10 Hidden Gems of Scotland

Dec 26, 2016

Tartan, scotch, and bagpipes! Surely this conjures up one of the popularized images of Scotland that most of the world knows. That, or you think of Mel Gibson’s rendition of Braveheart, fighting for his freedom.

Scotland is not about the one and only Highlander nor Nessie but about fairy tale settings, miraculous beaches, jaw-dropping castles, and invigorating, artistic cities. These ten hidden gems of Scotland are proof that this is one land worth traveling to:

1 Kelburn Castle, North Aryshire

You might not believe that this house covered in graffiti art murals is actually a 13th-century relic that belonged to the Earl of Glasgow since the 1700s, but it is. The core of the castle is the original, but the façade got a major facelift in 2007.

Now it is a stunning work of art as well as a historical treasure. Around the grounds of the castle, you can go mountain biking and horseback riding. You even have opportunities for glamping, attending workshops, music festivals, and estate walks.

2 Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre, Eskadelemuir

Scotland is a pretty international place, full of inspiration from around the world. Finding a Tibetan monastery might seem a bit weird, but it is also really cool. I mean, you can walk the gardens, take yoga, meditation and Taijiquan classes (some for certifications), visit the tea room, stay in a guesthouse or room with Wi-fi, or even camp on the temple grounds.

Kagyu Samye Ling was founded in 1967 and has been growing ever since. The façade of the main building is a mosaic of gemstone colors. Inside the temple is a stunning golden wall with a beautiful Buddha. Truly a gem.

3 Portobello Beach

A beachside paradise does not necessarily sound like something you would find in Scotland. Yet, Portobello Beach is over two miles of sand and surf that’s complete with charming architecture. You would never guess it is right outside of Edinburgh.

At Portobello Beach, you will also find a variety of activities to pass the time if chilling sea-side is not your thing. There are Aerotone and Turkish baths, kayaking, sailing, shopping arcades, tiny cafes, and even room for your four-legged friend to roam. There are also international volleyball tournaments held yearly.

4 Little Sparta Trust, Pentland Hills, Dunsyre

Despite being an original work of natural art known throughout the world, no one has ever really heard of Little Sparta, a garden created by the poet Ian Hamilton Finlay, unless they are die-hard horticulture enthusiasts. What makes Little Sparta so special is the sheer volume of beauty contained in this tiny patch of green.

Everything is laid out in a way that captures the mind and allows for imagination to flow freely. Everything you see here has a double meaning. For example, the statues atop the gates might look like pineapples, but they are really hand grenades.

5 An Corran, Staffin Bay

Also known as one pair of the Dinosaurs in the Skye, there are geological formations along the beach at An Corran with preserved footprints. The fossilized tracks are said to be over 165 million years old. Imagine how surreal it must be to not only see real dinosaur footprints but to be able to touch them and get a sense that such incredible beings once stood where you are standing.

Also, if you do not get a chance to see the footprints, as the weather around Staffin Bay tends to be dreary, there is always the Staffin Museum in Ellishadder. The museum is home to the world’s smallest dinosaur footprint. Just do not go in the winter, because it is not open.

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6 Fairy Pools of Glenbrittle, Black Cuillin Mountains

Though the Fairy Pools have gained some attention of late, they are still not as high traffic as some other natural wonders around the world. The pristine blue waters and waterfalls of the Fairy Pools are breathtaking, as is the 40-minute hike required to get to them.

There are several pools in the area, so you are always encouraged to simply explore. Who knows, you might just be spirited off into the mountains because the crystalline waters are truly enthralling.

7 Skara Brae, Orkney

Have you ever heard of the Scottish Pompeii? That would be Skara Brae, a perfectly preserved Neolithic settlement made out of stone on the Orkney archipelago. The homes of Skara Brae are older than both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids, shedding light on the lives of the Grooved Ware People who lived in Skara Brae. You can walk through the eight dwellings, checking out the exhumed furnishings and other evidence of Neolithic age life. It is a fascinating entry into the past.

8 Craigmillar Castle, Edinburgh

One of the most underestimated castles in the world. Now one of the best-kept castles, Craigmillar is famous for protecting Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1566. Nowadays, it serves as grounds for walking and touring. You can climb the tower house – the oldest standing one in Scotland – and see other details of the castle yard, like the jailhouse. You can also see modern day Edinburgh over the trees. Or, you can spend hours merely wandering the halls and stairs of the castle, finding the hidden chambers and other treasures.

9 Water of Leith, Pentland Hills

Many people know of the River Leith as the part that runs through Edinburgh. However, there is much more it than that. Slightly farther outside of the city, near the area known as Pentland Hills, you find the silvery Water of Leith snaking through the emerald-coated land.

Some parts continue on through a park, and the longer you follow the river in either direction, the more you will find. Chase the flow from Dean Village to Stockbridge. You will see how the river has hewed a path for itself between trees and rugged rocks.

10 Jarlshof Norse Settlement, Sumburgh

Similar to Skara Brae but from a different era, what is on display here is a complex arrangement of buildings spanning more than 4000 years of human history. There are Neolithic dwellings, a Bronze Age village, Iron Age relics, a Norse longhouse, a Medieval farm, and a 16th-century laird’s domicile.

There is so much to see and learn here. Spend the day walking along the cobbled paths, enjoying the expanse green lawn set among endless skies and mixed with the attractions around the preserved land.

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Scotland is chock-full of secret places that few people visit annually. Now that you know these hidden gems, would you like to see any of them with your own eyes? Have you ever been to Scotland?