The Scottish Highlands and Islands, where to start? The largest region in the country is home to hundreds of iconic locations, attractions and experiences. Encapsulating centuries of history, culture and traditions, it’s little wonder the area has been named one of the top regions in Lonely Planet’s coveted ‘Best in Travel 2019’.
The Highlands & Islands, alongside neighbouring areas of Moray Speyside and Aberdeenshire in the North East, have more hotspots, famous attractions, and magnificent scenery than we can count. The city of Inverness, Torridon, touring routes, the Isle of Skye, and the Outer Hebrides have been identified as just some of the reasons to visit. And as the only area of the whole UK to feature in the awards, what better time to read on to find out more?
Inverness is compact and cosmopolitan with culture and historical treasures around every corner. Alongside its perfect city break status, Inverness has a world of natural treasures and landscapes on its doorstep, including Loch Ness, and the city itself acts as the gateway to the famous North Coast 500. Across the city, head to the historic landmarks of Inverness Castle; where you can enjoy stunning panoramic views over the River Ness. Or head to Inverness Botanic Gardens for a tranquil escape. Only 30 minutes away by car is the legendary Loch Ness, or why not explore the stunning 34-mile South Loch Ness Trail from Torbreck to Fort Augustus?
Go east and you’ll find the Cairngorms National Park, the UK’s largest, which is home to more mountains, rivers, lochs, forests and wildlife than you can imagine. In winter, tackle the slopes on skis or a snowboard, while in summer, test your skills with watersports on Loch Morlich. Year-round soak up the rich landscape and incredible scenery of the North East, that never fails to impress. Two great new additions to the area are the 90-mile Snow Roads Scenic Route from Blairgowrie to the traditional town of Grantown-on-Spey. While the circular North East 250, runs through the beautiful landscapes and coasts of Moray Speyside and Aberdeenshire. Speyside is whisky heaven! Well-known for its delicious whisky and numerous distilleries, the area is arguably the most famous of Scotland’s five whisky regions. The world famous Malt Whisky Trail is set here and takes in seven working distilleries, one historic distillery and the fascinating Speyside Cooperage.
Isle of Skye and the West Coast
The scenery of the Isle of Skye will definitely leave a lasting impression on you. Wherever you go on the island, you’ll be blown away by the stunning geological features that surround you. Also known as ‘the garden of Skye’, the beautiful area of Sleat boasts violet, heather-clad mountains, glistening blue seas, dramatic rocky shorelines alongside lush gardens. And plenty of history too including Armadale Castle, Gardens & Museum, the spiritual home of Clan Donald. Further north, Dunvegan Castle & Gardens is a must visit and features the famous Fairy Flag. Why not leave the car and head to the Isle of Raasay for a day of adventures and exploring? Make sure you pay a visit to the marvellous Isle of Raasay Distillery as well. Only a ferry hop away from Skye, explore the breathtaking area of Lochaber, which is home to the quaint fishing port of Mallaig, the pretty village of Arisaig, and many hills, sandy beaches, and the most westerly point on Scotland’s mainland – Ardnamurchan Point.
Torridon and the North Highlands
About 60-miles west of Inverness you’ll discover the dramatic setting of Torridon in Wester Ross – a true playground for hill walkers and explorers. Venture to Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve in Kinlochewe which is home to a cluster of mountain peaks, ancient pinewoods, soaring eagles, a variety of wildlife and more. The area is a true paradise if you love the outdoors and are looking for a rural retreat. Scotland’s North Coast 500 has often been compared to America’s Route 66, and tours around the northern coast and some of the most remote points of the North Highlands. Starting and finishing in Inverness, the route covers 516-miles of raw Scottish landscape. Complete with the freedom of the long open road, it’s the perfect way to have a road trip of a lifetime. In the far north, the areas of Durness, Tongue and Caithness boast dramatic landscapes, pristine beaches, and a wide range of wonderful wildlife which you can discover en route, such as sea eagles, red deer, wild cats, red squirrels and more. Nearby, John O’Groats is the most northerly point of Britain’s mainland, and from here you can venture onto the scenic 147-mile coastal John O’Groats Trail to Inverness. There are many more areas to uncover, such as the Falls of Shin, Whalligoe Steps, Lochinver, and Dornoch, all of which encapsulate the true heart of the North Highlands.
The Outer Hebrides
Magical, mystical, enchanting… just a few words that are often used to describe the Outer Hebrides. These incredible islands boast a different pace of life and are home to untouched landscapes, crystal clear waters and golden sandy shores. The Outer Hebrides is made up of 13 main islands, the largest and most northerly being the Isle of Lewis. The fabulous Hebridean Way from Vatersay in the south to the Isle of Lewis in the north is not to be missed. The Eat Drink Hebrides Trail leads you to all the best places to find food and drink across Outer Hebrides, capturing a range of different flavours from succulent seafood and gin to the world-famous Stornoway black pudding! The Outer Hebrides is the birthplace of the authentic Harris Tweed – look out for the family-run Harris Tweed and Knitwear Company, which still produces the hand-spun and woven fabric to this day.
A historic area of Scotland that boasts ancient traditions and culture, you can commonly hear Gaelic being spoken in pubs and local restaurants, or sung in bars by folk musicians. Many locations in the area are often mistaken for being tropical, Mediterranean getaways, such the golden Berneray Sands Beach, or the crystal-clear waters of Traigh Hornais, both of which can be found on the stunning North Uist. Between North and South Uist, the small island of Benbecula is also home to far-fetched beaches with stunning white sands and clear blue waters, alongside its flat, low-lying landscape which makes perfect conditions for cycling around the island.
Of course, these are just a few of the amazing things to see and do in the Highlands and Islands, Moray Speyside and Aberdeenshire. There is plenty more to uncover from coast to coast up and down the region, so what are you waiting for?
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