In the deep midwinter, with a new year approaching, thoughts turn to brighter days and exploring new horizons. Find travel inspiration in our list of top Scottish destinations for 2023, as selected by Paul Trainer, Ailsa Sheldon and Lorraine Wilson.  ­

This feature was the cover story for the January edition of Best of Scotland magazine. 

The Herald: Fishing boat on Loch Creran (view towards Strath of Appin), Argyll and Bute, Scotland, United Kingdom. (Photo by: MyLoupe/Universal Images Group via Getty Images).


Sitting between Oban and Ballachulish, Appin is a peaceful and atmospheric peninsula. Castle Stalker is the most famous local landmark with a history that stretches back to 1320. the caste, which famously made an appearance in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, stands on a small tidal island on Loch Laich with the Ardnamurchan mountains in the distance. Nearby, Kinlochlaich House has an octagonal walled garden and bluebell woodland walk.

Port Appin is a fishing village overlooking Loch Linnhe with a small passenger ferry that runs to the neighbouring island of Lismore. The Pierhouse, a restaurant with rooms, offers dining with views over a rugged seascape. General manager Fiona Maclean says the restaurant reflects everything you see around you: “I think it adds another layer to the experience. We are able to tell the story of the area through the food that we serve. We can almost point to where everything comes from. It sets the tone.”

Visitors arrive throughout the year to enjoy the solitude the remote location offers. “It’s the kind of place that offers a sense of rejuvenation. Some guests will have an active time and be out on bikes or hiking. Others will just enjoy the stillness.”

Chef Michael Leathley is originally from North Shields and worked in Glasgow before moving with his family to Appin to lead the kitchen at The Pierhouse. “We’re lucky in the produce that we have around us here, the community and wealth of knowledge that comes with it. You could be sitting out here on the balcony in the sunshine over the summer and there’s a magic to it. Something like an oyster, langoustine or a mussel will reflect the natural ecosystem in its flavour, it just falls into place when you can enjoy it fresh, close to where it was landed. It’s one of the great food experiences.” PT

The Herald:

Culross, Fife

Maintained by the National Trust for Scotland, Culross offers a beautifully preserved insight into 17th century life with a palace, abbey and town hall set amongst atmospheric cobbled streets and white-harled cottages. The small village has attracted more attention in recent years after featuring regularly as a filming location for the time travel television show Outlander.

Culross is believed to have been founded by St Serf in the sixth century, known as the birthplace of St Mungo. The abbey was built in 1217 by Macolm, Earl of Fife. The ochre-painted Culross Palace, built in 1597 by Sir George Bruce, features restored interiors and an ornate garden. The Red Lion, the only pub in the village, offers friendly service in a cosy setting. PT

The Herald:

Kirkwall, Orkney

Kirkwall’s name comes from the Norse ‘Kirkjuvagr’, meaning ‘Church on the bay’, and that Viking spirit still runs through the town. The community will start the year 2023 with the Kirkwall Ba’, a mass-football game played out in the streets on New Year’s Day with two rival factions battling to secure a goal. A curious Orcadian tradition, the game begins on Broad Street, in the shadow of St Magnus Cathedral, founded in 1137 by the Viking, Earl Rognvald.

Local shops showcase hand crafted furniture, jewellery, and clothing. To the south of the town, Highland Park distillery has a visitor centre and a tasting tour. There are two beaches at nearby St Ola, Inganess close to Kirkwall Airport and Scapa with views over Scapa Flow. PT

The Herald:

Isle of Raasay

A 25-minute ferry ride from the Isle of Skye brings you to Raasay, a compact island of hills, forests, and secluded beaches with views of the Cuillin mountains and Torridon. Active visitors arrive for kayaking, walking or cycling, exploring moors, limestone cliffs and freshwater lochs. Foragers are attracted by the different plants and wildflowers growing among the bluebells and gorse, with golden eagles and oystercatchers flying overhead.

The highest point of the island, Dun Cana, is close to an Iron Age broch. Raasay House has 20 bedrooms to stay and an outdoor activity centre, while Isle of Raasay Distillery, the first legal distillery on the island, offer accommodation alongside whisky and gin tastings. PT

The Herald: The Boathouse on Gigha

Isle of Gigha

The most southerly of the Hebridean islands has been transformed following a community buy-out in 2002 which encouraged new development and growth in the local economy. Seven miles long and half a mile wide, Gigha is managed by a heritage trust. Local produce to enjoy during your stay includes Wee Isle Dairy ice cream or Tony and Cat Walker’s Gigha Oysters served at The Boathouse Restaurant.

Gigha Halibut is the only land-based halibut farm in the UK, using clean Atlantic waters to create a sustainable environment for the stock to develop. There’s a campsite close to the ferry and a hotel in the main village of Ardminish. Achamore House is a mansion with gardens built by the Scarlett family, which offers bed and breakfast accommodation. PT

The Herald: C86CBF Bridge Street, Ballater, Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, United Kingdom, Europe..

Ballater, Royal Deeside

A picturesque village at the eastern gateway to the Cairngorms National Park, you are within striking distance of The Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Cardhu and Balvenie distilleries. Ballater is the nearest town to Balmoral Castle, the Royal Family’s summer retreat, which explains the ‘By Royal Appointment' signs frequently seen on local shops and businesses.

The Royal Train Station has been restored as a visitor centre, restaurant and tearoom run by The Prince’s Foundation. The Ballater Highland Games are held each year on the second Thursday in August. This traditional gathering takes place in Monaltrie Park with piping competitions, tug o’ war, tossing the caber and highland dancing. There’s further castles to discover at nearby Craigievar, Braemar and Crathes. PT

The Herald: Argyll by Tighnabruaich near Ardlamont, Argyll. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images).

Tighnabruaich, Kyles of Bute 

With its charming villas, Victorian pier, and glorious views, Tighnabruaich is a hidden gem of Scottish tourism, sitting between two stretches of water that are blessed with an abundance of outstanding seafood, the Kyles of Bute and Loch Fyne. It’s home to Kyles Athletic, one of Scotland’s most successful shinty clubs, and is a popular sailing destination.

The Royal An Lochan hotel has been welcoming guests since 1865. Its restaurant serves fish from Tarbert, meat from Bute and fruit and vegetables from Oban for a taste of the west coast. Botanica at The Barn is a family friendly place for lunch, coffee, and cake. The menu features local ingredients foraged from the forest and seashore. PT

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Shawlands, Glasgow

The focal point for social life on the Southside of Glasgow, Shawlands sits between the twin treasures of Pollok Country Park, home to the Burrell Collection, and the splendour of Queen’s Park with its sweeping views over the city.

The Burrell Collection’s strengths lie in late medieval art, Chinese ceramics, bronzes and jades, Islamic pile carpets and French nineteenth-century paintings. The items in the museum span across six millennia.

The donation of the Collection to Glasgow in 1944 was described at the time as: “One of the greatest gifts ever made to any city in the world” by Sir Hector Hetherington, the Principal of Glasgow University.

Shawlands’ neat rows of tenements are joined by an abundance of coffee shops, neighbourhood restaurants and bakeries including Café Strange Brew, The Glad Café, Julie’s Kopitiam and Deanston Bakery.

Park Lane Market takes place on the first and last Sunday of the month close to Queen’s Park. Co-founder Harry Olorunda says there is a wealth of new and existing small craft businesses and street food traders in the area. “We’ve built something here that’s a creative space, the market is a hub for making a connection” he says. Ramen Dayo have recently added a yakatori cart to the mix.

Harry says: “If someone has an idea, we can give them a platform. There are around 15 businesses that have grown from the market. I feel like there’s a great vibe on the Southside. For me it’s about that community and the people, that’s what makes it such a great place to live.” PT

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Bruntsfield and Mornigside, Edinburgh 

Some peace on the Meadows is essential when Edinburgh is busy. Instead of turning back towards the Old Town, head south to explore Bruntsfield and Morningside. They’re largely residential areas, but gems are dotted among the elegant streets.

There’s the Dominion Cinema and Church Hill Theatre but this area is retail heaven for anyone looking for something unusual or a bargain in the profusion of charity shops. Eating and drinking here is more relaxed than in the city and there are high quality brasseries and bistro.

In the summer, two blockbuster exhibitions arrive in Edinburgh. A Grayson Perry retrospective at the National Galleries from July to November while, at the same time, the National Museums of Scotland goes Beyond the Little Black Dress. LW

The Herald: V&A Dundee

Dundee Waterfront

Waterfront Place is at the heart of the changes in Dundee. At its centre is Lee Simmons’ sculpture of The Tay Whale, surrounded by the urban beach and the Active Travel Hub, a centre for cycling and walking.

It's directly opposite Slessor Gardens, an open space that has become the gathering point for everything from concerts to Christmas markets, but there are small corners to hide and have a fresh bagel or donut from the Heather Street Food truck that sits on the V&A Dundee plaza. There are more eating places at the rear of the Caird Hall and along Exchange Street.

The main landmark of the Waterfront is V&A Dundee and in its fifth year, Scotland’s design museum is presenting a large-scale examination of our national fabric. Simply called Tartan, it will run from April to January 2024. LW

The Herald:

Findhorn, Moray

Findhorn has become best known for the Findhorn Foundation, the community that has developed a different way of life for 60 years, but it’s a perfect destination for anyone looking to find some space to breathe. The Foundation has two locations, the Park Ecovillage at Findhorn and the Foundation at Forres, five miles away. Visitors are welcome at the Ecovillage, even for retreats.

Findhorn’s location means it’s also perfect for sailors and water sports fans, but equally great for simple beachcombing. Remember too, this is the Moray Firth so there’s a chance of seeing the resident bottlenose dolphins. Moray is whisky country, and it’s worth looking out for the Spirit of Speyside Festivals that happen in spring and autumn. Also in autumn is the Findhorn Bay Arts Festival takes place in and around the village. LW

The Herald: Perth and Kinross is pressing ahead with a lighting project first proposed as part of a bid for the UK City of Culture title


In the decade since gaining its city status, Perth has carefully been pinning itself to Scotland’s cultural map. Much of this planning comes together in 2023.

A year ago, Perth became a UNESCO Creative City as the UK’s first City of Craft in recognition of the opportunities it provides to craftspeople of all kinds.

However, this coming year will see some significant changes as the Perth Museum and Art Gallery will split to two locations, with the current building on George Street becoming Perth Art Gallery and the current Perth City Hall becoming Perth Museum.

The new Perth Museum will have the iconic Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, at its heart and tell the history of Perth and Kinross.

This means the current museum and gallery will be closed until April, but the gift shop, coffee bar, and lecture theatre will still have limited opening.

In the meantime, two recent city installations are a good reason to visit, particularly a new illuminated artwork by Nathan Coley, which makes the most of the longer days of darkness.

The World Without and The World Within, Sunday Talks With My Children has been installed in Cutlog Vennel. The words are inspired by Sir Patrick Geddes, best known as a town planner.

Wandering through the city, a building on the High Street will catch the eye too. This is a commission by Jupiter Artland from Rachel Maclean as part of Jupiter+ Perth.

A neon pink, almost abandoned toy shop from the outside, inside is just as dystopian but has learning spaces for young artists and creatives.

If you’re planning a visit in May, it’s always a busy time in the city, with Perth Festival of the Arts, which has managed to offer a programme that covers the difficult balance of the classical and the contemporary in music and theatre.

Perth has always punched above its weight in restaurants, from fine dining at 63 Tay Street to the relaxed American diner at Paco’s. It now has an equally eclectic choice of coffee shops. Places like the Effie’s offer a welcome alternative to the chains and is another reason that Perth retains a personality of its own. LW

The Herald:

Aviemore, Cairngorms

Aviemore is a gift that isn’t just for winter – it keeps on giving all year round. It’s the most popular outdoors resort in the Cairngorms. The mountain is just 20 minutes away from the town and the funicular is scheduled to reopen during this winter season, early in 2023.

Apart from skiing through the winter and hiking through the summer, it’s one of the best staycation locations for families in Scotland. The Strathspey Steam Railway, the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre and the Highland Wildlife Park are all close. There are also family-friendly hotels and restaurants all around the town.

Throughout the year there are festivals, from the Winter Festival and Folk Festival in December to the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championships and outdoor festivals in every season. LW

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Newton Stewart, Dumfries and Galloway 

A popular destination for outdoor types, the location of Newton Stewart on the River Cree attracts salmon and trout fishing fans. It’s one of those pretty Scottish market towns that feels like an idea place to live within 10 minutes of arriving, and with so many decent places to eat like The Riverbank Café and independent shops it is. It helps that it’s surrounded by some of Scotland’s most glorious countryside.

The close proximity to Galloway Forest Park is also an advantage for walkers and cyclists and wildlife watchers. It's also the place where stargazers gather under skies that are dark enough to see the heavens how they should be seen. The International Dark Sky Association designated Galloway Forest Park the first Dark Sky Park in the UK, well away from the light pollution that normally obscures our view. LW

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Arbroath, Angus Coast

Sitting on the coast, the largest town in Angus also offers the charm of a fishing harbour. A walk along the Seaton Cliffs is a picturesque way to look out to the sea, and if you’re inclined you could spend three hours wandering to Auchmithie. Refuel here at the But’n’Ben (perhaps a famous Smokie pancake) and take the bus back.

With its links deep into Scottish history, Arbroath Abbey is the most popular destination in the town and on Tartan Day, April 6, its location as the home of the Declaration of Arbroath makes it the centre of that global celebration of all things Scottish.

Recent developments at Hospitalfield, located at the end of a quiet driveway off Westway, mean that it has become the place where visitors from the town and beyond are now coming to experience the feel of a country house and gardens, right in the middle of the town. The Garden Café will be open throughout the winter with new chef Elaine Chalmers at the helm.

Arbroath’s most famous culinary expert is that Smokie, the hot-smoked haddock, of course. Buy them locally and take them home or you’ll find them on local menus. There’s even an Arbroath Smokie Trail that takes in five locations between the Arbroath Signal Tower Museum and Auchmithie.

During the summer months, take to the water with local experts for a trip out to the Bell Rock Lighthouse, the oldest surviving lighthouse at sea.

The Angus Coastal Route runs the 68 miles from Dundee to Aberdeen and along that length are historic buildings such as Barry Mill at Carnoustie and House of Dun near Montrose. There are quiet beaches at Easthaven and the glorious sweep of Lunan Bay, with a campsite and the Lunan Bay Diner – an excuse to spend even longer there. Near Stonehaven there’s the coastal castle like Dunnottar, and nature reserve at St Cyrus.

In the estuary of the South Esk 80,000 migratory birds choose to make their home at the Montrose Basin. It’s a chance to see pink-footed geese, common terns, knot, and kingfisher.

Angus is known for its pretty county towns and magnificent glens but take enough time to explore the coat before heading inland. LW

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Located at the far end of the Black Isle peninsula, Cromarty is a thriving coastal community. The harsh beauty of the oil rigs in the bay contrast with the traditional fishing cottages, giving the village a dynamic feel. From Cromarty take a wildlife watching trip with Eco Ventures into the Cromarty Firth to spot bottlenose dolphins, then join the queue for an excellent coffee from Slaughterhouse Coffee. If it rains, see what’s on at the iconic shipping container-style community cinema on the waterfront. Visit in spring for the Cromarty Film Festival (24th-26th March) or the literary Crime and Thrillers Weekend (21 – 23 April). AS

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Brora, Sutherland

Many visitors drive through the pretty village of Brora on the Sutherland coast without stopping, keen to get more NC500 miles covered. They’re missing out. Brora has a beautiful long sandy bay, perfect for walking or watersports. Sutherland Adventures offer paddleboard hire and lessons both in the bay and inland on Loch Brora - ideal for beginners.

They also lead mountain biking and hiking trips, a brilliant way to get out and experience the surrounding hills. Warm up after at Cocoa Skye cafe with coffee and waffles. On a wet day take a tour and enjoy a dram at Clynelish distillery. AS

The Herald:

Jupiter Artland, Wilkieston

A sculpture park like no other. In the grounds of Bonnington House, ten miles west of Edinburgh, Jupiter Artland features incredible works of art set over a hundred acres of woodland and meadows. Pick up a map and set out to find permanent site-specific sculptures from world-renowned artists including Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley, Phyllida Barlow, and Tracey Emin. Cells of Life, a spiralling landform by Charles Jencks is perhaps the park’s most iconic feature. Jupiter Artland also hosts temporary exhibitions from some of the brightest stars of the contemporary art world and hosts a brilliant and bonkers music festival in the summer. AS

The Herald:

Forsinard Flows, Caithness

Forsinard Flows is a RSPB site deep within The Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland. From the boardwalk you may see golden plover, dunlin, greenshank, hen harrier, skylark, and meadow pipits. It’s an isolated spot. You can reach the visitor centre and observation tower from either the lonely single-track A897 from Helmsdale to Melvich, or by train on the line between Wick and Inverness.

Either route provides a scenic introduction to this vast peated landscape. It’s hoped that The Flow Country will soon become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a visit to the bleak beauty of Forsinard Flows will help you appreciate how vital it is to protect this landscape. AS

The Herald:

Grandtully, Perthshire

Grandtully is a tiny village on the River Tay that’s turning into quite the food and drink destination. Iain Burnett ‘The Highland Chocolatier’ runs a very popular visitor centre here. Book in for a chocolate tasting or visit the cafe for the most luxurious hot chocolate and cakes.

Burnett is a multi-award winning truffle expert so be sure to try a few. Next door is The Grandtully by Ballintaggart, one of Scotland’s best dining destinations, with a cracking pub and gorgeous rooms upstairs. Opposite is cheery The Inn on The Tay where you can enjoy a pint right beside the river. AS

The Herald:

Portsoy, Aberdeenshire

Visiting pretty harbour town Portsoy on the north Aberdeenshire coastline is like stepping back in time, certainly in the eyes of film directors. The remake of Whisky Galore starring Eddie Izzard and Gregor Fisher was filmed here in 2015, and in 2022 Portsoy played a starring role in the BBC’s Peaky Blinders.

There’s plenty of real history to discover here too, learn about the area’s fascinating fishing heritage at the Salmon Bothy, a former salmon house turned museum. Visit in summer for the lively Scottish Traditional Boat Festival and enjoy a varied programme of maritime events, food and drink and music (30th June – 2 July). AS

The Herald:

Fort William

Mountainous Fort William and Lochaber is known as The Outdoor Capital of the UK and for outdoor enthusiasts there’s no greater natural playground.

In winter learn to ski and snowboard at Nevis Range or Glencoe Mountain Resort. Nevis Range is the larger resort, Scotland's only mountain gondola takes you up Aonach Mòr to enjoy twenty kilometres of piste and incredible views.

Nevis Range is also a mountain biking mecca. The Lower Forest Trails offer a mixture of grades for all biking abilities. Three downhill trails start from higher up the mountain and are accessed by the gondola, two are for experts only – staff on site can advise and lessons are available at the Bike School. In May Nevis Range hosts a stage of the UCI Downhill World Cup. Spectators flock to watch elite cyclists reach speeds of 55 km/h and tackle twenty metre jumps.

Once mainly mountaineering focussed, today there are more ways than ever to get active in Lochaber. Use to find qualified outdoor guides and activity providers offering everything from kayaking and paddleboarding to canyoning to climbing. On a wet day check out Three Wise Monkeys climbing wall in Fort William or try indoor ice climbing at The Ice Factor in Kinlochleven.

While Fort William is an excellent base for intrepid outdoor activities, there are plenty of lower-level walks and activities for all fitness levels too. Hiring an e-bike is a really fun way to see more of the area.

Many people miss out visiting the town of Fort William, which the bypass sadly encourages. Those who stop will discover a lively town well worth visiting. The pedestrianised High Street is a great place to shop for outdoor gear at a variety of price points. Newly opened Beinn Nibheis focuses entirely on high-performance sports apparel for women which is brilliant to see. There’s also a fantastic independent bookshop and a new cinema.

You’ll find a warm welcome in Fort William with plenty of pubs and restaurants. The Grog and Gruel is a cheery pub with hearty scran and real ales. For the best seafood, try Crannog restaurant, think steaming bowls of Kinlochleven mussels and langoustine in garlic butter. In winter, the restaurant relocates to Garrison West on the High Street. During the day Fort William is well served by cafes too. Queues snake down the street for Rain Bakery for huge sandwiches and tasty bakes, and The Wildcat is a popular vegan hangout. AS

The Herald:

Pitlochry, Perthshire

Pitlochry, in the heart of Highland Perthshire, is at its most beautiful in autumn when the leaves on the trees start to turn golden and bronze. At any time of year it’s a relaxing place to visit, with walking, cycling, theatre and fine dining some of the main attractions.

The tree-lined River Tummel flows beside the town, and there are dozens of forest trails to explore. Visit gorgeous Tummel Valley and visit Loch Faskally, formed when the Tummel was dammed for the local hydroelectric scheme. The Pitlochry Dam visitor centre is interesting, particularly for the fish ladder where from April to October 5,500 salmon ascend. Further up the valley, visit The Linn of Tummel to watch water cascade over the rocks.

A visit to Queen’s View overlooking Loch Tummel is a panoramic treat. Queen Victoria visited the spot in 1866 but the site is apparently named after Isabella, first wife of Robert the Bruce. Nearby Faskally Wood has a number of well-marked trails around Loch Dunmore, and hosts the popular Enchanted Forest light show event in October each year.

For a longer hill day, get some altitude and climb Ben Vrackie or Schiehallion. Both mountains have good paths but will require walking boots, waterproofs and plenty of water and snacks. Look out for grouse and ptarmigan and if you’re very lucky, birds of prey.

Food and drink is a real draw to Perthshire. Many of the lofty piles once owned by Victorian gentry are now fine foodie hotels.

Red-brick Fonab Castle offers three different dining experiences. At Sandemans the dining room is dark and glamorous, with wood panelling, draping velvet curtains and polished lamps. extravagant seven course tasting menu of fine local produce. For a less formal meal try 1892 on the Loch for all-day dining or afternoon tea with sweeping views of Loch Faskally and over to Ben Vrackie. Or for something a bit different book a pod experience, an intimate and cosy glass pod in the gardens overlooking the loch.

A little further up the glen you’ll find Killiecrankie House, a boutique hotel where you can enjoy some of the most creative culinary creations in Scotland. In Pitlochry try Saorsa 1875 for vegan food, delicious cocktails, and yoga retreats.

To fill your fridge head to House of Bruar. The enticing food hall sells top quality produce from across Scotland and has an award-winning on-site butchery and delicatessen. The bustling cafe is excellent, as is the fish and chip shop. Lobster and chips anyone?

Make sure to check out what’s on at Pitlochry Festival Theatre during your visit too, it’s a brilliant cultural hub with diverse programming throughout the year. AS