42 Best places to visit in the Scottish Highlands
My husband is thoroughly Irish and adores the land of his birth, but when visiting Scotland’s Highlands and gazing out over the landscapes he said and I quote “this quite possibly is the most beautiful place on earth”. If you are heading to Scotland and looking for inspiration on where to visit then you need to know about the best places to visit in Scotland’s highlands.
Lonely Planet says that the Scottish Highlands are one of the best regions in the world to visit in 2019 You have probably seen much of the stunning Scottish Highlands in movies such as Rob Roy, James Bond or Harry Potter and TV shows like Outlander. Some of the best places to visit in the Scottish Highlands are sites you might already have seen in these shows. Here are 42 epic reasons why you need to take that trip to some of the best places to visit in the Highlands of Scotland.
The raw windswept vistas of the highlands of Scotland are inspiring the coastline is rugged and incredibly beautiful with a great lack of tourists. There are ruined castles, castles to stay in, a loch monster to chase, whiskey, pubs more whiskey and more pubs. The people offer some of the best hospitality anywhere in the British Isles and the craic is mighty in the Scottish Highlands.
In order to help you plan your stay, I have put together, with my writer friends, this guide of the 42 best things to do in the Scottish Highlands, with all points of interest and must-see attractions. It isn’t difficult to drive in Scotland and I highly recommend a car rental for driving in the Highlands it will make your trip so much easier.
In addition to this list of the places to visit in the highlands, I give you ideas for sightseeing in the surroundings as well as a selection of some of the best accommodations in the Highlands.
Where are the Scottish Highlands?
What is considered the Scottish highlands? The Scottish Highlands region is a vast area covering more than 11000 square miles. The further north you travel the more wild and remote the Highlands become.
The Highlands stretches from Fort William in the west, right up the coast by Skye, around the North Coast 500 to Durness and John O’ Groats in the far north. It also runs up to Inverness and east out to Elgin, taking in Aviemore and some of the Cairngorms National Park. There are so many things to do in the Scottish highlands you can be sure the entire family will enjoy themselves.
What are the major cities in the Scottish Highlands?
Inverness is the main city of the Scottish Highlands and one of the best places to stay since many of the Highland attractions such as Loch Ness and the Cairngorms National Park are just a short drive away. The Moray Firth has some stunning shorelines and the hiking on the Moray Trail is phenomenal. You can also make a visit to what is known as the sunniest spot in Scotland Nairns beach.
One of the best places in the Scottish highlands to visit is Fort William in the western Highlands is considered the outdoor capital of the UK. Basing yourself in Fort William gives you the perfect place to explore Ben Nevis the UK’s tallest mountain or take the Gondola up the mountainside. You can visit Glencoe and Glenfinnan more on those later.
Aviemore is around 30 miles south of Inverness and is the main town in the Cairngorms National Park. A popular ski destination and a summer vacation spot in the Highlands and is close to Loch an Eilein (5 miles south), Loch Morlich and the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre.
Oban is on the West Coast of Scotland and is called the “Gateway to the Isles”. From Oban, you can take the ferries to the Outer Hebrides, Inner Hebrides and Argyll & The Isles and Mallaig, which connects to Skye. The main highway that runs through Oban runs straight to Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park.
Most folks who visit Scotland want to visit the world-famous Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides. The Inner Hebrides and Outer Hebrides Islands are located off the west coast of the Scottish Highlands. The Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands are located off the northernmost tip of mainland Scotland and can be accessed via ferry leaving from Thurso.
Ten fascinating facts about the Scottish Highlands
- Why are they called the Highlands? The Scottish Gaelic name of A’ Ghàidhealtachd literally means “the place of the Gaels” and traditionally, from a Gaelic-speaking point of view, includes both the Western Isles and the Highlands.
- Scotland’s national dish is Haggis a sort of sausage with lots of parts we don’t usually eat in North America such as lungs, heart, and other offal.
- Scottish folks love their neeps and tatties which are essentially turnips (we used to call it Swede) and potatoes.
- Oatcakes are also a favourite Scottish food – this is a flat oat biscuit served with butter and jam or cheese.
- Three languages are spoken in the Highlands: English, Scots and Gaelic
- What is Scotland’s “right to roam” law? This means that everyone is allowed to walk or cycle through the land as long as it’s not motorized as in cars and motorbikes. You can hike through private and public land including– mountains, fields, forests, grassland, coastal areas, and lochs as long as they do so responsibly.
- The Orkney Islands are an archipelago in Northern Scotland that actually used to be owned by Norway.
- It has the UK’s highest mountains, ranging from 900-1300m
- The northwest Highlands are, geologically speaking, 750 million years old
- Loch Ness holds more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined
Getting around the Scottish Highlands
The Highlands are accessible by car, rail, bus and air. Buses and trains connect with Edinburgh, Glasgow and Scotland’s other major cities.
Buses travel from the towns of Crianlarich and Glencoe to Fort William and beyond, while trains connect with Inverness and as far north as Wick and Duirinish.
Ferries and flights reach all the major islands in the Highlands, and Inverness is accessible from London by rail and air. Though there are smaller airports in the Scottish Highlands, Inverness Airport, located in Dalcross just outside the city of Inverness, serves the destination and is its main airport with flights to Dublin, Belfast, and Amsterdam. Easyjet, LoganAir, KLM and British Airways fly out of and into Inverness.
Touring the Scottish Highlands
The Highlands refers to that part of Scotland north-west of the Highland Boundary Fault, which crosses mainland Scotland in a near-straight line from Helensburgh to Stonehaven. Here are 32 of the best places to visit in the Scottish highlands.
Glencoe is a valley located in the west of the Scottish highlands. The area is known for its spectacular views, peaks, waterfalls and typical highland landscape. The valley was made famous thanks to various movies that were filmed in the area, such as Harry Potter, James Bond, Highlander, Braveheart and the Outlaw king.
The village of Glencoe, located at the edge of Loch Leven, is a good starting point to explore the valley. The Macdonald’s memorial reminds one of the killings of the clan in 1692 and the Folk museum and visitor centre to tell the tale of the clans and legends of the highlands. The best way to enjoy Glencoe, however, is on a hike up the various viewpoints.
The Glencoe walking trail and the three sisters are great for families, while experienced hikers might enjoy a good hike up the Ben Nevis or the Pap of Glencoe. The best way to get to Glencoe is by car via the A82. It’s a day trip from Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Inverness, with a driving time of 2 to 3 hours. Make sure to pack some warm clothes because Glencoe can be rather cool and windy. The temperatures average 20 Celsius in the summer months. Discover more ideas and things to do in Glencoe and collect some tips to plan a trip to this breathtaking region. Contributed by Paul of PaulMarina.com.
Gairloch sits on the West coast of Scotland. This Gulf Stream gives it a warmer climate.
There is a pretty harbour and also a couple of lovely sandy beaches, along with sheltered bays. Islands add to the views which look stunning at sunset.
Not only does Gairloch have an award-winning museum, but there are also plenty of nice places to eat. The GALE Centre is a community-run centre with a fantastic cafe with outside dining. The menu features fresh ingredients and lovely home baking.
It’s only a few minutes’ stroll from The Gairloch Hotel which is the largest in the area. This older-styled hotel is popular with coach holiday guests. It has a fantastic location overlooking a sandy beach.
Whichever way you travel to Gairloch you will enjoy fantastic views and scenery. There is also a great circular road trip route which takes in waterfalls, wild goats and gorges to name a few. Contributed by Melanie of The Professional Traveller
Stirling is where the Lowlands meet the Highlands of Scotland. Here you have to visit Stirling Castle high on a volcanic outcrop, the castle guarded the lowest crossing point of the River Forth for centuries. Today it remains a great symbol of Scottish independence and national pride.
It was here in 1543, at the age of just nine months, that Mary Queen of Scots was crowned queen in Stirling Castle’s Chapel Royal after the death of her father, James V. She lived at the castle for most of the first five years of her life until she was moved to Dumbarton Castle and eventually to France.
It was built in honour of William Wallace, the man known as ‘Braveheart’. Wallace was an incredible ‘Guardian of Scotland’ and played an integral role in the battle against England for Scotland’s independence. Perhaps one of his most famous battles was the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.
The capital of the Scottish Highlands, Inverness is definitely one of the best places to visit in this area. The city is also a great base for anyone looking to take a Scottish Highland tour. From stunning views of the River Ness to historic castles and public parks, there’s something for everyone in Inverness.
One of the best things to do in Inverness is to visit the iconic Inverness Castle. Perched atop a cliff overlooking the River Ness, the castle offers stunning views of the surrounding area. As of 2022, Inverness Castle is closed for renovation and is scheduled to reopen in 2025. However, visitors can still admire its architecture from the outside and enjoy the river view from where it is situated.
To briefly escape from the bustling city centre, why not take a stroll through the Inverness Botanic Gardens? Besides a tropical house, a cactus house, several ponds, and flower meadows, this entry-free place is also home to a number of events throughout the year, so be sure to check the schedule before you visit.
For history enthusiasts, a visit to the Culloden Battlefield should not be missed. Located just outside of Inverness, Culloden Battlefield is the site of the last battle of the Jacobite rising in 1745. The battlefield is now a memorial site and museum and is well worth a visit for anyone interested in Scottish history.
Getting to Inverness is easy as it’s just a short drive from Edinburgh or Glasgow, or you can take the train from London King’s Cross Station. Once you’re in Inverness, there are plenty of hotels to choose from. I would highly recommend staying at Loch Ness Lodge – a beautiful retreat with panoramic views over Loch Ness and luxurious traditional Scottish design. Contributed by Fiona of Fiona Travels from Asia.
Ben Lomond stands tall at 974 meters, or 3,196 feet, above sea level and remains one of the most important mountains in the Scottish Highlands. It’s part of the Ben Lomond National Memorial Park and the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.
The hike is relatively moderate, taking an average of 4 to 6 hours for a round trip. You’ll be rewarded with the most spectacular views of Loch Lomond on a clear day, although the misty landscape of the mountains can also be a remarkable sight.
One fun fact about Ben Lomond is that you can see its peak from the top of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in all of Britain that’s more than 40 miles away!
Visiting Ben Lomond is a popular day trip from major Scottish cities. It’s only an approximate 1.5-hour drive from either Glasgow or Edinburgh. But an underrated way to enjoy Ben Lomond is to actually arrive by campervan and stay in the car park overnight. There’s nothing quite like waking up to impressive ranges in the distance. Not to mention you can get a headstart and enjoy a less crowded hike.
Afterward, grab a meal from the Clansman Bar at the Rowardennan Hotel, right next to the parking lot. They’ve got a huge selection of local dishes and delicacies, as well as warm drinks! Contributed by Bradley of Dream Big Travel Far.
Loch Ness is a large, freshwater loch that is located approximately 37 kilometres (23 miles) southwest of Inverness (the nearest town to the Loch and Highland Capital). Loch Ness is the second largest loch in Scotland, after Loch Lomond and it is 230 metres deep.
Urquhart Castle, sitting overlooking Loch Ness has played a large part in the loch’s dramatic history and appears perched as if looking for the famous or infamous Loch Ness monster.
The best-known early mention of Nessie that attracted a lot of attention was an article in the Inverness Courier published on 2 May 1933, about a large “beast” or “whale-like fish”. Since then Nessie has been at the forefront of local folklore and news. There have been over 1000, sometimes unexplainable, eye-witness accounts and sightings that continue to fuel the everlasting presence Nessie has at Loch Ness.
Dunrobin Castle is not only the oldest continuously inhabited house dating back to the 1300’s it is also the largest Castle in the Northern Scottish Highlands with 189 rooms.
The Castle, which resembles a French château with towering conical spires and fairytale turrets was originally a fortified stone keep sitting atop the cliff. From the 16th century, there were a series of additions and a large extension. The Castle overlooks the Moray Firth just north of Dornoch and Golspie.
Sir Charles Barry who was the architect for the Houses of Parliament in London was called upon to remodel the castle in 1845. He changed the house from a fort to the popular Scottish Baronial style inspired by Balmoral.
In 1915 a fire broke out at the house and it was rebuilt by Sir Lorimer who designed its current Scottish Renaissance style.
In the late ’60s, the Castle became a boys’ boarding school for seven years before reverting back to being a family house. Within the formal Castle grounds and gardens, there is a Museum that was originally built as a summer house and it contains family artefacts including items collected from primarily Africa and around the world. There is also a collection of Pictish stones and cross-slabs.
A visit to Dunrobin Castle now includes daily birds of prey flying demonstrations and see spectacular shows featuring Peregrine and Gyrfalcon as well as Harris hawks. Dunrobin Castle is open annually from 1st April to 31st October and an adult ticket which includes the grounds and Birds of Prey demonstration costs £13.50.
While the Battlefield of Culloden may have gained some popularity in recent years due to the TV series, Outlander, it has been long loved by history buffs worldwide. If you’re not familiar, The Battle of Culloden is where Bonny Prince Charlie’s Jacobite Rebellion came to an end. The Scottish were defeated here by the English on April 16, 1746.
While I was visiting Inverness with some friends, we had wanted to take a day trip with Rabbie’s Tours but, unfortunately, they were sold out on the only day we had available.
Rabbie’s is my absolute favourite tour company when visiting Scotland. If we had gone on the tour, we would have seen Glen Affric and Clava Cairns in addition to Culloden.
Despite the small setback, I decided we’d just go on our own! We were staying in Premier Inn’s Inverness Centre location (a fabulous hotel by the way) which conveniently sits next to Bus #3’s stop at Huntly St. With no transfers, we arrived at Culloden Battlefield within 40 minutes.
The Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre is an obvious love letter to the history of the Highlands and to preserving the stories of those that lost their lives here. It’s an incredible multi-media facility that alongside archaeological finds you’ll experience a 360-degree battle immersion theatre that drops you literally in the centre of the fighting. You could easily spend all day here.
The Battlefield of Culloden itself is a sobering walk through the fields where over 1,600 men were killed. 1,500 of them were Jacobites. They have the field marked out with different coloured flags so you can see where the British and the Jacobites took their various positions. There are also markers for clans who lost their family members here.
While visiting Culloden Battlefield, you will also see Leanach Cottage which not only survived the battle but some think may have served as a field hospital. Inside the Visitor Centre, there is a lovely little café that serves hot and cold dishes for breakfast or lunch. It was the perfect end to our visit before heading back to Inverness. Contributed by Jessy of Brighter Things Planning.
Oban, the Gateway to the Islands
Split into North and South, Oban makes a brilliant touring base. You could spend days exploring castles, gardens, villages, beaches, forests, and fun and unusual attractions, from the power station hollowed into a mountain to boat trips where you can spot basking sharks and a host of other sea life.
Oban is often referred to as the seafood capital of Scotland and with the famous Oban Whiskey Distillery right at the heart of the town. Oban is also where many ferries depart from heading to the islands.
Gylen Castle is an impressive tower house, built by the MacDougalls, in a beautiful spot overlooking the Firth of Lorn on the lovely island of Kerrera, near Oban in Argyll on the western seaboard of Scotland.
On a rocky promontory jutting into the sea, Gylen or Gylem Castle – the castle of fountains – is an elegant but compact 16th-century L-plan tower house, which consists of a square main block and a stair tower.
Gylen was a property of the MacDougalls, who also held Dunollie Castle. An earlier castle here may have been where Alexander II died during an expedition to recover the Western Isles in the mid-13th century.
A visit to the Dunollie Museum, Castle And Grounds is a must-do. Dunollie is the home of the renowned Hope MacDougall Collection. With over 5,000 objects gathered by the late family clan member. The collection forms a diverse, and fascinating record of the region’s social history as it includes letters, momentoes and photographs from the clan folk and the local area.
You can explore the Castle and historic grounds with woodland walks, gardens and stunning views over Kerrera, North Lorn and to the islands beyond. There is also the enchanting Dunollie Woodland Trail with its fascinating stories of woodland life and folklore leading you to the mysterious hidden Willow Garden.
Assynt is located in the northwest part of Highlands, a short drive north from Ullapool. Its scenery is unique and extraordinary and unlike any other part of the Scottish Highlands. Vast moorlands are cut by rivers and a maze of thousands of lochans (small lakes) with several monolith mountains rising up proudly. Each one of them, although not high in altitude, is full of character and its own shape which can be recognisable from miles away.
But this is not everything; Assynt is home to some of the most beautiful white sand beaches in Scotland and stunning sea-stack Old Man of Stoer. Lochinver is the biggest settlement in this part of the country with many smaller villages scattered along single-track roads of Assynt.
The outdoor enthusiast will be spoilt by a choice of coastal, woodland and hill walks with a classic hike to the top of Stac Pollaidh a favourite one of locals and visitors alike.
Assynt is also a good choice for those who would like to enjoy Scottish hospitality with some great pub and restaurant options like Lochinver Larder or Kylesku Hotel Restaurant.
The easiest way to get to Assynt is to drive from any city in Scotland, the closest being Inverness. by Ela & Beata from Stunning Outdoors
Isle of Skye
Without a doubt, one of the best places to visit in Scottish highlands is the Isle of Skye is a picture-perfect location that attracts many professional photographers and travellers that are looking for a unique break in the Scottish Highlands. Hiking the Old Man of Storr famous from the Prometheus movie is only one of many amazing things to do on the Isle of Skye.
The closest airports to the Isle of Skye are Edinburgh and Glasgow. You can get to the island via a free bridge. The best part is that you won’t need to worry about high ferry prices as you would when visiting other Scottish islands.
Make sure to plan your trip in advance, because there are limited accommodations on the island. Portree is one of the best locations to stay on the Isle of Skye because it is only a short drive from many amazing attractions such as the Old Man of Storr or Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls.
Dalriada is a Bed & Breakfast on the Isle of Skye with views of the Cuillin mountains you will fall in love with this location. Moreover, there are many incredible restaurants by Portree Harbour where you can try seafood with amazing views. However, no restaurant offers such views as The View Restaurant. So, book a table and admire the incredible scenery of the Scottish Highlands. By Paulina from the UK Every Day.
A fabulous beach with views across to the Islands of Rum, Eigg and Skye it sits in a sheltered bay with sugar-white sand. The perfect location to swim, and take up some water sports.
On the banks of the famous Loch Ness, you will find the stunning ruins of Urquhart Castle. This 1000-year-old castle saw much military action from the 1200s until its demise in 1692. Edward I of England – ‘Hammer of the Scots’ – captured the castle in 1296. The stronghold was then reclaimed by the Scots and lost to the English once more.
In the 1300s, Urquhart featured prominently in the Scots’ struggle for independence. The castle came under the control of Robert the Bruce after he became King of Scots in 1306. In 1332, in the dark days following Robert I’s death, Urquhart was the only Highland castle to hold out against the English. Castle admission is £12 per adult.
One of the Scottish Highlands’ most picturesque castles you can climb to the top of Grant Tower and navigate the castle to see artefacts and the immense trebuchet.
Set in the Scottish highlands on the outskirts of Inverness in the ancient fishing port of Nairn lies the magnificent and moody Cawdor Castle. If you remember your high school Shakespeare the witches prophesied that Macbeth would become the Thane of Cawdor.
Built in 1370 Cawdor sits amidst towering trees that surround the 14th-century castle and its pristine gardens. Cawdor has survived many attacks over its 600-year history including the Battles of Auldearn and The Battle of Culloden that were fought mere miles away but Cawdor remained untouched. When visiting Cawdor Castle, there’s much to see.
You can explore 12 principal rooms of this unique home containing collections of Rare Tapestries, Fine Art, Furniture, Ceramics and Sculpture spanning 3,500 years. Adult admission is £13.50 and includes access to the gardens and grounds, 5+ miles of nature trails and the Castle itself.
Home to Ben Nevis, Scotland’s tallest mountain and the Jacobite Train, Fort William is a great town in its own right. However, the town’s proximity to Inverness and the Isle of Skye, make Fort William a great base to day trip and explore the Highlands.
On the shores of Loch Linne, Fort William is the outdoor capital of the Highlands. Most people come to Fort William to hike Ben Nevis, Scotland’s tallest mountain. However, even if hiking isn’t your thing, Fort William has plenty of activities.
One of Fort William’s most popular attractions is a ride on the Jacobite train. The model for the Hogwarts train in the Harry Potter franchise, the Jacobite runs twice daily over the Glenfinnan viaduct, made famous by the movie. However, even those that aren’t fans, will love watching the beauty of the Highlands from the window of this steam-powered train.
Like the rest of the Highlands, Fort Williams is full of charming B&Bs. And The Grange, a restored Victorian house, is one such place. A luxury B&B, The Grange has made the list of the best 20 places to stay in Scotland. And with a spectacular view overlooking the Loch, you will not be disappointed.
And when all the hiking or just taking in the beautiful scenery, makes you hungry, there is no better place than the Black Island Brewing Co. Home to organic craft brews and wood fire pizzas made from local produce, a trip to Black Island Brewing Co. in the centre of town is the perfect place to enjoy good food, good drink and warm Scottish hospitality. Contributed by Faith of 3 Tickets Please.
The Jacobite Express
The Jacobite Express is an old steam train that was restored and put back in service following the success of the Harry Potter movies where it represented the Hogwarts Express.
Described as the greatest railway journey in the world, this 84-mile round trip takes you past a list of impressive extremes. Starting near the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, it visits Britain’s most westerly mainland railway station, Arisaig; passes close by the deepest freshwater loch in Britain, Loch Morar and the shortest river in Britain, River Morar, finally arriving next to the deepest seawater loch in Europe, Loch Nevis. An adult day return trip costs £79.50.
Glenfinnan Viaduct is best known these days for its niche interest of Harry Potter fans who flock to the site daily to witness the ‘Hogwarts Express’ train crossing the Glenfinnan viaduct bridge. However, the site and surrounding scenery has been a local tourist attraction (managed by the National Trust) since long before the viaduct and train featured in the Harry Potter film series.
The train itself, the Jacobite steam train, leaves from nearby Fort William and travels to Mallaig on a 2-hour journey through Scotland’s mighty highlands. This train journey is an attraction in itself with a return journey taking roughly 6 hours. However, most people are happy just to see the train puff on by from below.
The train however is seasonal, only puffing past in the summer months (June – October), and if this is your main interest in Glenfinnan it’s best to start out at the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre where it’s just a short walk to reach the various viewpoints. The time of the train passing is normally around 11:00 AM and 15:00 PM.
Otherwise, there is a lot more to the area including the serene scenes of Loch Shiel and highland hills opposite a towering 18-meter statue with a kilted Highlander known as Glenfinnan Monument. There are also many rambling routes in-and-around the hills and Loch and there’s just a lot to explore.
The National Trust Visitor Centre also shares the historical relevance of the area which is centred around the Jacobite Rising of 1745 and Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Glenfinnan is roughly 25-minutes out from Fort William which makes it the ideal vantage point for longer stays with local tour options to explore Glenfinnan and the surrounding area. It is also possible to reach Glenfinnan, Slatach Road End by bus which is roughly 700-metres out from the viaduct.
The nearest airport to Fort William is Oban but the more established route is travelling from Glasgow airport. Alexandra Hotel is then a handy, affordable hotel in the centre of town. Contributed by Allan of Bangor NI.
Ben Nevis is a dramatic site soaring high above all other mountains in the UK it is the tallest peak at 1,345 metres above sea level. This dramatic mountain can be scaled by a 7-hour hike which starts at the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre. Or you can take the Cable car up to the top and enjoy some magnificent views from the ski resort.
Once an active volcano Ben Nevis now seems to sit swathed in white clouds acting as a guardian to Scotland’s wild highlands.
The Commando Memorial is a listed monument in Scotland, dedicated to the men of the original British Commando Forces raised during World War II. Unveiled in 1952 by the Queen Mother, it has become one of Scotland’s best-known monuments, both as a war memorial and as a tourist attraction offering views of Ben Nevis and Aonach Mòr.
In the Northern Scottish Highlands, you will find the picturesque fishing town of Ullapool, nestled on the shores of Lochbroom. This settlement has a long history stretching back as far as the age of the Vikings but it wasn’t officially established as a village until 1788 when the British Fisheries Society built a herring port on the shore of Loch Broom.
While many people only visit Ullapool to take a ferry to the Isle of Lewis, there are lots of worthwhile attractions in the area that make Ullapool a great visitor destination in its own right.
Highlights include climbing Meall Mhor hill, walking along the Ullapool seafront, and taking a boat trip or a sea kayak to the Summer Isles which are renowned for their incredible rock formations and abundant marine wildlife.
Ullapool makes a great base to explore Sutherland and the Northern Highlands. The facilities in the village are excellent and the surrounding area is one of the most scenic in Scotland.
Glen Roy National Nature Reserve
The Glen Roy National Nature Reserve is famous for its ‘Parallel Roads’ that cut through the landscape. These straight, precise lines baffled scientists for so long, including Charles Darwin, and are evidence of a long-gone glacial lake.
Woodland and nature still reign supreme in this tucked-away valley. A true gem that is largely undiscovered by tourists!
Glen Roy means “red glen” and is located in the Lochaber area of the Highlands of Scotland is famous for the geological phenomenon of three loch terraces known as the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy. These ‘roads’ formed along the shorelines of ancient lakes during the ice ages. From above they resemble man-made roads running along the side of the glen most of the glen is designated as a national nature reserve.
Castle Stalker is a four-storey keep famous for being in the Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie as the Castle of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh. It sits on a tiny island on Loch Laich midway between Oban and Glencoe. Castle Stalker is privately owned and is open to the public at selected times during the summer.
Buchanan Castle Ruins
Buchanan Castle is in Stirlingshire, on the way to Loch Lomond. It’s on the banks of Loch Lomond on the West Highland Way and it is a total ruin. Buchanan Castle was built in 1852-1858 as a home for the Montrose family, serving as such until 1925. It passed to the Clan Graham in the late 17th century and was eventually abandoned in 1954 when the roof was removed to avoid taxes.
Technically you cannot visit the Castle or tour the grounds but you can visit it if you are very careful.
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
The Trossachs form a National Park with Loch Lomond and are steeped in history. That history includes Robert The Bruce, William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots & Rob Roy MacGregor. Sir Walter Scott wrote about Rob Roy and Loch Katrine in his novels and poems.
Perched on the boundary of the Highlands, a visit to Scotland’s Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is a chance to immerse yourself in nature. The overawing beauty of the lochs, of which there are 22 larger ones, is almost too much for one heart to take.
Head to the village of Arrochar for stunning views of Loch Long. As the mist descends, step out onto the jetty and let yourself be enveloped by the ethereal beauty of the lake. If you like a challenge there’s a way-marked hike up the Cobbler, part of the Arrochar Alps. If you prefer your walks with a bit less of an incline, explore the nearby Ardgartan forest instead.
Whilst you’re at Loch Lomond you have to take at least one boat journey across the lake. I recommend making the trip from Tarbet to Inversnaid. Once at Inversnaid, take in the ferocious Inversnaid falls and walk a mile of the West Highland Way to visit the site of Scottish folk hero Rob Roy’s cave.
Don’t miss out on a stroll around picture postcard pretty Luss. Here you’ll find quaint streets, independent boutiques and plenty of cafes for sampling some Scottish shortbread or other sweet treats.
Stay at Ashfield House B & B, Arrochar. It’s exquisitely decorated and with the kindest owners, I’ve ever come across. Breakfasts are hearty and delicious.
If you like your food to come with a bit of divine inspiration, book a table at Slanj. This restaurant is housed in a former 18th-century church and hosts local live music nights.
Regular trains run from Glasgow to Balloch, Loch Lomond (50 minutes journey time). There are also stations at Arrochar & Tarbet, Ardlui, and Crianlarich. Local buses can be used to travel around Loch Lomond (#926 and #976). Contributed by Katie of Flip Flops included.
With views of forests, lochs, farmland, hills and rivers, hill walking in this area is very popular. Here in Scotland the smaller mountains are called Munros they are higher than 3000 ft, and Corbetts are between 2500 and 3000 feet. There are many of these in the Trossachs for hiking and climbing.
There are many historical places to visit in the National Park including beautiful churches, castles and stately homes that have kept their traditional charm. There are many castles to visit including Carrick Castle at Lochgoilhead and Inveraray Castle home to the Clan Campbell. And of course, there is Stirling Castle which was built in Victorian times but is a great place to visit. Then there is Doune Castle which was part of the film location of ‘Monty Python & the Holy Grail’ in 1974.
House of Bruar and Falls of Bruar
I adore a food hall and am an admitted foodie and the Food Hall at the House of Bruar is a magnificent one. This is where you head to shop for a fantastically stocked drinks section, a huge range of cheeses, cured meats and pies from the deli, smoked fish and also a wonderful selection of every kind of indulgence, both sweet and savoury.
You can enjoy lobster and chips at the fish and chip shop, tea and shortbread at the café, stock up on haggis and whiskey in the Food Hall and Drinks Shop, and even Scottish-made clothing, blankets and tweeds.
When you are in the area take some time to hike to the Falls of Bruar. This is a 2km walk to the stunning Falls set in the middle of ancient woodland.
As a Campbell by birth, I had to visit our Clan’s original power base Kilchurn Castle which sits at the head of Loch Awe with views of the peak of Ben Cruachan just visible.
The Glenorchy Campbells moved permanently to Taymouth Castle in 1740 and tried to sell Kilchurn Castle to the government which didn’t want it. The castle was abandoned in 1760 when a bolt of lightning struck it and caused significant damage. The castle is closed but you can still visit the exterior of the site.
Located in the Western Scottish Highlands you will find Loch Sunart which is the Highland’s longest sea loch at 31 km. As a sea loch, it is the perfect place for those who fancy spotting puffins, dolphins and whales.
Loch Shiel is near Glenfinnan in the western highlands of Scotland is one of Britain’s most beautiful lakes. The loch stretches for 28 kilometres and is the 4th longest loch in Scotland. During the summer there are boat tours on the loch and the surrounding mountains are great for hiking.
Loch Shiel also appears in Harry Potter movies. Both Loch Shiel and Loch Morar were used as the Hogwarts Lake. The former you’ll recognise from wider shots, and the latter was used for close-up scenes throughout the film series. Also in the grounds of Hogwarts is Hagrid’s Hut, which in real life was located in Glencoe.
The Hogwarts castle you see in the movie has been added digitally on the hill above the lake.
In front of the lake is a small beach perfect for a picnic lunch and at the top of the hill, you will see a statue of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Glenfinnan Monument which commemorates the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. The lake and region are historically associated with the Macdonald clan. On St. Finnan’s Isle is an ancient chapel and the traditional burial place of the Macdonalds.
Dornie is the epitome of what makes the Scottish Highlands so great. The cool fresh water, crisp air, and vibrant greenery are what make this place so magical. This little fishing village has welcoming people and that small town charm you can’t help but be swept in.
The highlight of this area is Eilean Donan Castle. It’s located less than a mile outside of the village and is well known as one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. it’s a popular stop for many Scottish Highland tours. With Scottish weather, you may want to bundle up a bit as you walk your way through the castle grounds and surrounding fields
When it comes to where to eat, your choices are limited but that doesn’t mean they aren’t delicious. The top choice would be The Clachan pub and restaurant. Here you can get yourself a tasty Guinness pie along with fish and chips,
There is no flight that will take you directly to Dornie. The best way to get to Dornie is to drive yourself or take a bus or train. The closest airport would be the one in Edinburgh. From there it is easy to take a direct route, but it does take up to 6 1/2 hours so be prepared.
However you get to the Scottish Highlands, don’t pass up on this opportunity. What makes this country so great is all the little villages and towns you will find and be able to explore. Contributed by Nicholas of The World Overload.
Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan is probably the most photographed Castle in Scotland and has featured in movies such as James Bond, Highlander, Rob Roy and Elizabeth: The Golden Age to name just a few.
The first fortified structure was not built on the island until the early 13th century as a defensive measure, protecting the lands of Kintail against the Vikings who raided, settled and controlled much of the North of Scotland and the Western Isles between 800 and 1266.
This stunning castle is found deep in the Scottish Highlands overlooking the magical Isle of Skye guards and sits within 3 tidal lochs on its own small island. This is the castle you see on many gifts from Scotland. Admission to Eilean Donan costs £10 per adult.
Loch Tay is the sixth largest loch in Scotland, with two gorgeous villages situated at either end of the 1.5-mile-long expanse of water.
The loch is extremely picturesque, surrounded by tall hills dressed in dense forests and the loch’s villages possess a laid-back and peaceful charm. One of the villages even houses a majestic castle called Taymouth Castle.
One of the main reasons why I love Loch Tay is the plethora of walks that you can take. A favourite walk of mine is to the Falls of Acharn, a hidden set of falls located in a steep gorge. The walk covers a distance of 1.25 miles and takes roughly 1 hour to complete. On the walk, you are greeted with stunning views of the falls via a rather unusual viewing platform which you have to access by walking through a dark tunnel known as the Hermit’s Cave.
Another favourite walk of mine is the hike to the Black Rock Viewpoint, nestled within one of the towering hillocks that surround the loch. This viewpoint yields fantastic views of the loch.
Finally, you have the walk to the abandoned village of Lawes, a collection of long-forgotten buildings in various stages of disrepair. The ancient village even has its own resident ghost.
The closest major city to Loch Tay is Perth, an hour’s drive southeast of the loch. Perth doesn’t actually have a commercial airport, therefore the nearest airports can be found in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, which are both just under 2 hours away by car. There is little in the way of public transport around Loch Tay so I’d highly recommend hiring a car for your visit.
There are numerous accommodation options available to you in the Loch Tay area. My personal favourite is the Mains of Taymouth estate, in the small village of Kenmore. However, there are many more options available such as the delightful Moness Resort in the nearby town of Aberfeldy.
In Kenmore, on the eastern banks of Loch Tay, there are only a couple of eateries: The Courtyard and the Paper Boat on Loch Tay. However, both of them serve delicious food and the Paper Boat has absolutely gorgeous views over the loch.
There are a few more options in Killin, on the west side of the loch. Killin is slightly larger than Kenmore and there are several restaurants dotted along the main road through the town such as Shutters restaurant. Contributed by Ella of ellamckendrick.
Cairngorms National Park
The Cairngorms National Park is located in the eastern region of the Scottish Highlands and covers over 4500 square kilometres. Stretching from Perth in the South to Inverness in the north and towards Aberdeen, in the east, the mountainous region can be seen driving north on the A9.
This area is perfect for a long weekend especially if you enjoy long hikes or wildlife encounters. Cairngorm mountain is the highest peak in the area and is the place to visit for skiing in the winter months. In the summer months, there are long walks across the meadows down to the town of Aviemore via Loch Morlich and the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd.
For younger visitors Landmark Forest Highland Park is full of adventures and is one of the few places where red squirrels can be seen on the treetops. Nearby is the Highland Wildlife Park with native wild cats as well as other Arctic wildlife.
As with other parts of the Highlands the Cairngorm National Park has several excellent distilleries to visit including Speyside Distillers and Balmenach Distillery.
With the cairngorms covering such a large area it is worth taking time to look for places to stay close to activities that you want to explore. Aviemore is a good base for mountain activities while Braemar and Kingnussie are more relaxed.
The Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown-on Spey is a traditional highland hotel with an amazing selection of whiskeys. It may not be modern, but it provides a comfortable base with good food and hospitality. Suzanne from Meandering Wild
One place in the Scottish Highlands that shouldn’t be missed is the charming Victoriana town of Pitlochry. It sits in the shadow of the surrounding mountains and is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike due to its many attractions and charming high street.
The Queen’s View is the most famous landmark in Pitlochry giving stunning views of the Tay Forest, River Tummel and one of Scotland’s best-known hills, Schiehallion. The river runs through the heart of Pitlochry and a circular walk past the dam, theatre and gardens is a picturesque route to follow. If you arrive in salmon season you may even see the phenomenon of the salmon ladder in use at the dam which helps the salmon make their way upstream.
A tour of the Blair Athol Distillery is another one of the many reasons to visit Pitlochry and will no doubt be high on the list for visitors who fancy tasting a wee dram of whisky. Outside town, Eradour Distillery is an interesting place to visit and is one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries.
The Cairngorms National Park is also on Pitlochry’s doorstep offering visitors plenty of outdoor pursuits to enjoy along with numerous walking trails.
Back in town, Pitlochry has plenty of places to stay including the beautiful Craigatin Bed and Breakfast, a luxury five-star property in the centre of town.
Pitlochry is easily accessed from main Scottish cities including Glasgow and Edinburgh. It can also be reached by train from London and in six and a half hours the hustle and bustle of city life can be replaced with the calm and beautiful Scottish Highlands. Contributed By Angela of Where Angie Wanders.
Loch Dunmore & the Faskally Woods
Near the town of Pitlochry, you can enjoy the small but perfect Loch Dunmore located in the Faskally woods just outside the town. It is an easy walk from town or there is a car park on-site. Loch Dunmore can be quite a special spot at the right time of year with lilies on the loch and stunning colours on the rhododendrons on the banks. The owners of Faskally House created this model woodland in the 19th century and the house later became a school for young foresters.
The Enchanted Forest is running from October 4 – November 4, Faskally Wood is set to once again be illuminated in dazzling light with 80,000 visitors expected to travel to Pitlochry for the hugely popular event. This year’s atmospheric show, Of The Wild, is firmly rooted in nature highlighting the natural wonders all around us and inspired by the hidden beauty of the wild forest after dark. Using the magnificent Faskally Wood as a natural backdrop, you will experience a sound and light show experience that is simply magical.
If you are headed to the North part of the Highlands you should explore the hidden secret of Hand Island. Each spring, tens of thousands of seabirds migrate to the magnificent Torridonian sandstone cliffs that rise from the Atlantic on the northwest coast of Handa Island.
This wild island is an internationally important breeding site for puffins, guillemots, razorbills and great skuas that spend the summer breeding and feeding in the rich waters. Within those waters, you may also spot minke whales, grey seals, basking sharks, orcas and bottlenose dolphins.
The best time to visit Handa is during the breeding season from Mid-May to July. You can take the pedestrian ferry service from Tarbet and when you arrive on Handa you will be met by a volunteer, who will give you a short introductory talk about the reserve and answer any questions you may have
Visit a distillery
Scottish whiskey is made differently from Irish Whiskey as it only uses malted barley and Irish uses a blend of both unmalted and malted. The malted barley used in Scotland is dried over peat smoke which gives it that distinctive “peaty” flavour.
With no fewer than 47 distilleries spread across the Highlands and Islands, the Highland whisky region is by far Scotland’s largest geographical whisky-producing area. To call Highland whiskies diverse is an understatement: it boasts probably the widest array of styles, from rich and textured to fragrantly floral – these are whiskies that refuse to be pigeonholed.
In this region, you’ll find some of Scotland’s oldest distilleries including Glenturret at Crieff and Balblair at Tain, and some of Scotland’s newest, such as Isle of Raasay Distillery, Torabhaig Distillery on Skye and Ncn’ean Distillery by Lochaline.
Speyside Whisky Private Tour from Inverness or Aviemore and surrounding areas
Scotland is world-renowned for its scotch whisky. Visit the best distilleries in the Speyside without the stress of navigating on this full-day tour with round-trip transport from your local accommodations. Booking a private tour ensures that you get to explore at your own pace, take your time with whisky tastings, and tailor the day’s itinerary according to your interests. Snacks, water, and onboard WiFi are included for your convenience. Private tour ensures a personal and tailored experience Visit distilleries and enjoy whisky tastings at your own pace Guide/designated driver eliminates the stress of navigating Snacks, water, and on-board WiFi included
Highland Whisky Tour with a visit to Inverness & Cawdor Castle from Invergordon
Invergordon is just a cosy small town in the Highlands but has all facilities to welcome the Cruise ship passengers in at the port for going on to see a large number of attractions in the Highlands area. Enjoy personal private service without being rushed as when you are a part of a large group. You’ll visit Inverness town and Cawdor Castle and of course one of Highland Whisky Distillery.
City Escape: Highlands Private Day Trip
This is not a typical day trip; this is YOUR day trip! Step outside of Edinburgh and go to the Highlands for a fuller, more extensive experience by exploring the beauty of the region. Sit back and admire the views as you travel through beautiful scenery typical of the region. Make stops along the way to visit classic spots like Stirling castle, Linlithgow palace, and Dalwhinnie whisky distillery.
Let’s not forget about the hidden gems your host has in store for you. They can’t wait to share some of their unique stories and let you connect with their culture in an enjoyable and inspiring way. So get ready and enjoy the ride! Withlocals City Escape Private Day Trip™ is one of the Withlocals’ signature tours available in major cities worldwide. We work with passionate local guides who earn a fair fee. We support local economies by only offering local produce and preventing over-tourism with only small non-intrusive groups. Our tours are carbon-neutral and away from the standard tourist routes.
Attend the Highland Games
The Braemar Gathering, near Aberdeen, is held in September, it is the biggest and most prestigious Highland Games event and enjoys the patronage and attendance of the Royal Family.
Its origins are Royal too. It’s said the Highland Games originate from Ireland in 2000 BC and that they crossed the water to Scotland with the fourth and fifth-century migrations of the Scotti into Dalriada (Argyll) and beyond.
I can’t leave the Scottish Highlands without mentioning my love of the Scottish coo or cow. Highland cows are often known as the gentle giants of Scotland. With their long horns and flowing red locks, these iconic beasts are easily recognised and can be seen all over Scotland.
Originally, small farmers kept Highlands as house cows to produce milk and meat. A group of cattle is generally called a herd, a group of Highland cattle is known as a “fold”. This is because, in winter, the cattle were kept in open shelters made of stone called folds to protect them from the weather at night. In 1954, Queen Elizabeth ordered Highland cattle to be kept at Balmoral Castle where they are still kept today
As a proud Campbell, I have to tell you about Inveraray Castle my ancestral grounds before we leave the Scottish Highlands the Castle sits on the Northern bank of Loch Fyne and is considered the gateway to the Highlands and Islands from the Southwest.
The town was established by the Duke of Argyll, head of Clan Campbell, and is famous for its Georgian architecture. Loch Fyne is known for its seafood, which can be sampled in one of several restaurants around the town.
Inverary Castle was used in the filming of Downton Abbey and is a beautiful fairytale castle of turrets and towers You can tour the castle and see the swords used at Culloden, Brown Bess muskets, Lochaber axes and 18th-century Scottish broadsword. The State Dining Room and Tapestry Drawing Room contain magnificent French tapestries which were woven especially for the Castle, fabulous examples of Scottish, English and French furniture and countless other precious artworks
Which Scottish train starts in Fort William and is known as the Harry Potter train?
The train is called the Jacobite Express and it travels from Fort William through the Highlands the best place to see the train is to head to Glenfinnan where you will find the Glenfinnan Viaduct which is known as the Harry Potter Bridge.
Where is the Scottish Highlands Capital?
that would be Inverness which is known as the ‘Capital of the Highlands’, as the region’s largest settlement and only city. With a population of around 47,000.
What is the highest point in the Scottish Highlands?
The Highlands includes the highest point in the United Kingdom, Ben Nevis, with an elevation of 4,406 feet (1,343 metres).
What is considered Highlands in Scotland?
The Highlands stretches from Fort William in the west, right up the coast by Skye, around the North Coast 500 to Durness and John O’ Groats in the far north. It also runs up to Inverness and east out to Elgin, taking in Aviemore and some of the Cairngorms National Park.
What are the West Highlands?
The West Highlands run from about 30 kilometres northwest of Glasgow to Fort William. Most of the southern part lies within the magnificent Trossachs National Park and around Loch Lomond. The northern contains Glen Coe the highest mountain in Britain Ben Nevis and Rannoch Moor.
When is the best time to visit the Scottish Highlands?
The shoulder period from April to September is perfect to visit the Highlands and avoid the cold winter temperatures. June to September is midge season along with tourists and best to avoid both.
This is by no means a definitive guide to the Scottish Highlands it really is just a few of the best places in the Scottish highlands but it gives you an idea of all the must-see places that lie in the highlands of Scotland and why you will come back time and time again.
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