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The Scottish Highlands are located in the north-west of the country and are separated from the Lowlands by a geological feature known as the Highland Boundary Fault.
The Highlands are famous for their breathtaking scenery where lochs, mountains, and forests offer activities for visitors of all ages and interests whether it’s hill walking, mountain biking, wild camping, or sightseeing on a driving holiday.
Discover the best things to do in the Scottish Highlands with this complete visitor guide.
The best things to do in the Highlands – from lochs to mountains
The Highlands are what I like to think of as ‘the real Scotland’ because they have (mostly) escaped the clutches of tourism and it’s still possible to roam for miles and miles without seeing another person – even in the height of summer.
In most places, the people of the Highlands still enjoy a traditional way of life with locals offering a warm welcome wherever you go outside the tourist hotspots, and it’s this friendly culture that ensures visitors return year after year.
But it’s the landscapes that are the biggest draw for the 10 million annual day trips to the Scottish Highlands.
Head to Glencoe to admire the craggy peaks of Bidean Nam Bian and you’ll instantly fall in love with the country, just like you will when you head north and visit the spectacular landscape of Ben Nevis in the Nevis Range or Ben Hope in the far north.
Or how about the most famous body of water in the world, Loch Ness, where you might be lucky enough to spot the elusive monster while standing on the ruins of one of the most atmospheric castles in Scotland at Urquhart Castle.
Then again, maybe you prefer to lose yourself in the wilds with a camera in hand searching for red deer, golden eagles, and wildcats before heading to the coast to keep a lookout for whales, seals, and dolphins.
The only downside is that you might struggle to decide where to go first, which is why I’ve put together this guide that will show you the top-rated tourist attractions as well as the best towns and villages in this ever-popular region of Scotland.
If you’d like to explore the Scottish Highlands on a guided tour take a look at my recommended Get Your Guide Highland tours, or for virtual tours check out these articles: 360° Virtual Tours of Attractions in the North Highlands, and 360° Virtual Tours of Attractions in the Scottish Highlands.
Map of things to do in the Scottish Highlands
Bealach na Ba
Address: Strathcarron, IV54 8LX
Contact details: NA
Out About Scotland complete guide: The Bealach na Ba
The Bealach na Ba is one of the steepest, wildest, and most beautiful mountain passes in Europe, if not the world.
This remote area of the Applecross peninsula is known for its stunning mountain ranges, and many visitors go there simply to set off on foot through the mountainous expanse of what is regarded as one of the last great wildernesses in Britain.
Many more though, visit the area on a driving tour of the North Coast 500, with the road known as the Bealach na Ba among the best known sections of the 500-mile route.
Alternatively known as ‘the pass of the cattle’, the Bealach na Ba is a single-track tarmac road that winds its way up dramatic mountain peaks to a height of 2,000 feet before levelling off at the summit and gradually sloping down to the village of Applecross on the other side.
Driving it is a hair-raising experience and one that’s not to be taken lightly, especially considering some sections have 180° hairpin bends that give the Alpines a run for their money.
As a driving experience, the Bealach na Ba is something that every car-lover needs to experience, but there are just as many two-wheeled vehicles that enjoy traversing the 45-mile road – and that includes cyclists.
Whatever your mode of transport, once at the top you’ll be presented with breathtaking views across the sea to the islands of Skye, Raasay and Rum, and it’s possible explore the surrounding mountains on a number of walks including the popular route to the summit of Sgurr a Chaorachain.
Bidean nam Bian
Address: Ballachulish, PH49 4HX
Contact details: NA
Out About Scotland complete guide: Bidean nam Bian
The county of Argyll is a favourite with hill walkers thanks to its stunning mountain ranges which include Glencoe and the famous ‘three sisters’.
These mountain ridges are a popular route because they offer a number of challenges for hill walkers of all skill levels, and the views from the summits are widely regarded as the best in Scotland – especially from the mountain peak of Bidean nam Bian which is officially the highest mountain in Argyll.
The summit of Bidean nam Bian is 3,800 feet (1.16 km) high so climbing to the top is quite a challenge, but thankfully there are several flat plateaus on the ascent that offer picturesque places to take a break.
The most-used path starts from the car park on the A82 next to Loch Achtriochtan and follows an old track towards Coire nan Lochan. It deviates up the north face of the mountain which is covered in boulders but is a fairly straightforward ascent and there are a number of waterfalls along the way that are extremely photo-worthy.
Visitors that make it half-way up the side of the mountain will be presented with stunning views of Glencoe, while those that push on up the scree-covered slopes will be rewarded with an even more beautiful sight from the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan.
Be aware though, this is a climb that should not be attempted by inexperienced hill walkers, especially in winter when the mountainside becomes treacherous due to a thick covering of snow of loose rocks.
Hill climbers that are experienced enough to attempt all three ridges of the three sisters can expect the 6.75 mile (ca. 11 km) route to take approximately 8 hours, while those that are happy to double-back at the first waterfall can expect the return climb to be completed in 3 hours.
|Scottish Highlands Sightseeing Advice|
|Planning to visit the Highland’s top attractions? You’ll save time and money by pre-booking a guided tour.|
|See the very best of the Scottish Highlands with an experienced guide who will do the driving for you as well as tell you all about Scotland’s fascinating sights. Visit iconic places like Loch Ness and Glencoe on a relaxed 12-hour tour from Edinburgh or Glasgow.|
|Book a Highland tour from Edinburgh.|
Book a Highland tour from Glasgow.
Address: Aviemore, PH22 1RB
Contact details: Cairngorm Mountain Centre telephone 01479 861261
Out About Scotland complete guide: Cairngorm Mountain Funicular Railway
Please note, as of January 2021 the funicular railway is out of service but is due to re-open later in the year.
The Cairngorms National Park is the largest in the UK, covering 1,748 square miles across the regions of Aberdeenshire, Moray, Highland, Angus and Perth & Kinross.
While this vast wilderness is full of lush forests and tranquil lochs, it’s the Cairn Gorm mountain plateau that draws the majority of visitors who are keen to explore the spectacular ridge.
This famous mountain is actually the seventh-highest mountain in Britain – reaching 4,084 feet – and it’s just as well known for its adrenaline-fuelled snow sports activities as it is for its walking routes that run across the entire Cairngorm range.
One of the best ways to experience the incredible views that Cairn Gorm has to offer is to take the funicular railway from the visitor centre at the base of Coire Cas on the north-western slope to the Ptarmigan Top Station over three thousand feet above.
From there you’ll get views right across the Cairngorms with Loch Morlich sitting at the bottom, and it’s worth the train ride just for the experience of sitting in the café terrace and soaking up the view.
While you can’t exit the top station unless you’re taking part in snow sports activities you can at least enjoy the restaurant and shops while you’re there.
If you want to hike up the mountain there are paths that lead to Coire an t-Sneachda (one of Britain’s most accessible high mountain corries), though it can be a tricky walk in winter so I recommend you grab a map from the Cairngorm Mountain Visitor Centre before departing.
By the way, I’ve included Cairngorm Mountain in this article which you may also find interesting: 10 Fun Date Ideas for Couples in Scotland.
Address: Culloden Moor, Inverness, IV2 5EU
Contact details: Tel 01463 796090
Out About Scotland complete guide: Culloden Battfield
The Battle of Culloden was the final defeat of the Jacobite uprising of 1745 which came to a bloody finale when 1,500 Jacobites were gunned down by government forces in less than one hour.
The battle lead to the end of the traditional Highland way of life and saw the clans that ruled the Highlands come under the rule of the British government. It also saw their leader Charles Edward Stuart run for his life to France, never to return to Scotland.
Today, the battle and its repercussions through history are examined in detail at the high-tech Culloden visitor centre which brings the events of the conflict back to life through a number of interactive exhibits and displays.
Inside the centre, visitors can see exactly how the battle unfolded and where each army stood, before heading outside onto the actual battlefield to get hands-on with the battle lines thanks to footpaths that fan out to each corner of the site.
The centrepiece of the entire experience has to be the memorial cairn and the stones that mark where each clan fell, and in fact the site is so revered people still visit it to place wreaths and flowers for their clans. It’s a sombre place, but fascinating nonetheless.
Heading back to the National Trust for Scotland visitor centre there are all the modern facilities tourists could wish for including a restaurant and café, a well-stocked gift shop and toilets, and while these areas are free to visit (as is the battlefield), the interactive exhibits have an entrance fee.
However, if you hold a National Trust for Scotland membership you will gain access to the site and hundreds more like it for free.
Address: Dunrobin, Golspie, Sutherland, KW10 6SF
Contact details: Telephone 01408 633177
Out About Scotland complete guide: Dunrobin Castle
Who needs to look at French Chateau’s when you’ve got the world’s most beautiful castle right here in bonny Scotland?
Dunrobin Castle has a history that stretches back over 700 years from its humble beginnings as a simple square keep for the 13th-century Earl of Sutherland, and it has been extended considerably since that time with a series of modifications that have turned it into a fairytale palace that wouldn’t look out of place in a Disney cartoon.
Dunrobin is one of the northern-most country houses in Scotland. You’ll find other estates even further north (check out The Castle of Mey in Sutherland), but you’ll struggle to find one as attractive as Dunrobin.
There are two parts to this castle that make it particularly tourist-worthy. First, there’s the castle itself which you can walk around on a self-guided tour, and second, there are the manicured gardens that overlook the Moray Firth.
These gardens were designed to look like the grounds of the Palace of Versailles and you’ll find it hard to believe you’re still in Scotland if you visit on a sunny summer day.
Head inside the castle and you’ll be equally impressed, with each room beautifully laid out with paintings, tapestries and fine carvings, but the highlight of a tour is looking at the Victorian museum in the old summer house.
The museum is regarded as one of the finest private collections in Britain and it’s filled to the rafters with archaeological relics and animal displays, with many of the specimens brought back by the Dukes of Sutherland during their family safari’s a hundred years ago.
The final highlight of a visit to Dunrobin is watching the falconry displays held on the lawn that feature some of the birds of prey you’re likely to see in the Highlands, including golden eagles and peregrine falcons. It’s a great show and the perfect way to round off a visit to this amazing stately home.
Eilean Donan Castle
Address: Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, IV40 8DX
Contact details: Telephone: 01599 555202
Out About Scotland complete guide: Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle is one of those Scottish attractions that seem to pop up in photos all over the internet whenever you Google ‘places to visit in the Highlands’, and it’s probably the most iconic fortress in the country after Edinburgh Castle.
That’s something you’ll only really understand once you visit it though, because the view of Eilean Donan overlooking the lochs of Duich, Long and Alsh sum up the best of Scotland’s Highland tourist attractions in one scene.
A visit offers fascinating history thanks to the iconic castle, gorgeous landscapes with the surrounding Kintail National Scenic Area, and food and mementoes galore at the on-site restaurant and souvenir shop.
Basically, if you’re visiting Scotland for the first time you pretty much have to put a trip to Eilean Donan Castle right at the top of your itinerary.
What you see today isn’t the original building, but is, in fact, a recreation built around a hundred years ago by the MacRae family to serve as the clan family home.
But even though it’s a bit disappointing to find out this castle is actually quite modern it does at least have a lot of interesting history behind it.
For instance, the walls were built using stones recovered from a previous fort that had been destroyed by the British army after a battle with Spanish and Jacobite soldiers in the 1700s.
The Macrae’s couldn’t have chosen a nicer site to build their ancestral home and you can’t fail to be impressed by the details inside, with each room featuring collections of clan memorabilia, elaborately decorated furniture, and impressive racks of historic weaponry.
Rest assured if you’ve got children with you they’re going to love exploring Eilean Donan Castle.
|Scottish Highlands Sightseeing Advice|
|Planning to visit the Highlands top attractions? You’ll save time and money by pre-booking a guided tour.|
|See the very best of the Scottish Highland’s with an experienced guide who will do the driving for you as well as tell you all about Scotland’s fascinating sights. Visit iconic places like Eilean Donan Castle, Loch Ness, Glencoe, and the Isle of Skye on a relaxed 3-day tour from Edinburgh or Glasgow.|
|Book a Highland tour from Edinburgh.|
Book a Highland tour from Glasgow.
Address: Ardersier, Inverness, IV2 7TD
Contact details: Telephone 01667 460 232
Out About Scotland complete guide: Fort George
If you ever visit the Highland capital city of Inverness there are two nearby attractions that you should definitely take the time to see.
The first is Loch Ness which lies to the south of the city, and the second is Fort George, the 18th-century military fortification that lies to the north.
This fort is a stark reminder of the threat felt by the British government from the Jacobite rebellion as it was built to deter any further uprisings after the battle of Culloden.
The fort is absolutely enormous and it’s amazing to think that the garrison buildings and mile-long perimeter wall are over 250 years old. But perhaps what’s even more amazing is the fact that it’s so well designed that it’s still in use by the British army today.
There’s a lot to see at this attraction with regimental museums, recreated 18th-century barracks, a regimental chapel and defensive platforms armed to the teeth with cannons on the lookout for invading armies coming from the Moray Firth.
These platforms are a fantastic place for sightseers, not just because of the military memorabilia but also because they offer stunning views of the firth that are pretty much unrivalled anywhere else along the coast.
It’s a great wildlife spotting site as well thanks to the dolphins that swim past on their way to Chanonry Point and Ardesier, so if it’s a clear day and you visit the fort make sure you take your binoculars and camera with you as you’re bound to see the dolphins playing in the water.
See my guide to recommended binoculars to use in Scotland.
After a walk around the perimeter of Fort George it’s time to head inside the buildings where you can discover the history of the Jacobite uprising with displays and exhibitions in the grand magazine and the Highlander’s Museum.
Both museums are exceptionally well presented – as you’d expect from Historic Environment Scotland – but the magazine is particularly interesting as it’s home to what is arguably the finest collection of historic weaponry in Scotland.
Special offer! Click this affiliate link to purchase a Historic Environment Scotland Explorer Pass from Viator. Your 5-day or 14-day pass allows free entry to more than 77 castles, cathedrals, distilleries and more throughout Scotland.
Glencoe Visitor Centre
Address: Glencoe, Argyll, PH49 4HX
Contact details: Telephone 01855 811307
Out About Scotland complete guide: Glencoe Visitor Centre
Scotland is home to a diverse range of beautiful landscapes, from the hauntingly desolate wilderness of Rannoch Moor to the peaceful forests of Perthshire’s ‘big tree country’, but one place that tops all others for stunning scenery is Glencoe.
This glen is often cited as being located in Scotland’s most scenic area and I think the fact that it draws in so many visitors each year is proof that the grandeur of its surrounding mountains is more than worthy of a visit.
Visitors can get to know this extraordinary landscape from the National Trust for Scotland visitor centre which features a shop and a café as well as exhibitions about the area and its history. They can then head out into the wilds of Glencoe to explore the area on a number of walking routes that surround the centre.
The glen runs east to west and has several steep-sided mountains lining it, making a journey to it a necessity if you love hiking or you’re a seasoned climber.
If you ever drive through Scotland on the A82 (one of the best road trips in the country) you’ll see Glencoe from Rannoch Moor where the mighty peak of Buchaille Etive Mor can be seen rising into the clouds with the ridges the ‘three sisters’ of Beinn Fhada, Gearr Aonach and Aonach Dubh lying to the south.
Behind these ridges you’ll find the highest point in Argyll where the vast Bidean Nam Bian mountain dominates the surrounding landscape.
While the 2 1/2 mile route into the mountains is quite a scramble up steep scree-covered slopes the views from the trail are nothing short of jaw-dropping and you’ll cross tumbling waterfalls and deep ravines along the way.
But if that sounds like a bit too much hard work you can always stay near the car park and walk around Loch Achtriochtan instead.
This ground level area has several designated paths that head into Glencoe and it’s possible to go for a great walk between the mountains without having to hike up steep slopes.
Address: Ballachulish, PH49 4JA
Contact details: NA
Out About Scotland complete guide: Glen Etive
The A82 has to be one of the best roads in Scotland for touring, and it’s one that easily rivals anything the North Coast 500 has to offer in my opinion.
The sights along this stretch of tarmac are nothing short of breathtaking – especially once you get into Rannoch Moor – but there’s an often-missed side-road that leads somewhere even more spectacular.
The road in question can be found west of the Glencoe Mountain resort heading in the direction of the Glencoe Visitor Centre, where a sharp turning takes adventurous drivers into Glen Etive.
The single-track road that runs through the glen continues for 12 miles (ca. 19 km) alongside a gentle river that eventually opens up into the vast Loch Etive. Along the way are a multitude of lush forests and snow-capped mountains, with the open expanse of the glen disappearing into the distance as far as the eye can see. It’s an incredibly scenic place.
In fact, you may have already seen Glen Etive on the big screen if you’ve seen the movie Skyfall as it’s the location where James Bond stops on his drive up to the old family estate.
In real life the glen is even prettier, although since its fame with the movie the road has become considerably busier and many of the passing places are now filled with parked cars – something to bear in mind if you intend on driving this road in a camper van.
On the upside, because Glen Etive is so frequently visited the wildlife in the area has become quite used to people, meaning it’s one of the few places in this part of Scotland where you can get fairly close to herds of wild deer.
There’s every likelihood you’ll also see eagles soaring overhead, so if I have any advice to offer for a visit it’s to take a good pair of binoculars with you (link to my binocular reviews page).
Address: Glenfinnan, PH37 4LT
Contact details: Telephone: 01397 722250
Out About Scotland complete guide: The Glenfinnan Monument
Glenfinnan is a hamlet in the Lochaber region of Scotland that’s best known for two major tourist attractions – the Glenfinnan monument and the Glenfinnan viaduct.
It was there on the banks of Loch Shiel in 1745 where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard in front of the massed ranks of Highland clans and declared his intention to take the throne of the British Isles in the name of his father James Stuart.
The uprising ended in failure in 1746 at the battle of Culloden when the Jacobite army was massacred by government forces, and to commemorate this defining event in Scotland’s history a memorial was erected in Glenfinnan at the site where the prince first rallied his troops.
The monument is quite a sight at the foot of the loch and the surrounding hills provide a dramatic backdrop, but for the best experience you should head to the nearby National Trust for Scotland centre and take a guided tour to the viewing platform at the top.
The centre has a small museum inside along with a gift shop and snack bar and it’s a great way to discover the story behind the ‘Bonny Prince’ and the reasons why the Highland clans rallied behind him.
The other big attraction at Glenfinnan, in the opposite direction to the monument, is the Glenfinnan viaduct which sweeps around the shore of Loch Shiel in a wide arc.
The viaduct was built in the late 1890s and its 21 arches reach a height of over one hundred feet, but what makes it such a special place is the steam train that thunders over it on its way to the coastal town of Mallaig.
The Jacobite train has been featured in several movies but became world-famous when it played the part of the Hogwarts Express that took Harry Potter to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
If you ever get the chance you really should get a ticket to cross the viaduct on the steam train as the views from the original 1960s carriages are incredible.
The Highland Wildlife Park
Address: Kincraig, Kingussie PH21 1NL
Contact details: Telephone 01397 722250
Out About Scotland complete guide: The Highland Wildlife Park
But you might be surprised to know they also work with animals from closer to home and at the Highland Wildlife Park in the Cairngorms you’ll get to see enclosures designed to replicate the habitats of arctic tundra and mountains, just like you get in the remote areas of the Highlands.
But it’s not just red deer and Scottish wildcats at this park. Head inside the main area and you’ll also see Siberian tigers, Arctic foxes, lynx, wolverines, snow monkeys, and the stars of the show – polar bears.
While the walk-around area is what most people consider the main section of the park there’s an equally large area that you can drive through on a Highland safari.
Thankfully they don’t let the polar bears roam free so the biggest threat you’ll face is getting a hard stare from one of the roaming bison.
Just like in Edinburgh Zoo, the Highland Wildlife Park has an educational side to it and you’ll frequently find keeper demonstrations and interactive talks throughout the day, plus there are lots of information panels at the enclosures so you can learn about each species as you make your way around.
If you’re a photographer you might want to take part in one of the photographic days where you get to explore the park with your camera while accompanied by a keeper, or maybe you’d like to join the feeding sessions and watch the keepers hand out food to the animals.
It’s an amazing thing to watch – especially the polar bears as they wrap their maws around the great chunks of meat tossed over the fence.
If you get a bit peckish yourself you’ll be pleased to know there are lots of places to eat in the park along with the standard coffee shops and vending kiosks, and there’s also a decent shop if you fancy taking home your very own (stuffed) bear.
The Jacobite Steam Train
Address: Tom-na-Faire Station Square, Fort William, Highland, PH33 6TQ
Contact details: Telephone 0844 850 4685
Out About Scotland complete guide: The Jacobite steam train
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last twenty years you’ll have heard of Harry Potter and more than likely seen at least one of the movies.
If you have then you’ll have watched the scene where he’s transported across the Glenfinnan viaduct (mentioned above), but there’s much more to the journey than the sights at Glenfinnan.
The train ride starts at Fort William and continues through some of Scotland’s finest landscapes where you’ll pass lochs, mountains, glens, rivers and coastline along with some of the country’s most memorable sights including Ben Nevis, Loch Morar and of course, Glenfinnan.
The steam locomotive was built in the late 1940s but it can trace its design back to the 1920s, while the carriages date from the 1960s, so a trip onboard this train really is like taking a step back in time.
You’re free to take your own drinks on board or you can purchase wine and a snack-pack from the catering carriage, and there surely can’t be a better way to see Scotland than sitting in one of the yesteryear carriages with a glass of bubbly in hand.
You’re not stuck indoors for the whole journey though as there’s a stop at Glenfinnan station where you can get out and take a look around the West Highland Railway Museum before continuing your journey to Mallaig.
Once at the final destination you can disembark for around an hour before boarding for the return trip – which gives you just enough time to catch one of the boat tours that sail around Mallaig harbour.
This is a superb location to watch seals and the occasional whale, and you’ll more than likely see Britain’s biggest bird of prey – the sea eagle – too.
|Scottish Highlands Sightseeing Advice|
|Planning a trip on The Jacobite? You’ll save time and money by pre-booking a guided tour.|
|See the very best of the Scottish Highlands with an experienced guide who will do the driving for you in a package that includes a ride on the historic Jacobite steam train. Visit iconic places like Glenfinnan and Glencoe on a relaxed 12-hour tour from Edinburgh or Glasgow.|
|Book a Jacobite steam train Highland tour from Edinburgh.|
Book a Jacobite steam train Highland tour from Glasgow.
Address: Loch Morlich, near Glenmore village, PH22 1QU
Contact details: Telephone 01479 861220
Out About Scotland complete guide: Loch Morlich
This natural body of fresh water sits at the bottom of the Cairngorm mountain range a few miles from the outdoor hub of Aviemore where it is surrounded on all sides by Glenmore forest.
The loch is just a short detour off the B970 if you’re visiting Aviemore which makes getting there really easy, so if you’re ever in that neck of the woods (no pun intended) I recommend you take a look.
Loch Morlich is one of the highest bodies of water in the UK and it has a definite alpine feel to it, especially if you stand on the shore and look up at the snow-capped mountain peaks rising up from the outskirts of the pine forest.
It also has a wide sweeping arc of golden sand on its northern shore which is perfect for summer picnics, and if you’re a watersports fan you can enjoy windsurfing, kayaking, paddleboarding and sailing thanks to the watersports centre that hires out a range of equipment.
If you’re not feeling active you can sit back and enjoy lounging around on the UK’s highest beach, or simply go for a walk through the extensive National Nature Reserve in Glenmore forest.
There’s a visitor centre and café just down the road if all that exercise starts bellies rumbling and it’s just a 20-minute drive into the centre of Aviemore with its pubs, bars and restaurants if you’re staying in the area in the evening.
Address: Fort Augustus, Highland
Contact details: email firstname.lastname@example.org
Out About Scotland complete guide: Loch Ness
Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of Loch Ness, the deepest loch in Scotland that contains more freshwater than all the lakes of England and Wales combined?
A visit to this attraction in the Highlands has to be on everyone’s itinerary if they’re intending to see the best bits of Scotland, not because of the monster legend, but because it’s an incredibly pretty place.
There are three popular points for exploring Loch Ness.
The first is Fort Augustus at its southern end where you can board one of the many cruise boats that sail up and down it daily.
The second is at Castle Urquart in the middle of the loch’s western shore where you can soak up the atmosphere of the ruins of one of Scotland’s most iconic castles.
The third location is in the Highland capital of Inverness where you can explore the loch from its northern-most corner where it joins onto the River Ness.
Either of these locations will give you a great experience and I heartily recommend all of them, though if I was pushed I’d suggest spending a little more time in Inverness as it’s such a nice city and has lots of attractions that can easily be combined with a search for the elusive monster.
However, many tourists don’t venture that far and instead prefer to base themselves in Fort Augustus as it’s an ideal stop-off point for anyone with a boat that intends to sail the 60-mile Caledonian Canal.
I can’t really blame them as the waterway in this part of the country is absolutely beautiful between the Beauly Firth on the northeast coast and Loch Linnhe on the west.
And of course, who knows, if you sail across Loch Ness you might even catch a glimpse of an enormous fin dipping in and out of the pitch-black peat-stained waters.
|Scottish Highlands Sightseeing Advice|
|Planning to visit the Highland’s top attractions? You’ll save time and money by pre-booking a guided tour.|
|See the very best of the Scottish Highlands with an experienced guide who will do the driving for you as well as tell you all about Scotland’s fascinating sights. Visit iconic places like Loch Ness, Glencoe and Ben Nevis on a relaxed 12-hour tour, or pre-book a cruise around Loch Ness.|
|Book a Highland tour from Edinburgh.|
Book a Highland tour from Glasgow.
Book a cruise around Loch Ness.
The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition
Address: Drumnadrochit, Loch Ness, Inverness-shire, IV63 6TU
Contact details: Tel 01456 450573
Out About Scotland complete guide: The Loch Ness Centre
Everyone has head of Loch Ness and the mythical creature that’s supposed to hide deep at the bottom of its murky depths. Countless tales have been told over the years about Nessie, and an entire industry has grown around the shy creature and the murky waters she supposedly lives in.
It’s no surprise then, that one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area is an exhibition devoted to the loch and its monster, but thankfully this is one attraction that’s designed to educate as much as entertain.
The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition aims to inform visitors about the entire history of the loch so that people are free to make up their own minds about the legend based on hard scientific facts, as well as anecdotal evidence from the many hundreds of people that have claimed to have seen the monster over the years.
During a visit you will learn about the geology of the area, the incredible vastness of the loch, and the supposed underground waterways that are said to connect Loch Ness with the Moray Firth and the North Sea.
There’s a lot of memorabilia to look at too, including boats that have sailed on the loch and scientific equipment that has been used over the years in the hunt for the always-elusive Nessie.
As always with tourist attractions in Scotland, there’s a gift shop and a café should the weather close in, and boat cruises on the loch can be organized from the centre on a small craft that has high-tech sonar equipment installed. Who knows, you might even see a glimpse of Nessie on the sonar screen during your voyage.
The Nevis Range Gondola
Address: Nevis Range, Torlundy, Fort William, Inverness-shire, PH33 6SQ
Contact details: Telephone 01397 705 825
Out About Scotland complete guide: The Nevis Range Gondola
Ben Nevis is widely regarded as Scotland’s top winter sports venue alongside Cairn Gorm, but there’s much more to this mountain than skiing and snowboarding.
The summertime sees almost as many visitors to Ben Nevis as winter does, thanks in part to the gondola ride that offers an easy way to get to the top for hikers, and walking trails that extend across the Nevis range in all directions.
The gondola is a bit of a tourist attraction in its own right and you’ll get some amazing views of the Great Glen along the 1.5-mile journey between the bottom and top stations, so don’t forget to pack your camera before you climb aboard.
While you’re free to take a walk on the Sgurr Finnisg-aig and Meall Beag trails once at the top, if you’re a keen mountain biker you’ll no doubt be itching to hurtle back down the mountainside on what is frequently called one of the best downhill biking runs in the UK.
If two wheels aren’t your cup of tea then I suggest you head to the Nevis Range Experience Centre where you’ll be able to take part in high-rope and tree-climbing experiences, paragliding, organized hikes and guided photography walks.
Alternatively, you can just sit back and enjoy the view before cruising back down to the bottom station at your own leisurely pace.
Address: Drumnadrochit, Inverness, IV63 6XJ
Contact details: Tel 01456 450 551
Out About Scotland complete guide: Urquhart Castle
Loch Ness is one of the most-visited places in Scotland, so it’s just as well there are so many activities and things to do in the surrounding area.
In addition to the historic towns of Inverness and Fort Augustus which lie at either end, visitors to Loch Ness can enjoy boat cruises, loch-side walks, and a number of historic attractions including the most famous of them all – Urquhart Castle.
Although it’s now almost entirely in ruin, at one time this castle was one of the most strategically important in Scotland and was fiercely fought over for hundreds of years, hence its current state which is the result of British government forces destroying it in an attempt to stop it repeatedly falling into the hands of raiding Highland clans.
Even without all that history, Urquhart castle would no doubt still be one of Historic Environment Scotland’s most-visited sites, for no other reason than the views of Loch Ness from the ruined battlements are nothing short of stunning.
HES have done a remarkable job in renovating the castle and they’ve added one of the best visitor centres in the Highlands which features an exhibition about the loch, an excellent gift shop, and a superb café with outside terrace seating.
In the grounds, children will be amazed by the life-size trebuchet and adults will have a very memorable time walking through the ruins and gazing out at the glassy waters of Loch Ness.
The only downside is the fact that because it’s such a famous attraction it gets very busy in summer, especially at the weekend. That being said, visiting outside of school holidays and midweek ensures the crowds are kept to a minimum and you’ll be able to enjoy this atmospheric castle in relative peace and quiet.
The best towns and villages in the Scottish Highlands
The Highlands are full of quaint little hamlets that are guaranteed to offer visitors a unique experience, whether it’s at one of the coastal fishing villages on the west coast or an inland town perched at the foot of a mountainside.
Villages in the Highlands
Applecross sits on a wild peninsula in Strathcarron that makes it feel like it’s at the edge of the world. This is a remote location that would be worth the visit if it were just for the views across the bay to the isles of Raasay and Skye, but this village also has a winding approach road that many consider the most scenic driving experience in Britain.
The Bealach na Ba pass is one of the highest roads in the country, reaching 2,053 feet at its highest point and it follows the incredibly twisty-turny topography of the area in a series of hair-whitening alpine-style hairpin bends.
Driving along this road to Applecross is an experience you’re not likely to forget.
Braemar is best known as the home of the annual Highland Gathering that’s held in September. This festival and sporting competition celebrates everything Scottish with pipe bands, events like tossing the caber and Highland dancing, and it’s so good even the Royal Family attend each year.
For the rest of the year the small village is used as a hub for visitors keen to explore the surrounding Cairngorms National Park which is a haven for hikers and cyclists thanks to over 65 miles of paths and cycle routes between its 24 Munros (a mountain over 3,000 feet).
Glencoe is another popular destination for hikers and it’s a great starting point for treks into the surrounding Glencoe mountains.
This village is the main settlement in the Lochaber region of the Highlands and you’ll find plenty of accommodation in the village and surrounding countryside so it’s a great base to go rock and ice climbing in winter and fishing in summer – with the beautiful River Coe and Loch Leven being two of the highlights in the area.
Towns in the Highlands
Mallaig is the final destination on the Jacobite steam train from Fort William and it’s usually busy throughout the year with travellers who have a couple of hours to kill in the old fishing port before they depart for the return journey home.
There’s a working harbour where you can watch boats sailing in and out and it’s also the setting-off point for boat tours that sail around the coastline to Loch Nevis on wildlife-watching cruises.
Fort William is the starting point for the Jacobite steam train, and though the train is one of the highlights of the town most visitors go there to enjoy the outdoor pursuits that are available on its doorstep.
The town is known as the outdoor capital of the UK and the surrounding area is packed with things to do, from hiking up Ben Nevis to walking through the wilderness to see the outrageously pretty Steall Falls.
The town is a great place to visit in its own right as it sits on the shores of Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil which both offer excellent loch-side walks, and the town centre is home to plenty of pubs and restaurants – perfect for enjoying a relaxing drink after a busy day in the Scottish wilderness.
Fort Augustus is located on the southern-most tip of Loch Ness and it’s the main hub for exploring the great body of water after Inverness which sits at the northern end of the loch.
The town also lies on the Caledonian Canal which joins Loch Ness so it’s quite a busy place with constant steams of boats passing through, and it manages to maintain its quaint character even though it gets packed with tourists throughout the year.
Highlights of the town are the giant lock that separates Loch Ness from the canal, Loch Ness itself which has boat trips sailing up and down it from Fort Augustus, and Castle Urquhart which is a half-hour drive away and is considered one of the most photogenic castles in Scotland.
Oban is known as the ‘gateway to the isles’ as it is the main departure point for ferries sailing to the western islands. The town is still used as a fishing port and it’s renowned for the fresh catches that are sold in its restaurants daily, but it also has a few tourist attractions of its own including McCaig’s Tower and the Oban Distillery.
The best tours of the Highlands
As nice as it is to explore Scotland on your own, there’s something to be said for joining a professional guided tour. While long-time visitors to the country will no doubt have a good idea about the best places to go, first-time visitors will likely find the number of attractions in the Highlands bewildering.
If that sounds like you it might be time to look into guided tours for your next visit to Scotland. The days of sitting in an old and cramped 50-seat coach for hours on end are long gone, and most tours are now much more personal with groups that rarely exceed a dozen people.
The leader of the pack when it comes to small-group tours has to be Scottish tour operator Rabbie’s, who specialize in ferrying people around Scotland in clean, modern mini-buses with friendly and knowledgeable local guides.
The majority of Rabbie’s tours last a single day meaning they’re perfect for days trips from Edinburgh and Glasgow, but they also run multi-day excursions that last up to two weeks so you can spend your entire holiday being driven around by expert guides who will show you the best places to visit while sharing tales that immerse you in Scotland’s culture.
The following list will give you an insight into what you can expect to see over 1 or 2 days on a Rabbie’s tour which take in the cream of Scotland’s breathtaking mountain scenery, battle-ravaged castles, and spectacular lochs and glens.
Highland Lochs, Glens & Whisky – 1 day tour
- Depart Inverness and head to Strathpeffer village to explore the area.
- Drive to Beauly and explore Beauly Priory. Stop for lunch.
- Travel to Glen Affric and stop for a woodland walk.
- Travel to Loch Ness then return to Inverness.
Torridon, Applecross & Eilean Donan Castle 1-day Tour
- Depart Inverness and head into the Northern Highlands.
- Stop for photos at Loch Maree.
- Drive to the Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve Visitor Centre and take photos of the area.
- Drive to the Torridon mountains before stopping at the town of Sheildaig for refreshments.
- Continue to Applecross and stop for food in a local pub.
- Drive along the Bealach na Bà road.
- Head to Loch Duich and visit Eilean Donan Castle.
- Drive through the Kintail mountain range, loch Ness and the Great Glen.
- Arrive back in Inverness.
West Highland Lochs & Castles 1-day Tour
- Depart Edinburgh and head in the direction of Stirling to arrive at Doune Castle.
- Visit the castle then continue through Callander to Loch Lubnaig.
- Stop at Loch Lubnaig, then drive to the Braes of Balquhidder.
- Continue to Kilchurn Castle and visit the loch and castle ruins before stopping for lunch.
- Head to Loch Awe and stop at the town of Inveraray near Loch Fyne.
- Explore the old jail in Inveraray and Inveraray Castle before continuing through the Arrochar Alps. Stop along the way for photos.
- Drive along Loch Long towards Loch Lomond. Stop at the village of Luss.
- Continue towards Stirling Castle for photos.
- Arrive back in Edinburgh.
The Complete Loch Ness Experience 1-day Tour
- Depart Inverness and follow the Caledonian Canal to Loch Ness.
- Either go on a 1-hour cruise around the loch or a 30-minute cruise to Urquhart Castle.
- Visit the village of Drumnadrochit near Loch Ness for lunch.
- Visit the village of Invermoriston before heading to Fort Augustus for photos.
- Travel along the side of the loch to visit the Falls of Foyers waterfall.
- Head to the eastern end of the loch at Dores.
- Return to Inverness.
Loch Ness, Inverness & The Highlands 2-day Tour
Itinerary day 1:
- Depart Edinburgh and head north towards the Highlands.
- Stop at a town in the Highlands for a break, then continue into the Cairngorms National Park.
- Choose an activity from whisky distilleries, forest walks, or exploring historic sites.
- Stop for food then continue to the overnight accommodation in Inverness.
Itinerary day 2:
- Travel to Loch Ness to either take a cruise on the loch or explore Urquhart Castle.
- Travel through the Great Glen past Ben Nevis and Fort William.
- Stop for lunch and continue to Glencoe.
- Drive through Rannoch Moor and continue onwards to Stirling.
- Arrive back in Edinburgh.
The weather and the best time to visit the Highlands
If there’s anything that will have a big impact on your decision to visit the Scottish Highlands, it has to be the weather.
Unlike the cities where it doesn’t really matter which month you plan your trip for, in the wild and exposed Highlands you’ll always be at the mercy of the elements so choosing to come here in winter could mean you’ll have a downright miserable time.
Scotland’s winters generally last from November to February, but with global warming it seems that Scotland is experiencing far milder temperatures than it once did.
That being said, once you head into the more elevated regions you’re almost guaranteed to experience 0 °C all day every day, especially in places like Braemar (officially the coldest place in Britain) where the lowest-ever recorded temperature was -27 °C.
Bear in mind, these temperatures plummet even further when you take the wind chill into account. If you’re thinking of exploring the Highlands in winter, remembering the effect of wind chill can literally be a lifesaver.
To calculate it, multiply the wind speed by 0.7 and subtract that number from the temperature, e.g. if the temperature is 5 °C and the wind speed is 10 mph (16 km/h), then 5 – (10 x 0.7) gives you a wind chill temperature of -2 °C, which is a considerable difference caused by little more than a stiff breeze.
On the plus side, the main reason to visit the Highlands in winter is for snow sports, and here in Scotland we have pistes that rival the alps at the Nevis Range, the Cairngorms and Glencoe.
On average, there are 100 days of snowfall each year in the Highlands and due to the elevation the snow usually lasts until April (Scotland’s snow sports season generally runs from November to April), which is another thing to bear in mind if you’re thinking of visiting the Highlands in winter as many roads become impassable for days on end.
If you do find yourself driving through snow, keep an eye on the snow poles on either side of the road as they give an indication of where the road is as well as how deep the snowfall is. You’ll find lots more travel advice like that in my article: How to Tour Scotland in Winter which is a must-read for winter visits to the Scottish Highlands.
If winter sports aren’t part of your agenda, I would have to say the best time to visit the Highlands are the summer months (June, July, and August) as they have the longest days, the least amount of rain, and the highest temperatures.
I’ve compiled a few averages in the table below which shows the differences in Highland weather between January and August.
|Location||Max temp. °C||Min temp. °C||Sunshine hours||Rainfall mm||Rainy days|
|Braemar (Cairngorms) January||4||-2||30||105||16|
|Braemar (Cairngorms) August||18||9||145||70||12|
|Inverness (North Coast) January||7||1||40||75||14|
|Inverness (North Coast) August||19||11||135||60||12|
|Crianlarich (Tossachs) January||7||1||40||98||14|
|Crianlarich (Tossachs) August||16||11||145||52||11|
There’s one big ‘but’ though, and it’s something that can ruin your entire summer holiday – Midges.
These tiny biting insects are prevalent throughout the Highlands and the west coast of Scotland and they like to hunt for food anywhere that’s damp on days that are cool and have wind speeds under 5 mph (8.05 km/h).
On their own, these 1-3 mm insects merely are a minor irritation, but sadly they swarm together in their thousands and are irresistibly drawn to human beings whose blood is a source of protein for them. If you get stuck in the Highlands where there are midges (an estimate of their numbers is 181 Trillion annually) you’ll find it’s an unbearable experience.
They tend to emerge from May to September, but that can change with a number of factors including how cold the preceding winter has been and how warm it is later in the year.
Essential gear to pack for the Highlands
A visit to the Highlands can be an unforgettable experience, especially if you head into the mountains where it’s possible to enjoy an all-day hike and not see another person all day. If you really want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, the Highlands of Scotland needs to be at the top of your list of places to go.
While these remote landscapes are undeniably beautiful they can also be deadly, with facilities that are few and far between, vast swathes of treacherous ground, mountains with sheer sided faces and weather that can – and will – change to the extremes at the drop of a hat.
Obviously you’ll have to pack extra gear in winter compared to summer, but there are a few essentials that you should keep with you at all times for no other reason than safety should you ever find yourself lost. This is what I keep in my backpack as a minimum (even in summer).
Please note, the following links include Amazon affiliate links.
- Backpack waterproof cover. You will get caught in the rain at some point in Scotland and there’s nothing worse than reaching into your backpack only to find a puddle of water in the bottom. Prevent water from soaking your clothes and expensive gear with one of these cheap waterproof backpack covers.
- Pac-a-mac. They’re not exactly the height of fashion, but foldable waterproof jackets are unbelievably handy for coping with Scotland’s changeable weather. Roll it up and pop it in the bottom of your bag for those days when it’s too warm to wear a thick jacket.
- Base layer. These thin long-sleeved shirts are designed for sports but I’ve found them ideal for; A – an extra layer to pull on top of my T-shirt if it suddenly gets chilly, and B – something to cover my arms if there are too many midges about. Base layers roll into a tiny size and weigh next to nothing so it’s worth keeping one in your bag at all times.
- Convertible trousers. As I already mentioned, Scotland’s weather is changeable throughout the year so you’ll find yourself constantly verging between being too hot or too cold. One thing that helps enormously is wearing convertible trousers that have legs that can be zipped off, turning them into a comfy pair of shorts.
- Mobile phone with OS Maps subscription. If you’re walking in the Highlands a map is essential for your safety. While waterproof paper maps and a compass are still the best option, if you’re on a short sightseeing trip I highly recommend using your phone and the OS Maps app instead. The phone acts as a GPS and overlays your position onto a highly-detailed map of the area, and it even shows you which way you’re pointing.
If you visit the Highlands in winter there will be a few additional items you need to take with you, primarily to keep you warm but also to keep you on track when snow covers the ground. The following is what I’ve whittled my gear down to after years of exploring the Highlands in winter:
- Wrap up warm with several layers of clothing, and wear a sweat absorbing base layer along with a rain and windproof jacket. You’ll lose a lot of heat from your head, feet, and hands so always make sure you have a woolly hat, gloves and thick socks to keep your extremities toasty.
- I can’t overstate how important good quality boots are in Scotland. Get a pair that has good grips (Vibram branded are best) and are waterproof, and make sure they have supportive ankle protection. I personally swear by Berghaus boots, as although they’re a wee bit more expensive they last much longer than cheaper brands, plus they’re supremely comfy. See my guide to the best hiking boots to wear in Scotland for more information.
- Pack high-energy food and drink to replenish the energy you’ll be burning off in the cold. With regard to water, bear in mind you should take 2 litres per person, per day, and each litre weighs 1 kg. I take two bottles on my winter walks, one insulated Thermos for a cup of hot tea down the road and a tough metal water bottle to keep hydrated.
- You’ll need somewhere to pack all that equipment away so a backpack isn’t just handy, it’s essential. The majority of people don’t need a top-of-the-range pack, and if you’re only visiting the Highlands on a day trip you’ll be fine with a rainproof backpack for around £30 from Amazon. Take a look at this guide – The 5 Best Lightweight Backpacks to Use in Scotland which lists cheap backpacks that are perfect for a brief sightseeing tour of the Highlands.
- Take walking poles. Not only will they help you balance on slippery surfaces but they’ll allow you to poke the ground in front of you so you don’t end up falling into a snow-covered hole.
- Take a map and compass – and learn how to use them. After a snowfall the landscape can change dramatically and it’s easy to lose your bearings. The best maps by far are made by Ordnance Survey who sell a range of ultra-durable waterproof maps (I guarantee you’ll get lost just as it starts raining. Always happens to me). The main reason to use a paper map instead of a mobile phone app is that you never need to worry about battery life which is a serious consideration on a multi-day hike. Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
- Become familiar with your route before you leave and stick to it. One of the main reasons winter hikers get lost is because they suddenly decide to take a different path and then find themselves unable to get back onto their pre-planned track. If you want to keep costs down the Walk Highlands website is a fantastic resource for walking routes in Scotland, and Google Maps is very handy as a GPS – but make sure you’ve got a power pack in your bag.
- If you happen to find yourself lost in the middle of nowhere in winter there’s one thing that could mean the difference between life and death. That thing is Scotland’s network of ‘bothies’ which are weatherproofed huts located in the remotest regions of the country. They are always unlocked and they are free to use with the only requirement that you leave them clean and tidy afterwards. I recommend getting this complete guide to finding them: The Scottish Bothy Bible.
Where to stay in the Highlands
Visiting the Highlands is different to visiting the rest of Scotland for many reasons, not least because it’s such a vast area with towns and villages that are spread miles and miles apart. In fact, Highland settlements are so spread out that some areas have less people than the Steppes of Russia!
That means tourists can have a wonderful time exploring the great outdoors in peace and quiet, but it also means it’s very difficult to find accommodation.
While you could pack a tent you’ll have to brave the midges in summer and it will be absolutely freezing in winter. Camper vans are an option, but unless you already own one you’ll have to pay upwards of £1000 per week for a rental.
That leaves hotels and B&Bs which are probably best for the majority of people travelling to the Highlands.
Because there are so few of them and because they’re so popular, it’s very important to book your accommodation well in advance in order to secure a room, and from personal experience I suggest booking at least 6 months beforehand if you’re planning a summer trip.
One thing to be aware of is that hotels ramp their prices up in the tourist season and even more so during the school holidays so by planning a little you could save 50% or more by simply adjusting the weeks of your stay.
The following is a list of more tips that might save you money when booking your next hotel in the Highlands of Scotland:
- Although the cheapest time of year for hotel rooms is winter, in some places like Inverness the prices will ramp up again the nearer you get to Christmas due to the Christmas markets and festivals. If you’re after a cheap winter holiday check the prices in early January instead when hotels are desperate for business.
- Two suggestions for saving money on chain hotels like Marriott is to book via their own website which is often cheaper than price comparison websites, and join their loyalty points scheme while you’re there. Most of these schemes build points for each stay which you can later redeem for rewards such as a free meal in the hotel restaurant or a free overnight stay.
- Hostels are by far the cheapest option for cheap accommodation in Scotland and the days of sticky carpets and cold, dingy rooms are long gone. Most even offer single rooms with an en-suite bathroom these days. In Inverness take a look at Bazpackers, and in Fort William I recommend Ben Nevis Inn Rooms.
- Another alternative for cheap overnight accommodation is to find a Groupon deal. The only thing to bear in mind is you’ll likely have to book well in advance so it’s no good for an impromptu overnight stay.
- Airbnb is a fantastic option for the budget-conscious traveller and there are some real bargains to be had, plus you can cook your own meals which saves even more money. A recommended alternative to AirBnB is Vrbo.
- Even cheaper than hostels and Airbnb is pitching a tent. It’s legal to pitch your tent wherever you like (as long as it isn’t privately-owned land) in Scotland but make sure you abide by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. If you need help buying a suitable tent check out this article: The 5 Best Tents for Summer Camping in Scotland.
- We’ve got bothies – so use them! Although they’re not exactly up to hotel standards they’re completely free so check out The Mountain Bothies Association for more information. Another great resource is The Scottish Bothy Bible which you can buy on Amazon.
Where to stay in Fort William
- Victoria House B&B. Lochy Bridge, Lochyside, Fort William, PH33 7NX. Full Scottish breakfast, Free parking, Non-smoking rooms, Pets allowed, Free WiFi, Family rooms, Tea/coffee maker in all rooms, full Scottish breakfast.
- Alexandra Hotel. The Parade, Fort William, PH33 6AZ. Free parking, Non-smoking rooms, Restaurant, Facilities for disabled guests, Free WiFi, Family rooms, Tea/coffee maker in all rooms, Bar, Very good breakfast.
- Ardrhu House Fort William. Ardrhu House Onich, Fort William, PH33 6SD. Free parking, Non-smoking rooms, Beachfront, Restaurant, Facilities for disabled guests, Free WiFi, Tea/coffee maker in all rooms, Good breakfast.
Where to stay in Inverness
- Chieftain Hotel. 2, Millburn Road, Inverness, IV2 3PS. Free parking, Non-smoking rooms, Restaurant, Free WiFi, Pets allowed, Family rooms, Bar, Superb breakfast.
- Culliss House B&B. Culliss House, 15 Culduthel Road, Inverness, IV2 4AG. Free parking, Non-smoking rooms, Free WiFi, Tea/coffee maker in all rooms, Exceptional breakfast.
- Heathmount Hotel. Kingsmills Road, Inverness, IV2 3JU. Free parking, Non-smoking rooms, Restaurant, Pets allowed, Family rooms, Bar, Superb breakfast.
Where to stay in Braemar & Cairngorms
- Braemar Lodge Hotel. Glenshee Road, Braemar, AB35 5YQ. Tea/coffee maker in all rooms, Bar, Breakfast.
- The Gordon Guest House. Station Square, Ballater, AB35 5QB. Non-smoking rooms, Free parking, Free WiFi, Exceptional breakfast.
- Hilton Grand Vacations Club at Craigendarroch. Braemar Road, Ballater, AB35 5XA. Swimming pool, Spa and wellness centre, Non-smoking rooms, Restaurant, Facilities for disabled guests, Free parking, Bar, Breakfast.
Where to stay in Crianlarich
- Best Western The Crianlarich Hotel. Main Street, Crianlarich, FK20 8RW. Free parking, Non-smoking rooms, Pets allowed, Free WiFi, Tea/coffee maker in all rooms, Bar, Very good breakfast.
- Inverardran House Bed and Breakfast. Crianlarich, FK20 8QS. Free parking, Free WiFi, Tea/coffee maker in all rooms, Exceptional breakfast.
- Craigbank Guest House. Main Street, Crianlarich, FK20 8QS. Free parking, Free WiFi, Tea/coffee maker in all rooms, Superb breakfast.
Out About Scotland recommends searching for great deals on quality Scottish hotels and B&Bs with Travel Supermarket.
Where are the Scottish Highlands?
When you visit Scotland you’ve basically got three options for finding places to visit.
First, you can do what most people do and head for the big cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, with the latter playing host to the majority of the best tourist-friendly experiences that the country has to offer.
Second, you can go to the west coast islands and immerse yourself in their vast remote stretches of windswept beaches and mountainscapes, and third, you can go explore what I believe is the most beautiful part of the UK – the Scottish Highlands.
The Highlands are traditionally considered to be one half of Scotland, with the other being the Lowlands, and both areas are divided by a boundary that follows the Highland Boundary Fault.
This fault line starts close to the area of Helensburgh – 40-ish miles north of Glasgow – and extends all the way to Stonehaven in the northeast with much of the landscape west of the fault being pushed up in an enormous rift.
In fact, this fault line is the main reason why there are so many mountains in western Scotland and you’ll notice there’s a definite change in the landscape if you ever drive across the width of the country from either coastline.
While the Lowlands are relatively flat, the Highlands are much more dramatic – think windswept moors surrounded by vast mountain ranges and you’ve pretty much got it – and they’re very sparsely populated, having one of the lowest densities of people outside of the great plains of Russia.
It’s not quite true to say that the Highlands follow the fault line in its entirety though as the boundary turns north before it reaches the east coast and then arcs back towards the city of Inverness (the capital of the Scottish Highlands) in the area of the Moray Firth.
Everything north and west of this point (including the Orkney and Shetland Isles and the Western Isles) are also in the Highlands so I think you’ll appreciate it’s a pretty big area, and one that needs a lot of prior planning if you’re thinking of coming here to explore it.
You’ll get a better idea of what I’m talking about with this illustration:
How to get around the Highlands
Getting anywhere in the Highlands takes much longer than it does when you’re in the main cities, purely because it’s such an enormous region and everything is spread so far apart.
That being said, you’ve got a few options when it comes to actually getting to the Highlands so don’t let yourself be put off by its remoteness.
Flights to the Highlands
If you’re an international visitor you’ll arrive in Scotland at one of our main international airports depending on where you’re coming from – most likely Aberdeen airport (Address: Dyce, Aberdeen, AB21 7DU), Glasgow airport (Address: Paisley, PA3 2SW) or Edinburgh airport (Address: Edinburgh EH12 9DN).
Once at these hubs you’ve got the option of continuing your journey inland by train or car or you can head out to the islands if you plan to catch another flight from Aberdeen or Glasgow, with the former serving Orkney and Shetland and the latter connecting to the Western Isles.
The infrastructure between these airport hubs is good and you can take a train from Edinburgh and be at Glasgow in less than an hour, so flying into the capital city and ending up at remote islands like Barra and Tiree is remarkably easy.
You will find out everything you need to know about travelling to Scotland by air in my Complete Guide to Scotland’s Airports.
Using the train in the Highlands
Britain has a bit of a love/hate relationship with its train network, mainly because the services are generally overpriced and subject to frequent delays, but they can be an easy way to get to the Highlands if you do a bit of planning before you set off.
The West Highland Line is particularly recommended because it’s extraordinarily pretty along much of its route – whether you’re travelling from Glasgow to Oban (where you can then catch a Calmac ferry to the western islands) or Glasgow to Fort William (where you can step on board the Jacobite steam train which runs to the northwest fishing town of Mallaig).
If you’re intending to use the train you really should experience this route to Mallaig as it’s absolutely beautiful and has, in fact, been described as one of the greatest train journeys in the world. You’ll find out more about it in my Guide to the Jacobite Steam Train.
While these routes are very scenic they can also be a huge pain in the wallet so I recommend getting a rail travel pass while you’re here to save a bit of money.
The Spirit of Scotland travel pass offers unlimited rail travel throughout Scotland for either 4 or 8 days and you’ll find stations in most towns in the Highlands.
Alternatively, the Highland Rover travel pass gives you four days of unlimited travel over eight consecutive days and it also gives you 20% off ferry services to Orkney and Shetland – which can be useful if you’re planning to head to the far north during your holiday.
Using a car in the Highlands
By far the most convenient form of transport in the Highlands is the car, but if you’re travelling here from overseas it can also be the most expensive.
Hire car costs can be extortionate once you add on fuel (we have some of the highest fuel prices in Europe) and insurance (likewise), but there are ways you can keep your costs as low as possible.
Unless you’re travelling in a big group I’d suggest getting as small a car as is practical, and you’ll find something like a Ford Fiesta or Vauxhall Corsa will whisk families around Scotland’s narrow roads economically, safely, and comfortably.
My top tips for getting a hire car in Scotland are to think seriously before splashing out on collision waiver damage (it’s often a rip-off), go direct to a rental company like SIXT or Hertz instead of using a rental car broker, and don’t get conned into taking out a load of vaguely-worded insurance you probably won’t need.
Once you’re out on the open road you’ll find the scenery is gob-smacking and being able to pull over onto the roadside whenever you like is definitely a bonus, but there are some downsides to driving in Scotland.
First and foremost I strongly advise you to not drive in the Highlands in winter if you’re an inexperienced driver as weather conditions can change at the drop of a hat and a road that started off clear in the morning can be buried under a thick blanket of snow in the afternoon.
That, coupled with the fact that many roads are winding and single track can make for treacherous driving conditions.
On the other hand, visiting Scotland in summer when it’s green and lush gives you the ingredients for a perfect road trip, especially if you head to the far north and experience one of the greatest road journeys in the world on the North Coast 500.
I think it’s safe to say there are more than enough places to visit in the Scottish Highlands that you could easily spend a two-week holiday there and never get bored, and it makes a great alternative to spending a summer break in the busy cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
If you want to discover more great attractions check out my guide map to see where else I recommend in the Scottish Highlands.
If a visit to the Highland’s is combined with a love of the TV series Outlander you might find this article handy: Where Are The Best Outlander Tours in Scotland? If you’d rather avoid the places where everyone else goes read my article about The Best Non-Touristy Places to Go in Scotland. Fallen in love with the Highlands? Then you’ll enjoy my Guide to the Most Romantic Places in Scotland.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where are the Scottish Highlands?
The Highlands are traditionally considered to be one half of Scotland, with the other being the Lowlands, and both areas are divided by a boundary that follows the Highland Fault. This fault line starts close to the area of Helensburgh – approximately 40 miles north of Glasgow – and extends all the way to Stonehaven in the northeast.
What are the most popular attractions in the Scottish Highlands?
How do I tour the Highlands by train?
The West Highland Line runs from Glasgow to Oban where you can catch a Calmac ferry to the western islands or you can take the train from Glasgow to Fort William where you can step on board the Jacobite steam train which runs to the northwest fishing town of Mallaig.
What towns and villages should I visit in the Highlands?
Applecross sits on a peninsula in Strathcarron and is noteable for the Bealach na Ba pass which is one of the highest roads in the UK, reaching 2,053 feet at its highest point.
Braemar is best known as the home of the annual Braemar Gathering and Highland Games held in September.
Glencoe is a popular destination for hikers that’s a great starting point for treks into the surrounding Glencoe mountains.
Fort William is the starting point for the Jacobite steam train. The town is known as the outdoor capital of the UK.
Fort Augustus is located on the southern-most tip of Loch Ness and is the main hub for exploring the loch after Inverness which sits at the opposite end to the north.
More sightseeing ideas articles
- 10 Fun Date Ideas for Couples in ScotlandWith a country as beautiful as Scotland you might find yourself struggling to choose the perfect destination for your next date. In this article you’ll discover a collection of fun, exciting and slightly unusual date suggestions that are guaranteed to be a memorable experience for both of you, whether it’s winter or summer in the cities or the Highlands.
- Summer in Scotland – The Best Places To VisitSummer in Scotland is one of the best times of the year to visit, whether it’s for a hike up the mountains, scenic walks around the coastline or island-hopping on the west coast. This article offers suggestions for places to visit in summer in the main cities, the Highlands and the islands.
- The Best Small Group Bus Tours of ScotlandA guided tour on a bus means you can sit back and relax while the driver whisks you around a pre-selected list of amazing Scottish attractions. You’ll never get lost, you’ll be able to take the scenic route, you’ll be able to freely enjoy the magnificent views from the windows and you’ll be able to sample the occasional dram of whisky when you de-bus at each destination. Seriously, what’s not to like about that?! Discover the best small-group bus tours in this comprehensive guide.
- What Are the Best Outlander Tours in Scotland?The TV show Outlander has created a whole new generation of tourists who are keen to explore its filming locations in Scotland. That in turn has lead to a number of Outlander tour operators springing up around the country. In this article I’ll show you where Outlander’s Scottish filming locations are and offer suggestions for the best Outlander tours you can join to see them.
Don’t forget to bookmark Out About Scotland to discover the best places to visit in Scotland, learn what to do in each region and get suggestions for top tourist attractions to add to your Scottish sightseeing itinerary.