Castles, whisky, and the wind in your hair; the Scottish Highlands are calling! Home to the increasingly popular North Coast 500 road trip, and rightfully so I think you’ll agree after checking out these 23 things to do in the Scottish Highlands. It’s time to escape Scotland’s cities and go on a real adventure!
Unique Things To Do in The Scottish Highlands
23. See the turquoise seas
Looks like the Seychelles but found in Scotland, do not rub your eyes, you are seeing the truth! Scotland’s west coast has shores of aqua coloured waters and sand as white as snow. Pack a picnic and spend the rare sunny day at the seaside.
22. Peek at the puffins
From Tarbet, holidaymakers can take a boat tour to Handa Island to see the cute puffins! This boat trip offers panoramic views and the chance to spot guillemots, razorbills, and great skuas. Monday-Saturday only!
21. Sleep in a castle
Sure, you’ve probably visited a castle before but have you had your beauty sleep in one? Scattered along the north east back down to Inverness, there are over six castles for sleepovers, and they are not as expensive as you’d think. Check out this guide to accommodation on the North Coast 500.
20. Take a road trip
The NC500 has exploded in the past year. Heading east or west from Inverness is 500 miles of A roads (single track) taken over by campervans, supercars, and bikes stopping at beautiful beaches, cute fishing villages, and Scottish walking routes.
19. Visit a battle scene in the Scottish Highlands
Just outside of Inverness lies the land which saw the last Jacobite rebellion in 1746, where 1500 men lost their lives in under an hour on this open moor at Culloden.
18. Have a sing song
The Scots in the north don’t just have a sing song in their accent, many of them have music running through their veins. In villages such as Ullapool, there is live music, planned or impromptu, every summer night in at least one of the pubs. Listen out for my talented friend, Kim Richards, such a voice.
17. Dance at a ceilidh
A ceilidh is a dance for couples or groups. They are not for the unfit or the faint hearted. Popular dances include the Gay Gordons, Dashing White Sergeant, and the Eightsome Reel. Party goers can join in the weekly ceilidh at Hootananny every Saturday.
A ceilidh is not to be confused with Highland dancing which is mainly a solo dance performance at competitions (the one with the swords).
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Fijn weekend iedereen! Deze bordjes zie je bij Hootananny, de pub in Inverness, Schotland waar je elke dag live Schotse muziek hoort. De hoofdstad van de Hooglanden is sowieso muzikaal, in het weekend heeft bijna iedere kroeg wel een band, singer-songwriter of folk-orkest staan. Thanks for the image @wwdarling #hootenanny #inverness #OMGB #loveGREATBritain #visitscotland #visitinverness #folk #ceilidh #schotland #scotlandpub #schotsepub #publife #weekend #hootananny
16. Eat fish
Fish is fresh in the Highlands! The langoustine at the Applecross Inn comes highly recommended. You may need to ask how to use the tools that come with it!
15. Chase waterfalls
Don’t listen to TLC, get out on the hunt for Rogie Falls waterfalls in Contin close to Inverness. The area has lots of walks around the falls.
14. Eat expensive pies
There is one reason why every tourist stops in Lochinver and that is to try the freshly made pies which come with sweet or savoury fillings. Don’t worry if you are pining for the pies later, they do mail order! Flying pies…
13. Drink craft beer
The Black Isle is not only a tranquil area of the Scottish Highlands east coast but also home to the Highland’s brewery. 10,000 litres of organic beer is made on the premises and visitors can take a tour to find out more.
Fun fact: The Black Isle Brewery also runs a popular hostel in Inverness. What could be better than staying above a bar?!
12. Visit a Scottish Highlands distillery
What about the water of life? I hear you wail! No stress, there are over six distilleries on the east coast of the Scottish Highlands, all within four hours of each other. Warning: Scotland has strict drink driving laws, this includes ‘the next day’, pick a sober designated driver or choose a tour.
11. Camp on a beach
Wild camping is legal in Scotland which is ideal for those on a tight budget. Check out the wild camping rules before pitching up.
10. Or camp just off a beach
Alternatively, there are campsites with facilities at most beaches such as Clachtoll and Achmelvich. Don’t forget the Smidge and Avon So Soft for the blasted biting midges. Check out the essential packing list for a Scotland road trip here.
Budget backpackers may want to consider the number of Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA) dotted around the Highlands for cheap and social stays.
9. Drive the Bealach na ba
Don’t get too attached to your nails, the Bealach na ba car ride is terrifying! It is worth the trek to get to Applecross. This was Craig’s favourite part of the NC500.
8. Surf in the North Sea
Swap your shorts for your drysuit and surf the wild waves of Thurso in the north east. Thurso has hosted two surf competitions over the years. Believe it or now, surfing in Scotland is more popular than you might think!
7. Visit ruins
Scotland is full of history and the Highlands is a walking museum. Stop off at Ardvreck Castle ruins at Loch Assynt to see where the Macleods and Mackenzies once lived, at separate times of course.
6. Take a boat to Cape Wrath
This boat ride will take you to the most northern westerly lighthouse in the United Kingdom. The weather does dictate how frequent the ferry trips to Cape Wrath are so a level of flexibility is required. The trip lasts up to three hours and there are not toilet facilities after you leave Durness.
5. Island hop
From Ullapool, visitors can take a ferry to the Isle of Lewis. John o’ Groats is the starting point for boat rides to Orkney. While in the area you should make time for Duncansby Head and Stacks of Duncansby. From Fort William holidaymakers can drive to the Isle of Skye over the Skye Bridge or take a bus tour with an informative guide.
4. Holiday like John Lennon
A John Lennon memorial garden is located in the north of Scotland in a town called Durness. Lennon used to holiday here as a child.
3. Hike the highlands
Many of the mountains in the Highlands require a guide or use of a rope but there are some for easy to moderate hike fans. Check out the Stac Pollaidh near Ullapool for a two-hour hike with seriously stunning views. One of the many free things to do in the Highlands.
Surfing is not the only water sport in the north, visitors can also kayak, white water raft and diving. Remember your water tight bags for your phone and camera….as you will get wet!
1. Go whale watching
Minke, humpback and killer whales can be seen from many areas of the Scottish Highlands including the popular holiday village of Gairloch. Seals are also commonly seen here.
Getting there and around
All major cities have rail or bus links to Inverness, the gateway to the Highlands. It is recommended that you hire a car to explore the Scottish Highlands as the public transport system is less than effective once you leave Inverness. ‘A’ roads are the name given to UK single track roads. Most of the Highlands tourist attractions are marked by brown signs.
Many cyclists visit the Highlands to bike around the beautiful west coast, the north coast is more exposed – a tougher ride.
There are so many things to enjoy on the Scottish Highlands that can be done in two days or two weeks! The best time to visit weather wise is spring to autumn (April-October) however the midges like the warmer months too (but not the wind). Whether you are castle hunting, North Sea surfing, wetting your whistle or whetting your appetite there is an activity for everyone in Scotland’s north.
Scotland travel bloggers, Gemma and Craig, are full time workers with a life-long travel habit. Flirting with 30 and let loose on the world! Check in at Two Scots Abroad for travel tips, quips, and pics that please. Go on, MAKE TRAVEL HAPPEN. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.