Scottish Highlands Travel Guide

Scotland  #15 in Best Family Vacations in Europe
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Free Things To Do in Scottish Highlands

If you have extra time, Cairngorms National Park is worthwhile.
  • #1
    Isle of Skye
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    #1 in Scottish Highlands
    Beaches, Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Free, Neighborhood/Area
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    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
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    #2 in Scottish Highlands
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Recreation, Free, Neighborhood/Area
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    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
    Cairngorms National Park
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    #3 in Scottish Highlands
    Beaches, Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Free
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    Beaches, Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Free
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    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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  • #5
    Glenfinnan & the West Highland Line
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    #5 in Scottish Highlands
    Hiking, Monuments and Memorials, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
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    Hiking, Monuments and Memorials, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
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    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
    Loch Ness
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    #6 in Scottish Highlands
    Beaches, Hiking, Natural Wonders, Recreation, Free
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    2 hours to Half Day
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    Beaches, Hiking, Natural Wonders, Recreation, Free
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    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
    Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
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    #7 in Scottish Highlands
    Beaches, Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Free
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    Beaches, Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Free
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    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
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    #8 in Scottish Highlands
    Beaches, Free
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    More than Full Day
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    Beaches, Free
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    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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  • #10
    Duncansby Head
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    #10 in Scottish Highlands
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Free
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    1 to 2 hours
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    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Free
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    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
    Ben Nevis
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    #11 in Scottish Highlands
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Free
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    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Free
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    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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