The Highlands: a destination teeming with history, myth, and a steady supply of the world’s best whisky. Whether you crave the blissful solitude of a loch or the storied past found between massive munros, the Highlands have something for everyone.
1. Drink a dram (or three)
The country’s largest whisky-producing area, the Highlands are known for whiskies that are as diverse in flavor as they are in style. Ranging from rich and textured to fragrant and floral, the best (and only) way to get a true feel for the region’s spirit is by drinking a few drams. Sample distinctive malts and blends at the distilleries throughout the region as you soak in the natural splendor. Wherever you go and whichever whisky you find yourself sampling, you’ll find that the spirits are as fiercely individual as the Scots themselves.
2. Watch the Highland Games
Caber toss, stone put, and Scottish hammer throw: these are just a few of the feats you’ll witness at the Highland Games. From May to September, towns and villages throughout the Highlands partake in spirited competitions to the tune of pipe bands. With origins as a type of war game, the Highland Games no longer determine who will lead the clans, but focus on strength, agility, and fun.
3. Visit the Fairy Pools
Head to the Isle of Skye to see the Fairy Pools. Just the place mischievous mythical creatures would love to spend their days, the Fairy Pools are deceptive in their own right. Boasting beautiful, vivid shades of blue, the pools seem to have the tepid temperatures associated with a more tropical location. With waters coming down from the Black Cuillins mountains, however, they’re anything but. Ranging from cold to downright freezing, you might be better off taking a few pictures or dipping a toe into the icy water than swimming.
4. Climb the UK’s highest mountain
An ancient giant, Ben Nevis, or “the Ben,” was once an active volcano which exploded and collapsed inward millions of years ago. Today, the “mountain with its head in the clouds” attracts adventure seekers and avid hikers from all over the world. Advanced climbers can ascend the mountain via hundreds of routes across rocks and ice, while beginners can hike the distance on the mountain track. At 1,345 meters, a trip to the top and back generally takes between 7-9 hours, so pack supplies and sustenance.
5. Travel back in time
Easily one of the most iconic images of Scotland, Eilean Donan Castle is located on a small tidal island of the same name in the western Highlands. First built in the early 13th century as a defense against Viking raiders, Eilean Donan later played a role in the Jacobite uprisings of the 17th and 18th centuries. Left to ruins for over a hundred years, the castle was rebuilt to its former glory over the course of two decades. Today, visitors can explore the castle’s original medieval state and tour the rooms as they would have been centuries ago.
6. Twirl your way through a ceilidh
If you visit a small Highlands village, the chances you’ll stumble into a ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee) at the local community center is likely. This traditional social gathering extends a warm welcome to everyone, even if you’re just passing through town. Young and old, Scots or not, the dress code is casual (you may see a kilt or two), whisky is present (but not a must), and song and dance is infectious.
7. See the countryside by steam train
All aboard the Hogwarts Express! Whether you’re a Harry Potter fan or not, traveling through the Highlands via the Jacobite Steam Train is something you simply can’t miss. Check out key film locations from all eight movies as you cross Glenfinnan Viaduct and the wild Rannoch Moor, pass through volcanic glens en route to Fort William, and soak in views of Loch Shiel and more. Enjoy the Highlands’ magical scenery and never fear — dementors won’t be stopping the train anytime soon.
8. Find Nessie
Now, there’s no guarantee that you will see the mythical beast of Loch Ness’ depths — but there’s no saying you won’t see her, either. A trip to Loch Ness is a must for any Highlands adventure, and we suggest going by boat. While you’re there, take a gander at Urquhart Castle and Aldourie Castle. Monster or no, Loch Ness is a sight to behold.
9. Take a road trip
If you’ve hiked your heart out and want some easy access to nature’s splendor, it’s time to drive. The Road to the Isles, or Rathad nan Eilean, features phenomenal views: from sandy beaches and green hills to lush woodlands and heather moors. Enjoy motoring through the Isles of Rumm, Eigg, Muck, Canna, Skye, and the isolated wilderness of Knoydart. And if you worry you’ll lose your way — don’t. A traditional song, also called the Road to the Isles, will tell you exactly where you’re headed.