Wide open spaces, fairytale castles, and mesmerizing scenery collide in the north of Scotland, a region that inspires the wanderlust spirit in all of us. Whether you’re cruising through the never-ending rolling hills or wandering around an ancient fortress, a Scottish Highlands tour will capture your heart with its rugged terrain, charming culture, and riveting history.
Follow our Scottish Highlands Travel Guide, complete with tips for visiting the Scottish Highlands from our staffers and travelers, and make sure you don’t miss a moment, landmark, or viewpoint. Below are all the things to know before visiting the Scottish Highlands on tour with us!
Currency: Pound sterling, which is commonly referred to as the “pound.” You might hear locals use “quid” (e.g., “that’ll be five quid”) in the same way Americans refer to dollars as “bucks.” “Pence” is Scotland’s version of pennies, with one hundred pence equaling one pound.
Language: English—emphasized with a lovely Scottish accent!
Location: You might be wondering, where are the Scottish Highlands? The Scottish Highlands dominate the sparsely populated northern third of Scotland, a region where the breathtaking sights outnumber the area’s friendly residents.
Getting around: The best way to explore the Highlands is by car or private motor coach on tour. Many of the sights and attractions are spread out over the country’s vast terrain and require a drive.
Phrases to know: “Hiya” is a common greeting. You can reply with the same, or simply say “hello.” “Aye,” which means yes, is heard frequently throughout Scotland. If you find yourself out and about on a rainy day, you might hear locals saying, “What a dreich day,” referring to dreary or damp weather.
WHEN TO TRAVEL TO THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS
Here’s one of our best Scottish Highlands travel tips: Don’t let rainy weather deter you! Regardless of the season, Scotland is known for wet weather (silver lining: emerald green hills!), but remember that a day that starts out cool and misty could quickly turn warm and sunny by afternoon.
When is the best time to visit the Scottish Highlands? The region is breathtaking in any season, however a visit in spring or summer highlights the beautiful natural landscapes in the Scottish Highlands. Travel to the Scottish Highlands in spring and witness the landscape bloom with greenery and fields of flowers. Summer months bring the warmest temperatures and a greater chance of sunny days—ideal for getting outside to explore all of the Scottish Highland attractions.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A TRIP TO THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS
All-weather clothing is best when traveling to the Scottish Highlands. Chilly mornings and evenings are typical, rainy spells are common, and warm sunshine often prevails in the afternoons. Check out our packing list and make sure you’re comfortable and prepared for gallivanting around the Scottish Highlands.
- Layers like t-shirts, long-sleeves, and hoodies that are easy to peel off throughout the day (and pile back on in the evening) are your best friend.
- A waterproof jacket is essential. Something lightweight and compact that fits in your daypack is best.
- A collapsible umbrella comes in handy for those surprise rain showers.
- Comfortable walking shoes are key when you set off on foot to explore the Highlands. While on tour in England, Scotland, & Ireland, our traveler Stephanie said, “There’s a lot of walking. When you visit a new place you really want to explore the area, so be prepared for that: bring good walking shoes.”
- A hat is useful in any condition. Whether it keeps the sun off your face or your head dry, you’ll be thankful for the cover.
THINGS TO DO IN THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS
Scotland is known for its castles and there’s more than enough to explore on a Scottish Highlands tour. However, if you’re wondering what to do in the Scottish Highlands after you conquer all the castles, we’ve got plenty of ideas.
We got the inside scoop from our travel experts to bring you the best things to do in the Scottish Highlands. Whether you want to learn some new dance moves, sample the national drink, or marvel at the mind-blowing scenery, we have a list of activities to fit every traveler’s wish list.
- Drink scotch. It’s not a trip to Scotland without a taste of the country’s namesake whisky. By law, authentic Scotch can only be produced at a distillery in Scotland. Tour Oban Distillery and learn about the malt whisky making process from a knowledgeable guide as part of the Landscapes of Scotland tour. Or taste your way around Blair Athol Distillery while you explore Edinburgh & the Castles of Scotland. Bottoms up!
- Discover Loch Ness. Famous for its legendary monster, “Nessie,” Loch Ness is one of the best places to visit in the Scottish Highlands. On tour you can cruise around the loch and take in the tranquil views while keeping one eye open for Nessie herself. If you’re curious about the many “Nessie spottings” over the centuries, the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition in Drumnadrochit chronicles all the alleged monster encounters.
- Listen to bagpipes. It’s not uncommon to hear the blaring notes of bagpipes in the distance while traveling through the Scottish Highlands. Settle in for the full experience and take part in a traditional Céilidh, complete with bagpipe serenades and Scottish country dancing. It’s a party you won’t soon forget and one of the top things to do in the Scottish Highlands. Another way to catch a bagpipe show is to snag tickets to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an annual August event that showcases the best martial bands and dancers in the world. Check out our Edinburgh Travel Guide for more on this and other things to do in Edinburgh.
- Visit Glencoe. Immerse yourself in history and nature in the scenic village of Glencoe on our Landscapes of Scotland tour. Perched on a steep-sided valley surrounded by towering mountains, the enchanted location is just the start of Glencoe’s charm. Make the mile-and-a-half trek up Signal Rock (where according to legend the signal was given to start the infamous Massacre at Glencoe) and gaze out on Loch Levens below. Keep your eyes open for wildlife like red deer and foxes along the way. When you’ve had your fill of vistas, return to the town to learn about the local culture and history at the Glencoe Folk Museum.
- Explore ancient castles. Scotland is scattered with castles... 1,500 to be exact. From Medieval times to more recent centuries, each one reveals a piece of Scotland’s captivating history. While all of Scotland’s castles are worthy, Urquhart Castle is one of the best places to visit in the Scottish Highlands while on tour. The castle ruins double as a historic attraction and an epic viewpoint over the picturesque Loch Ness. It also happens to be a film location for the TV series, Outlander*. Check out all the other *Outlander filming locations in Scotland that traveler Lisa visited on her Customized Tour.
- Soak up dramatic landscapes. One of the best things to do in the Scottish Highlands is to take to the hills. Every twist of the winding country road boasts a view more incredible than the last—so don’t plan on napping between destinations while on tour! Pass through Trossachs National Park and look out over Loch Lomond, traverse the Western Highlands (keeping your eyes open for shaggy Highland cows!), and take in the beauty of the valleys, mountains, and lochs that shape the region. The landscapes are so impressive that we named them one of the 6 things we love about Scotland.
HOW TO SPEND FREE TIME IN THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS
Whether you’re a history buff, a nature-lover, or a foodie at heart, we want you to get the most out of your tour of Scotland. That’s why our Scottish Highlands Travel Guide includes these travel tips on how to spend free time on tour.
- Trek around Loch Ness. Monster legends aside, Loch Ness is an idyllic place to spend the day. Set off on a trek and get a new perspective on the loch with a 3-hour climb up Meall Fuar-mhonaidh.
- Drive up Glen Affric. The spectacular views of the surrounding glens, mountains, moorlands, and lochs are worth the one-hour drive from Inverness.
- Cruise the Glen Evite Road in Glencoe. This 12-mile stretch of road is hailed as one of one of Scotland’s most beautiful drives—quite an accomplishment when you consider all the competition! The renowned road is lined with craggily mountains, emerald valleys, and the cascading River Etive. The road ends at the stunning Loch Etive where you can soak up the scenery before driving back.
- Visit the Isle of Skye. Just when you think your tour of the Scottish Highlands can’t get any more gorgeous, an excursion to the Isle of Skye might just prove you wrong. The rugged mountainous landscape, quaint fishing villages, and the Eilean Donan Castle make Skye one of the best places to visit in the Scottish Highlands.
- Grab a bite and a pint. There’s no shortage of Scottish pubs, but there are a few that shouldn’t be overlooked. After a day of exploration in Glencoe, kick back in the historic Kingshouse, a centuries-old bar with an exceptional view of Buachaille Etive Mor. Mcnab’s Inn on the Isle of Skye is another must-make pitstop that offers several locally-brewed beers and local fare. Check out the top 4 things to do in the Isle of Skye to make the most of your visit.
WHAT TO EAT & DRINK IN THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS
Scottish Highlands travel should definitely include plenty of eating and drinking. Scottish cuisine draws influence from its local environment as well as British dishes and European fare. The result is a multicultural combination of foods with some long-standing Scottish favorites. From the North Sea’s fresh seafood offerings to intriguing traditional dishes, a hearty meal is never hard to find while on our Scotland tours.
- Fish n’ chips. Fish in any form is a must-try in the Scottish Highlands, but a big chunk of fried fish on top of a heaping pile of fries (salt and vinegar optional but recommended) is a staple meal. Keep your eyes peeled for “mom and pop” shops—the smaller the shop, the better the fish n’ chips.
- Haggis. Wondering how to travel the Scottish Highlands like a local? Digging into Scotland’s national dish is one way to do it! Haggis combines sheep’s liver, heart, and lung mixed with onion, oatmeal, and other spices to create a savory and filling meal. Haggis is typically served with “neeps and tatties,” aka turnips and potatoes. Our staffer Lori named eating Haggis in Scotland as one of the best parts of her England, Scotland, and Ireland tour. She said, “It’s definitely something you can’t leave Scotland without trying!”
- Black pudding. If you’re feeling adventurous, you might want to try Black Pudding (no, it’s not a dessert). Also referred to as Blood Pudding, this is Scotland’s version of blood sausage, and originally developed as an ethical and economic way to use every part of the animal. The mixture is made with pork blood, pork or beef suet, and oatmeal before it’s packed into a sausage casing and served boiled or grilled.
- Orkney cheeses. Hailing from the far-flung northern Orkney Islands, Scottish Highland cheese is famous country-wide. This doesn’t come as a surprise once you see the number of cows in Scotland! Cheddar is the most common variety and an absolute must-try while in the Scottish Highlands. Additionally, there are dozens of farm houses throughout the region that make artisan cheeses. Take advantage and sample other local favorites produced in the Scottish Highlands, like Cannonball (you’ll understand the name when you see it) and the crumbly Grimbister Farmhouse Cheese.
- Edinburgh Rock. This classic Scottish sweet is named after the hill that props up the city’s famous castle. Made from sugar and cream of tartar, the rock candy resembles a piece of chalk (and crumbles like it too), but melts in your mouth like cotton candy.
- Scottish tea. Full-bodied black tea is served all day, every day in Scotland. The Scots drink an average of five cups of tea per day, so it’s only a matter of time until you’re offered to join for a “cuppa.” Choose the Scottish Blend or Brodies, two of Scotland’s most favored teas.
- Scotch Whisky. As the national drink of Scotland, sampling is encouraged—and drinking it where it’s produced is the best lesson on Scotch Whisky that you’ll get anywhere! Whether you’re into peaty and smoky, light and smooth, or single malt or blended, you’ll find your favorite variety in Scotland.
- Irn-Bru. This soda is so popular that it’s considered “Scotland’s other national drink.” The bright orange soda burst onto the scene in 1901 with a secret recipe and is the number one selling soft drink in the country.
SOUVENIRS TO BUY IN THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS
You’ll definitely want to bring back a few mementos to remember your travels to the Scottish Highlands. Luckily, the Scottish Highlands have plenty of unique souvenirs to offer. These are some of the best things to buy in the highlands to commemorate your trip to Scotland.
- Tartan. This plaid-patterned fabric is synonymous with Scotland, so it only makes sense that you come home with a piece of tartan clothing. Tartan is also one of the 6 things we love about Scotland! Kilts are probably the best known tartan garment, but if you’re not sure about actually sporting one at home, pick up a stylish tartan scarf instead. The Highland House of Fraser and The Edinburgh Woollen Mill, both in Inverness, sell a variety of tartan items.
- A Nessie keepsake. This is a unique buy to remember your time spent around the legendary loch. T-shirts, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, toys, you name it—the souvenirs run the gamut at places like Loch Ness Gifts and Great Glen Gifts in Inverness.
- The thistle. As Scotland national flower, the thistle is a common emblem seen around the country. Pick up a framed print, tea towel, piece of pottery, or coaster set with the pretty purple flower.