Let’s face it. Right now, we could all do with a little break. We’re in search of a place to disconnect and take a breather - some time away from it all. While some may point in the direction of the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, how about Highland? Covering the very furthest reaches of North Scotland it may not compete weather-wise, but there are few places in Europe that are more quiet, peaceful and relaxing.
It takes an expert to know about these hidden gems and, not to blow our own bagpipes or anything, that’s us here at Plum Guide. Experts. We know what to do and we know where to stay. Read on to find out the very best things to do in the Highlands.
First and foremost, if you’re looking to see as much as possible in the Highlands, nothing beats a good old road trip. The Highlands are home to the most rugged, wild and beautiful scenery in the whole of the British Isles. It’s a place made for road trips and in the North Coast 500, they have one of the world’s best. Traveling the NC 500 is one of the most exhilarating things to do in Scotland and a perfect way to see the country's epic scenery.
Starting from Inverness, this 500-mile road trip brings together the very best of the Highlands, from glistening beaches (with turquoise water as good as the Caribbean), haunting castles, monumental Munros and hundreds more scenic stop-offs. You’ll be spoilt for choice. One must-do? Make sure you take an obligatory snap or two at John O Groats – the UK’s northernmost point on the mainland.
Before you get started on that epic road trip and make your way through every ‘Now That’s What I call *insert number here*’, it’s worth spending a bit of time in Inverness.
It’s the largest city in the Highlands and is rightly considered to be the cultural capital. Its old town easily rivals Edinburgh with the 19th-century Inverness Cathedral, the mostly 18th-century Old High Church and - a personal favourite of ours - an indoor Victorian market selling all kinds of food, clothing and crafts. Yes please.
Inverness, The Highlands, Scotland
It’s also worth making a stop at the contemporary Inverness Museum and Art Gallery where you can find out more about the local history of the Highlands.
When it comes to the best things to do in the Highlands, it comes down to who you are. Climbing Britain’s tallest mountain is either going to have your eyes lighting up or make you shudder.
Ben Nevis, The Highlands, Scotland
At 4,406ft (gulp), Ben, as the locals fondly call him, is no walk in the park. However, if you’ve already made the stop at John O Groats, surely you can’t turn down the opportunity to climb the UK’s tallest point? Perhaps we shouldn’t ask…
If you do fancy it, take some time to gear up properly with the correct footwear and clothing, bring a map and check the weather. If you’re in the depths of winter then it’s probably not a good idea.
Tomatin Distillery Visitor Centre
Need a stiff drink after that to recover? Of course you do. Whilst you’ll find a great whisky in just about every Scottish bar, one of the best things to do in the Highlands has to be the Tomatin Distillery Visitor Centre.
Tomatin Whiskey Distillery, The Highlands, Scotland
Here, you can take ‘The Legacy Tour’ where you’ll explore the distillery and learn all about how they make it and the unique legacy of Tomatin. Of course, what you’re really here for is the chance to taste different types of whisky as well as the unique opportunity to fill your own bottle from one of their cask strength distillery-exclusive whiskies – the perfect souvenir.
Whilst in the Cairngorms, why not stay at The Legacy of Tartan - a real life fairytale castle? Don’t say we never treat you.
Jacobite Steam Train
When you type ‘Scottish Highlands’ into Google images, we can guarantee that one of the first photos you’ll see is of the Jacobite Steam Train.
The Jacobite Steam Train, The Highlands, Scotland
There’s more than a little magic about this one as it passes over the impressive Glenfinnan viaduct - an impressive structure that’s found fame thanks to the Harry Potter films. However, if you do still see flying cars around then it’s most likely that bottle of whisky you brought back from the distillery.
The train continues north from Fort William, steaming 84 miles through truly world-class scenery. It’s an absolute must when it comes to things to do in Highland.
If you weren’t satisfied with exploring Harry Potter landmarks, how about Glen Coe? This picturesque valley featured a simmering Daniel Craig looking out over the Highlands whilst deciding who he’d kill next in Skyfall. Lovely bloke.
Glen Coe is perhaps one of the most beautiful spots in the whole of the UK. If you really are looking to experience nature at its finest and disconnect, then this is the place to come. Scotland at its very best. Plus, less than an hour's drive away is our wonderful Plum Guide home Crest of a Wave, nestled on the west coast in the delightful seaside town of Oban. It’s the perfect springboard from which to drive north and explore the Highlands. Or, if you fancy staying at home, who can blame you when there’s an outdoor hot tub to make use of?
What’s a trip to Scotland without a trip to Loch Ness? One of the most popular places to visit in Scotland, stretching 37km southwest from Inverness, this deep freshwater loch very nearly splits Highland in half.
Legend has it that there’s an ancient, mythical beast that...oh. You’ve already heard about that one? For a creature that’s so well known and fondly romanticised, good old ‘Nessie’ is remarkably good at remaining out of sight. Completely. Whether or not she’s taking a cut from all the locals profiting off her mere existence (fridge magnets, mugs, books, novels – you name it), is anyone’s guess. A few swigs of whisky and you may just catch a glimpse.
So, those are the very best things to do in the Highlands. The Highlands is a vast area with so much on offer, including many things that didn’t make it into this list. For example, there’s the Isle of Skye which we feel warrants its very own article.
Whilst we’re busy writing that up, why not peruse some of Scotland's best places to stay? Plum Guide's expert home critics have vetted the best lodgings in the country, so whether you're after a cosy pad in Edinburgh or you want to stay in a literal Scottish castle, you know you're in for a great night's sleep in a Plum Guide home.