Our top 10 National Trust for Scotland sites

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Daffodils on lawn in front of house

From majestic castles to serene nature reserves, National Trust for Scotland properties offer a delightful, often awe-inspiring, way to explore this beautiful country.

Scotland is a treat for travellers of all ages. Kids can play knightly games in historic fortresses or go wild in enchanting woodlands, while parents immerse themselves in glorious floral displays and intriguing ancient monuments.

National Trust for Scotland (NTS) cares for many of the most precious castles, mountains, gardens and islands in Scotland. Did you know Boundless Plus membership includes unlimited access to all National Trust for Scotland places, plus free admission for one adult guest per visit and up to six children? You can find a full explanation of the benefits here. You can also become a National Trust for Scotland member, of course – this supports its vital work.Here are 10 of the most popular – and spectacular – NTS sites to enjoy.

1. Threave Garden & Nature Reserve, Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway

Garden path and fountain

Beneath a striking Victorian red sandstone mansion spreads this estate, contrasting exquisitely designed gardens with wild wonders. Green-fingered visitors delight in strolling between a series of garden ‘rooms’ showcasing diverse styles and flora – hide-and-seek heaven for younger visitors.

Farther afield, the reserve hosts migratory geese, red squirrels and eight bat species. Between March and September, you can also visit the dedicated viewing platform to admire fishing ospreys as they plunge into the River Dee.

2. Glencoe National Nature Reserve, Lochaber

Mountains with heather in foreground

Forged by volcanoes, sculpted by glaciers, adored by history buffs, hikers, photographers and road-trippers, Glencoe National Nature Reserve is arguably the Highlands’ most magical place. Cared for by NTS for nearly a century, this breathtaking valley stretches east between sparkling Loch Leven and the stark grandeur of Rannoch Moor.

Stride out along 37 miles of trails among peaks including Scotland’s most photographed, Buachaille Etive Mòr, watching for golden eagles and stately red deer. Or step back in time discovering the tragic tale of the 1692 massacre, and visiting a reconstructed 300-year-old turf-and-creel longhouse.

3. Culloden, Inverness

Moorland and rainbow

Few battlefields reverberate with splintered hope as much as Culloden. This is the poignant site of the pivotal 1746 clash that snuffed out the Jacobite Rising, which aimed to restore a Stuart king to the British throne.

Dive into the thick of the bloody action in the 360-degree immersion theatre, and discover powerful artefacts from both sides in the moving Visitor Centre. Then stroll across the wind-tussled moor to heather-thatched Leanach Cottage for a vivid window onto life three centuries ago.

4. Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Alloway, Ayr

Exterior view of museum

No one had a greater impact on Scottish culture than national poet ‘Rabbie’ Burns. For insights into his writing, life and legacy, explore this fascinating museum packed with interactive exhibits, manuscripts and personal items.

Afterwards, follow the trail weaving through the lovely village of Alloway to the snug thatched cottage where he was born in 1759, passing the children’s Scots Wa-Hey play area and 15th-century cobblestone Brig o’Doon bridge immortalised in the bard’s ‘Tam o’Shanter’ along the way.

5. Glenfinnan Monument

Lake and tower surrounded by mountains

Visitors flock to NTS’s most visited site to admire the sweeping curve of Glenfinnan Viaduct, across which Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Express steamed. But the focal point of this gorgeous spot on the northern shore of Loch Shiel, guarded by ranks of round-shouldered mountains, is the powerful Glenfinnan Monument.

This imposing 18m tower, topped with a statue of a proudly kilted Highlander, honours the Jacobite warriors who gave their lives for the cause spearheaded by ‘Bonnie’ Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

6. Falkland Palace & Garden, Cupar, Fife

Gardens and palace

It’s easy to see why Mary Queen of Scots loved this hunting lodge-turned-royal palace. Its grand Renaissance interior is strewn with historic paintings and furnishings, and redolent of tales of kings and queens, romance and courtly intrigue.

The magic spreads beyond its 16th-century walls, through the dazzling flower beds of the formal gardens and across the wildflower meadow and orchard, where a willow sculpture of Mary prepares to hunt with her falcon.

7. Drum Castle, Garden and Estate, Drumoak, Aberdeenshire

Exterior view of castle

After Robert the Bruce gifted a hulking square tower, one of Scotland’s oldest, to William Irvine in the 14th century, generations of Clan Irvine expanded their family seat to create a fascinating medieval-Jacobean-Victorian castle

Roam elegant chambers, stairways and the Grand Hall, where proud lairds and their stately ladies peer down from portraits. Amble among ancient oaks, giant redwoods and Monterey pines in the sprawling grounds, where play areas make a hit with junior visitors.

8. Inverewe, Poolewe, Wester Ross

Botanical garden overlooking lake

Tour the floral world in miniature at this extraordinary botanical garden on Scotland’s wild Atlantic coast. Created more than 150 years ago by visionary Osgood Mackenzie, rare Wollemi pines flourish alongside Himalayan blue poppies and a burgeoning rhododendrons at this remote haven.

Keep an eye out, too, for Scotland’s ‘Big Five’ – golden eagle, red deer, seal, otter and red squirrel – all of which thrive in and around Inverewe. 

9. Craigievar Castle, Alford, Aberdeenshire

Castle tower

With its distinctive pink hue, jumble of turrets and woody hillside perch, this mighty tower house might just be Scotland’s most romantic and magical castle. Inside, you’ll find an intriguing array of elements from every era: a medieval-looking iron-lattice yett (gate), wooden wall panels and beautifully elaborate plaster mouldings.

Ongoing efforts to restore the castle’s exterior, largely unchanged in four centuries, mean it’s closed to visitors until late spring 2024, though its wonderful woodland trails are as enticing as ever.

10. Mingulay, Pabbay & Berneray, Hebrides

Beach and sea

At the far southern tip of the Western Isles, these three craggy outcrops are among Scotland’s most dramatic, wild and isolated destinations.

Their human inhabitants have long since departed, leaving haunting reminders of past lives – ghostly relics of crofting and, on Pabbay, an ancient etched Pictish symbol stone. Yet the islands are more alive than ever: their soaring sea cliffs host raucous colonies of razorbills, puffins, guillemots and other seabirds, while basking sharks and dolphins cruise the surrounding waves.

Do more with Boundless

If you're working in or retired from the public sector or civil service, Boundless has two great membership options to choose from: Boundless and Boundless Plus.

With Boundless, you get unlimited access or discounted entry to many of the UK’s top attractions including Kew Gardens and Wakehurst and WWT centres across the UK, as well as year-round deals on restaurants, holidays, shopping and much more. With Boundless Plus, you can enjoy additional benefits including unlimited access to Historic Royal Palaces sites, National Trust for Scotland places, access to The Ramblers' extensive group walks and routes, and peace of mind with roadside assistance and local recovery by LV= Britannia Rescue.

For more information about the National Trust for Scotland and the amazing range of places they care for, visit their website.

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