Top 8 Best Places to Visit in the Scottish Highlands



The scenic splendour of Loch Lomond, Skye’s stunning coastline, the ominous beauty of Eilean Donan Castle, the Grampians’ ancient, barren peaks… experiencing the best places to visit in the Scottish Highlands makes for a trip like no other. 

And that’s because this vast corner of Scotland is a landscape like no other. Here, you can look forward to hiking through heathered foothills and sweeping mountainsides, exploring countless historic ruins and villages, and taking in lungfuls of invigorating sea air. 

It’s high-time for the Highlands, so here are our top 8 places to visit in the Scottish Highlands to get you started.

Lochs to see in the Highlands (SupportITNI on Pixabay)

Loch Ness

Probably Scotland’s most famous lake, Loch Ness is a wonderland for walking and hiking, and a popular spot for boaters and anglers alike too. At an impressive 23 miles in length, it also  plummets to 700 feet at its deepest, and by volume is the largest lake of the Great Glen

Its size may explain how its other claim to fame – the Loch Ness monster – has proven so elusive. Thankfully, the intrigued (and obsessed) visitor can share in the mystery at the lake’s interactive exhibition centres, Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition Experience and Nessieland. 

For a flavour of Highland history, check out the splendid Urquhart Castle on the western shore and explore the ruins of this former royal abode and Jacobite hotspot. Tour inside and climb up the Grant Tower for sweeping views across the Great Glen, then tour the visitor centre  for weaponry displays and a more detailed account of its turbulent past.

Fancy a proper look around the loch? Get on the Loch Ness 360° Trail that loops around the waters, taking in 80 scenic miles of trail that connects the Great Glen Way and the South Loch Ness Trail in one circuit. For shorter routes, hop on any of the trail’s six shorter sections and go at your own pace.

If it’s a forest foray you're after, make your way through the north shore’s towering Farigaig Forest before winding your way to a rocky outcrop for an incredible view across the ancient fort at Dun Dearduil. And as one incredible view deserves another, make sure you see Plodda Falls, (also on the north shore), the highest and most dramatic of its kind in the area, plunging 151 feet.

Look for a campsite near Loch Ness.

Will you spot Nessie while exploring the shores of Loch Ness? (Chorengel on Pixabay)

Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park

When it comes to world-renowned lochs, you could say Loch Lomond is neck and neck with Loch Ness – both are among the best places to visit in Scotland. Not only the inspiration for a famous love song, it’s also the biggest freshwater expanse in the British Isles and the setting for open landscapes, sprawling glens, rocky peaks and pretty stone villages. 

And there’s much more, too: Loch Lomond has many islands for day trips by boat, some of which will take you to spectacular views of Ben Lomond (the country’s more southerly munro –meaning a hill over 3,000 feet) and grand vistas of the Arrochar Alps. For the more water-sporting types, there’s kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing and jetskiing aplenty. 

Or are you up for a full day in the woodlands? As you’ll also be in the middle of the Trossachs National Park, endless square miles of forest and nature reserves await. So tie up your boots and hit the Great Trossachs Path for 30 miles of loch shoreline, mature forest, undulating hillsides, wildlife and historical sites. 

Great places to camp near Loch Lomond.

The green and blue of Loch Lomond (Katja S. Verhoeven on Pixabay)

Isle of Skye

After invigorating days in and around the Highland’s pristine freshwater lochs and rivers, a good dose of rugged, rocky coastline and salty spray is just the ticket. 

Come to the Isle of Skye not just for the dramatic seascapes and coastal vistas, but also for hiking adventures into the Cuillin Range and Trotternish Ridge: world-class destinations for walkers and climbers and with some peaks topping 3,000 feet. 

Wildlife enthusiasts will love the island's great abundance. With otters, seals, whales, dolphins and red deer, the Isle of Skye is also among the best birdwatching spots in the Scottish Highlands and home to puffin, razorbill, guillemot, kittiwake, gannet, Arctic tern and shag.

And after a full day out among the feathered, the furried and finned, be sure to explore some islanders’ habitation among Skye’s scenic villages such as Dunvegan, Edinbane, Uig and Kyleakin. There’s plenty of pub grub and local ale to go around… 

Other unmissable attractions include the Quiraing mountains, Kilt Rock, Mealt Falls and Coral Beach, with day trips to the nearby island of Raasay also on hand for further exploration of the stunning Sleat peninsula. Sporting types may like to time their visit for July or August, when the island is part-host to the Highland Games.

Browse places to camp on the Isle of Skye.

Dramatic Neist Point, Isle of Skye (Frank Winkler on Pixabay)

Cairngorms National Park

The Cairngorms National Park is the Highlands in a nutshell: lochs, rivers, ancient forest, abundant wildlife (including golden eagles), tumbling waterfalls, abundant wildlife, fortresses, ruins, friendly villages, distilleries, looming mountains… in fact, conjure any iconic image of Scotland and you will see it here.

With an area twice the size of the Lake District National Park and a quarter of the country’s native forest, hiking opportunities are boundless. Get out your treads for community paths and strolls through the Cairngorms’ towns and villages, or walk a wilder side on a hill trail through more rugged uninhabited areas (don’t forget the compass). Those itching for a longer stretch can choose from the park’s four long-distance routes, and the historians among you can hit one of the park’s many heritage trails. 

But for maximum exhilaration, it has to be munro bagging. With the UK’s most extensive mountain range here, you’ll have lots of peaks to choose from. Climbing these hills is no easy feat, but the rewards are plentiful as you ascend through ancient pinewoods, rivers and valleys to the highest and most inspiring vistas in the British Isles

And the astronomical views don’t end there. The Cairngorms Dark Sky Park is not only the world’s most northerly but also the UK’s darkest. Pitch up around here and see those Highland stars shine their brightest. 

Camp near the Cairngorms National Park.

Wonderful scenery at Cairngorms National Park (Zbigniew Pawlak  on Pixabay)

Ben Nevis

If hitting the peaks is your thing, then head for the Grampians for the ultimate munro-bag atop Ben Nevis. Commonly referred to as ‘bagging the Ben’, this feat involves climbing 4,400 feet to Scotland's highest point. 

You can imagine it’s no small challenge, and one for which fitness, hillwalking experience and navigation skills will be required. Consider also the season, given the extreme conditions this area can be subject to. The best time to visit the Scottish Highlands tends to be from May to September, and climbing Ben Nevis from June onwards will likely give you the best chance of optimum hiking conditions. 

Once at the summit, however, you’ll be richly rewarded with 360 unforgettable degrees of exhilarating vistas stretching as far as Northern Ireland.  

Those less inclined to such heights have Mount Keen, Dun Loyal and many other surrounding hill climbs to choose for invigorating days in the heather. 

Campsites to choose around Ben Nevis.

Walking the paths of Ben Nevis (Patrycja Kwiatkowska on Pixabay)

Dunrobin Castle

With an almost fairytale contrast to the usual brooding, siege-scarred Highland monument, the château-like setting of Dunrobin Castle makes for an intensely pleasant day out among walled gardens, green terraces and stunning views across the North Sea. 

Tour the castle interior and its many rooms for an authentic flavour of the Scottish Baronial style and impressive period furniture before tucking in at the tea rooms. Outside, the estate’s Versailles-inspired gardens and exotica designed by Sir Charles Barry (of parliamentary building fame) are perfect for hours of strolling and contemplation. 

Bird lovers are also in for a treat as the castle is also home to a historic falconry that puts on daily shows featuring Peregrines, Gryfalcon and Harris hawks.

If Dunrobin Castle doesn’t fill your day, venture further afield into beautiful Sutherland for mountain vistas and more long walks across moorland and beach.

Camp out near Dunrobin Castle.

Dunrobin Castle: the ‘Versailles of the Highlands’ (Michael Drummond on Pixabay)

Fort William

Before setting out to Ben Nevis, you’ll both need and want to check in at Fort William, often described as the UK’s ‘outdoor capital’. Situated in Lochaber in the West Highlands, it’s a popular base for holidays and weekends away.

And there’s much you’ll want to experience, too. Stroll world-class sandy beaches, explore Lochaber’s ultra-scenic geopark, tour the wilds of the Ardnamurchan and West Highland peninsulas and watch the sun go down over the Isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck, Canna and Skye.

For a steam-powered journey through Fort William’s local history, grab a ticket on The Jacobite steam train and tour the 84-mile West Highland railway from Ben Nevis through Arisaig and Loch Morar, terminating at Mallaig, Loch Nevis

Harry Potter fans will possibly be the first to jump aboard: The Jacobite provided both the engine and carriages seen in the popular films. 

Places to pitch up near Fort William.

Fort William is the gateway to Ben Nevis (Kellogem on Pixabay)

Eilean Donan Castle

As far as the best castles in the Scottish Highlands go, few are so visually and historically intriguing as Eilean Donan. Set on an island at the convergence of three great lochs, you’ll not find a more iconic image of the Highland castle (no wonder it has featured in over a dozen films over the last 60 years).

Step inside its thick, ancient stone walls, then go back eight centuries as you wander its grand rooms and cavernous Banqueting Hall and admire its fine collection of period furniture, Jacobean artefacts, weapons, cannonballs and personal effects. 

Outside, tour around the fortress for spectacular views across the lochs, and be sure to visit nearby Plockton, once voted as the prettiest village in Scotland. 

Local seal-spotting boat trips are available for those who’d like to spy on the seagoing mammals, though sightings can be hit and miss. 

Camp out near Eilean Donan Castle.

Eilean Donan Castle: an icon of the Highlands (Christian Klein on Pixabay)

You can see why it’s hard to beat the Highlands for trails and treks, so if you fancy focusing on the best they have to offer, check out our best hiking spots in the Scottish Highlands. And when you decide on one of many great campsites in the Highlands, give yourself the edge with our Scotland camping guide.