A Solo Traveller’s Guide to the Scottish Highlands

From peaceful lochs to snowcapped landscapes, the Scottish Highlands are famed for their outstanding natural beauty
From peaceful lochs to snowcapped landscapes, the Scottish Highlands are famed for their outstanding natural beauty | © Ian Wray / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Joel Rabinowitz
27 January 2022
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The Scottish Highlands are home to some of Britain’s most dramatic landscapes – from craggy peaks and tranquil lochs to heather-clad moorlands and remote windswept beaches. For solo travellers, it’s the ideal place to disconnect from the daily grind and embrace the great outdoors, whether you fancy hiking, skiing, kayaking or swimming.

What’s the vibe in the Scottish Highlands?

There’s a strong resemblance between parts of the Scottish Highlands and Scandinavia, with fjord-like lochs, snowcapped mountains and pine forests aplenty. Unlike the weather, the people are renowned for their warmth – although the accent may take you a while to follow.

The snowy landscape of the Buachaille Etive Mor in Glencoe

Safety in the Scottish Highlands

The greatest danger here is the weather. When you’re heading off hiking in remote areas, do tell someone roughly where you are going before you set off. Make sure you have sufficient clothing for all weathers – it can close in quickly – as well as food and water and, of course, your phone. Download the What3Words app, where each 3m square has been allocated three words, which is as accurate as GPS coordinates. It’s also sensible to carry a compass.

Sleep in the Scottish Highlands

Chase the Wild Goose Hostel, Banavie

This family-run hostel is a great budget base, handy for Fort William and Ben Nevis. It has a well-equipped kitchen, laundry facilities, clean bathrooms and a cosy lounge area where you can meet fellow travellers. It’s very popular, especially in summer, so book well in advance.

Kingshouse Hotel, Glencoe

Hotel
Male red deer with two females on snowy landscape outside the Kingshouse hotel in Glencoe, Scotland
This tranquil retreat stands at the foot of Buachaille Etive Mor mountain, on the West Highland Way – one of Scotland’s most treasured walking routes. Tuck into gourmet Highland dishes at the restaurant and sip whiskies by the fire in the bar after tackling the majestic surroundings.

A three-night stay at the Kingshouse Hotel is included in Culture Trip’s exclusive four-day Scottish Highlands adventure.

Rocpool Reserve Hotel, Inverness

A double room at Rocpool Reserve Hotel decorated in cream and brown, with a work desk, TV, bedside tables and separate living area
Courtesy of Rocpool Reserve Hotel / Expedia
Expect first-class hospitality at this luxurious boutique hotel in a renovated Georgian townhouse – walkable from central Inverness. Go for an in-room massage or an outdoor-hot-tub soak on a private terrace and make use of the complimentary Elemis toiletries and velvet bathrobes. Head to R-bar for delicious pre-dinner cocktails and canapes.

Eat and drink options in the Scottish Highlands

The Dores Inn, Loch Ness

Pub, Pub Grub, $$$
The quaint white-brick and grey-slate-roof exterior of the Dores Inn in the Scottish Highlands, UK
© Edward Dyer / Alamy Stock Photo
This family-run favourite on the northern shore of Loch Ness is one of the very best pubs in the Highlands. The menu is traditional Scottish: Highland-reared steaks, pan-fried salmon and haggis with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) plus several vegetarian options, too. Book ahead to avoid disappointment.

The Winking Owl, Aviemore

Pub, Pub Grub, $$$
Fancy a light bite, a three-course dinner or an evening of drinks and live music? This chalet-style pub, aka the Winky, can deliver. It’s a prime spot in the Cairngorms National Park, serving an extensive choice of draught and bottled beers from the Cairngorm Brewery. Dogs are welcome in the bar.

Crannog Seafood Restaurant, Fort William

Restaurant, Seafood, British, $$$
Views of the Crannog Seafood Restaurant sitting on the water by the pier in the Scottish Highlands with the rugged green hills in the background
© Greg Balfour Evans / Alamy Stock Photo
Fort William Town Pier is this essential stop for freshly caught langoustines from Loch Linne and mussels from nearby Kinlochleven to roasted Mallaig cod – a few of the mouth-watering treats on the menu. The quality of the food is matched by the idyllic setting and homely ambience.

What to do in the Scottish Highlands

Hike or ski in the mountains: Hiking opportunities in the Scottish Highlands are virtually limitless – from strenuous mountain climbs to multi-day treks where you’ll go miles without passing another soul and many more accessible routes. In winter, go skiing at Glencoe, Glenshee, the Cairngorms or the Nevis Range. Conditions vary significantly from year to year, so check before you visit.

Hiking in Glencoe is not for the faint-hearted

Visit famous movie locations: Turn off the A82 shortly after crossing the River Etive near Glencoe and you’ll reach the spot where James Bond pulled up in his Aston Martin in Skyfall (2012). The Glenfinnan Viaduct, meanwhile, is one of many Harry Potter filming locations in Scotland – recreate the Hogwarts Express scene by riding the Jacobite steam train across it.

Paddle across a loch: There are thousands of lochs in the Scottish Highlands; some formed millennia ago by glaciers carving U-shaped valleys, while others simply freshwater lakes. Loch Ness and Loch Lomond are the best-known, but smaller ones – Loch Affric and Loch Maree – are also worth seeking out. Consider renting kayaks, or, if you’re feeling brave, try wild swimming.

Kayak at dawn across Loch Lomond

Getting around the Scottish Highlands

Rent a car or use your own and you’ll get the most out of your Scottish Highlands trip. Road networks are extensive and mostly well-paved and you’re never far from the nearest town or village. Public buses are a cheaper alternative, with regular services between the major towns.

Train travel is more expensive, but you have minimal hassle, maximum comfort and magnificent views. Highland towns such as Fort William, Oban and Aviemore are all easy to reach from Inverness, Glasgow or Edinburgh – and the tracks continue up to Thurso, at the northernmost point of the British mainland.

Ready to book? Join our specially curated four-day small-group adventure in the Scottish Highlands, featuring dog sledding, a visit to an artisan chocolatier and more.

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