Updated on October 30th, 2023
Fort William, Scotland sits in a magnificent location, on the banks of Loch Linnhe with the spectacular landscapes of Glen Nevis & Glen Coe on either side. It is home to the highest mountain in the British Isles & has carved a reputation as the ‘Outdoor Capital of the UK’. The area is also home to the Harry Potter steam train, amazing wildlife, delicious seafood & fascinating history. It is therefore an essential stop on any tour of the Scottish Highlands. Here is my list of 17 best things to do in Fort William.”
Fort William, Scotland
Although Fort William itself is not the prettiest town, it is perfectly situated for exploring the magnificent landscapes which surround it. Fort William sits at the base of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles & is known as the ‘Outdoor Capital of the UK’. I recommend allowing at least 3 days to make the most of all the things to see in Fort William & ideally have your own transport. As with all my Scottish Highlands itineraries, so much of this beautiful country is about the journey, not the destination.
I visited in August 2020, as the country was just reopening post-COVID lockdown. Therefore, many of the attractions were still closed to visitors. But when you are in the outdoor capital, you should be outside, right?
For more on the Scottish Highlands see Scottish Highlands Itinerary – A Perfect 10 Day Road Trip for the Highlands and Islands
17 Best Things to do in Fort William, Scotland
History & Monuments
The Glenfinnan Monument takes prime position on the banks of beautiful Loch Shiel. It is topped by a statue of a kilted Highlander. This is where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard to rally the Jacobite clans in 1745. As the Jacobite rebellion, they marched & fought their way through Edinburgh to Derby before returning to be defeated at the Battle of Culloden.
Climb the stairs inside for a magnificent view down the loch. I advise you to park at the Visitors Centre where it is an easy walk to the monument & viaduct. There is also lots of information here to fuel your thirst for the area’s history.
Glenfinnan Viaduct has become famous as a feature in several of the Harry Potter films where the ‘Hogwarts Express’ traverses this impressive 21 arched structure.
It was built in 1901 & is a must see whether you are a fan of the legendary wizard, historic engineering, trains or just magnificent scenery.”
But if you are planning to visit, it would be a shame not to see the Jacobite steam train pass. Make sure you arrive early as it gets very busy. The train goes past twice a day, 30 minutes after it leaves Fort William. Therefore, ensure your spot well before 10.45am or 3.10pm.
If you are keen to explore the steam train at closer quarters, then I can thoroughly recommend taking a ride on The Jacobite ‘Harry Potter’ train. The journey itself takes around 2 hours to Mallaig, giving you 1 ½ – 2 hours there before returning. But as I have already said, it’s not about the destination! This is one of the best attractions in Fort William & classed as one of the great railway journeys of the world. Here you get to ride over the viaduct, view Ben Nevis & Loch Morar, the deepest freshwater loch.
The train does the return loop twice a day so make sure you book well in advance to avoid disappointment. After all, it’s not every day you get to ride on a historic train, through mesmerising scenery.
For more details on the Jacobite steam train check out Everything you need to know to ride the Hogwarts Train, Scotland.
See below for some of the most popular tours around Fort William in Scotland:
Old Inverlochy Castle
Old Inverlochy Castle was originally built in the 13th Century & was once one of the most important castles in Scotland. Although it is now a ruin you can visit to get a feel for how life was for the soldiers preparing for battle within the castle walls. Also, who doesn’t love a ruined castle?
For more ruined castles see Things To Do in The Trossachs – A One Day Road Trip or 15 Reasons to Visit the Tower of London
The Commando Monument stands in a spectacular location, just north of Spean Bridge. It commemorates the thousands of allied soldiers who came here for special forces training in World War II.
The Commandos were an elite unit of soldiers who trained here secretly before taking out raids behind enemy lines in German-occupied Europe. It is a fitting tribute with an exceptional panoramic view.”
West Highland Museum
The West Highland Museum is free to enter & located in Fort William town this is a small but fascinating place to visit for anyone with an interest in the history of the area. If you would like to learn more about Bonnie Prince Charlie & the Jacobite cause, then look no further!
Glen Coe is jaw-droppingly beautiful & potentially one of the most dramatic landscapes you will ever visit. Driving along the road through the valley will take your breath away & is definitely one of the best things to do near Fort William. Your first stop should be the Glen Coe Visitors Centre where you can learn all about the history of the area & the gory details of the infamous Glencoe Massacre.
If you are feeling energetic then consider taking the Lost Valley Hike which is a 2.5-mile round trip (allow 3 hours). If you would like to tackle something a little less strenuous, I took a short walk from the car park on the side of the road to admire the splendour of the ‘Three Sisters’. Pick the guides’ brains at the Visitors Centre on the best walks & trails in the area, depending on your fitness level & time.
For a bite to eat or to whet your whistle after a fantastic day exploring then head to the
Clachaig Inn. It is the perfect stop on your way back to Fort William & has amazing views from the terrace.
Climb Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis is the highest peak in the British Isles & stands at 1345m. As such it attracts 100,000 tourists a year to take on its summit.
Although the climb is a reasonable ask for anyone with a decent level of fitness, it is a mountain & can have snow on its peak on any given day.”
Many are rescued from slopes each year so don’t take the climb lightly. Make sure you have all the correct equipment & prepare for the whole excursion to take at least 7 hours to complete. The climb is 8 miles in total. Please check in at the Ben Nevis Visitors Centre for all the information & advice prior to setting out.
Like conquering mountains? Check out What to expect when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
Long Distance Walks
If you love hiking there are several epic walks which begin/end near Fort William. The most famous is the West Highland Way, Scotland’s oldest & most popular long-distance walk. In total it is 96 miles long & takes you through countryside parks, loch shores, open moorlands & steep mountains. Alternatively, the Great Glen Way is 73 miles long & stretches from Fort William to Inverness, along some of the country’s most beautiful locations. Or, there’s the East Highland Way. At 83 miles this stunning route runs all the way to Aviemore. If you don’t fancy taking that long or going that far then all link together at Fort William, so you can tackle a short section in a day. Take your pick!
Enjoy multi-day walks? See Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador – Top Tips for Hiking Alone as a Woman
In the foothills of Ben Nevis & the Nevis Range is Glen Nevis, there is a beautiful 1.5-mile walk through Nevis Gorge to 100m high Steall Falls. It’s a fairly easy walk but when you reach the end of the valley, the adventure begins. To cross for a closer look at the falls you go via a precarious wire bridge.
Just 3 wires are strung across the river, one for your feet & one for each hand. Test your balance if you dare! Or alternatively, you can just cross through the river if you don’t mind getting your feet wet!”
This is part of the towpath that follows the Caledonian Canal at Banavie. There’s an easy half-day hike or bike ride for 10 miles which includes this section. Here, a series of 8 locks allow boats to climb an impressive 20 metres. It is called Neptune’s Staircase. It is the longest staircase lock in Britain & one of Scotland’s greatest engineering accomplishments. The walk itself is part of the Great Glen Way but also gives stunning views of Glen Nevis Valley.
If driving is more your thing & you are in Glen Coe, then this is a drive not to be missed! It was one of our favourite Fort William activities. The Glen Etive Drive is mainly a single-track road which runs 12 miles down to the end at Loch Etive. The landscape was used as the backdrop for James Bond’s house in the film ‘Skyfall’. It has been described as the prettiest glen in the country.
The scenery changes every mile from mountains & rivers to waterfalls & forests before ending at stunning Loch Etive. It’s hard not to be in awe of the loch view as the finale.”
If you’re lucky with the weather as we were, I challenge anyone not to succumb to a dip in these enchanting waters!
Road to the Isles
The Road to the Isles is a stunning ribbon-like road which will take you on a journey of 46 miles from Fort William to Mallaig. It twists through woodland, glens & moors before hitting the pristine white beaches of Morar & Arisaig. If you take the more scenic coastal road you can take your time exploring the rocky inlets, small islands & sand dunes with views out to the Isles of Eigg & Rum. From Mallaig why not take a boat tour with Western Isles Cruises or get the ferry to Skye or the Outer Hebrides?
For more of the Islands head to Top 10 Things to do on the Isle of Mull, The Isle of Skye Itinerary & 16 Fantastic Things to do on Lewis & Harris in the Outer Hebrides.
While we’re on the subject of tours, as with everywhere in Scotland, there are some fantastic places to view wildlife & go cruising. Loch Linnhe or Loch Eil are the perfect choices. Try your luck at spotting seals, cormorants, oystercatchers or salmon. If you fancy something more involved, then what about a day exploring Scotland’s wild coastline in search of seals by kayak? Check out Arisaig Sea Kayak Centre for details.
If you like your wildlife with more legs & land-based then there is plenty for you too! Red deer, otters, red squirrels & eagles can all be spotted in the area. Check out Wild West for more details.
Food & Drink
Ben Nevis Distillery
If you want to sample some local whiskey, then look no further than the Ben Nevis Distillery. Here they have been crafting the ‘water of life’ in the shadow of Britain’s highest mountain since 1825. You can take a tour or just pop in for a dram.
The Fort William area is a feast for the belly as well as the eyes! The seafood is prized by restaurants across Europe & it’s the perfect place to sample some game. I thoroughly recommend the award-winning Lime Tree Restaurant which doubles up as an art gallery. They use only seasonal, locally sourced ingredients to produce traditional dishes with an artistic twist. Just make sure you book ahead to avoid disappointment.
I stayed at Myrtle Bank Guest House which was perfect. It sits on the main road, overlooking Loch Linnhe & was spotlessly clean with an excellent breakfast. You can also try the Ben Nevis Guest House or if you are eating there, they also have rooms available at the Lime Tree Restaurant. For something grander then why not check out the Inverlochy Castle Hotel?
For me, these truly are the best things to see in Fort William. If you want to know more then please watch this space for all the information you need for the perfect Harry Potter pilgrimage to this spectacular part of the world!
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