Now that winter is starting to set in across the continent, it’s time to look at a long weekends destination close to home – the Scottish Highlands. Home to stunning vistas and famous mountain bike trails, the north of Scotland is a wonderful place to explore with your family or friends. Let’s take a look at the best places to stay and things to do.
Where should I stay?
There are plenty of options when it comes to setting up base camp for a weekend in the Highlands, one of which is Inverness. The city and its extremities are full of important archaeological sites that are worth exploring, the most famous of which is Culloden Moor – the famous battleground in which the British Empire crushed the Jacobite rebellion in 1746.
In Inverness itself, the castle is the main draw for tourists. Originally built in 1057, the castle stands watch over the River Ness and has gone through various renovations over the years. The castle is currently undergoing such work and is scheduled to reopen to the public in 2025.
What is there for families to do?
At first glance, many people believe that a family trip to the Highlands means endless hikes and bike rides. The reality is that Inverness and its surrounding areas are home to some wonderful activities for everyone.
One of the most famous attractions in Scotland is a trip on the Jacobite Steam Train, the same locomotive used as the ‘Hogwarts Express’ seen in the Harry Potter film series. The train takes you from Fort William to Mallaig via iconic Scottish landmarks such as Ben Nevis, Loch Nevis and Glenfinnan viaduct.
For fans of the Outlander series, an excursion from Inverness to Tullochroisk farm is not to be missed. The farm is home to the famous stone circle used as the set for ‘Craigh Na Dun’, the location in which main character Claire Fraser/Randall is teleported back in time. Some believe the stones hold this mythical power in real life, would you dare touch them?
While many of the stereotypically joked about Scottish cuisines are enjoyed in the Highlands – think Haggis and deep fried Mars bars, there are plenty of traditional Highland delicacies also ready to be served up.
One of the most popular dishes is Cullen Skink. Most popular around coastal regions, Cullen takes its name from the town it was first made in. This creamy fish soup usually contains smoked haddock, milk, onions, leeks, and potatoes – it’s a hearty Scottish meal that will keep you warm on the coldest of Highland days.
Another item of Highland produce that can have warming properties is the famous Scotch Whisky. Many of the best distilleries in Scotland are found in the north of the country, traditionally producing rich single malt whiskies. If you enjoy a tipple – or are interested in how whisky is made, a trip to one of these distilleries is a fantastic experience.
Cycling in the Highlands
The main attraction for cyclists visiting the Highlands is undoubtedly Fort William mountain bike centre. Home to some of the finest trails in the UK, Fort William regularly hosts rounds of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup and was the facility used during the 2023 Cycling World Championships in Scotland. Alongside the championship courses, Fort Williams also houses intermediate and beginner level trails that cater for every mountain bike enthusiast.
For roadies, there are some amazing routes to be explored – the North Coast 500 being the prime example. However, if you want to take on a real challenge, the Tour of the Highlands may be for you. Open to experienced club riders, the route features some of the toughest climbs in the UK – including the highest paved road at Glenshee. The race traditionally lasts for three days. Be sure to check out our regular contributor, Markus Stitz’ blog about riding the North coast 500 here
When should I visit the Highlands?
The best time to visit the Highlands depends on what you want to do there. Of course, the ‘best’ weather for walking around Inverness or Fort Williams comes during the summer – although this is far from a guarantee! The winter months tend to be cold, wet, and windy – making for ideal mountain biking conditions for the hardier riders among us.
In terms of festivals and events, the Highland Games are among the most popular annual festivities held in the region. Taking place in many Highland cities, towns, and villages – the Games feature traditional Highland sports such as the Hammer Throw, Tug o’ war, and the Caber Toss. The Games take place at various times throughout the year; however the most famous renewals are held in Braemar. The 2024 edition of this event is scheduled for the 7th September.
Unlike many of the places we’ve looked at previously, you don’t have to take your passport with you for a trip into the Highlands. Depending on how close you live to the region, you could even ride your bike into the hills.
If you live anywhere south of the Scottish border – the chances are that you’ll drive there. The main road into Inverness from the south is the A9, that can take you between the city and the Scottish capital of Edinburgh.
If you choose to take the train, Inverness is the end of the line for the iconic Highland Sleeper – an overnight train that can take you from London to the Highlands in a clean and efficient way. Tickets for each journey sell out fast, so it’s worth booking well in advance to ensure you get on the service you desire.
For those visiting from outside of the UK, Inverness airport is a small but functional international airport that also has regular internal flights to other parts of the country.
Thinking of taking a long weekend in the Highlands? Yellow Jersey offer both annual and short term cycle insurance which is designed to cover crash damage, theft, liability, personal accident and much much more. If you need any help, just give our friendly support staff a call on 0333 003 0046
Title Thumbnail image courtesy of Markus Stitz. You can buy his book, Bikepacking Scotland here