The 5 Most Beautiful Towns & Villages in Scotland

I love the small towns and villages of Scotland. The stone-built houses, lovely gardens, small shops along the High Street and the fantastically warm people make the smaller places much more attractive than larger cities like Edinburgh or Glasgow.

I love the sea and the coast, perhaps because I don't have much of it in my own country but also because they are often associated with variety, bringing that extra bit of excitement to an otherwise quiet place. It should come as no surprise, then, that my favorite places in Scotland all have access to the open sea.

My Favorite Five Scottish Towns & Villages

1. North Berwick

Whale jawbones on Berwick Law

North Berwick is an attractive seaside resort and harbor town located on the southern side of the Firth of Forth where it meets the North Sea. It is the very first coastal town I had the chance of visiting in Scotland and as soon as I got there, I was hooked. North Berwick has so much to offer.

My absolute favorite part is the beach which stretches for miles along the coast. The beach itself is varied, with large sandy areas followed by rocky shores as you get closer to Tantallon Castle (only 3 miles from the town) and has great views towards the Firth of Forth. There are three offshore islands in North Berwick: Craigleith, Fidra and, the most impressive of them, the Bass Rock.

I remember the first time I laid my eyes on the Bass Rock, an extinct volcano turned prison, now one of the largest seabird colonies in Europe. I just couldn't take my eyes off it or stop photographing it. The Bass Rock is white with the thousands of kilograms of droppings from the large gannet population. Be warned, the smell becomes somewhat difficult to bear if you decide to take the boat tour to the rock.

The harbor and town itself are also attractive and so is Berwick Law, the cone-shaped hill overlooking the town, until recently crowned with a magnificent set of whale jawbones. All in all, this is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to.

More photos of North Berwick, East Lothian
Bass Rock and North Berwick harbor
Tantallon Castle, east of N. Berwick
Bass Rock seen from the beach
North Berwick harbour
Bass Rock in evening light

2. Pittenweem

Fishing harbour, Pittenweem

The fishing villages of East Neuk, Fife, are, among my favorite places in Scotland. They are all so picturesque with their red-tiled rooftops and whitewash houses that choosing a single one was no easy task. St Monans, Anstruther and Crail are all lovely villages, but it's Pittenweem that's the most active of the local fishing ports, a true hive of activity with fishing boats jostling for position in its busy harbour.

Pittenweem has lots to offer, from a stroll along the East Neuk Coastal Path, or along the shore, to a visit to St Fillan's Cave in Cove Wynd, or to the Fish and Chips shops. But the best thing about Pittenweem is that the journey to it and beyond is packed with places to see: Culross, Elie, Lower Largo, St Monans, Anstruther, Crail and St Andrews.

More photos of Pittenweem, East Neuk of Fife
Whitewash houses, Pittenweem
Pittenweem shore with houses
Fishing boats in Pittenweem harbour
Old-fashioned sweets shop, Pittenweem
View towards Pittenweem from harbour

3. Portree

Portree harbour at sunrise

Portree is the largest town on the Isle of Skye - population 2,000. Somerled Square lies at its heart and I'll never forget the first time I was there. This square has, aside from bus stops, a bank, the post office, the bakery, and not far from it, a supermarket as well as shops and a hostel. It has to be one of the most functional small squares I've ever seen.

The harbor is the focal point in Portree -- not surprising, with the pubs and seafood restaurants and the amazing views across Portree Bay. I highly recommend the short walk up on the Lump, the hill above the harbor which gives great views all around. On a clear day, you can even see the Old Man of Storr in the distance.

Portree is a great place to explore Skye from because of its proximity to natural attractions in the north of the island (Kilt Rock, Quirang, Storr) and the south (The Cuillins).

More photos of Portree, Skye
The Black Cuillins seen from Portree
Boats in Portree harbour
View over Portree Bay at sunrise
Pubs and restaurants in the harbour
The Cuillins framed by pines, view from The Lump

4. Plockton

Plockton village on the shores of Lochcarron

Plockton is one of those magical Scottish detours. Located on the shores of Loch Carron, Plockton is, I believe, also called The Highland Riviera thanks to its palm trees -- a common, but strange occurrence here (you don't expect the Scottish climate to suit palm trees). Regular residents also include Highland cows to the delight of visitors. You can see them sheltering in the shade or grazing on the village island at low tides or causing traffic jams on the single-track roads around the area.

The views from Plockton are simply superb with rocky hills in the distance and Duncraig Castle just across the busy bay. The beautiful scenery in and around Plockton makes this route far more attractive than the regular route from Kyle of Lochalsh to Stromferry along the A87/A890.

More photos of Plockton, Lochcarron
View from Plockton, known as the Highlands Riviera
Boats in Plockton Bay
Plockton Bay with Duncraig castle in the distance
Hairy cow near Plockton, at Duirinish
Boats and whitewash houses in Plockton

5. St Abbs

St Abbs and the rocky North Sea coast

St Abbs may not be far from Dunbar, but getting there from Edinburgh is quite tricky because of poor public transport links (no train station, and just the one bus). But there's a certain peace and beauty about this isolated place that makes a visit definitely worthwhile.

Unlike the low-level coastal villages of Fife or the west coast, part of St Abbs is overlooked from the cliffs by lines of what were originally fishermen's cottages running parallel to the cliff edge. The walk towards St Abbs Head with its lighthouse is very attractive and so is the harbor itself.

More photos of St Abbs, the Borders
Rocky shore near St Abbs
St Abbs harbour
St Abbs with Eyemouth in the distance
St Abbs harbour
Fishermen houses, St Abbs