Head north of the United Kingdom to Scotland’s Highlands and Islands to experience clean air, white sand beaches with lapping turquoise water, fresh fish, vintage whiskey, rolling hills, roaming wildlife, scenic villages, a singsong, and friendly people.
Where are the Scottish Highlands?
The Highlands officially starts at the city of Inverness. Inverness is 156 miles from Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, and 168 miles from the Rough Guides friendliest city in the world, Glasgow. Although there is public transport (bus and trains) from both cities to Inverness it is recommended to rent a car, campervan or visit with a tour as access to and efficiency of public transport ends at Inverness. There are buses at selected stops throughout the Highlands but they run on what locals affectionately call ‘Sunday service’.
Unmissable Highlands stops and what to do there
Inverness is a city with a variety of restaurants, accommodation for every budget, and the first of the many of the castles in the Highlands, Urquhart Castle. Many tourists also rate a night out at Hootenanny for traditional music and a spot of ceilidh dancing! Loch Ness boat tours leave from Inverness if you want to go Nessy spotting. Close to Inverness, you can stand on the grounds of Culloden where the last Jacobite rebellion fought.
At the end of the winding Bealach na Bá road, you’ll find the tiny scenic village of Applecross. Most stop here for a fresh fish meal or to camp.
This village is where many Scots spent their childhood holidays at the beach. Golfers should check out the course with the Isle of Skye in the background. Boat tours give holiday-makers the chance to spot some whales. There are many beaches along the west coast of the Highlands. On the way to Ullapool, drivers can stop off at Mellon Udrigle, why not spend the night there? Bring your tent.
Music fills the air in Ullapool. This bustling (and extremely busy) big village attracts tourists because of its art scene and friendly locals. Look out for my friend Kim Richards singing at The Ceilidh Place, The Arch Inn or the Argyl Hotel. A hike up Stac Pollaidh is recommended to clear the cobwebs after a night of singsongs. For more tips, check out our guide to the North Coast 500 road trip.
Ullapool is also a port for boat rides to the west coast Islands.
On the road to Lochinver look out for Ardvreck Castle, more beaches, and Kylesku Bridge. Driving along this road is spectacular.
Head northwest to what seems like the end of the world, to catch a boat to the most westerly lighthouse in Scotland. You’ll need to park the car and take a boat ride to get there.
Durness is home to Smoo Cave and Cocoa Mountain. Take the short, guided boat ride into the cave to find out some scary stories then warm up with a luxury hot chocolate at Cocoa Mountain.
Alight at the most northern tip of the mainland for a trip to Orkney. Or stay on dry land, walking the path from John O’Groats to Duncansby Head.
Nip to Balblair Distillery for a nip of whiskey and Glenmorangie for more. Designated driver required to adhere to the strict Scottish driving laws.
Stay the night in the quiet of Cromarty, watch for farmers picking up the morning papers in their tractors.
Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, is great for a few days but raw Scotland, with cows in fields and untouched beaches (because of the weather), is found up north and well worth hiring a car and getting out of the city for.
Accommodation in the Highlands books up fast in summer especially now that Scotland’s answer to route 66, the North Coast 500, is the hottest holiday trend. Inverness hotels include located in country houses and even castles.
Those on a tighter budget may want to consider hostels and camping. Wild camping is allowed in Scotland. Bed and breakfasts (guesthouses) are very popular in Scotland; the size of rooms and types of amenities differ but they are a great way to meet locals and tap into the Highland’s hidden gems. Most B&Bs now advertise through Airbnb (but they were running before the phenomenon).
Weather in the Highlands
The best time to visit is Spring through to Autumn. Tourism tends to die off around October. During winter, the A roads (our single-track roads) can sometimes close due to bad weather so do consider this when planning your trip. It is Scotland, so naturally, rain falls in all seasons. Pack rain gear.
We do not have a problem with mosquitoes in the UK but we do have the dreaded midges. These winged insects nip and leave a nasty mark which can be itchy. Avoid stagnant water, cover up and layer with the Smidge spray.