2020 is Scotland’s Year of Coasts & Waters, a year-long programme of events celebrating the nation’s breathtaking lochs, rivers and coastlines. From charming port town culture to its beautifully rugged shores, Scotland is a natural haven for discovering heritage, finding adventure and soaking up tranquillity. Add in a host of great events, unique festivals and awe-inspiring new art exhibitions, and Scotland becomes a must-visit destination in 2020.
Fun coastal festivals
For a fully immersive Scottish experience, why not check out the range of festivals highlighting the country’s stunning wildlife, lochs, and coastal culture happening throughout 2020. Learn about the country’s maritime history at the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy from 20 to 21 June, or grab tickets to the Edinburgh Film Festival, which will present Scotland’s Shores from 17 to 28 June 2020. As one of the few cities in Europe where bottlenose dolphins are visible, Aberdeen will host DolphinFest in April 2020, with city-wide pop-up activities, art commissions and beach clean-ups. You can also enjoy the River of Light evening in Kip Marina on 10 October, when illuminated boats will create a dazzling array of magical reflections. Or head to Glasgow’s Clydebuilt Festival, featuring Scotland’s largest open water rowing race, with fun activities and an impressive opening evening show, all for free on 19-20 September.
From 16 January to 2 February, Glasgow will be transformed into a world-class folk, roots and world music festival, celebrating Celtic music and its connections to cultures across the globe. Celtic Connections Festival is the largest annual winter music festival of its kind and Britain’s premier celebration of Celtic music, featuring 2,100 artists and 300 events across 20 venues, including concerts, ceilidhs, talks, art exhibitions, and workshops.
Designed around Scotland’s Year of Coasts & Waters 2020, a ten-metre high eco-friendly puppet will be unveiled at the festival. Created from recycled and natural products, ‘Storm’ will promote the importance of the environment and Scotland’s waters. After the puppet’s grand debut at Celtic Connections, ‘Storm’ will tour the country throughout the year.
Celtic Connections will also present a special one-day event in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall. Showcasing the country’s ‘coastal’ inspired music, film and heritage and new for 2020, Coastal Connections: Festival in a Day will be a jam-packed day of shore-themed media. Catch this exciting collection on 18 January 2020.
Nicknamed the ‘Dolphin Coast’, Moray Firth and the Banffshire Coast are prime locations to see bottlenose dolphins in their natural environment. The colony in Moray Firth is the most northerly on earth and the dolphins are among the largest too, averaging nearly four metres in length. Chanonry Point and the imposing military fortification at Fort George are also popular spots from which to spy dolphins from land, while chartered boat trips and wildlife cruises with DolphinSpirit Inverness take you on a memorable ride closer to the action.
Swimming with sharks
Why not take the plunge and swim with the second largest fish on the planet? During the summer months, basking sharks are regularly spotted in waters off of The Hebrides in Scotland. The huge species, growing up to 10 metres long, are gentle and toothless, meaning it’s possible to swim with them and a wide variety of other wildlife including dolphins and seals. Tours run from April to October, coinciding with the migration of the sharks to Scottish waters, and swimming, kayaking and snorkelling around the creatures is incredibly popular. Hotspots include the coast of Oban, the Firth of Clyde and near the Isles of Coll, Canna and the Isle of Tiree.
Scuba and snorkelling
Scotland is home to wonderfully diverse marine life and numerous ship wrecks that are fantastic for scuba diving. Nestled in the heart of the Orkney Islands, Scapa Flow is one of the largest sheltered anchorages in the world and is a graveyard of sunken ships. Explore the Sound of Mull with Lochaline Dive Centre or descend into the history of the Firth of Clyde on a Wreckspedition Dive Charter. Whether you are looking for day trips or even on-board accommodation on specialist dive boats, Scotland has a range of options to suit. The Puffin Dive Centre in Oban helps beginners discover the delights of scuba diving, while selected parts of the coasts of Berwickshire and the North West Highlands are designated snorkel trails, where you can catch a glimpse of everything from sea squirts and anemones to dolphins and whales.
White water rafting
The rivers of Scotland offer some of Britain’s most thrilling natural white water rafting, which can be experienced throughout the year by sports fans of all levels and experience. Calmer waters in the summer months are ideal if you’re a beginner, while challenging Grade 4 or 5 rafting follows the snow melts at the start of spring or following significant rainfall. The River Findhorn in the Cairngorms National Park offers exceptional thrills and beautiful scenery, as the river descends 500ft over a distance of 18 miles. As one of Scotland’s last wild rivers, weather conditions often regulate which sections of the river can be accessed. The racing rapids of the River Tay are popular with thrill-seekers, while scheduled dam releases on the River Garry near Fort William provide highly graded waters between April and October.
Scotland’s west coast is home to stunning scenery and an abundance of rich local culture, but perhaps lesser known is its enviable year-round cold surf conditions. Thurso, on the northerly tip of the Scottish mainland, is renowned for its waves, while the Isle of Tiree provides excellent surfing conditions and is home to the Tiree Wave Classic, one of Britain’s premier windsurfing competitions, which runs from 10 to 16 October in 2020.
The MacKinnon Collection
Scotland’s galleries are gearing up for a year of gigantic exhibitions, showcasing the works of some world-famous artists. Open until 16 February 2020 at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Scotland’s Photograph Album: The MacKinnon Collection, offers a unique look into Scotland’s past. From the birth of photography until the 1940s, this free collection of striking photographs chronicles the country’s rich heritage and culture.
Turner in January
If you’re a lover of artist JMW Turner, you can welcome in 2020 by getting lost in some of his most beautiful works, with a free exhibition on display until 31 January at the Scottish National Gallery. This enthralling collection of the artist’s masterpieces spans his entire career, allowing you to witness the progression and themes – including pencil, topographical wash drawings and watercolours – of the renowned painter.
Titian: Love, Desire, Death
For the first time since 1704, five of Titian’s greatest works are to be exhibited together at the Scottish National Gallery, from 11 July until 27 September 2020. The large-scale mythological epics shown in Titian: Love, Desire, Death are fantastic examples of poetic art from the 16th century that are sure to leave you feeling spellbound.
Glasgow International Festival
After recently being named the UK’s top cultural and creative centre by the European Commission, Glasgow’s artistic buzz will be stronger than ever in 2020. Running from 24 April to 10 May, the Glasgow International Festival will present a host of new exhibitions and exciting commissions around the city, with this year’s theme surrounding the idea of human attention.
The Braemar Gathering
You can enjoy the skills of the pipers and Highland dancers, and marvel at the stamina of the hill runners and international athletes on 5 September 2020, at The Braemar Gathering – one of the Queen’s favourite annual events. Sample contemporary Scotland and enjoy live music, top-quality arts and crafts and local food and drink.
Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival
Come savour the very best of modern beer culture and brewing creativity at the Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival. A world class line-up of breweries, headline music acts and Scotland’s finest street food will come together for three days of outrageous celebration in July.