When it comes to outdoor activities in Scotland, there really is a huge variety, and whether you have a sport of choice or want to try something new, there is an activity for everyone.
When so many of us live our lives inside, either at work or at home, it is nice to spend as much time as we can outside in the fresh air, taking in the surroundings and experiencing new things. In this guide, we aim to outline some of the best things to do outside in Scotland, and where you can do them.
Visit a Scotland national park
There are two national parks in Scotland: The Cairngorms National Park and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Like all the national parks across the globe, these are sacred places of nature and wildlife, preserved by humans to make sure our natural world is looked after.
With mountains, forests, lochs, rivers and waterfalls, there are so many beautiful places to explore. You will find mapped-out walks taking you to wonderful viewpoints, mountains that you can conquer in a day, lochs that are set up with water sports and boat trips, and roads that can be explored by foot, bike or car.
Whether you are looking for organised sport or an escape into the wilderness, there is something for everyone in both national parks. Climbing, horse riding, mountain biking, golfing, hiking, canoeing, sailing, kayaking and paddleboarding are just a handful of some of the Scottish outdoor activities, and you will find local companies eager to take you out on instructed tours and adventures.
For more inspiration, read our helpful guides:
Fort William in the West Highlands is known as the outdoor capital of Scotland, with Scotland’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, being right next to it. Fort William is a welcoming town with a lively buzz about it, run by laid-back locals looking to offer you a great time. You will find equipment hire shops here, outdoor clothing shops and plenty of places to grab a bite to refuel. This is a popular place for walkers, climbers and mountain bikers alike as they all take on the mountain and the other surrounding hills. Ben Nevis takes around four hours to climb, but do not underestimate it, it is a hard climb and the way back down can sometimes take just as long! Read more about the area in our guide to Fort William.
Keep our self-catering cottages in mind when planning a Scottish national park adventure, they offer the perfect base to return to after days out exploring. Plan a family holiday full of outdoor activities in Scotland today!
Loch Lomond cottages - Fort William cottages
Explore on foot and go walking in Scotland
We can’t possibly fit everything about walking in Scotland into a paragraph as there are just so many places which are wonderful to explore on foot, from the rugged west coast with awesome seaside scenery, to the most remote hilltops where you won’t see another soul!
Walking is a lovely way to really see an area. With the slower pace you are more likely to experience all the bits that your senses will truly remember; the smell of a new place, the sight of birds and wildlife, the sound of your feet crunching through leaves or sloshing through puddles. Walking helps us really feel an area as well as seeing it, and Scotland is certainly a place to be admired in detail.
We have already covered the national parks which are the obvious places to take on some well-marked walking routes, but places like the northern Highlands, Moray, Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, Perthshire and the Scottish Borders all offer countryside settings which are perfect for walking. If you like farmland, Perthshire is your spot. If you are more of a beach kind of person then take on the Angus coastline for some of the longest beaches out there! For shorter, craggier walks and stunning views take your walking boots to the west coast and spot whales and dolphins from land. We cannot rate walking adventures enough! Pack a picnic and head out for hours on end – you won’t regret it.
Taking the dog with you? We have good feedback when it comes to people taking their dogs to Scotland. Wherever you walk, the dog can go with you, unless there is a public park or garden that states otherwise! If you are looking for some inspiration on how to enjoy a holiday in Scotland with the dog, take a read of our helpful guides…
Helpful tip: It is always good to respect the countryside as much as you would your own home, so pick up after your dogs. You will always be welcomed back if you help us keep these beautiful areas clean.
Stargazing in Scotland
Scotland has some of the best dark skies in the UK and Europe, boasting some of the largest expanses of uninterrupted skies you will ever see! It is the perfect destination for keen stargazers, and there are lots of designated dark sky discovery sites that rarely let you down. Galloway Forest Park in the Scottish Borders was awarded Dark Sky Park status, making it the first in Scotland and the second in Europe! Following closely behind was the Tomintoul and Glenlivet – a Cairngorms Dark Sky Park which you will find in the Highlands. These will both offer blankets of twinkling stars on a clear night, a sight you will want to look at for hours on end.
Here are some of the most popular remote stargazing locations in Scotland:
- Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides
- Isle of Coll, Outer Hebrides
- Eriska, Argyll and Bute
- Melrose, Scottish Borders
- Glen Nevis, Fort William
- Cairngorms National Park
- Galloway Forest Park, Scottish Borders
- The Isle of Skye, West Highlands
As well as stars, there is also a chance of experiencing the northern lights in Scotland. Although rare, they have been seen, and now there are apps like My Aurora Forecast and Aurora Alerts which can help you plan a trip to see them. We have put together this guide on where to see the northern lights in Scotland, which has some useful advice on the best places to visit and what you need to have with you to be prepared.
Stargazing is a great activity for those looking for a slower outdoor activity. Just make sure you take warm clothing, a hot flask, and plenty of snacks to keep you warm. We won’t suggest sleeping under them, but it does sound romantic!
Twitching and wildlife in Scotland
We are lucky enough to share our planet with a whole range of species and wildlife which bring us so much entertainment and fascination. We grow up learning about all sorts of animals and birds, and in our adulthood we are able to get out and see them for ourselves, in the wild! Scotland is renowned for its wildlife, and with its diverse range of land and sea creatures, from the regal stag to the playful porpoise, there are so many animal friends to be made!
Our ginger Highland cow is probably the friendliest of them all, but that is likely to do with the fact that they are often getting their photo taken - the local celebrities, some might say. Beware of the sneaky adder hiding in the bracken, and if you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a Scottish wildcat, do let us know! Golden and white-tailed eagles can be seen in various parts of the country, and far out to sea you may be lucky enough to say hello to an orca or a humpback whale. Red squirrels, pine martins, capercaillie, grouse, bottlenose dolphins, osprey, red kite, otters and puffins are just a few of the thousands of species to be seen in Scotland, not to mention the thousands of garden birds that can be spotted from our cottage gardens!
For more on Scottish wildlife and where you can spot our fascinating locals, as well as days out with animals, take a read of these guides.
Cycling in Scotland
Cycling has been rising in popularity over the last seven-eight years and it is rare to drive anywhere in Scotland without seeing someone, or a group, out enjoying the roads on two wheels! When you get out into the Scottish countryside it is common to find a network of countryside roads which can offer great cycling loops, perfect for full days out exploring. Whether you are looking for a short ride or a longer challenge you can make it up as you go along, extending the route or shortening it as you go, and if you plan your route to pass a pub for a lunch stop, even better!
The North Coast 500 in the Highlands is probably on most keen cyclists' bucket lists, taking in the amazing Bealach Na Ba mountain pass, listed in the top ten hill challenges in the cycling world. Dropping down into the village of Applecross is a lovely reward for all the hard work, and the views from the top are immense. The west coast is a challenging mix of gruelling hill climbs and hairpin bends, but the scenery makes it worth it.
If you like to take on cycle races, here are some arranged cycle challenges to keep in mind and to plan your next holiday around:
- The Loch Ness Etape
- Highland Perthshire Challenge
- Tour de Forth
- Tour O’ The Borders
- Bealach Mor
Not everyone likes a hardcore challenge, however, especially when on holiday, so Scotland caters to all levels and cycle interests. If you are trail cycling, the national parks are great for this, as well as other woodlands set up for visitors. If you are looking for a mini adventure with little ones, check out the Anagach Woods in Speyside – it is very child-friendly but fun for adults too. Galloway Forest Park in the Borders is great for the more experienced riders, as is Glenlivet in the Highlands and Glentress Forest Park to the west.
E-biking is also becoming more and more popular and has opened up distance cycling to those who may have struggled on a normal bike. These can be rented easily from local bike rental companies across Scotland, as well as gravel bikes, road bikes and mountain bikes. Cycling is a great outdoor activity for the whole family and can really add a huge element of fun to your Scottish break!
Water sports in Scotland
Many people will tell you the water in Scotland is far too cold to get in, but if you come prepared with a wet suit, anything is possible! Whether you are by the sea, on a loch or on a riverbank, you will come across people undertaking water sports throughout the year. Kayaking, sailing, speed boating, canoeing, snorkelling, paddleboarding, wild swimming, gorge walking, banana boating, wake boarding, wind surfing….the list of water sports in Scotland goes on!
Scotland has a wealth of amazing beaches all around its coastline which are great for days relaxing by the ocean. With sand, sea and rockpools, the kids can be entertained for hours with a day at a Scottish beach. For ideas on where the best ones are, read our guide to the best beaches in Scotland.
A day by the water can do wonders for the mind, body and soul, and quite often learning a new skill can help your brain switch off from other stresses and help you relax into something more fun. Surfing is a water sport which really challenges every part of your body and there are some great locations in Scotland in which you can enjoy this sport. Read our guide all about surfing in Scotland for some more ideas.
Whilst there are lots of energetic sports to undertake, there is also the more relaxing one that is salmon and trout fishing. Whether on a Scottish loch or river, the act of fishing can be really relaxing. But not a lot of people know how to go about arranging a day of fishing, so our guide - the best spots for fishing holidays - which offers lots of hints and tips as to how to go about this.
Stay in a self-catering cottage in Scotland
We hope you have enjoyed our guide to outdoor activities in Scotland. There really are so many options for you to think about which will make your holiday itinerary full of fun during your visit.
Make sure you keep some of these in mind and plan an adventure you will never forget. Browse our collection of self-catering cottages in Scotland today and discover our diverse range of accommodation.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.