Small but mighty, Scotland is the perfect destination to uncover some incredible hidden gems no matter the time of year, and what better place to explore than the Highlands. Escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life with the region’s unique offering of things to see and do off the beaten track.
From the Loch Ness 360° trail in summer, to the SnowRoads in winter, take a look at these ideas to help you plan the perfect Highland getaway:
A Nature Lover’s Paradise at Cairngorms National Park
Best For: Anyone who is a lover of the great Scottish outdoors.
Things to do: The Cairngorms offer a diverse range of activities catering for all ages. Spring brings a new lease of life to the Scottish Highlands, making it the perfect season to enjoy new and exciting experiences to kick-start the New Year! In early April, catch a glimpse of ospreys making their long way home back to the Cairngorms. During the day, capture some picturesque shots of snow-capped peaks and on dark nights during the New Moon, there are great opportunities to take fantastic photographs of the Northern Lights. Fancy something a bit different? Have a snowball fight in the middle of summer on the Cairngorm plateau – the highest, coldest and snowiest plateau in Britain. In winter, take an epic road trip through the SnowRoads, this 90-mile stretch of road takes you through rugged glens and provides many outdoor adventures, alongside delicious food and drink to try.
Stay: The Cairngorms offer a great range of places to stay nearby. Indulge in 4-star luxury accommodation at the Macdonald Aviemore Resort, go glamping at Braemar Caravan Park or escape on a cosy retreat to beat the winter blues at the Red Squirrel Lodge.
Eating Out: The Cairngorms boasts a great selection of eateries that use fresh quality Scottish produce. Dine out at The Old Bridge Inn to enjoy scenic views of the River Spey. Enjoy a selection of seasonal dishes and fine wines at Aspects, Aviemore Resort’s signature restaurant, or sample a few mouth-watering treats at the Cairngorm Mountain Café, a perfect pit stop for the hungry traveller!
Getting There: The Cairngorms National Park is easy to get to by road, coach, bus, plane or bike, and has train links to Inverness, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and a direct service from London and the south to Aviemore and Aberdeen too.
Connect with Nature on the Loch Ness 360°Trail
Best For: The curious traveller who wishes to delve deeper and explore the wonders of Loch Ness
Things to do:Put on your walking boots and explore Scotland’s natural beauty in all of its glory on the Loch Ness 360° Trail. This epic walking, cycling, running and outdoor activity trail helps to encapsulate the true essence of the Scottish Highlands. Split into six sections, the trail starts north of Loch Ness, in Inverness, and passes around its banks, through Drumnadrochit and Invermoriston to Fort Augustus in the south, following the Great Glen Way. The trail boasts many highlights along the way, including the Falls of Foyers, Suidhe Viewpoint, Caledonian Canal and Urquhart Castle. Enjoy the stunning scenery of Loch Ness by taking a boat ride out to the loch, admiring the incredible landscape as you go. Learn more about the rich history of Urquhart Castle or visit Falls of Foyers, a 14ft waterfall which drops into a gorge leading to Loch Ness.
Stay: The mysterious waters of Loch Ness provide a stunning location made famous by the legendary beast herself! Loch Ness offers a great range of places to stay that are ideal for every season. Embrace the outdoors and go glamping at Loch Ness Shores during the warmer weather, or check into Loch Ness Country House Hotel where you can relax in luxurious surroundings and enjoy a stroll through the hotel’s magnificent gardens. Sit on the terrace and enjoy a nice glass of wine on a fine summer’s day and in winter coorie indoors with the log fire crackling in the background while sipping on a hot beverage.
Eating Out: There are some fantastic places to eat while visiting Loch Ness. Stop by for some light refreshments at Cameron’s Tea Room where you can expect a warm and friendly welcome whilst you take in the beautiful scenery. You may even spot some Highland cattle who often cool down in the natural pond nearby during the summertime. Enjoy the family friendly atmosphere of the Boathouse Restaurant where you can enjoy delicious comfort food, prepared using the finest quality of ingredients.
Getting There: The closest train station to get to Loch Ness is Inverness, which is approximately 30 minutes away. If you’re travelling from further afield there are many direct train and air links from Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, including sleeper services.
Embark on a whisky journey through the Outer Hebrides
Best For: Whisky lovers who like to get into the spirit of things by discovering distilleries across the Isle of Skye, Raasay and Harris.
Things to do: One for the bucket list for every dram lover out there, this brand new 115-mile route connects to four island distilleries – The Isle of Raasay, Torabhaig, Talisker and Isle of Harris giving you the chance to sample some of the finest Single Malt whiskies and explore the islands untamed natural beauty.
Stay: The Hebrides have a lovely selection of places to stay, from luxury cottages to small B&B’s, there is something to suit everyone’s budget.
Find more accommodation in the Outer Hebrides.
Eating Out: Whet your appetite with the very best of the Isles’ culinary delights. Tuck into a delicious seafood platter at Sea Breezes on the Isle of Skye, or drop by the Raasay House Hotel, Restaurant & Bar to taste the local food and drink. If you’re a fan of BBC’s The One Show, you may have seen the Butty Bus make a guest appearance last year. This fast food establishment, which is parked at Leverburgh Pier, is the perfect place to grab a quick bite to eat and is open all year round!
Getting There: Getting to the Hebrides has never been easier with all four distilleries working together with CalMac Ferries. Tours will need to be booked directly at each distillery but with the Island Hopping ticket from CalMac, you can discover all of the islands routes in 31 days, or if you prefer set travel routes, there is the option to book individual ferry passes too. Why not kick off your whisky journey by heading across the Skye Bridge or taking the Armadale ferry to visit Torabhaig Distillery? Head further north to Sconser and hop over to see the Isle of Raasay Distillery before taking the ferry back to Skye and travelling north to Talisker Distillery. Finish off your whisky adventure by boarding the Uig to Tarbert ferry to visit the Isle of Harris Distillery.
A Relaxing Getaway in Dornoch
Best For: Those who wish to escape everyday life for a short relaxing break.
Things to do: Situated on the east coast of the north Highlands, the quaint historic town of Dornoch is the perfect destination to get away from it all. During the summer months, take a leisurely stroll along the golden sandy beach whilst taking in the stunning scenery around you. For the history buffs, visit the impressive Dornoch Cathedral and for the keen golfers out there, why not play a round or two at the Royal Dornoch championship course – ranked 13th in the world! In the lead up to the winter festivities, get into the Christmas spirit by taking a wander through the town’s shopping markets. From homemade trinkets and clothes, to whisky – you will certainly not be short on any gift ideas.
Stay: Fit for a king or queen, stay at the 5-star luxury Dornoch Links Hotel. The hotel offers a ‘48 Hours in the Highlands Package’ for two, including a whisky tasting session at the local Carnegie Courthouse Whisky Cellars. Fancy staying somewhere luxurious without breaking the bank? The Dornoch Castle Hotel offers a range of spacious rooms overlooking its beautiful gardens, with each room having its own unique characteristics.
Eating Out: Dornoch is a haven for all foodie lovers and caters for even the fussiest of eaters. Try some traditional Scottish dishes at Sutherland House, The Eagle and Grace Café. Have a romantic candle-lit meal for two at the Garden Restaurant at the Dornoch Castle Hotel or sit back and watch the world go by with lunch and a nice glass of wine at the Courthouse Café.
Getting There: The closest airport to Dornoch is Inverness Airport offering a range of daily flights from a range of destinations. Although Dornoch does not have a train station, Tain and Golspie are just a short journey away from the town. The best way to travel around Dornoch is by car, with Inverness Airport offering two car hire services; Avis and Europcar.
Enjoy Autumn around Beauly
Best For: Anyone who is obsessed with all things autumn.
Things to do: Although summer may feel like a distant memory. Beauly is a great place to get out and embrace the autumnal weather. Enjoy life in the fast lane by hiring mountain bikes at OrangeFox Bikes allowing you to take in the beautiful scenery of the Highlands. If you’re not a fan of staying out in the cold for too long then you can always pop into Old School Beauly. This beautiful Victorian school building is filled with items such as clothing, music and books giving you the opportunity to shop till you drop.
Eating Out: Accredited a Taste Our Best award, The Corner on the Square provides an excellent range of high quality dishes for you to try, while overlooking the busy village of Beauly. Renowned for its salmon fishing streams, the restaurant and delicatessen offer a wide selection of seafood including cheeses and cooked meats as well as speciality foods to cater for everyone’s tastes and requirements.
Getting There: Beauly is about a 20-minute drive west of Inverness along the A862. If you’re coming from the south along the A9, turn left at the last exit before Kessock Bridge. Then follow the ring road around the north of the city until you meet the A862. From the north turn off the A9 just before the Cromarty Bridge through Dingwall and Muir of Ord.
If travelling by air, Inverness Airport is about a 30-minute drive with regular flights to London and many other UK and European cities. By train, there are direct trains from Inverness to Edinburgh, London and many other major UK cities.
We hope we’ve given you some great inspiration on planning your next trip to the Highlands!