26 Things Scotland is Known and Famous For

What is Scotland known for?

Scotland is known for its cities Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as its highlands, mountains, and 30,000 lochs. Also, the Scottish are famous for their accent, humor, and being a nation of redheads! Food-wise, perhaps you’ve heard of the Scottish favorites: haggis, “tatties” and “neeps”.

scottish flags

But that’s just an overview! Scotland is also famous for its bloody history, numerous castles, whisky, and much, much more! Let’s begin by diving into Scotland’s most famous city, Edinburgh.

1. Edinburgh

streets of edinburgh

Scotland is famous for its bustling, historic capital, Edinburgh.

Edinburgh has been the capital of Scotland since the 15th century, and its picture-perfect streets are packed with adorable cafes, plenty of shops, and also ample eateries where you can sample everything from haggis to “neeps” and “tatties”. (Don’t worry, you’ll find out what they are later on!)

There’s also plenty of history to be learned in Edinburgh. It’s where you’ll find the National Museum of Scotland and the monarch’s official residence at Holyroodhouse.

Fun fact: Edinburgh was the first city in the world to have its own fire brigade.

2. Lochs

loch lomond

Scotland is known for its many “lochs” and rightly so! Given that there are an estimated 30,000 of them, no trip to Scotland would be complete without seeing one with your own eyes.

“Loch” is probably the most recognized Scots word outside of Scotland, but if you didn’t already know, “loch” means lake, or fjord. 

Of course, most people have heard of Loch Ness. But before we get distracted by alleged sea monsters, there are plenty of other picturesque lochs to feast your eyes on.

Check out Loch Lomond, the largest loch in Scotland, or Loch Katrine which inspired the Victorian author Sir Walter Scott.

3. Haggis

haggis tatties and neeps
Photo Credit: Bernt Rostad. Traditional haggis with tatties and neeps!

Scotland is famous for being the home of Haggis, and love it or hate it, its popularity hasn’t faded.

While the ingredients of Haggis don’t make it sound too appetizing (yes, it really is made of sheep liver, lung, and heart), it’s a dish that locals swear is unbeatable.

The organs are minced, seasoning such as cayenne pepper and onion are added, and then it’s all packed into a sheep’s stomach.

If you are interested in trying haggis, it has a crumbly consistency and is traditionally eaten on Burns Night (more on that later, too!) and Hogmanay (Scottish New Year).

4. Tatties & Neeps

Ok, so the description of haggis made you feel queasy. Maybe I can tempt you into sampling some “Tatties” or “Neeps” instead? 

rutabaga

“Tatties” is the colloquial Scots term for “potatoes”, but it also refers to a particular Scottish recipe for potato scones.

Tatties feature prominently in a traditional Scottish breakfast (bacon, eggs, mushrooms, baked beans, fried tomato, and black pudding). Otherwise, some people serve them with butter or jam (that’s jelly, if you’re American!).

“Neeps” on the other hand are often served alongside haggis, though many people look forward to “neeps” most! The word “neeps” comes from “turnips”, but don’t be fooled! “Neeps” is actually a dish of mashed rutabaga (swede). It’s often seasoned with black pepper or nutmeg and is delicious as a side dish or main!

5. Tartan Kilts

tartan kilts

Scotland is famous for its kilts, but there’s a whole lot of history attached to the patterns that people often miss!

Tartan is the name given to the pattern on most kilts, and interestingly, the colors, lines, and designs all have particular meanings associated with them.

For instance, each Scottish family has its own tartan linked to its surname. While they may all look the same to an outsider, you can be sure a Scot would recognize their own in a sea of kilts! Amazingly, there are over 25,000 registered Scottish tartans in Scotland. 

Colors matter too. Historically speaking, red was traditionally worn in battle, green represented the abundant forests of Scotland, blue was for the lochs and rivers, and yellow symbolized crops.

6. Red Heads

girl with red hair

Scots in cartoons always seem to have red hair (we see you, Groundskeeper Willie and Princess Merida) but how much truth is there to the stereotype? Well, we’re happy to tell you that the rumors are at least somewhat true.

Scotland is famous for being a nation of redheads. The ginger hair capital of the world is Edinburgh and it’s estimated that as many as one in eight Scots have red hair!

Why is this significant? Well, less than 2% of the world’s population has red hair – yet a whopping 6% of Scots can brag about their bronze locks!

7. Scottish Whisky

scotch whisky

The debate will rage on forever about whether Ireland or Scotland have a better claim to whisky, but one thing is undeniable: Scotland is famous for its whisky. Indeed, the nickname “scotch” comes from Scottish whisky!

As fun as a tipple can be, the Scots take their whisky quite seriously. It must be made from malted barley, wheat, or rye. Also, it has to mature in oak barrels for three years before it can be sold.

A large part of Scottish tourism comes from whisky tours and whisky sales contribute ÂŁ5.5 billion (7.8 billion USD) to the U.K economy.

8. Bagpipes

scottish man playing bagpipes

You can’t have a list of what Scotland is famous for without including the bagpipes.

Where bagpipes came from is actually a bit of a mystery – it could be Egyptian, brought over by the Romans, or they could be Celtic. Wherever they come from, it’s an undeniable fact that bagpipes are a musical personification of all things Scottish.

The sound is truly unique; give the Scottish national anthem a listen for a preview!

9. Cairngorms National Park

balmoral castle

Scotland is famous for being home to the U.K’s largest national park called the Cairngorms. Situated in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, Cairngorms is the perfect place to absorb Scottish nature at its finest. 

But there’s plenty else to do if walking isn’t your thing. There are museums, castles, and even breweries dotted around.

Plan your trip in advance and you might get lucky – Cairngorms hosts events all year round. My favorite would have to be the Golden Spurtle in October. That’s the name for the World Porridge Making Championships!

10. The Scottish Highlands

scottish highlands

Scotland is known for its captivating scenery, and nowhere is that exhibited quite as beautifully as The Scottish Highlands.

“The Highlands” is a collective name for the northernmost part of Scotland. They cover about 10,000 square miles and contain the U.K’s highest mountains and more freshwater lakes than England and Wales combined!

If you’re planning a trip to the Scottish Highlands, there are plenty of legendary pit stops you can add to your itinerary. Check out Loch Ness, the many whisky distilleries (this is real whisky territory, by the way), or head to Fraserburgh to visit the biggest shellfish port in Europe.

11. Loch Ness

loch ness

Loch Ness has to be one of the most iconic Scottish landmarks – and of course, it’s also home to Scotland’s most legendary myth, The Loch Ness Monster.

Sticking to the facts, however, Loch Ness is one of four great Lochs located on The Great Glen. That’s what they call the area in the Scottish Highlands that was forged by glaciers during the Ice Age, 500 million years ago! 

And as for “Nessie”, AKA The Loch Ness Monster, did you know a Saint in 565 AD started the search for Scotland’s most infamous monster?

Supposedly, St Columba met Nessie when she came up out of the water and tried to bite his servant! Maybe the servant was snacking on some “tatties” and Nessie just wanted to sample some? Who knows!

12. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

edinburgh castle esplanade

Scotland is famous for its quintessential show called The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. No, nothing to do with ink! Tattoo in this instance refers to performances of music or theatrics by the armed forces, rather than skin art.

The show has been performed since 1949 and now takes place at the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade.

This world-famous display encompasses Scottish tradition, passion for music and is a spectacular performance that draws audiences in time and time again!

13. The Inner & Outer Hebrides

outer hebrides

If you want to experience quieter, quainter Scottish life, nowhere is more perfect than visiting The Hebrides. The Hebrides are a group of islands off the west coast of Scotland, and they’re divided into two parts: the inner and outer Hebrides.

As if made for outdoorsy people, the islands in the Inner and Outer Hebrides offer stunning beaches, coastal paths, and plenty of opportunities for canoeing and kayaking. Don’t forget to make a trip to see Dunvegan Castle, either! 

Islands to visit in the Inner Hebrides: Skye, Mull, Jura
Islands to visit in the Outer Hebrides: Lewis, Harris, Uist

14. Glasgow

glasgow cathedral

Edinburgh is a fancy-pants, stunning city, but Glasgow is a fierce rival. Yes, Scotland is famous for its second-largest city, Glasgow, where there’s plenty to see and do for tourists.

Glasgow is situated on the River Clyde, and while Edinburgh gets fame for being a cultural hub, Glasgow doesn’t lag far behind. There’s no Glasgow Fringe Festival, but you can attend the ballet or opera if you want some classy entertainment.

Glasgow is also famous for having great food, whisky, and, despite rumors, being one of the world’s friendliest cities. You’ll also find the U.K’s only Women’s Only Library in Glasgow, which is dedicated to the lives of women and their achievements.

It’s the only Scottish city to have an underground subway system, so it’s super easy to get around too! 

15. Burns Night

AuldLangSyne Burns Night

This is one of my favorite Scottish traditions, and one that I think the rest of us should be quite envious of.

Scotland is famous for being the homeland of the noted 18th-century poet, Robert Burns. On 25 January (Burns’ birthday), every year, Scottish people celebrate his life and contributions to Scottish culture by throwing a truly Scottish party.

The tradition began in 1801, when Burns’ friends gathered to commemorate the fifth anniversary of his death. It was apparently very popular, because now, two hundred years later, Scots still gather to eat haggis, tatties and neeps, sing Burns’ most famous song, Auld Lang Syne, and honor their literary hero. 

16. Scottish Languages

edinburgh streets

Scotland is famous for having a unique accent, but linguistics in Scotland is much bigger than just pronunciation. There are four official languages in Scotland; English, Gaelic, Scots and British Sign Language. 

English is arguably the most commonly spoken language in Scotland, but Scots come in at a close second. Some have incorrectly assumed that Scots is a joke; words in Scots are often spelled phonetically. However, Scots is full of dialect words such as “kirk” instead of “church”, which betray their Viking/Anglo-Saxon origins. 

Gaelic on the other hand came from Old Irish through the Goidelic family of Celtic languages. Only an estimated 1.1% of the Scottish population speak Scottish Gaelic, although government and community schemes are trying to revive interest in the old language.

17. Funny Scots Words

wee bairn

Just because Scots isn’t slang, it doesn’t mean that some of the words won’t make you laugh. Scotland is famous for having some rib-cracking comedians, and their jokes just wouldn’t be as good without the accent or amusing terms of phrase. 

There are some that are instantly recognizable: “hen” as a term of endearment, or “tidy” to mean good-looking. Others are harder to figure out. “Bawhair” means pubic hair, but it is mostly used as a measurement: “a bawhair away”!

18. Movie Locations

hogwarts express scotland

With scenery that stunning, it makes sense that directors have made Scotland famous for being a great place to shoot movies. Who hasn’t seen Braveheart, Harry Potter, The Crown, Skyfall, or Outlander?

You can visit all of these iconic places that have been featured in your favorite movies, and luckily, it’s been made simple for you. VisitScotland has put together a list of where to go for some famous movies: find out where your favorite was shot here

19. Harry Potter

harry potter charm

Scotland is also famous for being a country of pilgrimage for Harry Potter fans, and hundreds of people flock there to experience a bit of Scottish magic!

Aside from the fact that many movie scenes were shot there, J.K Rowling inserted Scotland into the stories frequently. For example, Hogwarts, Rowling says, is in the Scottish Highlands. Also, the beloved Professor McGonagall is Scottish.

Although J.K Rowling is English by birth, she moved to Edinburgh and brought her Harry Potter transcript with her on the train. If you’re looking to recreate iconic scenes, visit Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands to emulate the view from a Hogwarts classroom!

20. Scottish Shortbread

scottish shortbread

Scotland is famous for having delicious cookies, more commonly known in Scotland as shortbread. Remember: Scots use the word “biscuits” instead of cookies, and getting the two confused will deliver very different results!

Scottish shortbread is traditionally made with butter, and possibly the most famous female Scot of all time, Mary Queen of Scots, is rumored to have adored it. Shortbread comes in rectangular slabs, and is best enjoyed with a strong cup of tea!

21. Scottish History

edinburgh statue

Over the years, Scotland has seen huge changes politically and socially. There’s no denying that the feisty Picts or the ferocious Vikings have made their mark on Scottish culture, and Scotland is famous for having a particularly bloody history.

Whether you’re into battles or blood axes, castles or churches, monasteries or museums, Scotland is teeming with historic sights.

For medieval Scottish history fans, I recommend The Borders Abbeys Way. If you’re more into the Victorians, take a look at the Victorian Heritage Trail.

22. Stirling Castle

stirling castle in scotland

Scotland is famous for its many Scottish castles, but only one has such an important place in Scottish history and hearts. Stirling Castle was home to many of Scotland’s most notorious monarchs, and Mary Queen of Scots was crowned there. But it’s not just a mega mansion for long-dead important people.

Stirling Castle played a pivotal role in Scottish independence. It was besieged eight times, the last time occurring in 1746 when Bonnie Prince Charlie failed in bringing his country back into Scottish ownership. 

These days, it’s a very pleasant and fascinating tourism site. Like Disneyland for History Geeks, you can even meet costumed characters who can tell you all about life in ‘ye auld’ Scotland from their differing perspectives; bodyguards, kitchen maids, etc.

23. Live Music

edinburgh pub

Scotland is known for being the home of great live music, and no, it’s not just limited to bagpipes. Most recently, Scots such as Calvin Harris and Lewis Capaldi have injected Scottish talent into mainstream music.

But one of the best places to experience Scottish music is live – at a pub. 

Many pubs in Scotland offer live entertainment in the evening, both in cities and in the countryside. It gives local talents a chance to perform or get old favorites up on the stage. In fact, live music was one of the most-anticipated comebacks during the Covid-19 pandemic.

24. Famous Scots

david hume statue in edinburgh

Scots are here, there and everywhere – and it goes to show, even small nations can have incredible talent in their midst.

Some names you’ll be familiar with, I’m sure: actors such as Ewan McGregor and Tilda Swinton. Andy Murray is one of Scotland’s most famous sportsmen, with 46 tennis titles to his name.

Other names have gotten buried over the years. The scientist who invented penicillin, Alexander Fleming, was Scottish. So was James Watt, who invented the steam engine. And then there’s Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone.

The list just goes on and on!

25. Unusual sports

rock skipping

Even if you think you stink at sports, there’s bound to be a famous Scottish sport you’ll love. Trust me, some of these have made Scotland famous for being fierce with good reason! 

Take stone skipping for example. A vacation pastime for some, a reason to hold a championship for another! The Scots love their stone skipping competitions, and every year the championships are held on the last Sunday of September on the island of Easdale near Oban.

If that doesn’t float your boat, try highland dancing, caber toss, or even – wait for it – haggis hurling!

26. Highland Cows

highland cow

No, we haven’t forgotten these beautiful creatures! Scotland is famous for its unique, hairy, ginger cows! As the name suggests, they graze mostly in the highlands and the shaggy coats are there to keep them warm in the cool, mountainous climate.

Highland cows are actually the oldest cattle breed in the world, and animal experts are certain that hierarchies within a herd are based on age. So, if you meet one, respect your elders and watch out for the horns!

scottish highland

And there you have it: 26 things that Scotland is known and famous for. Where’s your favorite part of Scotland, or where would you most like to visit? Let us know in the comments below!

Now, hop over to read about what Ireland is famous for.

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