The 10 Best Places To Live In Scotland

A detailed guide to Scotland's most popular locations: from quiet and rural to vibrant and urban, discover the best places to live in this stunning country.

Tempted by Scotland’s natural beauty, historic charm and modern, forward-looking attitude but still trying to decide which location to choose? Let’s take a look at the best places to live in Scotland.

From bustling urban environments to serene island villages – our guide covers the most popular locations in this beautiful country. 

1. Edinburgh – the best city in the world 2022

Edinburgh invariably stands tall in any conversation about the best places to live in Scotland. Firstly, it’s the iconic capital of Scotland, and secondly, it consistently tops multiple ‘best’ lists worldwide and in the UK, including Time Out’s Best City In The World 2022 title.

Best places to live in Scotland - Edinburgh
Edinburgh skyline, Scotland.

Edinburgh is a compact and walkable city, steeped in history with many excellent museums, galleries and a fabulous art scene. 

When you visit Edinburgh, don’t miss taking a stroll along the Royal Mile, which runs through Edinburgh’s old town and connects Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It’s a great opportunity to feel connected to Scottish history and Edinburgh’s rich character.

Living in Scotland gets very sophisticated in Edinburgh, with world-class restaurants, pubs and bars with premier cuisine. With endless live music and diverse events throughout the year, you won’t get bored. Speaking about events, every summer, Edinburgh hosts The Fringe – the world’s largest arts festival.

Edinburgh’s abundant parks are gorgeous. It’s practically impossible to visit the city without seeing Edinburgh Castle standing proudly on the majestic Castle Rock.

The city is well connected by rail and air, and public transport is reliable.

It’s a thriving city with a diverse population and a significant ratio of university students. Not unexpected, considering The University of Edinburgh is one of the world’s best universities, consistently ranked in the world’s top 50 and extremely popular with international and domestic students.

On the downside, Edinburgh is relatively pricey, even for students. According to The NatWest Student Living Index 2022, Edinburgh is the most expensive UK city for students. 

In our Living In Edinburgh guide, you can find more information on moving to Edinburgh with family, the cost of living, housing, and the best areas.

In short, Edinburgh has everything you need for a lavish lifestyle. 

When you fancy a change, Glasgow city centre is a 45-minute train journey away. With its distinctive character, Glasgow is a world-class city with a dynamic verve. 

2. Glasgow – down to earth and friendly

Scotland’s largest city Glasgow on the banks of the River Clyde, is famous for its friendliness. Glasgow often tops ‘world’s friendliest city’ polls, most recently in a 2021 poll by Rough Guides.

Some say that the best Scottish city would consist of Glaswegian people living in Edinburgh. We’ll avoid getting into any Glasgow vs Edinburgh discussions and say the people of both cities each have a distinct identity. Scottish people are generally friendly and welcoming wherever you choose to settle!

Best places to live in Scotland: Glasgow
Glasgow Buchanan Street. Photo by Artur Kraft on Unsplash.

Friendliness, access to parks and entertainment, and good travel links to Edinburgh, the Highlands, or the islands are all pros of living in Glasgow. 

On the downside, house prices aren’t the cheapest (although cheaper than in Edinburgh), and understanding Glaswegian, a characterful Scottish accent that can take a little effort to grasp.

Glasgow’s West End neighbourhood is popular with students and young professionals alike. First-time buyers will appreciate Denniston – a trendy area not far from the city centre. 

For something more affordable, consider the up-and-coming Queen’s Park area, just south of the centre. 

Hillhead is great for young professionals and couples starting a family. With its well-maintained properties, attractive outdoor spaces, and an array of local shops, Giffnock is perfect for families looking for suburban living. 

The city’s metro system makes getting around easy. 

The spectacular Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park are only 30km from the city.

Glasgow has a fantastic music scene with many iconic venues, such as The OVO Hydro, a multi-purpose indoor arena that welcomes sporting events and global celebrities all year round. 

Glasgow is in the west of Scotland and does experience a wetter version of Scottish weather than Edinburgh, so you’ll appreciate the indoor arena a great deal more.

3. North Berwick in East Lothian – for more exclusive town living

Are you looking for an upmarket town by the sea? North Berwick might be ideal. The Sunday Times has named this seaside town the best place to live in Scotland. 

Best places to live in Scotland: North Berwick
North Berwick seaside. Photo by Xavier Coiffic on Unsplash

North Berwick is 20 miles from Edinburgh, half an hour on the train.

It became popular in the 19th century as a holiday resort and attracts tourists to its golf courses, beaches, yacht club, and nearby Tantallon Castle.

Golf enthusiasts are especially fond of the location. There are three courses in North Berwick, plus the world-renowned Muirfield, Archerfield and Gullane nearby.

Proximity to the capital, charm, elegance and a lively high street keep North Berwick’s house prices on par with Edinburgh.

It is a safe, family-friendly location, and the schools have an excellent reputation. The high school lists in Tatler’s top ten non-fee-paying schools in the UK. Fresh air, sand, sea and a strong sense of community make it ideal for families.

You can live here and commute to Edinburgh, 20 miles away. 

Living here comes at a cost. Halifax’s study named North Berwick Scotland’s most expensive coastal destination in 2022, where an average home costs £391,781.

4. Kirkwall in Orkney – for peace and space

Orkney, a group of islands a few miles off the northeast tip of mainland Scotland, has won all kinds of awards. In 2022 the UK Office of National Statistics named the locals the happiest and most content in the UK. Orkney is also the safest area in Scotland and one of the most affordable places for first-time buyers.

Best places to live in Scotland: Kirkwall
Kirkwall. Photo by Joel Rohland on Unsplash

With its green fields and hills, rugged cliffs and sandy beaches, it’s ideal if you want a peaceful life in an unspoilt environment. 

It has also become a renewable energy testing ground for the UK, providing good employment opportunities.

Most residents live in Kirkwall, the main population centre and employment hub. 

You can commute to Kirkwall from the nearby towns of Stromness, Dounby, Finstown or St Margaret’s Hope or more rural areas of Orphir, Holm, Stenness and Evie. 

Commuting by car is generally less than 30 minutes. There is a regular bus service between Kirkwall and Stromness and Kirkwall and St Margaret’s Hope.

Kirkwall has many shops and businesses. There are hotels, a post office, banks, travel agents, pharmacies, grocers, computer supplies, and a supermarket. You won’t go hungry with numerous cafés, fish and chip shops, and Chinese and Indian restaurants.

The town has a cinema, theatre, marina, swimming pool, sports centre, and golf course. You also discover the historic public library dating from 1683 (the oldest in Scotland). 

Kirkwall airport serves various routes across Scotland, including Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen and Shetland. You can take a ferry to Scotland’s northern coasts. Locally, you can get around the island using Orkney Ferries

Kirkwall is a well-resourced location in terms of everyday facilities.

On the downside, relocating to a remote island that gets battered by weather and endures long stormy nights isn’t for everyone. 

Indeed the long dark winters can be a showstopper. However, this is when the island’s community spirit is at its strongest. 

There are plenty of things to do to turn a dull and dark season into a fun time with family, friends and neighbours. Don’t hold yourself back; join groups, clubs and activities you find interesting.

5. Rothesay on the Isle of Bute in Argyll – island living at its best

The Isle of Bute in Argyll is the winner of The Sunday Times’ annual Best Places to Live guide 2022. It is the epitome of the romantic and close-to-nature island lifestyle. 

The Isle of Bute is the most commutable Scottish island. Bute is only an hour by train or car from Glasgow and then 35 minutes on the ferry.

It’s also very affordable, with an average house price of £155,000.

Everything you can imagine about living on a northern island is here: no pollution, minimal traffic, beautiful countryside, stunning coastline, gorgeous landscapes, friendliness and low crime rates. 

It is relatively flat, which is excellent for avid cyclists. 

Sheltered by the Isle of Arran, the Kintyre peninsula and the peninsulas of Cowal, the Isle of Bute is a unique gem. Add the Gulfstream’s magic touch, and you get a much milder climate than expected of an island located at 55° North latitude. 

The mild climate allows Bute’s beautiful gardens to thrive and boast a fantastic variety of flora. Nothing can showcase it better than Rothesay Esplanade’s legendary palm trees!

Rothesay, a pretty Victorian seaside resort, is the main town on the east side of the Isle of Bute. Rothesay features all the paraphernalia of an authentic Victorian coastal town, including the splendid Victorian esplanade overlooking Rothesay Bay. 

The Isle of Bute Discovery Centre has a cinema, theatre and many interactive displays. 

If you love walking, you will enjoy the local trails. Stunning beaches are all around – perfect for a fun-filled day with kids. 

Parents find Rothesay and the whole island a perfect environment to raise their children close to nature and in safety. 

Rothesay lets you experience a slower pace of life, explore the great outdoors and enjoy coastal scenery on your doorstep.

6. Portree on the Isle of Skye – the Scottish Island Dream destination

The largest Scottish island on the west coast, Skye is the most popular destination for people wanting to live the Scottish Island Dream.

Best places to live in Scotland: Portree
Portree. Photo by Sergey Konstantinov on Unsplash

Skye’s primary advantage is the free road bridge that allows you to travel to the mainland to Kyle of Lochalsh. Or you can take a ferry from Armadale to Mallaig, which takes around 45 minutes. 

The Isle of Skye has its own microclimate. It doesn’t get freezing, but it can be rather wet.

Portree, the largest village in Skye and the island’s capital, was voted the most desirable place to live in Britain.

In Portree, you’ll find all the necessary daily facilities: banks, churches, cafes, restaurants, and a cinema at the Aros Centre. There’s also a swimming pool and a library at the school. You’ll find a supermarket in the village and a larger one on Dunvegan Road.

You can take a bus from Somerled Square to Inverness and Glasgow or around the island. 

In August, the village hosts the Skye Highland Games. The event is top-rated, attracts big crowds, and is an excellent family day out.

Another big event, the annual Skye Live Music Festival, restarted in 2022. 

Tourists can be tricky at times on Skye. Numerous campervans block the roads, the car parks are constantly full, and occasionally, visitors leave their cars across your drive. You need a good tolerance level if you plan to live close to well-known beaches. 

A consequence of being a popular tourist destination is a distinct lack of long-term rentals, with B&Bs and holiday lets taking up a lot of housing stock. Finding decent housing can be challenging. 

7. Elie in Fife – village living with all the amenities on your doorstep

Fife, in the East of Scotland, is a land of colourful seaside villages, beautiful beaches, stunning scenery and fantastic golf. 

Elie and Earlsferry, a lovely seaside town not far from another prominent location, St Andrew, has always been a popular resort loved by affluent Edinburgh residents. According to the estate agent Savills, it is one of the most desirable locations in the UK.

Elie’s charm is its quaint seaside village vibe and classy restaurants like The Ship Inn and Michelin-starred Peat Inn.

With easy access to Scotland’s cities and transport infrastructure, you won’t feel isolated. Travelling by car to Dundee takes around 45 minutes, and to Edinburgh – takes one hour and a half. Regular buses take you to Edingburgh in under two hours. 

Elie boasts excellent schooling making it an ideal choice for families.

There are beautiful beaches with lots of options for leisure activities like watersports. Enjoy Elie Harbour beach with its golden sands, perfect for swimming and other water-based activities, with lifeguards to keep you safe.

With an average house price of £349,951, Elie is a pricey place to live. But you get a lot in return: the scenery, the gastronomic sophistication and the coastal lifestyle.

8. Stirling – for a small city feel

Stirling is in central Scotland, where the Lowlands meet the Highlands.

Best places to live in Scotland: Stirling
Stirling. Photo by Alessio Mollo on Unsplash

With a population of around 38,000, it’s not a big city; this is where a big part of its attraction lies. Originally a humble market town, today, Stirling is a hub for government, public services, retail, tourism, and higher education.

In 2021 the Rightmove Happy at Home Index named Stirling the happiest place to live in the UK.

It’s a compact city. Everything in Stirling and the surrounding area, including Bridge of Allan, Dunblane, Cambusbarron and even Gargunnock or Doune, is easily accessible. If you’re struggling to find a suitable property to rent or buy within Stirling (which can be an issue), it’s worth venturing out and looking at the surrounding areas.

Keep in mind that public transport lessens in the Stirling area as views improve, so the more picturesque the village is, the more you’ll need a car.

Living in Stirling means you are close to the major cities. Edinburgh and Glasgow are about an hour and a half away.

There’s a train station from where you can travel to all major destinations in Scotland and change in Edinburgh for travelling across the UK.

It’s a university city and gets particularly busy during the academic year. Also, students who prefer to live off-campus often rent in Central Stirling, Bridge of Allan, and Causewayhead, creating a competitive rental market. 

The average property costs just over £200,000 making it a relatively affordable location. 

9. Inverurie in Aberdeenshire – a good all-rounder

The region around Aberdeen features some charming locations, including Inverurie. 

Compared to other locations on our list, Inverurie isn’t a notable winner of any awards. We chose Inverurie because it offers a great family environment, good travel links, decent amenities and fabulous nature while remaining affordable. 

The best thing about Inverurie is that you are only a 20-minute train ride from Aberdeen. You can enjoy life in a quieter town with charming architecture and the beautiful countryside of the River Don valley while having all the city amenities close by.

Inverurie train station has regular routes to Aberdeen, Inverness and beyond, making the town a good choice for commuters. 

Aberdeenshire is sunnier than other parts of Scotland, so you have more walking opportunities. Don’t ditch your raincoat, though; it’s still Scotland.

Inverurie is an excellent choice if you love the outdoors, exploring hills, castles and the countryside. 

Everything you need is here. You’ll find supermarkets, independent shops, restaurants, pubs and coffee shops. There’s also an 18-hole golf course.

The Community Campus and Garioch Sports Centre offer sports classes and clubs. There are activities for the whole family, including a Skyline Trampoline Park, Playtown and Ten-Pin bowling at Garioch indoor bowling club. It’s a very family-friendly location. 

Property prices are lower than in Aberdeen and the Deeside area. 

In short, Inverurie and the area around Oldmeldrum, Kintore, and Kemnay are charming, with hills to walk, good roads, rail links and plenty of activities to try. 

10. Dundee – an affordable city living for families 

Dundee is an excellent combination of friendliness and an independent spirit. With 1426.3 hours of sunshine annually, it’s the second sunniest location in Scotland, just behind Edinburgh.

Best places to live in Scotland: Dundee
Dundee waterfront and V&A Design Museum. Photo by Thomas Mills on Unsplash

Dundee boasts lovely beaches and hills. Fifteen minutes to the east will bring you to Broughty Ferry and its expansive sandy beach and dunes. Today, Brought Ferry is one of the classiest of Dundee’s suburbs with boutique shops, cafés, bars, restaurants, a lovely beach and a harbour. There are some charming properties for sale. The town also benefits from a train station and good commuter transport links. 

Dundee itself is a perfect city for families. It has all the amenities you need for comfortable day-to-day living. Dundee railway station and Dundee airport provide connections throughout Scotland, the UK and beyond.

The city is a gateway to the best regions of Scotland. With beaches and hills at your doorstep, Edinburgh is just over an hour away by train. Aberdeen is also easy enough to get to. 

The outstanding Ancrum Outdoor Centre is a short drive away. It’s a perfect location for a family day out with many activities for all ages, including a dry skiing slope.

If you want real snow and action, Glenshee Ski Centre, Scotland’s largest area of runs for skiing, snowboarding and sledging, is 43 miles to the north. 

With an average house price of just above £180,000, housing in Dundee is affordable in terms of value for money. The schools generally vary between good and excellent. There are two universities, and a sizable student population gives the city a buzz and a more cosmopolitan feel. 

The downside may be how far north Dundee is; the winters are dark and feel long and cold. 

Other locations in Scotland to consider

Scotland has many incredible locations; it’s impossible to mention them all here. 

For more open space, outdoor living and stunning countryside, look at the Scottish Borders. This area is renowned for its collection of very picturesque and popular towns and villages. Melrose, for example, was voted ‘The Best Place to Live in Scotland’ in 2018 by The Sunday Times and was named UK’s third most tranquil spot in 2021.

For the best of seaside living, head to St Andrews on the picturesque East Neuk of Fife. You will find the iconic West Sands Beach, the world’s most famous golf courses and excellent schools. 

For affordable, quieter city living within beautiful surroundings, check out Perth. It’s an hour from Edinburgh and Glasgow and 20 mins from Dundee. Perth is quiet and safe, with an abundance of lovely scenery. It’s not the liveliest place in the country, but it has many good pubs, cafes and restaurants.

The picturesque harbour town of Stonehaven, 15 miles south of Aberdeen, is a great location if you want a safe family environment with good schools and excellent commute options. 

Are you looking for a picturesque and well-catered location to work from home? Consider Balloch in Loch Lomond. In 2021 The Scotsman named it the best place to work from home. It’s a quiet area with amenities, a supermarket, a bank, Chinese and Indian takeaways, and the most alluring scenery. Most importantly, high-speed internet is available.

Final thoughts on the best places to live in Scotland

With such a wide choice of places to live in Scotland, the one thing to remember is that every location has its pros and cons. Each area offers its particular lifestyle to its residents.

From the busy nightlife of Glasgow and Edinburgh to a comfortable city living in Aberdeen to a more peaceful lifestyle in a beautiful village, there is a fantastic opportunity waiting for you.

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One comment

  1. Hello Andy,

    I plan to move from the USA to Scotland in 2024. I am single, 65, and not ready for retirement. I plan to apply for a skilled workers’ visa since I have extensive customer service experience and have recently been in the real estate industry.
    I love the Highlands and was focusing on living in Inverness. Could you please explain to me why Inverness hasn’t been recommended on any expat site I have visited? Or tourist sites? I am starting to be concerned!
    I love Edinburgh, but it is too big for me- better to visit. I like the smaller NE towns like Thurso and Wick, but they seem too small. My focus is the NE coastal areas of the Highlands.
    I am trying to get some input on life in Inverness for expats, but to no avail.
    Any thoughts?
    Cheers, Sue

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