What are the main cities in Scotland?

| January 9, 2023
What are the main cities in Scotland?

Main Cities in Scotland

Situated at the northern end of the island of Great Britain and although next-door neighbours to England, the Scots view themselves as a race apart, and this is true.

From the smallest villages to the largest cities and towns, Scottish people are outgoing and friendly while welcoming visitors with a smile. Scottish people are proud of their Celtic heritage, and this is often reflected in the names of towns and beauty spots which sometimes bear unpronounceable names.

The country’s name derives from the Latin word “Scotia”, meaning the land of Scots, a Celtic race originating in Ireland. Because of its northern location, Scotland is better known for rain, mist and cold than it is for sunshine, but the picturesque wild scenery combined with a natural Scottish friendliness makes the country a popular destination for millions of tourists every year.


Many people wrongly assume that Glasgow is the capital city of Scotland, but it is, in fact, Edinburgh. Situated on Scotland’s east coast on the banks of the Firth of Forth, the city is overlooked by the imposing Edinburgh castle, which sits atop a massive volcanic rock plateau which has survived erosion by the ice sheets which levelled the surrounding area. The castle on the rock plateau overshadows the city below, and it is hardly surprising to find the city was originally called Castle Rock.

The city’s name is presumed to have come from “Edwin’s Fort” in reference to “Edwin”, a king who reigned in the 7th century and “burgh”, an old word for fort or fortress, although this is not a fact and disputed by many scholars. Inhabitants of Edinburgh often refer to their city as “Auld Reekie”, which translates as Old Smoky, because of the pollution from wood and coal fires that once darkened the city’s sky.

Old Town and New Town

Edinburgh is subdivided into the old and the new town. The old town is located beneath the rock on which the castle sits and is preserved according to its medieval plan. The old town runs along both sides of what is called the “Royal Mile”, which narrows as it gets further away from the castle.

Because of the lack of space, multi-storey buildings were constructed to accommodate the population, and it is said that the wealthy occupied the upper floors where the air was cleaner while the poor locals were confined to the lower portions of the buildings.

As the original city prospered and its population grew, Edinburgh expanded outwards into what is called the new town, even though this began after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Most of the development took place to the north of the city, and the excess clay and waste materials that were excavated were dumped into Nor Loch, which quickly filled up to form what is now called The Mound.

Edinburgh is an ancient city and a Mecca for tourists who come to see the castle, but that is not all there is to the city:

  • Holyrood Palace
  • The Royal Mile
  • Arthur’s Seat
  • National Museum of Scotland
  • Prince’s Street
  • Camera Obscura

The castle is one of the most popular tourist attractions not just in Scotland but in Britain. Always busy, this is particularly true during the New Year’s (Hogmanay) celebrations and for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo when advance booking is advisable.


Probably the best-known Scottish city, Glasgow may not be the capital, but it is the most populous, with an estimated 650,000 inhabitants. Straddling the River Clyde in the West Central Lowlands, Glasgow is the largest of Scotland’s many seaports and was once a central hub for transatlantic trading.

Following the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s, Glasgow became one of the world’s foremost centres for textiles, chemicals and engineering and a leading light in shipbuilding and marine engineering.

Although the manufacturing industry has decreased in recent decades, Glasgow has reinvented itself as a financial and business-related services centre and has also made rapid strides in the fields of communications, healthcare, education and tourism.

Financial services have seen rapid growth, with many major companies now headquartered in the city, while tourism is also on the increase, with Glasgow the second most popular choice for visiting tourists who come to see and enjoy:

  • Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
  • George Square and Merchant District
  • Riverside Museum
  • Glasgow Cathedral
  • The Necropolis
  • University of Glasgow
  • Glasgow Science Centre
  • Central Station

Football fans are probably well aware of the fierce rivalry between “Auld Firm” teams Rangers and Celtic, and stadium tours of the two teams’ grounds are popular with visitors, even those with no real interest in the beautiful game.


On Scotland’s northeast coast, Aberdeen has a population of around 200,000 and is the most northern city in the United Kingdom. Although the weather is pleasant, with mild summers and winters, it is a very rainy city which can be off-putting to some visitors.

Dubbed the “Granite City” because of the local granite used in many buildings, Aberdeen has thrived in recent decades due to the discovery of oil in the North Sea, and this industry pretty much dominates the economic scene and has largely replaced the old fishing, textiles, shipbuilding and paper industries of years gone by.

It is generally accepted that there has been a settlement on the present site for more than 6,000 years based on the discovery of prehistoric ruins along the banks of the River Dee and River Don, which flank the city.

Now designated as the offshore oil capital of Europe, Aberdeen is an affluent city, and other regeneration schemes are planned for the city centre and other areas. However, not everything in Aberdeen is new and modern, and there are numerous historic (and modern) places to see and things to do in and around the city:

  • Saint Machar’s Cathedral
  • King’s College
  • Tolbooth Museum (the most haunted building in Aberdeen)
  • The Mercat Cross
  • Provost Skene’s House
  • Maritime Museum

No visit to Aberdeen would be complete without strolling across the Brig O’Balgownie, which is also called the Bridge of Don. First constructed around 1320 and restored some 300 hundred years later, the bridge is located near Seaton Park and was once the central crossing point for the River Don.


The fourth biggest city in Scotland, Dundee, has a small population of around 160,000 and lies on the northern shore of the Firth of Tay which runs into the North Sea. Appropriately called Dundee City, it is generally simply referred to as Dundee by residents and visitors alike.

The city has existed since the 12th century, although there was a settlement of one kind or another on the site for centuries before that. Once an important trading seaport, the city reinvented itself during the Industrial Revolution and quickly became a world centre for the jute industry.

Also famous for its scientific activities, Dundee is now responsible for an estimated 10% of the U.K.’s digital entertainment business, as well as being an important centre for technological and biomedical industries.

Since 2001 Dundee has invested millions in regenerating the city, with the work expected to be completed by 2030. Despite the ongoing rebuilding, redevelopment and regeneration work, the small city of Dundee retains its old charm and offers much for the casual visitor to see and enjoy:

  • Historic Tay Rail Bridge
  • Discovery Point and RRS Discovery
  • HMS Unicorn
  • Glamis Castle
  • Verdant Works Jute Mill
  • McManus Art Gallery and Museum
  • Mills Observatory

The redevelopment of Dundee has not gone unrecognised, with the city named the “Coolest Little City in Great Britain” by GQ magazine and ranked in the top five “Worldwide Hot Destinations” by The Wall Street Journal in 2018.