One thing you're guaranteed to find in the Highlands is incredible drives! Public transport is surprisingly good given the terrain, and there are certainly areas of the Highlands that can be reached by train, bus or a combination of the two.
However, to make the very best of the Highlands, explore fully and reach some of the more remote and off-the-beaten-track areas, you will need to do a self-drive trip or travel with a private chauffeur.
Here are some of the amazing drives you'll find in the Highlands.
A82 through Glencoe
The A82 runs from Glasgow to Inverness and has many beautiful stretches, but one of the most iconic Scottish drives is the one passing through the famous valley of Glencoe. This section of road sees you surrounded by mountains on all sides, opening out occasionally to reveal sweeping vistas down through the valleys. It's glorious in the sun, atmospheric in the cloud and fog, and even when it's wet you'll be blown away, with the added bonus that the waterfalls along the route will be at their very best. You'll want to stop a lot and there are plenty of laybys to allow you to to this. Some of the best walks in the Highlands start in the area around Glencoe. We love the Lost Valley walk in particular.
The Great Glen
This stretch from Fort William to Inverness (also the A82 road, see above) is full of the most famous views and sights in Scotland. The road running along the glen is one of the best drives you'll every do, and the Caledonian Canal follows the same route. Fort William sits at the top of Loch Linnhe, a sea loch surrounded by mountains and sitting at the foot of Ben Nevis. From here, the road follows the River Lochy and River Spean to reach Loch Lochy and the much smaller Loch Oich. The River Oich accompanies you further north, joined after a while by the River Tarff, and you'll pass the tiny and scenic Loch Uanagan. Then it's time for a monster hunt as you'll find yourself alongside the enormous Loch Ness. The most famous loch in Scotland with its legendary inhabitant goes on for an almost impossible amount of time. Don't rush, though, take your time and enjoy the views. From the north end of Loch Ness, the River Ness winds its way to the sea, reaching the city of Inverness and opening out into the Beauly Firth and Moray Firth.
Shortly after leaving Glasgow, the A82 (there's that scenic road again!) reaches the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. This is an incredible stretch of winding road which follows the shores of the loch closely and offers incredible views of forests, mountains and of course the water. There are many places to stop off and take photos, go for short walks or explore further. Try the pretty village of Luss, or park up and walk a short distance to the Falls of Falloch. This certainly won't be the easiest stretch of road you've ever driven, but it will be worth it - these views are some of the best in the world and they continue to reward in all weathers and seasons.
Bealach na Bà
The 'pass of the cattle' on the Applecross peninsula is one of Scotland's legendary drives - both for its views and also for its fiendish difficulty. With hairpin bends, very steep stretches and large sections of single-track road, this is not for the faint-hearted. Signs at the bottom warn of the road's unsuitability for large vehicles or those towing caravans. Although you will see larger vehicles attempting it, it's certainly not recommended. This is also a very famous road to cycle on because of the technically challenging climb, so expect to see cyclists on the road. Please be considerate, be prepared to wait and only overtake when it's safe to do so (which is not often on this road!!). After the drive, you'll be rewarded with a lovely pub lunch in the Applecross Inn and some lovely waterside views. To head back, you can go back the way you came (make sure you test your brakes first!) or follow the beautiful (and usually much quieter) coastal road via Shieldaig.
Road to the Isles
The Rathad Nan Eilean from Fort William to Mallaig is one of the most rewarding stretches to drive on the west coast of Scotland. The first stretch heads into the hills after a short stretch along Loch Eil, with some challenging bends and breathtaking views. If you time things right, you might catch a glimpse of the Jacobite steam train (or the Hogwarts Express to Harry Potter fans) as it makes its way over the Glenfinnan viaduct. Shortly after that, you'll pass the head of Loch Shiel and the pretty Loch Ailt, before coming alongside the tidal inlets of Loch Ailort and Loch Nan Uamh. From here, the view really opens out, and you'll have glorious and far-reaching seascapes to enjoy, punctuated by the Small Isles of Rum, Muck, Eigg and Canna, and the peaks of the Isle of Skye in the distance.
Snow Roads route - Cairngorms National Park
Around 90 miles long, this amazing route should take around 2 hours of driving time. This stretch of road links Blairgowrie in the south and Grantown-on-Spey in the north, and passes through the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. The route also contains the highest public road in Britain, so unsurprisingly there are steep stretches and long climbs. Make sure your brakes are working! There are also tight bends and long single-track stretches. The views are more than worth it, though. This area has some of the richest wildlife and unspoilt landscapes anywhere in Scotland and you'll want to take your time to savour it. Unsurprisingly given the name and the altitude, this stretch of road can get icy and snowy in the winter months. If you're prepared, that shouldn't be a problem, but if you'd rather not encounter winter conditions it's best to attempt this road trip in the warmer months.
There are few routes where it's genuinely quicker to take the ferry than drive, but for the route from Fort William to the remote Ardnamurchan peninsula, that's certainly true. Hopping over Loch Linnhe on the Corran Ferry turns the route into a 2hr stretch from Fort William to Sanna at the far western tip of Arnamurchan, but it would take more than 4hrs to go round entirely on land via Glenfinnan. The A861 snakes its way along the peninsula, working with the natural geography of the area to make its way around mountains, lochs, bays and inlets. It's certainly not direct and it's certainly not easy, but it's certainly rewarding! The views are some of the best in the world, and on this remote peninsula you may well have one of the many beautiful beaches you'll find along the route entirely to yourself. This is Scotland off the beaten track at its very best, and it's a detour you won't regret!
Perthshire forest - Pitlochry to Aberfeldy
This lovely stretch, mostly on on minor B roads, takes in the best of the forests of Perthshire, including Faskally Forest and the southern sections of the Tay Forest Park. If you have time, retrace your steps from Aberfeldy to rejoin the Lyon View road (B846) and head north past Schiehallion to Loch Tummel before reconnecting with the A9.
The North Coast 500
No article on Scottish road trips would be complete without mentioning the North Coast 500 route. This is the most talked-about road trip in Scotland without a doubt. To do it justice, you'll need 5 or 6 days at a minimum, but it's stunning and it's certainly worth it - mountains, beaches and sea views galore - you'll need to allow yourself plenty of time to stop and admire the views! We always advise our clients to avoid this route in the busy summer months and instead visit earlier or later in the year to make the most of the quieter times.
Detours close to, but not on, the main NC500 route include the road along the Coigach peninsula - this is well worth making time for and should be less busy than the main route.
Please read our top tips for driving in Scotland before taking a road trip in the Highlands. Plan ahead, be considerate to other drivers, and take any litter with you, and you'll have a truly memorable road trip in this beautiful part of Scotland. If you want to stop for photos (we promise you will!), please do so safely and in a way which does not impede traffic or put other road users at risk.
Important note: The Highlands can be very busy in the summer months, which means the routes described will be too. For the best experience, we always advise our clients to travel to the Highlands before or after the peak season (June, July and August) to avoid the crowds. Try driving these routes in March, April, early May, late September, October or November. You'll find you have a better drive, can spend more time in less busy places. And yes, the weather might be worse - but it might actually be better! Often the Highlands see a lot of rain in the summer. Anyway, no one comes to Scotland expecting perfect weather!
If you want to avoid the crowds and see the very best of Scotland outside the peak season,get in touch - we'd love to help!
Image: Unsplash / Paul Dickenson