Best Places to Visit in Scottish Highlands
Scotland’s magnificent Highlands include the vast Scottish region stretching north from Inverness to Thurso, separated from the rest of the country by the Glen More. This ancient fault line was used to build the extraordinary Caledonian Canal, a unique waterway running from the west coast to the east from Loch Linnhe to the Moray Firth, with stunning views of Loch Ness along the way.
While much of this mountainous region is uninhabited and therefore ideal for hiking and biking adventures, it has many beautiful towns and villages. In fact, one of the top things to do in the Scottish Highlands is to follow one of these scenic drives. The most beautiful coastline in the country.
Along the way, you’ll see many beautiful Scottish castles that together make up some of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. At the top is John o’Groats, home to Scotland’s most photographed road sign. Notable ones include the distance from here to Land’s End in Cornwall, England’s southernmost tip, about 1,406 kilometers.
Find the best places to visit in this rugged and beautiful region with our list of the Best Places to Visit in Scottish Highlands and make your trip enjoyable.
10 Best Places to Visit in Scottish Highlands
Let’s explore the top 10 Most Beautiful and Best Places to Visit in Scottish Highlands:
1. Culloden Battlefield and Visitors Center
On April 16, 1746, at Culloden, the last great battle was fought on Scottish soil, and the fate of the Stuarts and Scotland was sealed. The historic site’s visitor center is a must-see, with a first-hand account of the war, with a 360-degree film that realistically recounts the events of the day. Be sure to check out the amazing rooftop views of the battlefield.
The tombstones of the Scottish clan and the 6-metre-high mausoleum erected in 1881 to commemorate the war are also of interest. Other landmarks include Old Leanach Cottage and the Cumberland Stone, which commemorates the place where the Duke of Cumberland gave orders to his troops.
The battlefield is littered with monuments to the dead, including the Keppoch stele that shows where Alastair MacDonell, head of the Keppoch clan, fell. Another recalled the Irish Wild Geese, a group of mercenaries serving the French royal family who fought alongside the Highlanders. The “English Stone” honors those who fought alongside Cumberland.
If you live in Inverness, you can opt for a day trip including Loch Ness and Culloden Battlefield. Highlights include a very personal experience (for only eight guests), the services of a professional guide, and transportation.
Another great way to learn more about war history while visiting various other Highland movie locations is to attend the popular Diana Gabledon’s Outlander Experience.
Starting from Inverness, these private full-day tours include expert professional guides knowledgeable in Scottish history and TV series and visit top attractions such as the Battlefield and Clava Cairns, as well as Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle. This first-class tour includes pick-up and round-trip transportation from your hotel.
Address: Culloden Moor Visitor Centre, Inverness, Scottish Highlands
Official website: www.nts.org.uk/culloden/
2. Cawdor Castle
Just 10 miles northeast of Culloden, Cowdeau Castle is famous for the place where Duncan, King of Scotland, was killed in Shakespeare’s version of Macbeth. While Duncan was actually killed by Macbeth at the Battle of Elgin, it’s not historically accurate, but it’s a great place to visit, with rich Shakespearean literature and quality period furniture.
A hawthorn tree dating back to 1370 was the hallmark of the first lord to build a castle here, and today the beautiful grounds of this fairytale garden with its colorful flower beds are worth seeing. It’s also fun to explore the nature trails and nine-hole golf course. For those who really want to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of this historic castle and grounds, a charming cottage can be rented on the grounds.
Address: Nairn, Scotland Cawdor B9090
Official website: www.cawdorcastle.com
3. Loch Ness
A 30-minute drive southeast of Inverness city centre, Loch Ness is beautiful and easily accessible, making it a must-see when exploring the Scottish Highlands. Famous worldwide as the home of the Loch Ness monster, this picturesque freshwater lake is also home to one of the country’s most iconic castles, Urquhart Castle.
Visit the Loch Ness Center and Exhibit to learn more about the legendary monsters that inhabit the lake. This fun attraction has fascinating displays of monsters and the surrounding area.
Given its popularity as a major tourist destination in Scotland, Loch Ness is also well served by organized tour operators. One of the best for those staying in Edinburgh is the Loch Ness and Highlands Small Group Day Trip.
Highlights of this trip to the north include visiting Fort William; Linlithgow Palace; Ben Nevis, the country’s highest mountain; and, of course, Loch Ness itself. Upon arrival at the lake, you will have the opportunity to explore the lake from the water by boat (transport and guide included).
4. Urquhart Castle
Once the scene of countless conflicts between the English and the Scots, it’s easy to imagine how large Urquhart Castle used to be. Dating back to the 13th century, the castle’s role in Scotland’s rich history is well documented and displayed in the visitor centre.
Although it’s only in ruins now, it’s well worth walking around to get a real feel for its former significance. Its magnificent view overlooking Loch Ness is breathtaking, with panoramic views over the entire length of the lake. You can also partially enter the Great Tower and visit the dungeons where famous and notorious prisoners were once held.
In addition to beautiful exhibits about the castle’s rich history, the site has a great cafe with stunning views of Loch Ness and a gift shop. Given the huge popularity of the castle among tourists, tickets and parking spaces must be purchased in advance on the official website (see link below).
Address: Drumnadrochit, Inverness, Scotland
Official website: www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/urquhart-castle/
5. Historic Fort George
For those heading to Culloden, nearby Fort George is also of interest. This massive artillery stronghold was built shortly after the Battle of Culloden to control the defeated Highlanders. It is also a constant reminder of British rule over Scotland.
In addition to extensive military facilities, including an armory and barracks, the castle is home to the Queen’s own Highland Regiment Museum. The visitor center is also worth exploring and takes into account the castle’s role. There is also a gift shop on site. Tickets can be pre-booked on the attraction’s official website (see link below).
Address: Ardersier, Inverness, Scotland
Official website: www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/fort-george/
6. Lighthouse of the North
Elgin is on the road to Aberdeen, about 61 km east of Inverness, and has many historical sites worth seeing. After centuries of looting, the remains of Elgin Cathedral’s tower mark the church’s 95-metre-tall “Northern Lighthouse” splendor.
Other features still visible include the west façade, 13th-century choir, huge east rose window, and octagonal chapter house. Daily guided tours are offered and well worth joining. Elgin is also home to Burnie Church, Scotland’s oldest church, dating back to 1140.
Other attractions of interest are the Spini Palace with its massive Tower of David, built in 1470; Davos Castle, a model for Norman Mott and Bailey Castle; and Brody Castle and Country Park.
Home to the Brody family since 1160, the hotel has a fine collection of 18th and 19th century French furniture, Chinese porcelain and a famous painting. The collection includes works by French Impressionists and English and Dutch artists.
Your tour of the expansive grounds should include a visit to the 1.8-metre high Pictish Rodney Stone with Celtic animal symbols and inscriptions.
Address: King Street, Elgin, Mary, Scotland
Official website: www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/elgin-cathedral/
7. Loch Maree
Loch Maree is a deep Pleistocene valley that is home to otters and black-throated divers and attracts hikers for its nature trails and campgrounds. The more challenging mountain route is a 6km loop that offers unforgettable views of Lake Maree and the majestic mountains that make this part of the Highlands so popular.
Other nearby attractions include Victoria Falls, a waterfall near Shatterdale named after Queen Victoria who visited the lake in 1877. It is also a popular fishing spot, and visitors can enjoy fun cruises and scenic boat rides.
The charming village of Gairloch, in a sheltered sandy cove, is another scenic stop on the Highlands tourist route. In addition to the nine-hole golf course, there is the Gairloch Heritage Museum, which offers displays detailing the area’s cultural and economic development from the Stone Age to the present.
An hour’s drive north of scenic Inverness, the seaside town of Dornoch is one of the best places to visit in the Scottish Highlands for those looking for a fun small-town getaway. Its coastal location also makes Dornoch an ideal place to sample Scottish seafood, with great restaurants such as the Highland Larder serving the fresh catch of the day.
For a town this small (population just under 1,500), Dornoch also has a surprising array of fun activities. The number one attraction is Dornoch Cathedral. Built in 1224, it is an impressive building adjacent to Dornoch Castle, a 16th-century mansion that today houses a hotel. Other attractions include the ancient Witch’s Rock, the sandy and sheltered Donohue Beach and the nearby Rock Fleet National Nature Reserve.
Donohue is also a mecca for golfers. The biggest attraction here is the Royal Dornoch. Andrews, but less famous (golfers aside), Royal Dornoch features two 18-hole championship courses overlooking the Dornoch Firth, making it one of the most beautiful courses in the UK.
9. Inverewe Garden and Estate
The subtropical Inverewe Gardens and Estate overlook the paradise of Loch Ewe near Poolewe, 8 km north of Gairloch. It grows here due to the mild climate of the region. In 1862, at the age of 20, Osgood Mackenzie demonstrated that plants from distant lands could survive in poor Torridon sandstone and acidic peat soils, provided they were rich in mud from the coast and drained the moist peat.
Highlights include rhododendrons, rhododendrons and magnolias, eucalyptus from New Zealand, Japanese ferns, Himalayan lilies, South American water lilies, giant forget-me-nots from the South Pacific, rock gardens, ponds, Scotch pine and rare palm trees. Guided walking tours are available on weekdays. Be sure to visit the Sawyer Gallery, which hosts arts and crafts exhibitions throughout the year.
Address: Inverewe, Poolewe, Wester Ross
Official website: www.nts.org.uk/Property/Inverewe-Garden-and-Estate/
10. Loch Assynt and Ardvreck Castle
Some of the Highlands’ most stunning scenery can be found around beautiful Lake Assynt, 35km north of Ullapool. This haunting picture-book landscape is known by fishermen for its salmon and trout fishing and majestic mountain views. At the eastern end of the lake are the ruins of Ardvreck Castle, built for the MacLeods in 1590 and later ruled by the MacKenzies and Sutherlands.
Other historical sites include a bakery barn and mill, and the remains of an old secret chamber cave. Also, the nearby Inhnadamph Nature Reserve is home to the largest network of caves in Scotland. The seal colony on Loch a’Chairn Bhain and the 200-metre high Eas a Chual Aluinn Falls, England’s highest waterfall.
Address: Lairg, Sutherland, Scotland
Hope you like our choice of the best places to visit in Scottish Highlands. If you think there are some more beautiful places to visit in Scottish Highlands, we should cover them. Write us below in the comment box.