The Best Things to Do and See in the Scottish Highlands

Loch Shiel is one of many beautiful spots in the Scottish Highlands for fishing and wild swimming
Loch Shiel is one of many beautiful spots in the Scottish Highlands for fishing and wild swimming | © Joe Dunckley / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Alexander Crow
18 October 2021

From wild swimming in lochans to hiking up a Munro, the Highlands of Scotland are full of things to see and do, whatever the season, your age or budget. For impressive views, fantastic food and welcoming locals, there are a wealth of excellent options. We’ve narrowed them down.

Looking for the full package? Join Culture Trip on a four-day winter adventure to Glencoe, near Fort William, and savour snow-capped landscapes, go dog-sledding and ice-climbing with our Local Insider, and sip drams inside a cosy Highland retreat.

Climb a mountain

Natural Feature
View west on Aonach Eagach mountain (Notched Ridge) seen from Meall Dearg above Pass of Glen Coe in Scottish Highlands. Glencoe Highland Scotland UK
© Realimage / Alamy Stock Photo
The beauty of walking in the Highlands is that there’s a hike for every fitness level. Whether you want a gentle stroll or something more challenging (such as the narrow Aonach Eagach pass, north of Glen Coe), the Highlands will not disappoint. For the truly adventurous, try a Munro. Every mountain greater than 3,000ft (900m) is given that name in honour of Sir Hugh Munro, the first man to classify peaks in this corner of the world. If you don’t fancy walking, there’s usually a convenient ski lift to take you to the top.

Learn fly fishing

Natural Feature
Loch Earn calm blue waters, highlands, Scotland.
© Andrew1Norton/Getty Images
Scotland attracts fishing enthusiasts from around the globe. Thanks to its many rivers and lochs there are plenty of potential catches, with Loch Earn being an excellent spot in which to learn fly fishing. Tuition is available from guides with decades of experience. If you don’t like the idea of hooking fish, however, see the opportunity as an excuse to get out to remote spots and wild places and enjoy the silence.

Go wild swimming

Natural Feature
Tree reflections in Loch Beinn a Mheadhoin, Glen Affric, Highlands, Scotland, October 2015.
© Nature Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo
If the idea of casting a line doesn’t appeal, then practise wild swimming with the fish. With its sheltered lochans (small lakes), river pools and thousands of miles of coastline, Scotland offers the best wild swimming in Europe. We recommend a dip in Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin – a picture-perfect spot close to Glen Affric that’s nearly always deserted. Although the waters are not always frigid, they’re rarely warm. Be prepared, do your safety homework and you’ll be rewarded with the proximity to nature and sense of belonging that only comes with wild swimming.

Visit a museum

Church, Museum
Strathnaver Museum at Bettyhill on  the North Coast 500 scenic driving route in Sutherland northern Scotland, UK
© Iain Masterton / Alamy Stock Photo
The Highlands are blessed with an array of excellent museums. These may be small, local affairs like Strathnaver Museum or much larger attractions, such as the must-see Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Whatever your interests, there’s a museum to keep you occupied, and they’re often free. Broaden your understanding of the history and culture of the Highlands, then have a wander round the gift shop.

See the wildlife

Natural Feature
Wildlife viewing boat trip, Loch Shiel, Glenfinnan, Scotland. Image shot 2005. Exact date unknown.
© John Bentley / Alamy Stock Photo
The Scottish Highlands are a magnet for nature lovers. It’s not just the sheer variety of species, which change depending on the season and location – often you can explore a mountain, moor, forest or beach and not encounter another living soul. We recommend Loch Shiel, roughly 25mi (40km) west of Fort William. Pack a camera, binoculars or just sit and soak up the experience. Wildlife safaris are available, as well as guided tours.

Eat your body weight in seafood

Bistro, Cafe, Restaurant, British, Seafood, $$$
Langoustines on sale at the Stockbridge Sunday Market in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.
© Alan Wilson / Alamy Stock Photo

Whether it’s freshly caught Scottish salmon, locally foraged fungi or haggis, Scotland has a unique cuisine and plenty of chefs to make you fall in love with it. Most restaurants and cafes have menus that change seasonally, but whenever you visit you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the offering. For the freshest seafood money can buy, book a table for lunch at Lochinver Larder, where the Highlands meet the sea on the west coast.

Travel the North Coast 500

Architectural Landmark
© Iain Masterton / Alamy Stock Photo
Scotland’s Route 66, the North Coast 500, has rapidly established itself as the premier road trip in the UK. It’s appeared on several “best in the world” lists and it’s not hard to see why. Starting in the Highland capital of Inverness, the iconic trail extends to 500mi (800km) of endlessly changing scenery, taking you along mountain passes and coast-hugging roads, all the way to the UK’s northernmost town, John o’ Groats. Conveniently, there are plenty of mouthwateringly good places to eat along the way.

Whirl and twirl at a cèilidh


Social gatherings, especially on long winter nights, are a staple of Highland life, with a warm welcome extended to all. These are usually fun, informal affairs; kilts are welcome, but not essential and the same goes for whiskey. Dances are taught to beginners, and you won’t be allowed to sit out for long. If you find yourself in the vicinity of Poolewe, a small village in Wester Ross in the North West, it’s worth checking if there are any scheduled dances at the local hall. Traditional cèilidhs are frequently held there, and are lots of fun.

For more inspiration on what to do, discover our guide on the most remote Scottish whisky distilleries you can visit.

These recommendations were updated on October 18, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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