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Driving The Scottish Highlands: Mountains, Lochs, and Glens!

Scottish Highlands Travel Guide
Best Things To Do in the Scottish Highlands
Highlands, Scotland

The Scottish Highlands are just as beautiful as you’ve imagined. Here are my tips for exploring the best of the highlands on your Scotland road trip adventure.

The Scottish Highlands have been on my bucket list for years. After returning from a wonderful 4-day road trip through the region of Lochaber and the West Highlands, I wanted to share my itinerary for the Scottish highlands with you.

Why should you visit the Highlands of Scotland?

Well, if you’re a fan of hiking majestic mountain ranges, floating mist-covered lochs, or exploring ancient forests, then you’ll love the Highlands of Scotland.

This region in Scotland north-west of the Highland Boundary Fault (between Helensburgh & Stonehaven) provides travelers with fantastic landscape photography opportunities and a hearty dose of Scottish charm.

If you’re planning to visit Scotland, I wanted to recommend a few fun and unusual things to do in the Scottish Highlands, no matter what time of year you visit.

Scottish Highlands Map

HOW TO USE THIS MAP: Above you’ll find a map of highlights in the Scottish Highlands. Click on the top left of the map to find separate layers marking the route and points of interest. You can hide and show different layers, or click icons on the map to see the names of places I mention in this travel guide. “Star” the map to save it to your own Google Maps, or open the map in a new window for a larger version. Enjoy!

Scotland Travel Restrictions 2021

Fully vaccinated people from the EU and US will be able to travel to Scotland without quarantining starting August 2nd. All travelers will still be required to produce a negative test prior to departure to Scotland, and a negative PCR test on day two after arrival in the country.

You can read the latest updates on traveling to Scotland here.

Scottish Highlands Road Trip Itinerary

1. Setting Out from Glasgow

Scottish Highlands Itinerary
The Famous Highlands Coo!

My Scottish Highlands road trip itinerary began in Glasgow after taking the train from Edinburgh. From there, I rented a car and began driving up to Fort William along route A82 on my way to the Isle of Skye in early July.

The area of Lochaber around Fort William is considered the outdoor adventure capital of Scotland and the United Kingdom. So I spent most of my time there.

The Scottish landscape was exceptionally green after weeks of rain.

Weather in the Highlands of Scotland is often cold, windy, and rainy — however don’t let that dissuade you, these conditions also produce some very dramatic scenery for photography.

There’s tumultuous history in the countryside too… dark tales of epic clan battles and murderous plots. Mythical legends of lake monsters, fairies, and goblins! Learning about the history was half the fun.

2. Beautiful Loch Lomond

Driving the Highlands of Scotland
Route A82 By Loch Lomond

My first stop on the drive from Glasgow into the Highlands was the town of Balloch on the banks of Loch Lomond. This area is part of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.

It was raining pretty heavily, so we didn’t stick around too long, but I did walk aboard the Maid Of The Loch, a fantastic 60-year-old paddle steamship currently undergoing renovation.

Further up the road, make sure to pop into the 300-year-old (and some say haunted) Drovers Inn for traditional Scottish food or a dram of whisky (as long as someone else is driving!).

This quirky & historic stone lodge sits directly in front of a steep mountain waterfall. Stepping inside the building feels like stepping back in time…

Loch Lomond Boat

Loch Lomond Cruise

Enjoy spectacular views of the magnificent Ben Lomond and the highland boundary fault line on this 1-hour cruise.

3. Driving Through Glen Etive

Glen Etive Mountain Road
Glen Etive in the Highlands

A winding single track lane passing into the narrow valley of Glen Etive will have any driving enthusiast grinning from ear to ear. It’s a wonderful little side trip while driving through the Scottish Highlands.

You’ve probably already seen Glen Etive before, but didn’t know it. The landscape was a filming location for the popular James Bond movie Skyfall, where James takes his iconic Aston Martin DB5 out for a drive.

Foxglove Flowers in Scotland
Deadly Foxglove Flowers

The icy cold Etive River passes beside the road, and for the more adventurous, it’s a great place to go cliff jumping. Hiking or kayaking (with your own gear) around Loch Etive at the end of the road is another option.

Wild camping is popular in the glen, but PLEASE remember to leave no trace. It would be a shame to ruin such a beautiful landscape with trash from disrespectful campers…

Highlands Tour

Highlands Big 4 Tour

Spend a day exploring the top highlights in the Scottish Highlands on a guided tour.

4. Hiking The Scottish Highlands

Hiking in the Scottish Highlands
Nevis Gorge Hike in the Highlands

If you’re a hiker, the Scottish Highlands have trails for all levels. Lochaber is home to Ben Nevis, the United Kingdom’s highest mountain at 4,416 ft (1,346 m).

Munro bagging is a popular activity — summiting mountains over 3,000 feet.

For those who enjoy long-distance treks, the West Highland Way stretches some 96 miles through the best of the Highlands and takes most hikers 5-7 days.

Wire Bridge in the Highlands
Scary Wire Bridge!

You can carry everything with you, or hire a company to transport the bulk of your gear to guesthouses ahead of your arrival.

Countless shorter day hikes can be found in the area too.

One of my favorites was Steall Falls and Nevis Gorge, where the trail follows a mountain river funneling into a narrow rocky gorge. It ends with Scotland’s 2nd highest waterfall dropping over 300 feet.

5. The Dark History Of Glen Coe

Three Sisters Peaks in Scottish Highlands
Three Sisters Mountains in Glencoe

Widely considered one of the most beautiful areas of the United Kingdom, the spectacular valley of Glen Coe has a haunted past — a 17th-century massacre of 38 members of the MacDonald Clan in the snow.

Another 40 women & children died of exposure when their homes were burned to the ground.

Highlands Tour

Highlands Big 4 Tour

Spend a day exploring the top highlights in the Scottish Highlands on a guided tour.

Sheep hiding in grass
Random Sheep Everywhere!

Yet the landscape is equally as haunting as its past. Driving around the towering peaks of the “Three Sisters” under foreboding clouds & drizzling rain, you can feel the weight of sadness on this place.

Pull off in a parking area for photos, or spend an afternoon hiking some trails. Further on is the village of Glencoe, where you can find lodges, cafes, or restaurants to help break up the drive.

6. The Jacobite Steam Train

Train in Scottish Highlands
Jacobite Steam Train

Remember the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter? Well, that train really exists! The Jacobite Steam Train has been called the most scenic train journey in the world, and for good reason.

Starting in Fort William, this 84 mile journey takes passengers deep into the Highlands, ending at the small fishing village of Mallaig.

Hogwart's Express Scotland
All Aboard the Hogwart’s Express!

Along the way it travels across old stone bridges, through misty mountain passes, and past deep freshwater lochs.

Tickets sell out fast, but if you’re driving nearby, you should stop at the lookout over Glenfinnan Viaduct, where the train passes around 11am and 3pm for wonderful photo opportunities!

Highlands Train Tour

Ride The Hogwarts Express!

Jump on board the Hogwarts Express for an unforgettable journey on the Jacobite Steam Train in the Highlands.

7. Monster Spotting At Loch Ness

Loch Ness Scotland
Scottland’s Famous Loch Ness

Loch Ness is a deep, cold, and very murky lake in the heart of the Scottish Highlands near the town of Inverness. For years locals and tourists have reported witnessing a large unidentified creature with a long neck swimming through the water.

A popular activity is sailing across Loch Ness to the ancient ruins of Urquart Castle, searching for the Loch Ness Monster (aka Nessie) along the way.

Urquhart Castle Highlands
Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness

I stopped by Loch Ness while driving back from Skye to catch a train to Glasgow at the end of my journey.

Some people believe Nessie is a plesiosaur, a dinosaur who’s survived to modern times by living isolated from the sea within the loch.

What do you think? Is the Loch Ness Monster real?

Loch Ness Boat

Loch Ness Boat Tours

Enjoy stunning views of Loch Ness and the Scottish Highlands on a boat cruise while looking for Nessie!

8. Mountain Biking The Nevis Range

Mountain Biking Highlands
Mountain Biking in Scotland

Under the shadow of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain, lies the Nevis Range mountain bike trails. They have trails for all levels, from relaxing forrest routes to white-knuckle World Cup downhill tracks.

You can rent all sorts of different bikes and protective gear from £25 – £60 per day, and either cycle uphill through the cross country trails on your own, or ride the gondola lift up to the world-class downhill trails.

I spent the morning riding the “Witches Trails”, a fun mix of single track and wider trails that wind through the trees, with the occasional wooden boardwalk or ramp. A low mist had the forest looking particularly eerie.

Scotland is home to quite a few professional mountain bikers, including Danny Macaskill, the star of an epic short YouTube film called “The Ridge” shot on the Isle of Skye. It will make your heart race!

9. Ancient Castles & Cathedrals

Eilean Donan Castle Highlands
Scotland’s Eilean Donan Castle

It goes without saying that Scotland is overflowing with its share of magnificent castles. There are literally hundreds of them, both ruined and active residences.

Scotland’s castles were built as military fortifications, and there are plenty of epic battle stories or sensational legends to learn about once you visit them.

I had the chance to visit a few, like the incredibly picturesque Eilean Donan, the MacLeod family stronghold of Dunvegan in Skye, and the ruins of Urquhart Castle along Loch Ness.

If you’re a fan of old stone churches too, make sure to stop by Glenfinnan Church, St. Andrews, and St. Johns of Ballachulish as you drive through the Highlands.

Scottish Castle

Highlands & Castles Tour

Take in some of the most dramatic and stunning landscapes Scotland, including its castles.

Getting Around The Highlands

Rental Car

The best site to book your rental car is with Discover Cars. They search both local and international car rental companies to help you find the best possible price. This is the easiest way to rent a car for driving in Scotland.

By Train

Traveling by train is a wonderful way to see the Scottish Highlands. You can find train schedules on the ScotRail website. But while traveling by train is possible, there aren’t many stops in the highlands, so you’ll miss a lot without a car.

Rental Cars

Rent A Car In Scotland

Search both local and international car rental companies to help you find a good deal.

Episcopal Church Highlands
Cool Church in the Highlands

Where To Stay In Scotland

The unofficial capital of the Scottish Highlands is the town of Fort William. During the summer high season, hotels here can sell out fast so it’s important to book in advance! If you’re wondering where to stay in the Scottish highlands, here are my recommendations.


BEST ACCOMMODATION IN SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS


Camping Options In the Highlands

Wild camping is allowed all over the Scottish Highlands, as long as you follow Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code. Remember to leave no trace! There are a few “bothys” too — wilderness cabins free for hikers to use.

Weather In The Scottish Highlands

Scotland’s weather is famous around the world! Famous for being bad. Yes, you’ll probably encounter some rain on your trip. But you might see the sun too!

The weather can change quickly from day to day, or even the same day. The best time to visit Scotland is in the summer months, generally May – September. May & June are the driest/warmest months.

Mountains and Rivers in the Highlands
Buachaille Etive Mor

Scottish Highlands Tips & Advice

Once you visit the Scottish Highlands, the area will remain etched in your memory long after you’ve returned home. Here are a few tips to consider before you arrive, to ensure you have a great trip.

  • Everyone thinks of Scotland and the UK as expensive places to visit. While that may have been the case a few years ago, right now the exchange rate is almost equal (thanks Brexit!).
  • Scotland is often wet. So make sure to pack waterproof gear because the weather can, and does, change very quickly year-round.
  • While the drive from Glasgow to Fort William only takes about 2.5 hours, you’ll want to set aside more time to explore! I recommend at least 3 days in the Highlands, if not more.
  • Don’t be afraid of the food! Yes it’s greasy, heavy, and often made of animal guts. I recommend trying Haggis, Blood Sausage, and a Scottish Breakfast.
  • You may find some single-lane roads — with two-way traffic. It can be dangerous if you aren’t paying attention. Watch for little pull-offs on the side of the road to let other cars pass.
Travel Planning Resources For Scotland
Packing Guide
Check out my travel gear guide to help you start packing for your trip.
Book Your Flight
Ready to fly? Here’s how I find the cheapest airline flights.
Rent A Car
Discover Cars is a great site for comparing car prices to find a deal.
Cheap Accommodation
Learn how I save money booking hotels & vacation apartments.
Protect Your Trip
Don’t forget travel insurance! Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read why you should always carry travel insurance.

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READ MORE SCOTLAND TRAVEL TIPS

I hope you enjoyed my guide to exploring the Scottish Highlands! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:


Have any questions about traveling the Scottish Highlands? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Gillian

Wednesday 8th of January 2020

Hello, I come from the west coast of Scotland (Clyde) but live in England now (Cotswolds) I am planning to go up to Scotland and take my elderly relative a road trip up to the highlands, so she can relax and see the scenery. Trying to figure out a route was difficult but I am so glad I Stumbled accross your page. Its fantastic! I shall be using this (best not take the 80 year old granny hiking though!) Thank you so much for taking the time to make this page and to share it 😀 If you ever plan a trip to the cotswolds give me a shout and I can direct you the best places to go Gillian

Denis Havard

Thursday 17th of October 2019

We locals are fed-up with the incompetence of visitors driving and their lack of awareness for others. Read and pay attention to the driving information you are given when renting the vehicle. Do not block the "passing places" by using them to take photos.

It's also stupid to stop in the middle of the road to take photos of highland cattle!

Lesley anderson

Sunday 15th of November 2020

You have a beautiful country. My husband’s ancestors are Mackinnon from skye. He is 2nd generation here is Australia. We go at least once every three years to see the land and still haven’t seen everything. Fortunately in our country, there are verges for people to pull off the road to take photos and we forget that your country doesn’t have that available when we come across a vista that is just breathtaking and have to film it. In future we shall take more care.

David Cameron

Friday 3rd of May 2019

Great post. And love the photographs! I certainly believe Nessie and hope to see it one day.

Jaame-U Morsalin

Wednesday 15th of November 2017

Gorgeous place to drive around, thanks for sharing the stories.

Matthew Karsten

Friday 2nd of February 2018

You should definitely visit the Scottish highlands if you have a chance! It's a beautiful area -- and perfect for those who love the outdoors (or are fans of Harry Potter).

Michael

Sunday 6th of August 2017

What an awesome post. I read this because I have just been in Ireland, but I have heard so many good things about Scotland. After seeing these pics, I am ready to take the plane :-) Nice article, keep up the good work.

Matthew Karsten

Thursday 1st of February 2018

Scotland can be similar to Ireland, the rolling green hills, rainy weather. However the mountains in Scotland are much larger! The Scottish highlands has some excellent hiking if you're into the outdoors.

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