Sat. Feb 27th, 2021

From its castles to its history to its fabled food and drink, Scotland has a great variety of attractions to offer visitors. It can be difficult to see the country by yourself, so why not take a guided tour? Should you be staying in Edinburgh or Glasgow, you can make the most of your time with a half-day history or food tour of those cities. If you want to escape the bustle for a bit, sign up for a trip to the Scottish Highlands, which can be tricky to reach on your own without a car. Using both expert opinion and traveler sentiment, U.S. News determined the best tours in Scotland. No matter which one you choose, or where you decide to go, each trip features guides eager to share their knowledge and love of Scotland.

SANDEMANs New Europe – Edinburgh Castle Walking Tour

See one of Edinburgh’s most iconic sights up-close with an experienced guide on this tour from SANDEMANs New Europe. During your trip, guides will lead you through Edinburgh Castle, which sits atop the extinct Castle Rock volcano, and impart information about the building’s long and eventful history. The 90-minute tour includes popular spots within the castle like the Scottish National War Memorial, St. Margaret’s Chapel and Mons Meg cannon. The guides are widely regarded as well-informed and talented storytellers. Tickets start at 32 pounds (roughly $42) for adults, 30 pounds (around $39) for students and 21 pounds (about $27.50) for children 5 to 15. The price includes bypass-the-line admission to the castle, which tour-takers can explore on their own after the tour ends and until the castle closes. Tours operate twice daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. SANDEMANs New Europe also runs a tour of Edinburgh’s New Town, among other offerings.

City Sightseeing – Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour

City Sightseeing offers hop-on, hop-off bus tours of both Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Edinburgh route features 14 stops, including Waverly Bridge, the Grassmarket, the National Museum of Scotland, John Knox House and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Glasgow’s route offers 21 stops, including the Glasgow Cathedral, the Riverside Museum and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Both tours permit passengers to explore the various destinations at their own pace and hop on a later bus to proceed to the next stop. Travelers find the tours convenient for taking in the popular spots in both cities. If you take the full loop without hopping off, the Edinburgh tour lasts approximately one hour; the buses run approximately every 15 minutes. The Glasgow tour is slightly longer at roughly 80 minutes; buses run every 10 minutes during summer and every 30 minutes the rest of the year. Both tours provide recorded audio commentary in multiple languages. The Glasgow tour deploys live guides on select tours from Easter through October. Single-day tickets for both tours cost approximately $20. Two-day hop-on hop-off tickets are also available.

Cruise Loch Ness – Daily Cruise

Cruise Loch Ness’ Daily Cruise offers views of sights such as Loch Ness’ sole island, Cherry Island, and Fort Augustus Abbey. Guides provide information regarding the environs and area history, and trip-takers typically find them friendly and entertaining. But the coastal scenery is the real reason for taking the boat ride and travelers find the natural surroundings strikingly beautiful. The 50-minute excursions depart Fort Augustus, on the southern end of Loch Ness, hourly from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from April through October. Tours depart at 11 a.m., noon and 1 and 2 p.m. from November through March. Tickets cost around 15 pounds (about $20) for adults and 9 pounds (roughly $12) for children 4 to 15. Snacks and beverages are available for purchase on board. Cruise Loch Ness also offers an hourlong evening cruise in the spring and summer.

Little Fish Tours – Free Tour Edinburgh

Little Fish Tours’ free walking excursion offers an overview of the city’s architecture, history and folklore. Specific sights and topics may vary according to tour group’s preferences and guide’s expertise, but usually include stops at the Mercat Cross, St. Giles’ Cathedral, the Grassmarket, the National Museum of Scotland, the Greyfriars Bobby statue and the exterior of Edinburgh Castle. Guides are considered to be enthusiastic, passionate and knowledgeable about the city and its history. Tours, which start at a High Street cafe, begin at 10:30 a.m. daily and last nearly two hours. The tour is free to take, but guides welcome tips at the conclusion of the tour. For the company’s guided tours of the National Museum of Scotland and Edinburgh Castle, as well as its whisky tasting, tickets must be purchased.

Visit the picturesque town of Portree during a visit to the Isle of Skye with WOW Scotland.(Getty Images)

WOW Scotland – Isle of Skye Tour

This excursion from WOW Scotland departs Inverness for a daylong bus trip to the Isle of Skye. During the approximately 11-hour tour, you’ll see everything from quaint towns to natural wonders, such as the Old Man of Storr, to castles like Eilean Donan. The views invariably win enthusiastic plaudits for their beauty. WOW Scotland prides itself on having both drivers and tour guides rather than one person wearing both hats, and tour-takers typically praise the staff as highly knowledgeable and professional. Tours, which start at 9 a.m., are typically offered on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from June through October. Tickets start at 69 pounds (around $90) in peak summer months and at 64 pounds (about $82) in the spring and early fall. The fees do not cover food. Want to see more of the Isle of Skye? Check out WOW Scotland’s Skye Fairy Pools Tour.

When it comes to adult beverages, Scotland may be best known for its whisky, but don’t overlook its beer. Tennent’s Brewery Tour takes visitors inside Tennent’s Wellpark Brewery, one of the best-known beer-making facilities in Glasgow. Tours start at the Tennent’s Heritage Centre, which chronicles the centurieslong history of Tennent’s Lager (and which can be visited even if you don’t take the full tour). The guided tour shows how the beer is made today. Tours end, appropriately enough, with a pint of beer. Brewery visitors typically enjoy learning the local lager’s history and find the guides rather adept. The 90-minute tours are offered several times a day, every day. Tickets start at 12.50 pounds (about $16) for adults and 9 pounds (around $12) for children 12 to 17. Children younger than 12 cannot tour. Tennent’s also conducts a Tennent’s Heritage Walking Tour of Glasgow, among others.

Heart of Scotland Tours – Best of Scotland in a Day

This tour aims to live up to its name by packing in as many Scottish elements as possible – including mountains, lakes (or lochs), rivers, a castle, a cathedral and, quite possibly, Highland cows – into an almost 10-hour trip. The outing includes stops at Blair Castle, Dunkeld Cathedral and Queen’s View scenic viewpoint as well as the Hermitage Woodland Walk. These small-group expeditions (which use a 16-seat bus) include narration from drivers/guides widely deemed knowledgeable and entertaining. Tours depart Edinburgh’s Waterloo Place bus stand at 9 a.m. every day except Wednesday and Friday from late March to early November. Tickets start at 43 pounds (about $55) for adults with discounts for children, seniors and students. The fee doesn’t include entrance to Blair Castle or lunch in its restaurant. Heart of Scotland Tours also leads a tour of the Viking Coast and Alnwick Castle, among others.

The Ghost Bus Tours – Edinburgh

Hop aboard this black double-decker bus to hear spooky stories about Edinburgh. Actors serve as guides on this 75-minute ride through the city, offering commentary as you drive by top sights like Edinburgh Castle, the Greenmarket, the Royal Mile, New Town and more. Tour-takers enjoy their trips and typically find the haunted tales an equal blend of creepy and funny. Tours depart from Waverly Bridge every day at 6 and 7:30 p.m. with additional 9 p.m. rides on Friday and Saturday. Tickets cost approximately 18 pounds (approximately $23) per adult, with discounts for seniors, students and children. The Ghost Bus also haunts the streets of London and York, England.

For a taste of distinctive Scottish fare provided by local purveyors, take the Wee Food Tour in Glasgow. Along the way, you could sample cheese, chips and haggis, visiting a total of six different shops and restaurants. Food enthusiasts praise the guides as passionate and knowledgeable about the city and its cuisine. The tour begins at 11 a.m. from the entrance to the Buchanan Street underground station every day except Sunday (when there is no tour). It lasts approximately four hours, with about 1 1/2 miles of walking. Tour tickets cost approximately 90 pounds (about $117) and include food as well as water and soda; alcoholic beverages can be purchased separately where available. As an added bonus, the Wee Food Tour donates 5 pounds (around $6.50) from each tour to a local food bank. The company also offers private tours.

Take a visit to Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery with Timberbush Tours on its Ultimate Whisky Experience.(Courtesy of Timberbush Tours)

Timberbush Tours – Ultimate Whisky Experience

Timberbush Tours’ Ultimate Whisky Experience spotlights Scotland’s best-known adult beverage. First, the tour departs from Edinburgh to Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery, where you’ll participate in a two-hour whisky and chocolate tour. You’ll stop in the village of Aberfeldy for lunch then travel to Deanston Distillery for your second whisky tasting. After a stop at Doune Castle, the tour returns to Edinburgh. Along the way, drivers serve as guides and offer commentary, which tour-takers tend to enjoy. Tickets for the tour start at 38 pounds (roughly $50) for adults and 36 pounds (approximately $47) for children, seniors and students. Note: Whisky tastings and tours at both distilleries as well as lunch are not included in the ticket price. Tours, which last about 10 hours, occur Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday. Timberbush Tours also conducts this tour from Glasgow as well as other sightseeing excursions.

Loch Ness by Jacobite – Sensation Tour

In addition to a 30-minute lake cruise, this tour includes visits to Urquhart Castle and the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition. Audio guides onboard the boat offer tales about the region and its legendary monster. Visitors describe the castle as particularly impressive and the price as quite reasonable. Tours depart from the Inverness city center. Tickets cost approximately 35 pounds (about $46) for adults and 25 pounds (around $33) for children, which covers transportation, entrance to the castle and the boat ride. Beverages and snacks are available for purchase separately. Overall, the excursion, which starts at 10 a.m. daily, lasts four hours. Loch Ness by Jacobite has a number of other themed tours of Loch Ness.

Walking Tours in Glasgow – City Center Tour

Participants on this tour regularly call guides enthusiastic and informative, making the experience fun for travelers of all ages. The approximately 2 1/2-hour excursion takes visitors to some of the most celebrated spots in Glasgow, including George Square (where tours commence), the Necropolis, Glasgow Green and the River Clyde. During the approximately 3-mile stroll, guides share background regarding the city’s history and key figures, including its patron saint, St. Mungo. Tours operate daily at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., except in winter, when there is only a morning tour. According to reviewers, tickets are a bargain; they cost about 10 pounds (around $13) for adults and half that for children younger than 16. Walking Tours in Glasgow also offers tours with various themes, such as film or street art.

HAGGiS Adventures – Lochs, Castles and The Kelpies

The first stop on this distinctively Scottish tour is Balmaha. This village sits on the shores of Loch Lomond and grants tourgoers exceptional views of Ben Lomond – one of Scotland’s most popular mountains (munros). In the afternoon, the tour heads to Stirling Castle, a former royal residence and fortress. The final stop is The Kelpies, which are a pair of massive metal horse heads inspired by folkloric creatures of the same name. HAGGiS Adventures tour guides, who provide commentary throughout the day, are regarded as both professional and informative. Outings run on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday during peak season (April through September) and less frequently the rest of the year. They depart Edinburgh around 8:30 a.m. and return to the city at approximately 5:30 p.m. Prices vary by time of year but start at $64 per person. The fee does not include entrance to the castle. HAGGiS Adventures also has several other daylong tours, including one that takes travelers to “Outlander” filming locations.

During Eat Walk Edinburgh’s Old and New Town Tour, you’ll taste not only Edinburgh’s great food, but also its spirits.(Courtesy of Eat Walk Edinburgh)

Eat Walk Edinburgh – Old and New Town Tour

If you’re craving haggis, wild boar sausage, black pudding, smoked salmon and Scottish cheeses, this approximately three-hour tour is for you. Eat Walk Edinburgh’s Old and New Town food tour takes travelers through the city to sample all these delicacies along with tastings of whisky, gin, wine and beer. Both the food samples and the guides routinely win high marks from patrons. The tours are offered at 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday and also at 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Tours run at noon on Sunday. Tickets cost approximately 67 pounds (or around $87) and include all food and drink. Groups are limited to eight people, who can opt to use headphones to hear their guide as they walk at their own pace between stops, which is generally deemed a nice bonus feature. Eat Walk Edinburgh also runs a Canongate Brunch Food tour.

Rabbie’s – Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands – 1 Day Tour from Glasgow

This daylong tour celebrates Scotland’s natural beauty, with visits to mountains, valley, moors, woods and lakes. During the nearly 12-hour trip, you’ll see Loch Lomond, the Glencoe Valley, Urquhart Castle, Ben Nevis and more. Drivers of the 16-seat vehicles double as guides, and they are generally deemed quite knowledgeable and amusing. Excursions Depart Glasgow around 8 a.m. daily. Prices vary by season and you can expect to pay 42 pounds (about $55) to 57 pounds (around $74) for an adult ticket. Discounts are available for seniors and children 5 to 15; children younger than 5 are not allowed to tour. Rabbie’s also offers tours of the Scottish countryside departing from Glasgow, as well as trips that depart from Edinburgh.

The Potter Trail shows curious readers the locations said to have inspired the “Harry Potter” books. During the 1 1/2-mile walk, you’ll explore the real-life Diagon Alley, see the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote the first novel in the series and more. Fans of the books find the guides exceptionally knowledge about the iconic series and its author. Even those not familiar with the “Harry Potter” tales find this tour an informative introduction to Edinburgh. The family-friendly tours are available twice daily at noon and 4 p.m. from April through August and at 2 p.m. only from September through March. Excursions typically last around 90 minutes. There’s no charge for this walk, though the guides happily accept contributions. The Potter Trail also offers private, fee-based tours for groups.

The Hairy Coo – 1-Day Free Scottish Highlands Tour

As its name indicates, this trip provides a day’s-worth of sightseeing on a pay-what-you-want basis. Among the tour’s key destinations are Loch Katrine (said to be the inspiration of Sir Walter Scott’s poem “The Lady of the Lake”), Dukes Pass, the Doune Castle, the National Wallace Monument, Loch Achray and the Forth Bridge – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bus drivers serve as expert tour guides and are regarded as humorous and insightful. The approximately 10-hour outings depart Edinburgh at 8:45 a.m. Specific days of departure vary seasonally. Note: participants must be at least 12 years old to join the tour. The Hairy Coo also offers fee-based multiday tours of Scotland.

Once Upon a Whisky Tours – Glasgow’s West End Whisky Tour

Whisky lovers will enjoy this tour of Glasgow’s West End, which stops at four bars for samples of four single malt Scotch whiskies. Along the way, guides impart little-known facts and surprising trivia about the renowned beverage. Tour-takers report learning a great deal about whisky, how it’s made and how best to enjoy it. Tours take place daily from 4:30 to 7 p.m. and start at Ben Nevis Whisky Bar. It costs around 60 pounds (or about $78) to take the tour (nondrinkers will only be charged 30 pounds, or about $40); participants must be at least 18 years old. The price includes the whisky tastings but not food, which can be purchased separately at most of the establishments visited. Once Upon a Whisky also runs a whisky tour of Glasgow’s city center.

Head beneath Edinburgh’s streets with a trip from Mercat Tours.(Courtesy of Mercat Tours)

Mercat Tours – Historic Underground

Mercat Tours’ Historic Underground tours take patrons beneath Edinburgh and provide exclusive access to the Blair Street Underground Vaults, a system of caverns constructed in the 18th century. Guides explain how and why the vaults were built and how they came to be used. Reviewers say this walking tour offers an unusual perspective on the city and find the guides well-versed in Edinburgh’s history. Tours, which last about 75 minutes, start at the Mercat Cross on High Street and conclude with a visit to the company’s Discovery Room, which houses various artifacts as well as a model of the vaults. Tours depart three times daily at noon and 2 and 4 p.m. Tickets start at 14 pounds (about $18) for adults and 9 pounds (around $12) for children 5 to 15. Children younger than 5 may not tour. Mercat Tours also leads a number of other walks related to Edinburgh’s history and lore in addition to private tours.

Scotland’s Wild Tours – Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Tour

This eight-hour bus journey begins and ends beside Loch Lomond inside Trossachs National Park – Scotland’s first national park. Beyond viewing the mountains, valleys, lakes, waterfalls, flora and fauna from the seat of the bus, the tour takes travelers among these wonders during a two-hour nature walk. Guides provide information regarding the geography, history and culture of the area, and they are generally regarded as both professional and personable. The tour, which is limited to eight participants, is offered at 9 a.m. daily from April through October. Tickets cost approximately 50 pounds (about $65) for adults and 43 pounds (around $56) for children ages 12 to 15. The company also operates tours of Glencoe and the Highlands in addition to private tours.

Glasgow Gander Walking Tours

This free walking tour of Glasgow leads participants to top destinations, such as Buchanan Street, the Glasgow City Chambers, Trades Hall, Merchant City, the Glasgow Cathedral and more. Travelers laud guides as highly entertaining and knowledgeable about the city’s architecture, culture and history. Tours depart from Royal Exchange Square near the Gallery of Modern Art (where the Duke of Wellington statue typically dons a traffic cone on its head) every day except Sunday and Monday at 10:30 a.m. The approximately 1 1/2-mile jaunt usually last about 2 1/2 hours. Though the tour is free, donations are welcome. Reservations are required.

City Explorers – Free Ghost Tour

Is Edinburgh haunted? Here’s one way to find out. City Explorers’ Free Ghost Tour explores the city’s more fiendish history, as guides recount tales of infamous murders, witch trials, public executions and the like while traipsing through Old Town’s cemeteries and dark alleyways. While some tour-takers say the expedition could be spookier, most agree that it is great fun and that the guides’ storytelling is highly entertaining. The 90-minute walking tour takes place each evening at 5 and 7 p.m., starting outside the Royal McGregor whisky bar. While there’s no charge to take this tour, guides appreciate tips at the conclusion. City Explorers also offers a free tour of Edinburgh and a free “Harry Potter” tour, among others.

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