A family road trip through the Scottish Highlands
The Highlands of Scotland are one of Europe's last true wildernesses. Historic castles are nestled among soaring mountains and lush glens. In some places, you're more likely to see a majestic red stag or a golden eagle than a person.
Despite the lack of activities, the highlands are perfect for a road trip, giving you a chance to explore nature. The new North Coast 500, considered Scotland's equivalent of Route 66 in the U.S., is a 518-mile-long scenic route. It passes through the most beautiful places in Scotland. You can sample local cuisine and drinks, as well as admire the views.
While the North Coast 500 may be the quintessential Scottish road trip, it is more suited for adults than families, unless your children are fans of fine whisky and gastro-pubs. Start from Inverness, the perfect place to hire a car and enjoy parks and a bustling waterfront. Then, head south to Loch Ness. The ruins of the iconic Urquhart Castle are a great place to catch Nessie coming up for air. The nearby Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition tells the story of the massive lake, including its most famous inhabitant.
From Loch Ness, head south to the town of Fort William, the heart of the highlands, ideal for walking and climbing. But for families with younger children, the big attraction is the Jacobite Steam Railway. Known to many as the Hogwarts Express, the train traverses breathtaking scenery, halts at quaint, historic villages, and ends at the picturesque town of Mallaig. To avoid disappointment, be sure to make bookings in advance.
The drive from Fort William to Glen Coe is highly regarded for its scenery. You will encounter Ben Nevis on the way, the highest mountain in the British Isles. While the mountain should only be tackled by experienced climbers, you can head to Glencoe Mountain Resort, where you can ride a chairlift into the mountains. If you are feeling adventurous, you may try mountain biking or tubing.
A leisurely drive east from Glencoe brings you to Cairngorms National Park. Family-friendly attractions within the protected park include the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre and the Landmark Forest Theme Park. Alternatively, take a cruise on Loch Insh, learn about working sheepdogs or take a ride on the Cairngorm Funicular Railway, before heading back up to Inverness to complete the highlands circuit.
The Highlands in Hollywood
Kids will easily recognise the 21 arches of Glenfinnan from the Harry Potter movies. In reality, it's the Jacobite steam train that crosses it, rather than the Hogwarts Express. In the hit movie 'Skyfall', James Bond is seen driving his Aston Martin through the spectacular valleys of Glen Etvie, just a short distance from Glen Coe. These movies that use the highlands as a backdrop led to a big increase in driving holidays.
Wild camping in the Highlands
Scotland is one of the few parts of the UK where wild camping – that is, pitching a tent outside of proper campsites – is legal. Any area of land that is not enclosed can be used for camping. However, some restrictions are in place (around Loch Lomond, for example), so check before you travel. Wild camping lets you sleep in the midst of natural beauty, whether it is on a beach, on a mountain or by the side of a loch. But remember to leave nature as you found it. Take away any garbage and never cut down trees to make fires!