Things to Do in The Scottish Highlands
Glencoe offers some of the finest landscape in Scotland, indeed the whole of the UK, where dramatic mountains sweep down to glens (valleys) until they meet the moody waters of the lochs.
While this is a site of historical significance due to the Glencoe Massacre of 1692, the primary draw is the magnificent natural surrounds. There are numerous well-marked walks in the area and it is also popular with rock-climbers. This is one of Britain’s premier ski areas in winter, but a chairlift operates year round to offer the best views of the area.
Originally built in the 13th century as a defense against Vikings, Eilean Donan Castle is one of Scotland’s best-known architectural treasures. It last played a historical role during the 18th century Jacobite uprisings, and was subsequently left in ruins until it was rediscovered and lovingly restored in the early 20th century.
The castle sits proudly on a peninsula in Loch Duich, ringed by rugged hills, and you can immediately see why this is one of the most-photographed sites in Scotland. Walk the shore of the loch to find your own vantage point and then explore the castle itself, where you can visit the banqueting hall, kitchens and bedrooms.
At 4,409 feet (1,344 meters), Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles, a status which makes it a popular destination for climbers. The most frequently used route to the summit is via the Pony Track which begins at Achintee, just outside of Fort William, but even that takes up to nine hours for a round trip and is not recommended for complete beginners. Thankfully the area also offers a huge range of less arduous activities, including fly fishing, golf, mountain bike riding, pony trekking, kayaking and lowland walking. Pick up a guide in Fort William and set out on one of the numerous well-marked paths, many of which will offer majestic views of Ben Nevis. There's also a popular cycling route along the Caledonian Canal.
The Isle of Skye is Scotland's largest island, and justly famous on the tourist circuit. However, most visitors stick to the beaten track, and if you've a longing for solitude it won't take you long to find your own corner of this little paradise.
When the sun's out, there's nowhere quite as enchanting as Skye, with its vivid blue lochs and seas glittering in the light and its green crags glowing. However, if it's raining (and the weather can turn in an instant here, so definitely be prepared to get wet), there's still an eerie beauty to the place. And hey, what better excuse than to enjoy it through the window of a cosy pub?
Just 5 miles from Iverness, the historic Culloden Battlefield is one of Scotland’s most significant battle sites, commemorated by the Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre and protected by the Scottish National Trust. It was here, on the Culloden moor, that Bonnie Prince Charlie and an army of 5000 Jacobite Highlanders faced off against the Duke of Cumberland and his 9000 Hanoverian Government troops on April 16 1746. It was one of Britain’s most important battles and the last to be fought on British soil.
Today, the Visitor Centre is dedicated to retelling the events of the battle and the battlefield has been reconstructed in memorial to the Jacobites’ defeat, with burial sites and flags marking out their positions at the battle’s gruesome end.
More Things to Do in The Scottish Highlands
The ruins of Urquhart Castle sit on the shores of Loch Ness. Visitors can still climb the Grant Tower, which offers scenic views of the famous loch and Great Gen. It was once one of Scotland's largest castles, and it spent hundreds of years as an important medieval fortress. The castle was frequently invaded and taken over by enemies only to be won back later. It also played a big role during the Scots’ struggle for independence in the 1300s and came under the control of Robert the Bruce after he became King of Scots in 1306. The castle was blown up in 1692 to prevent it from becoming a Jacobite stronghold.
Visitors can learn about Urquhart Castle in the visitor center which includes an exhibition, film show, gift shop and restaurant. Items in the exhibition include a collection of artifacts left by the castle's former residents and historic replicas. Urquhart Castle is also one of the main sites for reported sightings of the legendary Loch Ness Monster.
On the southwestern shore of Loch Ness, Fort Augustus is a picturesque village of 600 that gets packed with visitors during the summer months. Originally an 18th-century garrison, Fort August lies at the junction of four old military roads.
Surrounded by heather hills and cut in two by the Caledonian Canal, Fort Augustus serves as a spot for day-trippers to relax and watch the boats master the longest lock system on the canal. Running from coast to coast, the Caledonian Canal was designed in 1822 to give merchant skippers a shortcut across the country and to help keep boats out of harm’s way. At the time, pesky French pirates were prone to scouring the open seas! Those interested in the canal can find out more at the Caledonian Canal Heritage Centre. Also of interest is the Clansman Centre, which provides insight into 17th-century Highland life.
On a tiny peninsula at the northern tip of Loch Awe surrounded by glens, Kilchurn Castle is one of the most photographed spots in Scotland. The castle of 1,000 calendar covers, Kilchurn has had many lives: it served as the powerhouse of the Campbell clan from the year 1440 and was even later used as barracks able to house up to 200 troops during the Jacobite Risings. In the 1750s, however, a huge fire caused by lightning ran right through the castle, and its ruins have been abandoned ever since.
Kilchurn is for anyone who has ever dreamed of having a ruined Scottish castle all to themselves, with no tourist trinket shops around. There isn’t even an attendant at the door of this picturesque ruin, but despite being unmanned, there are plenty of information boards throughout the castle. Climb to the top of its four-story tower for views of the loch and surrounding hills, and remember to say hi to the sheep on your way out!
With an illustrious history dating back to the 11th century, Inverness Castle is best known for its role in the legendary Shakespeare tragedy ‘Macbeth’, featuring in the play as the location of Duncan’s murder. Looming over the city center, the castle is one of Inverness’ most prominent landmarks, set on a hilltop overlooking the River Ness.
The castle’s present day structure dates back to 1836, an imposing Neo-Norman red stone fortress designed by architect William Burn and still surrounded by part of its original bastion wall. Today, the castle houses the Inverness Sheriff Courthouse and County Hall, and although the offices are not open to the public, exploring the castle grounds is a popular activity for both locals and tourists, affording expansive views over the city sights and along the River Ness.
Overlooking Loch Roag and the hills of Great Bernera on the Isle of Lewis, Callanish Standing Stones date back to the late Neolithic period over 4,500 years ago. At the famous site there are nearly 50 megaliths which radiate out from the main stone in the shape of a distorted Celtic cross.
Thought to have been abandoned in 1500 BC because of the change in the Outer Hebrides’ climate to colder, wetter weather, over the years the stones became veiled in a thick blanket of peat. Since then, many theories have been given for why our ancestors built the stones. The most likely reason is that they formed a prehistoric lunar observatory. The Callanish Stones are also the focal point of many Lewis islanders’ folk tales — a popular story is that the stones are "False Men;" island giants turned to stone by Saint Kieran who was furious when the men refused to convert to Christianity.
One of Iverness’ oldest and most unusual historic sites, the Clava Cairns, or the Stones of Clava are a series of stone chambers thought to date back to the early Bronze Age (c 2000 BC). The unique site, also known as the Balnuaran of Clava, comprises three sizable Cairns of stones, the largest measuring 31 meters in diameter, each featuring an outer curb surrounding an inner chamber of larger stones.
Located close to the Culloden Battlefield, the Clava Cairns lie in a picturesque setting surrounded by woodlands and close to the River Nairn. A series of 15 similar stone piles are also dotted around the Nairn valley. The Cairns, thought to be closely linked to other prehistoric stone circles found in the British Isles, might also have been burial sites, with a number of bones found when the Cairns were first excavated back in 1828.
Standing proud against the fearsome storms that ravage the north coast of Lewis is the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse. Designed by Scottish lighthouse engineer David Stevenson in the 1860s, the watchtower wasn’t automated until 1998, making it one of the last in the British Isles to lose its lighthouse keeper. While you can no longer go inside, there are information plaques outside, and it’s interesting just to see the lighthouse in all its exposed red-brick glory instead of the usual white. A birdwatcher’s paradise, look out for buzzards, gulls and the occasional puffin soaring around the cliffs. Also, take a close look at the crags being buffeted by the North Sea, some of the oldest exposed rock in Europe, created up to 300 million years ago back in the Cambrian period. While you’re here, follow the coast southwest past the lighthouse. You’ll soon see a natural sea cave, known as the Eye of the Butt
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