Named after William the Orange, Fort William was once a series of settlements in the Highlands of Scotland. Today, it is a popular mountain biking location, and a place for visitors to explore and hike around the great mountains scattered throughout the land. Festivals celebrating Highland culture, the mountains and hiking are celebrated here, showcasing Scottish music, dancing, and tradition from all over the country. Here are 7 popular things to do that will get you out exploring the mystical Scottish Highlands!
1. Steall Waterfall
Drive southeast of Fort William into Glen Nevis Self-Catering Park, and strap on your hiking boots in the parking lot. Make your way across a rocky pass, where tree roots curl around the tall mountainsides peering over you. You look ahead and glimpse a sliver of a stream further on between a valley. Continue walking towards the sliver, and the trees begin to thin out, the mountainsides seem to etch away, and soon enough you are strolling through an open meadow. The sliver turns into a stream, and the mountains beyond it are coated in white. Eventually you reach a point where you can see the waterfall stumbling over the rocks, and pouring into pools down below.
Fun fact: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was filmed here during a Quidditch match scene!
2. Jacobite Steam Train
Remember the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter? This is it! Hop on this steam train from Fort William and tour the Scottish countryside from mountainous ranges, lochs, to other towns. The Jacobite was built in 1901 to make way for passengers traveling to more rural parts of Scotland. Riding the Jacobite train is recommended if you are leaving or arriving to Fort William, or if you are planning on taking a day trip (or two). Enjoy the plush seats and large windows that stare out into the Highlands!
3. Treasures of the Earth
A family run natural history museum that has been passed down two generations collecting fossils, crystals, and gemstones to display for the public. This museum is a perfect place to take children, especially on a rainy day! You and your family can observe the largest gold nugget discovered during the Scottish Gold Rush, take a look at dinosaur poop, or explore the large room of glittery gemstones. This is a great way to discover what the land was like far before humans roamed Scotland!
4. West Highland Museum
Founded in 1922, this museum is dedicated to the history of the West Highlands. It portrays what life was like in the Highlands compared to life today, archaeological finds from the Bronze ages, and military history. There is an entire exhibit on the Victorian era, when Queen Victoria industrialized the Highlands, changing their lives forever. Learn about clans and tartans, and what each tartan color represents for its clan. This museum is family friendly, and it is a great place to get to know the Highlands better!
5. Ben Nevis
The tallest and one of the most popular mountains to explore in the UK, this landmass is ideal for anyone who wants to stay active and explore the Highlands. The name originates from the Scottish language, Gaelic, and it translates to poisonous or terrible. Don’t worry, this mountain is not dangerous, but the weather is unpredictable and hikers are recommended to stay on the path. Once you reach the summit, you can find ruins of an old observatory that was once built, as well as a World War II memorial.
6. Saint Andrew’s Church
Constructed in 1817, Saint Andrew’s Church became the first Episcopal Church in Fort William. Its interior is filled with admirable architecture, including an organ and a colorful baptistry window. Imagine walking through the streets of Fort William and seeing a sandy looking structure with a tall tower up ahead. As you walk along the grave stones in the church cemetery, you notice large gothic style windows with ribbed arches lining the building. When you enter the church, there is a thick, musty, fragrance filling the dimly lit nave. The colorful glass baptistry window shines as the sun filters light through it, and the organ on the other side makes you feel small but curious.
7. Old Fort
Originally built in 1654, the fort was refortified 100 years later, and it has been standing since. The fort has stood through the Glen Coe Massacre in 1692, when the many members of the MacDonald clan were besieged and murdered. Throughout the centuries, the fort has since crumbled, and what remains are left include a stone wall and an entrance archway. Since then, the Highland Council has placed labels and information boards to describe events and teach visitors about life in the fort.