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43 Best things to see & do in Scottish Highlands

  • Scottish Highlands, United Kingdom (UK)

Last updated: 15 June, 2024
Expert travel writer: Lucy Gillmore
  • Fort William, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

View of the arched aquaduct with steam train crossing over it

Bucket List Experience

West Highland Line

The railway from Glasgow to Fort William and on to Mallaig is rightly regarded as one of the world’s great railway journeys. From the moment the train climbs out of the Glasgow suburbs to give views over the Clyde, it is a scenic delight, taking in Loch Lomond, the wilds of Rannoch Moor, Ben Nevis, Loch Linhe, the famous concrete viaduct of Glenfinnan (featured in Harry Potter films) and culminating in glorious sea views.

The railway offers a unique perspective on many of the roadless landscapes en route. The wild landscapes have hardly changed since the railway was built in the late 19th century.

Adult price: £15

Good for age: 4+

Duration: 4-5 hours

  • Drumnadrochit, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Blue sign of Loch Ness, with the Loch behind

Bucket List Experience

Loch Ness [hiking & cycling]

If it weren’t for Nessie, this would be just another loch: admittedly the second largest in Scotland and the deepest, containing more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. But it’s the legendary Loch Ness Monster that put it on the map. There are ‘Nessie hunter’ boat trips available all around the loch.

Start your visit at the informative, award-winning Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition in Drumnadrochit for the low down, and to delve into the scientific findings. Then head off for some monster spotting, while taking in ruined castles, waterfalls and mountain trails.

Good for age: 4+

Duration: -

  • Dornie , Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

View of the castle and bridge over the surrounding water

Bucket List Experience

Eilean Donan Castle

The most photographed castle in Scotland and, many say, the most beautiful, punches above its weight in the tourist attraction stakes. Christopher Lambert stormed across the causeway to this tiny fortress, perched on an island where three lochs meet, in Hollywood blockbuster, Highlander.

Founded in the 13th century, it was the traditional stronghold of Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan Macrae. Clan Mackenzie and Clan Macrae sided with the Jacobites in the unsuccessful Jacobite Rebellion, leading to the castle’s partial destruction in 1719 by British government forces during the rebellion’s repression. It was rebuilt from 1919-32 by Lieutenant-Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap, and is now recognised as a Scottish icon.

Adult price: £10

Good for age: 13+

  • Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Loch Lomond

Bucket List Experience

Loch Lomond

Scotland’s largest loch stretches for 24 watery miles of jaw-dropping scenic splendour – just a short hop from Glasgow.

Part of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park (Scotland’s first national park), and sprinkled with no fewer than 30 islands, Loch Lomond offers a one-stop shop for water-based outdoor activities from sailing to canoeing, kayaking to windsurfing and more leisurely cruises across the water.

On its eastern shore rises Ben Lomond, the country’s most southerly – and popular – Munro, soaring to a height of 3,176ft.

Good for age: 4+

  • Isle of Skye, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Stunning view of the rust brown landscape with a group of sharp rocks sticking up in the air

Bucket List Experience

Isle of Skye [hiking & cycling]

Skye is the largest of the Hebridean islands (48 miles by 25) – and the only one attached to the mainland by a handy bridge.

Despite the fairly remote location, there are plenty of reasons to make a beeline here. The raw grandeur of the landscape, dominated by the dramatic Cuillins range, draws munro-baggers, hikers, mountain bikers – and movie-makers; its credits include Macbeth and blockbuster fantasy, The BFG.

The Trotternish Peninsula in the island’s north is home to some of the most striking landscapes in Scotland, easily accessible from the island’s ‘capital’, the wonderfully colourful village of Portree located on its eastern coast.

The Isle is also a place of pilgrimage for gourmet travellers schlepping to the Three Chimneys or Kinloch Lodge, the home of doyenne of Scottish cookbook writing, Lady Claire Macdonald.

And then there’s the history; Bonnie Prince Charlie famously fled over the sea to Skye after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden, and 13th-century Dunvegan Castle was the traditional seat of Clan MacLeod.

Good for age: 13+

  • Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Jacobite Steam Train

Bucket List Experience

Jacobite Steam Train

Yes, this is the Harry Potter vintage steam train and it crosses the legendary 21-arched Glenfinnan viaduct, made famous by the films.

The Jacobite’s route up the west coast of Scotland is one of the world’s most spectacular rail journeys, an 84-mile round trip from Fort William to the little fishing village of Mallaig.

Starting in the shadow of Scotland’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, other sights to tick off along the way include the mainland’s westernmost train station, the deepest loch and shortest river and glorious sweeps of sand that appeared in other cinematic gems, ‘Local Hero’ and ‘Highlander’.

Optional extras include pre-ordered Jacobite High teas served on the homeward leg, champagne and chocolates.

Adult price: £90

Good for age: 4+

Duration: 6 hours

  • Speyside, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Two drams of whisky with ice on a wooden barrel - ready for tatings

Bucket List Experience

Malt Whisky Trail

The lush countryside of Speyside is home to more than half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries, and the only malt whisky trail in the world.

The eight on the trail include bijoux Benromach, Glenfiddich (home to the most popular whisky in the world), Cardhu (a distillery pioneered by a woman) and The Glenlivet (the first licensed distillery in Scotland). The Glen Grant distillery, founded in 1840, has a beautiful Victorian garden threaded with paths and woodland walks and a small waterfall – a lovely place to meander. One of the eight – the Dallas Dhu distillery – is a historic distillery and is not operational.

There are tastings and insights into each distillery’s unique blend, plus the Speyside Cooperage where you can watch the ancient art of barrel-making.

Min age 18

Good for age: 18+

  • Fort William, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Snow-capped Ben Nevis mountain seen from Fort William. A lake and shipwreck in foreground

Bucket List Experience

Climb Ben Nevis

It might be known affectionately as ‘the Ben’, but don’t think a tramp up Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, is a walk in the park. Its summit, at over 4,400ft, can be clad in snow in summer, the weather changing in a second as you zigzag up the rocky Mountain Track. However, around 125,000 people make it each year and the sense of achievement – and the views – are second to none. ‘The Ben’ is the most challenging but rewarding Munro ‘to bag’.

Go prepared though, it can be cold on the summit even if it’s sunny below so take a fleece and waterproofs. On sunny days beware of dehydration, wind and sunburn.

 

Good for age: 13+

Duration: Full day

  • Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Contrary to cliched opinion, Scots don’t live on haggis (offal, onion and oatmeal encased sausage-like in a sheep’s stomach), neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) – or deep-fried Mars Bars.

More and more chefs are celebrating the local produce with inventive modern Scottish cuisine alongside a growing field-to-fork movement. It’s all about provenance and food miles these days and the Scottish Highlands’ rich natural larder fits perfectly with this ethos.

The hills are home to red deer (for wild venison), Highland ‘coos’ (cows, for superb quality beef, notably Aberdeen Angus) and heather-grazed lamb; its rushing rivers and deep lochs are brimming with brown trout and salmon. Shellfish is another highlight from Loch Fyne oysters to hand-dived scallops off the west coast, rope-grown mussels, crab and crayfish.

The landscape is peppered with artisan smokehouses and charcuterie-makers, coffee roasters – and distilleries.

Once you’ve sampled the inventive tasting menus inspired by the fresh local produce what better way to end the evening than with a dram? The Highlands is whisky country and home to some of the most famous distilleries in the world such as Glenfiddich and the Glenlivet.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

  • Pitlochry, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

External view of the lovely white castle set into green hills

Bucket List Experience

Blair Castle

This picture-perfect, white-turreted fairytale castle has a history stretching back to medieval times – it was supposedly built in 1269. The ancestral home of Clan Murray and the historic seat of its chief the Dukes of Atholl, the castle contains 30 rooms filled with the fascinating legacy of 19 generations of the Clan: weapons, armour, paintings, furniture and even needlework.

You can climb the spiral stairs for a behind-the-scenes attic tour, follow a sculpture trail through the grounds, or wander the beautifully restored 9-acre Georgian walled garden, recognised as being of national artistic and historical significance. They include a walled garden, wooded grove, and red deer park. Look out for peacocks, red squirrels, and the famously shaggy Highland cattle.

 

Adult price: £15

Good for age: 13+