Scotland // Things To Do In and Around Fort William

Ben Nevis - Fort William and the surrounding area

Back in September, to celebrate my partner's 30th birthday, we headed across Scotland to spend a few days exploring the area in and around Fort William and Glencoe. The Western Scottish Highlands are not an area I've ever visited before, but photographs of beautiful scenery and rolling hills had me more than excited to see what it had in store. 

And it certainly didn't disappoint, that's for sure! 

On the first day of our three day trip, we drove across the breadth of Scotland via Aviemore, where we stopped for (second) breakfast before heading south towards Fort William. It was in this area that we based ourselves for the next couple of days, finding plenty to keep us occupied, as well as endless stunning scenery that made me fall in love with this country even more.  

With that said, here are some of our favourite things to do in Fort William and the surrounding area

Ben Nevis - Fort William and the surrounding area

1. Climb Ben Nevis 

Okay, there's nothing quite like starting with the obvious. One of the main reasons people make the journey to Fort William: the area is home to Ben Nevis - the highest mountain in the United Kingdom, which attracts an estimated 150,000 walkers every year. At 1345 metres above sea level, the mountain towers over the town, poking its head through the clouds. 

Ben Nevis - Fort William and the surrounding area

Despite having done a fair bit of hill-walking, I had never conquered a munro before this trip and was a little apprehensive about how we would get on tackling the highest of them all. 

As it was, I needn't have worried too much. Following the Mountain Path from the Visitors' Centre in Glen Nevis, the trail to the top is well-worn and clearly marked. Although a long and (at some points) steep hike, the route is of no real technical difficulty if the weather conditions are on your side - easy to navigate, without too much scrabbling or climbing. We got lucky as the weather - which had been distinctly dreary the previous day - decided to clear on the day of our walk, with the clouds rising as we ascended, allowing for some incredible views.

The most difficult elements of the trail, for me, were the relentless stair-like steps, in parts, which took their toll on my dodgy knees; and the loose, uneven stone underfoot which required a high degree of concentration at higher parts. It was this intense focus that I found most draining, while the pain in my knees took a lot to persevere through, but I was pleasantly surprised by how manageable I found the ascent in cardio terms. Setting off just after 8am, we had anticipated 8 to 9 hours of walking but found ourselves making the return trip in less than 7, leaving plenty of time to buy some cheesy 'I climbed Ben Nevis' medals and a much-needed Irn Bru from the Visitors' Centre gift shop!

Ben Nevis - Fort William and the surrounding area

The scenery throughout the trek is truly spectacular, with beautiful waterfalls and cloud inversions that make you feel on top of the world. If you have a reasonable level of overall fitness and the visibility is good, reaching the summit is a manageable challenge and a very rewarding one to accomplish.

(That said, it is not one to be underestimated. Conditions can change rapidly at such heights and I cannot stress the need to be prepared highly enough - to check the in-depth mountain forecast before you set off and to pack adequate supplies of food, water and clothing layers. Don't be the kind of numpty pulled down by Mountain Rescue in their flip-flops!)   

Glenfinnan Viaduct - Fort William and the surrounding area

2. See Glenfinnan Viaduct (aka the Harry Potter Bridge) 

About 17 miles West of Fort William lies the community of Glenfinnan, home to the Glenfinnan Viaduct - perhaps one of Scotland's most recognisable landmarks thanks to a certain movie franchise. A working railway viaduct on which the Jacobite steam train runs throughout summer months, the viaduct has become known as the 'Harry Potter Bridge' after the Hogwarts Express was filmed running across its tracks in 'The Chamber of Secrets' and 'The Prisoner of Azkaban'.

We parked up near the museum at Glenfinnan Station and walked the well-signed trail to the viaduct view point - an easy round trip of about 2km with some stunning views along the way. The steam train wasn't operating at the time of our visit, but I can only imagine how beautiful it must look chugging along in front of those rolling hills and greenery.

A little bit of a detour from Fort William, but one I highly recommend you make!

Commando Memorial - Fort William and the surrounding area

3. Take in the Views from the Commando Memorial 

Just 10 miles north of Fort William, on the road to Inverness, sits the Commando Memorial of Spean Bridge. A 17 foot high bronze statue of three commando soldiers, the memorial was erected in memory of those who lost their lives in the Second World War, recognising the area's role as home of the Commando Basic Training Centre.  It's a striking statue and the additional area of remembrance pays a touching personal tribute to many who have lost their lives in combat.

Not only that, but the site itself provides a stunning view of Ben Nevis and is worthy of a short detour for the breathtaking panoramas alone. 

If, however, the area's World War 2 connections pique your interest, you may be keen to visit the nearby Spean Bridge Hotel, which is home to the Commando Museum.

West Highland Museum - Fort William and the surrounding area

4. Visit the West Highland Museum 

Located in the centre of Fort William, the West Highland Museum houses an eclectic display of artefacts relating to the culture and history of the West Highland area. Covering subjects from the Jacobite era, to Queen Victoria, to an entire exhibit on the island of St Kilda, it's a tad random and disjointed, yet somehow utterly charming. It's a fascinating insight into the area's way of life - both past and present; the volunteers are incredibly welcoming and friendly; and the fact it's free to visit makes it a perfect place to pop into and kill some time while wandering Fort William High Street.

The Wildcat Cafe - Fort William and the surrounding area

5. Enjoy The Wildcat's Vegan Goodies

While you're in the locale of the town's High Street, be sure to pay a visit to The Wildcat - Fort William's beautiful, fully-vegan cafe. As well as serving up a delicious range of drinks, breakfasts and lunches, the venue also houses a zero-waste, plastic-free wholefoods shop.

The cafe was buzzing with a little queue forming at the door when we visited, but we didn't have to wait too long for a table and - believe me - our cakes, coffee and hot chocolate were well worth sticking around for!

Bunroy Park camping pod - Spean Bridge Fort William

Where We Stayed

We actually stayed a little bit north of Fort William - not too far from the Commando Memorial, in the village of Spean Bridge. We had planned to bring a tent and camp it but, as a surprise for Jonathan's birthday, I booked us a Camping Pod instead and after a day of hiking Ben Nevis I was very glad that I did! Our comfortable, cosy pod belonged to Bunroy Park campsite, whose facilities -including toilets, showers, hairdryers, washing machines and a fridge/freezer - suited us perfectly for our two night stay. The campsite's scenic location gifted us with pretty walks along the river and lovely sunsets as we cooked our dinner on the BBQ, while the owners were incredibly hospitable and keen to share their handy tips on the local area. We were made to feel very welcome throughout, really enjoying our short stay, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for reasonably priced accommodation in the area.


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