If you’re serious about “staycationing”, Scotland is probably already on your to-do list.
And while you may have considered Edinburgh and even Glasgow, how much do you know about the most northern part of the country?
The Northern Highlands is a place unlike anywhere else on earth, packed with ancient mystery, magic, and mythology. It’s here, after all, that the legend of Loch Ness originates.
But eerie monsters aside, there’s so much more to discover in this part of the world. From the expected — ancient castles and stunning scenery — to the totally unexpected — beaches, scuba diving and red pandas? — it might just be time to move the Northern Highlands to the top of your family travel plans.
3 must-see sights in the Northern Highlands
1. The Torridon Hills
For many of us, the Northern Highlands are best represented by the wide expanses of the Torridon Hills. Just north of Glen Torridon, this area offers some of the most spectacular landscapes you’ll find in the UK.
Fun fact: some of the rock in this mountain range is over 3 billion years old.
2. Smoo Cave
The beauty of the Northern Highlands isn’t just found aboveground: there’s plenty below, too.
If you’re feeling adventurous, be sure to descend into the spectacular Smoo Cave. Located in the cliffs of the Geodha Smoo inlet just east of Durness, you’ll discover a waterfall, underwater river with a boat ride, and much more.
It’s free to enter, or families can make use of the paid-for local guides to really get the full experience.
3. Highland Wildlife Park
Travelling around, you might be lucky enough to spot a Scottish red deer, Scottish wildcat, or the unmistakable Highland cattle. But for some guaranteed wildlife spotting, there’s no better place than Highland Wildlife Park.
This safari experience brings together some of the world’s most rare animals — snow leopards, red pandas — and native species, too. Simply drive through with a set of binoculars and see what you can find!
3 must-do family activities in the Northern Highlands
1. Go in search of Nessie
Few stories capture a child’s imagination as much as the legend of the Loch Ness Monster. Prep well, and you’ll have your little ones leaping out of the car in search of Nessie — but will you find her?
With “sightings” as recent as earlier this year… you really never know!
2. Collect fossils and look out for wildlife at Brora Beach
The Northern Highlands, and Scotland’s northernmost islands, can seriously take your breath away (and we don’t just mean from the bracing winds!).
And while you wouldn't think it, this part of the UK has some truly beautiful beaches. Brora Beach, on the east coast, has everything a family could ask for: clean sand, fossils to find, great kite-flying conditions, and an opportunity to see some local wildlife. Basking seals can usually be found on the southern side of the nearby river, and if you look out to sea you may just spot minke whales passing by!
As you’d imagine, the water isn’t exactly warm so swimming isn’t advised. But if you’ve got a dry suit — or don’t mind getting cold toes! — then a quick paddle wouldn’t do any harm.
3. Look out over John o' Groats
Known for being the very, very tip of the UK, John o’ Groats is actually a hotspot for wildlife and watersports, too. Of course, the views are unforgettable. But families looking for a more action-packed day out can enjoy surfing, dolphin tours and a 40-minute boat trip out to the Orkney Islands.
A word of warning: the breaks out here are only really suitable for experienced surfers!
The best time to visit the Northern Highlands?
While the stark landscapes of the Northern Highlands attract visitors from across the world each year, there’s a reason they call them stark. Put simply, the Northern Highlands see some of the chilliest weather in the whole of the UK (and that’s saying something!).
Visitors should see warmer weather in the summer months and cooler temperatures in autumn and winter, there’s no hard-and-fast rule in Scotland. That’s great news for families though, as this part of the UK is great for summer and winter holidays, and half terms all year round.
What to pack for the Northern Highlands
It’s a good idea to pack for all seasons when visiting the Northern Highlands.
Wellies, waterproofs, umbrellas, sun hats, sun cream… it’ll all come in handy in this area — perhaps even in the space of a single day!
Getting around the Northern Highlands
As one of the most remote locations in all of the UK, it’ll come as no surprise that travel options are limited in the Northern Highlands.
While it’s possible to fly domestically to airports like Inverness, the best connections in the Northern Highlands themselves are either by road or by rail. Why not rent a car, load up, and see what you can discover?