Spending time in Scotland is special. It is hard to put in to words, just how amazing it is and for so many reasons too. I've wanted to create this Highlights of the Scottish Higlands round up for a while now! Folk often ask me for recommendations about where to go and so I've created this best of the best round up!
Scotland has been a place I have visited for nearly half of my life, from the moment I fell in love with a tall fella at uni swing band in Sheffield. He walked up and asked me 'is this seat free' in his soft Scottish accent, 'yes' I grinned as replied. And as the story unfolded, it could be said two seats were free that night, the seat next to me on tenor sax and the metaphorical one next to me forever, pha! We've been co-pilots on adventures to Scotland ever since.
But, we're not here for stories of romance, although that is where my story with visiting Scotland begins. There have been so many moments on adventures across the Scottish Highlands, I wanted to bring you a rather random round up of some of the highlights and some of my favourite locations or reasons why I love Scotland so much!
Best time of year to visit Scottish Highlands
Every season is amazing, but for an aurora chaser like me, mid-August through to mid-April are the best times to go as there is some darkness at night to be able to see the aurora. In the high summer months, it doesn't really get dark and so there is no chance to chase aurora. If you head to Scotland in the aurora season, you can find out more about how to see and shoot the aurora here - I've shared all I know about chasing this beautiful dance of universal energy across the night sky!
Best Lighthouse View in the Scottish Highlands
I mean, Scotland has some amazing scenery and some of the lighthouses are perched on the most precarious of places! But for me, there is one that stands out and that is Neist Point on the Isle of Skye. It is at the end of a rugged cliff feature and you stand on cliffs around 100m off the sea, with the cliff line leading your eye to it. On a clear day you can see across to the Outer Hebrides and if you're lucky you might see whales or dolphins. I've yet to see a stella sunset there, it is the one that keeps getting away and one I adore revisiting, as it is just amazing to sit on the clifftop and gaze!
Best place to paddle board in the Scottish Highlands
This is a hard one. I have loved paddle boarding around Skye, the sea lochs can be so still when sheltered by the mountains and the water is SO clear you can see for 10m or more and get to see so much marine life in the water! One stand out place to SUP was at Big Sand near Gairloch in Wester Ross. It is on the mainland, facing the Isle of Skye and the Torridon mountains off to the south, the views are incredible. You can pay to park at the campsite which is right on the beach and enjoy popping round the rocky coastline. I'd recommend taking a snorkel, as there is so much to see in the rock pools! And it is certainly a wetsuit job the whole year round, the water is so cold in summer and the clear waters let you see just how many jellyfish are roaming the sea!
Best random experience in the Scottish Highlands
I don't ski, but I do love snow and being up at a view point. We had booked a trip to Glencoe for my birthday and they'd had very heavy spring snowfall the day before we went, with nearly 1m falling up the mountain. And so we booked to go up the chairlift at Glencoe Mountain resort, leaving the base camp with no snow and being transported to winter over the course of the elevation! There were marked paths, that led to a mountain hut serving hot drinks and there was an epic sledge run, so we really didn't need to ski to have a good time. And of course, when the clouds lifted, the view across Rannoch Moor was so amazing too!
Best mountain to summit in the Scottish Highlands
I think you will probably already know the answer to this one. Of course, it is Ben Nevis. The UK's highest mountain and one not to be underestimated. We summited it in the summer of 2020 and oh how we knew about it for a few days afterwards! We camped at base camp in Glen Nevis and waited until our last day at the campsite as the weather forecast looked favourable and oh it was, we were rewarded with 360 deg views across the Scottish Highlands! I'd love to hike it again one day, but first I need to meet Snowdon and Scafell Pike and many of the other Bens in Scotland!
Best Campsite in the Scottish Highlands
This is a tough one. We drove a motorhome around the NC500 and stopped in some absolutely incredible campsites. I think for me there were three from that trip that stood out. Sango Sands at Durness (in the first picture) because we reversed the motorhome up to this beach and then Shore Campsite right beside Achmelvich Beach (the second photo) which is one of the most spectacular beaches about 25m from your pitch. And finally Sheildaig was gorgeous for the view - the campsite just above the village with epic loch views - it is nestled in the back of the loch behind the island in the third image.
Best time to see the Milky Way in the Scottish Highlands
If you're flexible on dates and want to try and do some night sky photography or star gazing, it is worth googling the phase of the moon and going when there is a new moon. The highlands is so dark, with such minimal light pollution and so what you can see at nightfall, when there is no moon to zap the intensity of the stars, is beyond mind boggling.
Best place to snorkel in the Scottish Highlands
The sea is so clear in Scotland, in comparison to my base in Kent where the water is often full of sediment! One of the things I loved following was the Scottish Wildlife Trust Snorkel Trail - we followed ones around the North West Highlands and saw some amazing marine life!
Best beach to make you feel like you're in Iceland in the Scottish Highlands
Talisker Bay. Hands down, it felt like we were stood on Reynisfjara, The Black Sand beach near Vik in South Iceland! In many ways, so much of Scotland feels like Iceland and Norway made a geological love child and the west coast of Scotland was born. With a half hour walk from the parking, it was breathtaking to see the beach opening out in the way it does from the trail!
Best moment with nature in the Scottish Highlands
This is a hard one to call too. Because these are moment you never can plan. And when they arrive they are rather mesmerising and all consumingly wonderful. I think the best moment so far has to be the first time I've ever seen dolphins, they flanked our ferry on the way to Isle of Skye. It was the most incredible 10 minutes and you can read more about the story along with more photos here.
Best road to drive in the Scottish Highlands
Hands down, this has to be the notorious Bealach na Ba Road. The hairpin bends keep switching back as you make your way up the mountain pass. It isn't to be underestimated. We saw a woman come off her motorbike, luckily she was ok, but she lost traction and the bike just slide. We got really lucky with a clear run up and as we parked to take in the view there were motorhomes inching along!
Best beach view in the Scottish Highlands
I think this has to go to Elgol. With the incredible honeycomb cliffs and the views across the water to the Cuillin Mountains, sunset here is really rather spectacular! In summer, you can take a boat from the harbour across the water to the mountains and a short hike takes you to a loch that is only accessible this way! It is an adventure that is on my radar for next time!
Best place to stay in the Scottish Highlands
I am going to play this one on the fence and say, you do you. There are so many ways to travel in Scotland. In many ways, camping or vanlife-ing your way around brings the ultimate freedom, or a gorgeous cottage with a view brings a space you can truly stop and relax in. If I am staying in a property, the light chaser in me leads with the criteria of it needing to have a sunset view, as well as a north facing view that has no light pollution. So if the aurora does kick off, it is easy to see it from where you're staying! The other thing I recommend is hitting google maps and looking at all of the pinned accommodation, I have unearthed some absolutely stunning places doing this!
Best Waterfall in the Scottish Highlands
I loved visiting Kilt Rocks where Mealt Falls, well falls! It cascades straight into the sea, on the eastern edge of the Isle of Skye.
Best Loch view in the Scottish Highlands
So far, with all the lochs I've seen, one stands out and that is Loch Fada. Just moments from Portree on the Isle of Skye, you turn a corner and start descending a hill and the loch opens out in front of you and leads your eye to the famous Old Mann of Storr! After a super rainy day, the weather cleared for this moment and it was so still, the loch almost like a mirror, as I took to the skies to capture this with the drone!
Best Beach in the Scottish Highlands
I think my all time favourite beach, so far, I keep caveating that (!! ha !!), has to be Arisaig Beach near Mallaig. I haven't spent enough time here yet but it just leave me in awe. We got to paddle board here once but the tide drains the shallow bay so fast, our fins on the boards didn't have enough water to submerge them! I dream of returning here in winter, that brisk wind rouging your cheeks and the emptiness of it will just be magical. The first picture faces southwards and I just love the clarity of the water and the second image faces across to the Isles of Eigg, Mull & Skye and the setting sun!
So, there we have it, my best of the best, random round up of the highlights of the Scottish Highlands! I have a feeling this post will be one I come back and add to over time. I know for sure there will be more detailed posts about each of these things in the future too. If you're a lover of travelling in Scotland, where is your 'best of' recommendations?
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