Scotland’s beautiful Highlands are divided from the rest of the country by the Great Glen: Glen More, which spans a large section of the country from Inverness north to Thurso.
While much of this hilly terrain is unoccupied (making it ideal for hiking and bicycling), it does include a number of charming tiny towns and villages. One of the most popular activities is to drive along the coast to Dornoch, a charming seaside town known for its cathedral and castle remains, as well as its Royal Dornoch golf courses.
Along the route, you’ll pass through a number of beautiful Scottish castles, which combined make up some of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.
John o’Groats, at the further end, is home to Scotland’s most photographed signpost. It famously contains distances from here to Lands End in Cornwall, England’s southernmost point (1,406 kilometres), as well as “Your Town” – you may add letters to spell out your hometown’s name and miles.
With this list of the top attractions in Inverness and the Scottish Highlands, you can locate the greatest locations to visit in this ruggedly gorgeous region.
1. Inverness is a city in the Highlands of Scotland.
The gardens of magnificent Inverness Castle are an excellent site to start visiting Inverness. Despite the fact that only the north tower of the castle is exposed to the public, this old sandstone structure provides an imposing (and photo-worthy) background overlooking the River Ness.
After exploring, visit the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, which features exhibits on the city’s rich cultural past as well as Highland history. The late-nineteenth-century Neo-Gothic St. Andrew’s Cathedral, which stands on the banks of the River Ness opposite Castle Hill, is well worth a visit.
Abertarff House, Inverness’s oldest house, was built in 1592 and is a must-see.
The charming Inverness Botanic Gardens are also worth a visit.
2. Loch Ness
Loch Ness is a must-see while visiting the Scottish Highlands, and it’s only a 30-minute drive southeast of Inverness city centre. This picture-perfect freshwater lake is also home to Urquhart Castle, one of Scotland’s most iconic strongholds (for more information, see #3 below).
Visit the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition to discover more about the legendary beast that lives in the water. This entertaining attraction contains informative exhibits about the monster and its surroundings.
Loch Ness is well-served by organised tour operators due to its reputation as a major Scottish tourist destination. The Loch Ness and the Highlands Small Group Day Tour is one of the best for those based in Edinburgh.
3. Urqhuart Castle is a castle in Urqhuart, Scotland.
Despite the fact that Urqhuart Castle is now in ruins — it was the site of countless skirmishes between the English and Scots — it’s easy to imagine how magnificent Urqhuart Castle once was. The castle’s involvement in Scotland’s rich history, which dates back to the 13th century, is carefully chronicled and shown at the visitor’s centre. However, it is only when traversing the remains that you gain a full feeling of its past importance.
Its commanding views of Loch Ness are just stunning, with panoramic views across the length of the lake. You’ll also have access to the Great Tower’s dungeons, where some of the city’s most renowned (and infamous) inmates were formerly held imprisoned.
The location includes a magnificent café with stunning views over Loch Ness, as well as a gift shop, in addition to excellent exhibitions about the castle’s rich history.
4. The Battlefield of Culloden and the Visitors Centre
The last great fight on Scottish territory, Culloden, was fought on April 16, 1746, and the destiny of the Stuarts — and Scotland — was decided. With first-hand descriptions of the conflict, a 360-degree film authentically depicting the day’s events, and breathtaking rooftop views of the battlefield, the historic site’s visitor centre is a must-see. The Scottish clans’ gravestones, as well as the six-meter-high Memorial Cairn erected in 1881 to commemorate the conflict, are well worth seeing.
Old Leanach Cottage and the Cumberland Stone, which commemorates the place where the Duke of Cumberland issued commands to his troops, are two more notable landmarks. The battlefield is littered with tributes to the fallen, notably the Keppoch Stone, which marks the spot where Alastair MacDonell, the Keppoch clan’s leader, was killed.
Another commemorates the Irish Wild Geese (mercenaries fighting on the side of the Highlanders in the service of the French monarchy), while the “English Stone” honours those who fought alongside Cumberland.
If you’re in Inverness, there’s a fantastic day-long tour that includes both Loch Ness and the Battlefield of Culloden. A very personal experience (only eight visitors are included), the services of a professional guide, and transportation are among the highlights.
Join the popular Diana Gabledon’s Outlander Experience Tour to discover more about the battle’s history, as well as to see a range of other gorgeous Highland film sites. These private full-day tours begin in Inverness and feature a dedicated professional guide who is knowledgeable about Scotland’s history (and the TV series), as well as famous tourist destinations including the battlefield and the Clava Cairns, as well as Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle.
5. Cawdor Castle and Gardens
Cawdor Castle, located 16 kilometres northeast of Culloden, is famed for being the location where Duncan was murdered in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Although it is not historically correct (Duncan was assassinated by Macbeth at the Battle of Elgin), it is a fascinating destination to see because of its extensive collection of Shakespearean literature and antique furniture.
A 1370 hawthorn tree served as a sign to the first Thane to build a castle here, and the charming grounds of this fairy-tale garden, with its colourful flowerbeds, are well worth a visit today. The natural paths and nine-hole golf course are also interesting to explore. For those who want to truly immerse themselves in the atmosphere of this old castle and estate, a modest cottage on the grounds is available for rent.
6. Fort George (Historic)
Fort George, which lies close, is well worth visiting for people travelling to Culloden. Soon after the Battle of Culloden, this massive artillery castle was built to keep the vanquished Highlanders in check, and it acted as a permanent reminder of the English dominance over Scotland.
The fort also contains the regimental museum of the Queen’s Own Highlanders, in addition to major military structures like as the armoury and barracks. The visitor centre is also worth visiting, as it explains the fort’s significance. Tickets are available for purchase on the attraction’s official website in advance.
7. Elgin and its Historic Cathedral: The North’s Lantern
Elgin, on the way to Aberdeen, is around 61 kilometres east of Inverness and contains a number of historic attractions worth seeing. What’s left of Elgin Cathedral’s tower, after centuries of pillage, hints to the past beauty of the 95-meter-long “Lantern of the North,” as the cathedral was known.
The west facade, the 13th-century choir, the large east rose window, and the octagonal chapter house are among the remaining elements. Daily guided tours are offered and are highly recommended. Elgin is also home to Birnie Church, Scotland’s oldest church, which was built in 1140.
Spynie Palace, with its magnificent David’s Tower erected in 1470; Duffus Fortress, a fine example of a Norman motte and bailey castle; and Brodie Castle and Country Park are among the other tourist attractions.
8. Hike Loch Maree
Loch Maree is a deep Pleistocene valley that is home to otters and black-throated divers, as well as hikers and campers thanks to its nature trails and campgrounds. The more difficult mountain track, a six-kilometer circular excursion, provides an outstanding perspective of Loch Maree and the spectacular mountains that draw visitors to this region of the Highlands.
Victoria Falls, a waterfall near Shatterdale named after Queen Victoria, is another nearby attraction (she visited the loch in 1877). It’s also a popular fishing spot, with tourists able to enjoy exciting excursions (as well as gorgeous boat trips).
9. Inverewe Garden and Estate
The subtropical Inverewe Garden and Estate, located at Poolewe (eight kilometres north of Gairloch) and overlooking a sheltered bay on Loch Ewe, has thrived because to the area’s mild climate. Osgood Mackenzie was just 20 years old when he demonstrated in 1862 that plants from faraway regions could thrive on the poor Torridon sandstone and acid peaty soil if it was fertilised with coastal loam and the wet peat was drained.
Rhododendrons, azaleas, and magnolias, as well as New Zealand eucalyptus, Japanese ferns, Himalayan lilies, South American water lilies, huge forget-me-nots from the South Pacific, rock gardens, ponds, Scotch pines, and uncommon palm species, are among the highlights. On weekdays, guided walking tours are provided. Make a point of visiting the Sawyer Gallery, which features art and craft-related shows all year.
10. Loch Assynt and Ardvreck Castle are ten of the best places to visit in Scotland.
Around picturesque Loch Assynt, 35 kilometres north of Ullapool, some of the most spectacular scenery in the Highlands may be discovered. Anglers flock to this picture-perfect terrain for its salmon and trout fishing, as well as its breathtaking mountain views. The ruins of Ardvreck Castle, erected in 1590 for the MacLeods and later run by the MacKenzies and Sutherlands, may be found at the eastern end of the loch.
A kiln barn and mill, as well as the remains of an old chambered cairn, are among the historic ruins. Inchnadamph Nature Reserve, Scotland’s greatest network of caverns, Loch a’Chairn Bhain’s seal population, and Britain’s highest waterfalls, the 200-meter-high Eas a Chual Aluinn Falls, are all close.
11. Cape Wrath and the Clo Mor Cliffs
It’s also one of the wildest regions of the Highlands, with fascinating geological characteristics and a long history of maritime trade.
The lighthouse established by Robert Stevenson on the beautiful Clo Mor Cliffs in 1827 is one of the few man-made buildings in the area. Birdwatchers flock to the area, and hikers will find various trails crisscrossing the landscape, some of which lead to the beautiful Loch Nevis.
12. Dunrobin Castle
The majestic Dunrobin Castle, about a mile northeast of Golspie, is the residence of the powerful counts and dukes of Sutherland, who, by the end of the 19th century, held more property than any other landowner in Europe. The charming corner towers, with their conical slate roofs, have a fairy-tale appearance evocative of France’s famous Loire Valley chateaux.
With its Louis XV-style furnishings, excellent paintings, and 18th-century tapestries, the Drawing Room stands out among the castle’s 189 rooms as a highlight. The wide Italian-style gardens are perfect for a stroll and provide spectacular views of the Dornoch Firth.
Stay a little longer if you have time on your Highlands vacation plan for one of the castle’s regular falconry shows.
13. Orkney Islands
While walkers, nature lovers, birdwatchers, and anglers flock to the Orkneys, there’s plenty of attraction for more typical tourists, including the islands’ famous prehistoric ruins. Maes Howe Chambered Cairn, Britain’s best-preserved Stone Age burial chamber dating from 2500 BC, and Skara Brae Prehistoric Village, an open-air museum with well-preserved homes and relics of Stone Age furniture, are two of the most well-known.
Only 18 of the 67 Orkney islands are inhabited, with the rest serving as nesting places for seabirds, kestrels, peregrine falcons, sparrow hawks, and golden eagles. Kirkwall, the main town, is home to a number of ancient structures, including St. Magnus Church, which is evocative of the cathedral in Trondheim, Norway (Norway once owned these islands).
14. The Shetland Island
Hikers and mountain bikers both enjoy exploring the Shetland Islands, as do water sports enthusiasts who may select from over 350 lakes or the wide Atlantic Ocean to play on. Fly fishermen will love the lochs, which are stocked with brown and rainbow trout, and there are also plenty of deep-sea fishing options.
Bird-watchers flock to Fair Isle, Mousa, Noss, and the Herma Ness area to see Arctic terns, shearwaters, razorbills, gannets, and the funny puffins known as “Tammy Noirie.”
Shetland is made up of approximately 100 islands that collectively comprise the British Isles’ northernmost outposts (it’s 160 kilometres from the mainland and on the same latitude as Bergen, Norway).
Bonnie’s Greatest Hits Scotland: The beautiful Isle of Skye is the most accessible of Scotland’s islands. It’s worth spending a few days seeing its many historical castles, prehistoric monuments, gorgeous scenery, and abundant wildlife, which is connected to the mainland by road. Loch Lomond, too, is magnificent, with a plethora of wonderful hiking paths across the Trossachs National Park. Oban is also a magnet for hikers and climbers who come to summit the majestic Mount Etive, which towers over the picturesque Loch Etive.
Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, has a plethora of exciting tourist attractions. The beautiful Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, and the Queen’s Royal Yacht Britannia are all must-see sites. Glasgow, an industrial and cultural metropolis with a gorgeous cathedral and other fine art galleries and museums, is also worth visiting. Aberdeen, a picturesque two-hour drive from Inverness but well worth it for its magnificent cathedral and splendid mediaeval architecture, is closer.
Vacation Ideas in Scotland: The cities of Ayr and Dumfries, located in the southwest of Scotland, are best known for their ties to the famous Scottish poet Robbie Burns, whose birthplace has been turned into a museum. Dundee, noted for its wonderful rail bridge and maritime museum, and St. Andrews, home to the world’s most famous golf course, are two other top-rated destinations to include in your Scotland itinerary.