The highlands & islands of Scotland covers a vast area of over 30,000 square kilometres for the mainland area alone before including the many fantastic islands. Compare this to the size of The Lake District at just over 2,000 square kilometres, and you start to see the challenges posed.

If you want to enjoy this area you have several choices available.

If time permits, you can certainly do the grand tour and this can be highly rewarding. One of the best touring routes is The North Coast 500 – a spectacular journey of over 500 miles taking in some of the UK’s most spectacular coastline.

Durness Beach
Durness Beach – Just one of many on the NC500

Most people chose to start and end their tour in Inverness, with other popular stopping points being Applecross, Ullapool, Durness, John O’Groats and Dornoch.

This is indeed a most special journey and one that is best experienced over at least 5 or 6 days (although many people will wish for longer). This route has so much to see and do that it deserves more than a brief mention, so expect to see a more detailed blog (or blogs) giving more detailed information on some of the highlights.

In the meantime to help plan your trip around the North Coast 500 NC500 is the place to start with full details of the route and what you will find along the way.

Touring is a great way to see a large part of the highlands, but it does require careful planning and confidence to drive on some fairly challenging roads. Remember that the far north of mainland Scotland is sparsely populated and in the height of summer, accommodation can be hard to find. Also, remember that the weather can be variable so pack for all eventualities.

One or Two Main Locations

If the thought of packing your bags and moving on every day doesn’t appeal, then maybe you would prefer to concentrate on visiting just one or two particular areas. This allows for a more relaxed pace and you only have to worry about finding one or two places to stay. Driving can be kept down a little (although you may opt for some longer day trips), and you will get to know the local area, well, like a local. The biggest difficulty you will have is deciding which location to pick from the many on offer.

Popular locations for more in-depth exploration include The Isle of Skye, Lewis and Harris, The Orkney Islands, Fort William & Glencoe, and of course Inverness and Loch Ness.

Now, it is possible that we are a little biased, but Inverness makes a great central base from which to explore the main highland areas, all without having to keep packing and moving on. Of course Inverness is right on the doorstep of Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, but it is also close to other fantastic attractions like Culloden Battlefield, Cawdor Castle, Brodie Castle and Fort George. Within a short drive, you can reach other key attractions including many distilleries such as Benromach, Glen Ord, Glenmorangie, and Dalmore, the fantastic Cairngorm National Park, and the imposing Dunrobin Castle. In little over an hour, you can be on the west coast at Ullapool or even Eilean Donan Castle and The Isle of Skye.

Wherever you choose to stay, you’ll be assured of a warm Scottish welcome – “Ceud Mile Failte” (a hundred thousand welcomes)

For some inspiration here is a selection of images from some of the best locations in the highlands and islands:

Visiting the Scottish Highlands & Islands – To tour or not to tour