A journey through Britain’s Scottish Highlands is an exciting vacation experience, and one that has stayed with me since my visit years ago. The Scottish Highlands are made up of small villages, wilderness and mountain land. It is where Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, is located. There are many lodging options to choose from as well, from B&Bs and cottages to estates and castles.
While Edinburgh serves up all the fun of a city, the highlands offer a completely different view of Scotland. With open space and an endless list of historic castles, this is a Scotland that nature lovers and history buffs will love.
Figuring out where to start in the Scottish Highlands can be a bit daunting, as travel time and distances between villages can quickly consume allotted vacation time for many travelers. Here is a short list of destination highlights to help get your trip planning started.
No two castles are the same, making every visit to one a pretty fun experience.
Glamis Castle introduces suspense the minute your vehicle starts making its way down the driveway. There are a lot of details to admire here, including personal photographs and belongings of the royal family. Dating back 600 years, this castle was where Mary Queen of Scots spent much of her time, and where the Queen Mother spent her childhood. It also is one of the most visited castles in the area, opening its doors to groups large and small for guided tours and special events.
Take a moment after your tour to take part in a falconry demonstration. During this session, you’ll get face-to-face with these beautiful birds of prey and delight in the beauty of watching them take flight.
Balmoral Castle and Estate is an exciting place to visit as it currently serves as the vacation home to the royal family. What many visitors like about this estate is the beautiful countryside surrounding the grounds, which are open to campers, hikers, and nature lovers wanting to celebrate the natural beauty. I recommend signing up for a wildlife safari to get a view of the wild red deer as well as the scenic forestland. Guests also have the options to rent holiday cottages or go salmon fishing.
Viewfinder Tip: Be sure to bring a light rain jacket to Scotland, as the weather changes rapidly all the time.
Unlike the two castles mentioned before, Dunnottar Castle is not a functioning estate, but rather a collection of ruins that once made up the castle home of William Wallace (think “Braveheart”) and Mary Queen of Scots. Located on the a top a cliff surrounded by the North Sea, the site makes you feel as if you’ve traveled back in time. It remains one of my favorite castle visits to date.
Tomnaverie Stone Circle
Tomnaverie Stone Circle, a circle of recumbent stones believed to be more than 4,000 years old, is an archaeological site near the village of Tarland. Significant conservation efforts have gone into helping to protect and preserve this spot, making it one of the most beloved in the area.
Rothiemurchis Estate is an adventure- and nature-lovers’ playground. Located in the largest natural forest in Britain, visitors can choose from a long list of outdoor activities to better enjoy it all. Some of the most popular activities include hiking on Cairngorm Mountain, archery lessons, horseback riding, Bushcraft survival, and canoeing on Loch an Eilean. Standing at the summit of Cairngorm solidified my love for Scotland, and is always on my must-see list for anyone visiting the area.
The Braermer Gathering is an annual event that takes place every September. Best known for the Highland Games as well as for the royal attendance, this ancient tradition has been honored and celebrated since 1832.
Truly all of these recommendations are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the magnificence of touring through the highlands. Be sure to plan your trip carefully and take into consideration travel time from one stop to another. It is easy to drive or take the train; just make sure you experience it for yourself.