One week exploring the Scottish Highlands was an adventure. From historic castles, discovering local cuisine, to otherworldly landscapes, I couldn’t have imagined a more idyllic road trip. The vibrant culture of Scotland is contagious and to uncover it, there’s no better way than the keys to a car and the open road.
It was my first time in Scotland. My passions when traveling have always been to both taste and see a destination. To try local foods that I’ve never tasted before like haggis or black pudding. To see sights that are new to me like a 13th century ruined castle towering over a loch with one intriguing story. It’s these kinds of moments that make me excited, that draws me to explore. Scotland was exactly that — a wild landscape that unveiled its flavors, culture, and adventure. The Scottish Highlands were one postcard scene after the next, making it nearly impossible to not stop every few miles to snap a photo for memory.
If you’re coming to Scotland and looking to immerse yourself in outdoor adventure and tradition, then a road trip is the way to go. Here’s a look at what I uncovered while discovering the Scottish Highlands.
[This post is in partnership with Visit Britain. Support was provided from ASVA to enter certain attractions and was a gifted experience from Visit Scotland. As always, all opinions are own.]
A Road Trip Guide to Discovering the Scottish Highlands
Scottish Highlands Map
Getting to the Scottish Highlands
Getting to this region of Scotland is a breeze — you can fly into Edinburgh or Glasgow and make your way from either city. When I visited, I did a full loop starting from Edinburgh airport. When visiting the Highlands, you’ll need to hire a car for your time as it makes for flexibility and ease. You can rent the car at the airport or head to the train station via Edinburgh and train to Inverness and rent a car there on arrival.
Driving in Scotland is easy and signs are posted in English and miles per hour. If it’s your first time driving on the opposite side of the road, don’t worry, you’ll get used to it quickly. Be sure to follow speed signs, watch out for unexpected crossings like the local sheep and deer, and hug the line!
Where to Visit in the Scottish Highlands
The Eastern Highlands
It’s one of the best places to start your journey into the Highlands. As it’s a major city, Inverness makes for a good base to explore the eastern part of the Highlands. In Inverness itself, a few highlights include the Inverness Castle and the Inverness Cathedral to tour. For a great dinner, book a seat at Prime for a steak & seafood meal alongside the river. One thing not to miss in this city is the historic Leakey’s Bookshop where there are used books dating back decades ago. On the same street, be sure to grab a coffee and a donut at Perk Coffee and an ice cream at Miele’s Gelateria.
Urquhart Castle + Loch Ness
Two stops you can do at once is visiting the ruins of Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness. This ruined castle from 1509 sits perched over the lake, making for a scenic experience while learning about the history of this area. I’d recommend arriving early in the morning to avoid the crowds. If you’re interested to learn more about Loch Ness, the visitor’s center is around the corner on the lake.
The Western Highlands
One of the other larger towns in the Highlands is Fort William. You’ll want to base yourself here for visiting the western side of the Scottish Highlands as there are a plethora of hotels and restaurants. There is a pedestrian zone for exploring the historic downtown, with local shops and pubs like Grog & Gruel. My favorite meal in Fort William was at The Lime Tree Hotel & Restaurant (stayed here as well) where local ingredients were used beautifully to showcase Scottish cuisine. Fort William sits on Loch Linnhe and is truly in the center of everything to do in the area.
Isle of Skye
Isle of Skye could take a few days to see in full as there is so much to do on the island. If you don’t have a few days, you can definitely see the highlights in a full day tour. (See below for the Rabbie’s tour I did). My favorite parts of visiting was a stop in Portree to see the charming seaside town and eat at Caroy House — this spot is a must for a meal. Afterward, we drove up the Trotternish Peninsula and saw the stunning Quiraing and kilt rock before returning back to Inverness. Isle of Skye has a wild landscape and the weather changes quickly here so be sure to bring a few layers!
Glen Nevis & Ben Nevis Mountain
Just outside of Fort William is the famous Glen Nevis outdoor area. It’s home to Ben Nevis Mountain which is the tallest mountain in the British Isles. It’s a hikers paradise and also incredibly scenic. I’d come here for at least a half day and start at the Visitors Center and work your way through the valley. If you want to do the hike to the top of Ben Nevis, be sure to give yourself ample time to do so. Coming for the afternoon, we parked on the side of the road and walked through the valley and got to come up close to the famous Highland cows here.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan or love historic viaducts, then a stop here is a must. This is where they shot a few scenes from the Harry Potter series and the famous steam train to Hogwarts. The Jacobite Steam train runs seasonally so be sure to check their dates if you want to ride or see the train. Otherwise, it’s still a beautiful sight to go see and explore.
Easily the most beautiful drives during the time in the Highlands was through the Glencoe Valley. The towering mountains are home to this deep valley that is spotted with lush lands and wildlife. I would start at Glencoe and work your way towards Altanafeadh. This area is also an ultimate hiking destination with plenty of trails to explore if you want to get outside while here.
One of the picturesque villages in the Highlands and on the scenic Loch Lomond is Luss Village. Streets lined with rows of charming cottages spotted with flowers and ivy, create an enchanting setting. It’s a great stopping point to go visit and walk around for an hour or two. You can also grab a tea and pastry at Coach House Coffee Shop.
Hotels in the Scottish Highlands
Accommodations in the Scottish Highlands range from private bed and breakfasts, budget hotels, to luxury lodges. You can really have a wide range of experiences here. The two main areas that are great for basing yourself in is Fort William and Inverness. From these two, you can take day trips to the locations across the Highlands. Always be sure to read traveler reviews and check for things like free parking, wifi, and if breakfast is included.
In Inverness, I stayed at:
- Heathmount Hotel Inverness: Good location from the center of town, this hotel has a restaurant just downstairs. The rooms are updated and modern, and a good fit for a couple traveling.
- Glen Moriston Townhouse Hotel: I had the two bedroom apartment here which was really lovely for a spacious stay. It was nice to have a kitchen and a living room and the included breakfast at the restaurant was a great bonus. It sits right along the river as well and walking distance to the center of Inverness.
In Fort William, I stayed at:
- The Lime Tree Hotel: This historic building hosts a lovely hotel. The downstairs has fireplaces which are great for the colder months and the rooms are cozy. The hotel also has one of the best restaurants in town, so be sure to book a table here!
Other top hotels in the Highlands:
Scottish Highlands Day Tour
One of the best ways to see the Highlands is through a guided tour. The preferred tour company for seeing the Highlands with ease is Rabbie’s. For a tour out of Inverness, I did the Isle of Skye + Eileen Donan Castle Day tour. It was a full day that started out of Inverness and took us out to the Isle of Skye past the West Highlands. Our guide was knowledgeable and led us through different stops, all while giving us insight into the destinations. We passed by Loch Ness (Lake Ness) and our first stop was Eileen Donan Castle. This region is plenty in castles and Eileen Donan is one of the top ones to see. Afterward, we made the journey out to the Isle of Skye, one of my bucket list destinations in the Highlands. We had time to explore the town of Portree and then finished with a tour of the northern part of the island.
Their small group tours always come highly reviewed (I was surprised by how many of you had been on one!) and make for a great day trip. Rabbie’s also has many tours starting in Edinburgh and Glasgow should you want to begin there as well.