THIS SUMMER

DISCOVER SECRET SCOTLAND

When you think of Scotland you probably think of castles, sheep, kilts and golf but venture a little further and you’ll find white sand beaches, stargazing spots, waterfalls and a thriving indie music scene. We’re going to let you in on some of Scotland’s best-kept secrets. But sssshh, let’s keep this between us…..

Relax on white sand beaches

Scotland is a country with an abundance of charming islands - the Outer Hebrides alone are made up of 119! This makes Scotland an epic island-hopping destination.

@deniscebulec

Stargaze in Europe's darkest town

The small town of Moffat in Dumfries & Galloway is the ultimate stargazing destination. Why? Because Moffat is the first town in Europe to use special street lighting to keep the light pollution as low as possible. Head out on a clear night and lie beneath the stars for hours, enjoying the twinkling effects of the dark sky.

@boundbystarlight

Flip out for dolphin watching

Scotland is one of the best spots in the UK to dolphin-watch. Spy them at Chanonry Point and Merkinch Local Nature Reserve while whale fanatics can observe these majestic creatures in the Isle of Mull and Orkney Isles.

@deniscebulec

Drink the world’s best gin

Scotland is famous for its whisky but it actually has a booming gin industry producing unique spirits infused with rare local ingredients. Isle of Harris Gin, Misty Isle Gin and Glasshouse Scottish Gin were just some of the medallists at the 2018 World Gin Awards. Follow Scotland’s gin map to start tasting. Cheers to that!

@isleofharrisdistillers

Plan your Scotland trip

Island hopping in the Outer Hebrides

Island hopping in Scotland? ‘Hmm I’m not convinced,’ I hear you say. Well we’re here to let you in on Scotland’s best kept secret - the Outer Hebrides.

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This string of 119 islands on the north-west coast of Scotland would have you thinking you were in the Bahamas with their white sand beaches, schools of dolphins and tranquil bays.

Trade in the blue light of your phone for the blue waters of these islands for the ultimate digital detox. We sent two backpacking adventurers to the Outer Hebrides to explore Scotland’s best kept secret. Denis and Jack share their top recommendations for the ultimate Scottish escape.

Day 1: Barra

Do you ever get that intense buzz when you fly over a new destination, anticipating the adventure to come? Flying into Barra takes this to a whole other level – it’s the only place in the world where a plane can land on a beach. And even cooler, the friendly locals will often cheer your landing on! Now that’s what we call a warm welcome.

The island has an incredible community spirit. It’s a place where doors are left unlocked, you pay for shopping with honesty jars and locals will offer to give you a lift. Take the time to get to know them and get the best insider tips.

From Castlebay take the five-minute boat ride out to Kisimul Castle. This isn’t like other castles in Scotland though. Sitting in the middle of the bay surrounded by water, it looks like it’s been dropped from the sky. Completely insta-worthy! It’s also the last medieval castle in the Outer Hebrides and you can climb its three storeys.

There are almost no trees across the rocky terrain and miles of sandy beaches – most of which you’ll have all to yourself. Vatersay island has a beautiful one, only a short bus ride away. Spend the afternoon picnicking on the sand.

Day 2: South Uist and Benbecula

The beach meets the mountains at South Uist and Benbecula. Moorlands, huge gullies and long, flat plains are perfect for strolling about and forgetting about Facebook, selfies or your bank balance.

Check out the long stretches of sandy beach that extend all the way along South Uist’s western coast. In the past, the area was a refuge for pirates and it’s not hard to imagine these rogues capturing ships along the coastline.

We’re also pretty sure South Uist is the only place in the world you’ll expect to see a road sign for ‘Otters Crossing’!

Day 3: North Uist

North Uist looks to be more water than land on a map and driving across this island is one of the most surreal and jaw-dropping experiences you’ll ever have. You’ll feel like you’re actually on top of the water as mountains pass you by!

Berneray’s western and northern coasts are almost entirely sandy beaches and they’re a favourite for a reason - the beaches are simply gobsmacking. So much so that the Thai tourism board actually used pics from Berneray to promote Thailand’s Kai Bae Beach in a case of mistaken identity! Spot the seals who are almost always lolling about.

Locals also recommend Clachan Sands, Hosta and Traigh Udal as some of the most spectacular beaches on the island.

For a bit more adventure, head to Traigh Beasdaire to kitesurf and windsurf or visit the coves on the south coast to spy more wildlife.

Day 4: Isle of Harris

Harris is the island that will make it impossible for you to put your camera down, with beaches that have been voted some of the best in Europe.

Some of its many highlights include Luskentyre Beach, a location you absolutely need to check out for a full dose of Hebridean charm, and Hushinish which has an amazing viewpoint of the Taransay and Scarp islands.

A quirky find not far from here in North Harris is Britain’s most remote tennis court which overlooks the Atlantic ocean.

The east coast feels like a trip to space, with a rocky, crater-pocked landscape. Check out the tiny fishing villages where you can buy locally made produce.

Day 5: Isle of Lewis

If you’ve ever visited Stonehenge and felt a little underwhelmed, then a visit to the Calanais Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis is a definite must! This atmospheric site was most likely an astrological calendar and place of ritual. The stones pre-date Stonehenge by 3,000 years. Plus, there are no queues or entrance fees!

We know you’ll never get sick of beaches so add Traigh Ghearadha to your list. It’ll compete for your all-time favourite.

Day 6: Stornoway

Stornoway is the most populated town in the Hebrides. Wander its narrow, white-house lined streets to the shouts of fisherman in the distance.

Check out the Stornoway Harbour to catch a glimpse of some curious seals and watch local fisherman conduct their daily business. It’s also a great spot for dolphin and whale watching tours. If you’re lucky you’ll also see puffins!

It goes without saying that the Outer Hebrides have incredible seafood and are famous for their whisky-cured and smoked products. Stornoway Smokehouse is a traditional Hebridean family run smokehouse with some of the best local products in the region.

Get more inspiration for your trip to the Outer Hebrides.

Book your trip now with our complete guide to the best hostels in Scotland.

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Glasgow and Edinburgh weekend city break

Glasgow has a buzzy youthful energy with world-famous street art and an unbeatable indie nightlife scene while Edinburgh transports you back in time to the medieval era with its cobblestone lanes, historic castle and Grassmarket.

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The best part? They’re only an hour apart by train so you can easily get back and forth if you want to see both. We sent a backpacking adventurer to discover Glasgow and Edinburgh. Isaac shares some of his recommendations for the ultimate Scottish city break.

Day 1: Glasgow
Glasgow is home to extraordinary street art from world-renowned artists Smug, Rogue One and Klingatron to name a few. Take your time to wander the city and more and more artworks will reveal themselves. Follow the Mural Walk to take in 22 of the best.

The view from the Glasgow Necropolis, a huge Victorian cemetery which overlooks the city from a hilltop, is spectacular. Walking through the headstones and tombs will make you feel like you’re on the set of The Vampire Diaries. Ashton Lane is a must visit for some of Glasgow’s incredible independent coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Situated close to Glasgow University, this blink and you’ll miss it laneway, filled with fairy lights is a local favourite.

Day 2: Glasgow

Singl-end and Glad Café are two of the city’s many incredible coffee shops. Singl-end is always full so go early for their delish homemade breads and pastries and Glad Café also hosts poetry, film and music nights showcasing local artists.

Take your time to wander through the off-beat and unusual shops in Hillhead and Trongate for some not so obvious souvenirs.

Glasgow is well-known for its music scene and you should check out The Barrrowland Ballroom and King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, both of which have hosted iconic musicians like David Bowie, Oasis, Radiohead and the Libertines before they were famous.

Day 1: Edinburgh

With its turreted skyline, cobblestone streets and extraordinary castle, Edinburgh showcases a thriving medieval city. Coupled with incredible nightlife, an unbeatable arts scene and striking views, Edinburgh will make you want to swipe right.

You’ll definitely want to tick off Edinburgh’s historical icons by getting lost in the heritage and history of The Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle and the Grassmarket but it’s Edinburgh’s spooky side that is often overlooked.

A tour of Mary King’s Close and Blair Street underground vaults will take you through the warren of streets and tunnels under the city, showing you a hidden side. Hear the stories of the people who used to live in these claustrophobic spaces. It’s hard not to believe the stories of apparitions and ghosts once you’re inside these dark passages.

Spend the afternoon in Fruitmarket Gallery, a contemporary art gallery with a café and bookshop that hosts events and talks for the community.

Climbing the Scott Monument is well worth the effort and the small admission fee for spectacular views. The experience of squeezing up the spiral staircase is also an adventure.

Day 2: Edinburgh

For the Harry Potter lovers (so, everyone), Edinburgh is scattered with places that inspired the novels including Greyfriars Kirkyard and George Heriot’s School, both visible from The Elephant House café where all the magic started.

Stockbridge is one of Edinburgh’s swankiest neighbourhoods – check out their charity shops for incredible finds at a steal and their great farmers' market. Also check out West Bow’s Victoria Street with tall, colourful buildings which are totally insta-worthy while Cockburn Street has more picturesque views of the Old Town.

Spend the afternoon strolling along the pretty Water of Leith walkway from Leith to Stockbridge, passing bridges, waterfalls and historic buildings, ending in the Royal Botanic Gardens or Museum of Modern Art.

Badger & Co and Press Coffee both have great coffee while Mary’s Milk Bar is famous for its indulgent ice cream. Edinburgh has also amazing seafood – make sure to try the local produce at Fisher's.

Get more inspiration for your trip to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Book your trip now with our complete guide to the best hostels in Scotland.

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Castles, cliffs and stargazing in southern Scotland

Southern Scotland’s dramatic castle ruins and jaw-dropping coastlines are an incredible escape for anyone wanting to go off the grid and get back to nature.

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It has all the charm of the Scottish Highlands but with only a quarter of the crowds. Photographers, explorers and history fans will all fall for the region. We sent Amelia, a backpacking adventurer to discover southern Scotland’s secrets. These are some of her top recommendations for the ultimate Scottish escape.

Day 1: Ayrshire

Just an hour from Glasgow, start your southern Scotland adventure in the seaside resort town of Ayr with its popular Racecourse Sunday market.

Then get your history buff on and check out Culzean Castle, set in an extraordinary estate with epic gardens and views to the island mound of Ailsa Craig. But this is no ordinary castle. Beneath the foundations are spooky caves carved into rock which were likely to have been used by smugglers. Exploring down here will give you the shivers, but in all the right ways.

Days 2 and 3: Dumfries & Galloway

Galloway Forest Park is 300 square miles of pure wilderness. You could get lost in here for days exploring the mountains, lochs and rivers.

The coolest part of Scotland’s largest forest park however happens when the sun goes down. As one of the darkest places in Scotland it’s a spectacular location to stargaze. Visit the Dark Sky Park at night to see a completely clear, undisrupted view of the Milky Way. If you live in a city you’ve probably never seen the sky like this. It’s a must-do!

Tropical gardens in Scotland? Sounds like a contradiction but thanks to the unique positioning and warm air from the gulf stream, Logan Botanic Gardens are the only sub-tropical gardens in Scotland. Be sure to check out the glasshouse for vividly coloured tropical plants.

The Book Shop in Wigtown is crammed with more books than any other shop in Scotland. Its long corridors, sloping ceilings, cosy corners and shelves upon shelves of maps and rare first editions are a haven for book lovers. Be prepared to spend a couple of hours getting lost in your imagination.

Day 3: Caerlaverock, Drumlanrig and Morton castles

Whether it’s their history, the architecture or surroundings, castles are completely captivating.

And southern Scotland is full of them! Take your pick of Caerlaverock, Drumlanrig, and Morton. If you have a drone, then you’ll get some extraordinary pics of these beauties.

Caerlaverock is a unique triangular fortress from Scotland’s medieval era with a twin-towered gatehouse and moat while Drumlanrig is one of the grandest castles in Scotland with magnificent staircases, opulent furnishings and a 90,000 acre estate. Morton Castle is a ruin and surrounded by a moat, a completely spectacular relic.

Day 4: Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve and Jedburgh Abbey

Nature lovers can’t miss out on Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve and its stunning two-hour hike leading to the UK’s fifth highest waterfall.

Afterwards visit Jedburgh Abbey, which was built in 1100 and is a stunning Gothic structure with a herb garden and cloister you can explore. Get the best pic of the ruins from the Abbey Bridge.

Day 5: Scottish Borders Foodie trail

The Scottish Borders are foodie heaven with amazing farmers' markets, local producers and distilleries to explore. Wear something stretchy today!

One of the coolest ways to explore the scenery and eat at the same time is to pick your own produce. This area produces incredible strawberries, cherries and gooseberries. Pop into Border Berries, a third-generation fruit farm, which has fields of strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants and stock up for your trip.

Scotland produces some of the finest gin in the world and many boutique distilleries offer tours. Lilliard Ginnery, which produces small batch gin using ingredients from the local area even hosts a gin school where you can learn to distil and create your own gin. Cheers to that!

Cocoa Black Chocolate Boutique runs classes in everything from make your own chocolate truffles to macarons. If you're more inclined to just enjoy the goods, their cafe and shop sells every sweet, sticky delicious thing imaginable. Think Ghana milk, spiced ganache, olive oil and whisky orange truffles. I'll have one of everything please!

This is just a taste of the amazing food you can taste. Get more inspo with the Scotland Foodie Trails Guide.

Day 6: St Abb's Head National Reserve and Eyemouth

St Abb's Head National Reserve has astonishing dramatic coastal cliffs that will make you run your camera battery flat. There are lots of easy and moderate  hiking trails that take you past lighthouses, lochs, seastacks and rugged landscapes.

After all this adventuring it’s time to chill in Eyemouth, a small coastal town with colourful boats and beach cabins.

Coldingham Bay is great for surfing, rockpool exploring and sunbaking. If you want to get your adrenaline pumping then jump on an Eyemouth Rib Trip Experience to speedboat along the coastline exploring the cliffs and coves.

Book your trip now with our complete guide to the best hostels in Scotland.

Get more inspiration for your trip to Dumfries & Galloway and The Scottish Borders.

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Top travelling tips for Scotland

Tips from Scottish locals

We asked local Scottish bloggers and photographers for their top insider tips. Check out these hidden gems.

SCOTLAND HOSTELS

 Hostels are by far the most affordable way to explore the hidden side of this incredible country. Check out our full guide to Scotland hostels.

Castle Rock Hostel - Edinburgh

9.5 Superb

This lovely and warm hostel is located beside Edinburgh Castle, perfect for experiencing the historic Royal Mile and Grassmarket.

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Durness Smoo Youth Hostel - Durness

8.9 Fabulous

The perfect place to call home while you explore Durness’ wild landscapes. Moorland, mountains, sea cliffs, beaches, and waterfalls are all at your front door.

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Fort William Backpackers - Fort William

8.6 Fabulous

Fort William Backpackers is exceptionally cosy. It has an elegant lounge and real open fireplace.

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Skyewalker Hostel - Portnalong

9.6 Superb

Skyewalker Hostel is an ideal base for exploring the beautiful Isle of Skye with the beach in walking distance, the world famous Talisker distillery just 3 miles away and our chill out glass dome to see the stars.

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Oban Youth Hostel -  Oban

9.7 Superb

Five star Oban Youth Hostel is located right on the seafront, close to the ferry port, with stunning views over the Firth of Lorne and the Inner Hebrides.

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Glasgow Youth Hostel - Glasgow

8.7 Fabulous

Experience Glasgow’s art scene at this Victorian townhouse hostel with both private rooms and dorms located by the nearby Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum.

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