10 Important Things To Know Before Visiting the Highlands

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Are you planning visiting the Highlands?

If so, great, and great choice by the way. I’ve been lucky enough to live in the Highlands of Scotland for coming up on 20 years and I still absolutely love it. There is always something new to see, a new delight, a new surprise – I’ve never lived anywhere like it.

If you want to find out a bit more about what the Scottish Highlands are like then check out my page which includes more about what makes up the Highlands, what there is, what there isn’t and what it is like to live here.

In the meantime let’s get started with my list of 10 Things you need to know before visiting the Highlands.

Visiting the Highlands – Tip Number 1

The Highlands are Remote!

The distance from London to Inverness is 568 miles, and that’s just to Inverness. If you were to go to John O’Groats at the top of Scotland it’s 688 miles.

It’s 155 miles from Edinburgh to Inverness. 110 miles of that journey is on mostly single track road, although there are some overtaking lanes and some sections of dual carriageway.

As you drive up, particularly the section from Perth, you will drive through scenic mountain ranges and enjoy fantastic views, then at the last minute as you drop down over the final hill Inverness appears before you.

The remoteness and roads mean that the driving time from Edinburgh to Inverness is just over 3 hours, which as I am sure you will have worked out gives an average speed of about 50 miles per hour.

Travelling to Inverness from Glasgow via the A82 and Glencoe is 166 miles. However, there is no dual carriageway on this road at all so the drive time is just over 4 hours, giving an average speed of 40 mph.

Visiting the Highlands is going to involve some travelling but whichever way you choose the views are amazing!

Visiting the Highlands Tip Number 2

The Highlands are Huge!

The Highland Council manage the largest council authority in Western Europe. To put it in easier to visualise terms the Highlands is 1/3rd of all the land in Scotland. It’s 11.4% of the total land mass of Great Britain.

Accordingly the Highland council it is 10 times bigger than Luxembourg, 20% bigger than Wales and nearly the size of Belgium.

One county inside the Highlands, Ross-Shire, is the same size as Cyprus.

So you get the idea – it’s big which leads onto the next point!

Visiting the Highlands Tip Number 3

The Highlands Are Sparsely Populated

The population of the whole of the Highlands is 235,000 but around 100,000 people live in, near or around Inverness.

In terms of population the Highlands has the 7th highest population out of the 32 council areas in Scotland.

However, due to the size of the Highlands it has the lowest density with 8 people per square kilometre. Compare that to London which has a population density of 5,701 peope per square kilometre and you can see there is quite a difference. However, that’s not a fair comparison, so how about this one?

The least densely populated district in England is Eden in Cumbria with 25 people per square kilometre, which seems crowded compared to the Highlands 8.

Visiting the Highlands can be an ideal way to get some much needed peace and quiet.

Visiting the Highlands Tip Number 4
Facilities Can Be Fewer (But Fab!)

The remoteness and lack of population mean that there is not a Costa on every corner. There may be a Costa machine though!

Fuel stations can be hard to find on the West Coast of the Highlands in particular, and when you do find them prices can be higher. Keeping your tank topped up is always a good idea.

If you fancy a McDonalds then Inverness is the most Northerly point in the Highlands you will find one at. The same goes for Marks and Spencers, KFC, Pizza Hut and of course Costa and Starbucks.

Whilst the multiplex cinemas are in Inverness there are some great community facilities. A cinema on a truck visits remote communities and there is a wonderful community cinema in Thurso.

One of the main difficulties when travelling around the Highlands is the lack of toilets. Thankfully, there are cafes, alongwith community centres and community groups that provide toilet facilities. There is also due to be some additional funding to help with this issue.

Don’t worry though because as you travel around you will find some great local cafes, restaurants, shops and much more so you won’t go hungry or thirsty. I love these independent alternatives to the chains that are such a common feature of many of our towns and cities today.

Visiting the Highlands means enjoying some local alternatives to the high street chains!

Visiting the Highlands Tip Number 5
Hotels Can Be Very In Short Supply

There can be a shortage of hotel space in the Highlands at peak times. This can lead to high prices for hotel rooms given pricing is set in response to demand.

Two years ago some colleagues of mine coming up to work on the cruise ships were charged £350 per night per room for three single rooms in Inverness city centre. It was summer and beds were scarce so hotels could charge more knowing they would most likely get the rate.

This problem can be particularly acute in places like the Isle of Skye. Booking in advance in advance is one way to avoid this problem.

Visiting the Highlands need not be incredibly expensive. Travelling out of season is another way to avoid this issue, and the Highlands are stunning in April, May, September and October.

15 Minutes Before This Photo Was Taken We Were Sitting Outside Drinking Tea

Visiting the Highlands Tip Number 6

The Weather Can Be Very Changeable

We regularly have four seasons not just in one day, but sometimes in the space of the a morning or afternoon. Given how diverse the landscape of the Highlands is it is no wonder that weather can vary dramatically from one glen to another, one side of a mountain to another, one coast to another or even one village to the next.

Temperatures in the Highlands are often a little cooler as a result of how far North the Highlands are. However, temperatures can still be nice and warm in the summer (warm for us here in the Highlands is anything over 14 degrees Celsius).

The best way to approach the weather in the Highlands is to wear layers, or take layers with you if you have your own transport.

The old saying that there is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing is very true so ensure you have prepared for all kinds of weather.

If it does rain then enjoy the waterfalls and the fact that rain is infact whisky in the early stages of production!

Visiting the Highlands Tip Number 7

The Scenery is Stunning – Whatever the Weather!

It seems to be that every day there is a new photo to be taken and every day there is a new view, perspective or something that looks wonderful.

The Highlands has never ceased to amaze me, despite living here for nearly 20 years and I regularly discover new places, new views, new sights and new photography spots.

The Highlands are extremely varied. One of the largest peat bogs is located at the top of the Highlands which gives a very open prospect. The whole coast has stunning beaches, with some particularly fantastic beaches at Embo, Dornoch, Brora on the East Coast.

The West Coast tends to be a little more rugged, but no less stunning, with tiny islands, rocky outcrops and dramatic views.

A favourite area of ours is the Geopark. This is located on the West Coast and is full of dramatic mountains and old volcanoes. If you are interested in geology then this is definitely a great spot to visit as the rocks are really fascinating. Even if you are not that interested it is still fab.

Mountains are all over the Highlands, which give a great backdrop to views. Of course you can also climb them to get even better views!

There are lochs galore to explore, waterfalls, scenic drives and pretty towns and villages. Whenever I have taken holiday groups around the Highlands they have really enjoyed the scenery, wherever we have been going.

The changing weather provides changing scenery too. In the wetter months the waterfalls appear from new places, or fill to become spectacular torrents.

In winter the snow on the hills and quite often on the ground looks amazing, making it feel like you are travelling through a winter wonderland.

Visiting the Highlands in any season means there is always something to see.

Visiting the Highlands Tip Number 8

Single Track Roads are Common (And Fun!)

If you look at a map of the Highlands what you might not know is that many of the roads, particularly in the West and North West area of the Highlands are single track roads.

This means there is enough room for 1 vehicle to drive. However, the roads are equipped with passing places to help vehicles safely pass each other when they meet.

The speed limit on these roads is 60 miles per hour, but that shouldn’t be a target. Often these roads require much slower speeds, given the nature of the road, the difficulty in seeing ongoing traffic and the quality of the roads themselves.

If you are driving on these roads then take your time.

Passing places are for just that – passing, not for parking, picnicking or photography, although I have to admit of being guilty of the latter when an emergency photo calls and it’s exceptionally quiet!

These roads are used by timber trucks, regular trucks, buses and coaches, so take care and take your time.

They are a great driving experience though!

Visiting the Highlands Tip Number 9

People Are Friendly and Chatty

When I first moved to the Highlands I would get frustrated by people chatting every time I went into a shop, whether they were chatting to me or the people in the queue.

Now I love the fact that quite often two cars will pull alongside each other and have a quick chat knowing that the traffic behind will wait patiently for them to finish their conversation.

I love those little chats, random chats with people in shops and businesses, and have appreciated them all the more since Covid19.

Holidaymakers I have taken on tour around the Highlands have said that it feels like people still have time for each other in the Highlands, and they have forgotten that sometimes in the places they live.

I think the remoteness of the Highlands adds a certain community feel. This combined with the lack of population means you will generally know somebody who knows somebody if you are meeting someone new – giving you some common ground.

Visiting the Highlands Tip Number 10

There Is So Much More Than Loch Ness

Loch Ness is lovely and spectacular, especially from the much less visited Eastern side of the Loch. Loch Ness is an important visitor attraction in itself and there is plenty to see and do from boat trips to Urquhart Castle.

The Highlands has so much more than Loch Ness to enjoy.

There are wonderful castles to explore througout the Highlands – from the quirky Cawdor Castle near Inverness, to the drama of Dunrobin Castle perched beside the sea at Golspie, to the Queen Mother’s beloved Castle of Mey at the top of Scotland.

There are also lots of lochs to explore – they are everywhere in the Highlands. Sea lochs, coastal lochs, inland lochs, deep lochs – they are all different and unique. Loch Ness is not the only one to have a monster either – Loch Morar is supposed to have a monster also.

It is easy to get away from everyone and everything in the Highlands, so getting off the beaten track, whether that be Loch Ness or the North Coast 500 can be a great way to explore equally stunning places, with a few less people.

If you are interested in seeing the quieter side of Loch Ness then check out my guide to a self drive circular tour from Inverness – it’s very easy to do and there are lots of great places to stop along the way!

If you are planning on visiting the Highlands then doing a little research beforehand can help you discover some of the many delights of this varied and huge area of Scotland.

Visiting the Highlands – Conclusion

So why not come to the Highlands when it is out of the main season if you can?

It will still be as beautiful, but perhaps a little less busy. There should be more choice of hotels and hopefully better prices too.

Whenever you visit take time to enjoy all that the Highlands has got to offer and adjust to Highland time 🙂

Visiting the Highlands is an opportunity to slow down, to appreciate, to discover and to meet new people.

Further Reading;

Find out about different transport options for Getting to the Highlands

I love circular drives. Check out this complete tour of Loch Ness and see the side of the loch that most people don’t. If you fancy visiting the stunning West Coast check out this 1 or 2 day circular tour to Gairloch – the scenery is amazing!

Looking to stay in Inverness? I’ve got a great guide to 17 Inverness Hotels in and around the city centre.

More Information;

Get more information on the Highlands from Visit Scotland

Lonely Planet Guide to the Highlands and Islands

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