The rugged highlands of northern Scotland are famous for their wild landscapes and majestic scenery. Full of ancient legends and old traditions, the mountains and lochs of the Scottish Highlands are also known for offering some of the best outdoor adventures in Europe, from mountain biking to sea kayaking.
There are lots of things to do in the Scottish Highlands. You can spend your time exploring crumbling forts and castles, or go on exciting whisky tours, witness dolphins frolicking off the Moray Coast, or sail on mysterious lochs.
How to get there
Inverness is the largest city in the Highlands and is home to Inverness Airport, which has connection all over Scotland and England, as well as Amsterdam, Dublin and Dusseldorf. There are other smaller airports in the region at places like Campbeltown and Oban that offer connecting flights to Glasgow, Edinburgh, or Aberdeen.
There are numerous highways from the Lowlands (or Central Scotland) into the Highlands. Some of the most scenic are along Loch Lamond to Fort William, and along Loch Ness to Inverness. You can also use the frequent bus services that run parts of the Highlands from Glasgow, via either Scottish Citylink or West Coast Motors.
Travelling to Scotland by train is faster than the bus, but often more expensive. First ScotRail offers regular services from Glasgow and Edinburgh towards Inverness, while the West Highland Railway runs to Oban, Fort William and Mallaig. You can also try overnight trains like the ‘Caledonian Sleeper’ which travels between London’s Euston Station and Fort William or Inverness, and the ‘Highland Chieftan’ train from London King’s Cross to Inverness.
Getting around the Highlands
Domestic air services in the Highlands can be quite expensive, especially as they often cover extremely short distances. However, they are worth the price if you’re short on time and want to visit places like the Outer Hebrides, Orkney or Shetland.
The roads of the Scottish Highlands are quite picturesque, and the best way to get around. The area has an extensive bus network that covers even the remote rural areas. Roads are also generally good and not very busy, though if you plan to drive yourself, remember that many roads are only wide enough for one vehicle. Also, be sure to know the UK Highway Code. If you have the time, travelling by bicycle is also a leisurely and scenic option.
While most major towns are connected to the railway via either National Rail or ScotRail, the more remote areas of the Highlands are not connected. So, be sure to see timetables and routes to plan your journey.
Things to do when you visit the Scottish Highlands
- Inverness: this small Highland city is said to be the capital of the Highlands. Here you can visit Inverness Castle and St Andrew’s Cathedral along the River Ness or explore the Victorian Market. Nearby you can also see the Bronze Age Clava Cairns and Culloden Battlefield, site of the final Jacobite Risings, as well as Nairn, a picturesque Victorian seaside resort.
- Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle: this iconic loch is said to be home to the Loch Ness Monster. It is overlooked by the ruins of the medieval Urquhart Castle.
- Ben Nevis: located near the town of Fort William, lie the Mamores mountain range, and Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain
- Moray Speyside: near Inverness is Moray Speyside. This region is home to the renowned Speyside malt whisky, as well as the Elgin Cathedral, Ballindalloch Castle, and the Moray Firth, where you can see dolphins.
- Cairngorms National Park: biggest National Park in Britain, the Cairngorms is home to many amazing sights such as Braemar Castle, reindeer at Glen More, sandy beaches at Loch Morlich, Aviemore, and the Glenlivet Distillery at Tomintoul.
- Glenfinnan Viaduct: overlooking Loch Shiel and the Jacobite monument, this magnificent viaduct was made famous by the Harry Potter films. You can also travel over it in the famous Jacobite Steam Train that runs from Fort William to Mallaig.
- Glencoe: this village in the steep-sided Glencoe valley in the Lochaber Geopark is famous for its waterfalls, red deer, and trails that climb peaks such as Buachaille Etive Mor and Bidean nam Bian.
- The Isle of Skye: there are many islands dotted around the Highlands, but one of the most spectacular is the Isle of Skye. The largest of the Inner Hebrides, it has iconic landscapes and fascinating sights.
- Take a whiskey tour: no visit to Scotland is complete without a tour of a whisky distillery. On Islay, you will find numerous distilleries, including Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig, while in Speyside you will find many more, including the Macallan. In the Cairngorms, you can visit the highest distillery in Scotland, Dalwhinnie, and on the Isle of Skye is the famous Talisker Distillery.
- Eilean Donan Castle: this famous castle is located on a tidal island where three sea lochs—Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh—meet, near the tiny village of Dornie, not far beyond Kyle of Lochalsh.
- Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park: the stunning areas around Loch Lamond and the Trossachs are home to many wonderful sights, such as Balloch Castle, the Falls of Falloch, Inchmahome Priory, the Killin Stone Circle, and more.
The Scottish Highlands encompass many areas of northern Scotland, including Argyll and Bute, and the islands of Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides, each with their own unique sights. Also, visitors to Scotland don’t need a special visa, as it falls under the purview of the more general UK Visa.