Nestled in the Western Scottish Highlands between Ben Nevis and Loch Eil is the largest town in the Highlands, Fort William. Fort William is the ideal vacation spot for anyone looking to experience true Scottish culture, plus it’s close to many Outlander and Harry Potter filming locations. This town offers plenty of things to do for every type of traveler. From incredible mountain hikes to shopping and whisky tasting, you’ll find it all here. We at Road Affair want to show you the best things to do in Fort William so that you can start planning your dream vacation to Scotland. Start scrolling through our list for ideas for your next adventure!
Go Skiing or Hiking at Nevis Range Mountain Resort
Ben Nevis is the highest peak in all of Scotland, and there are many ways to experience its breathtaking landscape and views.
The first way is by riding the slopes at Nevis Range Mountain Resort. Bet you didn’t think you could ski in Scotland! The resort boasts plenty of runs, including seven green runs, 12 blue runs, 11 red runs, and five black runs. Seeing that Scottish weather is very unpredictable, the resort also has artificial ski slopes. The slopes are open from December to May.
If skiing and snowboarding aren’t for you but you would still like to enjoy the fantastic scenery at the top of the mountain, you can take the gondola to the top and relax in the chalet with a cup of coffee or head out to the balcony and have a beer while overlooking the Scottish Highlands. You don’t need to purchase a ski pass to do this. Other activities you can enjoy at Nevis Range Mountain Resort include mountain biking and hiking.
Sample a Wee Dram at Ben Nevis Distillery
Of course, when visiting Scotland, you have to try some Scottish whisky. In Fort William, Ben Nevis Distillery is the place to go.
This 19th-century whisky distillery is one of the oldest licensed distilleries in Scotland and was founded in 1825. Visitors can take a tour of the facilities and learn how whisky is made. Children are also allowed to join in on the fun (except for the drinking part)! At the end of the tour, visitors get to sample some drams and taste the history behind these fantastic malt whiskies. The distillery also has a small café in the visitor center, along with a bar and gift shop.
Ride the Jacobite Steam Train Through the Highlands
Calling all Harry Potter fans! Are you ready to ride the Hogwarts Express? Then this is a must-see in Fort William.
The West Coast Railways Jacobite Steam Train was used in the filming of the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Express, and it will take you on a journey through the mountain range of Ben Nevis, around freshwater lochs, and over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, where Harry and Ron try to catch up with the Hogwarts Express using the Weasley’s flying car in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Sometimes the train actually stops on the viaduct to allow riders to take in the magnificent view of Loch Shiel (the Black Lake). The train may also stop at the Glenfinnan Station and allow riders to exit for a few minutes to stretch and check out the Glenfinnan Station Museum. The train stops at places based on the time schedule. Other possible stops include Arisaig, but you must request this stop to the guard prior to departure.
If you are a die-hard Harry Potter fan, then you might want to book your ticket for the HP-Style Compartment Carriage, where most of the filming within the train took place. This carriage is only available on the morning train ride.
On route to the final destination of Mallaig, the train passes by Silversands Beach, where scenes from Highlander and Local Hero were filmed. Once you’ve arrived in Mallaig, the train stops for about an hour and a half, so there is plenty of time to discover this coastal town.
The Jacobite Steam Train only runs from April to October.
Go on a Seal-Spotting Cruise on Loch Linnhe
This fantastic two-hour tour of Loch Linnhe is the perfect way to spend an afternoon on the water.
The guided cruise takes visitors on a double-decker boat with a 360° observation deck and indoor seating in case the weather is bad. The boat departs from Fort William’s town pier and sails out toward the top of the lake. Along the way, the boat sails past Corpach’s famous shipwreck, through the Caledonian canal, and past salmon and mussel farms. Along the way, visitors can take in the landscapes of islands and villages while hearing commentary about the area and enjoying a beverage from the hosts. The cruise stops outside of Black Rock, where the resident seals live, before heading back to Fort William.
You can book this cruise from GetYourGuide here!
Discover Gemstones at Treasures of the Earth
If you have an interest in geology or all things crystal, consider stopping in at Treasures of the Earth on the northside of Fort William.
This interesting museum holds Europe’s largest collection of crystals, gemstones, and fossils that were collected by a father-son team over the last 20 years. As visitors wander through the collection, they will find themselves immersed in a world of simulated caves and caverns. The fossils here are also quite incredible, as the museum houses a sabertooth tiger skull and 500-million-year-old trilobites. This is a great stop for families as visitors are welcome to interact with many of the rocks and fossils, like the seven-foot-tall amethyst geodes. Afterward, visitors can visit the gift shop and check out its collection of jewelry and souvenirs.
Visit the West Highland Museum
If you are looking for fun, free things to do in Fort William, then this is for you.
The West Highland Museum is located in an old converted bank on Cameron Square in the center of town. Entrance to the museum is free, and visitors can learn all about the Jacobites, Highland life, and the military history of the area. There is also a fantastic collection of Victorian-era clothes like kilts and dresses. After wandering through the museum, visitors can hit up the gift shop to purchase a book or a souvenir.
Explore the Ruins of Old Fort William
Another fantastic free and fun thing to do in Fort William is visiting the old fort from which the town got its name!
The Old Fort is located right behind the Fort William Bus Station along the lake. While not much remains of the fort, visitors should still take a look at the ruins. The stone fort was originally built in 1690 and named after King William III. Many historical events took place here, including an unsuccessful siege by the Jacobites in 1745, and it was associated with the Glen Coe Massacre of 1692. The fort was sold off, and its relics can be found in the West Highland Museum. There isn’t a whole lot to see here, but it is still worth a stop to see where these historical events happened.
Hike to Cow Hill Viewpoint
This Fort William attraction gives visitors phenomenal panoramic views of Fort William and the Highlands.
This is a great half-day hike for those wishing to get out into Scottish nature. Cow Hill is a small mountain peak that blocks the view of Ben Nevis from town, but its summit showcases incredible views of the town, the Ben Nevis mountain range, and the lochs below. The Cow Hill Circuit is roughly 11 kilometers long and is a well-marked trail that takes about three to four hours to hike. The trail is circular, so it starts and finishes in town.
Hike to Steall Waterfall
Steall Waterfall is the second largest waterfall in Scotland and is located just outside Fort William.
The waterfall cascades down the side of Coire A’ Mhail, a valley area, and offers visitors spectacular mountain views as well. Steall Waterfall was also featured in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in the background of Harry’s battle with the Hungarian horntail dragon during the Triwizard tournament.
To get to the falls, visitors need to drive along Glen Nevis Road all the way to the end; the journey takes about 20 minutes. At the end of the road, there is a car park called Ben Nevis car park waterfall, where visitors can park and start their 40-minute hike toward Steall Waterfall. There is a second waterfall, Ben Nevis Waterfall, that visitors can also hike to. If you are a fan of Braveheart, make a pit stop at Braveheart Village on the way. The field is now back to its farming state but well worth a stop if you’re a fan of the movie or if you want a fantastic photo of the valley!
Hike Glenfinnan Viaduct
We talked a little bit about the Glenfinnan Viaduct and its connection to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets earlier, but if you want to spend more time in the area soaking up the scenery, then consider hiking around it!
Glenfinnan is about a 25-minute drive from Fort William, or you can go by train, which takes about 45 minutes. You can start the hike from either the Glenfinnan Visitor Center or the train station. As you walk up over the hills surrounding the viaduct, you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of both the bridge and Loch Shiel. The hike takes about 30 to 45 minutes and is very easy to navigate. Afterward, head to the visitor center to pick out a souvenir or wait to see the Jacobite Steam Train go over the viaduct to get the full Harry Potter experience.
If you are traveling by car, then consider also driving 10 minutes down the road to Loch Eilt. This stunning lake has a well-recognizable island. It is featured in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when Hagrid is skipping rocks along the lake after Buckbeak is sentenced to death and at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince as the final resting place for Dumbledore.
Explore Inverlochy Castle
If you’re wondering what to do in Fort William and are interested in castles, then head over to the ruins of Old Inverlochy Castle.
This incredible stone castle served as an important landmark for both battles of Inverlochy. Although today it is in ruins, visitors should still consider wandering the grounds and exploring the remains. The castle was originally built in the 13th century by the Comyns of Badenoch. The Comyns clan had begun pushing back the Celtics in the south and were expanding their claims northward. In the years prior to the Battle of Bannockburn, the clan supported the English crown. However, once they were defeated at Bannockburn, their lands in the north fell to Clan Donald.
Learn to Rock Climb on Ben Nevis
The topography of the Highlands makes the perfect landscape for rock climbing and other mountaineering sports. And, let me say, there is no better way to go sightseeing in Fort William than from the side of a mountain!
There is no need to worry if you have never rock climbed before in your life, as guides from Kirkhope Mountaineering are happy to teach you all the basics so that you can get a good foundation for the sport. Guided rock climbing tours are available all year, but visitors should keep in mind that weather conditions could make the climb more challenging, especially if you are a beginner.
Visit Glencoe Folk Museum
Immerse yourself in Scottish culture at the Glencoe Folk Museum, about a 30-minute drive from Fort William.
The museum is set in a beautiful thatched-roof cottage and takes visitors on a journey through the ages of the area. Visitors can learn about the famous massacre of Glencoe and local heritage. Visitors will also get insight into what life was like in the Highlands throughout the ages by viewing Jacobite relics, old toys, and clothing from different eras. The museum also regularly holds craft sessions and has a fantastic gift shop.
Listen to Live Music at the Grog & Gruel
What better way to finish a day of hitting the tourist attractions in Fort William than with a refreshing Scottish ale and some live music?
The cozy Grog & Gruel pub features live music almost every Saturday. Visitors will find a wide selection of Scottish malt whiskies that pair perfectly with a hardy meal. If you’re traveling with your furry friends, you might also like the fact that the bar is dog-friendly! You can check out upcoming gigs and events on their website.
Discover a Hidden Well and Its Secrets
The Well of Seven Heads is a hidden gem tucked away on the banks of Loch Oich, about a 30-minute drive from Fort William. This monument was erected on top of an ancient well by the Chief of Clan MacDonald in 1812. The statue has quite a macabre tale behind it, and its design is a bit odd. Upon inspection, you will notice seven severed hands being held by a dominating hand that is also holding a dagger.
The story goes that in 1663, Alexander (13th Chief of the Keppoch family) and Ranald MacDonald were killed during a family brawl by their cousins. Alexander was not a popular clan leader as he was thought to be harsh on reform. After the murders, the killers were not brought to justice since there were many sympathizers within the village. Iain Lom, a kinsman of the murdered men, then decided to seek out justice on his own for the murdered men and appealed to Sir James of Duntulm Castle on the Isle of Skye. This resulted in a letter of “fire and sword” being issued against the murderers, and they were to be put to death. The brother of Sir James, Archibald, was then put in charge of 50 men, and they charged into Inverlair, where Lom pointed out the guilty MacDonald men. There were seven men convicted and decapitated in the name of justice. The severed heads were then wrapped by Lom and cleaned in the well where the statue is today before being presented as proof to the lord at Invergarry Castle. An excavation of a mound in Inverlair later on found seven headless bodies, thus proving the story true.
Visitors can examine the strange statue and then walk down the stairs behind the monument, where there is a hidden tunnel to the well.
There you have them, the best places to visit in Fort William! We hope you have a fantastic holiday in the Highlands! Remember that Scottish weather can be unpredictable, so don’t forget to pack some rain gear.
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