8 Things to Do And See in Fort William, Scotland

Ben Nevis, The Great Outdoors | © Gerry Machen/Flickr
Ben Nevis, The Great Outdoors | © Gerry Machen/Flickr
Fort William is a magnet for lovers of the Scottish Highlands and especially those who love outdoor pursuits. Known as the outdoor capital of the UK, the town and surrounding area are packed full of things to do in all seasons of the year, even if you are not that keen on big bursts of adrenaline. Here’s our guide to some of the best.

Ben Nevis

The most popular attraction in Fort William is also the biggest. Standing at 1345 metres (4411 feet) tall, this hulking mountain is the highest in the UK and attracts many people to climb its slopes every year. Fortunately you don’t need to be an expert mountaineer to make it to the top, as a pony track was constructed to the top in 1883 and this is now the most commonly used ascent route (if you are a mountaineer or climber, you will probably already know about the North Face, and the 700 metres [2,300 feet] cliffs!) However, you will still need to be properly prepared, with good footwear and sensible clothing, as well as a pretty good level of overall fitness — this is a mountain, after all, so get training. Make sure you check the weather forecast too, as conditions can change rapidly, with snow possible all year. There is a visitor centre in Glen Nevis, which is a common place to start the walk and has information on the mountain and local area, as well as toilets, a shop, picnic benches and a car park.

Glen Nevis Visitor Centre, Fort William +44 1397 705922

Ben Nevis Distillery

Scotland is well known for her whisky, with each area having a unique flavour and style and there are over 125 different distilleries. The distillery in Fort William is to be found in Lochy Bridge, just to the north of Fort William, and was licensed in 1825. There is a visitor centre and three different levels of tour (including the obligatory tasting!). Booking ahead is to be advised as this can be a popular experience.

Ben Nevis Distillery, Lochy Bridge, Fort William +44 1397 700200

West Highland Museum

Full of fascinating displays, this museum is a must-visit if you come to Fort William. Founded in 1922, the West Highland Museum has a wealth of information and exhibits, from archaeology to Victoriana and Highland life, to a fantastic collection of Jacobite artefacts and displays. Housed in a former bank, the museum is right in the centre of Fort William and not only does it have free WiFi, but entry is also free.
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Neptune’s Staircase

This is a wonder of engineering, eight gates on the Caledonian Canal which are the longest staircase locks in the UK (55 metres, or 180 feet) and help boats travel from the Atlantic to the North Sea, by way of the canal and Loch Ness. Today it takes boats about an hour and a half to get through the gates, very different from the half-day it took when they were powered by hand, rather than hydraulics. You walk past Neptune’s Staircase, which is named after the Roman God of the sea when you tackle the long-distance route The Great Glen Way.

Neptune’s Staircase, Banavie, Fort William

The Lime Tree

Three things in one: a hotel, a restaurant and an art gallery, right in the heart of Fort William. The gallery is called The Lime Tree An Ealdhain, which means ‘the place for creativity’ in Gaelic, and has a couple of always-fascinating touring exhibitions every year. Both the boutique hotel and the restaurant receive excellent reviews, with the restaurant serving award-winning fresh, seasonal dishes, utilising the very best in locally sourced Scottish ingredients. In winter there is also a cinema housed at The Lime Tree – truly a multi-functional destination!

The Lime Tree, The Old Manse, Achintore Road +44 1397 701806

The Jacobite Steam Train

In summer from May to October, the West Highland Railway Line plays host to the train also known as the Hogwart’s Express. Running from Fort William to Mallaig and back, the route is stunning, whatever the weather. It has been called the most beautiful railway in the world on several occasions, add the steam train and this is an experience not to be missed. The fantastic Glenfinnan Viaduct (AKA the ‘Harry Potter Bridge’) and the view up Loch Shiel at that point are simply breathtaking.

Jacobite Steam Train, Fort William Railway Station +44 1524 732100 (Overseas number) 0844 850 4685 (Within UK)

Nevis Range Mountain Experience

Home to the UK’s sole mountain gondola, the views from which are spectacular. At the top of the ride is the Snowgoose restaurant and bar, as well as an expanse of stunning upland, with many trails and viewpoints along the way and even a shop. In winter this is a magical snow-covered landscape and a magnet for snow-sports enthusiasts. At the base of the hill is the Pinemarten café bar. The Nevis Range Mountain Experience is also the location of a stage of the Mountain Bike World Cup.

Nevis Range Mountain Experience, Torlundy, Fort William +44 1397 705825

The Great Outdoors

Technically, this is not a single location, but many! The most beautiful thing about Fort William is its location, central to some of the most stunning scenery and wild landscapes in the UK, if not Europe. It contains mountains, incredible waterfalls and views everywhere you look. The visitor can tailor any outdoor activity to their own level of fitness and interest, but the opportunity to try new things should not be overlooked. The wealth of superbly experienced and trained outdoor instructors in the area means that activities you may have thought beyond you, such as climbing, or skiing can be attempted. For example, every year people of pensionable age find themselves wondering why Ben Nevis was the first mountain they’ve ever climbed, or why had they not received training in Via Ferrata before? Whether you come to Fort William for one particular activity, or to try something new, the key thing is to get outside, breathe the fresh air and enjoy yourself!

Ben Nevis, The Great Outdoors © Gerry Machen/Flickr