With Dunfermline gaining city status in 2022, there are now 8 cities in Scotland. Here’s everything you need to know!

During Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in 2022, Dunfermline became the newest city in Scotland. Dunfermline’s ascension from town to city-staus brought the total number of cities in Scotland up to 8, alongside Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness, Perth and Stirling.

Located near the Firth of Forth (just over the bridge from Edinburgh, the Scottish capital), Dunfermline has an ancient history and royal connections dating back centuries. Indeed, Dunfermline was even the Scottish capital for a few centuries in the medieval era, but it was only ever a ‘town’, and never a city. So that got me thinking; what makes a city a city? How many cities are there in Scotland? And will more towns be awarded city status like Dunfermline was in the future?

In this article, I’ll explore the politics and history of Scottish cities, as I answer the question, ‘How many cities are there in Scotland?’.

How many cities are in Scotland?

Scotland is home to 8 cities. As of 2024 (this number may change in the future!) the cities recognised officially in Scotland are Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness, Perth, Stirling and Dunfermline. From Edinburgh’s impenetrable castle to the granite architecture of Aberdeen, each of Scotland’s cities offers a fascinating insight into the country’s past and present character. Dunfermline is the latest addition, having been granted city status during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in 2022.

In alphabetical order, here’s a list of the 8 cities in Scotland:

  1. Aberdeen
  2. Dundee
  3. Dunfermline
  4. Edinburgh
  5. Glasgow
  6. Inverness
  7. Perth
  8. Stirling
Map of Scotland, detailing its cities and major population centres. Map by Sting from Wikipedia.

Read more: How Many Counties in Scotland? Everything You Need to Know.

What is a Scottish city?

As in the rest of the United Kingdom, the concept of a city in Scotland has evolved over the centuries and is largely a symbolic title, rather than a legal one. Historically, city status in the UK was associated with having a diocesan cathedral. This tradition dates back to the 16th century when a town was recognised as a city by the Crown if it had a diocesan cathedral within its limits. However, this association between having a cathedral and being called a city was not always consistent and was primarily an English, rather than a Scottish tradition.

The concept of city status changed in the 19th century when several large towns were granted royal charters, which conferred additional honorific status. This transition marked a shift from the cathedral-based definition to a more administrative one. In Scotland, some towns were granted burgh status by Scottish kings, and later, city status was granted by royal charter and letters patent. For instance, Glasgow was recognised as a city in 1175 through a charter granted by William the Lion, and Edinburgh was made a city in 1633 by Charles I, having been the capital of Scotland since at least the 15th century.

Today, city status is a prestigious title awarded by the monarch (such as during the Queen’s 2022 Jubilee celebrations, when a total of 8 towns across the UK were granted city status), often as part of significant national celebrations, and is sought after by many towns for its historical and symbolic value.

Read more: How Many Cities in Wales? Everything You Need to Know.

A quick guide to Scotland’s 8 cities

Okay, so now that we know there are 8 official cities in Scotland, let’s take a look at each of these in a little more detail. From Aberdeen to Stirling, here’s a quick guide to the history of each of the Scottish cities:

Aberdeen

Often referred to as the ‘Granite City’ due to its many enduring grey stone buildings, Aberdeen has evolved over the centuries from a small fishing village into Scotland’s third largest city. Overlooking the North Sea, Aberdeen’s past is deeply intertwined with maritime pursuits, prominently its role in the North Sea oil industry, which continues to bring considerable prosperity and development to the region.

The city’s architecture is a highlight of any visit to Aberdeen, including medieval buildings such as the 15th-century King’s College alongside modern structures like The Sir Duncan Rice Library. The city is the gateway to the natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands, including Cairngorms National Park, and the North Sea coast, offering opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking.

For me, Aberdeen holds a special place in my life. This is the city where I was born! But I only spent a few months here before moving down south to England.

The famous granite buildings of Aberdeen. Photo by Laurentiu Morariu on Unsplash.

Dundee

Located on Scotland’s east coast, Dundee is a fascinating blend of historical sites and modern innovation. Historically a centre for textile production, particularly jute, a type of fibre, Dundee’s industrial past played a significant role in its development.

Today, the city is known for its contributions to the arts and sciences, most notably through the V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first design museum, which symbolises the city’s creative resurgence. Dundee’s waterfront transformation and its vibrant cultural scene, including Dundee Contemporary Arts and the Dundee Repertory Theatre, make it an intriguing destination.

Tourists can also explore the historic ship RRS Discovery, which tells the story of Antarctic exploration. Its proximity to scenic landscapes like the River Tay and the Highlands adds to its appeal to visitors.

The V&A Museum in Dundee.

Read more: How Many Cities Are in Northern Ireland? Everything You Need to Know.

Dunfermline

Situated in Fife, Dunfermline might be Scotland’s newest city, but it’s also a city steeped in history. Known as the ancient capital of Scotland, it was once the seat of royal power, with Dunfermline Abbey at its heart. This Abbey is the final resting place of many Scottish monarchs, including Robert the Bruce. The city’s rich history is evident in its medieval and neoclassical architecture, including the ruins of the royal palace and the beautifully preserved 15th-century Abbot House.

For those interested in history and culture, Dunfermline is home to the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum, celebrating the life and legacy of the famous industrialist and philanthropist born here. The city’s arts scene, encompassing the Carnegie Hall and Alhambra Theatre, provides a platform for various performances and events.

The Pittencrieff Park, gifted to the people of Dunfermline by Carnegie, is a delightful green space, while the city’s location, close to the Firth of Forth, allows easy access to Scotland’s scenic coastline and other historic towns and cities.

Dunfermline Abbey. Photo by David Dixon from Wikipedia.

Edinburgh

Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, is a city dating back to its earliest human settlement in the Bronze Age. The city’s heart and soul is the iconic Edinburgh Castle. Perched dramatically on an extinct volcanic crag, this historical fortress has witnessed many of the pivotal events in Scotland’s turbulent history.

The city’s character is defined by its contrasting Old Town and New Town, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Old Town retains its medieval street plan and many Reformation-era buildings, while the New Town is an excellent example of Georgian architecture and urban planning. Edinburgh is also home to the world’s largest arts festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and hosts the renowned Edinburgh International Festival, attracting visitors and artists from all over the globe.

From the Royal Mile, leading to the Holyrood Palace, to the rugged beauty of Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh is one of the UK’s great city destinations.

How many cities in Scotland
Edinburgh Castle. Photo by Steve Gilruth on Unsplash.

Glasgow

Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland, traces its origins back to a small rural settlement on the River Clyde. Evolving over centuries, Glasgow’s rise to prominence began in the medieval period, largely attributed to the establishment of Glasgow Cathedral, which became a pivotal religious site. The city’s growth accelerated during the Scottish Enlightenment, positioning it as a centre of intellectual and academic advancement.

The Industrial Revolution marked a defining era for Glasgow, transforming it into a powerhouse of trade and shipbuilding. The Clyde became synonymous with shipbuilding excellence, with Glasgow’s shipyards gaining global recognition. This industrial boom led to a surge in population and wealth, fostering a period of extensive urban development. The city’s landscape became adorned with grand Victorian architecture, a testament to its newfound prosperity.

Today, Glasgow stands as a city proud of its industrial past while embracing the future. It’s a place of rich history, architectural marvels, and cultural diversity, attracting visitors and scholars from around the world.

Glasgow. Photo by Artur Kraft on Unsplash.

Inverness

Inverness is often hailed as the ‘Capital of the Highlands’, and with a history dating back to at least the 6th century, the city holds a distinctive place in Scottish culture. Its strategic position at the mouth of the River Ness shaped its early growth as a pivotal trading and religious hub. The city witnessed significant historical events, notably the Battle of Culloden in 1746, which was a turning point in British history.

The 19th century brought significant development with the arrival of the Caledonian Canal and the railways, enhancing Inverness’s connectivity and economic growth. The Victorian era saw the city’s expansion and modernisation. Today, the city serves as a gateway to the Highlands, offering access to Scotland’s stunning landscapes, including Loch Ness, known for the legendary Loch Ness Monster.

The River Ness. Photo by Robin Canfield on Unsplash.

Perth

Situated on the banks of the River Tay, Perth’s nickname is ‘The Fair City’, and it’s a city that dates back to its founding as a Roman settlement. Perth played a pivotal role in Scotland’s medieval history, often serving as the de facto capital due to its strategic location, and witnessing events such as the coronation of Scottish kings at nearby Scone Palace. Perth’s historical significance continued through the centuries, being a focal point during various Scottish Wars for Independence.

The city’s architecture, with its mix of medieval, Victorian, and modern elements, reflects its diverse past. The Perth Museum and Art Gallery, one of the oldest provincial museums in Scotland, is a testament to its commitment to preserving and showcasing its rich heritage.

Perth. Photo by Robin Fernandes. From Wikipedia.

Read more: How Many Counties in the UK (United Kingdom)?

Stirling

Stirling’s strategic location, at the lowest crossing point of the River Forth, has played a significant role in Scotland’s past. Stirling’s history is marked by its famous castle, perched on a volcanic rock, which has witnessed many significant events in Scottish history, including several key battles for Scottish independence. The Battle of Stirling Bridge, where William Wallace defeated the English, and the Battle of Bannockburn, led by Robert the Bruce, are among the pivotal moments in Stirling’s past.

The city’s medieval old town, with its winding cobblestone streets and historic architecture, tells the story of this past. The Wallace Monument, a towering tribute to Sir William Wallace, offers breathtaking views and a deep dive into Scottish history.

Read more: What are the British Isles? Everything You Need to Know.

How many cities are in the United Kingdom?

The United Kingdom now comprises 76 cities, but these are designations reflecting historical and symbolic significance more than demographic size. England boasts the majority with 55 cities, while Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland contribute 8, 7, and 6, respectively.

City status in the UK is a prestigious honour, traditionally granted by royal charter or letters patent. This status doesn’t necessarily correlate with the population or economic stature of a place but is more about its historical importance and ceremonial role. The cities range from bustling metropolises like London and Glasgow to smaller, culturally significant cities like St Davids and Ely.

Read more: What is the United Kingdom? Everything You Need to Know.

FAQ: How many cities are there in Scotland?

Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘How many cities in Scotland?’:

Q1: How many cities are there in Scotland?

As of 2024, Scotland has 8 cities. The cities are Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Perth, Stirling, and Dunfermline.

Q2: Which is the capital city?

Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland.

Q3: Which is the largest city in Scotland?

Glasgow is the largest city in terms of population.

Q4: What is the newest city in Scotland?

Dunfermline was granted city status most recently, in 2022.

Q5: How is city status granted in Scotland?

City status is granted by royal charter in the UK, often as part of celebrations like the Royal Jubilee.

Q6: Which city is known as the ‘Granite City’?

Aberdeen is known as the ‘Granite City’.

Q7: Can cities in Scotland have their status revoked?

City status is a ceremonial designation and is not commonly revoked, but this doesn’t mean it can’t be taken away.

Read more: How Many Cities in England? Everything You Need to Know.