Most people who visit Scotland will know at least something about the major cities, Edinburgh being the favorite, and some of the less populated areas of beauty, like Loch Ness and the islands of Shetland and Skye, but what you might not realize is that Scotland is full of small pretty coastal villages and the most adorable small towns. Some of these towns are very traditional and haven’t changed much in decades, some in over 100 years, and some are what is known as “new towns,” meaning they’ve been purposely built to accommodate the overflow of residents from the cities. Many visitors will miss these small towns because they don’t know they are there and don’t realize what gems they are. To help you find them on your next visit to Scotland, here are seven adorable small towns to visit in Scotland.
The historic town of Arbroath by the sea is where the declaration of Arbroath was born. This declaration was a letter written by Scottish barons to the pope, declaring their right to use arms to defend themselves and to assert their independence from the English. This letter began its journey right here at Arbroath Abbey, which stands in the town center. The other thing Arbroath is most famous for is the Arbroath smokie. As you wander the historic streets by small fishing cottages, you’ll catch a whiff of this smoked fish and you might see the puffs of smoke billowing from the smokehouses in this authentic Scottish town. The Arbroath smokie is a local delicacy and you can’t visit without trying it.
Where To Eat
Arbroath may be a very traditional Scottish town, but if you want something different Andreou’s Bistro serves up authentic Greek and Mediterranean dishes in a very Greek environment. You already have the sea on your doorstep here, so why not enjoy some Greek meze (appetizer) and ouzo to go with it.
The pretty town of Ballantrae sits snugly in Ballantrae Bay, South Ayrshire. The rugged coastline here makes it a great place for fishing and for some select watersports. There are also plenty of rivers and lochs in the area so a great place to unwind if you like the water. There is a core community here, but you’ll also notice clusters of B&Bs and seafront hotels, leaving you in doubt that this isn’t a tourist town. There are some good coastal walks and Ardstinchar Castle dominates the land wherever you are. But it is the views over the bay, the wild landscape, and the ocean, that most people come here for.
Where To Stay
Spend the night in an old Scottish castle at Glenapp, and experience what it’s like to live like a lord. Glenapp Castle was built as part of a private estate in 1870 and is now a 21 bedroom, five-star hotel. As well as being spectacular in its design, the castle has a rolling program of events and workshops including perfume making, foraging, archery, and beekeeping.
Stornoway is the main town on the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis. Once a Viking settlement, Stornoway is now a busy port town that has managed to hang onto its fishing roots. There is a lot of history here and to make sure you don’t miss anything, you can book a tour from Where The Wild Is, which includes an itinerary and accommodation in the Hebridean Huts, two eco- glamping huts that look out to sea. Although an itinerary is set for you, you will take the trip independently. The first thing you’ll do is pick up your rental car which gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace. Don’t miss the Callanish standing stones and be sure to try dinner at the Blue Lobster.
If you’re already in Scotland you can catch a ferry boat over to Lewis, or if you’re in one of the main cities you can fly from Glasgow, Inverness, or Edinburgh airports. If you’re not already in Scotland, this is a long way and quite remote, so make sure you plan your journey well. It is also possible to fly from London to Lewis or if you love the traveling part of your trip, take the Caledonian Sleeper Train from London to Scotland and travel onto Lewis from there.
Eight miles south of Glasgow is the culturally important town of Blantyre. Best known for being the birthplace of the explorer David Livingstone, the town has a semi-industrial past, in the shape of coal mines and cotton mills. Today, this industrial history is woven into the simple beauty of the town, and in the old weavers’ cottages and the millworkers tenement building that are still standing. Blantyre is proud of its history, which there is evidence of wherever you look. Boswell Castle is just half a mile from the town and the ruins of Blantyre Priory face it as if the two are eternally gazing at each other.
David Livingstone’s Birthplace, the museum dedicated to this life and achievements, has recently reopened after a £9 million pound regeneration program. Situated in an old mill, the displays include artefacts from Livingstone’s travels, especially his journey through Africa. The museum requires a ticket, but the lovely grounds are free to enter.
Sitting on the banks of Loch Fyne, Inveraray was established as a town in 1745 and hasn’t altered a whole lot since then. The loch provides shores at its edges that appear like small coves and shelving beaches, giving the impression of being by the sea. As with most Scottish towns, there is a castle here, but this one is still occupied by the Duke of Argyll. Despite being the duke’s home, the castle, or most of it, is open to the public. This is a true fairytale castle with Rapunzel spires and military turrets. The original jail and courthouse in the town is now a museum, recounting the old justice system and grisly punishments. Inveraray is a beautiful little town with tons of history and idyllic scenery.
There are lots of scenic walks in this area through wild and rugged landscapes, but if you’re feeling up to it, the best of them goes from the castle, up a rough crag to a tower called Dun Na Cuaiche. This is a tough walk up an 800-foot slope, so you have to be fairly fit to undertake it, but the views from the top of the tower are incredible. This hike is most definitely not for anyone with any mobility issues, though there are lots of other lovely gentler walks here.
6. Newton Stewart
A traditional market town with an old stone bridge over the River Cree, Newton Stewart was named after the town’s founder, William Stewart. Close to the Galloway forest park, the town serves as a base for hill walkers and those who come here to enjoy the woodland. If you take a pair of binoculars out into the forest you can spot red and foe deer, and the wild hill goats that scramble up on the rocky slopes. Visitors also come to the town for the plentiful salmon fishing in the river, and for the biking trails that whizz you through some of the most stunning scenery in the country.
Don’t miss a visit to the town’s cinema. This art deco cinema takes you back to how cinemas used to be. The building itself is a stunning example of a 1930s theater, and it remains pretty much as it always has been. The interior is well maintained, with comfortable seats and a good view of the screen wherever you sit. One of the highlights is the Galloway ice cream tubs you can buy at the kiosk.
This pretty little town, surrounded by dramatic hills, was once known as the “whisky capital of the world.” A bold claim, but with 34 distilleries in this one small town, it was a claim worth making. Today only three of those distilleries survive, and the town is much quieter. Those three remaining distilleries are a draw for visitors and if you like whisky this is a great place to stay. Horse riding is also popular here, with many trails around the surrounding area of the town. The town is situated on the peninsula of Kintyre and the land at Campbeltown folds around it forming an inlet of ocean. This makes the harbor here quiet and calm and a beautiful place for a stroll.
Where To Eat
Ardshiel Restaurant serves Scottish and British food, including some traditional Scottish fare you might never have heard of before. There’s a lovely garden restaurant, and the cocktails are really good, but perhaps the most impressive thing here is the over 2,000 bottles of whisky packed in behind the bar. If you like whisky, you’ll be spoiled by the choices.
Small charming and historic small towns abound in Scotland and are a real treasure for visitors: