Those of us unwilling to navigate a traffic light travel system this summer have run into a few stumbling blocks when attempting to holiday at home. Accommodation is booking up at a rate of knots and when there is availability, it’s exorbitant. But that’s where the humble day trip comes in. Providing a scenery change without the expense of a longer-haul stay, it’s an ideal way to lift routine-weary spirits. Here are 20 of our favourite days out in Scotland.


Fancy a “city” break? Dunkeld is known as a cathedral city but with a population of around 1200 don’t expect bustling crowds. Instead tussle with woodland walks in the heart of an area marketed as Big Tree Country due to its towering oaks; one of which, the Birnam Oak, is the only surviving tree from the Birnam Wood Shakespeare namechecked in Macbeth. A steward oversees Dunkeld Cathedral’s grounds, on the north bank of the Tay, an area home to Christian worship since the 6th century. Afterwards, wander into the Y-shaped town, lined with slate-roofed 18th-century buildings; one of which is the National Trust’s Ell Shop, which takes its name from its still-intact weaver’s measure.


Dundee doesn’t tend to get a look in when Glasgow and Edinburgh are on the table, but it’s the perfect size for a city day trip. A key attraction is, of course, the V&A. Its main exhibition right now is Night Fever: Designing Club Culture, an exploration of iconic night clubs – remember those? – around the world, from New York to Ibiza. Continue the artsy theme at Dundee Contemporary Arts to see artist Emma Talbot’s new works. From there, hop over to Broughty Ferry, a 10-minute drive away, which has a sandy beach and superior culinary options. Sol y Sombra Tapas Bar is the closest you’ll get to Spain this year.


Mull is one of the easiest Hebridean islands to get to – the crossing is just shy of an hour from Oban. Its capital, Tobermory, was famously the filming location of kids’ show Balamory, and you’ll understand why when you’re greeted by the rainbow of cheerfully painted houses that hug the harbour. The woodland walk to Rubha nan Gal, a lighthouse to the north of the town, is a must. It takes a couple of hours on a coastal path fringed with bluebells that winds along a cliff overlooking the Sound of Mull. Back in the centre of Tobermory there’s a building on the pier that stands out for its lack of colour: the white, art deco Café Fish. But you’ll find vibrancy on your plate in the form of freshly landed seafood singing with flavour. Check the ferries before you go.


Did you know the castle in Disney’s Brave was in part inspired by Dunnottar Castle, just south of Stonehaven? The dramatic cliff-top ruin sits on a craggy headland overlooking the North Sea; visit in the morning and the whipping wind will wake you better than any espresso could. Venture into the town afterwards to visit Aberdeenshire’s largest recreational harbour, its curved piers forming two basins where local fishing boats congregate. It may put you in the mood for a chippy (round here it’s a chipper) and luckily there’s an award-winning one on the seafront: The Bay. Walk it off on Carron Beach, a neat crescent of shingle and sand, and consider a dip in the open-air pool before you head home.

Isle of Bute

Step off the ferry in Rothesay and you’ll be met by the glorious sight of palm trees swaying on the promenade. Resist the urge to stretch your legs until you’ve made your first port of call: Helmi’s, a Syrian-owned patisserie that sells coffee and the kind of cakes you dream about for weeks. If you’ve taken the car, hop in and drive to Ettrick Bay to wriggle your toes in the sand; if you’re on foot, you can walk the five miles or take the bus. A must-see is magnificent Mount Stuart, a 19th-century mansion house with striking architectural details and a jaw-dropping interior inspired by art and astrology. The vaulted ceiling in the Marble Hall, studded with glass crystals to depict a map of the starry night sky, is exquisite.


The conservation village of Luss is small but perfectly formed, its quaint streets – and there aren’t many – neatly lined with chocolate box cottages fronted by colourful gardens. It’s a village made for meandering; follow the Luss Heritage Trail for an hour-long walk over dainty footbridges, past the Luss Parish Church and along the sandy shores of Loch Lomond. The dog-friendly Loch Lomond Arms has a beer garden when you need a rest, and if you have an appetite for further exploration there’s a 90-minute circular cruise that departs from the pier and sails around the islands on the glass-still loch.


Its position on the Cowal peninsula throws up a couple of travel options for Dunoon: you can drive there directly or, if you’re coming from the central belt, jump on the ferry from Gourock. The town itself is nice enough, with a Victorian pier and bustling thoroughfare, but it’s the breathtaking nature on its fringes that will make your trip memorable. Acquaint yourself with the restorative power of forest bathing at Benmore Botanic Garden, a 10-minute drive from the town centre, where giant redwoods, Douglas firs, ferns and rhododendrons all conspire to soothe the soul. Nearby Puck’s Glen is an ethereal trail too, punctuated by mossy stones, diminutive waterfalls and burbling pools, but it’s closed at the moment.

Scottish Dolphin Centre

The Moray Firth is known to be one of the best dolphin-spotting locations in Scotland, and this centre at the mouth of the River Spey in Fochabers is perfectly positioned to catch a glimpse of a silvery pod. An estimated 190 bottlenose dolphins swim the waters here, as well as grey and common seals, porpoises and minke whales. Uniquely, the centre also offers private tours of its Tugnet Ice House, an A listed building dating to 1832 which once stored ice to preserve salmon before it was sent to market. It’s 25 feet underground and contains historic fishing tools and a fascinating display of whale and dolphin bones.


This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Sir Walter Scott, one of Scotland’s most esteemed novelists and poets. Celebrate the occasion by visiting Abbotsford, his ancestral home in Melrose. The baronial home has been immaculately maintained and provides the opportunity to see the house as it was, including the study in which Scott wrote his later novels. On August 14 and 15 the spectacles will step up a gear for ScottFest, an event themed around Ivanhoe which promises jousting, stunt horse riding and, er, a fortune-telling goat. Before you head home, climb to the peak of nearby Scott’s View to drink up the verdant landscape of the Borders.


Seeking a dog-friendly place for your day out? Your options extend beyond beach and forest walks if you go to Inveraray. Its famous jail – no longer in use – dates to the 19th century, is very well preserved and, importantly, welcomes four-legged pals. The torture, death and defamation exhibition details the punishments used in the days before civilised courts; cover your mutt’s eyes if they’re sensitive souls. And for the ultimate treat, head 15 minutes along the shore to Fyne Ales in Cairndow. This courtyard beer garden serves special alcohol-beer for dogs (yes, really) and a selection of delicious craft ales for humans, made on-site.

The East Neuk

This charming nook, or ‘neuk’, on Scotland’s north-east coastline is peppered with pretty fishing towns, winding from the most northerly, Kingsbarns, down to the villages of Elie and Earlsferry. With a car you can easily visit a few in a day and take in some of its star attractions, such as the Caves of Caiplie in Crail, and Kellie Castle to the south of Pittenweem. But you really don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary to have a special time here. Daunder through the sleepy streets of Anstruther to admire the pastel-coloured houses, sit by the harbour in St Monan’s or walk the Fife Coastal Path. There’s plenty of seafood for sustenance.

Glen Tanar

It may be an hour-or-so’s drive from Aberdeen to Glen Tanar Nature Reserve near Aboyne, but count yourself lucky; the intrepid salmon driving upstream have journeyed much further. One of the world’s most treasured waterways for salmon fishing meanders through this slice of Royal Deeside but there’s more than casting a line to be had here. Whether you’re a Sunday stroller or a hardened hiker there are paths, scattered with pinecones, to pick your way along. Whatever you choose expect rolling violet hills, soaring pine and the bizarre,