Did you know there are only seven cities in Scotland? The country has barely 5 million people and if it were a State, it would be 41st in size.
Even though Scotland has fewer people than New York City, there are dozens of towns and hundreds of villages across the country. But in order to be considered a city in Scotland, the settlement must receive a royal charter. To date, only seven have qualified. You might think it would be fun to see all seven cities in Scotland when you visit, but some are better than others.
Perth is Scotland’s newest city, receiving its charter in 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II (60 years as monarch). Perth is located about 45 miles north of Edinburgh. To be honest, I’ve never really visited Perth, although I’ve passed by it dozens of times in my travels. I once stopped for a nice hamburger there for dinner, but otherwise, I really don’t know of any attractions worth visiting. If you do end up there, I’d recommend visiting some of the other towns and villages in Perthshire (the County of Perth) such as Aberfoyle, Callander and Crieff.
Aberdeen, known as “Granite City” for its gray-stone buildings, is located on the coast of the north-eastern peninsula of Scotland. The city is huge in the petroleum industry and also has two universities. As such, it draws an international crowd, but not necessarily for sightseeing. It’s the third-largest city in Scotland, but there’s just not that much to do there. I’ve been through a few times and it just seems too industrial and drab for me. Sure, there are a couple points of interest like the 19th-century Marischal College, but if you want my opinion, skip Aberdeen for the last five cities on this list.
Dundee is another city close to Edinburgh, located only 25 miles east of Perth. In the past few years, Dundee has been getting a huge facelift. The V&A Dundee is the first design museum in Scotland and the building itself is a work of art, built on the harborfront. If you do visit Dundee, make sure you also take a day-trip to nearby St. Andrews to see the ruins of the castle and cathedral there, and have some of the best ice cream in Scotland.
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland with over a million people. It’s also the industrial capital which would tend to put me off, but there are quite a few places worth visiting. My favorite is the Kelvingrove Park and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. I’ve spent hours walking through this park, watching sunsets from the hill and running along the river in the center. Other attractions include the Necropolis (a massive cemetery on a hill), the University of Glasgow, George Square and every Rennie Mackintosh building. Glasgow is also the third UNESCO City of Music, and where you’ll want to head for concerts and performances.
Inverness is the northernmost city in Scotland, located at the top of Loch Ness (inver is Scottish for “mouth of a river”, and loch is Scottish for “lake”). I personally think of Inverness as a mini Edinburgh (it only has a tenth of Edinburgh’s population). There aren’t any particularly fascinating landmarks within the city other than one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world and Inverness Castle, but if you want a taste of the Scottish Highlands, definitely head to Inverness.
Stirling is the smallest city in Scotland with less than 40,000 people, but it’s also one of my favorites. You might recognize the name from Braveheart as William Wallace fought the Battle of Sterling, but the movie horribly portrayed the battle as it forgot to include the bridge that the battle was fought over. You can see the remnants of the bridge, Stirling Castle (one of the best castles to visit in Scotland), and the Wallace Monument. Stirling is only 35 miles from Edinburgh, making it a perfect day-trip if you have the time.
The capital of Scotland isn’t just my favorite city in the country, it’s my favorite in the world. This city has it all: two castles, the Queen’s palace, two extinct volcanoes, beaches, forests, Rosslyn Chapel (from “The Da Vinci Code”), a beautiful zoo, a world-class botanic garden, graveyards, third-wave cafes, the list goes on. Edinburgh is the birthplace of Harry Potter, the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature, and is home to the Edinburgh Fringe (the largest art festival in the world). I wouldn’t just say you have to visit Edinburgh when going to Scotland; you need to visit Edinburgh if you’re going to travel at all!