Endless waterfalls, rolling hills and historic castles: if nothing else, the lovely scenery should put Scotland at the top of your 2017 travel list. When you enter the Scottish Highlands, it feels as if you’ve entered another realm. This winter, I was fortunate enough to spend six weeks working at a local hostel in Fort William. Even now, I wake up missing the Scottish views and the fresh air that came with them.
For those six weeks, I explored the little towns near Fort William and tried to hike the Ben Nevis mountain. While Scotland is known for it’s awful weather during the autumn and winter months, I was fortunate enough to have many sunny days which I took full advantage of. Here’s my guide to making the most of the Scottish Highlands!
Glencoe is one of those places you will want to visit over and over again. Probably one of Scotland’s famous and most scenic glens, it holds a rich history and many things to see and do. You can hike the Three Sisters (the most famous peaks of Glencoe), visit the “Lost Valley”, water sports, and much more. If you fly into Glasgow and head toward Fort William, you will surely travel through Glencoe. It’s majestic in every sense of the word. The West Highland Way also runs through Glencoe, so if you stop there you will see many hikers and backpackers making their way to Inverness. My first time in Glencoe, I planned to stop there to see the Three Sisters and take in some scenic views. But I didn’t expect how many lochs, waterfalls, and mountains we’d see along the way. The scenic drive is what drew me to this part of Scotland and had me coming back again and again.
One of my favorite things about exploring the Scottish Highlands is coming across the many waterfalls! It seems as though there are a million waterfalls in the Highlands alone!. My favorite happens to be behind one of the most charming houses in Glencoe. When you’re driving through Glencoe, you will see this spot — pull over! Not only does it makes for a great photo, but it truly captures the essence of the Scottish Highlands. While visiting this house in Glencoe, I climbed up the path to the waterfall behind it and took some of my favorite waterfall photos to date.
A friend and I decided to take a trip through Scotland and ride the Jacobite, the train route used as the Hogwart’s Express in Harry Potter. We ended up in Fort William and I immediately felt at home. From the friendly locals to the charming vibe of the city center, Fort William is a place you will easily fall in love with. So, after I completed my masters, I reached out to a hostel in Fort William and moved there.
When I was working at the hostel, I had many guests ask for tips or ideas of things to do in the area. While Fort William was really known for being home to the Ben Nevis mountain, the surrounding towns/cities were just a short train, bus, or car ride away. I suggest heading to Glenfinnan on the train (it’s home to the Viaduct from Harry Potter!), as well as Loch Shiel, one of the prettiest lochs in Scotland.
When in Glenfinnan, the Glenfinnan Monument and Viaduct are must-sees. It is also home to Loch Shiel, which is nestled in a beautiful valley. If you go at just the right time, you can catch the Jacobite train going across the Viaduct, which is a beautiful sight.
Glenfinnan is a place I first visited when I moved to Fort William. I hiked with a few of my coworkers and it was a real bonding moment. Taking in the beauty of the loch and the viaduct was an experience I’ll never forget. We got lost at first and couldn’t find the way back to the train station! We ended up taking the path that was a little hilly but had the most striking views of Loch Shiel and the Viaduct.
If you plan on making your way towards the Isle of Skye, be sure and stop by Eilean Donan Castle in Dornie (right before you get into the Isle of Skye). When we pulled up to this place, I was stunned by how beautiful it was. It reminded me of something you’d see in a fairytale because of how beautifully situated it is on the loch and the mountainous views behind it.
My friend and I researched castles in Scotland and made a list of the top five we could visit while we lived in Fort William. Eilean Donan was at the top of that list! I recommend going when it’s a nice day in Scotland, so you are able to enjoy the walk and explore the castle.
This trip was one of our longest, and I spent the two hour bus ride glued to my window as I watched the landscapes change. If you are renting a car, it may take you four hours to get there but it’s worth it because of the views along the way. With a car, you will have the freedom to stop off at any point, and enjoy the scenery a bit more than you would if you take the bus.
The Scottish Highlands are some of the most beautiful towns, cities and landscapes you will ever see. It is a magical place to visit. From Loch Ness lake to the coastal city of Oban, there are many more places for you to explore during your time in Scotland. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.