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 all the coastal villages along the way.
The Highlands 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. This is the area we are going to focus on in this guide, bringing you an insight into some of the lovely Highland towns you can visit. Enjoy finding out about these places and put them on the list as your next place to visit - they are after all some of the best places to visit in the Scottish Highlands.
Here are some of the most idyllic and best towns to stay in throughout the Scottish Highlands…
Meaning: “Aviemore” is connected to the old Gaelic word “Adhbhadh” which means ‘a dwelling place’.
Aviemore lies in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park and is known well for being popular within the active outdoor world. Set in the wilderness with woodland, rivers, lochs, and mountains surrounding it, there is endless opportunity for getting out and about exploring. 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 your 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 from 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. For those looking for a slower pace 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 enjoying 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 out. 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
If we have inspired you to come, here are a couple of Aviemore holiday homes which you could stay in…
Dell of the Wood – sleeps 4. This is a charming bungalow which is within easy reach of the Cairngorm ski resort and Loch Morlich Beach. It has a suntrap patio at the back and great views over the mountains from the front. Two dogs welcome 🐕🐕
Pilmuir – sleeps 8. This is a beautiful stone house set 10 minutes from Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park. It is stylish and comfortable with a country cottage feel, and makes a perfect base to get out and explore from. Nethy Bridge is a charming village with store, hotel bar and golf course. Two dogs welcome 🐕🐕
Meaning: “Kingussie” comes from the Gaelic “Ceann a’ Ghiuthsaich” which means “Head of the Pine Forest”.
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 to 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.
Kingussie 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 town high street is dotted with independent shops, galleries, eateries, and tea rooms making it easy to pop out for a bite to eat at any time of 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! Location: PH21 1NL
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
Want to come and stay in Kingussie? Here are two great holiday homes which are great for family gatherings.
Old Milton – sleeps 18. 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. One dog welcome 🐕
Brier Grove – sleeps 7. Come and stay in this Victorian villa and experience the lovely quiet spot that enjoys elevated above Kingussie. It boasts a large enclosed garden which offers privacy and over the road there is a tennis court which is a lovely sport to start or end the day with. The house itself is large and spacious, with plenty of room for the whole family. One dog welcome 🐕
Meaning: “Carrbridge” comes from the Gaelic “Drochaid Charr” which means “the bridge at the marsh”.
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 lots of 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. Landmark has been welcoming visitors for years and has been 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 that serves up 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.
Where can you stay near Carrbridge? Whilst we don’t have any cottages in the vicinity of Carrbridge we do have some dotted around the surrounding area.
Our highlight holiday home has to be Grants of Freuchie Castle. 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. Two dogs welcome 🐕🐕
Meaning: “Tomintoul” comes from the Gaelic “Tom an t-Sabhail” which means “Hillock of the Barn”.
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 driving 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 takes place showcasing the best of heavyweight games, highland dancing, piping competition and other entertainments. 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. Location: IV13 7YT
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 uniform from years gone by hung up for all to see. Location: AB37 9EX
- The Clockhouse Restaurant is located in the square of Tomintoul and serve 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 ingredients are foraged from Glenlivet Estate itself. Location: AB37 9ET
Where can you stay in a holiday cottage near Tomintoul?
Tomachlaggan Smithy – sleeps 4. This is a quirky three-bedroom cottage located in the wilderness in the outskirts of Tomintoul. Its private location makes this perfect for small families and being set close to woodland tracks meaning walking and cycling is right on the doorstep. The cottage looks out over fields where sheep are often grazing. The cottage itself is small but traditional and homely. One dog welcome 🐕
Maggie's Yurt – sleeps 2. 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 BBQ's outside, it has an oriental flair throughout and is full of character. You might be lucky enough to see the northern lights!
Meaning: “Braemar” comes from the Gaelic “Bràigh Mhàrr” which refers to the area of upper Marr, the village itself being Castleton of Braemar.
Braemar is a charming Highland 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.
Tomintoul is an ancient highland village and 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 to anyone who is interested in Scottish history. Location: AB35 5XR
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-fire cooking. You won’t forget the luxury experience you will have when dinging here. Location: AB35 5YN
- The Cairn Grill Restaurant and Bar serves up some of the best grilled food in the Highlands. Using the very best of 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
Have we inspired you to come and visit Braemar? Here is a cottage that will offer you the perfect base for your explorations.
Downies Cottage - This is a truly romantic retreat which has been designed with couples in mind. Renovated up 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. Two dogs welcome 🐕🐕
Visit a Highland town and stay in a Highland holiday cottage
This is just a handful of Scottish Highland towns that can be visited during your holiday to the Highlands. There are many more that can be discovered by driving around and taking in the views. Make sure you browse our full collection of Highland cottages and pick the perfect base to explore from. With everything from family holiday homes to luxury romantic cottages, we will have something to suit you.
View the collection 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.