The Highlands

Where is it: 

The north mainland of Scotland is collectively known as the Highlands, and often also includes the Isle of Skye which is part of the Inner Hebrides, but situated further north. 

Scottish Highlands map

Why visit: 

The Highlands are home to much of Scotland’s iconic scenery, with towering mountains, beautiful glens and valleys, mysterious lochs, dramatic cliffs and single track roads alongside stunning beaches. It’s what you think of when you think Scotland and a wonderful place to explore for all ages!

Top things for families: 

There are attractions and activities to suit a range of ages and interests.

As you travel through the Highlands lookout for local wildlife. From Coos to Stags you can see some of natures most beautiful creatures, visit the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre, learn more about the famous Loch Ness and hunt for Nessie.

You can journey to Hogwarts when you ride the Jacobite (aka Harry Potter) steam train, go canoeing, kayaking, or boating, visit beautiful beaches and castles, take walks, and enjoy everything the great outdoors of Scotland has to offer. The list goes on and on!

Major cities/sites:

Inverness: Capital of the Highlands, a compact city and a great base for exploring The Highlands. The city itself sits on the banks of the River Ness and has several historical sites to explore. Nearby Culloden is a solemn but interesting site to visit and there is an excellent visitors centre explaining much more about the last battle of the Jacobite Uprisings for anyone curious about Scotland’s turbulent history. While you’re in the area stop in at Clava Cairns, a group of Bronze Age burial chambers and standings stones located close by. 

Loch Ness: Located just south of Inverness and stretching diagonally across Scotland is the mysterious Loch Ness. As well as its claim to fame as the home of the Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie to its friends, it’s also so deep it contains more water than all the lakes in England and Wales put together. You can take a cruise on the loch from Fort Augustus or Drumnadrochit.

Fort William: Known as the adventure capital of the UK, Fort William is another fantastic base for exploring the Highlands. Set at the foot of the Ben Nevis range and surrounded by plenty of natural splendour and lots of activities to keep you all busy. You can ski, go snowshoeing, mountain bike, or a walk on the Nevis Range, and there’s mountaineering and white water rafting for the more adventurous family nearby too. 

Isle of Skye: The largest island in the Inner Hebrides and the most accessible isle in Scotland, thanks to a bridge connecting it to the mainland. There are lots of popular sites on the island including the Fairy Pools and the Old Man of Storr. 

All of this makes it one of the most popular places to visit in Scotland, but also one of the busiest, especially through the summer months. Plan a visit carefully, visiting popular sites early or late. It’s worth more than a fleeting visit so that you can get off the beaten track and explore it’s hidden gems too. 

Glenfinnan Viaduct: The iconic viaduct was used in the filming of Harry Potter, with the Jacobite Steam Train passing over it. You can ride the steam train yourself, or view it from the valley or hills close to it. The train goes over the viaduct several times a day so plan accordingly if you want to see it!

Cairngorms National Park: The Cairngorms stretches from Aberdeenshire in the east of Scotland over into the Highlands. It encompasses mountains, forests, rivers, lochs, quaint villages, and opportunities for snow sports and walking as well as whisky tasting! Aviemore is the main base for this part of the Cairngorms. 

Glen Coe: The glen itself is stunningly beautiful, with rugged mountains towering over long valleys. It has a dark past, but has been used in more recent times as a filming location for movies like Harry Potter and James Bond. Definitely worth a stop on your way north.