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Guide to the Scottish Highlands holiday cottages

Guide to the Scottish Highlands

Kate W 23 May 2023

Scotland’s vast Highland wilderness and epic landscapes must be on your holiday destination list; where you can discover great glens, the mirror-like depths of the lochs and long swathes of sandy beaches.

Whether you’re visiting for adventure and intrigue or peace and tranquillity, the Scottish Highlands is a place like no other. Tuck yourself away in the mountains with breathtaking vistas from your cottage escape or set up camp in a stylish town in the Spey Valley. Take a trip further north to Sutherland, or ferry hop your way to the Isle of Harris and Lewis for wild rugged terrain.

This little guide covers just a fraction of all the phenomenal things to see and do in the Highlands - use it as an inspirational overview and find your ultimate Scottish escape to the Highlands. If you already know where you’re going and what you’ll get up to during your time here, take a look at our collection of holiday cottages and log cabins in the Scottish Highlands and pick out your perfect holiday escape.


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Where are the Scottish Highlands?

Highland cow

The towns and villages in the Scottish Highlands are some of the most remote places, not just in Scotland, but across the UK. The further north you get, the more rural and wilder the landscape becomes, making it a land of secrets and mystery unravelling with every turn.

The Highlands spans from Fort William in the west, all the way up to the coast by the Isle of Skye, around the north-west coast up to Durness and east to John O’Groats, the most northerly point of Scotland’s mainland. If you want to get all the way to the top, this is the place to go, taking in charming coastal villages along the way. 

The Highlands of Scotland also encompasses the Cairngorms National Park, where you can find an impressive mountain range, woodland, lochs, and local towns. You can read all about it in our helpful guide


Some of the best Highland towns and villages to visit

There are so many wonderful places to explore in the Scottish Highlands and visiting the many historic towns and villages is the perfect way to soak up the culture. Here are a few that we consider being the highlights when it comes to the villages of the Highlands…

Aviemore

Aviemore Beach

Aviemore lies in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park and is known for being one of the best places to visit in the Highlands for outdoor adventure seekers. Set in the wilderness with woodland, rivers, lochs, and mountains surrounding it, there is endless opportunity for getting out and about exploring. For those who are into mountain biking, there are lots of woodland trails to take on where you will come across all sorts of scenery and wildlife. It has become a popular area for road biking too, with easy-going country roads linking up all the smaller Highland villages.

For walking, the Cairngorm mountain range is right on the doorstep and there are plenty of river walks along the Spey, and in the woods around Rothiemurchus. There are a plethora of outdoor activity companies offering everything including quad biking, dirt biking, kayaking, climbing, white water rafting, wildlife safaris, zip lining and wild swimming. The list is endless.

Feature attraction: The Strathspey Railway. Take a ride from Aviemore to Nethy Bridge on a Victorian steam train and enjoy a spot of lunch or afternoon tea along the way. 

After days out exploring you will need to refuel. Here are some of our favourite places to eat…

  • The Winking Owl is a chalet-style restaurant serving up Scottish and international dishes which you can enjoy whilst savouring mountain views from the garden. Location: PH22 1RH 
  • Macdui’s is a dog-friendly pub serving great food and local ales which you can enjoy with live music from some of the best local talent. This place has a welcoming and fun vibe which you will love after an energetic day out. Location: PH22 1RH 
  • The Old Bridge Inn is a traditional Scottish pub offering a cosy place to come and enjoy some proper pub grub. There is an open fire where you can rest with a hot chocolate and there is weekly live music here too. Location: PH22 1PU 

Stay in Aviemore

Wood Haus

Wood Haus - sleeps 6 + 1 dog. This is a charming wooden lodge which is within easy reach of the Cairngorm ski resort and Loch Morlich Beach. It has a suntrap garden with a soothing Japanese hot tub and a sauna for the ultimate relaxation.


Kingussie

Kingussie

Kingussie in Scotland lies south of Aviemore and is easily accessed from the A9 main road, and also the train line which connects the main towns on the northern route – this is a great reason to explore all that lies between Kingussie and Inverness. It is a small, lively town with lots going on, making it a great place to visit throughout the year. You will find amazing landscapes, dramatic scenery, and lovely old buildings as you potter around the area. Not to mention Ruthven Barracks which is now a dramatic ruin which can be seen from the Highland town.

It is the perfect place for those who are into walking, cycling, nature trails, hill walking, horse riding and water sports, which can all be enjoyed whilst staying in our Kingussie holiday cottages. You can even enjoy a round of golf at Kingussie Golf Club. The high street is dotted with independent shops, galleries, eateries, and tearooms, making it easy to pop out for a bite to eat at any time of the day. Whether it is a quiet, easy-going break you are after, or a week of energetic adventure, Kingussie can cater for all sorts of holidays.

Feature attraction: The Highland Wildlife Park. Are you into animals? Then this is the place to come and visit a whole array of wildlife including tigers, polar bears, monkeys, and wolves. You will also meet birds of prey, red pandas, and wild horses. The café serves up yummy snacks and the gift shop is a fun place to browse too! 

If you are a foodie, you will enjoy grabbing a bite in one of these eateries…

  • Tipsy Laird is your typical Scottish pub offering simple but great pub food and a wonderful selection of local whisky, gin and cask ales. The establishment caters for vegetarian and gluten-free too. Location: PH21 1HZ 
  • Café Bistro on the high street is a welcoming small café where you can go for tea, coffee, hot chocolate and cake, as well as light lunches. Dinner is also served offering a variety of lovely quality dishes and you can take your own bottle to enjoy with your food. Location: PH21 1HX 

Stay in Kingussie

Hill View Lodge

Hill View Lodge – sleeps 18 + 1 dog. This is a luxury house set in the countryside outside Kingussie, which comes with a hot tub, private garden and its very own golfing green. This is a true paradise with surrounding woodland and mountain views and is the perfect spot for friends to get together. 


Carrbridge

Carrbridge

Carrbridge is a small Highland town lying north of Aviemore and is the last town before hitting Tomatin on the A9. If you are travelling north of here and need a pit stop, it would be worth popping here for a bite to eat. Carrbridge is more of a residential town, but it does have a golf course which is really popular and there is the iconic ‘Old Packhorse Bridge’ which is very Instagram-worthy!

There are lots of walks in and around Carrbridge, with woodland trails to explore on foot. Many mountain bikers base themselves here and head off into the hills at every opportunity. There is even a company offering horse-drawn carriage rides which take you on 30-minute trips around this historic packhorse village which is a lovely way to learn about the area. Pop into the Carrbridge Artists Studio and browse some local artwork, gifts and pottery, and take home a treat to remind you of your stay.

Feature attraction: Carrbridge is well known for its amazing adventure park – Landmark. It has been welcoming visitors for years, developing its range of rides, woodland nature trails and entertainment ranges over time. Catering for every age, it is a one-stop shop where the whole family can have fun for hours on end. 

Make sure you refuel in one of these welcoming food spots…

  • Carrbridge Kitchen is a stylish café/bistro serving delicious home cooking in generous portions. Try the all-day breakfast complete with Scottish black pudding or the Aberdeen Angus burger which will keep you full for hours. Location: PH23 3AS 
  • The Cairn Hotel has a welcoming restaurant which uses the best of local seasonal produce to serve up scrumptious meals to its guests. Expect freshly cooked food presented with imagination and flair, bursting with flavours! They also have a huge variety of beverages including the pick of 70 malt whiskies and 40 craft gins. Location: PH23 3AS

Stay in Carrbridge

Grants of Freuchie Castle

Grants of Freuchie Castle - sleeps 10 + 2 dogs. If you want to stay in your own Scottish Castle, then this would be the perfect opportunity for an affordable castle holiday. Based just outside the village of Dulnain Bridge, the castle stands proudly amongst fields, with some of its original structure ruins surrounding it. Having been done up over time, there are modern features to it, but the original architecture shows in its slim tall build and fairy-tale turrets. 


Tomintoul

Tomintoul

Tomintoul in Scotland is the highest village in the country, sitting at 1164ft above sea level on the northern slopes of the Cairngorm mountains. It is an absolutely beautiful drive up to this village, up mountain passes and through beautiful moorland roads and pine forest landscape. Situated between the Rivers Avon and Conglass, the town is an ideal place from which to explore the Glenlivet Estate, north-eastern Cairngorms and Speyside Malt Whisky Trail.

You won’t be surprised to read that this is a popular location for walking and biking, with loads of trails to be enjoyed at any time of day. Horse riding, clay pigeon shooting, and fishing can all be enjoyed on Glenlivet Estate, and the nearby ski resort ‘The Lecht’ offers up great skiing and snowboarding through the winter months. During July, the Tomintoul Highland Games take place showcasing the best of heavyweight games, Highland dancing, a piping competition and other entertainment. This will give you a full Scottish experience.

Feature attraction: Tomintoul Distillery is a great place to visit and learn all about the whisky. The distillery was founded in 1964 and doubled in capacity when two extra stills were installed in 1974. This was when they started bottling single malt whisky and it now produces a range of single malts of different ages, a peated malt, and a vintage malt. Take a tour and find out all about it. 

Have a bite to eat in Tomintoul…

  • The Old Fire Station Tea Room is a characterful tearoom where you can get some of the best cakes in the region. All home-baked, it offers everything from millionaire shortbread to hot chocolate fudge cake. Inside, you will find models of firemen and all the uniforms from years gone by hung up for all to see. Location: AB37 9EX
  • The Clockhouse Restaurant is located in the square of Tomintoul and serves up a menu of contemporary, modern Scottish food which the whole family can enjoy. There is even some seafood on offer amongst chicken, beef, and lamb dishes. Many of the mushrooms and berries are foraged from Glenlivet Estate itself. Location: AB37 9ET

Stay in Tomintoul

Bailebeg Cottage – sleeps 4. This is a unique and romantic retreat in the Cairngorms which adds a touch of excitement to your stay in Scotland. Ideal for stargazing and BBQs outside, it is full of character. You might be lucky enough to see the northern lights!


Braemar

Braemar

Braemar is one of the best places to visit in the Scottish Highlands; a charming village which is situated amongst spectacular mountain scenery and in the eastern gateway to the highest mountains of the Cairngorms National Park. If you are into hill walking, this would be the perfect base to get out and conquer the 24 Munros on offer! About 8 miles south of here lies the Glenshee mountain resort which is home to the largest ski centre in Scotland which is popular for those who are into snow sports.

This ancient highland village is home to the world-famous annual Braemar Gathering and Highland Games. Usually held on the first Saturday in September, the event is regularly visited by the Royal Family and features the best pipe bands, pipers, Highland dancers, and heavyweight athletes.

Feature attraction: Braemar Castle is a great day out for everyone where you can explore the many beautifully kept gardens that surround the castle. There are three short walks you can do and there is also a fun labyrinth in the grass that the kids will love. The grounds are full of wildflowers and squirrels, and the views from the castle are splendid. You can go in and walk around the castle too, which is exciting for anyone who is interested in Scottish history. 

Braemar Castle

Here are some great places to eat during your visit to Braemar in the Highlands…

  • The Clunie Dining Room is located in the five-star hotel ‘The Fife Arms’. With menus created by Executive Chef Tim Kensett, The Clunie Dining Room showcases the art of wood-fired cooking. You won’t forget the luxury experience you will have when dining here. Location: AB35 5YN
  • The Cairn Grill Restaurant and Bar serves up some of the best grilled food in the Highlands. Using local produce, fresh daily from Scottish suppliers, you are promised deliciously cooked dishes bursting with flavour. As well as all the meat, there are vegetarian and vegan options too. Location: AB35 5YP

Stay in Braemar

Downies Cottage

Downies Cottage - sleeps 2 + 2 dogs. This is a truly romantic retreat which has been designed with couples in mind. Renovated from an old stone bothy, Downies Cottage has been awarded a five-star badge from Visit Scotland. With its breathtaking views, 3 acres of grounds and its own sauna, you won’t want your holiday to end. You’re also 1 mile from the delightful village of Braemar with its independent shops, boutiques and eateries. 


Map of the best towns and villages to visit in the Highlands

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Attractions in the Scottish Highlands

Attractions in the Scottish Highlands

There are so many things to do in the Highlands, it’s tricky to pick out the highlights, but we’ve done our best by choosing a few must-see places in Scotland and fun family activities. Take a look at our top 10 things to do in the Scottish Highlands. 

John O’Groats 

If you happen to be holidaying in the northern end of Sutherland, visit John O'Groats and take a photo by the iconic sign whose counterpart resides down in Land’s End in Cornwall. This is the most northerly point on Scotland’s mainland where you can catch the ferry over to the Orkney Islands. Location: KW1 4YR

Highland Folk Museum 

If you want to get to know the Highlands fully, we recommend a visit to the Highland Folk Museum, the first open-air museum in Newtonmore. Visitors to this living history museum can learn how our Scottish Highland ancestors lived, how they built their homes, how they tilled the soil and how they dressed, in a friendly and welcoming environment. Location: PH20 1AY 

RZSS Highland Wildlife Park

From the mighty Amur tiger to the cheeky snow monkeys and the iconic European grey wolf, you’ll meet an amazing variety of animals at the RZSS Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie. Location: PH21 1NL

Landmark Forest Adventure Park 

Ride a rollercoaster, get lost in the maze or climb the high ropes at this theme park in Carrbridge. At the Landmark Forest Adventure Park, you can also marvel at Dinoland, an impressive display of life-size prehistoric dinosaurs. Location: PH23 3AJ 

North East 250

You’ve heard of the renowned North Coast 500, now check out the North East 250 which comprises several attractions in one; this is a road trip route that will take you to all the best places the north-east of Scotland has to offer including castles and beaches.

Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition

The Loch Ness Monster is so ingrained in Scottish mythology that a visit to their Loch Ness Monster Centre & Exhibition is a must. Location: IV63 6TU

Glenfinnan Viaduct

Otherwise known as ‘the Harry Potter bridge’. Walk the Glenfinnan Viaduct trail to see it from the ground or ride across it on The Jacobite Steam Train. Imagine Harry flying in his car whilst you take the trip on the train! Location: PH37 4LT

The Commando Memorial

Any WWII history buffs must make a trip to the Commando Memorial located on grounds where thousands of allied troops came to train for warfare. Location: PH34 4EG

Culloden Battlefield

Another gem for those interested in Scotland’s incredible history. The Culloden Battlefield is the site of the Jacobite Rising and includes a visitor centre and interactive exhibition. Location: IV2 5EU

Fairy Pools

The Fairy Pools are a magical collection of waterfalls running into blue pools on the Isle of Skye where you can try wild swimming or enjoy a wonderful waterfall walk. Location: IV47 8TA


Castles in the Scottish Highlands

Castles in the Scottish Highlands

The history of the Scottish Highlands is long and complex, and this has led to a landscape scattered with magnificent castles and fortresses. There are so many, it would take you forever to learn about them all, so to save you the trouble, we’ve gathered together our favourites. Discover our top 10 Scottish Highland castles below.

Dunrobin Castle 

Dunrobin Castle is the most northerly of Scotland’s great houses, with roots as far back as the 13th century, you can take a tour and see a falconry display on the grounds. Location: KW10 6SF

Fort George 

Built during the Jacobite threat of the 1700s and set 12 miles from Inverness, at Fort George you can step foot on the main rampart, visit the grand magazine (home to an impressive collection of weaponry) and stop by the dog cemetery, the resting place of officers’ dogs. Location: IV2 7TD

Brodie Castle 

Brodie Castle is a favourite with families and is just 4 miles from Forres; explore the Playful Garden and plan your trip right to catch one of their special events that take place throughout the year. Location: IV36 2TE

Urquhart Castle 

Urquhart Castle is a ruined fortress on the edge of Loch Ness that has stood for more than 1,000 years, discover incredible history and breathtaking views. Location: IV63 6XJ

Inverness Castle 

Climb to the top of Inverness Castle for the Castle Viewpoint which offers a 360-degree view of the Highlands’ cultural capital of Inverness. Location: IV2 3EG

Dunvegan Castle & Gardens 

Dunvegan Castle & Gardens is an Isle of Skye gem; this fortification offers tours, beautiful gardens and even seal-sighting boat trips! Location: IV55 8WF

Loch an Eilein (Loch of the Island) 

Walk and picnic in Rothiemurchus Forest, see Loch an Eilein Castle from the shore, and visit the Loch an Eilein art gallery that showcases local artists' works. Location: PH22 1QT

Cawdor Castle and Gardens

Cawdor Castle and Gardens near Inverness is the intriguing link to Shakespeare and Macbeth. Location: IV12 5RD

Eilean Donan Castle

Visit Scotland’s ‘most photographed castle’ near Dornie, Eilean Donan Castle. Location: IV40 8DX

Castle Leod

Castle Leod is the seat of Clan McKenzie and is 20 miles from Inverness. It’s still a family home so you can only visit this ancient castle on special open days or by booking a private tour. Location: IV14 9AA

If you think you might like to holiday in your very own fairytale castle, take a look at our collection of self-catering castles by clicking the button below.


Walking in the Scottish Highlands

Hill walking in the Highlands

A favourite way to discover this incredible landscape is through a wonderful country walk, great for families, couples and dog walkers looking to explore the Scotland Highlands. You could spend the whole day out in the wilderness or simply enjoy a short morning stroll from one of our cottages in the Highlands.

Beinn Alligin

One suggestion of a fantastic hill walk would be Beinn Alligin (Gaelic for ‘Mountain of Beauty’) in Torridon - a really popular mountain climb found in this majestic, rugged, remote part of Scotland. This will certainly be a challenge for those fairly new to hill walking, but totally worth the grind as from the top, you are promised some of the most beautiful views in the country, sometimes as far-reaching as the Outer Hebrides on a clear day! With the highest point being 986m, you will be in for a good climb.

West Highland Way

The most famous long-distance hiking trail in Scotland is the West Highland Way. Stretching for 96 miles from Milngavie on the edge of Glasgow to Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis, the route offers a fabulous introduction to the Scottish Highlands.

Following a mixture of cattle paths, old military roads and drover tracks, the waymarked trail is within the capabilities of most walkers. It winds through pastoral landscapes beneath the Campsie hills, past the serene beauty of Loch Lomond, before crossing the vast, awe-inspiring expanse of Rannoch Moor, with a glimpse down Glencoe. It then passes Loch Leven, ultimately emerging at the foot of Ben Nevis.


Outdoor activities in the Scottish Highlands

There’s a whole range of wonderful outdoor pursuits throughout the Scotland Highlands which can be enjoyed all year round - get out and about with cycling, climbing, kayaking, fishing or sailing. What will you get up to during your Scotland holiday? Here are just a handful of the activities that are on offer…

Cycling through the Highlands

Cycling through the Highlands

Explore the Highlands on two wheels! With more and more people taking to the saddle to discover their surroundings, cycling is the top way to enjoy a day out in the Scottish Highlands. Whether you are cycling with a group or simply by yourself, there are hundreds of routes that offer a lovely way to get out and about in rural settings, fusing countryside, small villages and quiet country roads.

A route we love is the Achiltibuie Circular Cycle Route – it’s challenging but rewarding with unforgettable views and wide-open spaces along the way. You will pass by beautiful sandy beaches, magnificent lochs and some of Scotland’s most famous mountains – Sula Bheinn and Stac Pollaidh. It is a 70-mile loop, starting in Achiltibuie, and lasting about 7 hours at a moderate pace, so feel free to pick out a favourite section for a shorter cycle trip.


Snow sports in the Highlands

Snow sports in the Highlands

The renowned Cairngorms National Park, with its mountainous landscape, is a top spot for snow sports in Scotland. Glenshee Ski Centre in the south of the Cairngorms, offers 3,504 ft of mountain to race down. Beginners can learn their stuff while experienced skiers and snowboarders can hone their skills – you can even try ski touring.

Meanwhile, to the south sits Aviemore, a region that feels like a land of myth due to the beautiful lochs, ancient forests and mountain slopes that surround it, and is the perfect base for anyone looking to ski Carn Gorm Mountain. It is an incredibly popular holiday destination due to the wide variety of activities you can get up to here - practise your skiing/snowboarding or test yourself at the freestyle park. After busy days out on the slopes, return to one of our cosy log cabins, lodges and holiday homes in The Cairngorms

Outside of this national park, Glencoe Mountain to the west is renowned for its fantastic skiing and snowboarding opportunities. You can also go sledging and hill walking – both fantastic ways to see the mountain before stopping off for a bite to eat in their café. While snow sports are popular in the winter months at these resorts, walking, cycling and climbing are all fun summer activities you can get involved in too - great for anyone excited to get out and about exploring.


Other outdoor activities in the Highlands

Kayaking on Loch Tay

Climbing 

You can find centres that boast great climbing walls, but for the experienced, there are many places you can wild climb also!

Abseiling 

Craggan Outdoors offer climbing and abseiling experiences in Strathspey and along the Moray Firth coast. Explore Highland can help you achieve your goals or try canoeing or gorge walking.

Kayaking

There are many lochs and coastlines to explore around Scotland. You can go sea kayaking on the west coast of Scotland with Arisaig Sea Kayak Centre.

Sailing 

Endless lochs provide tranquil waters while sailing along the coast is an excellent way to see the magnificent coastline of Scotland – the west coast offers some of the finest sailing in the British Isles. Some beaches, bays and coves cannot be reached by car or even by foot, but in a boat, you can access hidden wonders that no one else can.

Fishing

Fishing has been a popular sport in Scotland for centuries and this country has long been a top destination for freshwater and sea angling, with world-class fishing available. Salmon, trout, skate and pike can be found throughout the many picturesque rivers and lochs across the land, a few of the best spots for fishing include Strathconon Lochs on the North Coast, Lake of Menteith in the Trossachs, and the River Spey in The Cairngorms.

Boat cruises and wildlife tours

Take a cruise through beautiful Loch Katrine in The Trossachs, enjoy an exhilarating wildlife-watching tour or relaxing cruise around Scotland’s west coast islands with AquaXplore, or hear about local folklore, geology and natural history on a boat trip in Sutherland with North Coast Sea Tours.


The islands of the Scottish Highlands

There are many islands that reside off the northerly coast of Scotland including Orkney, Shetland, Skye, Harris and Lewis. Whilst Orkney and Shetland are further away and deserve a good amount of time to get there and explore them, the Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides are a bit closer and easier to get to.

Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye

Believe it or not, this island is considered part of the Highlands and it’s an essential part of any Highlands tour, so we had to include it in our guide to the best Scottish Highlands places to visit. Anyone wondering how to get to the Isle of Skye can simply drive across the bridge that connects it to the mainland.

Many people travel from Edinburgh and Glasgow up to the Isle of Skye to see as much of beautiful Scotland as possible, while plenty opt to take a tour of the Isle of Skye to see the wildlife, the towns and the incredible beaches that rival those in the Mediterranean. Stay in the island’s largest town and capital of Portree - with a population of 2,500 it’s still a relatively quiet place for a getaway, or you could pick out a completely secluded holiday cottage where you can enjoy absolute peace and tranquillity. Read all about this magical island in our guide to the Isle of Skye

Isle of Harris and Lewis

Isle of Harris and Lewis

The Isle of Harris and Lewis sits north of Skye and can be reached by ferry from Uig or from Ullapool on the mainland. Whilst it is generally seen as one island, it is in fact two packaged as one! The gentle grasslands and flats of Lewis make a nice contrast to the moon-like rocky terrain and craggy coastline of Harris. Driven easily in a day or cycled over a couple, the island makes for an adventurous exploration across a landscape you will never forget.

The towns and villages of Stornaway, Leurbost and Tarbert are lovely examples of traditional Highland island villages and are lovely spots to find a café or a pub to refuel whilst chatting with the locals. The atmosphere on Harris and Lewis is one of welcome and generosity, so read all about it in our guide to Harris and plan a trip today.


The wildlife of the Scottish Highlands

Scottish stag

One of the last great wildernesses in Europe, the Highlands are a phenomenal place for seeing wildlife, with a wide variety of species making this landscape their home – you might have even heard the rumours that wolves could be reintroduced to Scotland as locals aim to ‘rewild’ the country. Photographers, bird watchers and walkers can keep an eye out for all kinds of rare and unusual species during their time in this far-north wildlife haven.  

In the Cairngorms National Park, already a fantastic destination if you’re searching for natural terrain and wildlife, there are a couple of wonderful, protected stretches of land you could explore, including the Insh Marshes Reserve and Abernethy Reserve – head south to visit the beautiful Abernethy Forest as well. The Cairngorms is also where you’ll find the family-friendly attraction, the Highland Wildlife Park where you will see all kinds of species - native and foreign!

The west coast, with its many islands, lochs and wide-open spaces is a great place to see wildlife in its natural habitat. See whales, basking sharks and seals in the waters around Oban and Lorn, or head to The Trossachs for unique bird watching as this national park is home to 13 species of birds of prey.

The northern coastline is a particularly wildlife-rich area of Scotland with seals, otters and birds making their homes here – travel the North Coast 500, an incredible road trip route, to visit some of the best wildlife-spotting areas along this breathtaking coastline.

Here are some of the species of wildlife you may spot during your holiday in the Highlands, and the best places to see them:

  • Puffins: Isle of Mull, Isle of Staffa, Shetland, Orkney, the islands of the Firth of Forth and the Isle of May
  • Ospreys: Loch Garten RSPB Reserve, the Scottish Wildlife Trust's Loch of the Lowes Wildlife Reserve, Loch of Kinnordy Reserve, and The Findhorn Bay Nature Reserve
  • Golden eagles: North Harris Eagle Observatory, Outer Hebrides Bird of Prey Trail, and the Isle of Mull
  • Dolphins: Chanonry Point on the Black Isle, and Moray Firth – several dolphin spotting cruises operate from Inverness, Findhorn, Lossiemouth, Avoch and Cromarty
  • Whales: the Minch – the stretch of water between the mainland and the Outer Hebrides, the Isle of Mull near Oban, Gairloch, Orkney, Shetland, and the Moray Firth near Inverness
  • Seals: Scalpsie Bay in Bute, Isle of Skye, Newburgh Beach in Aberdeenshire, Moray Firth, Firth of Tay, Ythan Estuary, and the Isle of May
  • Basking sharks: Oban, Tobermory on Mull, and the Isle of Coll
  • Red squirrels: Glenmore National Nature Reserve, Galloway Forest Park, Perthshire, Devilla Forest Red Squirrel Trail
  • Red deer: Glen Etive, Rannoch Moor, Isle of Rum, Isle of Arran, Isle of Jura, Lochaber, Torridon, Cairngorms National Park, and Queen Elizabeth Forest Park

Read our full blog on wildlife parks in Scotland and pick which one you'd like to visit while on holiday.


Food and drink in the Scottish Highlands

The award-winning Clachaig InnThe award-winning Clachaig Inn

For the best of the best in this region, take a look at the Highlands Food & Drink Awards to discover some of the finest food in all of Scotland, or check out our recommendations below in our overview of the top 10 restaurants in the Scottish Highlands.

  1. Clachaig Inn  - an award-winning pub by Loch Lomond serving hot toddies, perfect after a blustery mountain walk. Location: PH49 4HX
  2. Lochinver Larder  - a quaint riverside café located on the River Inver and a great stop off for road trippers as it’s on the North Coast 500 route. Location: IV27 4JY
  3. The Pier - over in Lairg, a busy town and hub for Sutherland, you’ll find this waterfront café/restaurant where you can dine before stunning views. Location: IV27 4EG
  4. Lochleven Seafood Café  – on the west coast, you can enjoy Scottish lobster and scallops and buy fresh fish in their shop. Location: PH33 6SA
  5. Fig & Thistle – a popular Inverness bistro and cocktail bar with a relaxed vibe. Location: IV2 3JN
  6. Inverlochy Castle Hotel – if you haven’t had enough of the magnificent castles throughout the area, dine in this turreted beauty in Fort William. Location: PH33 6SN
  7. The Three Chimneys  – a cosy pub serving great Scottish food amongst the breathtaking Isle of Skye landscape. Location: IV55 8ZT
  8. Andersons Bar and Grill  – grills and steaks are a speciality in this relaxed restaurant in Aviemore. Location: PH24 3BN
  9. Fiddlers Highland Restaurant  – right beside Loch Ness and on the Great Glen Way walking route, visit this waterside restaurant in Drumnadrochit for tasty food and a dram of whisky. Location: IV63 6TU
  10. Boath House  – an award-winning restaurant using local produce and their beautiful Nairn location to create a delightful dining experience. Location: IV12 5TE

The annual Highlands Food & Drink Festival is a fun event showcasing some of the best food and drink in the region. Sample delicious produce and freshly caught Scottish seafood, and pick out a food basket to take home for your dinner.

Finally, enjoy a visit to beautiful Speyside which is, of course, known for the many distilleries that line the River Spey - so if you are a large party of adults or a grown-up family group, drop by a distillery for a tour and a dram or two. Enjoy a stay amongst stunning scenery in a cosy cottage in Speyside.


Accommodation in the Scottish Highlands

Coruanan Farmhouse Fort William

You could stay anywhere in this phenomenal region and have a fantastic holiday, just take your pick of top holiday destinations! Hide out in one of our cosy log cabins or lodges in the Highlands or settle down in a stylish cottage near a bustling town or village. 

We have waterside holiday cottages which allow you that feeling of total serenity and provide a breathtaking backdrop to group dinners. There are cottages with hot tubs and wood burners to keep you toasty while on holiday, not to mention beautiful dog-friendly properties so you can take the entire family with you. And if you have Scottish ancestral roots to discover, book a stay in a castle to make it even more of an experience.

If a family escape is what you’re after, take a look through our holiday cottages in Scotland for families and find yourself a cosy cottage where kids can play outside in the garden while you enjoy your morning coffee gazing out over Scotland’s remarkable landscape.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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