1. Highland Wildlife Park, Kingussie
Come and meet Victoria, the UK’s only female polar bear. She and her buddies Walker and Arktos are quite at home in the Highlands and they’ll thrill you with their antics as they dive into their pool or wrestle a hard hat. And they’re not the only animals who originate far from Scotland’s shores. The Highland Wildlife Park also has amur tigers that will leave you spellbound. The park, set in spectacular scenery, has a drive-through reserve and walk-around area. It’s just a great day out for all the family.
Where: Kincraig, Kingussie, PH21 1NL
Tel: 01540 651270
2. Plockton, Wester Ross
With its swaying palms, blue seas and coral beaches, who would believe this is Scotland? But picturesque Plockton in the north west Highlands has all of this to offer and more. A National Trust for Scotland Conservation Village with a population of less than 500, Plockton nestles in a sheltered bay overlooking Loch Carron where it is caressed by the warming influences of the North Atlantic drift. And it is surrounded by some of the most dramatic scenery in Scotland. And there’s so much to see and do, from fabulous walks to seal and wildlife watching with Calum’s Seal Trips and sea kayaking for all the family with Sea Kayak Plockton. The village has a great selection of accommodation, restaurants and pubs that will appeal to most tastes and pockets.
Where: Harbour Street, Plockton, IV52 8TW
Tel: 01599 544465
3. CairnGorm Mountain, Aviemore
CairnGorm Mountain is the most popular snowsports destination in Scotland and has been offering snowsports for over 50 years. It has 30km of ski runs, 11 lifts, a fully maintained freestyle park and an on-site Snow School that caters for everyone, from beginners to experts. It is also home to Scotland’s only funicular railway. This is a unique visitor experience that allows people of all abilities to reach the Top Station where the Ptarmigan Restaurant is located with panoramic views from over 3,500ft. There is also a viewing terrace, exhibition, shop and the highest post box in the British Isles.
Where: Cairn Gorm Ski Area, Aviemore, PH22 1RB
Tel: 01479 861261
4. Eden Court Theatre, Inverness
Eden Court Theatre is one of the best equipped arts centres in the country with two theatres, two cinemas and two dance and drama studios. It has a packed programme of drama, dance, music, comedy, musical theatre and film. Look out for Sister Act – the Broadway and West End smash hit musical show starring Alexandra Burke – which is coming to the theatre this summer.
Where: Bishops Road Inverness, IV3 5SA
Tel: 01463 234234
5. Loch Insh Outdoor Centre, Kingussie
There’s something for all the family at Loch Insh with the emphasis on flexibility. The centre offers a string of activities on and off the water for people of all ages and experience levels. You can try your hand at ski-ing and archery, or sailing, fishing and raft building. Visitors can book in for an hour, a day or a week or more with a range of accommodation available.
Where: Kincraig, Kingussie, PH21 1NU
Tel: 01540 651272
6. Traigh Mhor, Barra
Barra’s Traigh Mhor is the only beach airport for scheduled flights in the world. And landing on this shimmering stretch of white sand is the experience of a lifetime. Locals love to collect cockles at the spot but know that when the windsock is flying, the airport is active. Landing on Barra doeesn’t have to cost a fortune either. Loganair operate regular flights to the island out of Glasgow (under franchise from Flybe) for just £79 return between November and end of March. They also operate flights from other destinations.
Where: Eoligarry, Barra, HS9 5YD
7. Cycle Shetland, Lerwick
Soak up the stunning scenery on this fabulous cycle ride which starts in Lerwick and ends up in the ancient capital of Scalloway. The 5.9 mile (9.5km) route cuts through a ridge of hills before crossing wild moorland, culminating in a jaw-dropping panoramic view of Scalloway and the sea. It takes 40 minutes.
Where: Market Cross, Lerwick, ZE1 0LU
Tel: 01595 693434
8. Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye
At the foot of the Black Cuillins near Glenbrittle are the Fairy Pools. These breath-taking crystal-clear blue pools on the River Brittle entice visitors from all over the world. And they make some great wild swimming for those brave enough to enter the cold water. The walk to the pools uses the same route there and back is about a mile-and-a-half, taking about 40 minutes.
Where: Glen Brittle, Isle of Skye, IV47 8SG
Tel: 01478 612992
9. Inverewe Gardens, Poolewe
Inverewe Gardens are a lush, sub-tropical-style oasis perched on a peninsula on Loch Ewe amid the rugged landscape of Wester Ross. This historic garden is one of Scotland’s most popular botanical attractions. It was created out of bare rock and a few scrub willows in 1862 by Osgood Mackenzie and is full of colourful, exotic plants from around the world.
Where: Poolewe, Achnasheen, IV22 2LG
Tel: 01445 712952
10. North Coast 500, Highlands
Scotland’s answer to the USA’s Route 66, the North Coast 500 is a circular route covering 500 miles to and from Inverness and showcases the best of what the Highlands has to offer. Become a NC500 member and you’ll receive a string of benefits including an official map and an exclusive discount card with offers and deals for dozens of NC500 businesses along the way. Go on, start your adventure today!
Where: North Coast 500 Ltd. 13 Harbour Terrace, Wick, KW1 5HB
Tel: 01955 609806
11. Culloden Moor near Inverness
It was one of the pivotal moments of Scottish history – the day Bonnie Prince Charlie’s dream of a Jacobite rebellion finally died. On April 16, 1746, thousands perished at Culloden in the last major battle to take place on British soil. And more than 270 years later the site of this terrible event still feels eerie – like the ghosts of the fallen still wander on the desolate moor. For anyone heading to the north east, a quick trip along the road from Inverness to the National Trust visitor centre on Culloden Moor is a must. Even though the building has been open for barely a decade, it feels like it belongs there – as if it was around to witness the fighting. Inside, the exhibits are stunning, but it’s the way the story of the battle is told – through the quiet voices of long-lost soldiers from both sides and a giant table-top simulation of how the day unfolded – that will really leave a lasting impression. Be warned, you can lose most of a day here – but with a fantastic on-site café your visit will feed the belly as well as the soul.
Where: Culloden Moor, Inverness, IV2 5EU
Tel: 01463 796090
12. Skara Brae, Orkney
The miraculously preserved 5000-year-old village of Skara Brae was described by travel guru Bill Bryson as “arresting”. The eight stone Neolithic dwellings, uncovered by a 19th Century storm, are roofless but otherwise intact. They are older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Egypt and yet they feel as if they were vacated only yesterday.
Where: Sandwick, Stromness, KW16 3LR
Tel: 01856 84181
13. Dunrobin Castle, Sutherland
If you think this fairytale chateau is in the Loire Valley, think again. Dunrobin Castle is the most northerly of Scotland’s great houses and the largest in the northern Highlands. It is also one of Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited houses dating back to the early 1300s. Home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland, it also boasts stunning gardens modelled 150 years ago on the Palace of Versailles in France. The castle is open from April to September and an adult admissison is £11, concessions are £9 and children £6.50. A family ticket costs £32.
Where: Golspie, Sutherland, KW10 6SF
Tel: 01408 633177