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Best Things To Do in Scottish Highlands

The best way to tackle this wildland is to figure out what kind of adventure you want to have. If you're looking for heart-pumping hikes, hit up the mountainous Cairngorms National Park or traverse the U.K.'s tallest peak, Ben Nevis. For low-level adventures, seek out Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, walk along the scenic cliffs at Ducansby Head or road trip to one of the region's many beautiful beaches. Time sensitive travelers will enjoy the verdant Glencoe or Eilean Donan Castle while fantasy fans will have fun trying to spot Nessie in Loch Ness. Whatever you choose to do, make sure part of your trip includes exploration of the unique geography that comprises the Isle of Skye, consistently lauded as one of the most magical places in the Scottish Highlands. 

How we rank Things to Do.

#1

#1 in Scottish Highlands

Free
If you only had time to visit one part of the Scottish Highlands, let it be the Isle of Skye. Located on the west coast of the Highlands, Skye is the largest island of the Inner Hebrides. The island is filled to the brim with otherworldly landscapes. There's a lot to see on this island, but travel experts and visitors say you can't leave without peeping these gems: the Quiraing, the Old Man of Storr, Neist Point and the Fairy Pools.
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Beaches Type
More than Full Day Time to Spend
Isle of Skye
If you only had time to visit one part of the Scottish Highlands, let it be the Isle of Skye. Located on the west coast of the Highlands, Skye is the largest island of the Inner Hebrides. The island is filled to the brim with otherworldly landscapes. There's a lot to see on this island, but travel experts and visitors say you can't leave without peeping these gems: the Quiraing, the Old Man of Storr, Neist Point and the Fairy Pools.
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#2
Glencoe Free

#2 in Scottish Highlands

Free
You may hear the word "glen" a lot during your trip to the Scottish Highlands. A glen is another word for a narrow valley and the Highlands is filled with them. The most popular glen for visitors – not to mention one of the most popular attractions in the Scottish Highlands – is Glencoe. Glencoe is situated 23 miles south of Ben Nevis along Loch Leven in the central Highlands. The valley is consistently lauded by both travelers and locals for its awe-inspiring landscape, with many recent visitors describing its terrain as "out of this world." The A82 highway conveniently cuts right through the verdant Glencoe valley. Many visitors report only driving through Glencoe due to time constraints, but many express regret at not being able to explore this stunning area more. Luckily, if you are short on time, travelers do say the scenic drive certainly impressed and there are multiple viewing spots along the highway.
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Hiking Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Glencoe
You may hear the word "glen" a lot during your trip to the Scottish Highlands. A glen is another word for a narrow valley and the Highlands is filled with them. The most popular glen for visitors – not to mention one of the most popular attractions in the Scottish Highlands – is Glencoe. Glencoe is situated 23 miles south of Ben Nevis along Loch Leven in the central Highlands. The valley is consistently lauded by both travelers and locals for its awe-inspiring landscape, with many recent visitors describing its terrain as "out of this world." The A82 highway conveniently cuts right through the verdant Glencoe valley. Many visitors report only driving through Glencoe due to time constraints, but many express regret at not being able to explore this stunning area more. Luckily, if you are short on time, travelers do say the scenic drive certainly impressed and there are multiple viewing spots along the highway.
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#3

#3 in Scottish Highlands

Free
Cairngorms National Park is its own world. You could easily spend days exploring the many mountains, lochs, rivers, forests and villages that comprise the United Kingdom's largest national park. Measuring 1,748 square miles, Cairngorms not only boasts four of Scotland's five tallest mountains but also five of the U.K.'s six tallest peaks. In addition to plenty of hiking, biking and skiing trails, the park also features unique attractions. Here you'll find ancient castles – including Balmoral Castle, a favorite of Queen Victoria – and an impressive number of breweries and distilleries, as well as Britain's only free-grazing reindeer herd, the Cairngorm Reindeer.
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Beaches Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Cairngorms National Park
Cairngorms National Park is its own world. You could easily spend days exploring the many mountains, lochs, rivers, forests and villages that comprise the United Kingdom's largest national park. Measuring 1,748 square miles, Cairngorms not only boasts four of Scotland's five tallest mountains but also five of the U.K.'s six tallest peaks. In addition to plenty of hiking, biking and skiing trails, the park also features unique attractions. Here you'll find ancient castles – including Balmoral Castle, a favorite of Queen Victoria – and an impressive number of breweries and distilleries, as well as Britain's only free-grazing reindeer herd, the Cairngorm Reindeer.
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#4

#4 in Scottish Highlands

Of all the castles to visit in the Scottish Highlands, Eilean Donan Castle is the one worth taking the detour for. Located near the small town of Dornie in the northeastern Highlands, Eilean Donan Castle is considered an icon among locals for its rich history and picturesque placement at the junction of three different lochs (Loch Alsh, Loch Duich and Loch Long all meet here). The castle was originally built in the 13th century by Alexander II of Scotland to guard the area against possible Viking invasions. The castle stood in grandeur for hundreds of years until the 18th century, when the Jacobites (Catholic Scottish opposition group to the Protestant, English-ruling government) took over the castle and occupied it. Soon after, English forces descended upon the castle and destroyed it in battle, leaving Eilean Donan in ruins for hundreds of years. It wasn't until the early 1900s that a lieutenant colonel bought the land the castle occupied and rebuilt Eilean Donan from the ground up.
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Castles/Palaces Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Eilean Donan Castle
Of all the castles to visit in the Scottish Highlands, Eilean Donan Castle is the one worth taking the detour for. Located near the small town of Dornie in the northeastern Highlands, Eilean Donan Castle is considered an icon among locals for its rich history and picturesque placement at the junction of three different lochs (Loch Alsh, Loch Duich and Loch Long all meet here). The castle was originally built in the 13th century by Alexander II of Scotland to guard the area against possible Viking invasions. The castle stood in grandeur for hundreds of years until the 18th century, when the Jacobites (Catholic Scottish opposition group to the Protestant, English-ruling government) took over the castle and occupied it. Soon after, English forces descended upon the castle and destroyed it in battle, leaving Eilean Donan in ruins for hundreds of years. It wasn't until the early 1900s that a lieutenant colonel bought the land the castle occupied and rebuilt Eilean Donan from the ground up.
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#5

#5 in Scottish Highlands

Free
The "Harry Potter" movies were filmed throughout the Scottish Highlands (the location of Hagrid's hut can be found in Glencoe), but the most recognizable location is in Glenfinnan. Remember that stately, stone bridge the Hogwarts Express always crossed on its way to Hogwarts? That's the Glenfinnan Viaduct. The Jacobite Steam Train, which shares a striking resemblance to the Hogwarts Express, runs along the Glenfinnan Viaduct. If you can swing it, you should consider a ride on the train, even if you aren't a "Harry Potter" fan. That's because train follows the West Highland Line, considered one of the most scenic train routes in the world. The West Highland Line travels along the west coast of Scotland, through Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park and remote Highlands areas inaccessible by car. Note: The Jacobite Steam Train follows part of the West Highland Line, not all of it; the ScotRail operates the route in full. 
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Hiking Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Glenfinnan & the West Highland Line
The "Harry Potter" movies were filmed throughout the Scottish Highlands (the location of Hagrid's hut can be found in Glencoe), but the most recognizable location is in Glenfinnan. Remember that stately, stone bridge the Hogwarts Express always crossed on its way to Hogwarts? That's the Glenfinnan Viaduct. The Jacobite Steam Train, which shares a striking resemblance to the Hogwarts Express, runs along the Glenfinnan Viaduct. If you can swing it, you should consider a ride on the train, even if you aren't a "Harry Potter" fan. That's because train follows the West Highland Line, considered one of the most scenic train routes in the world. The West Highland Line travels along the west coast of Scotland, through Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park and remote Highlands areas inaccessible by car. Note: The Jacobite Steam Train follows part of the West Highland Line, not all of it; the ScotRail operates the route in full. 
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#6

#6 in Scottish Highlands

Free
You can't leave the Scottish Highlands without visiting the infamous Loch Ness, Scotland's largest loch (by volume). Loch Ness is known worldwide for housing the mythical, dinosaur-like monster, Nessie. The loch spans 23 miles in length and is 700 feet at its deepest, making the Nessie conspiracy all the more plausible. Aside from the Nessie legend, Loch Ness offers stunning scenery, with forest-filled mountains flanking either side of the serene loch. Most travelers choose enjoy Loch Ness by cruise. Sailings depart from various towns along the loch, including Fort Augustus, Drumnadrochit and Inverness.
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Beaches Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Loch Ness
You can't leave the Scottish Highlands without visiting the infamous Loch Ness, Scotland's largest loch (by volume). Loch Ness is known worldwide for housing the mythical, dinosaur-like monster, Nessie. The loch spans 23 miles in length and is 700 feet at its deepest, making the Nessie conspiracy all the more plausible. Aside from the Nessie legend, Loch Ness offers stunning scenery, with forest-filled mountains flanking either side of the serene loch. Most travelers choose enjoy Loch Ness by cruise. Sailings depart from various towns along the loch, including Fort Augustus, Drumnadrochit and Inverness.
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#7

#7 in Scottish Highlands

Free
Scotland's first national park houses Loch Lomond, Britain's largest loch. The park is much smaller than its northern neighbor (Cairngorms National Park is 1,748 square miles while Loch Lomond & The Trossachs measures 720 square miles), but it still offers plenty of things to do. While Cairngorms is known for its mountains, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs stands out for its many beautiful bodies of water. Along with the grand Loch Lomond, the park has 22 other lochs to its name, yielding about 39 miles of coastline for visitors to enjoy, as well as 50 rivers. 
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Beaches Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
Scotland's first national park houses Loch Lomond, Britain's largest loch. The park is much smaller than its northern neighbor (Cairngorms National Park is 1,748 square miles while Loch Lomond & The Trossachs measures 720 square miles), but it still offers plenty of things to do. While Cairngorms is known for its mountains, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs stands out for its many beautiful bodies of water. Along with the grand Loch Lomond, the park has 22 other lochs to its name, yielding about 39 miles of coastline for visitors to enjoy, as well as 50 rivers. 
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#8
Beaches Free

#8 in Scottish Highlands

Free
If you really want to take in the full spectrum of the Highlands' geographical grandeur, make time for its beaches. Some of the beaches feature waters so clear and sands so white they resemble the kind of shorelines you'd find in the Caribbean. In contrast, there are also a plethora of beaches in the Highlands that are much more dramatic in landscape, akin to the rocky, mountainous coastline you'd come across in the Pacific Northwest.
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Beaches Type
More than Full Day Time to Spend
Beaches
If you really want to take in the full spectrum of the Highlands' geographical grandeur, make time for its beaches. Some of the beaches feature waters so clear and sands so white they resemble the kind of shorelines you'd find in the Caribbean. In contrast, there are also a plethora of beaches in the Highlands that are much more dramatic in landscape, akin to the rocky, mountainous coastline you'd come across in the Pacific Northwest.
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#9

#9 in Scottish Highlands

If you're a golfer and happen to be in the Scottish Highlands, you'll want to take advantage of the region's beautiful courses. In fact, the Scottish Highlands is home to some of the best golf courses in the world. Here, you can find courses both along the water and inland as well as in remote areas and well-connected locales. The highest concentration of golf courses can be found in Caithness, Ross-Shire, Speyside, Sutherland and Inverness, though there are noteworthy courses spread out elsewhere as well. 
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Golf Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Golf
If you're a golfer and happen to be in the Scottish Highlands, you'll want to take advantage of the region's beautiful courses. In fact, the Scottish Highlands is home to some of the best golf courses in the world. Here, you can find courses both along the water and inland as well as in remote areas and well-connected locales. The highest concentration of golf courses can be found in Caithness, Ross-Shire, Speyside, Sutherland and Inverness, though there are noteworthy courses spread out elsewhere as well. 
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#10

#10 in Scottish Highlands

Free
England has the White Cliffs of Dover, Ireland has the Cliffs of Moher and the Scottish Highlands has Duncansby Head. Located on the northernmost tip of Scotland's east coast, Duncansby Head features jagged cliffs – draped in rich, evergreen vegetation – that stretch as far as the eye can see. While you'll likely find this kind of geography in other parts of the coastal Highlands, what makes Duncansby Head stands out are its stacks. The Duncansby Stacks are a series of striking rock formations that stand less than a mile off the coast of Duncansby Head. With their rocky silhouettes so closely resembling that of the mainland's edge, it almost looks as if they are puzzle pieces that could easily fit right back into the slits of the cliffs.
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Hiking Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Duncansby Head
England has the White Cliffs of Dover, Ireland has the Cliffs of Moher and the Scottish Highlands has Duncansby Head. Located on the northernmost tip of Scotland's east coast, Duncansby Head features jagged cliffs – draped in rich, evergreen vegetation – that stretch as far as the eye can see. While you'll likely find this kind of geography in other parts of the coastal Highlands, what makes Duncansby Head stands out are its stacks. The Duncansby Stacks are a series of striking rock formations that stand less than a mile off the coast of Duncansby Head. With their rocky silhouettes so closely resembling that of the mainland's edge, it almost looks as if they are puzzle pieces that could easily fit right back into the slits of the cliffs.
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#11

#11 in Scottish Highlands

Free
The most popular trail in the Scottish Highlands is also one of its most challenging. Ben Nevis, the U.K.'s tallest mountain, sits just 7 miles southeast of Fort William. Nevis clocks in around 4,406 feet high, yielding incredible views at the top for those tough enough to ascend its summit. Of all the 125,000 travelers who visit the mountain per year, only 25,000 successfully conquer Ben. The trail is nearly 11 miles total and, according to the Fort William tourism board, takes about seven hours to complete (four hours up and three hours down), though some hikers reported that it can take less time in ideal weather conditions. Travelers who did reach the top say the trek was completely worth it for the unmatched views of the Highlands.
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Hiking Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Ben Nevis
The most popular trail in the Scottish Highlands is also one of its most challenging. Ben Nevis, the U.K.'s tallest mountain, sits just 7 miles southeast of Fort William. Nevis clocks in around 4,406 feet high, yielding incredible views at the top for those tough enough to ascend its summit. Of all the 125,000 travelers who visit the mountain per year, only 25,000 successfully conquer Ben. The trail is nearly 11 miles total and, according to the Fort William tourism board, takes about seven hours to complete (four hours up and three hours down), though some hikers reported that it can take less time in ideal weather conditions. Travelers who did reach the top say the trek was completely worth it for the unmatched views of the Highlands.
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