If you’ve ever been to this incredible corner of the world, you’ll know that there’s so much more to the Scottish Highlands than just mountains. With dramatic ranges towering above you and endless wilderness, Scotland is without a doubt the best hiking destination in the UK. But that’s not where the magic ends. For those in the know, the unique culture and the centuries and centuries of history is what sets the tone for a vacation here.
From magnificent Scottish castles that look like they’ve been plucked straight out of a period movie to the most quaint and quirky villages that journey you back in time, the Highlands is a region that wows. There’s something for everyone, not just hiking fans. And you won’t need to challenge yourself to one of the tallest peaks to experience Scotland in all its glory.
Here are some of the best places to visit beyond the mountains, munros and hills.
Top Cities and Towns
Although the population in the Highlands is sparse compared to the rest of the country, there are still some great towns and cities to check out during your vacation. Technically, the only city in this vast region is Inverness, and we definitely recommend stopping by there if you’re looking for the best nightlife and entertainment outside of the capital.
The incredible city of Inverness is considered to be the capital of the Highlands, making it a must-visit destination for anyone enjoying a few weeks here. An unmissable city filled with history, sights, shopping and family-friendly attractions, it’s the perfect base for anyone who needs to be close to amenities. It’s also the perfect daytrip or weekend trip for those staying out in the deep remote countryside who desire returning to civilization for a bit.
While you’re in Inverness, don’t miss the beautiful Inverness Castle, the stunning cathedral, the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, and the famous Victorian Market.
Fort William, a major tourist center, is the second largest settlement in the Highlands and has over 10,000 inhabitants. In size, it comes second only to Inverness. Not only do many travelers come here to enjoy the beautiful marina and shoreline as well as its many independent shops, cafes and boutiques, but they also use Fort William as a base. Known as the gateway to the Highlands, this town gives you easy access to Glencoe just to the south, Aonach Mòr to the east and Glenfinnan to the west
Our luxury lodge is located very close to Fort William, making it the ideal base to explore the wider area. If you’re staying around these parts and you’re hiring a vehicle, be sure to drive the spectacular stretch down the A82 Glencoe Pass for jaw-dropping views.
Located just an hour away from our lodge near Fort William is the town and port of Oban. Set along the western coastline, Oban is known as the gateway to the Hebridean Islands. Although small, the town is particularly charming because of its proximity to the sea and the islands, and there’s also a very slow pace of life here which visitors usually fall in love with. Its most famous landmark is the Colosseum-like structure, McCaig’s Tower, which overlooks the bay. But the main reason why people come here is for the outstanding seafood. You’ll find the best fish and chip shops and seafood restaurants dotted along the harbor.
Head out of town and you’ll find attractions such as the ruined Dunollie Castle and the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary, both of which are great for taking the kids to.
Many tourists come to the Highlands to escape. With over 26,000 square kilometers and dramatic landscapes, it’s very easy to do that here. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, Scotland is the perfect place for a vacation. And while we love our nearest town, the stunning Fort William, it’s the quaint little villages that really make the Highlands such a special place.
The beautiful village of Corpach is situated just north of Fort William and is the start of the Caledonian Canal through the canal lock at the Corpach Basin. Unlike the harbor at Fort William, this one is unnatural but it still has a rich and interesting history, and the views are just as wonderful.
The village itself is bustling during the summer, but we think it’s a fantastic place to go at any time of year. In the center, you’ll find gorgeous gardens and a small community center. Stop to take photos of the water, grab a pint at the Grog & Gruel Pub, or enjoy some coffee and cake at Cafe Ecosse on the High Street.
Located in the Stirling area and set on the west of Loch Tay is the peaceful village of Killin. From here, you can get to the scenic Falls of Dochart or to the multiple walks in the surrounding mountains of Breadalbane. And set on the fringes of Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve and The Trossachs, you’ll be able to hike and cycle away to your heart’s content. But if you’re here to relax, wine and dine instead, you’ll love the village’s main street and surrounding roads. They’re lined with traditional buildings, cute guesthouses with bistros, pubs and small cafes.
An area known for its waterfalls and hiking trails, and set within the awe-inspiring Lochaber Geopark, there are few places that match up to Glencoe when it comes to beauty. Just over an hour away from our luxury lodge, this village is worth a drive over if you want to experience the very best of Scotland’s landscapes. The village was carved out centuries ago by icy glaciers and volcanic explosions, and the views today really are unbelievable.
If you’re planning on going for a walk, pop into the Glencoe Visitor Centre first to get some information and grab a bite to eat.
This lovely little hamlet offers amazing lochside views and is a paradise for walkers or cyclists. Not only that, but the village is set on Scotland’s most famous loch, Loch Ness. Whether you’re here to catch sight of “Nessie”, the famous Loch Ness Monster, or you just want a nice view over the water, Fort Augustus is definitely worth a visit.
While there isn’t much going on here in terms of attractions and entertainment, we promise it’s a charming little spot for lunch or just a cozy drink by the fire. For a hearty Scottish meal with great drink to wash it all down with, head to The Lock Inn or Bothy Restaurant & Bar.
Did you know that there are at least 31,460 freshwater lochs in Scotland? The majority of these lochs can be found in the Highlands region, so if you’re planning a vacation here, you won’t miss them. It seems that water is everywhere you turn, promising glorious sunsets and the most remarkable views at any time of year. Whether you experience the lochs glistening in the summer sun or covered in fog during a winter vacation, they’ll be etched in your memory forever. Here are some of the famous lochs you have to visit.
Loch Ness is perhaps Scotland’s most well-known loch. Although it comes second to Loch Lomond in size, it’s one of the deepest lochs in the country. This means that by volume (not surface area), it’s the largest loch in the British Isles. Its deepest point is 230 meters, making it a remarkable body of water. However, this isn’t why it’s such a famous place in the Highlands. Loch Ness is better known to outsiders for its famous mythical monster, the Loch Ness Monster.
Known affectionately to the locals as “Nessie”, this cryptozoological creature has remained a mystery for many years. But the legendary tales of old continue to haunt the modern world, as the most recent sightings were not so long ago. There was a record number of sightings in 2017, so if you fancy your chances of spotting the monster, make sure you add Loch Ness to your itinerary.
Loch Tay is located in the central Highlands within the Perth and Kinross and Stirling council areas. This is one of the best destinations in Scotland for camping and glamping. If you love the outdoors, Loch Tay is a must. With a nice shingle beach near Kenmore, it’s also a good place to come for sunbathing in the summer months. Additionally, there are some fun watersport activities such as canoeing and kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, as well as boat and pedalo hire.
This loch is also unique in the fact that it has artificially created islands known as “crannogs”, which were inhabited by ancient settlers many centuries ago.
This is Britain’s largest loch and it’s quite the hotspot with travelers, with activities such as boat hire and water sports. If you’re a bit of a thrill seeker, head to the Leisure Center for water-skiing, kayaking, wakeboarding, stand-up paddleboarding, banana boats, water trampolines, kneeboarding, and more.
The loch itself is stunning and many walkers like to take on the entire perimeter. At around 29 kilometers long, expect the entire loop to take at least eight hours to complete. As well as being a famous location for active families, Loch Lomond is also a favorite destination for couples. The views of the water as well as the nearby villages provide the perfect backdrop for a romantic vacation.
Stretched out in the Argyll and Bute landscapes is the tranquil and beautiful Loch Awe. It’s one of the longest freshwater lochs in Scotland, and its northern shores are decorated with the most incredible mountain ranges. The summits of Ben Cruachan and Ben Lui can be seen clearly, creating a perfect backdrop for romantic trips or scenic vacations with the family.
The southern end of the water boasts a small fleet of islands, many of which are guarded by mysterious standing stones. Bring your camera as the views are spellbinding, particularly at sunrise or sunset.
Another loch worth mentioning is Loch Ossian, the loch on Corrour Estate. We can organize a range of activities on the loch for our guests, including canoeing and walk on water balling.
The Highlands is also a part of a larger area known as the Highlands and Islands. This vast region incorporates Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. If you have enough time during your Scottish vacation, it’s highly recommended that you check out some of the islands in this area. Not only are the islands famous for their unique whiskey making traditions and having a distinct taste that differs from the rest of the Highlands whiskey region, but these islands are a portal back in time. Tradition has been upheld and communities still us the Scottish Gaelic language.
Isle of Skye:
This is one of the most popular island destinations for vacationers. And with such incredible natural attractions and historical sites, it’s easy to see why. It’s also very easy to get to, as it is connected to the mainland via a bridge. This means you have the option to hop on a ferry from Mallaig or drive over on the A87.
The most popular walk is perhaps up to the Old Man of Storr (a large pillar of rock that dominates the landscape in the north east), but you’ll be spoilt for choice if you’re keen on hiking. In the summer, you can also take a dip in the Fairy Pools in Glen Brittle, known for their deep blue water. And of course, a visit to Skye is incomplete with a trip to Dunvegan Castle, where you’ll find beautifully maintained gardens to walk around.
Isle of Harris:
If you’ve ever heard of Harris Tweed, this is where it was born. Not only is it one of the most important places in the world in terms of fashion history, but together with the Isle of Lewis (both part of the same island), it is also home to some of the best Scotch whiskey.
If you’re looking for a peaceful beach to call your own, away from the main tourist trails, be sure to visit Traigh Seilebost on the south side of Traigh Luskentyre.
Looking for luxury accommodation close to the “Gateway to the Highlands”? Get in touch to find out more about Corrour Lodge, just an hour from Fort William.