Top 10 Best Things to do in the Scottish Highlands
We’ve all seen the postcards of still bodies of water stretching for miles, surrounded by extensive Scottish Highlands. With land rising from lochs into great, gleaming mountains illuminated by beams of sunlight, the Scottish Highlands are well-worth a tour when you visit Scotland.
Experience its beauty for yourself and don’t miss anything with our Scottish Highlands Top 10 Things to Do. The Scottish Highlands are vast, and we’re sharing the best features, so you don’t miss some of its most iconic landscapes, memorable mountains and glistening lochs.
Read on for the full list of Scottish Highlands vacation highlights and to find out more about the stunning landscapes of Scotland.
Where are the Scottish Highlands?
The Scottish Highlands are located north-west of Glasgow and stretch almost all the way to Aberdeen. The Scottish Highlands include Inverness and are often extended to the islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides, including the Isles of Arran and Bute.
What are the top 10 things to do in the Scottish Highlands?
1. Loch Ness
Carved by glaciers during the last Ice Age, Loch Ness is an enormous 23 miles long and contains more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. With its murky depths reaching 230 metres at its deepest point, its waters are coloured inky blue, the poor visibility being caused by the amount of peat that runs into the water from the surrounding Scottish Highlands.
Best explored by boat, Loch Ness is surrounded by crinkle-cut landscapes and big open skies, making it one of the very best things to do in the Scottish Highlands when visiting. With water temperatures maintaining a steady 5 degrees all year, it’s not the best place to go for a swim… Unless you’re the Loch Ness Monster, of course! First spotted in 565AD, the Loch Ness monster is a must-see for many on a Scottish Highlands vacation, though most visitors aren’t lucky enough to catch a glimpse!
2. Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle is a destination that should definitely be on your Scottish Highlands tour. Placed on a rocky precipice and built dangerously close to the loch, it looks as though it is gradually crumbling into the inky-blue depths of Loch Ness. Surrounded by stunning Scottish scenery, you’ll see rising highlands on all sides and a vast expanse of still water between them.
Situated on the banks of Loch Ness, this Scottish Highlands must-visit is over 800 years old. Fought over throughout the Scottish Wars of independence, the castle was at the heart of disagreements between the allies of the Kings of Scotland and the powerful MacDonald clan. Learn how Urquhart Castle faced a bitter end after the gatehouse was blown up during Jacobite uprisings, leaving the castle exposed to the elements as a romantic ruin. Not to miss is Grant Tower and the full-sized Trebuchet near the ruins.
3. Eilean Donan Castle
Enjoy views of calm blue waters, surrounded by Scottish Highlands as you explore Eilean Donan Castle, one of the most iconic locations in Scotland. This historic castle is a breath-taking example of how Scottish architecture is so beautifully entwined with natural beauty. Situated on its own glorious tidal island, Eilean Donan dominates the centre of three lochs and faces the Isle of Skye. Famed for being a filming location in the James Bond film, ‘The World is Not Enough’ and featuring in ‘The Highlander’ television series, Eilean Donan is one of the most photographed landmarks in Scotland.
On your Scottish Highlands vacation, visit Eilean Donan to learn the castle’s fascinating history, that began with its founding by a Celtic saint in the 6th century. Discover more about its tempestuous history and visit the castle that was painstakingly rebuilt by Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap, which his grandson opened to the public in 1955. Now welcoming over 550,000 visitors to its remote island abode every year, Eilean Donan is the third most visited castle in Scotland.
4. Glencoe National Nature Reserve
The stunning Glencoe National Nature Reserve is filled with spectacular scenery and an abundance of wildlife species such as rare alpine flowers, mosses and lichens. If you’re lucky, on your Scottish Highlands tour, you might spot mountain hares, wild mountain goats and red deer stags.
However, Glencoe is also a place of great ferocity, and its beauty hides a tragic history. Its eight mountains were created from violent volcanic eruptions and its valleys were shaped by huge glaciers during the last Ice Age over 20,000 years ago. Glencoe was the place where 38 members of Clan MacDonald, including women and children, were massacred in 1692 by Scottish government forces. The murders of Glencoe are said to still hold an eerie presence and the spirits of the dead MacDonalds haunt the area. Not for the faint-hearted are tours of the reconstructed huts, which occupy the former homes of the MacDonalds.
5. Glenfinnan Viaduct
A Scottish Highlands vacation wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Built over Loch Shiel in the West Scottish Highlands, Glenfinnan Viaduct towers over the waters and provides views of the Glenfinnan Monument, which was built in memory of those who lost their lives in the Jacobite uprising of 1745. The viaduct offers exceptional views of the surrounding Scottish Highlands, Loch Shiel and the surrounding Caledonian pines that grow in the area.
Made famous in the Harry Potter films, the Glenfinnan Viaduct was featured on the route of the Hogwarts Express. Built between 1897 and 1901, the Glenfinnan Viaduct was designed for use by the West Highland Railway. At 380 metres long, it still holds the record of the longest concrete railway bridge in Scotland.
6. Nevis Range Mountain Gondola
Be transported 650 metres up into the sky on the Nevis Range Mountain Gondola, which takes you up above the eighth highest peak in Great Britain, Aonach Mor. Enjoy spectacular views and scenery on your cable-top Scottish Highlands tour, where you can admire the lochs and glens from a superb vantage point in your cable car.
Located on the Nevis Range in Fort William, the Nevis Range Mountain Gondola enjoys the prestige of being the only mountain gondola in the whole of the UK. With a café at the bottom serving teas and coffees and a restaurant at the top of the slope, visitors have plenty of refreshments to choose from on their visit. Take in outstanding views of the Scottish Highlands, including Ben Nevis, the Great Glen and the Inner Hebrides on a clear day. In only fifteen minutes, you’ll be transported to the top of the slope without even breaking a sweat!
7. Dalwhinnie Whisky Distillery
Founded in 1897, the Dalwhinnie Whisky Distillery is the highest and coldest distillery in Scotland. Whilst visiting this beautiful country, it seems only right that you enjoy the local delicacy of Scottish whisky and visit one of the top things to do in the Scottish Highlands. Based in the Cairngorms National Park, the Dalwhinnie Distillery enjoys a secluded location surrounded by beautiful Scottish Highlands.
Whisky was invented in Scotland many hundreds of years ago, when Highland farmers distilled spirits from large crops of barley. Made from the fresh water from the Cairngorms region, Dalwhinnie Distillery is famous for producing a fifteen-year-old single malt whisky, which is renowned as an excellent entry-level whisky. When you visit, you’ll be welcomed with a Scottish Highlands whisky tour around the distilling facility and visitor centre.
8. Culloden Battlefield
Don’t miss a trip to the Culloden Battlefield on your Scottish Highlands vacation. This seemingly calm area was the location where the Jacobite army of Prince Charles Edward Stuart was mercilessly defeated by British forces. The Battle of Culloden began in 1746 when Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite army made a stand against King George II. The prince attempted to win back the united throne of England and Scotland, following his family’s forced abdication. However, George II sent his son, the Duke of Cumberland, and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops were massacred.
Now dedicated to this violent event, visitors can experience an immersive 360-degree recreation of the Battle of Culloden and see artefacts from the time, where 1500 Jacobites and 100 British soldiers lost their lives. Don’t miss the views from the roof garden and the Highland cows that graze the battlefield.
9. Royal Dornoch Golf Club
Enjoy a round of golf at Royal Dornoch Golf Club, the 3rd oldest golf course in the world. Located in the Scottish Highlands, the Royal Dornoch Golf Club is ranked 5th best international golf course and is the course that many golfers aspire to play on at least once in their lives.
With two 18-hole golf courses to choose from, including the Championship course and the lower handicap Struie course, golfers are spoilt for choice at Royal Dornoch. With the courses featuring their own white sand beach, gorse heathland, moody skies and naturally undulating landscapes, Royal Dornoch Golf Club is completely unique. The opportunity to experience this stunning golf course must be seized on your Scottish Highlands golf tour.
10. Clava Cairns
Located near Inverness, this top thing to do in the Scottish Highlands will be a memorable experience. The prehistoric site of Clava Cairns dates back to the Bronze Age and consists of many carefully laid out graves and standing stones in a beautiful, natural setting. First built around 4000 years ago, this ancient cemetery was used until 2000 years ago, when the final stones were laid.
Situated high up above the River Nairn, the prehistoric site of Clava Cairns is peaceful and reflective. Thought to have been built on an ancient settlement site, the area shows signs of having been farmed before the graves and memorial were placed here. Visitors can wander around the site and take in its natural beauty, feeling closer to our ancestors. It’s difficult not to be in awe of this 4000-year-old monument on your Scottish Highlands vacation.
Top 10 Best Things to do in the Scottish Highlands