Scotland’s Highland region, covering the northern two-thirds of the country, holds much of the mainland’s most spectacular scenery. You may be surprised at just how remote much of it still is. The vast peat bogs in the north, for example, are among the most extensive and unspoiled wilderness areas in Europe. There are even a handful of the west coast’s isolated crofting villages can still be reached only by boat. As there is so much beauty in this region, we have compiled a useful list of the top things to see in the Highlands.
Where to Visit
Inverness is one of Scotland’s seven cities, on the banks of the River ‘Loch’ Ness, and serves as the unofficial capitol of the highlands. Inverness is a thriving city with a rich variety of places to visit and things to do both in the city and around the lush countryside. This is the perfect base to explore nearby Loch Ness and the wider Highlands. Don’t miss Inverness castle perched up on a hill overlooking the city!
Just a short distance from Inverness, this impressive stretch of water is 23 miles long and over 700 ft at its deepest, making it Scotland’s largest loch in terms of volume. Overlooking the water from the western shore is Urquhart Castle, a former royal castle that has witnessed some of the most dramatic periods in Scottish history. Walk around the iconic ruins for a first-hand look at the cells and towers, or learn about the castle’s role in the Wars of Independence and the Jacobite uprising.
Claimed sightings of the Loch Ness Monster date back to 1933, though there have been rumors of a beast in the waters since the 7th century. Discover more about the mystery at the two interactive exhibition centers, Loch Ness Center & Exhibition Experience and Nessieland. Both are just a few minutes drive from the famous Urquhart Castle. Bus tours and boat trips are one of the best ways to experience Loch Ness, allowing you to relax and take in the majestic landscapes from the comfort of the viewing deck.
Eilean Donan Castle
As one of the most iconic images of Scotland, Eilean Donan is recognized all around the world. Situated on an island at the point where three great sea lochs meet, and surrounded by some majestic scenery, it is little wonder that the castle is now one of the most visited and important attractions in the Scottish highlands. This is one of my favorite castles for its brilliant setting. The first castle on the island was established in the 13th century by Alexander II in an effort to help protect the area from Viking incursions. Over the centuries, the castle contracted and expanded, until 1719 when it was involved in the Jacobite uprisings it was burned to the ground. The castle that visitors enjoy so much today was reconstructed as a family home between 1912 and 1932, and incorporated much of the ruins from the 1719 destruction.
Visitors can wander round most of the fabulous internal rooms of the castle viewing period furniture, Jacobean artefacts, displays of weapons and fine art. Historical interest and heritage are in abundance with informed guides happy to share a wealth of knowledge. Extremely popular with families, a visit to Eilean Donan promises lots of fun for the kids. Wildlife surrounds the island too, with regular viewings of porpoise, dolphins, otters and birdlife. For those feeling particularly romantic, weddings can even be arranged inside the beautiful Banqueting Hall.
Fort William and Ben Nevis
Fort William is the second largest settlement in the highlands of Scotland and the largest town, with around 10,000 inhabitants and is called s the ‘Outdoor Capital of the UK’ serving all manner of outdoor activities. Fort William’s setting is dramatic under the towering of Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, which stands at 4,406ft. In Gaelic the mountain’s name, Beinn Nibheis, has been linked with Irish and Gaelic words meaning poisonous or terrible, implying a fairly ominous character. There is a footpath to the top of the mountain starting close to the town. It is recommended that you properly prepare or climb the peak with a tour, as the climb can dangerous at times.
This archipelago of around 70 islands lies north of mainland Scotland and has dazzled visitors for years. With a unique culture and history, Orkney has a strong identity of its own. The largest island, and also the most populated, is known as the Mainland. On the East Mainland coast lies Kirkwall, the ancient capital of Orkney, with its Viking cathedral, fishing port and distillery. The archipelago’s other main port and town, Stromness, is located in the south of West Mainland.
Discover the individual character of Orkney, with its own distinctive charm, amazing beaches, archaeological treasures, craft shops and restaurants. Go island hopping by car, boat or plane, explore the coastline on foot and experience the history, wildlife and beautiful scenery.
Glencoe is also arguably Scotland’s most historic glen, and it was recently voted as Scotland’s most romantic glen. Located within the awe-inspiring Lochaber Geopark in the Highlands, the deep valley and towering mountains of Glen Coe were carved out centuries ago by icy glaciers and volcanic explosions. Glencoe village is picturesquely located between the banks of Loch Leven and the mouth of the famous glen, making it the perfect base for exploring the area of Lochaber. The village is not only a holiday center for hill walking and mountaineering, it is also an ideal base from which to explore the wider Highlands.
Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye takes its name from the old Norse sky-a, meaning ‘cloud island’, which is a Viking reference to the mist covered mountains. The largest of the Inner Hebrides, it’s home to some of Scotland’s most iconic landscapes. If there’s one thing about Skye that’ll leave a lasting impression on you, it’s got to be the scenery. Just driving around, you can see many of Skye’s most majestic geological features, such as the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing and the Cuillin. But be sure to take your sturdiest of boots and explore these unique sights on foot for the real rewards.
Built on a rocky outcrop, Dunvegan Castle is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years. Visitors can enjoy tours of an extraordinary castle and Highland estate steeped in history and clan legend, delight in the beauty of its formal gardens, take a boat trip onto Loch Dunvegan to see the seal colony, charter one of its traditional clinker boats for a fishing trip or Loch cruise. You can also stay in one of its charming holiday cottages, enjoy an appetizing meal at the MacLeods Table Cafe or browse in one of its four shops offering a wide choice. Combine this visit with a hike in the gorgeous surrounding countryside on the Isle of Syke.
Located in the northwest corner off the mainland coast, Shetland is consisted of over 100 small islands. Discover fascinating wildlife, world-renowned archaeology, a flourishing artistic and cultural scene and beautiful gardens. Take a walk and admire the beauty of your surroundings or check out one of the many exciting outdoor activities on offer. Shetland is also the best place to experience traditional Scottish folk music.
As Scotland’s most picturesque fishing port, Tobermory was built as a fishing port in the late 18th century and is now the main town on Mull. It is a picture-postcard of a place with the brightly painted buildings along the main street to the pier and the high woodland-fringed hills surrounding the bay.