Visiting the Untouched and Wild Scottish Highlands in 2023
Nestled in the northern reaches of Scotland, the Scottish Highlands stand as an enchanting testament to nature’s grandeur. This rugged and pristine expanse is a realm where majestic mountains, shimmering lochs, and timeless tales of Scottish history come together to create an unforgettable destination for adventurers and simply those seeking natural beauty.
The Scottish Highlands, with their dramatic landscapes and rich cultural heritage, invite travelers to embark on an extraordinary journey through a land that seems timeless or untouched by civilization in many regions.
There’s a lot to learn about Scotland such as the Union of the Crowns, Jacobite Rebellions and the Battle of Culloden, to the more recent national pride and independence referendum. The best way to boost your knowledge of this fascinating country and make its history come alive is to dive in head-first and see it for yourself. To get you started, we thought we’d give you an introductory guide to visiting the Scottish Highlands.
Things to Know When Visiting Scotland
Scotland is a popular tourist destination, with millions of visitors arriving each year from the United States, Canada, and further afield. Visitors come for the history, sports, culture, and of course the whiskey which has become a multi-billion dollar industry.
The main airports are Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Prestwick, with Glasgow being the biggest city in Scotland, but Edinburgh is the capital. Scotland offers a wide range of accommodation options, from luxury hotels to hostels and charming B&Bs. It’s a good idea to book accommodation well in advance, especially during popular annual events such as the Edinburgh Festival in August or around popular local sporting events.
English is the official language, but Gaelic is also spoken in some rural areas. Most people you encounter will speak English, and road signs and information are in English. If you plan to rent a car, be aware that Scotland drives on the left side of the road which may be different than you are used to.
Scotland offers a wide range of tours and activities, including whisky tastings, castle visits, hiking trips, and more. Plan your activities in advance to make the most of your visit. And don’t miss the opportunity to try traditional Scottish dishes like haggis, neeps and tatties.
Popular Sports in the Highlands
Scotland has a strong sporting culture with several popular sports and activities to be enjoyed by visitors. And you can do more than just watch sporting events in Scotland since online sports betting is legal and widely available in Scotland as long as it is offered by licensed and regulated operators.
In fact, the UK is home to some of the world’s oldest sportsbooks and you can research trustworthy and safe online sports betting sites at Onlinesportsbetting.net whether you’re wagering on soccer or rugby.
Football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Scotland. The country has a long and passionate history with the sport, and Scottish teams like Celtic and Rangers have a dedicated following. Rugby is also a highly popular, with both Rugby Union and Rugby League being played. Scotland’s national team participates in international tournaments, including the Six Nations Championship.
Scotland is also often considered the birthplace of golf, and it boasts some of the world’s most iconic golf courses, including St Andrews. Golf is much more than just a sport, rather it’s a significant part of Scottish culture.
When it comes to focusing on the highlands, there’s shinty which is a traditional Scottish sport similar to field hockey. It is a particularly popular sport in the Highlands and islands of Scotland, and the Camanachd Cup is one of the sport’s most prestigious competitions.
And while not a sport in the traditional sense, the Highland Games are a beloved Scottish tradition that includes athletic events like caber tossing (caber being a long tree trunk or pole), tug-of-war, and hammer throwing, alongside cultural and entertainment elements.
Most visitors arrive during the summer when the weather is fair, and the social schedule features events like the Edinburgh Festival and the Scottish FA Cup. But there’s something to see in Scotland year-round, including the Military Tattoo in Edinburgh or the Scottish Open at one of the country’s world-famous golf courses. Horse racing fans also enjoy the Scottish National in summer at Ayr Racecourse.
Travel Safety in the Highlands
Scotland is one of Europe’s safest places to visit, and crime rates in certain parts of the country are nearly non-existent. Some towns and villages are so remote they barely have what could be considered a police station.
As with any other place in the world, it’s essential to take some basic precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit. If you plan to drive in the Highlands yourself as opposed to joining an organized tour, be aware of the road conditions, especially in more remote areas. The roads can be narrow and winding, and weather conditions can change rapidly.
Scotland’s weather can be unpredictable, so be prepared for varying conditions. Dress in layers and carry waterproof clothing, even in the summer months. And when planning outdoor activities like hiking, you may want to inform your accommodation staff of your plans and estimated return time, or inform family back home of your plans and check-in with them upon your return.
Familiarize yourself with the terrain, and if you’re not experienced, consider hiring a local guide for more challenging hikes. While encounters with wildlife in Scotland are generally rare, be aware of the potential for encounters with animals such as deer or Highland cattle, especially when driving in rural areas.
Top Scottish Highlands Cities & Towns to Visit
While the Highlands are more renowned for their natural beauty than their cities, there are several cities and towns worth visiting in the region. Each offers its own unique charm and attractions.
As the largest city in the Highlands, Inverness is often considered the gateway to the Highlands. It sits along the banks of the River Ness and offers a mix of history, culture, and natural beauty. Explore Inverness Castle, visit the Culloden Battlefield, and take a boat trip on Loch Ness to search for the elusive Loch Ness Monster.
Nestled at the foot of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak, Fort William is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. It’s a great base for hiking, mountain biking, and exploring the nearby Glencoe and Glenfinnan.
Located on the west coast, Oban is a picturesque seaside town known as the “Gateway to the Isles.” It’s famous for its seafood, including delicious seafood restaurants, and you can catch ferries to various nearby islands.
Known for its historic cathedral Dornoch is a charming town on the east coast. It’s a popular destination for golfers, as it’s home to the Royal Dornoch Golf Club. Meanwhile, located in the far north of the Highlands, Thurso is a coastal town known for its excellent surfing conditions and proximity to the Orkney Islands. It’s a great place to explore Scotland’s northernmost reaches.
And lastly, while technically not in the Highlands, Stirling is home to the famous Stirling Castle and is often included in Highland itineraries due to its proximity to the Highlands.
Visiting the Lochs
The Highlands are known for their rugged and scenic landscapes, which are dotted with lochs of various sizes. Some of these lochs are well-known and widely visited, while others are more remote and less frequented.
Lochs can be found throughout the Highland region, including in national parks like Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park and the Cairngorms National Park. Loch Ness, Loch Lomond, Loch Maree, and Loch Tay are among the more famous and larger lochs in the area.
Additionally, there are many smaller lochs and lochans (small lakes or ponds) scattered across the Highlands, often hidden in the midst of dramatic mountain scenery. Exploring the lochs and their surroundings is a significant part of the Highland experience, whether you’re interested in hiking, boating, fishing, or simply enjoying the breathtaking views.
Loch Ness is perhaps the most famous of all Scottish lochs, thanks to the legend of the Loch Ness Monster. While the monster’s existence remains unproven, the loch itself is stunning. You can take boat tours on Loch Ness to appreciate its size and serenity. Don’t forget to visit the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition to learn about the area’s history and the Nessie legend.
Located in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, Loch Lomond is Scotland’s largest freshwater lake. It offers a wide range of water-based activities like kayaking, fishing, and boat cruises. The town of Balloch on the southern shores is a popular starting point for exploring the loch.
Loch Shiel is famous for its beauty and for being the fictional Black Lake in the Harry Potter films. You can take boat trips on the loch to admire the scenery and visit Glenfinnan, where the Hogwarts Express viaduct is located.
Loch Duich is home to Eilean Donan Castle, one of Scotland’s most iconic castles. The castle is situated on a small island at the entrance to the loch and is a must-visit for its historical and scenic significance.