As the nights draw in and the cosy log fires are lit, where better to take an autumn break than in the Highlands? Gone are the long days of summer, but don’t despair. Autumn is truly a magical time in the Highlands. September often brings bright skies, dry weather, cosy evenings and many natural wonders – dancing northern lights, golden forests, wonderful wildlife and a natural larder bursting with berries, mushrooms and more.
It’s the perfect time to explore the outdoors during the day and enjoy cosy restaurants and pubs in the evening. And now that most restrictions have been lifted, you can once again experience live music and true Highland hospitality at some great autumn events and festivals.
1. Brighten your days with Autumn Gold
Autumn is one of the most mesmerising times of year in the Highlands, with the trees ablaze with spectacular colours and atmospheric skies full of purple and orange glow.
Lace up your walking boots and head to the Uath Lochans Trail near Kingussie in the Cairngorms National Park and experience sparkling lochans and dazzling woodland, which turn golden hues of rusty red and orange throughout the autumn months.
Brighten your day with a rainbow of fiery colours at Loch Arkaig in Lochaber or at Loch Coulin in Wester Ross, against the evergreen backdrop of the Caledonian Pine Forest, and dramatic purple heather-covered mountains. Or marvel at the lush autumnal views at Inverfarigaig Forest on the South Side of Loch Ness or at Culbin Forest in Moray Speyside.
As the nights draw in, the skies come truly alive in autumn, with spectacular sunsets and dark nights filled with dazzling stars. Discover the wonders of the night at the Tomintoul & Glenlivet Cairngorms Dark Sky Park, the most northernly in the world and the darkest in the UK. Watch the milky way at Abriachan Community Forest near Loch Ness or enjoy the aurora australis at the Northern Lights festival in Wick this october in beautiful Caithness.
2. Enjoy peace and quiet off the beaten track
One of the great advantages of visiting in autumn is the space you’ll have to enjoy the natural wonders of the Highlands. Gone are the crowds of the peak summer months.
With majestic mountains and glens, fjord-like sea lochs and gorgeous beaches, it’s easy to get away from it all. You could escape to the stunning golden sands of Sanna Bay in Ardnamurchan, watch the wild autumn seas from Talisker Bay on the Isle of Skye, or go fishing on the picturesque River Alness.
Home to two of the UK’s six European Geoparks, the geology of the Highlands is simply spectacular. Gaze across 3 billion years of wilderness in the North West Highlands Geopark, and uncover stories of ancient oceans and deserts on the fascinating Rock route. At the Lochaber Geopark, you can explore iconic Glen Coe and Glen Roy and learn about volcanoes, towering mountains and glaciers.
Reconnect with nature and visit some of the 17 National Nature Reserves. With ancient Caledonian forests, shimmering lochs and rugged mountains, Glen Affric looks truly stunning in autumn. Don’t miss the nearby glens of Strathfarrar and Cannich, and many other hidden gems off the beaten track.
3. Make a splash
Refresh your senses and witness waterfalls at their best, from Corrieshalloch Gorge near Ullapool to Steall Falls in Lochaber. Don’t miss one of the highest, Plodda Falls in Glen Affric – It looks truly spectacular after an autumn downpour!
If you’re up for an adventure, discover dazzling autumn scenery as you canoe along the iconic Great Glen Canoe Trail with Explore Highland. Go sailing at Loch Insh Outdoor Centre in the Cairngorms or paddle board along the North Coast 500 with Sutherland Adventure. Have a splashing time riding a wave in Scotland’s surfing capital Thurso with North Coast Watersports or white-water rafting on river Findhorn with Ace Adventure Moray.
Near Inverness, don’t miss a cruise with Loch Ness by Jacobite and uncover the myths and legends of this legendary loch. Back on dry land, take a stroll at Neptune’s Staircase near Fort William along the Caledonian Canal, one of the greatest waterways in the world, or watch the waves crashing onto the empty white beaches of Nairn.
4. Great autumn thrills
Start your Highland adventure on a high – swing in the golden trees at the Nevis Range High Wire Adventure in Lochaber or try your hand at rock climbing with an expert guide in Torridon.
Bag a mountain in Lochaber, from the highest peak Ben Nevis near Fort William, to the scenic Ben Hiant in Ardnamurchan. Take a family stroll in the ancient Caledonian pine forests of Glen Affric or follow the River Spey on the epic Speyside Way to beautiful Badenoch at the heart of the Cairngorms National Park.
Get mountain biking on the Abriachan Forest trails near Inverness or challenge yourself on the longest freeride descent in the UK, the Highland Wildcat Trails in Golspie. For a more leisurely pace, explore the beautiful Great Glen Way on two wheels or cycle along the legendary Loch Ness 360 Trail. You might even spot Nessie!
And if you’re still feeling active, there are 30 golf courses to choose from, including the championship course of Royal Dornoch.
5. Go wild with autumn wildlife
The season of roaring stags, hunting eagles and rare migrant birds, autumn is the perfect time to spot wildlife in the Highlands. Witness the clashing antlers of the red deer rut in Glen Shiel, spot red squirrels storing nuts for the winter in Glen Righ in Lochaber, or spot fluffy grey seal pups basking in the sun along the stunning Caithness coastline.
In the ancient Caledonian pine forests of the Cairngorms National Park, keep your eyes peeled for the elusive capercaillie, pine martens or wildcats. Or take a wildlife boat trip with Dolphin Spirit from Inverness and witness the UK’s only resident dolphin population playfully leaping in the Moray Firth.
In the west, you may see golden eagles soaring over the lochs of Assynt, and on the Isle of Skye, keep your eyes peeled for magnificent white-tailed sea eagles or elusive otters.
At the Falls of Shin, you will witness one of the wonders of nature with Scotland’s native Atlantic salmon leaping upstream in early autumn.
6. Enjoy a romantic city break in Inverness
Connected by direct flights, trains and the Caledonian Sleeper straight from London, Inverness is the perfect destination for an autumn city break. The ‘Capital in the Highlands’ is a jewel of a city and offers the best of both worlds in a beautiful mountain and riverside setting.
Take a stroll along the banks of the River Ness and visit the lovely Ness Islands, where you’ll discover peace and tranquillity in the heart of the city. Seek out a moment’s sanctuary in St Andrew’s Cathedral, then revive your spirits even further with home baking in the tearoom.
Step back in time on the Inverness Historic Trail meandering through the old and new towns, or visit the fascinating Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Don’t miss the UK’s most northerly Botanic Gardens where you can wander around the beautiful greenhouses including a cosy warm cactus house and stop for a coffee.
In the evening, you can taste the finest Highland cuisine in many restaurants and pubs, or enjoy some authentic live Scottish music at Under Canvas in Eden Court until 30 September.
7. Shop ‘til you drop
Support local Highland businesses and shop local, whether you are looking for Scottish stocking fillers, locally crafted gifts for friends and family, independent boutiques or high street shops.
In Inverness, you’ll find large brand name outlets at the Eastgate Shopping Centre and independent shops at the charming Victorian Market. Don’t miss Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop, Leakey’s. Nearby, take your time to enjoy the quaint boutiques of the picturesque town of Beauly, including Old School Beauly and the iconic Campbell of Beauly country tailor and outfitters. Beauty lovers will enjoy The Perfume Studio in Wester Ross and The Highland Soap Company in Fort William.
Or you could discover the ancient story of leather at Skyeskyns with luxury sheepskin goods handcrafted on the Isle of Skye, or watch potters at work at the Highland Stoneware Pottery in Lochinver. For the finest Cashmere, don’t miss Johnstons of Elgin in Elgin.
8. Taste the best seasonal produce
Indulge your taste buds with the finest home-grown seasonal produce. Autumn is the best season to explore the Highlands’ comforting and hearty cuisine. Lamb is at its most succulent, game meats are plentiful and fruits are at their best. It’s also a great time for native Scottish oysters.
Taste the catch of the day by the harbour in Mallaig, tuck into juicy scallops at award-winning Edinbane Lodge on the Isle of Skye, savour rich venison at Mingarry Park House Restaurant in Ardnamurchan or enjoy tasty treats at eco-cafe Highland Farm Café in Dingwall or the . If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss Cocoa Mountain Scottish chocolatiers in Dornoch and the Bothy Bakery in Grantown on Spey.
There’s no better place to round off a day spent in the outdoors than in front of a cosy log fire. Relax in the oak-panelled lounge bar of the Cawdor Cavern in Nairn, or join a foodie event, from Afternoon Teas to lavish dinners, at the Downright Gabbler in Beauly near Inverness. Enjoy a warming dram of whisky from the Tomatin Whisky Distillery, some artisan craft ales from the Black Isle Brewery or some or Rock Rose Gin from the Dunnet Bay Distillery in Caithness.
Autumn is also a great time to forage across the Highlands. Brambles (blackberries) are of course a favourite! And if you know where to look, you can gather bags full of Chanterelle mushrooms.
Don’t miss the celebrations of Scottish Food Fortnight from September.
9. Get into the Highland Fling
Experience the warmest of Scottish welcomes and soak up the Highlands’ vibrant heritage at one of the many events and festivals returning this autumn.
Round off a perfect day by treating yourself to a night of entertainment at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, or enjoy live traditional music at the Arisaig Hotel in Lochaber, or heritage, songs, poetry and tales at the Badenoch Heritage Festival or the Badenoch Storylands Sessions in the Cairngorms National Park.
End the summer on a high at the SEALL festival in the beautiful grounds of Armadale Castle on the Isle of Skye. In September, don’t miss the Capers in Cannich music festival celebrating the very best of The Highlands in September or the Royal National Mòd in Inverness in October. And in November, you’re in for a treat at the Blas Festival, the Highlands’ premier Gaelic and traditional music festival.
10. Make the most of seasonal deals
In autumn, hotel rates are often lower than in high season. You will get great value, whether you want 5-star luxury, the warm local welcome of a B&B or a night under the stars in a yurt.
From budget-friendly campsites and hostels, to exclusive self-catering, or stylish city centre hotels, you’ll be spoilt for choice with Highland accommodation!
After a busy day, you might enjoy a wee dram by the fire and a good night’s rest. Where better than the luxury Raasay Distillery? This is the only place in Scotland where you can stay overnight in a working distillery. Or you might prefer to escape to a romantic log cabin in the woods at Birchbrae in Lochaber or MacDonald Resort in Aviemore, or to enjoy pure luxury at House of Juniper on Skye, Ness Walk Hotel in Inverness or Links House Dornoch.
Slow down and take your time. Staying in one place for longer is often more relaxing that travelling to a new accommodation every night. You’ll enjoy quality time to reconnect with friends and family. You could even bring your dog along in many pet friendly accommodation.
Find out more about the Highland regions: