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Scottish World Heritage Sites

Village Bay, St Kilda - A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites are recognised for their outstanding cultural or natural heritage value, and Scotland is home to a number of these extraordinary places.

To be included in the heralded list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a place needs to prove its ‘Outstanding Universal Value’. This means representing a unique example of cultural or natural heritage, as well as being important all over the world and to present and future generations.

How many World Heritage Sites are in Scotland?

There are 32 World Heritage Sites in the UK, and 6 of these are in Scotland. There is a statutory duty to protect, conserve and present these sites for people now and in the future, and the National Trust for Scotland is honoured to care for some of these truly unique places, including the UK’s only dual World Heritage Site.

So which places in Scotland are on the UNESCO list and what makes them so special?

St Kilda

Why is St Kilda a World Heritage Site?

The archipelago of St Kilda is the remotest part of the British Isles and holds the proud title of being the UK’s only dual World Heritage Site – something that only 39 sites in the world can claim. First recognised by UNESCO in 1986 for its natural importance, which was extended in 2004 to include the unique marine life, it was also designated in 2005 for its cultural heritage.

The islands of Hirta, Dùn, Soay and Boreray are home to awe-inspiring volcanic landscapes and some special wildlife. The towering cliffs are home to nearly 1 million noisy seabirds – the largest colony in northern Europe. St Kilda also has its own unique species of wren and mice, as well as primitive Soay sheep roaming wild.

The human history of St Kilda is as inspiring as its scenery and wildlife. Despite the remoteness and extreme conditions, for more than 4,000 years a community of islanders exploited the dense colonies of seabirds for food, feathers and oil, and farmed small plots of land. The last inhabitants were evacuated in 1930. The Trust is now responsible for protecting the cultural remains that help to tell the story of their remarkable lifestyle.

St Kilda – the evacuation of a community

A line of small stone cottages in a barren landscape. There is a head dyke behind them.
The village on Hirta, St Kilda

Old & New Towns of Edinburgh

Together, Edinburgh’s narrow, winding Old Town and neoclassical New Town combine and contrast to create a spectacular cityscape. Both halves of the city centre were added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1995 for their exceptional historic and architectural importance.

Painted ceilings at Gladstone's Land in Edinburgh Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You can immerse yourself in the ‘old’ and ‘new’ of Edinburgh at two of our places. Gladstone’s Land is one of the longest-standing buildings on the Old Town’s famous Royal Mile and was the home of some of Edinburgh’s most interesting characters in the 16th and 17th centuries. The house also boasts original painted ceiling and wall decoration dating from the 1620s.

Discover how we’re transforming the visitor experience at Gladstone’s Land

Across town in Charlotte Square, The Georgian House was designed by the most celebrated Scottish architect of his day, Robert Adam, and typifies the architectural splendour of the New Town. Inside, you’ll get a flavour of upstairs and downstairs life in the 18th century.

Inside the Georgian House in Edinburgh New Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Each of the four Neolithic monuments on Orkney – the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness, Maeshowe and Skara Brae – is extraordinary in itself. Together, they provide an unparalleled window into the skills, beliefs and behaviours of the prehistoric people who built them around 5,000 years ago.

The amazing preservation of these ancient monuments makes the Heart of Neolithic Orkney a major cultural landscape, and it was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1999.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of The Ring of Brodgar, Orkney - a circle of large standing stones under a moody sky.
The Ring of Brodgar

New Lanark

A cluster of stone mill buildings and houses on the banks of a river, surrounded by trees.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of New Lanark on the River Clyde, near Glasgow

Founded in 1785 and purpose-built to support a new water-powered cotton mill, the village of New Lanark was designed by David Dale and ‘utopian idealist’ Robert Owen. By taking a more humane approach to industry, architecture and planning, Owen vastly improved the conditions for workers and their families, proving that you could create wealth without sacrificing people’s wellbeing.

Owen’s values and practices were radical at the time, but New Lanark became a benchmark for industrial communities. The village was first listed as a World Heritage Site in 2001.

The Antonine Wall (Frontiers of the Roman Empire)

Alongside Hadrian’s Wall and another section in Germany, the Antonine Wall represents the border line of the Roman Empire. Built under the rule of Emperor Antoninus Pius around AD140, the wall ran for 37 miles from the Firth of Forth to the River Clyde. It consisted of a turf rampart, with forts of different sizes along what was the most complex frontier ever built by the Roman army.

The Trust owns three stretches of the Antonine Wall including Rough Castle Fort, which are in Guardianship to Historic Environment Scotland.

The Antonine Wall, which was recognised by UNESCO in 2008, is part of a trans-national World Heritage Site called ‘Frontiers of the Roman Empire’.

A large turf-covered ditch, which is part of the Antonine Wall. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ditch fortification at the site of the Roman fort of Rough Castle on the Antonine Wall

The Forth Bridge

Unique in everything from its style and scale to the materials used to build it, the Forth Bridge links Fife to Edinburgh via railway and stands as a testament to human ambition, creativity and engineering. At 1.5 miles long and 110m high, it was the longest cantilever bridge in the world when it was built and the first major steel structure. In the history of bridge construction and rail travel, it’s a significant and inspiring milestone.

The Forth Bridge was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1890 and became a World Heritage Site in 2015.

Visiting the Forth Bridge? Don’t miss the Royal Burgh of Culross nearby!

White crow-stepped houses surround a cobbled market square, with a large stone pillar at the centre.
The market square in Culross

Prospective sites

How do places become World Heritage Sites?

A Scottish site would be nominated by the Scottish government first, before being added to the UK’s ‘Tentative List’. If sites are then nominated by the UK government, they’re assessed by UNESCO. Currently, there are two Scottish sites on the UK’s Tentative List which could be nominated in the coming years:

A large stone broch in a barren, rocky landscape by the sea.
Mousa Broch in Shetland

The Zenith of Iron Age Shetland

Three distinctive sites at the south end of Shetland, consisting of a group of drystone structures dating to the Iron Age that represent a peak in prehistoric architecture.

The Flow Country

An area of Caithness and Sutherland which is considered to be the largest area of blanket bog in the world. It’s a crucial habitat for important and rare breeding birds such as red-throated divers, golden eagles and greenshanks.

A flat landscape, with peat bogs surrounded by pools of water.
Peat bogs in Forsinard, Sutherland

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