The Essential Guide to the Highlands
Collected by Barry Steven Shelby , AFAR Local Expert
No trip to Scotland would be complete without visiting the mountainous northeast region known as the Highlands. Vast and effectively wild, the area features the highest peaks in the United Kingdom (some barren and forbidden, others covered in dense forests), as well as lochs, streams, and rivers—a geography that helps explain why, for hundreds of years, the Highland people were a civilization apart from the rest of Britain. Here, travelers can combine stunning natural beauty with historical attractions like battlegrounds and castles.
Cape Wrath, Lairg IV27 4QQ, UK
While the name of this cape sounds scary, it apparently stems from the Nordic word for “turning point,” as Cape Wrath marks the most northwesterly tip of the Scottish mainland. It was here that Viking warships would turn south, heading...
140 Badenscallie, Ullapool IV26 2YJ, UK
At Salt Seafood Kitchen, guests can indulge in supremely fresh shellfish and seafood while gazing out at the sea where it was caught. The restaurant, a relative newcomer to the area, overlooks the Summer Isles—an archipelago known for its...
14 W Argyle St, Ullapool IV26 2TY, UK
The Ceilidh Place began as a small café in a boatshed, opened in 1970 by the actor Robert Urquhart, who grew up on the property. Today, it’s evolved into a hotel, restaurant, and cultural center that’s legendary in Ullapool,...
Poolewe, Achnasheen IV22 2LG, UK
Closer to the Arctic Circle than the Tropic of Cancer, this botanical garden shows what can happen when the Gulf Stream meets the Scottish Highlands. Here, on 49 acres of once-barren land, visitors can find everything from a vegetable plot on an...
Badachro, Gairloch IV21 2AN, UK
Set in a refurbished Victorian hunting lodge on a 26,000-acre estate, Shieldaig Lodge is the epitome of Highland romance. With everything from breathtaking views of Shieldaig Bay to log fires, cozy lounges, and an extensive whisky and gin...
Shore St, Applecross, Strathcarron IV54 8LR, UK
With attic dormers facing the sea, the whitewashed Applecross Inn is a quintessential Highland retreat—and an excellent spot for a meal throughout the day. Run by Applecross resident Judith Fish, the inn features seven well-appointed guest...
Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh IV40 8DX, UK
Eilean Donan is the über-castle of the Highlands, perched on a rocky islet in a tidal loch on the road to the Isle of Skye. After crossing an arched stone bridge, visitors may recognize the setting from such films as Highlander and The World...
Strathpeffer, Contin IV14 9ES, UK
This charming, family-run—and dog-friendly—hotel on the road from Inverness to Ullapool is an excellent resting place on your Highlands adventures. Housed in an 1820s MacKenzie mansion, the property features public spaces with...
Culloden Moor, Inverness IV2 5EU, UK
After marching within 100 miles of London to restore the Stuart monarchy to the British throne, Jacobite supporters, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, retreated to this site near Inverness in 1746. Here at Culloden, they were slaughtered by forces...
14 Bridge St, Inverness IV1 1HD, UK
An award-winning pub in the heart of Inverness, Hootananny offers craft beers from nearby Black Isle Brewery (try the lager-style Blonde brew), but it’s best known for its live music. Here, acts are typically Celtic, Highland, or folksy in...
16 Fraser St, Inverness IV1 1DW, UK
A standard-bearer for casual elegance in Inverness for nearly 25 years, the Mustard Seed offers simple cooking in a friendly atmosphere. Housed in a converted church building, the restaurant features a double-height ceiling and magnificent...
7-17 Ness Bank, Inverness IV2 4SG, UK
On the verdant banks of the River Ness sits Glen Mhor, a historic hotel with a variety of lodgings. Traditionally furnished in earthy hues, accomodations range from 75 guest rooms spread across eight Victorian buildings, to 10 apartments with...
Cairngorms, Ballater AB35 5YJ, UK
Authentic European wilderness is in short supply, but you can come close to experiencing it in Cairngorms National Park, home to much of Scotland’s native forest and a quarter of all the endangered species in the U.K. At more than 1,750...
Braemar, Ballater AB35 5XR, UK
Braemar Castle has been through a lot. Built as a Highland hunting lodge for the Earl of Mar in 1628, the classic tower house was repeatedly sacked throughout the years, torched by John Farquharson in 1689 and again by the English in 1715 and...
Main Road, Arisaig PH39 4NH, UK
Overlooking the Bay of Loch nan Ceall, the Arisaig Hotel is surrounded by true Highland wilderness, from pristine, white-sand beaches to crystal-clear waters where you can spot otters and seals. Based in one of the most charming villages on the...
Glenfinnan, Lochaber PH37 4LT, UK
Today, the fern-filled hillsides surrounding the Glenfinnan Monument regularly fill with camera-toting tourists, all eager to see the historic Jacobite Steam Train—which serves as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies—breeze...
Glen Nevis Visitor Centre, Glen Nevis, Fort William PH33 6PF, UK
The highest peak in the United Kingdom, Ben Nevis looms over the Highland resort town of Fort William and Loch Linnhe below, attracting an estimated 125,000 completed ascents per year. Most hikers take the well-constructed Mountain Track from Glen...
Town Pier, Fort William PH33 6DB, UK
Located at the end of the town pier in Fort William, on the historic Road to the Isles, Crannog Restaurant is purely of its place. Local fisherman Finlay Finlayson opened the restaurant after converting his bait shed—which served as a...
A82, Ballachulish PH49 4HY, UK
Undoubtedly one of the most dramatic valleys in Scotland, Glencoe is also a place of historic tragedy. It was here, in 1692, that troops loyal to the monarchs William and Mary slaughtered members of a local clan while they slept for not declaring...
Balquhidder, Lochearnhead FK19 8PQ, UK
An award-winning restaurant at the foot of the Trossach Mountains, Monachyle Mhor is a must-stop for gourmands. Here, executive chef Marysia Paszkowska and head chef Graham Kerr cook exceptional Scottish fare, using ingredients sourced mainly from...
North Loch Lomond, Inverarnan, Arrochar G83 7DX, UK
From the 16th to the 19th century, drovers were the men responsible for leading cattle out of the rugged Highlands to the markets in nearby towns and cities. Today, they serve as the inspiration for the Drovers Inn, a hotel and pub just north of...
Kilmartin, Lochgilphead PA31 8RQ, UK
Before the well-known royal families of Scotland came to power, there was the ancient Kingdom of Dalriada, about which little is understood. Judging from the archaeology found on Kilmartin Glen, however, it was probably a remarkable, 6th- to...
Loch Lomond, United Kingdom
Full of wild scenery, fascinating history, and delicious local food, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park is a Scottish treasure. At the center of the park is Loch Lomond, the largest body of freshwater in the U.K., featuring ample...
Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder PH3 1NF, UK
One of the only restaurants in Scotland to hold two Michelin stars, Andrew Fairlie combines the very best of Scottish and French cooking. The restaurant’s eponymous chef sadly passed away in early 2019 after a long battle with brain cancer,...
Stirling Castle, Esplanade, Stirling FK8 1EJ, UK
Stirling Castle is one of Scotland’s most impressive castles, particularly for its role in Scottish history—several kings and queens were crowned here, including Mary Queen of Scots. Tour the Great Hall, the lavish Royal Palace, the...
Glasgow Road, Whins Of Milton, Stirling FK7 0LJ, UK
If you’re a fan of Outlaw King, then Bannockburn is a must-visit sight. It was here that the Scots, led by Robert the Bruce himself, achieved a remarkable victory in June 1314 over the largest English-led army ever to invade Scotland. The...
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