Stretching over 2,000 square kilometres in the far corner of mainland Scotland, the North West Highlands Geopark is a striking example of different rock geologies. Starting at 3 billion years old, the Lewisian Gneiss is the oldest rock in Europe. It’s also home to the earliest evidence of life to be found anywhere in Europe.
But the geopark is not just about incredible science. It’s also about beauty. Think white sandy beaches, rocky mountain ridges, atmospheric rock caves, and grass, peatland, moors and forest. Then there’s the wildlife – not just the current seabirds, eagles and sealife, but also the evidence of creatures that once walked this land, hidden deep in caves.
- Home to 3 billion-year-old rocks.
Why you should visit
Where else can you experience two-thirds of the history of the Earth, in a quiet and beautiful but accessible spot of Scotland?
The North West Highlands Geopark is UNESCO recognised because of the unimaginable age of the rocks along the coastline, and the incredible complexity of the landscape. Visit the Moine Thurst Zone to learn more about just one of the many scientific discoveries the landscape has created - stand where geologists finally discovered that continents had collided together, thanks to the presence of old rock above new.
You’ll also find each type of rock produces its own unique and evocative habitat, providing you with a diverse array of scenery to take in, wherever in the geopark you explore.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an urgent call for action of a global partnership of countries. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations works hand-in-hand with strategies to improve health and education, reduce inequality and encourage economic growth, alongside tackling climate change.
All of our UNESCO designations work towards the UN SDGs – this is looking at their work towards three in particular.
Good Health & Wellbeing
The geopark is one of the finest outdoor recreational areas in the UK where visitors can enjoy physical exercise and mental rejuvenation in a splendid natural setting.
Decent work & economic growth
Economic disadvantage has undermined the area for decades, which must be addressed to keep the local population in the area. The UNESCO designation is used to educate residents and visitors on the importance of health and wellbeing to address this.
Partnership for the goals
This is achieved by creating and maintaining partnerships across the geopark and wider region, the nation and the world.
Learn more about UNESCO
North West Highlands Geopark is one of two global geoparks in Scotland, and one of 169 across 44 countries in total.
UNESCO’s work with geoparks began in 2001 and sees national geological heritage initiatives contribute to and benefit from their membership of a global network of exchange and cooperation.
When you visit
With so much landscape to explore, you are spoilt for things to do. But how best to appreciate the geopark? There are a number of driving routes you can follow including the main Rock Route, which takes you to display boards explaining more about the vistas in front of you. There are also six Pebble Routes to follow by car (or bicycle) taking you onto lesser-used roads so you can really appreciate and take in the landscapes slowly.
Best in class
Support local businesses
Scotland's UNESCO Trail is an opportunity to explore the country in a sustainable and responsible way. Browse our Green Tourism businesses in the area including accommodation, attractions, tours and food & drink. These businesses are assessed in a range of criteria from energy efficiency to biodiversity and awarded bronze, silver or gold accreditation.
Read more about sustainable ways to explore and travel on Scotland's UNESCO Trail.
The global geopark is also supported by ambassador partners, who have similar values and goals to further education, recreation, heritage and community development. Check out the north Scotland journey below to see some of these businesses.
How to visit
Due to the secluded location on the north west corner of Scotland, the geopark is best explored using a private vehicle. However, there are lots of options to travel to Inverness using public transport including trains, buses or flights, as well as local buses to Ullapool, Scourie, Kinlochbervie and Durness.
Visit the North West Highlands Geopark travel section for more details on travelling up, and useful information such as available petrol stations.
Experience the Awe-Inspiring UNESCO Sites of North Scotland
North Scotland is more accessible than you might think, with options to arrive by train or bus. This secluded part of the country has some of the world’s most scenic driving routes, and the journey around the biosphere and geopark’s communities, natural landmarks and attractions is just as spectacular as the destinations. Read our practical advice on how to get around, what to see, and where to stay and eat.View Journey