The Highlands are a must-see on any itinerary for Scotland. Its green mountains and glistening lochs are known across the globe. They are one of the many reasons that Scotland was voted ‘the most beautiful country in the world’ by travellers. One of the towns that makes a perfect pit-stop is Fort William. There are many things to do in Fort William as its prime location is the beginning or end of the West Highland Way, and it also offers the ideal gateway to visit the rest of the West Highlands and Islands.
Overlooking the town is Ben Nevis – the UK’s biggest mountain – which is climbed by thousands of visitors each year. The area of Lochaber which surrounds Fort William is often referred to as the outdoor capital of the UK. It is safe to say: No matter what time of year you decide to visit Scotland, you will find plenty of things to do in Fort William.
Just outside of Fort William you will find the beautiful mountain range of Glencoe. It is hands down one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. I still awe at the mountains every time I see them. It is probably Scotland’s most famous glen and has been used as a backdrop in several famous movies. Especially if you are a fan of the Harry Potter movie series, this is a must-see.
Go, and you will be sure to recognise several backdrops from the movies, some which have also featured in other famous movies such as Highlander. There are plenty of options of things to do in Glencoe all year round, and you will not struggle to fill a day with exploring.
Should you be planning to visit the Scottish Highlands, then hopefully this itinerary will provide you with an idea of what to do in Fort William and Glencoe.
When to Visit Fort William & Glencoe
Figuring out the best time to visit Fort William and Glencoe is really more dependent on what your preferences are. Overall, the Scottish weather will be best between May and October. If you are hoping for some sun and fewer chances of rain, then these are the best months to go visit Fort William and Glencoe.
However, the Scottish weather is not known to be predictable. While there are higher chances of dry and sunny weather during that time, it is not a guarantee. The best thing for your trip will be to be prepared. Pack a good jacket and a good pair of shoes no matter what time of year you go! Also, it is worth noting that temperatures hardly ever skyrocket in Scotland, not even in summer. Expect something between 10 to 20 degrees Celsius between May and October.
In terms of beauty, Fort William and Glencoe are beautiful all year round, and I am sure you will marvel at the snow-filled mountains just as much as when they were green. Fort William, in particular, is actually a great place to visit in winter if you are into snow sports.
Nevis range is a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders alike. A thing worth mentioning that if you are planning to partake in hillwalking – especially Ben Nevis – you should only aim to do so in winter if you are an experienced hillwalker. The ice and snow make the climb far more challenging, and it is not recommended to attempt the hill without the necessary equipment and experience.
How to Get to Fort William & Glencoe
Fort William is easily accessible by train, bus or car from Inverness, Edinburgh or Glasgow. Please note: If you are going by public transport from Edinburgh, you will have to make your way to Glasgow by bus or train and then take the bus or train towards Fort William.
Fort William and Glencoe by Bus
CityLink buses drive straight through the Glencoe mountain bus and stop at several points along the way, including Glencoe visitor centre. Best is to speak to the driver before you board to ensure the bus stops where you are planning to get off. The bus taking you to Glencoe is the same that also runs to Fort William, and the overall journey takes about three hours.
Buses run from Glasgow about four times a day and tickets are between £30 to £40. Some times you can snap up a good deal if you book in advance, so it is always worth doing the research before your trip.
Several buses run from Inverness throughout the day. While you can get a direct bus from Inverness to Fort William, you will have to change bus in Fort William itself to get to Glencoe. Prices are similar to the ones from Glasgow – plan in about £30 to £40 per ticket – and the journey takes about three hours. Click here to view latest prices and schedules.
Fort William’s bus station is right in the town centre, and with only a few bus stops, it is straightforward to navigate. It is also right beside a big supermarket so that if you want to quickly buy some snacks for your Glencoe day trip, you can do so.
Fort William and Glencoe by Train
If you are coming from Glasgow, The West Highland railway runs through parts of Glencoe, and you can even listen to an audio tour on a free app created by Scottish Natural Heritage which is available on several scenic train routes in Scotland.
The train ride is said to be one of the most scenic routes in Europe, and I am sure you will not be disappointed. You will be able to see Glencoe in all its beauty and go past the Rannoch moors, and likely see some stags!
In terms of getting off at Glencoe, that aspect will be harder unless you have some other form of transport organised when you embark. The train line loops around some of the main tourist sites of Glencoe so getting to the visitor centre or Glencoe village by train is not entirely possible. However, the train line does go straight to Fort William.
The overall journey takes a little more than five hours, and an anytime-return ticket on the train will be about £57. Again, if you book in advance, you can sometimes snap up tickets for half this price. Click here to view latest prices and schedules.
Going from Inverness to Fort William by train is something I would not recommend. The two cities do not have a train line connecting them. Therefore, it would be necessary to go from Inverness down to Glasgow and then from there towards Fort William.
Fort William and Glencoe by Car
It is reasonably easy to get to Fort Willian and Glencoe by car. The A82 gets you from Glasgow, past Loch Lomond and all the way up to Fort William. It will go past the banks of Loch Lomond and offers several other stops along the way. The road takes you right through the Glencoe mountain pass and should you not wish to stop, it is totally possible to enjoy Glencoe’s scenery from your car. The journey all together should take you about three hours depending on traffic.
From Edinburgh, you can either make your way to Glasgow and follow the route mentioned above, or you can take the A84 via Stirling/Callander. The journey takes you through parts of Cairngorms National Park, and you might be able to avoid the queues that sometimes build up along the A82 while it goes past Loch Lomond. It is still a very scenic route. You will join up with the A82, eventually meaning you still get the incredible bit of road that stretches through the Glencoe mountain pass. The journey again will be about three hours from Edinburgh, depending on traffic.
From Inverness, you can take the A82 as well, which should get you to Fort William within about two hours depending on traffic.
If you’re planning on renting a car in Scotland, browsing on Rentalcars.com is the best way to find a good deal as they aggregate results across all the major car hire companies. It’s also worth considering iCarHireInsurance for excess insurance if you want to avoid the higher rates charged by rental car companies and have peace in mind in knowing you won’t need to pay any deductibles if making a claim.
Fort William and Glencoe by Tour
If you prefer to explore all of the things to do in Fort William & Glencoe by organised tour then there are a number of options. One of the best-rated options is this full-day tour from Edinburgh that includes stops in Fort William & Glencoe as well as Loch Ness. Click here to check prices and availability.
Things to Do in Fort William & Glencoe
As mentioned, outdoor activities are a must-do when making plans on things to do in Fort William. Of course, you will want to try and maximise the things you can see and do while you are there. It is, however, essential to keep in mind that some sights are further apart geographically. Others are more time consuming, and you should not be rushing through sights and miss the beauty of it all. I have therefore compiled some of my highlights into a one- and two-day itinerary to hopefully make the decision easier for you!
One Day in Fort William & Glencoe Itinerary
If you are looking for things to do in Fort William and only have one day, I would say to firstly focus on things to do near Fort William. However, this is dependent on what you prefer to do – or of course, on the weather. If you are into outdoor activities and want to focus on things to do in Glencoe, then follow the itinerary below. If you are looking for things to do in Fort William itself, then go straight to Day Two of the itinerary.
Start your day with a breath-taking view
If you are feeling tired and not ready for a day of walking, then this view will wake you up. Make your way to Loch Atriochtan car park, and you will not be disappointed. You will be able to see the extent of the Glencoe Mountain pass and likely see some nearby waterfalls. It is probably one of the most photographed views, and you might not be the only person there, but it is worth it. You’ll believe me when you see it!
If you are coming by bus, you can speak to your driver and see if they can stop at the car park to let you off. If you are coming by car, the car park is just off of the A82.
If you are up for a walk, then you can embark on a walk towards Signal Rock and An Torr which will also lead you along the river Coe and past the Clachaig Falls. Signal Rock is said to have been a central point of communication during the Massacre of Glencoe back in 1692.
If you are hungry or thirsty after your walk, the Clachaig Inn is conveniently located near there and offers food throughout the day.
There are several excellent walks to choose from for any level of fitness. Some do take longer than others though, so bear in mind that in winter it can start getting dark again in the early afternoon. Walkhighlands has detailed route descriptions with pictures and levels of difficulty for guidance.
Make your way back to visit Glencoe visitor centre
The National Trust for Scotland visitor centre has recently gone through a transformation and was only opened this year. It offers a great way to learn about the Glencoe’s history, walks, weather, wildlife and things to do in Glencoe. They regularly host children’s’ activities, exhibitions, as well as art and photographic displays.
If you are looking to find an adrenaline-filled option to explore Glencoe’s surroundings, the centre also offers Landrover safaris.
However, the car park does have an entry fee of £4, which directly supports the National Trust for Scotland and the work they do around the glen.
Explore the village of Glencoe
Have a stop-over for lunch in the village of Glencoe. Buses usually stop here, and the village is also easily accessible by car if you follow the A82 back towards Fort William or take the old road from the Clachaig Inn.
Within the village, you can find out more about the history of local Highland life at the Glencoe Folk Museum and also visit the memorial the commemorates the lives lost during the Glencoe massacre.
If you feel like another walk, you could embark on the Glencoe Lochan trail from here.
End your day by visiting one of Fort William’s many bars
One of the newest additions is Black Isle Bar, which offers a wide selection of craft beer, organic wine and whiskies as well as wood-fired pizzas and salads.
However, there are plenty of other choices of restaurants and smaller pubs. Sometimes you will be lucky enough to find some great local musical talent, too!
2 Days in Fort William & Glencoe Itinerary
On day two of the itinerary – or should you instead want to focus on things to do within Fort William and only have one day – can be filled with visiting Fort William attractions.
If you are looking for what to do in Fort William, then these suggestions should hopefully help you create your own itinerary.
Explore the town of Fort William and learn about Highland heritage
Take the morning to explore Fort William’s town centre. It is not very big, so walking along is not too much of a struggle. On Fort William’s High Street, you will find local amenities to grab a coffee or tea to start your day as well as some local shops.
While exploring the town centre, be sure not to miss the West Highland Museum to earn about the story of the region and its history.
Visit the Lower Falls of Glen Nevis
Continue your day with a trip to Glen Nevis and go on a walk to see the beautiful waterfalls in the area. Glen Nevis is at the foot of Ben Nevis – the highest mountain in the UK. If you are coming by car, there is a small car park available. If you are coming by bus, you can check the local buses for services running there.
A popular walk will take you along the Steall Falls within about two hours, and the scenery is absolutely breath-taking. If you are looking for a detailed route or some longer walks, the Highland Council has created a handy leaflet. Be prepared to see some Highland cows along the way!
Should the weather be that tiny bit to ‘dreich’ to go exploring outdoors, then you should consider the indoor climbing wall at the 3 Wise Monkey’s climbing centre. It is in the town centre and can easily be reached by foot if you are already exploring local attractions in Fort William.
End your day with another view to remember
This is a great activity to have on your list of things to do in Fort William. Nevis Range does not only provide access to snow sports, but it also has a restaurant that can be reached through a gondola ride. Sitting at 650m on the mountain of Aonach Mor, you will be sure to be dining with a view.
Nevis range can be reached by taking the A82 back from Fort William and then continuing on until you see the turn for Nevis Range and Aonach Mor. If you are taking the bus, take the bus back from Glencoe village to Fort William bus station and hop on one of the local buses to get to Nevis Range.
Due to severe weather conditions or repair works, the gondola sometimes does not run. It is important to check prices and timetables as well as the restaurant opening times before your trip to avoid disappointment.
Should you not be able to make the trip up the mountain, you could instead go see Ben Nevis distillery and visitor centre. While the view might be different as it is located at the bottom of the hill, it will certainly still provide a fun way to end your day!
The distillery was established in 1825 and is one of the oldest licensed distilleries in Scotland. You can do a tour and taste a local ‘dram’.
Have More Time?
If you have more than two days to spare, then it is definitely worth to explore the area of Lochaber and other things to do near Fort William. There are several great day trips from Fort William that you can consider.
Climb Ben Nevis or The Three Sisters of Glencoe
Ben Nevis is Britain’s highest peak, and the climb is quite the challenge. It is essential to set a full day aside if you are considering to ascend the mountain. Be sure to check whether the weather conditions permit the climb and that you are bringing the appropriate equipment!
If you choose to spend a day exploring the spectacular peaks of The Three Sisters of Glencoe, you will get some unbeatable views. As above, however, please be mindful of the conditions and the equipment needed!
Check out one of the many annual events
Fort William hosts several fun-filled yearly events. Some examples are:
- The Mountain Bike World Cup
- The Scottish Six Day trials: Motorcycle riders from across the world compete in this event, covering different on/off-road routes around Lochaber.
- Fort William Mountain Festival: This event includes presentations, talks and adrenaline-filled films that are meant to inspire to seek mountain experiences.
Take the Jacobite train to Mallaig
If you are looking for something less action-packed after exploring the outdoor capital of the UK, then you should consider taking the Jacobite Steam train to Mallaig. The journey takes about two hours, and the views are out of this world.
This journey is very popular with tourists, and it is highly recommended to book in advance. You can find details of the Jacobite Steam train on the official page.
Harry Potter fans, this is your must-do! Not only will you be riding in the train compartments used to film in the movies, but you will also see several sights from the movie. The train goes over Glenfinnan viaduct – the bridge that was prominently shown in the Chamber of Secrets – as well as going past Dumbledore’s grave.
When you visit Glenfinnan, you can see the Glenfinnan viaduct from below rather than riding on it, allowing a different view. Glenfinnan, however, has historical significance that stretches far beyond the making of the Harry Potter movies.
The 18-metre-high Glenfinnan Monument was erected in 1815, in tribute to the Jacobite clansmen who fought and died in 1745 for Prince Charles Edward Stuart – commonly known as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. The Jacobite risings were the last attempt to reinstate the exiled Stuarts on the throne of Great Britain and Ireland. If you want to find out more about this aspect of Scottish history, be sure to visit the Monument Visitor Centre.
Walk the West Highland Way
The 95-mile walking route is done by thousands of people each year. It is said to be one of the most challenging yet rewarding things to do. If you have several days or preferably a week, you could make Fort William your starting point to walk the West Highland Way all the way to Glasgow. However, it does mean that you will be facing the challenging part of the journey first. Typically, people start the walk-in Glasgow, as the lowlands are more comfortable to walk than the Highlands.
Where to Stay in Fort William & Glencoe
Fort William and Glencoe are popular places for tourists to visit and therefore there is ample accommodation choice in both places. If you’re wondering where to stay in Fort William or Glencoe, have a look at these suggestions:
Where to Stay in Fort William
Fort William Backpackers — This is a great choice if you’re travelling solo or on a tight budget. They have both dorm and private rooms available, a cosy atmosphere, good common areas, and self-catering facilities. Click here to check availability
Gowan Brae Bed & Breakfast — This comfy B&B is an excellent option for mid-range travellers. Located in the centre of Fort William, they have a handful of clean and comfortable rooms available and a hearty breakfast included in the rate. Click here to check availability
Lime Tree An Ealdhain — This small hotel is a great option if you’re looking for a bit more luxury while in Fort William. They have a number of spacious and comfortable rooms available, a great restaurant on site, and even its own contemporary art gallery! Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Fort William!
Where to Stay in Glencoe
Glencoe Youth Hostel — This backpacker’s hostel is the perfect choice for budget and solo travellers in Glencoe. Excellently located to explore the stunning countryside, they have both dorm and private rooms available and great clean facilities. Click here to check availability
The Isles of Glencoe Hotel — This lochside hotel is an absolutely stunning place to stay in Glencoe. They have a number of cosy and comfortable rooms available, great facilities like a swimming pool, restaurant, and bar. They are also well-located to explore the area. Click here to check their availability
Loch Leven Hotel & Distillery — This family-run hotel is an excellent place to stay in Glencoe. Located on the banks of Loch Levan, they have a number of comfortable rooms available, a great restaurant, and a trendy bar serving local whiskies, gins, and other spirits. Click here to check their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Glencoe!
Hopefully, this itinerary has inspired you to plan your trip to the Highlands and make the decision between things to do in Fort William and Glencoe that little bit easier for you.
When travelling in Scotland, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! Click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Are you looking for things to do in Glencoe & Fort William? Are you planning a trip to the region? Let us know in the comments below!