Top ten perfect picnic spots
They say you should plan your meals, but never a picnic - and this is doubly true in Scotland where, even during peak summer time, our weather can be changeable! Below, we've got suggestions for easy-to-access picnic spots near you, suggestions for snacks, main meals and drinks, and even some ideas for alternative activities and destinations in case it starts to rain cats and dogs.
Find the perfect picnic place
The key to planning your picnic is to pack light - take only what you need and what's easy to carry. Because picnic planning is usually weather-dependent, and often a spontaneous decision spurred on by promising blue skies, we've tried to make your life simple with a few suggestions to ensure you're ready for a truly great day out.
Healthy, delicious food
Obviously you’re going to need something to eat… Well that’s the whole point, isn’t it? For picnics, food that causes the least mess is ideal. There's a lot to be said for eating healthy, fresh food outdoors - as opposed to pre-bought snacks full of empty calories. Why not prepare some wraps and sandwiches at home, or cook something easy to transport like quiche, pasta salad, or dishes using healthy staples like couscous or quinoa?
If you are taking the kids, make sure you have some energy-packed snacks to keep them going on the trail - fruits and nuts are a perfect alternative to crisps or chocolate. Feeling adventurous, or want something a bit more substantial for the grown-ups? Try something exotic, like chicken satay strips, cauliflower and squash fritters with mint and feta dip, or you could try your hand at home-making these lean Scotch eggs.
A fruit salad makes a refreshing dessert, while strawberries and cream are always an indulgent picnic treat - and you could add to both of these with berries you find in the woods. Check out our guide to foraging for tips on which ones are the tastiest and which to avoid. If you’re feeling truly domesticated, whip up some home-made lemonade to take with you – summer in a glass.
Don’t forget some other bits 'n’ bobs you’ll need. Here’s a handy checklist…
- Plates ☑
- Cutlery ☑
- Cups ☑
- Chairs ☑
- Rug ☑
- Cool box ☑
- Kitchen towel or napkins ☑
- Wet wipes ☑
- Hand sanitiser ☑
- A bag for rubbish ☑
Our top ten picnic spots…
No-one knows the best picnic spots better than the people who look after them! We consulted with colleagues who work at destinations throughout Scotland and they've given us some great suggestions for places and activities to suit all tastes, from tree-climbing beside spectacular lochs, to beautiful beach-side picnic spots, and even a few ideas about where to track down local delicacies, spot captivating wildlife, and find stunning scenery for selfie-hunters and nature lovers alike. Take a look at our top ten picnic hotspots near you.
Ae forest, near Dumfries
Take a wander along the Link Path by the lovely water of Ae river, you’re sure to find the perfect picnic spot. The kids can burn off some energy on the mountain biking trails too. If its a good day for a longer walk, there is a hillwalking route to explore, and perfect paths for horse riding - the Forest of Ae serves as the start of the British Horse Society's Countryside Trail, too.
Ae Forest is one of the UK's largest afforested areas, covering an area about the size of 10,000 football pitches. It's a working forest, as well as a stunning destination - nearby Ae Village itself was fact built by the Forestry Commission in 1947, to house forest workers employed in the timber industry. Nearby Mabie Forest is another beautiful place to visit, with even more trails, picnic and barbecue spots, and miles and miles more of the world-famous 7stanes mountain bike trails for the adrenaline-chasers in the family.
Otters Pool, in Galloway Forest Park
NHalfway along the Raiders’ Road Forest Drive you’ll find this beautifully secluded spot by babbling waters - absolutely idyllic for a picnic in the summer months. Watch out for red and roe deer grazing amongst the trees, crossbills and siskins feeding on conifer seeds, and keep an eye on the skies for buzzards, sparrowhawks and of course, red kites, often spotted on the 40km-long Galloway Kite Trail, of which the Raiders Road forms a part.
A forest drive of stunning beauty, the Raiders Road features in local author Samuel Rutherford Crockett's 1894 novel 'The Raiders.' The surrounding area also features a surprising amount of contemporary works of art, often inspired by the forests, lochs and open spaces. The Raiders’ Road features artworks like the Labyrinth, a giant maze; a stone otter at Otter Pool, and a wooden sculpture of a red kite at Mossdale on the Buzzard Trail. Loch Stroan, near Brennan, is well-known for its fishing, and you are very near the Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre, where you can get a coffee, and find out about other events and attractions, like stargazing in the UK's first (and still the biggest) Dark Sky Park.
Nethercroy, near Kilsyth
A picnic area near the Auchinstarry Marina provides a great spot to relax with your sandwich and a flask of tea. Watching the barges and boats meander along the Forth and Clyde Canal is as charming a lunch spot as can be found. However, a walk up Croy Hill has its rewards too. Site of some of the best preserved sections of the Antonine Wall, the walk follows embankments once lined with Roman soldiers protecting the northern extreme of their UK territory. Follow in their footsteps up to the former site of a fort, where you’ll be rewarded with great views over the Kilsyth Hills while you dig into your tasty meal.
If animals are more your thing, Nethercroy can provide. Butterflies, red squirrel and even great crested newts have been seen here. And keep an eye out for the herd of rare breed cows who are undertaking vital conservation work on our behalf – keeping the grass short so wildflowers can thrive.
Lemahamish, near Aberfoyle
The Trossachs is rightly renowned for its stunning scenery which, on a sunny day, can draw visitors from across the Central Belt. Fortunately, there’s still the odd hidden gem that offers some relaxation away from the crowds. Lemahamish is certainly one such woodland, with its walking trail through tranquil native oak woods and alongside the meandering River Forth, where you’ll find plenty of perfect picnic spots.
Return again and again to witness the changing of the seasons – a carpet of bluebells in spring, sand martins swooping into their riverside nests in summer, and an array of fungi in autumn.
Balkello Community Woodland, near Dundee
A hidden gem just a few miles north of Scotland’s fourth largest city, you can return to Balkello again and again and enjoy a completely different picnic spot each time. Take your pick from the picnic tables along the fully accessible Sidlaws View Trail, where ponds, open grassland and views of the surrounding hills await. Or head uphill, through woodland, to enjoy your sandwich while overlooking the Angus coast and the distant city on the Tay.
Balkello is a relatively young woodland (by our century-old forestry standards, at least!). It was only planted in the 90s but has become a firm favourite with many visitors who have enjoyed watching it evolve into a great place for a peaceful escape.
Pretty Tarbert sits at the narrow point where the A83 crosses from Knapdale into the Kintyre peninsula. If you’re not already lucky enough to live there, it’s a great wee place to stop for a bite to eat or a walk – or even both combined!
Our trails take in two picnic spots as they head south-east from the ruins of Tarbert Castle. The first is at the castle itself which, slightly raised above nearby buildings and roads, feels quite remote from the bustling village. The second offers a short taster of the Kintyre Way long-distance walking route before arriving at picnic benches near the Millennium Cairn. Be prepared for some steep sections and some stunning views across Loch Fyne!.
The trail at Crinan may be steep in places, but with views like this it’s well worth the effort. There are picnic benches at two spots on this wee hill, both with some of the most stunning panoramas in Argyll.
Start at the picturesque harbour village of Crinan – also a great spot for a picnic – and climb the winding path through Atlantic oakwoods to viewpoints that look across the Sound of Jura and the Inner Hebrides. You’ll need time to scan the horizon, figuring out what those distant islands and peaks are, so this is one place you’ll definitely want to pack a lunch for.
On the way up, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife too. The ash, birch and conifer woodlands are home to rare birds, red squirrels, butterflies and roe deer, while you might also spot porpoise or minke whales out to sea or even an eagle soaring high above you!
Back o' Bennachie, Aberdeenshire
Bennachie may not be a large hill, but it dominates the low-lying agricultural landscape of central Aberdeenshire. If you’re heading north-west from Aberdeen, the distinctive pointed peak of Mither Tap will be the horizon’s main landmark for much of your journey. However, this destination’s charms begin well below that heather-clad hilltop...
Head round to the northern side where Back o’ Bennachie car park offers lots of open green space surrounded by conifer woodland. Here you can enjoy a peaceful picnic (there’s even barbecue points!) and a game of football or frisbee with only the occasional plane passing overhead to remind you you’re less than 45 minutes from Scotland’s third largest city.
It is worth bringing some sturdy footwear if you want to tackle the trails here – they can be steep. However, you’ll be rewarded with wonderfully atmospheric larch woodland and a trip passed the quarry from which stone was sourced for many buildings in surrounding villages.
Contin, half an hour from Inverness
If you want to kick back with a picnic basket, Contin’s picnic benches are perfectly placed, dwarfed by the surrounding Scots pine. However, there’s also loads to explore should you wish to go for a wander too. Take a short stroll along our fully accessible Black Water Trail to enjoy the soothing sights and sounds of the adjacent river, or truly build an appetite by climbing high through oak, birch and pine woodland to see stunning views over Strathconon. It's a great place to see wildlife too, with deer (both red and roe), red squirrels, butterflies and birds calling the forest home.
This forest is massive, so feel free to bring a map and explore even further afield too. Why not bring a bike and cycle – entirely off-road – all the way to Rogie Falls?
Aldie Burn, Easter Ross
A short detour from the A9 near Tain, Aldie Burn provides some welcome shelter from the windy Easter Ross coast – perfect for picnics! Our waymarked trails here are fully accessible, the shorter one leading to remote picnic tables nestled between a salmon-shaped pond and the Burn itself. Or why not head further into the woods, keeping an eye out for pine marten and dragonflies as you go?
The wider area is well worthy of exploration too. Beautiful Portmahomack and Tarbat Ness have a real ends-of-the-earth feel but, if time is tight, head to Tain Hill for a short climb with great views in that direction.