Things to do in the Scottish Highlands

Things to do

Things to do in the Scottish Highlands

One of the most beautiful places in the UK, the Scottish Highlands are home to rolling landscapes, towering mountain ranges, and shimmering lochs, making it one giant playground for locals and visitors alike. The awe-inspiring scenery makes this corner of Scotland the perfect destination for walkers, while also playing host to some adrenaline-fuelled activities, from snowsports to bungee jumping.

A map of the Scottish Highlands in Scotland

Boasting a rich history, countless castles pepper the landscape and offer a fascinating day out for families, alongside some of the country’s most iconic landmarks, including famous filming locations Glen Coe (James Bond) and the Glenfinnan Viaduct (Harry Potter).

Ready to explore this breathtaking locale? Here are some of the best things to see and do in the Scottish Highlands…


Glen Coe

The iconic valley of Glen Coe in Scotland

One of Scotland’s most famous landmarks, Glen Coe should be high on your list of must-visit valleys when exploring the wild and wonderful Scottish Highlands. A jaw-dropping mix of gentle lowland and sky-high peaks combine to create one of the best views in the region, whether you’re driving through or pulling on your walking boots for a breathtaking trek. This entire area has been formed over millions of years, with countless glacial shifts and volcanic eruptions creating the grand landscapes we see today.

For the walkers, 37 miles of winding footpaths provide plenty of opportunities to soak up the incredible panoramas while taking you past the fascinating reconstructed 17th-century turf and creel house, which offers a glimpse into Glen Coe’s haunting history. Although some of the walks take you high into the mountains, there are plenty of easier routes, allowing everyone to enjoy this beautiful corner of the Scottish Highlands.


Glenfinnan Viaduct

The famous steam train on the Glenfinnan Viaduct in the Scottish Highlands

As beautiful in the russet hues of autumn as it is in the rich green of summer, Glenfinnan Viaduct makes for a stunning day out, whether you’re looking for a historic train ride or a quick climb and showstopping view. The famous Jacobite Express, (more commonly known as the Hogwarts Express to all the Harry Potter fans out there), runs daily morning and afternoon services that rank amongst the greatest railway journeys in the world.

You’ll pass many wonderful Highland landmarks, including Fort William, Loch Nevis, and the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct, which will be instantly recognisable from the Harry Potter films. You can also head straight to the viaduct yourself, where a hill behind the visitor centre makes for the perfect viewing platform – try and time your visit for when the steam train passes for an extra special sight!


Isle of Skye

The famous Old Man of Storr rock formation on the Isle of Skye in the Scottish Highlands

There are few words grand enough to properly describe the otherworldly beauty found across the Isle of Skye. From the magical fairy pools that dot the island to the rugged rock formations that create some of the best-known scenes in the Highlands, the Isle of Skye delivers astonishing views around every ancient corner.

Alongside some extraordinary walks (the Old Man of Storr is one of the best walks in Scotland), Skye is also home to some incredible wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for the likes of dolphins, otters, whales, and seals in the seas and the white-tailed eagles (also known as the Sea Eagle), which can be found soaring in the skies above the island. The Isle of Skye also boasts a toothsome selection of restaurants tucked away in the pretty waterside villages, providing the perfect end to a memorable day on the island.


Smoo Cave

The impressive cave entrance at Smoo Cave in the Scottish Highlands

Nestled on the beautiful coastline near Durness, Smoo Cave has been wowing visitors for thousands of years, during which time it has played host to smugglers, Vikings, and even highwaymen. Nowadays, this incredible geological feature makes for a fascinating day out, with access into the jaw-dropping waterfall chamber free to all. Join a tour to really delve into the history of this impressive cavern or simply stand in wonder at the natural phenomenon.

The coast surrounding Smoo Cave is equally worthy of exploration, from the white sand beaches of Balnakeil and Sango Bay to the undulating cliffs that promise view after view as you set out on foot. Pack a picnic, this stretch of the Highlands is worth taking your time to discover.


Cairngorms National Park

The sprawling woodland at Balmoral Estate in the Cairngorm National Park, with the Prince Albert Cairn in the background

Home to some of the most dramatic places in the UK, the Cairngorms National Park is a must-visit for all the nature lovers and avid walkers out there. Boasting a beautifully varied catalogue of landscapes, from towering mountains and forests to winding rivers carving through heather-topped moors and wetlands, there’s no end to photo ops here. There are countless trails to follow for those who want to explore on foot or you can play a couple rounds at one of the 12 incredible golf courses for a more relaxed way to enjoy your surrounds. You’ll even find the royally impressive Balmoral Castle tucked away within the sprawling landscape.

If you fancy something a little more unique, the Cairngorms are home to the only sleddog centre in the UK, as well as bungee jumping and snowsports, so you can tick off plenty of bucket-list activities while here. A number of remarkable animals call the park home too, including red deer, red squirrels, and golden eagles, so you can enjoy some of the best wildlife watching in Scotland while soaking up the incredible scenes.


Eilean Donan Castle

The beautiful Eilean Donan Castle reflected in the water of the lochs

With over 1,500 castles scattered across its dramatic landscapes, it’s almost impossible to visit Scotland without stopping by a castle or two. Situated where three great sea-lochs meet (Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh), Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most iconic castles in the Scottish Highlands. The shimmering reflection in the surrounding waters combined with the jaw-dropping, mountainous backdrop makes this one of the most photographed places in Scotland - and it’s easy to see why!

Inside this famous fortress, which has been rebuilt several times over the years, you’ll find a series of rooms sporting Jacobean artefacts, period furniture, and exceptional displays of fine art and historic weaponry. Children and historians alike love the various fortifications around the castle, from cannon balls and spy holes to the daunting portcullis and battlements, which while fearsome, also boast fantastic views of the surrounding lochs and the wildlife that call the waters home.


Loch Ness

The ruins of Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness

Shrouded in myth and legend – not to mention one of the most beautiful places in the Scottish Highlands – nowhere quite ignites the imagination like Loch Ness. Alongside its scenic setting, Loch Ness also boasts an impressive size, holding more water than all the lakes of England and Wales combined. Many boat trips and cruises run across Loch Ness, offering the perfect opportunity to see this stunning waterscape from a different angle (and to try and spot a monster or two). Falling short of a Nessie sighting, Loch Ness still boasts lots of wildlife to spot, from cheeky otters to graceful bottlenose dolphins.

If you have kids in tow, a visit to The Loch Ness Centre is a must, with its interactive displays and fascinating insights into the legend of the Loch Ness Monster, creating a wonderfully immersive experience for all. There are some fabulous walks around the loch too, as well as the hauntingly beautiful ruins of Urquhart Castle, which sits by the water near Inverness. Walk to the top of the Suidhe Viewpoint for unparalleled views or visit one of the three waterfalls for a thunderingly good adventure.


Duncansby Head

A bird's eye view of the incredible coastline around Duncansby Head in the Scottish Highlands

Stretching across the northernmost coast of Scotland, Duncansby Head is one of the many hidden gems of the Scottish Highlands. Next door to the infamous John o’Groats (a popular route from Land’s End), this rugged coastline promises eye-popping views and one of the most dramatic coastal walks in the country. A short stroll rewards you with simply astounding views, with Thirle Door and the Stacks of Duncansby rising proudly from the Scottish waters.

Many seabirds call this striking setting home, including Atlantic puffins, which come here to breed during late spring and early summer, so make sure to bring a pair of binoculars with you – you might even spot the occasional orca in the seas below!


Balblair Distillery

The famous Balblair Distillery with barrels out front and a towering red chimney in the background

Whether you love a single malt or you’re a blended believer, we can all agree that Scotland is the place to go for a glass of the good stuff. The Scottish Highlands boast over 50 distilleries, from historic producers to small craft blends, offering visitors an exceptionally wide array of tipples to taste. When it comes to sampling a truly Scottish malt whisky, it’s well worth visiting one of the distilleries for a fascinating tour.

Balblair Distillery on the east coast is one of the oldest distilleries in the area. The breathtaking setting is more than just a spectacular view, with local flavours shining through each sip of their famous single malt. Tours run on various days throughout the year, and offer the chance to peek behind the curtain of this iconic distillery. Meet the makers, hear the stories, and taste some of their beloved whiskies in the very place they are made.


North Coast 500

One of the most famous bridges in Scotland, reaching over islands and lochs

Perhaps the greatest way to tour the Scottish Highlands, the North Coast 500 (also known as the NC500) is a spectacular loop that takes you around Scotland’s northernmost reaches, from Inverness all the way around to Ullapool and Applecross on the west coast. Just over 500 miles in length, you can explore the entire route in one memorable drive (make sure to put aside at least five days for the adventure), or you can pick your favourite sections and use it as a guide for places to go and things to do while in the Scottish Highlands.

The route boasts some of the best beaches in the UK, alongside some of the most famous landmarks and landscapes, giving you every excuse to park-up and explore as you go – when it comes to scenic drives, the NC500 really is tough to beat. Visit the Disney-like Dunrobin Castle, hike to the top of Stac Pollaigh (Stac Polly for short), or spread out on the white sands of Achmelvich beach, one of the most beautiful beaches around.


Ready to explore this incredible corner of Scotland? Explore our beautiful holiday cottages in the Scottish Highlands and start planning your fun-filled stay.

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