The Highlands are the reality behind the captivating images conjured by most people when thinking of Scotland. It is a beautiful and inspiring region, full of timeless landscapes and absorbing history. The dreamy, unspoilt scenery gives rise to the region`s reputation as the romantic heart of the nation; with ever and fast changing weather, the snowcapped mountains can be lost in a fog instantly, sunny spells over deep blue lochs give way to dark shadows, stretches of sandy coastline are enveloped in mists, and empty glens are playgrounds for majestic red deer and eagles rule the skies.
The beauty is not the only draw of the Highlands, the area is surprisingly bustling with activity. Driving through the jaw-dropping beauty of Glencoe and Kyle of Lochalsh, you will find peace exploring Cairngorms National Park, Ben Nevis, Ardnamurchan, and Glen Affric or in the flat lands of Caithness or Fort William. Don`t forget infamous Loch Ness with its titular monster. For the thrill seekers there is the ski haven of Aviemore, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Also on offer in the vast Highlands are golf, fishing, water sports, jogging, dolphin watching, and much more!
Today the Highlands are scarcely populated, with most people preferring to live in tiny villages dotting the coastline. However, this was not always the case. The Highlands were home to the clans and chieftains, the massacres and bloodshed portrayed so richly in history books and blockbuster Hollywood movies. After the clan wars and wars with the English, opportunistic landowners drove out large chunks of the population, in order to take advantage of the fertile glens and hills for farming and livestock businesses. These `Highland Clearances` saw large droves either evicted or emigrated. The poor crofters settled into the shore areas, or moved out of Scotland altogether, leaving the region largely abandoned.
Inverness is considered by most to be the capital of the Highlands. It is a small but thriving city, home to a variety of tourist attractions, accommodation, and activities. Despite the large reliance on tourism, the city is able to retain its market town feel, dating to its early development. A wealth of historic buildings in and around the city`s Old Town can be easily appreciated while out shopping or dining, or in any number of the peaceful areas close to the center.
There are several remarkable neighboring castles and rich heritage within a short distance of the capital. Hovering picturesquely above the river, Inverness Castle dominates the horizon, above the Gothic Town House on High Street. The original castle served as the core of the early town, until the Jacobites purposely destroyed it to prevent it falling into government hands. Situated on Castle Wynd, just below Inverness Castle, is the city Museum and Art Gallery, with a very good, general overview of the history and development of the Highlands. Abertarff House is located just slightly further down Church Street, it is reputedly the oldest complete building in the city, and serves as headquarters for the National Trust of Scotland. Along the river lies St. Andrew`s Cathedral, overlooking the River Ness, and Craig Phadrig, once a stronghold of the Pictish Kings, lies just above the city. Inverness hosts a fantastic array of events and festivals from traditional to modern including music festivals, golf championships, and the iconic Highland Games as well as popular art, history, and heritage events. Just outside the city visitors can re-live one of Scotland`s most famous battles at Culloden Field, catch a glimpse of a school of dolphins in the nearby Moray Firth, or journey down the Caledonian Canal to the world-famous Loch Ness.
No vacation in Scotland is complete without a visit to Loch Ness. The infamous lake is over 20 miles long, one mile wide and 700 feet at its deepest. The bay at Urquhart with its castle and visitor center is one of the most visited attractions in Scotland, and one of the most popular places for `Nessie` watching. Everyone knows the myth of the Loch Ness Monster, affectionately called `Nessie,` but the surrounding area is filled with historic attractions, natural wonders, cozy places to stay, and superb eateries. You can sit back and admire the stunning landscape, explore the diverse history of the area, visit the attractive towns and villages like Fort Augustus, Foyers, Cannich, Dornoch, Kinlochleven, and Drumnadrochit, stroll the shore leisurely or take on a bigger challenge like the South Loch Ness Trail or the Great Glen Way which is 70 miles meandering throughout some of Scotland`s finest scenery.
Nearby the Caledonian Forest, which consists mostly of Scots pine, rowan, birch oak and Juniper, once covering huge areas in Scotland, has retreated due to climate changes, however, luckily there are quite a few remaining parts which are home to amazing wildlife such as the Capercaillie. Glen Affric, Abernethy Forest, as well as the area south of Loch Maree, the Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve, are all wonderful remnants of this beautiful Scottish landscape.