Highlands & Islands
The Highlands and Islands are what people imagine when they think of Scotland. Lochs and Glens, mountain ranges and waterfalls, dense forests and idyllic beaches, romantic castles and distilleries aplenty, the Highland and Islands are Scotland at its most authentic, spectacular and breath-taking. Stretching from just north of Perthshire, including Speyside and the Cairngorms, up to the Shetland Islands and across to the west coast, as far south as Argyle and the Mull of Kintyre, taking in the Inner and Outer Hebrides.
The Highlands and Islands make up Scotland’s largest territory, including most of Scotland’s 790 offshore islands, and are home to much of the finest of what Scotland has to offer. All but a handful of Scotland’s 30,000+ lochs are located in the Highlands and Islands, including Loch Lomond and Loch Ness, as are the vast majority of our mountains and glens, not least Glen Coe, Glen Nevis and the Nevis Range, home to the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. Scotland’s most wonderful wildlife, including Golden Eagles, Mountain Hares, Red Squirrels, Pine Martens, Scottish Wildcats, Red Deer, Ospreys, Grey Seals, Minke Whales and Bottlenose Dolphins, call the lands and the waters of the Highlands and Islands home.
Activities abound. Picture postcard towns and villages like Pitlochry and Plockton are a must-visit, whilst Aviemore is Scotland’s skiing capital. Lochs and rivers provide water sports aplenty, while extreme sports enthusiasts will love the myriad trails and peaks to tackle. The best salmon, trout and saltwater fishing in the world can be found in the Highlands, which also caters for some serious hunting and off-roading opportunities. And, of course, there are distilleries. Of the 120 working distilleries, 102 of them are, technically, within the territory of the Highlands and Islands as 4 of Scotland’s 5 Whisky Regions fall within the vast area, meaning that the Highlands and Islands provide you with pleasures as diverse as the Springbank from Campbelltown to the Benromach of Speyside, the Bowmore of Islay right up to the Highland Park on Orkney.
Incredible natural landscapes thrill throughout the Highlands and Islands but humankind’s influence can be seen and felt. The Glenfinnan Viaduct, as seen in the Harry Potter movies, is an architectural masterpiece and, if you time it right, you might just get to see a steam train crossing it, conjuring up scenes of the Hogwart’s Express. There have been more than 2,000 castles throughout Scotland over the centuries and a great many of them are in the Highlands and Islands. Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness is one of the most famous whilst Eilean Donan Castle, set on its own island and made famous by the movie Highlander overlooks the Isle of Skye, whilst the ancestral seat of Highlander’s Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod for more than 800 years is, actually, spectacular Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. Over on the North East Dunrobin Castle has to be seen to be believed. Continuously inhabited since the early 1300s, it is every inch the romantic, stereotypical ‘Cinderella’s Castle’.
Perhaps there is no better way to appreciate the human touch to the Highlands than to experience the exceptional hospitality on offer throughout, with the freshest seafood, the finest game, countless world class restaurants and welcoming pubs sure to make any visit delicious.
But the Highlands and Islands are so much more than just lochs, mountains and whiskies.
Each of our Islands are a destination in their own right. The Inner Hebrides is an archipelago made up of 35 inhabited and 44 uninhabited islands, including the likes of Mull, Islay, Jura, Skye, Colonsay and Coll. Each blessed with breath-taking landscapes and beaches to rival the Caribbean, there’s a smorgasbord of wonder throughout, from the untouched beauty of Jura to the tranquillity of the ancient abbey of Iona and the mind-blowing geological marvel that is Fingal’s Cave on Staffa. Seas eagles and incredible seafood abound in Tobermory whilst basking sharks can be spotted off the shores of Coll. And the Isle of Skye is something to behold itself, blessed as it is with not just the Cuillin Range and myriad lochs, but with the ethereal Fairy Pools, the Old Man of Storr and the culinary delights of the world famous Three Chimneys and the Michelin Star Loch Bay Restaurant.
The Outer Hebrides, also known as the Western Isles, are a collection of 15 inhabited and more than 50 uninhabited islands, with Lewis and Harris, South Uist, North Uist, Benbecula, Barra and Eriskay among them. Barra is famous for its crystal-clear waters, where kayaking is a popular activity, whilst the Isle of Harris’s world famous Luskentyre Sands are pristine and stretch for miles and contrast greatly with the island’s lunar landscapes. The mysterious standing stones at Calanais on the Isle of Lewis are a wonder and St Kilda is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Orkney and Shetland, to the far north, are gateways to another time, with remnants of ancient civilisations at Skara Brae, Brough of Birsay, Maeshowe and the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney and the unearthed history of the Viking era on Unst in Shetland where excavated Viking longhouses are on display.