explore Scotland

Scottish cities

Scotland has seven official cities – Glasgow is by far the largest with a population of approximately 620,000 people, with about 1.2 million in the whole conurbation. The capital, Edinburgh, has around 450,000, while Aberdeen is next at about 200,000 inhabitants and Dundee is fourth with 160,000 inhabitants.

  • Edinburgh (Gaelic: Dùn Èideann; Scots: Eedinburra) – the capital of Scotland, home to the World’s largest Arts Festival every August and the First European City of Literature. It is often known as the “Festival City”. Most of the city centre, with the dramatic and contrasting architecture of its Old Town and New Town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Glasgow (Gaelic: Glaschu; Scots: Glesga) – Scotland’s largest city and most vibrant city, with the best shopping in Great Britain outside London and some of its most exciting nightlife. At one time, it was the centre of the largest ship-building industry in the world.
  • Aberdeen (Gaelic: Obar Dheathain; Scots: Aiberdeen) – Scotland’s third largest city. Known for its impressive granite buildings, it is known as the “Granite City”, the oil capital of Europe, and home to a large harbour and two renowned universities.
  • Dundee (Gaelic: Dùn Dè; Scots: Dundee) – vibrant city with high population of students and one of the most distinct (perhaps incomprehensible) accents you’ll hear. It is known as the city of “jute, jam and journalism”, and the “City of Discovery” for its history of scientific activities and the home of Scott and Shackleton’s Antarctic vessel, the RRS Discovery.
  • Inverness (Gaelic: Inbhir Nis) – the fast-growing capital of the Highlands, located on the River Ness and close to Loch Ness, where many tourists try to sight the famous Loch Ness monster. It is Britain’s most northerly city.
  • Stirling (Gaelic: Sruighlea; Scots: Stirlin) – a royal fortress city dominated by the historic and dramatic castle, it was said that whoever controlled the castle, controlled Scotland (and many have tried!). Today, it also has a vibrant modern outlook.
  • Perth (Gaelic: Peairt; Scots: Pairth) – an ancient royal burgh (i.e. a status of autonomous town/city granted by royal charter). It is the county seat of Perthshire. Smaller than its Australian counterpart to whom it gave its name, it is sometimes known as “The Fair City” following a novel by Walter Scott. Once a major centre of the court of Scottish kings and queens, its city status was restored by the Queen in 2012.

Other civic centers / towns of note:

  • Stornoway (Gaelic: Steòrnabhagh) – the largest town on Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides (also known as the Western Isles) of Scotland. The town’s population is around 8,000, making it by far the largest town in the Hebrides. More than 40% of the inhabitants of the town are native Gaelic speakers. The annual Hebridean Celtic Festival is a 4-day community-led festival which attracts over 10,000 visitors during July of each year. The Royal National Mòd has been held in Stornoway on a number of occasions.
  • Ayr (Gaelic: Inbhir Àir) – a town on the southern western coast of Scotland. Only 5 miles (8 km) north of Ayr is Troon, a golf and seaside resort which regularly hosts the British Open Championship. Ayr has three golf courses in Bellisle, Seafield and Dalmilling, as well as a private course called St Cuthberts. The area is synonymous as a seaside resort, with the south of the town housing the Craig Tara and Haven (formerly Butlins) holiday parks. The suburban village of Alloway to the south of the town is also well established for its associations with the poet Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet; the area hosts the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.

Other destinations

Scotland has extensive wilderness areas, some of which have been proclaimed as National Parks:

  • The Cairngorms – a mountain range near Aviemore and the largest National Park in Scotland
  • Loch Lomond & The Trossachs – Scotland’s first national park
  • Loch Ness – Scotland’s most famous loch.
  • Many world-class scenic areas are not (yet) protected as National Parks, though some have other designations such as National Scenic Areas or Forest Parks. The Lochaber region contains the impressive Glencoe as well as Scotland’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. The Torridon and Wester Ross areas are also popular mountaineering destinations. Most popular of all with climbers are the Black Cuillin of Skye – but there’s plenty of scope for walkers here as well.
  • It has many historic Islands. Islay is known as the Queen of Hebrides, has eight whisky distilleries, and you can still see today the parliament site of the Clan Donald from 1200 AD, when the Clan Donald ruled the western seaboard of Scotland. The Isle of Arran is also a fantastic destination.
  • Glasgow has some of the best free museums in Europe. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, in the West End, has some of the most famous exhbits, and is surrounded by the beautiful urban park, Kelvingrove Park.