Exploring Scotland – 10 organisations to know about

Edinburgh: The Scott Monument and Princes Street gardens on a warm sunny day

I have been back in Edinburgh for a few months and with the longer warmer days now (almost) here, it is time to get out of the city and explore Scotland.  I plan to re-visit all the wonderful places I grew up with, and enjoyed when living in Scotland before my expat days.  To aid me with my journey of re-discovery, I have turned to a number of well-known organisations that manages and promotes some of Scotland’s most famous natural history, its beautiful wild landscapes, the many places of special interest and the our amazing historic sites. 

The organisations I have selected is not an exhaustive list – they are the better known organisations that offer the most up to date information, including access, opening times and entrance fees. Membership is worth considering and may be cheaper if you plan to visit multiple properties with the same organisation.  Membership will also get you various discounts, concessions and free entry or reciprocal arrangements in England and Wales, for example the National Trust.

General information

1.  Visit Scotland


Visit Scotland is Scotland’s national tourism board and represents all regions local authorities and private business in the tourism industry.  This website really is the first stop when researching where to go, what to do, where to stay and to check for details of any special events.  The site is absolutely packed with information, and it is easy to get inspiration browsing this site.

I particularly like the guides by region, as it helps to find immediately what is on offer.  The site also has a number of useful planning tools, including suggested itineraries for both general or for specialist tourist activities,  such as golfing, hill-walking or natural history buffs.  These tool also include a number of downloadable e-brochures to the regions and various activities in Scotland, such as food, whisky and golf.

 Key information

Website:  http://www.visitscotland.com/

Downloadable e-brochures:  http://www.visitscotland.com/e-brochures/

Office locations: There are over 50 full-time year round regional Visit Scotland Information Centres throughout Scotland, plus a number of seasonal offices.  To check where they are, click here.  In Edinburgh the biggest information centre is at 3 Princes Street, above Waverley Railway station.  It opens at 9am – 5pm daily, and to 6pm in June and 7pm July and August.

 Historic Sites and Estates

2,  National Trust for Scotland


Set up in 1931, The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) is the largest conservation charity in Scotland, looking after 19,000 acres, 70 gardens, 129 heritage properties such as castles, palaces and historical places of interest, and a large number of treasured collections.  Many properties also offer self catering accommodation or camp sites. The NTS also offer themed events, tours and volunteer opportunities.

There are a number of membership options for both visitors and residents in Scotland.  Full details  are here. You can search by name or property,  location or type of property i.e. battlefield, castle, mountain etc.

Key information

Website:  http://www.nts.org.uk/Home/

Membership options:  Various – Family, 1 adult + up to four children, senior citizens, individual – up to 25, 25 – 59.

Entrance fees:   Entrance fees are variable and payable at around 100 properties.  Members free.

Notable and famous properties:  Culzean Castle – South Ayrshire, Glencoe, Battle of Culloden, Marr Estate – Cairngorms

3.  Historic Scotland


Although many castles and stately homes are in private ownership, many more are publicly owned and Historic Scotland is the government department that manages most of Scotland’s publicly owned historical sites.  If you have a particular interest in historic buildings and sites – both ruins and those still in use – Scottish Heritage is good place to start your research.   They manage around 400 historic properties including abbeys, castles, ruins, stately homes and palaces.  Historic Scotland also run a number of events, including jousting and living history days. Full details and directions to each property are on the website, including GPS coördinates.  Partner sites are English Heritage, Welsh Heritage and Manx Heritage and reciprocal entrance arrangements are in place for Historic Scotland members.

Key information

Website:   http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/

Membership options:  Various – Concessions – Senior citizens and young persons, individual, various family options.

Entrance fees:   Entrance fees are payable at around  properties and vary. Option to purchase tickets online. Members free.

Notable and famous properties: Edinburgh and Stirling Castles. Full map of sites:


Photo credit: Historic Scotland


The Great Outdoors – landscapes and wildlife


4.  Scottish Wildlife Trust


As the name suggests, the Scottish Wildlife Trust is all about Scottish wildlife and its conservation.  Founded in 1964, the Scottish Wildlife Trust is a relatively new member-only charity and now manages 120 wildlife reserves, nature walks and visitor centres helping make sure the survival of Scottish wildlife, their habitat and ecosystems. They are particularly active in the re-introduction of beavers and saving Scotland’s red squirrels, as well as promoting conservation and wildlife habitats.  There are also volunteer opportunities which may appeal to those visiting Scotland seeking a more experiential visit to their sites.

Key information

Website:  http://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk

Membership options: Individual, Joint, Family, World (for overseas members), Concession, Joint Concession, Watch, Life, Joint Life, Senior Citizen Life, Senior Citizen Joint Life

Entrance fees:   Free to members, typically entrance fees are £4 adult, £7.50 family

Notable and famous properties: three main visor centres at Loch of the Lowes, Dunkeld; Montrose Basin, Montrose; Jupiter Urban Wildlife Centre, Grangemouth.

5.  John Muir Trust

Photo Credit:  John Muir Trust

Photo Credit: John Muir Trust

The John Muir Trust is a conservation charity that manages eight of the wildest and most breathtaking areas of Scotland. Their most famous estate is Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak, although all are just incredible and every year attract hill-walkers and climbers seeing to explore and enjoy Scotland’s wildest and most remote spaces.

Photo Credit: Lester Standon

Photo Credit: Lester Standon

The John Muir Trust also offer volunteering opportunities and have also recently opened “Wild Spaces”, a new visitor centre in Pitlochry. Please check the website for opening times as they vary.

Photo Credit: John Muir Trust

Photo Credit: John Muir Trust

Key information

Website:  https://www.jmt.org/about-the-john-muir-trust.asp

Membership options:  Individual, Joint/Family, Life

Notable and famous estates:  Ben Nevis, Knoydart Estate

6.  Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland


The RSPB has a regional arm that operates all RSPB sites and projects in Scotland.  This includes conservation work directly assisting with preserving Scotland’s bird life and its habitat. The RSPB also hold a number of event and festivals to raise awareness of bird conservation in Scotland.  Scotland attracts ornithologists from all over the world because of the unique landscapes and the bird life it attracts.  Their most famous site is the ospreys at Loch Garten, which I remember visiting as a young child.  You can watch them on a live webcam here.

Photo Credit: Brian Watts, RSPB

Photo Credit: Brian Watts, RSPB

The website has a great interactive map to help you find their reserves.

Key information

Website:  http://www.rspb.org.uk/whatwedo/scotland/

Membership options:  Individual, Joint, Family, Youth

Entrance fees:   Entrance fees are variable and payable to several properties – Loch Garten £5, £3, £2 – members free

Notable and famous properties:  The ospreys at Loch Garten (Boat of Garten), Abernethy; Forsinad Flows;  Copinsay.

7.  Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Photo Credit:  Edinburgh Garden Partners

Photo Credit: Edinburgh Garden Partners

If you are into flora and fauna, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is definitely worth a visit. “The Botanics” as they are known are in fact a total of four gardens:

  • Inverleith, Edinburgh (27 and 23 bus from The Mound/Hanover Street).  Most famous for its hot houses.
  • Benmore, Near Dunoon, Argyll.  Most famous for its Sierra Redwood avenue
  • Logan, South of Stranraer, Dumfries and Galloway.  Most famous for its palm trees
  • Daywick, near Peebles, South of Edinburgh

The gardens are all very beautiful and packed with plants you would never expect to see in Scotland.  they also hold various events during the summer months, as well as a very nice light show in the autumn months. All are well worth a visit, particularly Benmore.

Photo Credit: www.rbge.org

Photo Credit: http://www.rbge.org

Key information

Website: http://www.rbge.org.uk/home

Membership options:  Join as “Friends of RBGS” – Individual, Couple, Family

Entrance fees:  Edinburgh is free, except to hot house.  Other sites vary.  “Friends” free


Scotland’s National Parks

8.  The Cairngorms National Park

Photo Credit: VisitScotland

Photo Credit: VisitScotland

The Cairngorms National Park is Scotland’s first national park, and one of 15 in the UK.  At 1,748 square miles, it sits right in the middle of the Highlands and is home to some lovely highland towns, is packed with incredible peaks, lochs, forests and is home to 25% of the UK’s endanger species.  The Cairngorms is an adventure sports enthusiasts dream destination – and also home to skiing in Scotland (and where I learnt to ski!)  I love the Cairngorms and I am very excited about going back there soon.

Photo credit: Cairngorms National Park Authority

Photo credit: Cairngorms National Park Authority

9.  Loch Lommond and the Trossacks National Park

Loch Lommond and the Trossacks National Park is Scotland’s newest and second national park, officially launched last year. Equally beautiful and famous for its bonnie banks, Loch Lommond is one of the prettiest and most accessible lochs in Scotland, just a 30 minute drive from central Glasgow.

Photo Credit: VisitScotland

Photo Credit: VisitScotland

The beautiful Trossacks is Scotland’s equivalent to the Lake District in Cumbria and offers something for everyone.

Photo Credit:  Visit Scotland

Photo Credit: Visit Scotland


10.  Woodland Trust

Photo Credit: the Woodland Trust

Photo Credit: the Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust is a UK charity that protects, restores and creates woodlands throughout the UK.  In Scotland they have a number of woodlands in both urban and rural locations that are accessible to the public to either enjoy or help with.  The Woodland Trust also offers number of volunteer opportunities, as well as conservation awareness initiatives. It is worth checking with the Woodlands Trust as they have many lovely woodlands tucked away that can offer a welcome break during a journey, a lovely picnic spot or a beautiful nature walk.

Key information

Website:  https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk

Membership options:  Single, Joint, Life

Over the coming months I will be exploring all over Scotland.  I can’t promise a Loch Ness monster sighting, but do leave a comment and let me know what you would like to read about on Bags of Adventure!


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