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
1 September 2020

From wild swimming in lochans to hiking up a Munro, the Highlands of Scotland are full of things to see and do, no matter the season, your age or budget. For impressive views, fantastic food and welcoming locals, there are a wealth of excellent options. We narrow them down.

Climb a Mountain

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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. Any mountain greater than 3,000ft (900m) is classed as a Munro, after 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

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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 fish, and Loch Earn is an excellent spot in which to learn fly fishing. Tuition is available from those 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

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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), riverine 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
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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 excellent array of museums. These may be smaller, local affairs like Strathnaver Museum or much larger county museums, such as the must-see Inverness Museum. 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

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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, but 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, $$$
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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 cafés have menus that change seasonally, but whenever you visit you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what’s on offer. For the freshest seafood money can buy, book a table for lunch at the Lochinver Larder where the Highlands meet the sea on the west coast.

Travel the North Coast 500

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WKHYE2
© Iain Masterton / Alamy Stock Photo
Scotland’s Route 66, the North Coast 500 (NC500), 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 road is 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 mouth-wateringly good places to eat along the way.

Whirl and Twirl at a Ceilidh

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Social gatherings, especially on long winter nights, are a staple of life in the Highlands, with a warm welcome extended to all. These are usually fun, informal affairs; kilts are welcome, but not essential and the same goes for whisky. The 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 village hall where traditional cèilidhs are frequently held, and lots of fun.

These recommendations were updated on September 1, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.