A few years ago I had the best plate of seafood of my life. (Note: I hail from coastal Maryland, and seafood is not something we mid-Atlantic coast dwellers take lightly.) On a cool and breezy June afternoon, my family and I were seated inside the glassed-in dining room at Eeusk in Oban, a small fishing town on the west coast of Scotland. I ordered the seafood platter—as I’m wont to do when there is a body of saltwater in plain sight—and was giddy over what arrived in front of me: local Scottish oysters on the half, pink langoustines in-shell, steamed mussels, smoked salmon, seared scallops, and a massive king crab leg. Needless to say, I’ve been counting down the days until I could return to Scotland for more.
Seafood isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Scotland. Fierce kings and centuries-old castles; bagpipes and kilts; far-flung isles where some of the world’s finest spirits are distilled among vast swaths of sheep-strewn green—sure.
That’s the thing, see: Scotland’s seafood scene kind of sneaks up on you. Yes, the country is surrounded by the depths of the icy North Sea and the chilly Atlantic, so the fresh catch ought to be good. But it seems, distinctly Scottish dishes like haggis and blood sausage often steal the spotlight, yielding upturned noses and false generalizations about the great country’s cuisine. (Haggis, for the record, is absolutely delicious.)
I was pleased to discover this past January that experiencing Scotland through its seafood offerings is one of the best ways to travel through the country. And if you visit in the wintertime, you can fully embrace the concept of Còsagach, which is similar to the Scandinavian idea of Hygge. Cozy up along the coast with tartan blanket and a hot cuppa—or a warming whiskey—and enjoy the fruits of the sea from the comfort of a snug restaurant. Alternatively, if you visit in the summertime, the seafood is just as refreshing as it is flavorful and lends itself to all of the outdoor activities you’ll want to try in the warmer months.
Here are some can’t-miss coastal spots worth stopping for if you’re in the market for some of the tastiest fresh catch in the world.
The West Coast of Scotland
When it comes to meandering through the coastal villages of Scotland’s west coast in search of a salty treat, you’re in luck, because there’s an actual official Seafood Trail map, and a full website detailing member restaurants and recipes galore. The Trail focuses on the western side of the country, where you’ll get a good dose of rich green vistas, cliffsides, beautiful highland region, and of course some of the best Scottish seafood on offer. The Hebridean Islands offer a plethora of outdoor activities, breathtaking coastal roads, and tons of seafood restaurants; between the Isles of Skye, Islay, Mull, and more, you’ll have no trouble dining at some truly unforgettable restaurants, where the jaw-dropping views match the effects of the expertly prepared local cuisine.
There are, of course, a few can’t-miss destinations that should absolutely be on your itinerary. Waste no time heading straight for Oban, a charming fishing port nestled right on the coast, known as one of the gateways to the Hebridean Islands. Book a table for lunch at the aforementioned Eeusk, and enjoy exclusively local shellfish from the Lynn of Lorne. Take a look at the menu here—you simply can’t go wrong with the fishcakes or any dish involving salmon, but if you’re really looking to treat yourself, opt for the Grand Platter. After lunch, meander over to the famed 18th-century Oban Distillery for a guided tour of the facilities, and of course, a glass or two of whiskey.
Isle of Skye
Next up: the stunning Isle of Skye, which you’ve probably heard of for famous landmarks like the mystical Fairy Pools and the Old Man of Storr. Leave plenty of time to marvel at these natural wonders, and of course, pay a visit to the grounds of Dunvegan Castle and Gardens.
You’ll surely work up a well-earned appetite after all the exploration, so head to Sea Breezes for pretty views of the Portree harborfront and fresh seafood dishes sources from Skye and the surrounding islands. (We recommend booking ahead.) If you’re in the mood for something a bit more casual, Old School Restaurant, which has been in operation since 1985, has a comfortable and friendly atmosphere with quick and fresh local salty bites.
The East of Scotland
From the bustling and buzzy city of Edinburgh, just as cosmopolitan as it is rich with history, to the stretches of pristine coastline dotted with fishing villages in Fife, to the stunning castle country of Aberdeenshire, Scotland’s eastern coast is home to some of the finest seafood establishments in the U.K. Rent a car and make your way from Edinburgh through Fife and up to Aberdeenshire over the course of five or six days for plenty of time to explore. And eat!
There’s really no shortage of good seafood (good-anything, for that matter) in the illustrious city of Edinburgh. If you’re hoping to sample the finest of what the city has to offer, book a room at The Balmoral Hotel and enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner at the hotel’s French-inspired bistro Brasserie Prince, where the Balmoral smoked salmon is prepared locally (look out for the flavor of whiskey barrel chips) and specifically for the restaurant; it’s absolutely to-die-for. The restaurant’s raw bar is arguably one of the best in the country.
If you have more than one meal’s worth of time in Edinburgh, book a table at Ondine in the city’s Old Town. One of the city’s finest seafood and shellfish establishments, Ondine is known for serving up decidedly “proper seafood.” The restaurant touts sustainable, locally-sourced seafood that celebrates the freshest of catches, paying homage to the hard-working fisherman from the east coast with everything from classic fish ‘n chips to opulent raw seafood platters.
The entire region of Aberdeenshire is dotted with ports and towns both large and small (and of course the city of Aberdeen) boasts some of the east’s best fresh catch. In addition to feasting your way through the region, it’s known throughout as Scotland’s castle country, so you can tour literally dozens of castles between meals. We suggest you spend your days snuggling up in seafood restaurants and driving from castle to castle to experience the magnificent grounds and accommodations.
One can’t-miss destination conveniently on the way to Aberdeen is the remarkable and austere cliffside ruins of Dunnottar Castle. Less than a 10 minute drive from the castle you’ll come across Stonehaven, a sweet, walkable fishing village with several wonderful options for seafood. If you’re coming for dinner in the warm season, head straight to the famed Tolbooth Restaurant. Year round, sit for lunch at the Ship Inn for out-of-this-world Cullen Skink, a famed Scottish dish and must-have while on a seafood tour.
Once in Aberdeen, the gorgeous port city known for its stately granite architecture, you may feel overwhelmed by the options for fine seafood. We’ll make it easy for you: book a table at The Silver Darling for stylish interiors (think floor-to-ceiling glass windows) and delicious, local seafood served in the heart of the Granite City’s harbor quayside. Go ahead and splurge on the Full House Platter, a bowl of warming Cullen Skink and and smoked Loch Fyne salmon tartare.
Perched over the sea, located behind the famous Golf Club in the charming university town of St. Andrews, The Seafood Ristorante offers sustainable and locally-sourced seafood dishes with breathtaking panoramic views of the castle ruins, West Sands, and St. Andrews Bay. We recommend sampling extensively from the “Naked Seafood Menu” and trying both Primi (for options like Raed Mullet Soup and Orkney Scallops) and Secondini (you’ll try the likes of Shetland Cod and East Neuk Crab Linguini).
If you have a day or two to explore the towns around Fife, drive to the adorable fishing village of Anstruther and cozy up for the best fish ‘n chips in Britain at Anstruther Fish Bar, about a 20 minute drive from St. Andrews. St. Monans is around the corner, and offers sweeping vistas of the water, as well as a local haunt, the East Pier Smokehouse.
Go on, then — book the flights.