John o’ Groats
A good place to start, this tiny village is often the last place people visit, simply because they’ve walked, ran, cycled or driven the whole length of the UK, all the way from Land’s End. Not quite the furthest north on mainland UK, but very close!
The Castle of Mey
Bought and renovated by HRH The Queen Mother after the death of her husband, King George VI, this castle is tucked away on the north coast, not too far from John o’ Groats, and it and the wonderful gardens are definitely worth a visit.
In a word: iconic. The scenery here is stupendous and if you are the outdoorsy type you will find much to do. If you aren’t, then the road through the glen affords some incredible views nonetheless.
Highland Wildlife Park
This is one of the best places to get up close and personal with native wildlife, as well as species that are definitely not native! There are red squirrels running free all over the park, and the captive breeding programme for the Scottish wildcat offers hope for this rare species.
Oban and McCaig’s Tower
Built at the end of the 19th century, this tower was never finished to John McCaig’s original design. Instead it houses a beautiful garden and affords wonderful views over the wee town of Oban and beyond.
Travelling the last part of the West Highland Line, from Fort William to Mallaig and back, over summer this steam train carries people along a railway regularly voted the best in the world. Harry Potter fans will recognise parts of the line too!
Visible from the appropriately-named Jacobite train, this monument marks the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie unfurled his banner and rallied the clans to his cause. Beyond is Loch Shiel, a stunningly wild area. Expect to see deer, eagles, and more.
Less famous than the renovated castle on Eilean Donan, the ruined Tioram guards the western entrance to Loch Shiel and remains an awe-inspiring site. Located on a tidal island, a visit here is likely to avoid the crowds associated with some of the other Scottish castles.
The Old Forge Pub, Inverie
The most remote pub on the mainland of the UK, you can only get here via a ferry ride, or a very long walk indeed, as there are no roads into the tiny village. Once you arrive you may be surprised at just how good the locally sourced food is. The friendly welcome and warm atmosphere should keep you entertained for many hours.
A visit to Culloden, located just outside Inverness, is a poignant one. The wind that almost constantly blows across the battlefield adding to this feeling, as though the past is somehow much closer. The visitor centre is full of interesting artefacts and stories, but it is the battlefield itself that will leave a lasting impression.
The Highland Folk Museum
A remarkable collection of buildings, this outdoor museum is a fantastic way to understand how people in the Highlands lived over time. The photo below shows how clans would have been living at the time of Culloden, for example, which adds a social aspect to the history of the area.
These fluffy coos need little introduction. They are to be found all over the Highlands, and come in several different colours, as can be seen below. Driving around the back roads of Scotland, it is a common sight to see people pulled over and taking selfies with these friendly beasts!
Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness
The ruins of Urquhart are a short distance along the Great Glen from Inverness, and attract not just fans of history, but also those keen to use the tower as a viewpoint to spot Nessie! Loch Ness is vast, but there are few more iconic shots of the loch than those with this castle in the frame.
These beautiful gardens are famous for exotic plants, their position on the west coast warmed by the waters of the Gulf Stream. There is also a gallery, the opportunity to see amazing wildlife, and redwood trees that just keep going up and up!
Laidhay Croft Museum
On the North Coast 500 route, this little museum crams a lot into a small space. If you want to see how the crofting communities in this part of the world lived and worked, the tools they used, and the homes they lived (and still live) in, this is an fascinating place to visit. There is also an excellent tearoom!
Until recently this small town was overlooked, as visitors rushed north to catch the ferry to Orkney. However, this is changing, and with good reason. Wick has a long history and a wonderful museum to showcase it all. A walk around the former herring town is fascinating and includes the shortest street in the world. In winter this is also an excellent place to try and catch the northern lights (or Merry Dancers, as they are known in this part of the world).
In a word, vast! This huge cave is near to Durness on the far north-western coast of the Highlands and features an array of fascinating geological features (an underground waterfall and lake being just two!). Although entry to the cave is free and it is open all year, in order to get the most from the experience it is worth joining a tour, which operates from April to September.
A fairytale castle on the eastern side of the Highlands, Dunrobin also has stunning gardens and an array of activities, including a famous falconry display.
Plockton is a picture-perfect wee village, situated where the mountains reach the relatively warm waters of the west coast of Scotland. How much warmer is it here than the east coast? Maybe the palm trees growing in the village will give you a clue!
Ullapool is a popular spot for refuelling, whether refilling cars to make the epic journey further north, or for filling your stomach. There is a ferry west to Stornoway, and attractions in the area include the spectacular Corrieshalloch Gorge, a local heritage museum and both a book festival and a music festival, the wonderfully-named Loopallu.