At the foot of the imposing Ben Nevis lies Fort William. This place is the centre of outdoor activities in Scotland. The village is the terminus of the famous West Highland Way but also the departure point for hikers walking the Great Glen Way. We did not do these hugely popular multi-day treks. But we did enjoy several day walks in Fort William because it’s a good place for that, too. However, if you don’t feel like walking for a bit, you can have a great time in Fort William, too. This is all you can do and see in Fort William and the surrounding area.
Hikes at Fort William
In our opinion, these are the best hikes at Fort William:
Climbing Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis is the country’s highest mountain. For many Scots, the ultimate dream is to climb Ben Nevis. But many foreigners also have a trip to the top of this mountain on their bucket list. We naturally wanted to experience the climb for ourselves. In itself, it turned out to be not that difficult for a hiker in good shape. However, you are at almost 1,350 altitude metres continuously. It is climbing from the start to the top on a reasonably good path, but still quite tiring.
Reaching the summit is a special moment for many. Many hikers do the climb to raise money for charity. Others are “munrobaggers”, enthusiasts who want to conquer all the mountains in Scotland above 3,000 feet. Some do it for fun or because of a bet. When we were at the summit, two young women undressed down to their underwear. They then put on a sexy evening gown and opened a bottle of champagne. With the photo we took at their request, they had won a bet. Soon after, they exchanged their bare dress for warm clothes again.
We certainly didn’t think it was the most beautiful hike in Scotland. But if you love hiking and are in Fort William, you really shouldn’t skip this climb! In a separate blog, we will give you 10 tips if you are going to climb Ben Nevis. We also go into more detail about our experiences on the climb.
Round walk on Cow Hill
This is a less strenuous but certainly as beautiful walk as climbing Ben Nevis. The great thing about this walk is that when the weather is clear, you have excellent views of that famous mountain, the valley and Loch Linnhe. We were so lucky, the weather was brilliant and we could see the top of Ben Nevis perfectly. The walk is over six kilometres long in total and takes you almost entirely on wide paths. Along the way, you can visit the top of Cow Hill. It is a small and easy climb. Afterwards, you have great views of the surrounding area. This is a marked walk, so you can’t go wrong.
In Fort William start the Great Glen Way
Real hiking enthusiasts start in Fort William with the Great Glen Way. This multi-day trek ends in Inverness on the coast after 120 km. Most of the route runs through relatively flat valleys. During the walk, you pass several lochs. One of these is the famous Loch Ness.
Other walks at Fort William
But there are so many other beautiful hikes. For instance, the walk to Steal Falls is one of the most beautiful short walks in the country. You walk through the valley near Ben Nevis to the impressive Steal Falls waterfall. This waterfall also featured in one of the Harry Potter films.
At the Tourist Information in Fort William, they have a handy map with various walks. You will find the “VisitScotland iCentre” in the High Street, the main street in the village. In addition, the website walkhighlands is an ideal resource for finding walks.
Other things to do and see in Fort William
Besides hiking, Fort William is also suitable for other activities:
The Jacobite Steam Train
This is a spectacular train journey from Fort William to Mallaig. If you are a Harry Potter fan, this ride is definitely not to be missed. Harry Potter rode this route on the Hogwarts Express from Platform 9¾ in London to Hogwarts. Along the way, you will enjoy fantastic scenery. The highlight is the trip over the world-famous Glenfinnan Viaduct. The train journey is not cheap, but hugely popular. So, book your tickets well in advance on the Jacobite Steam Train website.
Nevis Range Mountain Experience
The Nevis Range Mountain Experience is Scotland’s only gondola. It takes visitors from 100 metres to 650 metres up the mountain. Along the way, you will enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the Scottish Highlands, the Great Glen, Ben Nevis and the surrounding areas. From the summit, you can do two short walks that aren’t that difficult. Moreover, mountain bikers love to use the gondola. For them, many spectacular tours set out from the mountain station. And in winter, the gondola takes ski lovers up to the slopes. The ski area has 20 kilometres of pistes, even some black runs.
Ben Nevis Distillery
Of course, Fort William has its own whisky distillery. That is the Ben Nevis Distillery. People have been making whisky at this place since 1825. This makes it one of the oldest recognised distilleries in the country. In the former warehouse, you’ll find the visitor centre. During the tour, you will learn all about the history of the distillery and the process of making whisky. Naturally, you can also taste the whisky.
West Highland Museum
The West Highland Museum is the place to find out more about the history and culture of the Scottish Highlands. The various exhibits on the Jacobites are particularly interesting. This political movement from the 18th century wanted the expelled royal family to return. You’ll find the museum on the main street in the centre of Fort William. The museum is free to enter.
Sailing on Loch Linnhe
The enormously deep inlet Loch Linnhe is as much as 50 kilometres long. Near Fort William, this large lake is at its narrowest. Special animals are found in and around the lake. Especially at sunrise or sunset, the view of Loch Linnhe is spectacular. The lake is popular for all kinds of water sports. You can swim, rent a boat or take a cruise. Popular are the cruises to spot seals in Loch Linnhe.
Doing and seeing in the Fort William area
In the Fort William area, you will find lots of places of interest.
Inverlochy Castle was built by the lords of Badenoch and Lochaber. They dominated northern Scotland in the 1200s. Numerous battles took place around the castle. Few castles from the 13th century have survived in Scotland. Inverlochy Castle is one of them. Nearby is also the magnificent Inverlochy Castle hotel. However, you don’t stay in the castle, but in a beautiful estate some 700 metres from the actual castle. Definitely not a punishment!
About six kilometres north of is the village of Banavie. That place in itself is not very special. What is remarkable, however, is the engineering marvel Neptune’s Staircase. It is the longest “staircase lock” in the country and more than 200 years old. Over a distance of some 400 metres, the locks bridge a height difference of 20 metres. It takes about an hour and a half for a boat to cover all the staircase locks, an extraordinary sight. Hikers walking the Great Glen Way pass the Neptune’s Staircase on their journey.
Glencoe, the Highlands at its finest
The town of Glencoe is about half an hour’s drive from Fort William. In 1692, the Glencoe Massacre took place there. Soldiers from the king’s army killed a large part of the MacDonald clan then. But that is not the reason for most visitors to visit Glencoe. They come for the phenomenal landscapes in the area. This is where the highlands are at their most beautiful. Not for nothing did the landscape act as an impressive backdrop in several Harry Potter films and the James Bond film Skyfall.
Glencoe visitor centre
Before exploring the area, you really should visit the Glencoe Visitor’s Centre. Not only because the staff can tell you perfectly what great walks there are in the area. But mainly because of the interesting exhibitions and audiovisual presentations about the beautiful nature and its inhabitants. You can have a great time there for at least an hour. From the Visitor’s Centre, you can take some short circular walks.
One of the most beautiful viewpoints is that of the Three Sisters rock formation. Incidentally, the rock formation is also known as Bidean nam Bian Mountain. You can find it easily, as the viewpoint is on the main road. Drive about seven kilometres east from the Visitor’s Centre. The car park is on the right side of the road. From that point, you look out over a spectacular cliff, green valleys and gurgling waterfalls.
Hiking around Glencoe
Such fantastic scenery naturally invites you to explore on foot. We walked through a narrow gorge to Hidden Valley. A fun and sometimes quite challenging hike of a few hours. We crossed several small rivers. Balancing on the large boulders, we were able to keep our feet dry. Occasionally there were some tricky climbs. But after two hours, there was the reward: we reached the Hidden Valley. The valley was surrounded by mighty ridges and was utterly deserted – beautiful! Members of the MacDonalds clan once hid in this place the cattle they had stolen from other clans. During the Glencoe Massacre, some clan members fled to the Hidden Valley to escape the massacre by government soldiers.
Other hiking options at Glencoe
But there are many other walks at Glencoe. Staff at the Visitor’s Centre have plenty of information on all the options. This is the complete list of walks at Glencoe.
Most frequently asked questions about Fort William
Fort William is located some 160 km north of Glasgow on the shores of Loch Linnhe in the Scottish Highlands. The town used to develop around a number of forts. From these its name is derived.
Fort William is a hub of major motorways, waterways and rail links in the Scottish Highlands. It lies on the shores of Loch Linnhe and near the Caledonian Canal. You can therefore easily reach the place by car, boat or train.
Fort William calls itself "outdoor capital of Scotland". So, many hikers visit Fort William. The place is the end point of the famous multi-day trek West Highland Way and the starting point of the equally popular Great Glen Way. In Fort William, many walkers want to climb Ben Nevis, the country's highest mountain. You can also do several other less strenuous walks there. But even for non-hikers, there is plenty to do in Fort William.
Besides climbing Ben Nevis, there are many other walks available in Fort William. A perfect website to find your walk is walkhighlands. For each walk, you will find a short description and a route map. In addition, you can download a GPS file.
Near Fort William is Inverlochy Castle. In addition, the many locks in the Caledonian Canal at Banavie (Neptune's Staircase) are an engineering feat. Train lovers and Harry Potter fans take the Jacobite Steam Train to Mallaig. And walkers enjoy the impressive scenery of Glencoe and its surroundings.
- Ben Nevis Inn. Definitely a place to grab a bite to eat and a drink if you've just climbed Ben Nevis. The restaurant is at the foot of the mountain.
- Crannog Seafood Restaurant. Ideal for a delicious seafood meal. The tastiest seafood prepared in a tasty way. Reservations a must!
- Ben Nevis Bar & Restaurant. Cosy pub on the High Street. Just good food at a reasonable price. Don't expect culinary delights.
- The Geographer. One of the few restaurants in Fort WIlliam with a wide choice for the vegetarian. Also excellent food in a nice atmosphere.
It is definitely wise to book your favourite restaurant early to avoid disappointment.
Fort William has a wide choice of accommodation, ranging from a youth hostel (also open to the elderly), guesthouses, camping pods, bed & breakfasts and hotels. In high season, Fort William is a popular place. Booking early therefore avoids disappointment.
Guests rate the following accommodations as excellent:
- Whinburn Guest House. Very spacious rooms, top breakfast and excellent bathroom.
- Lochview House. Excellent hotel with lovely lake views. All the details are right. You cannot dine at the hotel.
- Gowan Brae Bed & Breakfast. Excellent B&B in a beautiful location with lovely views. Breakfast is very extensive.
- Ben Nevis Inn Rooms. Ideally located at the foot of Ben Nevis. Fantastic views. The rooms are simple, but the place is great.
This is the complete list of acccommodation in Fort William.