If you love to fish, golf, and shoot—preferably all at the same place—then the Scottish Highlands should be your next trip. Though the destination has witnessed an uptick in tourism in recent years, the landscape feels frozen in time. Riding the bus north from Edinburgh, watching the dense forests give way to sloping green hills and jagged crags, it’s easy to feel that you’ve landed on the moon. The barren yet verdant landscape is unlike anywhere else on earth.
There is something untouched about the Highlands: centuries-old castles eternally crumble alongside darkened lochs, and the gray fog never seems to lift. Many generations after the Highland clans ruled the north, their folklore and heritage feel eternally present. And the drinking, dancing, and self-deprecating humor of Scottish culture are as alive as ever in the present-day Highlands. One visit to Inverness, and you will find yourself supporting the idea of Scotland’s secession from the United Kingdom.
Book a flight to Edinburgh, and enjoy the city that inspired Harry Potter before heading up north to the land of medieval castles, haggis, and Macbeth. Although we had bluebird days all week on our visit, the weather in the Highlands is notoriously overcast and unpredictable. So read on for the best places to eat, sleep, and explore in the Scottish Highlands. Pack your wellies, grab a field coat, smuggle a flask of whiskey, and get ready to book your trip now.
Eat Scottish Highlands
Scottish Breakfast at a cafe in Edinburgh (Adobe Stock)
Inverness has emerged as a foodie destination, and the city has mastered the farm-to-table culinary scene. The Highlands are #trending in this regard since the landscape offers ample opportunity for hunting and foraging. If you’re in the Isle of Skye, check out The Three Chimneys (the food rivals the view). While you may not consider a seafood destination, we suggest sampling the menu at the Arisaig House in the West Highlands—order the lobster, if available. For those of us who don’t mind traditional British food, the pubs will be offering up all the fish and chips, haggis, and Scotch that you can handle. One last tip: start or end your trip at The Inn on the Mile in Edinburgh, and order some neeps and tatties and a bottle of champagne. They’ve been known to offer complimentary prosecco (always appreciated).
Sleep Scottish Highlands
Inverness, Scotland (Adobe Stock)
If you want to drink whisky (and who doesn't?), look no further than the Glenlivet House in Cairngorms National Park. Upon visiting the Glenlivet distillery, follow the Malt Whisky Trail over to Macallan, then Glenfiddich, and so on. Good luck finding your way home. Another option is Torridon Hotel in Wester Ross, which boasts a malt whisky bar and active pursuits such as rock climbing, clay shooting, and archery. If you’d prefer to stay in a city, we recommend booking a room at the Rocpool Reserve Inverness. Home to restaurants and bars (and Macbeth's castle), this town offers the most nightlife in the region.
If you love to fish, the Inver Lodge in Lochinver is your heaven on earth. The northern Highlands is famous for its salmon and trout fishing, and this lodge offers easy access to both the Inver and Karkaig rivers. The lochs are the natural habitat of brown trout, and the rivers are teeming with them, so the odds are in your favor. There are myriad options for adventurous travelers—from treehouses to wigwams to sleeping beside riverbeds. Never ever seen the Northern Lights? Try wild camping. Thanks to Scotland's Land Reform Act of 2003, you can now sleep under the stars in remote areas throughout the Highlands: a best-case scenario for witnessing the aurora borealis.
Explore Scottish Highlands
Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland (Adobe Stock)
Want to golf and fish during your trip but can’t choose between the two? Scotia Golf & Guided Fishing Tours is the answer to your prayers. The company offers fly fishing tours focused on salmon, brown trout, grayling and pike, and 5-night golf packages. We recommend the Northern Lights package, because duh. If you’re visiting in the winter, check out Glencoe Mountain Resort for some of the best skiing in the Highlands —and book a chalet for the ski-on/ski-off accessibility, not to mention the outdoor hot tub. Cairngorm National Park (a year-round favorite) also offers winter activities, from skiing to climbing to wildlife watching.
Finally, we recommend experiencing the local history via castle game tours of the Highland Clans and a mandatory journey to the Isle of Skye—particularly the picturesque Fairy Pools. When you’re visiting the Isle of Skye, be sure to check out The Five Sisters of Kintail, also known as the most dramatic peaks we’ve ever seen (truly, and you know we’re loyal to the Grand Tetons). The road through Glen Brittle offers an ideal panoramic view of these legendary mountains—according to local mythology, they’re the result of a witch’s blessing (or curse) upon five sisters. They were beautiful and unmarried, awaiting suitors that would never arrive. Rather than let those good looks go to waste, the witch preserved their beauty forever in the Glen Shiel hills. This type of folklore is pervasive in the Highlands, so Outlander-inspired travelers will certainly not be disappointed. And if they are: this interactive map spotlights specific destinations based on the series. So, go forth (or rather: go north), and conquer.