Visitor Guide to the Highlands and West Coast of Scotland
Scotland is a country with a distinctive character and centuries of traditions with its tartan kilts, whisky and bagpipes known worldwide. It forms about a twelfth of the UK population, with much of Scotland’s population living in the central belt including the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. The less populated highlands and islands attract visitors from far afield.
The Cairngorms National Park covers a large area of the highlands with scenic mountains and woodland, winter snow sports and some family attractions. The Queen’s Balmoral Castle nestles in the Park, with nearby Braemar the location of the annual Highland Games.
To the west of the Cairngorms is Inverness, the ‘capital of the highlands’, a small city on the River Ness and close to the Culloden battlefield. From Inverness the Caledonian Canal was built across Scotland to Fort William in the west to save ships the dangerous and long journey around the north tip of Scotland. The Caledonian Canal passes through the Great Glen, connecting waters such as the huge Loch Ness of monster fame.
Fort William is the gateway to the UK's highest mountain of Ben Nevis, and the start point of the summer Jacobite steam train to the port of Mallaig up the coast, passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct recognisable from Harry Potter films.
Loch Linnhe leads from Fort William to Oban on the west coast. Oban is a busy port with ferries to the islands, notably the nearby Isle of Mull. Tobermory, Mull's capital, has a much-photographed harbourside of colourful houses and on Mull the scenic Duart Castle overlooks the bay.
Continuing up the coast past the small isles of Rum and Eigg reach the Kyle of Localsh, railway terminus and location of the bridge to the Isle of Skye. The romantic island of Skye is dominated by the Cuillin mountains, with the capital Portree having an attractive waterfront.
Further up the west coast Inverewe Garden is a lush green oasis with exotic plants, possible this far north because the Gulf Stream carries its warm waters there. Ullapool further north is a busy fishing port and tourist destination with easy road connection to Inverness.
For a motor adventure investigate the North Coast 500, a drive from Inverness circumnavigating the roads around the west, north and east of the northern coasts of Scotland.
Holidays in the Scottish Highlands
Check out tours of the Scottish Highlands in our selection of touring holidays in the UK.
For where to stay in hotels, bed and breakfasts and cottages follow links to our specialist accommodation partners below: