SCOTLAND’S Highlands and Islands have been named one of the top regions in the world to visit this year by a leading travel guide.
The region’s natural beauty, wildlife and fine seafood helped earn it a place in the top 10 of Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2019, a collection of the best travel destinations, trends, journeys and experiences to have in the year ahead.
The guide said that the whisky boom, which has seen a swathe of new distilleries open in the region, helped secure its place on the list.
It said they offer “a great introduction to one of the wildest, least inhabited and most scenic parts of Europe” while the region’s “innovative and fast-developing” accommodation sector is also highlighted.
Lonely Planet experts recommend “unmissable experiences” including joining a nature-watching trip to discover the wealth of wildlife, from red deer, golden eagles and otters to whales, dolphins and basking sharks and savouring the region’s seafood at restaurants such as the Kylesku Hotel, Skye’s Oyster Shed or the Scallop Shack on Lewis.
Tom Hall, Lonely Planet’s editorial director, said: “The wild landscapes of Scotland’s Highlands and Islands offer the ultimate escape and visiting the region’s remote areas is now easier than ever thanks to impressive developments in accommodation.
“This is a stunning area with so much to offer travellers, from its glorious natural landscape and rich history to enviable local food and drink.”
Malcolm Roughead, VisitScotland Chief Executive, said: “I am thrilled, though not entirely surprised, to discover that Scotland’s Highlands and Islands have appeared in this list.
“This stunning part of Scotland punches well above its weight on the world stage, as a thriving holiday destination for people from across the globe and the UK, as well as a popular location for film production companies looking for a beautiful backdrop for their next blockbuster.
“With accolades like this one to their name, Scotland’s Highlands and Islands will be in the global spotlight again.”
We found 10 of the best spots the Highlands and Islands has to offer…
1. Loch Ness
Loch Ness is one of Scotland’s largest and most famous lochs, known around the world thanks to its elusive monster Nessie.
This impressive stretch of water is 23 miles long and over 700 ft deep in places, making it Scotland’s largest loch in terms of volume.
Loch Ness runs from Loch Dochfour to Fort Augustus, it is bordered by picturesque villages such as Foyers and Dores and you can drive along the western edge of the loch on the A82. Overlooking the water from the western shore is Urquhart Castle, a former royal castle that has witnessed some dramatic periods in Scottish history.
2. Water wildlife
The waters around Mull are the best place to see whales in the UK.
Minke whales are the most frequently seen, but orcas are here too. You also have a good chance of seeing some dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks.
3. Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most recognised castles in Scotland, and probably appears on more shortbread tins and calendars than any other. Strategically located on its own little island, overlooking the Isle of Skye, at the point where three great sea-lochs meet, and surrounded by the majestic splendour of the forested mountains of Kintail, Eilean Donan’s setting is truly breath-taking.
4. Road to the Isles
On the Road to the Isles you will see some of the most spectacular scenery in the world – from sandy beaches to dramatic hills – green woodlands, heather moors, unforgettable sea views with magnificent sunsets over the Isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck, Canna and Skye.
Scotland’s landscape is scattered with Munros and mist-shrouded hills… but Ben Nevis is the king of them all. In the north west Highlands, near the town of Fort William and part of the Grampian Mountain range, the famous peak attracts 125k walkers a year.
6. St Kilda
Around 65km west of the Outer Hebrides, the tiny St Kilda archipelago teeters on the edge of the continental shelf – and is the most remote spot in Britain.
Towering sea cliffs stretch into a sky busy with gannets. Puffins wheel past you as you bob about in the boat on the swell. On the main island of Hirta, the remains of the only village are a poignant reminder of the community that once scratched out a living by harvesting fulmars and growing oats. The last residents (bar today’s small military garrison) were evacuated in 1930 after population drift made their lives unsustainable.
7. North West Highlands Geopark
Recognised by UNESCO as one of the most outstanding landscapes on the planet, it’s simply stunning.
At three billion years old, the rocks at the seashore are even older than the hills – and what hills they are! Where else can you experience a skyline that compares to the ridges of Foinaven and Arkle, or breath-taking inselbergs like Suilven or Stac Pollaidh? In places like this it’s not just the eagles or the peregrines that soar. This is the most sparsely populated corner of Europe.
8. The Quiraing
The truly spectacular Quiraing is an icon of Scotland. Many people visit only the first short section of path, but this complete hill circuit goes further, passing the Prison, Needle and other features before climbing back to return above the escarpment; the views are sensational throughout.
9. Achmelvich Beach
A stunning beach of white sand: or more accurately a small collection of beaches nestled among the rock bays and headlands. Plus some outstanding rock scenery of a sort you can only see in north-west Scotland. One feature isn’t obvious. The small “Hermit’s Castle” built of concrete on a rocky headland in 1950 is an architectural oddity.
10. Island Hopping
Whether you’ve only got a couple of days or a couple of weeks, it’s well worth taking the time to explore a few islands and discover the unique character of the Inner Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides in the west of Scotland, and Orkney and Shetland in the north. From whisky galore on Islay with eight distilleries to Jura with its otters and eagles, there’s no shortage of things to see.