The scenery alone in the Highlands makes this part of the country worth a couple of days on any trip to Scotland. We would recommend renting a car in order to explore the country-side. There are a number of great towns that provide good home bases for exploring the area. We found lodging in a couple of the larger towns of the Highlands, Aviemore and Inverness.
Things To Do & See
There are a lot of things to do and see while in the Highlands. Much depends upon your personal preference. We have provided a listing of some of the sights and activities that we enjoyed during our two days in the area. We purchased the Scotland Explorer Pass, which guided some of our decisions on what sights to visit. We have also included a few sights that we did not have the opportunity to experience during our short stay.
1) Fort George
An active British military base that covers about 42 acres in the Scottish Highlands. You can easily spend a couple of hours wandering this fort listing to the included audio guide. The fort is impressive and surprisingly one of our top picks of things to visit in the area. The fort also has a museum on site, which provides history, artifacts, and details around the significance of the Highlanders in the Royal Army. The Point Battery is also a good location to see dolphins! We visited on a rainy day, and had the good fortune of watching a handful of dolphins from the Point.
A historical scotch whiskey distillery that is no longer in operation. Closed in 1983 due to the recession and decline in scotch whiskey consumption. An audio guide takes you through the property and steps of the scotch making process in 15 stops. Sample Roderick Dhu Blended Scotch whiskey, made from some of the distilleries 1980s scotch. Inventories of the Roderick Dhu blend and the 1982 Dallas Dhu Single Malt Whiskey are running low!
Spend an hour wandering through the remains of this cathedral (and the beautiful little park located across the street). The western facade remains and a climb to the top of the tower provides beautiful views over the country-side. There is also a room that provides some details on the history of the churches in the area. Covered by the Scotland Explore Pass. Or purhcase a joint ticket with the Spynie Palace, which is located a couple miles away.
Located a couple miles from Elgin Cathedral, this palace was the residence for the bishops. The main building remains allowing you to climb to the top and look out over the city. The remains of other parts of the palace provide an interesting view into how the bishops used to live. A lesser visited site, we found ourselves as the only ones touring. An enjoyable brief visit (half hour), especially if you visit the Elgin Cathedral. Both are covered on the Scotland Explore Pass. Otherwise, elect a joint ticket with the Elgin Cathedral.
Touted as one of the greatest castles in the Highlands, this castle overlooks the famed Loch Ness. Unfortunately, we were not able to visit this castle. Limited parking is available, so arrive early.
6) Loch Ness
Home to the famed Loch Ness monster Nessie, this Loch is located just south of Inverness. There are multiple turn-outs that allow views over one of the longest and deepest Lochs in Scotland.
The Cairngorms and Cairngorms National Park are picturesque backdrop in Scotland. Enjoy a leisurely drive through the scenic area. Explore some of the single track roads and pull off for the many picture opportunities. We found ourselves weaving through the National Park when driving from Dunnottar Castle (near Stonehaven) to Grantown on Spey. There are also some hiking opportunities in the area (see Hiking below.) and skiing during the winter!
Dunnottar Castle is located on the eastern coast of Scotland, a few miles south of town of Stonehaven. The castle is situated on a cliff top. Arrive early to secure a parking spot and hike down the path towards the castle. Note there are a number of steps down to reach the castle (and back up on the return). The castle enjoys beautiful views over the sea. Great picture opportunities of the castle on the approach. Duck off the main path, and follow the secondary path to the south of the castle, across the bridge.
If you enjoy the outdoors and hiking, then Scotland, especially the Highlands, has a lot of opportunities. Walk Highlands website is a good resource to help identify trails across Scotland. Remember that you are in Scotland and be sure to wear / pack water resistant clothing and good foot-ware, as many locations may be soggy, muddy, and/or slippery!
Situated on a peninsula where three lochs meet is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland, Eilean Donan. A great photography location, we only observed the castle from the outside. A tourist center with a cafe and free parking are available.
The Speyside area is know for their Scotch Whiskey. There are 9 distilleries including some well known ones that are located on the “Whiskey Trail”, including Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. Visit the Whikey Trail website for additional details on options and opening times. (Or alternatively, visit each distillery’s website.)