When the railway came in 1890, it opened up a host of areas within the Highlands which meant Victorian travellers could visit new places and tell tales of their adventures. Fort William was one of the discovered dwellings and word quickly spread of it, making it one of the most popular places in Scotland to visit.
Located at the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK, Fort William is a historic town that has grown to be a popular tourist destination over the years. Commonly known as the Outdoor Capital of the UK, today it is a bustling town which attracts people from all over the UK and beyond to sample its wide range of activities and experiences.
The area of Fort William and Lochaber boasts unspoilt and natural countryside where hills and glens, rivers and loch and the coastline all offer something to do while enjoying the peace and tranquillity. Our collection of cottages in Fort William will offer the perfect base!
A short history of Fort William
The fort in Fort William was first built by Cromwell’s forces in 1654 to pacify the local Clans, especially the Camerons. It was first known as the Garrison of Inverlochy and was just a wooden stockade on an earth bank protecting 250 troops – it is very different today! In about 1690 a substantial Fort was raised with stone walls 20 feet high, a deep dry ditch and a bomb proof magazine. The fort then became known as Fort William after William of Orange – and the small village which grew up nearby was Maryburgh, named after his wife. As the Highland Clans were pacified and the Jacobite threat diminished, the fort became less important, but was still manned by the regular army until the Crimean War in 1854.
In 1894, the fort was later sold and dismantled and used as a railway yard for the West Highland Railway when it reached Fort William. It remains of strategic importance in the Highlands, no longer as a military stronghold but as a thriving centre of commerce and industry at the foot of Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis.
Fort William attractions
Pay a visit to the highest mountain in the UK!
Ben Nevis is located just behind the Highland town of Fort William and is the constant dramatic backdrop which we all love. Known as the ‘Ben’ to the locals, it dominates the head of Loch Linnhe and is obvious from all corners of the town and the wider areas of Lochaber. As well as being the highest, it is the most popular for walking and climbing in the country too.
- It is 4406ft in height (1344m)
- ‘Nevis’ means ‘poisonous or terrible’ which implies a fairly ominous character
- There is a 120-metre waterfall called Steall Fall, which can be found on the path that runs through the Nevis Gorge
- The mountain is positioned on a more northerly latitude and the climate can be considered similar to Arctic regions
Visit the mountain to try out some of the sports on offer in the activity centre or walk to the summit (in safety). If you are not actively inclined, you can just simply go to look at it, or enjoy a coffee with the mountain views. Ben Nevis welcomes everyone!
Please note: The weather can be changeable on Nevis. If you are planning to walk up the mountain footpath with friends or on your own, be warned that the mountain can be intolerant of inexperienced, ill-prepared walkers!
Bask in history at Lochabers Geopark
What is a Geopark? A Geopark is a single, unified geographical area where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development. And there is one in Lochaber!
The Lochaber Geopark is home to some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenery in the world and is recognised for its outstanding and unique geological heritage. Here you can explore mountains, lochs, rivers, coasts, cliffs and sandy beaches and learn how our landscape has been shaped over many millions of years. You will also come across some wonderful wildlife, and this is an added bonus to the already beautiful surroundings.
Hitch a ride on a Jacobite Steam Train
Sometimes sitting back and relaxing in a train cabin with no worries in the world can be the perfect way to enjoy new surroundings and gorgeous scenery. That’s exactly the experience the Jacobite Steam Train can give you. It’s a train ride taking in parts of the West Highland Line with a pit stop at the traditional fishing village of Mallaig. Don’t forget to fill up on the locally caught fish and chips whilst meandering around this peaceful dwelling.
Hop aboard the start point near Ben Nevis and enjoy an 84-mile round-trip adventure through the prettiest sights of the west coast. You will pass many iconic features of the West Highland Line including Britains deepest freshwater loch – Loch Morar, the shortest river – River Morar, and end up at the deepest sea water loch in Europe – Loch Nevis!
Highlight: You will cross the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct which Harry Potter fans will recognise well. As you cross, make sure you admire the views across to the Glenfinnan Monument and Loch Shiel in the distance.
Other attractions to visit:
- Ben Nevis Distillery – This Fort William distillery is one of the oldest licensed distilleries in Scotland.
- West Highlands Museum - Discover a nationally important collection telling the turbulent history of the West Highlands. World famous for its Jacobite exhibits!
- Old Inverlochy Castle – A ruined 13th-century castle on the banks of River Lochy, that was backdrop for Inverlochy battles.
Sports and activities in Fort William
Fort William and Lochaber is the outdoor capital for sports and activities in the UK and it’s earned that title through the extensive range of activities on offer from local businesses and guides spread throughout this charismatic town. There is nowhere else in the British Isles where you can do almost everything from diving in the sea to flying through the air with all sorts of sports in between! Here is a fun variety of activities you can try when staying in Fort William…
Take a relaxing cruise on the Caledonian Canal
Fort William and Lochaber has a number of operators which run boat trips and cruises for you to enjoy this part of the west coast of Scotland by water. One of the most relaxing ways to enjoy the Highland scenery is to take a cruise and travel through the beauty of the area at a slow pace. You can admire the terrain of a landscape so much better and see a country from a new perspective when you travel offshore. The opportunities for spotting wildlife are great too, with many seals, otters and birdlife to discover.
Here are some of the best tour providers:
- Souter’s Lass - cruises on Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil as well as short cruises on the Caledonian Canal.
- Loch Shiel Crusies - scenic boat trips down Loch Shiel to Acharacle and from Mallaig.
- Bruce Watt Cruises - cruises on the Sound of Sleat and Loch Nevis to Inverie.
You can also take day trips to Loch Ness and nearby Fort Augustus for boat trips and cruises around there too; this is a worthwhile activity if you are looking to experience the beauty of a wider area, and who doesn’t want to try and spot Nessie? Read all about her in our guide to the Loch Ness Monster.
Ride your bikes on the forest tracks
Anyone who enjoys cycling can enjoy the area of Fort William by bike. The most popular form of cycling is mountain biking where thousands come every year to take on some of the most adventurous routes in the region. Not only this, but the locals are really into it too, so it’s rare to see a car pass without bikes strapped to its roof! This is an all-year-round activity and, whether you are taking on woodland tracks or downhill routes, it can be enjoyed by all - even those who have not tried it before.
But where is the best place? Nevis Range outdoor activity centre is the number one spot for mountain bikers. It boasts a unique mountain gondola which you can use to access the top of the downhill tracks and tag your bike on the side! As well as this amazing countryside playground, there are many smaller local routes and forest paths that can be discovered on a cycling day out.
Best places for bike hire in Fort William:
- Nevis Cycles – renting you all types of bikes all year round. Hardtail, full suspension, road bikes and touring bikes. They even have a range of electric touring and mountain bikes. Location: PH33 6NG
- Off Beat Bikes - Choose from Electric Bikes, Mountain Bikes, Touring Bikes, Road Bikes, Tandems and more. Location: PH33 6DG
To make a full day of it take a trip to Nevis Range outdoor activity centre.
You could spend a whole week in Fort William going to Nevis Range Outdoor Centre everyday and you still wouldn’t get through the multitude of activities on offer here. As well as awesome mountain biking, skiing, hill walking and climbing, the feature that makes it stand out the most is its wonderful gondola. Reaching a spectacular height of 650 metres, it was built on the north face of Aonach Mor, the eighth highest mountain in Britain. This gondola is the only one of its kind and has become an amazing visitor attraction which visitors love as it lets them admire the amazing scenery and views in peace.
People you will find on the mountain gondola:
- Mountain bikers – they can attach their bikes onto the cabin and get a lift uphill to access the downhill tracks
- Hill walkers – some people like to cut the basics and go straight to the hard stuff. Some also like a peaceful ride downhill after tiring themselves on the climb.
- Paragliders – you’ll find that crazy bunch that like to fly off into the air hitching a lift to the top. Keep an eye out for them and watch their journey back down to land.
- Climbers – this is a popular area for climbers who often come in groups and you will see people enjoying the sport throughout the year.
But it’s not only for people who are there to get active, so make sure you experience it for yourself, even if only for a ride to the top and a quick return back down – after a photograph of course!
Snow sports like skiing and snowboarding are available here, as well as woodland and tree adventures for the kids. There is a whole range of activities and sports so make sure you check out their website to read all about it.
Read our guide to the best family days out in Scotland if you need some more inspiration.
Enjoy a round of golf on four of the best courses in the Highlands
Golf is well known for being a pastime that alleviates stress. The fresh air and beautiful countryside that are part and parcel of the wonderful game of golf help to release endorphins, so we feel happy, relaxed and stress-free. And that’s the point of a holiday, isn’t it?
Did you know there are four golf courses in Fort William and Lochaber? That means if you stay for a week in one of our Fort William cottages, you would be able to play a round on each one!
Here is what Fort William has to offer…
- Fort William Golf Club: An 18-hole course nestled between the mountains and the sea on the north side of Fort William and at the base of Ben Nevis. Location: PH33 6SW
- Traigh Golf Course: There can’t be a more beautiful setting for a course with its sea views and grassy hills. This 9-hole course is one to remember. Location: PH39 4NT
- Spean Bridge Golf Club: This is a short, but challenging 9-hole golf course, which golfers of all skill levels will enjoy playing. Location: PH34 4EP
- The Dragons Tooth Golf Course: Enjoy a 9-hole round on this seriously scenic course set below towering mountains. Location: PH49 4JX
There are endless activities to undertake when staying in this gorgeous area. Water sports, beach fun, wild swimming, wildlife safari trips, quad biking, sailing, pony trekking…the list goes on! Make the most of it and start planning your outdoor adventures today!
Food and drink in Fort William
No holiday is complete without amazing options for eating out. Whether you like to start your day with breakfast out, get a mid-morning snack or re-fuel after a whole day out adventuring, Fort William can cater for all cravings at any time of the day!
Being renowned for being a hugely active place, it would make no sense for a town like this not to have plenty of options for the foodies out there. There is such a wide variety for you to sample, you could spend your whole trip eating. Here’s our pick of the best restaurants and cafes to fuel up in Fort William.
Tuck into some pub grub in a Fort William pub…
- The Grog & Gruel - There is something for everyone at this proudly Scottish real-ale pub, which houses a lively restaurant serving pies, burgers, pizzas and Tex Mex cuisine upstairs. With fish and chips, chilli, enchiladas and classic pub grub on the menu, you can’t go wrong!
- Ben Nevis Inn - Located at the bottom of the mountain path on Ben Nevis, this traditional pub serves quintessential Scottish dishes such as haggis and cullen skink. Throughout the summer there is often live music to enjoy whilst you tuck into some great food and drink.
Or maybe you want something a little fancier in our Fort William restaurants…
- The Lime Tree - Listed in the Michelin Guide 2019, The Lime Tree is a culinary institution with dishes built around fresh Scottish produce, including Loch Fyne oysters, Loch Awe trout and Ardnamurchan venison. It’s also an art gallery which creates a fun and quirky atmosphere.
- Crannog - Perched on the pier where boats head across Loch Eir to Camusnagaul, Crannog offers up scallops, prawns and langoustines amongst other tasty seafood. It is set in a waterside location at the town pier and boasts amazing views.
- Inverlochy Castle – Albert and Michel Roux Jr at Inverlochy Castle offers a unique Highlands dining experience, with the legendary father and son duo serving up modern, British cuisine with French influences. This is a great choice for a special occasion.
For the more relaxed moments try a Fort William cafe…
- The Wildcat – This is a cosy vegan cafe offering coffee and tea, light breakfast and lunch and zero-waste groceries.
- Deli Craft – A deli and shop selling specialist local food products which you can try in-house or take away. Enjoy a light lunch, coffee and cake or treat yourself to a pizza. Make sure you try all of their sandwich fillings!!
Everything is made better with wonderful food and drink!
Stay in a Fort William holiday cottage
One of the best ways to enjoy this outdoor paradise is to rent a cottage in the Fort William wilderness and explore it all from your doorstep. With no time restrictions and endless privacy, this is the best way for your family to feel adventurous and free. Make a home from home for a week and rest up in one of our wonderful self-catering cottages in Fort William.
Here is just a taster of what we can offer…
This delightful farmhouse lies within the Conruanan Estate and has one of the most stunning backdrops you are likely to see in the Scottish Highlands. Sleeps 6 | 2 dogs welcome
This stunning first-floor apartment overlooks the majestic vision of Ben Nevis and the surrounding landscape of Fort William. This is the perfect couples’ retreat with lovely romantic touches like the decked balcony with water views of Loch Eil.
Sleeping 14 guests across seven bedrooms, this is the perfect retreat for large parties who love the outdoors. The house is wonderfully spacious and full of natural light from large bay windows, offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
Sleeps 14 | 4 dogs welcome
Browse our full range of Fort William cottages and plan your trip to the outdoor capital of the UK today.
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.