Culture Trip's Guide to the Scottish Highlands

Eilean Donan Castle is a must-see in the Highlands of Scotland
Eilean Donan Castle is a must-see in the Highlands of Scotland | © eye35.pix / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Mischa Smith
6 October 2020

Check out this ready collection of bookable travel ideas inspired by what you love. Whether it’s glamping near Loch Ness or touring the Isle of Skye, discover things to do, where to stay, and the best spots to eat and drink in our definitive guide to the Scottish Highlands.

Characterised by spectacular and unspoiled wilderness, much of the Highlands remains so remote that areas, such as the West Coast’s crofting villages, are only accessible by boat. Whether you’re hunkering down in one of a string of villages or braving the elements around the Monadhliath Mountains, there’s a sense of tranquillity and isolation that can feel unusual – eerie, even – for urbanites – but stick with it. The serenity found in this landscape is unparalleled and part of its magic.

Where to stay

BCC Loch Ness Glamping

Budget Hotel, Glamping
3.5/5 (53 Reviews)

“Hobbit House” is an apt name for a glamping pod that sits on a woodland glade. These handcrafted bolt-holes look much like long saunas and fittingly offer warmth and comfort away from the ferocious weather Scotland is known for. In the summer, make use of the BBQ area and fresh free-range eggs, while in winter, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of supplies, as the nearest restaurant is 6mi (10km) away.

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Perle Oban Hotel

Hotel, Golf Hotel
4.4/5 (487 Reviews)
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Courtesy of Perle Oban Hotel / Expedia
Mixing modern influences from across the globe with Victoriana, the rooms at Perle Oban are trimmed with coral cushions, floor-length drapes and cyan feature walls, which bring a vibrant Moroccan flair to the gloomiest of Scottish dawns. Expect to see afternoon tea next to mezze grills on a menu that reflects the duality of this waterside hotel, which is famed for its Mara Spa.
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Inverlochy Castle

Hotel, Luxury
4.7/5 (133 Reviews)
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Courtesy of Inverlochy Castle / Expedia
Set on sprawling grounds that span lavender-tinged snowscapes, glens, lochs and acres of enchanted woodland, Inverlochy is fit for fictional and real-life royalty. Queen Victoria holidayed here and recalled in her diaries that she “never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot.” Though remnants of what once was a Viking kingdom can be felt throughout Scotland, at Inverlochy you’ll be amongst ornate furniture gifted by the King of Norway.
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  • What to do

    ToursThe Isle of Skye and Eilean Donan Castle Tour from Inverness
    From $69 per person
    12 hours
    5 (21)

    You’ll want plenty of film (or enough space on your iPhone) for this tour of Scotland’s striking beauty. Peppered with pines, shimmering sea lochs, glens and scenic harbour villages, this all-day trip around Scotland’s crowning monuments is set against a dramatic mountainous backdrop. Covering Loch Ness, the Isle of Skye and Eilean Donan Castle, the tour will take you through the jagged headlands and across historical sites and undulating moors. The Old Man of Storr feels especially majestic – and yes, you will feel like a character in a fantasy book.

    ToursAlternative Loch Ness Tour by Secret Highlands
    From $154 per person
    8 hours
    5 (3)
    Shrouded in mystery – and a fair amount of mist – Loch Ness, or rather its synonymous sea monster, Nessie, has captivated visitors for almost a century. Containing more water than the lakes in England and Wales combined, the loch is impressive for its sheer size, and it’s not hard to imagine that such a creature could go undetected here for so long. Prepare to pick up plenty more morsels about this legendary loch on your tour across Scotland’s spectacular landscape.

    Where to eat and drink

    Brunch: Cafe Artysans

    Cafe, British, $$$
    Map View
    Many people drive straight through Inverness en route to the more dramatic and remote parts of the Highlands, but in doing so, they miss out on the cultural capital of the region. Running alongside the salmon-strewn River Ness, Cafe Artysans is a cosy bistro that is also part of the Calman Trust, a group specialising in building the futures of local youths. You might even go as far as to say that the indulgent Scottish breakfast is more of a philanthropic pursuit than a decadent way to start the day.

    Restaurant: The Struy Inn

    Restaurant, Contemporary
    Map View
    A revolving seasonal menu and homely location that cosily seats around 18 makes the Struy an in-demand dining option that requires booking ahead. If you are lucky enough to secure a table (it’s worth noting that owners Jim and Karen don’t recommend the restaurant for children), you’ll be met with traditional decor, a crackling fire and an Italian-infused menu brimming with local produce, such as seared Shetland king scallops and West Coast lobster risotto.

    Bar: MacGregor’s

    Bar, Pub, Pub Grub, Beer, $$$
    Map View
    Bruce MacGregor is a busy man; when he’s not playing in Blazin’ Fiddles or hosting BBC Radio Scotland’s Thursday night Travelling Folk, you might find him pulling pints in his own eponymous bar. MacGregor’s fittingly specialises in craft beer and spirits – it is home to the Inverness whisky and gin festival – along with traditional music, which means you could be treated to a session from this local legend while you drown a dram.
    These recommendations were updated on October 6, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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