What to see in Scotland
Tourist attractions Scottish Highlands
Covering an area of 10,000 square miles, the Highlands are a land of breathtaking scenery, encompassing mountains, glens and lochs. Roughly the area northwest of the Highland Boundary Fault, the Scottish Highlands are the most popular travel destination in the country, especially for lovers of the great outdoors. With a strong Gaelic heritage and unspoilt nature, this is the Scotland of your imagination.
A trip to the Highlands is a trip to one of the last genuine wildernesses left in Europe. With rolling landscapes of green hills, rocky mountains and crystal clear lochs as far as the eye can see, this sparsely populated area is a dream travel destination for walking, hiking, cycling, photography and wildlife enthusiasts. Those interested in Scottish history will also enjoy a vacation in the Scottish Highlands as this region has a captivating heritage of clans and chieftains and is closely linked to the legendary story of William Wallace.
The Highlands can be divided into two parts by the Great Glen, which stretches for 62 miles in a straight line from Inverness, on the edge of Moray Firth, to Fort William. At the heart of the Highlands is Scotland’s most famous national park, the Cairngorms, a haven for winter sports, wildlife watching and hiking. If you travel to the Highlands you’ll also want to see the highest peak in the UK, Ben Nevis, and magical Loch Ness, known as the home of ‘Nessie’, as well as explore the romantic castles found throughout the region.
A large number of islands are also within the Highlands, including the Shetland Islands, famous for their tiny ponies, the Isles of Orkney and the Inner and Outer Hebrides. The so-called ‘capital of the Highlands' is Inverness, a good base from which to explore the captivating landscapes of this natural paradise.
With such astounding natural environments, it is no surprise that the Scottish Highlands are teeming with wildlife. From red deers, long-haired Highland cows, puffins, Scottish wildcats and elusive pine martens to humpback whales and dolphins off the Moray Coast, a tour of the Scottish Highlands is incomplete without spotting at least some of its most famous and rare inhabitants.
Things to do in the Highlands
With such a huge area to explore, there are countless things to do in the Highlands. Wherever you venture, you’re sure to fall in love with the immense natural beauty and sense of freedom to be found in this unique region.
Cairngorms National Park
The Cairngorms National Park is the top attraction for all who travel to the Highlands. The largest national park, the Cairngorms covers an area of 1,107 square kilometres and is home to five of the six highest peaks in the UK. A paradise of wildlife, mountains, lochs, charming villages and whisky distilleries, it’s also home to Balmoral Castle, owned by Queen Elizabeth II. If you visit the Cairngorms, you can expect to find magical mountain landscapes and, in some cases, a sub-Arctic climate, perfect for skiing and snowboarding. If you only visit one place in the Highlands, make it the Cairngorms as it is here that you can get an amazing overview of the kinds of breathtaking landscapes that characterise the region. A good base for exploring the national park is the resort town of Aviemore, close to ancient forests and glistening lochs. Of course, hiking and walking trails are plentiful, but if you’re into less active pursuits, the Cairngorm Mountain Railway will whisk you through the stunning scenery in comfort.
Isle of Skye
In the northerly reaches of the Scottish Highlands is the idyllic Isle of Skye, the largest of the Inner Hebrides island group. This island is home to some of Scotland’s most iconic landscapes, from the Black Cuillin Mountains to a number of unique geological formations. Things to see on the Isle of Skye include the otherworldly rock formations of The Storr, overlooking the Sound of Raasay and the magical Fairy Pools, cascading blue and green waterfalls, a popular spot for a refreshing swim. The Isle of Skye also boasts a number of picturesque villages, known for their pastel-coloured houses.
West Highland Way
If you’re a keen walker, there’s only one way to experience the Scottish Highlands, and that’s by walking the West Highland Way. One of the most popular ways to enjoy the diverse scenery of northern Scotland, this 154-kilometre route connects Milngavie, just north of Glasgow, to Fort William, in the shadow of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain. The route weaves around Loch Lomond, crosses the Grampians and Rannoch Moor, skirts past Glen Coe and finally crosses Loch Leven. Most walkers attempt the challenge over a course of eight days, covering anywhere from 14 to 24 kilometres a day and staying overnight in hotels or campsites. One of the most exciting things to do in the Scottish Highlands, the West Highland Way is an amazing achievement, suitable for only the most dedicated walkers.
If you visit the Highlands, one of the most memorable things to do is to ride the historic Jacobite Railway, which connected Fort William to Mallaig, on the northwest coast. Described as the greatest railway journey in the world, this Highland line is especially popular with fans of the book and movie series Harry Potter, as the route crosses the 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct, an iconic feature depicted in the movies. The Jacobite Railways weaves through some of the most soul-stirring landscapes in Scotland and is sure to be a highlight of any vacation to the Scottish Highlands.