walks, hikes and ambles.

A trip exploring Scotland's historic sightseeing destinations rewards with beautiful landscapes.

Photograph by Visit Scotland
Published 1 Mar 2022, 10:00 GMT

1. Walk in the footsteps of the Stuarts around Falkland Palace

One of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Scotland, Falkland Palace was adored by Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s the result of the vision of James IV and his son James V who, in the early 16th century, transformed an older castle into a ‘pleasure palace’ to pursue falconry and hunting in the Fife forests. Explore the renovated royal apartments and Chapel Royal to follow in their footsteps, admiring the intricate wood panelling, painted ceilings and carved furniture. Then, stroll the estate to discover an ancient orchard, wildflower meadows, a living willow tree labyrinth, formal gardens and the world’s oldest-surviving real tennis (the original racquet sport from which the modern game is derived) courts. 

2. Learn about Scotland’s seafaring heritage along the Fife Coastal Path

Skirt the coastal waters of the Kingdom of Fife, where some of the world’s best seafood and fish are landed, taking in villages and harbours that join the sea. Starting from the seaside resort of Elie, reach Anstruther, the largest in a string of historic fishing villages along the East Neuk. Here, head to the Scottish Fisheries Museum, where you can learn all about how fisheries have become central to the lives of so many Scots, and try fish and chips from the award-winning Anstruther Fish Bar. Then on to Crail, another pretty, old-fashioned fishing village with cobbled streets, red-roofed buildings and a little hut selling fresh crab and lobster.

When in St Andrews, make sure to visit the extensive ruins of St Andrews Cathedral, once the largest in Scotland.

Photograph by Visit Scotland

3. Stroll around the medieval town of St Andrews

The university town of St Andrews is home to one of the world’s best and most breathtaking golf courses, the Old Course; a day spent here takes in history, sport and spectacular natural scenery. Wander the streets and shops around the old centre and visit St Andrews Castle, which housed the bishops, and the extensive ruins of St Andrews Cathedral, once the largest in Scotland. Its grounds are also home to St Rule’s Tower, and if you’re not too puffed out, climb its many steps for a panoramic view of the town, harbour and surrounding countryside. Reward yourself with a gelato at Jannettas Gelateria, the town’s pastel-hued ice-cream parlour.

 4. Uncover Scotland’s secrets at Dunnottar Castle

Spectacularly located on top of 160ft of rock along the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail, Dunnottar Castle is surrounded on three sides by sheer cliffs and the thrashing North Sea. This castle saw bloody battles and brutal enmity between Scotland and England: it was here that the crown jewels were hidden from Oliver Cromwell, and it was here that William Wallace celebrated his victory. Starting from the town of Stonehaven, take a walk to and around the ruins, then, four miles away, in the village of Catterline, rest at the Creel Inn, a pub and seafood restaurant. Stay at the nearby Fife Arms, a stunning historic inn in the village of Braemar.

Visit the ruins of Dunnottar Castle, once an impregnable fortress of the Earls Marischal, one of the most powerful families in Scotland.

Photograph by Visit Scotland

5. Discover landscapes favoured by the Royal Family at the Balmoral estate

When the Royal Family is not in residence, visitors can explore the Balmoral estate, renowned as one of the Queen’s favourite places. Walk through the woodland and seek out the eleven commemorative cairns along the Balmoral Cairns Walk, which also affords fantastic views over the surrounding Deeside area and Balmoral Castle. Many of these stone monoliths were erected by Queen Victoria, and to continue in her footsteps travellers can take a walk from nearby Braemar to the dramatic Linn of Dee gorge, one of her favourite picnic spots.

6. Follow the trail of whisky smugglers at Glenlivet Distillery

Learn all about what the Scots call ‘the water of life’ at Glenlivet Distillery, tucked inside the remote Livet valley, a major stop on the Malt Whisky Trail. This whisky distillery has operated almost continuously ever since it was founded in 1824, with a history laced with folklore, illicit distillation and smuggling. You can learn all about it, plus the world-renowned single malt Scotch whisky produced here, by booking one of the experiences offered onsite. Then pick up a map from the visitor centre and follow one of three signposted routes through the heart of Scotland’s whisky-making country, once the battleground for distillers and excisemen. Reward yourself with a well-deserved dram.

When the Royal Family is not in residence, visitors are allowed to explore Balmoral estate, one of the Queen's favourite places. 

Photograph by AWL Images

7. Immerse yourself in Scotland’s natural heritage at Cairngorms National Park

The largest national park in the UK, Cairngorms National Park is home to four of the five highest mountains in Britain. It's also where you’ll find one quarter of Scotland’s native forest and one quarter of the UK’s threatened animals, as well as more than half of the surviving Caledonian pinewoods. Take an easy three-mile stroll around the peaceful Loch an Eilein, or, for a challenge, climb Ben Macdui, Scotland’s second highest mountain — the view at the top is worth the effort. There are more than 100 other community paths and trails of varying length and difficulty to explore, as well as a number of clearly marked, short and easy ‘wee walks’.

From some of the UK's highest mountains and moorlands to rivers and lochs, the landscape of Cairngorms National Park is incredibly varied.

Photograph by Getty Images

Plan it

All the destinations featured above and more can be discovered as part of Drumscot Tours’ sample Hikes, Trails and Ambles Tour of Scotland.

The family-owned, Scotland-based tour operator organises bespoke itineraries around Scotland, as well as sample itineraries that can be tailored to suit your requirements. Guests are escorted on the trip by a dedicated driver, who is also ready to assist with day-to-day arrangements. Accommodation is in some of Scotland’s best boutique hotels and B&Bs, country house hotels and historic castles. The minimum tour duration is three nights to allow visitors to get immersed in all that Scotland has to offer. 

For more information, visit drumscot.com

Follow National Geographic Traveller (UK) on social media

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Read More

You might also like

Travel
Hiking in the Scottish Highlands: expert tips on five challenging routes to the peaks
Travel
Uncovering St Lucia's natural wonders, from volcanic spas to storied mountain trails
Travel
What to do in the Lincolnshire Wolds, from country trails to gin tasting
Travel
How to plan a hike along Iceland's epic Fimmvörðuháls trail
Travel
How to spend a weekend on Islay, Scotland's wild whisky isle

Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us

Subscribe

  • Magazines
  • Newsletter
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2021 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved