A local

A local's guide to Scotland's coast

Jemima Kirkwood 07 April 2021

Scotland has over 3,000 miles of beautiful coastline to explore. Cliffs, coastal walks, sandy beaches, rock pools and caves are just a handful of elements that add to the magic of Scotland’s coast, not to mention the amazing wildlife that lives along it too. This sheer diversity makes it one of the most incredible coastlines in the world. 

But each stretch of coast is unique, and some parts are more well-known than others. Read on to discover all that awaits you in our local's guide to Scotland's coast.

North coast Scotland

The north coast of Scotland encompasses miles of dramatic coastline, craggy cliffs, undulating coastal roads, stunning scenery, and magical beaches. If you are looking for rocky and wild, head to the north! The most northerly point of the UK lies in John O’Groats, a Highland town on the northern mainland of Scotland. You can travel here and get your photo taken at the famous signpost that marks the distances to Lands End, New York, Edinburgh and Orkney.

Creel Cabin in Badachro, Highlands

The city of Inverness is your gateway to the northern Highlands, and to take in the full coastline the best way would be to drive the North Coast 500 – Scotland’s answer to America's Route 66. It takes in many Highland villages that are good fun to explore, from Applecross to Durness, as well as amazing sights and landmarks like the Bealach Na Ba mountain pass, Dunrobin Castle and Smoo Cave! Stay in our North Coast 500 cottages to experience it all.

Read all about it in our guide to driving the North Coast 500.

The Highlands is renowned for its spectacular scenery and the freedom that comes with its wide, open lands. Time spent in the Highlands is time you will never forget. From rolling hills and misty mountains to flowing rivers and impressive lochs, there is so much to see and take in. Museums, historic castles, family attractions, distilleries and breweries are just a handful of things you can enjoy in the Highlands

Achiltibuie, set north of Ullapool, Highlands

Our self-catering north coast cottages can provide the perfect base for all of your adventures, giving you a lovely place to come back to after days out adventuring. Here are some of the great locations you can find them in:

Applecross cottagesBadachro cottagesCaithness cottages Gairloch cottagesLochinver cottagesUllapool cottages

East coast Scotland

The east coast of Scotland can sometimes be overshadowed by the west coast, but over the years the east coast has become a charming holiday destination for those looking to enjoy quality time in scenic surroundings. Stretching from Berwick-upon-Tweed in the south-east to Fraserburgh in the north-east, this section of the Scottish coastline is a hive of activity and splendour, taking in castles, beaches, fishing villages and ample golf courses. St Abbs and North Berwick are the picturesque spots in East Lothian where there are nice beaches within easy reach of the capital city, Edinburgh.

The Kingdom of Fife lies further north, and this area is a haven for golf, wildlife, coastal walks and harbour towns. The historic town of St Andrews lies in the heart of the Fife coastline and is well-known for being the place where Prince William met Kate Middleton during their university years. To read more about this area check out our guide to the Kingdom of Fife. The east coast has an impressive array of golf courses, the most famous being set in St Andrews – so if you have a keen group of golfers to accommodate, head to the east!

View out to see from coastal Fife

Between the coastal cities of Dundee and Aberdeen you have the beautiful area of Angus, which encompasses Arbroath, Montrose, St Cyrus and Stonehaven – all places that have become lovely destinations for holidays. This region is particularly popular for weddings due to its wealth of stately homes and country houses that can be enjoyed by the public, offering charming days out with a bit of history. Although the west coast of Scotland has more beaches, the sands here are bigger in both width and length, and many flock here for fun-filled days out in the sun. St Cyrus beach is a nature reserve and birdwatchers will love coming here to see all the wildlife that comes and goes with the seasons.

When staying on the east coast, you can head inland and experience the beautiful Cairngorms National Park where you will find a diverse landscape of mountains, woodland, rivers, and lochs. This is a great part of the world for mountain bikers. Explore some of our east coast cottages:

Aberdeenshire cottagesAngus cottagesFife cottagesEyemouth cottagesAnstruther cottagesMelrose cottages – St Andrews cottages

Cullen beach on the Moray coast

The Moray coast lies between the Aberdeenshire and Inverness-shire borders and is a delightful coastline all unto its own. The seaside towns of Lossiemouth, Forres, Nairn, Cullen, Findhorn and Ardesier all offer something different but have one thing in common: amazing beaches. The Moray coast is well-known for its wide-set beaches, and many come and spend summer days here relaxing by the sea.  Read all about it in our helpful guide on things to do and see in Moray.

Inland from the coast you will find a great network of country roads, which are great for cycling, horse riding and road trips. Dolphins are often spotted in the firth, playing together and catching fish. Read our guide about dolphins in Scotland. You can stay in our amazing collection of Moray cottages which provide a lovely base for you to return to after days out exploring. 

West coast Scotland

Argyll and Bute, The Isle of Mull, the Isle of Skye, Sutherland and Caithness – just a handful of special places along the west Scotland coastline to visit. Nature, wildlife and spectacular scenery dominates this part of Scotland, and the rural towns and villages are what make up the fascinating culture that comes with it. Those into outdoor sports and adventure tend to head to the west to experience thrill-seeking adventures in tremendous surroundings.

coastal scene, Argyll and Bute

The region of Argyll and Bute lies to the west of Loch Lomond and runs from the south of the Campbeltown peninsula north to Oban and Glencoe. From here you have access to the isles of Jura and Islay, as well as many tiny islands, and a bit further north there is the Isle of Mull – popular with walkers and nature enthusiasts. The main fishing town is Oban, a bustling harbour town with heaps of character, well-known for its amazing freshly caught seafood. Lots of seasonal events are held here, including the annual Oban Festival that celebrates local business, brands, music and bands.

Road from Fort William to Mallaig, Highlands

The west coast is a wonderful home to masses of species, sea birds, sea life and wildlife. Seals, dolphins and otters are seen off the coastline, and whales are common sightings from Mull. There are wildlife boat trips you can go on that take you to the best places to spot the native wildlife. Heading further up the west coast, taking in Loch Linnhe, you will find Fort William – Scotland’s outdoor capital. Walking, biking, skiing, rock climbing, fell running and hill walking are just a handful of the energetic activities you can try here, with Ben Nevis on the doorstep. There's a great array of pubs to regain energy and try the local ale.

Arisaig, Mallaig, Glenelg, Lochcarron, Kinlochewe and Gairloch are all harbour towns worthy of a visit too. You can sample local culture and see how the Highland Scots live and go about their daily life. Being great destinations for returning holiday makers, as well as new, the communities provide everything you need for a great stay – village shops, beach facilities, welcoming pubs and cafes, and a friendly welcome.

Have a read through our guide to West Coast Scotland for even more great holiday ideas.

When is the best time to visit west coast Scotland? If you want to avoid the midges, before the end of May and after the end of August. We have a great selection of holiday cottages in west coast Scotland. Here are some of our favourite regions:

Argyll & Bute cottagesFort William cottagesGairloch cottagesLoch Lomond cottagesOban cottagesUllapool cottages

Islands off the Scottish Coast

The Scottish islands decorate the Scottish coastline, offering picturesque views from the mainland and great places to visit and explore during your time off. Most are accessed by ferry, but Shetland and Orkney have their own airports too.

View of Goatfell from Brodick, Arran, Scotland

The Isle of Arran

Described as ‘Scotland in miniature’, the Isle of Arran is set off the west coast of Glasgow, accessed by ferry from Ardrossan. It is about an hour to make the crossing, and if you time it well for lunch, you can enjoy a hot cooked meal on board. Landing in Brodick, the main town of the island, you will be able to find your way easily to your destination by turning left or right onto the only island road! Goatfell to the north of the island can be seen from the ferry ride in, enticing you to explore its mountainous form. Dotted around the coastline are the idyllic villages of Lamlash, Whiting Bay, Blackwaterfoot, Pirnmill and Lochranza, all offering a mixture of places to stay, eateries, beaches, golf courses and pubs. You could spend a week on this island and still find things to do.

You can read more about Arran in our guide to the Isle of Arran

Potree fishing village, Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye sits north-west of the Highlands and can be reached from either Mallaig or by car over the Skye bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh. It is the biggest Scottish island but easily travelled in a day or two. Portree is the main island town where you will find a lively mix of places to eat and things to do, as well as gorgeous views back to the mainland and plenty of coastline to explore. The Fairy Pools in Glenbrittle is a magical spot where you can walk along ancient waterfalls and pools, and the island has its own mountain range too – the Cuillins. It is a vibrant island, rich in history and heritage, and even has a couple of its own distilleries

Read more about this fascinating island in our guide to the Isle of Skye.

Discover other Scottish island destinations and browse our holiday cottages to find the ideal place to stay.

Isle of Mull cottagesShetland cottagesOrkney cottages Isle of Harris cottagesIsle of Lewis cottages

Read our new guide all about the Isle of Mull on the west coast of Scotland.

Coral Beach, Isle of Skye, Scotland

We hope you have enjoyed this comprehensive guide to Scotland’s coast. From exploring the rocky cliff lines to soaking up coastal natural wonders, there is plenty to see and do. If beach holidays are your scene, check out our guide to the best beaches in Scotland for more ideas. If you love experiencing the culture that comes with local living, take a read of our guide to the charming coastal villages of Scotland.

If the weather affects you and you want to hit the good months for clear views and sunny weather, our guide to Scotland’s weather can help you plan your visit with more accuracy. For places to stay, keep our coastal holiday cottages in mind, which help you enjoy your holiday by the sea in comfort and style.

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.

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