Perhaps the best place to start, this museum sits right in the very centre of the Highlands’ capital, Inverness. Spread over several floors, the visitor moves forward through time as they walk through the exhibits. These range from geological marvels, through ancient prehistory, right up to the special collection of Jacobite artefacts and more modern displays. There is also an attached gallery and an ever-changing list of different talks and temporary exhibits. If you are in Inverness, this is a must-visit.
Highland Museum of Childhood
A little way north of Inverness is the Highland Museum of Childhood, housed in a former railway station and containing an extraordinary collection of material. Situated in the small Highland village of Strathpeffer, on the edge of the wild places further west, this museum began as a home for a collection of dolls and toys curated by a local resident. As the years progressed it has added to this, with more toys, games, clothing and textiles, comics, photographs and anything relating to childhood. If you wish to be transported back to your childhood, this is the place to do it!
Laidhay Croft Museum
If you are heading along the North Coast 500, this is an excellent place to stop. The building itself is a two hundred year old thatched croft house, filled almost to bursting point with the many and varied items used by the people who worked the land and sea. From the tiny, such as old buttons, to the large, including a barn full of farming equipment from days now passed; you will need more time to explore the exhibits than you might think. To make things even more tempting, there’s a deservedly popular tearoom next door too!
West Highland Museum
Right in the middle of Fort William sits the West Highland Museum, home to a diverse collection of items that help illustrate life in the region, from archaeological remains of early inhabitants right up to the role the area played in the foundation of the commando movement in the Second World War. Their Jacobite and Bonnie Prince Charlie exhibits are remarkable and anyone who loves Outlander will find themselves enthralled.
Housed in the Old Town Hall, Caithness Horizons is another museum that is on the route of the North Coast 500. Close to where the ferry to Orkney leaves from Scrabster, this is also worth a peek if you have time to spare before or after the boat journey. With everything from unique carved Pictish stones, Viking artefacts, a famous herbarium, and items relating to the nearby Dounreay nuclear reactor, there is much to see. The buildings themselves have been wonderfully restored and add to the experience.
Wick Heritage Centre
A treasure trove of material relating to the social history and culture of Caithness, this museum is packed to the rafters with treasures. Akin to Aladdin’s Cave, most of the artefacts and displays are related to the days when Wick was a bustling herring port, full of sailors and fishermen and with so many boats in the harbour it was possible to walk across it! There are also knowledgeable volunteers on hand to answer any questions you may have, broadening your knowledge and understanding.
Found near the wonderfully named and beautifully set Bettyhill, a short distance from the stunning Farr beach, this museum is housed within the former parish church of St. Columba. With a strong emphasis on local social history, if you are at all interested in the brutal and deeply poignant Highland Clearances, this is a good place to learn about them. Being set in the heartland of the Clan Mackay, it also tells the story of this clan and, as such, will be especially pertinent to visitors who have any Mackay blood.
Highland Folk Museum
Britain’s first open-air museum, the Highland Folk Museum covers a huge area and showcases life in the Highlands, from the 18th century up until the 1960s. With live actors, over thirty whole buildings to explore, and a range of crafts and activities to try, visitors really should allow several hours to get the full experience and, even then, they may find themselves coming back again. There is an on-site café and plenty of picnic spots to eat a packed lunch, should you need an energy boost. With so much to see and do, it is remarkable that the museum remains free to enter.