17 Life-Changing Things Everyone Must Do In Scotland In 2017

You need to add "hang out with baby seals" and "swim with basking sharks in the Hebrides" to your bucket list right now.

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This stunning white sandy beach on the Hebridean isle of Barra doubles as the island's airport. It was first used as a runway in 1936, handles regular scheduled flights from Belfast, Manchester, Exeter, Glasgow, and Birmingham (amongst others), and has been voted the world's most spectacular landing. Plus once you land you can explore this beautiful island as well. Bonus.

Maeshowe is the best-preserved Neolithic chambered tomb in northwest Europe. The entrance passage has been carefully aligned so that for three weeks around the shortest day of the year (21 December), the setting sun shines directly down it in a spectacular 5,000-year-old light show. Tickets are timed, so make sure you know what time the sun is due to go down that day before booking.

Basking sharks are huge but harmless migratory animals who spend their summers chilling out in the crystal-blue waters of the Inner Hebrides. Oban-based company Basking Shark Scotland runs boat tours from April to October, and guests can either swim alongside the sharks, or just relax and watch these gentle giants from the boat.

The small but perfectly formed Hebridean island is one of only a handful of official dark sky islands in the world. There are no street lights on Coll and the island community council has no plans to install any, meaning that the night sky is shimmeringly clear and perfectly preserved. You can wild camp anywhere on the island (within reason), but Arinagour is a particularly good spot.

This traditional Scottish inn is nestled in the heart of beautiful Glencoe, and has been providing accommodation, food, and tons of warm Highland hospitality to visitors for over 300 years. It has two bars, a huge range of over 260 whiskies, live folk music, booze tastings, brewing demonstrations, and truly great craic. You just can't beat it.

This spectacular Viking-themed fire festival is held in January every year to mark the end of the yule period. Thousands of people throng the streets of Lerwick holding burning torches before setting fire to a full-scale replica of a Viking ship. It's a truly once-in-a-lifetime sight. This year's festival is on 31 January 2017, so there's still time to book a flight up to Shetland (just).

Harry Potter fans will instantly recognise this iconic Victorian railway viaduct at the head of Loch Shiel. It was first seen in Chamber of Secrets, when Ron and Harry pilot the flying Ford Anglia to Hogwarts. But even if you're not familiar with the Harry Potter films, it's a truly epic and dramatic experience, and one that's been repeatedly voted the greatest railway journey in the world.

The Eda Frandsen is a gorgeous, vintage, 56ft wooden fishing boat. The owners offer trips out to St. Kilda, a spectacular uninhabited archipelago in the Outer Hebrides – one of the most remote places in the British Isles. You don't have to be an experienced sailor to go along, but you'll be shown the ropes (quite literally) and be expected to pitch in and help. But that's all part of the fun.

This 200-mile beast of a walk is also known as “Britain’s Toughest Trail”. It ends at Cape Wrath, the most northwesterly point on the mainland, passing stunning glens and steep mountains along the way. It takes around three weeks to walk the whole route, but you can do shorter sections. The Rhiconich to Sandwood Bay stretch is particularly beautiful: In fact, it’s like nowhere else on Earth.

This slightly crazy sport is basically zorbing, but on water. For £24, you'll get a chance to look for the Loch Ness monster in a truly unique way: by rolling around on top of it in a giant inflatable hamster ball. The water-balling fun takes place beside the beautiful Fort Augustus Abbey, and you'll get amazing views of the nearby mountains too.

Flying Fever is a friendly paragliding school based on the Isle of Arran, not far from Glasgow, and offers tandem flights across the island with an instructor. One of the most incredible flights takes place from the highest point of the island: Goatfell, a 874m-high conical mountain with panoramic views across Brodick Bay and even to Ireland on a clear day.

This truly magical hideaway is one of a collection of handmade wooden cabins beside the fairytale-like Glen Strathfarrar. Each cabin has a roof covered with wildflowers, and they’re filled with hand-carved wooden panels featuring stags, Celtic knotwork, and Pictish motifs. It's one of the top places to stay in Scotland.

This awesome Star Wars-themed hostel was voted the best in Scotland by Hostelworld in 2012, 2014, and 2015. Guests can choose to stay in quirky “Jedi huts” (pictured), admire the C-3PO mural, or relax under the stars in the glass solardome, all from just £17 per person per night, so it's great if you're on a tight budget.

East of Scotland Microlights offers gift experience vouchers from £70, where you'll sit back, relax, and let a trained pilot take the wheel. You'll soar over East Lothian's beautiful beaches, see the world's largest gannet colony on the Bass Rock, and take a trip across the Firth of Forth towards Edinburgh on longer flights. It's pretty much the coolest possible way to see the capital.

This fearsome, twisting, and beautiful mountain road is the 2,053ft-high Bealach na Bà (Pass of the Cattle) in the remote Applecross Peninsula. It was voted one of the most incredible roads in the world by National Geographic, along with Route 66 in America, so it's a great opportunity to live out your secret Top Gear fantasies.

This incredibly scenic bungee jump is colloquially known as the "Highland Fling", with participants falling 40 metres from a specially constructed platform above the River Garry in Perthshire at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. You'll get to take in the spectacular view as you plummet towards the water...if you're brave enough to keep your eyes open, that is.

These tiny, jewel-like Hebridean islands are frequently blanketed with wild flowers, and feature several seal colonies. The islands are also linked at low tide with white sandy beaches, and they're surrounded by turquoise sea. Plus, in October, they're home to hundreds of newborn grey seal pups, and sailing company Hebridean Cruises runs boat trips out to see them. Ahh!