From awe-inspiring volcanic landscapes to stunning city architecture, Scotland is home to several UNESCO designations, recognised for their internationally significant cultural or natural heritage value.
Scotland’s UNESCO Trail, launched in October 2021, is the first national UNESCO trail anywhere in the world that brings together our country’s full range of UNESCO place-based designations (World Heritage, Global Geoparks, Biospheres and Creative Cities) whilst promoting responsible tourism.
In this digital toolkit you will find information about:
- Scotland's UNESCO Trail
- UNESCO designations
- Opportunities linked to the trail
- UNESCO travel trade webinar
- How businesses can get involved
- UNESCO and responsible tourism
- Case studies
- Useful resources
What is Scotland’s UNESCO Trail?
Scotland’s UNESCO Trail is a new digital trail connecting 13 place-based UNESCO designations across Scotland.
The trail has been created through a unique and global-first partnership between the Scottish Government, UK National Commission for UNESCO, designation representatives of the 13 UNESCO Sites, VisitScotland, Historic Environment Scotland, NatureScot and the National Trust for Scotland.
The newly created digital assets include dedicated web pages hosted on VisitScotland.com, new itineraries, and videos. Explore the new digital trail at VisitScotland.com.
Scotland is the first nation in the world to create a UNESCO trail. This will bring together the full range of UNESCO place-based designation categories (World Heritage, Global Geoparks, Biospheres and Creative Cities) whilst promoting responsible tourism.
Watch our UNESCO in Scotland: Explained and Scotland's UNESCO Trail: The Wonders Within videos to learn more.
UNESCO designations: our sites
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization uses science, education and culture as a tool to promote intercultural dialogue and foster peace.
One way it does this is by recognising, preserving and educating people about the world’s most extraordinary places. These are places which are truly unique; places which have the power to change the way we see, experience and understand the planet and ourselves. And Scotland is filled with them.
The creation of Scotland’s UNESCO Trail allows us to tell the story of Scotland in a new way that is innovative, exciting and most importantly responsible.
Aligning with UNESCO’s values of peace, education, and sustainability we are presenting Scotland in an unique way to new audiences by celebrating the past, present and future through these designations. Take a tour of the UNESCO UK Commission website to learn more about the four categories and Scotland’s designated sites of Biospheres, Creative Cities, Global Geoparks and World Heritage Sites.
The following provides a designation overview, as defined by UNESCO, and a breakdown of the individual designation sites:
Biospheres are all about improving the relationship between people and their local environment, globally. They are sites created by UNESCO that find creative ways for people and nature to thrive together. They act as extraordinary testing grounds to put into practice an innovative approach to managing our ecosystems sustainably for future generations.
Wester Ross Biosphere
Wester Ross is not only one of the most beautiful places in Scotland, it is also home to a collection of rare and unspoiled habitats where wildlife, fauna and Highland communities co-exist to create an environment of unique natural beauty, history and culture. Read more about the Wester Ross Biosphere.
Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Biosphere
Learn about Galloway & Southern Ayrshire, renowned for its stunning landscape; a natural playground ripe with outdoor adventure and geological interest. It is also a place teeming with rare wildlife and a place where you can experience a rich cultural life and creative scene that is unique to this corner of south Scotland.
Highland mountains, ocean cliffs, billion year old rocks and cavernous caves. Scotland’s Geoparks are part of a global network of 169 areas of exceptional geological significance. UNESCO Global Geoparks are single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development. Geoparks are areas of exceptional geological significance. Both of Scotland’s Geoparks have internationally significant geology, but what makes them special is that they are community-led partnerships that promote an appreciation of natural and cultural heritage while supporting the sustainable economic development of the area, primarily through geological and eco-tourism.
North West Highlands Geopark
Discover more about North West Highlands Geopark, a prehistoric landscape of outstanding natural beauty and a geological heritage which is among the most precious in the world.
The geology of the Shetland Isles spans three billion years and is home to one of the most breathtaking and diverse landscapes in Europe. Learn more about its rich biodiversity of protected flora and fauna, and three of the most important examples of prehistoric architecture in northern Europe.
From the ancient landscape and monuments of Orkney, the Forth Bridge, one of the world’s most magnificent cantilever bridges, to the lonely island of St Kilda evacuated after 4,000 years of human occupation, UNESCO World Heritage Sites tell the unique story of Scotland’s contribution to the world. These sites belong to everyone, and it is everyone’s duty to protect them for future generations.
World Heritage Sites represent the diversity of our planet and the people who have lived on it. They show the development of human history over thousands of years and celebrate the best of who we are – through art, architecture, religion, industry and much more. They are ours to share, to cherish and to respect. Their disappearance would be an irreparable loss to humanity. There are more than 1,000 sites on the World Heritage list globally, in three categories – cultural (such as a temple), natural (like a rainforest), and mixed (where both cultural and natural elements exist at the same location).
The Forth Bridge
Spanning the Firth of Forth, the Forth Bridge stands as a seminal moment in the history of engineering and remains the world’s longest-ever cantilever bridge. Read more about this icon of engineering that is revered around the world.
The Antonine Wall
The Antonine Wall marked the final frontier of the Roman Empire in the north. Learn more about this mighty fortification, built by Emperor Pius in 142 AD, one of the most ambitious constructions of the ancient world.
The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh
The beautiful architecture of Edinburgh shows an important development in city building. Discover how the medieval city of the Old Town underwent an expansion leading to the construction of the spacious Georgian New Town.
Home to a compact landscape of rare beauty and drama, the remote archipelago has been shaped over millions of years by powerful volcanic and glacial forces as well as two millennia of human habitation. Find out more about St Kilda.
The purpose-built 18th century mill village of New Lanark is the vision of philanthropist and social reformer Robert Owen. For over two centuries it would serve as a world-renowned blueprint for the ideal working and living environment for industrial labourers and their families. Read more about this fascinating village and its status.
Scotland has three of these, each with a unique perspective, economy and culture.
The UNESCO Global Creative Cities Network is a network of cities working towards the joint mission of placing creativity and cultural industries at the core of their urban development to make their cities safe, resilient, inclusive and sustainable. Made up of 180 members globally, UNESCO Creative Cities specialise in seven fields: Crafts and Folk Art, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Music and Media Arts.
Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature
Books and reading have been at the beating heart of Edinburgh’s rich cultural life for centuries. Find out more about Edinburgh, the first city in the world to be named a UNESCO City of Literature.
Glasgow UNESCO City of Music
Glasgow is home to one of the largest, most vibrant and accessible music scenes in the world. Discover more about its status as the first-ever UNESCO City of Music in 2008, and its diverse culture, history and musical identity that sets it apart from other cities.
Dundee UNESCO City of Design
Dundee was once best-known for its flourishing textile trade and shipbuilding industry. Learn more about the city and how it continues to place innovation at its heart, emerging as a cutting-edge multidisciplinary design hub quite unlike any other.
What are the opportunities linked to the trail?
Access to brand new digital assets to promote your business
The newly created digital assets include dedicated web pages hosted on VisitScotland.com, new itineraries, and Scotland’s UNESCO Trail videos. All the digital assets are supported by an awe-inspiring suite of imagery and are available for industry to use across their own websites and channel marketing activity.
All the newly created assets aim to inspire our communities, citizens and visitors and encourage the pursuit of slowing down, staying longer and spending in the local supply chain at a community level.
Promotion of responsible tourism businesses and their communities
By focusing on Scotland’s 13 UNESCO place-based designations we are highlighting them as globally significant sites and demonstrating Scotland’s unique contribution in the world. We hope that by telling the stories of our land, our people, and our heritage that more of our citizens and visitors will experience the incredible places on offer only in Scotland.
As well as this, we will highlight surrounding businesses that are working in a sustainable and responsible way. This project will raise the profile of businesses and ensure that, through their operational practices and internal culture, that they are addressing climate change, by supporting the responsible tourism ambition to have thriving communities whilst encouraging the protection of the natural and cultural heritage of the designation.
We are committed to working with the industry and communities to create long-lasting sustainable tourism destinations which protect the environment and benefit visitors and residents alike.
UNESCO travel trade webinar
We hosted a webinar on 20 January about the trail and the importance of UNESCO in promoting tourism as a force for good. Learn about the impact the trail has in allowing visitors to discover not only Scotland’s UNESCO designations across Scotland, but the lesser known hidden gems and local communities.
In the webinar you’ll also hear about travel companies already creating successful packages, tours and itineraries linked to Scotland’s UNESCO Trail.
Watch the webinar
How can businesses get involved?
The businesses included in the campaign content are Green Tourism accredited. By taking part in the Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS) these businesses are showing the world that they take environmental considerations seriously and are taking practical steps to tackle issues such as energy efficiency, water saving and mindful waste reduction.
All of which are in line with the 17 UN Sustainable Development goals and UNESCO values. For further information on the National Value of UNESCO read the report on their webpage.
Creating a web listing on VisitScotland.com allows you to connect with visitors across the world. This is a free service for all types of tourism businesses including: accommodation providers; visitor attractions, activities, or experiences; places to eat and drink; transport providers; local retail establishments and tour operators.
VisitScotland.com has 23 million visits per year and is translated into six languages. By showcasing your business through a web listing you can let visitors know that you are open and ready to welcome them.
Businesses that are Green Tourism accredited will see the Green Tourism logo appear on their respective listing automatically.
We also have a dedicated listings system for tour operators which you can sign up to for free on our Tours Management System website. If you have a special tour that aligns with UNESCO, make sure to add the appropriate designation category or categories. You can do this by firstly selecting the relevant tour from your dashboard. Then, under the “Additional tour information” section, go to the "Highlights: attractions and destinations” box and type "UNESCO" for the prepopulated options to appear. Save and publish your tour.
Be Green Tourism accredited
In order to be promoted as part of Scotland’s UNESCO Trail campaign activity, you will need to have a listing on VisitScotland.com and be Green Tourism accredited. After you have signed up to your free web listing and have become a member of Green Tourism, we will take care of the rest. Your Green Tourism logo will appear on your web listing and visitors will be able to search and filter for your business.
If you are a tour operator with a green accredited package featuring a UNESCO designation, please update your listing on our Tours Management System website. On logging in, edit your operator profile, and then select the green accredited box under the “Tour Company Details & Address” section before you update and save your changes.
The easiest way to ensure your business listing has a presence in search engines, is through on-page SEO and keyword targeting. You can read specific guidance on the practice in our beginner's guide to on-page SEO page.
Keywords are defined as the queries users will input into a search engine to find specific information. When adjusting your listing to highlight the ties your business has to a UNESCO designation, we’d recommend identifying two to five keywords that are relevant to the product you offer, and threading them naturally within your business description.
For example, if you have a heritage attraction based in Edinburgh you may want to define that you are based in the ‘UNESCO City of Literature’ and are one of the many ‘Scottish heritage sites’. Search engines are also good at contextualising keywords, so you can amend keywords slightly to make them read naturally.
Be discoverable and bookable
For maximum impact online, your business needs to be discoverable and bookable. It’s about how easy it is for a visitor to find your business online, and if a customer can then book your service – whether that’s a room to sleep in, a tour, an entry ticket for your attraction, or reserving a table. Watch our videos that cover how to increase your chances of being discovered by these customers and booked through web booking engines, channel managers and online travel agents with our be discoverable and bookable online advice page.
Visuals speak volumes
From dramatic cityscapes to breathtaking coastlines, choose from a selection of free images for use across your own channels to inspire visitors. We’ve created a bank of images (and a video) which you can download from our Digital Media Library. Simply register first, then search under the term 'UNESCO Trail'.
Established in 1945, UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and seeks to build peace through international cooperation in education, the sciences and culture. Each of Scotland’s UNESCO designations actively contributes to the achievement of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Recognised internationally as shorthand for high-quality, the UNESCO ‘badge’ demonstrates to a national and international audience that a place, item, or location is unique and of global significance and interest.
Responsible tourism is the beating heart of this project. Our aim is to ensure that Scotland’s UNESCO Trail celebrates and prioritises businesses and communities that are committed to responsible tourism business practices, increase understanding of the UNESCO values and encourage visitors to stay longer, visit all year round and explore more of what our country has to offer. This will be crucial as we strive to make Scotland a world-leading responsible tourism destination. Find out more about responsible tourism in our dedicated section.
By working in partnership with Green Tourism, and involving local communities and tourism businesses, Scotland’s UNESCO Trail aims to maintain economic activity whilst minimising negative environmental and social impact.
We are also working with private sector partners to ensure visitors have options to choose sustainable travel options when travelling internationally and domestically, for example with ScotRail, Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, Skyscanner, Green Tourism and Expedia.
Who is Green Tourism?
Green Tourism is an accreditation organisation founded in Scotland, originally developed through a partnership between VisitScotland and Green Business UK, who continue to develop and operate the scheme. It is a well-recognised award as well as being an important part of Scotland’s future as a sustainable tourism destination.
Becoming a Green Tourism business is a great way of reducing not just your carbon footprint, but also utility, water, and waste bills too. You can promote your award through the Green Tourism website, your VisitScotland.com web listing and various booking agencies.
The Scottish Poetry Library
Based in Edinburgh’s historic Old Town, the Scottish Poetry Library (SPL) houses the nation’s collection of contemporary Scottish poetry books, pamphlets and audio material. Read our case study on the ways that the Library is reducing its carbon footprint and acting sustainably, from digitising resources to hybrid events.
Nithbank Country Estate
Nithbank Country Estate, the award winning five star country house B&B in Dumfries and Galloway has an exceptional commitment to responsible tourism, particularly in relation to working with the local community and wildlife conservation. Read our case study on how they are committed to nurturing their local environment.
JP Orkney sell homemade produce in their online shop, deliver tours and provide environmentally friendly electric camper van hire. Read our case study to find out the ways in which they are acting sustainably by using electric vehicles to deliver their tours, carefully sourcing packaging and growing their own produce.
We’ve pulled together some handy links that provide more information on UNESCO, responsible tourism and Scotland’s green ambition.