The Highlands of Scotland are located in the north west of the country and spreads out to the many islands off the coast. The Highlands offers the ultimate wilderness getaway, and if solitude is what your after, then look no further than The Highlands and the islands. These areas are so sparsely populated and full of so much natural beauty it’s the perfect relaxation break.
Scotland’s natural playground really does have something to offer everyone from vast empty coastlines, mountains, lochs, historical castles and monuments and so much more, the landscapes are truly breathtaking!
Last year my husband and I were round our friends house for dinner, and we were all talking about how we would love to explore the Highlands, my husband had been several times before and highly rated it. So that was it we decided to start planning a couples long weekend away to explore this stunning corner of the UK.
We managed to get some cheap flights up to Inverness, hired a car and booked a glamping Geodome for us to stay in, and have ourselves 5 days to explore. We did so much in these 5 days however there is so much more to see and if you go in the summer there are lots of wildlife tours you can book onto. We visited the first weekend of October so unfortunately many of the wildlife boat tours had stopped running.
We honestly had such an amazing trip and were so surprised this was in our home, normally I am the worst for jetting off to exotic far flung locations, but after our break in the Highlands I definitely want to make a more conscious effort to explore more of the UK.
Sights & Activities
Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK, situated in the north west highlands and part of the Grampian mountain range. It is close by to the town of Fort William, and attracts many tourists and hikers from all over. We checked the weather before going and worked out which was the best day for us to hike up it, we only made it half way up as the weather conditions changed, and it became very windy, so we made it to a lake which is about half way up the mountain and stopped there for a bit and started to head back down.
The walk up is amazing and you get the most incredible views of the mountains and the natural beauty that the highlands have to offer. To hike to the very top of Ben Nevis would on average take between 4-5 hours, however this is fitness and weather dependent. Make sure when you visit you wear walking/hiking gear, and take plenty of water and snacks with you as once you start the hike there isn’t anywhere to stop and buy anything, however the water from the streams is so clean you can drink from it. If you plan on hiking up to the top be sure to allow for a full day to get up and get back down.
Bridge of Oich
The River Oich is part of the Great Glen and has a suspension bridge designed by a brewer turned engineer. The 46 metre Bridge of Oich was built in 1854, a few years after floods swept through the Great Glen and destroyed the original stone bridge.
The Cairngorms is the UKs largest national park and has so much to see and do from mountains, forests, lochs, waterfalls, villages, distilleries and plenty of wildlife. The Cairngorms is also the most popular ski resort in the UK, and attracts many visitors who are interested in snow sports, rock climbing and mountain biking.
We visited the Cairngorms and started off our day in Aviemore which is like the gateway to the national park and is popular with visitors. We had lunch there and a wander around many of its shops before heading off on a road trip driving around the Cairngorms and stopping off to admire the views. You could easily spend your whole holiday in the Cairngorms as there is so much to see and do and lots of hikes and trails to follow. As we were short on time we just spent a full day there but I would love to go back and explore some more!
The Commando Memorial is close to Spean Bridge and was created in 1952 to commemorate the British Commando Forces which were put together in world war 2. The monument is a large bronze statue of 3 commando soldiers overlooks the training grounds of the Commando Training Depot which was established in 1942. It provides amazing views over Ben Nevis and Aonach Mòr.
Eilean Donan Castle
As we reached the mainland after being on the Isle of Skye we made a quick stop at Eilean Donan Castle to see it lit up at dusk, the 13th century castle is perched on top of a small tidal island where 3 sea lochs meet, Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh. It’s about half a mile from the village of Dornie. The castle is open to visitors too, and has been featured on several films and tv series and is one of the most photographed castles in all of Scotland.
Fort William is a town in the western Scottish Highlands, on the shores of Loch Linnhe. Fort William is great base to explore Ben Nevis. The town has a cute little high street filled with pubs, cafes, restaurants and lots of souvenir shops. We came into town after visiting Ben Nevis for some lunch and a look around the shops.
Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is one of Scotland’s top destinations to visit and after visiting I can clearly see why! Isle of Skye is connected to Scotland’s northwest coast by a bridge, and is 50 miles long and the largest of the Inner Hebrides archipelago. This island has so much to offer its visitors from its rugged landscapes, quaint fishing villages, medieval castles and lots of wildlife such as eagles, seals, otters, dolphins, whales and deer to name but a few!
We visited the Isle of Skye in just one day, however you could easily spend days and days roaming this island especially if you are into hiking trails, and if you come in the summer there are lots of whale watching tours and wildlife kayaking tours available to book. We started off our day early as it took 2 hours to drive to the Isle of Skye from where we were staying. Our first stop on the Isle of Skye was in Broadford and we visited the cute and quirky Market Square there, it’s a few small units which sell lots of antiques, souvenirs, crystals and trinkets as well as serving hot drinks, we had a look around and grabbed a hot chocolate before venturing off to explore the rest of the island. Broadford is the first stop after the bridge onto the island, and a popular stopping point for many tourists.
We then headed north of the island to the Trotternish Peninsula and decided to visit the Skye Musuem of Island Life which is an original highland village, and gives visitors a chance to see what island life was like 100 years ago. The museum has lots of information, artefacts from days gone by and was really interesting to see what the villages would have looked like. It’s only a small museum and entry is only £3 per adult and cash only.
In the northeast of the island there is lots to see we drove upto Duntulm Castle which is just fragments and ruins left of the castle, but it does provide beautiful views over the coastline and the landscape behind, we stopped there briefly and also wandered down to the rock pools below, as just as we were driving to it we saw a seal poking its head out of the sea in the distance so thought we would go down to the rocks to see if we could see anymore,
In the Trotternish Peninsula there is also the Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls which both can be viewed from the same viewing point. Kilt Rock is 90 meters of sheer cliff drops. It gets its name as it resembles a pleated kilt. The Mealt waterfall plummets over Kilt Rock from the top of the cliffs to the rocky coast below and is fed by Mealt Loch.
As we continued to drive around the north of the island we kept making little stops off at places and another hidden gem we stopped off at was Camasunary Bay which gives spectacular panoramic views over the jagged coastline.
One of the Isle of Skye’s top walking routes is up to the Old Man of Storr, which is a situated on a large rocky hill, and is a large rock formation that stands tall. We visited the Old Man of Storr but from a distance as the walk up to it can take over an hour, and just as we got there it started to rain and the clouds started coming in. So we walked a little bit up to get a better view but then came down before we got soaked by the weather.
The day started to go by so quickly and before we knew it, it was mid afternoon so we headed to get some lunch in Portree which is the islands capital and largest village. Portree looked like a postcard with its pretty pastel coloured buildings over looking the natural harbour. There are a few boutiques, a visitor information centre and some restaurants all serving up fresh seafood. We grabbed a quick bite to eat there from one of the chippys and strolled around some of the shops.
After Portree we decided to drive up to Fairy Glen which are small grassy hills with lochans (ponds) in between which makes this place look like a scene from a fairytale.
As the day was coming to an end we decided to make one last stop before heading back to the mainland, and we drove over to Dunvegan which is on the west coast of the island and famous for Dunvegan castle. We paid to enter the castle and it’s grounds which was £14 per adult. The castle is stunning and has been well preserved, and is the only Hebridean castle to be continuously occupied by the same family for 800 years – the Macleod Clan. The gardens and grounds of the castle were created in the 1800s, and are an oasis compared to the barren moor lands that surround the castle. As we came late in the day we didn’t have too long before the castle closed so we walked in and around the castle, and only went through some of the gardens. Dunvegan Castle is an absolute must visit when on the Isle of Skye as it is an important and typically Scottish landmark on the island.
Once we left Dunvegan castle we then started to head back to the mainland before it got dark. There is so much to see and do on the Isle of a Skye I really wish we had more time there as there was still plenty to see. Even if your short on time on your highlands trip be sure to keep one day spare for a visit to the Isle of Skye.
Loch Ness & Fort Augustus
Loch Ness is the most famous loch in Scotland and is surrounded by mystery with tales of sightings of a Loch Ness monster living deep beneath this freshwater lake. Loch Ness contains more water than all the lakes in England and Wales put together. Loch Ness is about 23 miles in length and offers plenty of natural beauty all around, with lots of hikes and trails all around the legendary loch. Just behind our Geodome was a gorgeous trail with stunning views over the Loch, my husband and I were even lucky enough to see 2 deer dash out in front of us and into the trees.
There are plenty of cruises and boat tours available on Loch Ness, however we opted to walk along it, and visited Fort Augustus to admire its views over Loch Ness. Fort Augustus is nestled on the most southern tip of Loch Ness and lying on the 60 mile long Caledonian Canal. Fort Augustus is a tourist hotspot and there you can watch boats steering through the large locks. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, cafes, tours and cruises of Loch Ness in Fort Augustus.
Mallaig, Morar & Arisaig
Mallaig, Morar and Arisaig are all seaside villages/towns located on the west cost of the highlands. We came to these on our last day and drove along the coast and stopped at their harbours and beaches. Mallaig is a fishing port town and is also popular with Harry Potter fans as the Jacobite steam train which runs from Fort William to Mallaig and was featured in the Harry Potter films.
We came to Mallaig first and stopped there for lunch and a saunter around the shops and port, after that we then drove along the series of beaches known as the Silver Sands which dot the coastline from Morar to Arisaig. We stopped at lots of these beautiful beaches and coves and had them all to ourselves, they were so peaceful and rural.
Our last stop before having to head back to Inverness to catch our flight home was Arisaig which is a small village which leads on from Morar and is situated on an inlet in the Morar peninsula surrounded by the blue sea, rocky coves and white sand. I absolutely fell in love with the west coast of Scotland the beaches were absolutely gorgeous and hard to believe they were in the UK.
Urquhart Castle is situated on Loch Ness and is one of the Highlands most famous castles. With a 1000 years of history the castle ruins gives visitors a taste into medieval times. As we were driving back to our Geodome from the Cairngorms we saw the castle so quickly pulled over to view it, the castle was stunning and we caught sunset just in time.
Food & Drink
Chlachain Inn is located in Mallaig, there isn’t a huge choice of places to choose from in this little port but this looked nice from the outside and had a warm fire going inside, we stopped in here lunch and the food was great. I opted for the halloumi burger and it came with the most delicious relish!
The Bothy is a traditional pub and restaurant next to the Caledonian canal in Fort Augustus. It has lots of traditional Scottish food on offer and the portions are huge! So make sure to go hungry, I had the mushroom pie which was was very flavoursome and just what I needed on a cold day. The Bothy is also a great place to visit for a drink too, as it’s set in a gorgeous 200 year old cottage and it has a friendly atmosphere.
The Cluanie Inn
On the way back from Isle of Skye we stopped off in Glenmoriston at the The Cluanie Inn. The great thing about Scotland is that it is full of cosy pubs and inns. We all weren’t massively hungry so stopped in there for a drink and a small dinner. The place was really popular with tourists and had a good range of food and drinks available.
The Grog & Gruel
The Grog and Gruel is on Fort Williams high street, and is a small alehouse and restaurant. There is a variety of dishes available and lots of American and Mexican food available to order. I decided on the vegetarian haggis which was really tasty. They pride themselves on offering a big choice of local and regional brewed ales and craft lagers and hearty comfort food.
The Wildcat on Fort William high street is a vegan and zero waste cafe which also has a refill shop at the back of the cafe and sells organic and ethical every day products. We stopped in here for a piece of cake and a chai latte, which was honestly one of the best chais I’ve ever had. The cafe has a very hipster look and feel to it but I really liked this cafe and is a great place to stop for a pick me up.
The Winking Owl
The Winking Owl is a chalet restaurant in the town of Aviemore in the Cairngorms. It cooks up Scottish and international dishes with amazing views over the mountains. We came in here for lunch before exploring the rest of the Cairngorms. There is also a lunch menu available and we ordered the brie wedges to share to start with and they were amazing!
Inver Coille Camping & Glamping
When we were originally looking into where we wanted to stay, we knew we wanted something quirky and cosy. We came across the Inver Coillie Camping and Glamping site which offers several glamping options such as Geodomes, bell tents and pods. As there was 4 of us we opted to book one of their geodomes, and we were definitely not disappointed!
The campsite is nestled in a beautiful wooded area along Loch Ness, and only a 10 minute drive into Fort Augustus, it’s a great location for exploring the Highlands. Everything has been well thought out at the campsite, all the glamping pods are all well spaced out, bathrooms are immaculately clean and heated! When you book a Geodome you are provided with your own allocated bathroom which is code locked, which is great as you can leave all your toiletries in there. There is also a picnic area with fire pit and recycling bins. Just by the bathrooms there is also a communal area of sinks for washing up etc.
The dome we were allocated was gorgeous and we had the woods directly behind and a beautiful stream running just outside the dome. Inside the dome there is a double bed and a day bed which converts into a double. There’s a table and chairs and small kitchen unit which has a hob, and all the kitchen utensils and crockery you need along with a kettle. The dome comes with a starter pack of tea, coffee, sugar and biscuits. They also supply you with a bag of logs on arrival for the log burner, after that you can then buy extra at the reception. The log burner was amazing and made the Geodome so toasty.
There was no WiFi or signal at Inver Coille but actually it was really nice to be able to fully switch off from the world. There was some solar run lights in the Geodome and some battery operated fairy lights but no electricity, however they supply you with a battery pack so you can charge your electricals, and you can leave gadgets charging in their reception.
If your looking for something a little bit different from your average guest house or hotel, and want a truely unique experience then I would definitely recommend glamping in the highlands.
Transport & Getting Around
As the highlands covers a huge area I would recommend hiring a car, we picked up a car as soon as we landed at Inverness airport and dropped it off before we flew home. Having the flexibility of a car is great and means you can pull over at beautiful spots and find places you didn’t know existed along the way.
With Scotland’s rapid weather changes it’s also good to have a car to escape from the rain. The roads are pretty quiet in the highlands just be prepared to drive along a lot of country roads, and the weather can take a turn for the worse. Hiring a car was pretty inexpensive too, just make sure to book in advance to get a great deal.
Make sure to check out driving laws in Scotland as there are a few variations compared to other areas in the UK, for example a new law has come into force which makes the legal drink-drive limit in Scotland much lower than elsewhere in the UK.
My top tips for visiting the Highlands is to pack for the weather make sure you pack plenty of warm and waterproof clothes and take some hiking boots with you, as much as I hate hiking boots as I think they are the ugliest invention known to man, they are highly functional in the highlands.
One other tip is to research before you go and maybe download maps.me and pin out where you want to visit, as when we went to the Isle of Skye we went without a plan and ended up driving back on ourselves as we realised we had missed one of the major sights out, and especially if your time constraint then planning out an itinerary will mean you make the very most of your trip.
- Currency: British Pound
- Language: English