Known as the Outdoor Capital of the UK, Fort William is the perfect place to visit to immerse yourself in the Scottish Highlands. Hike among Scotland’s tallest mountains, try your hand at mountain biking, enjoy a scenic boat ride on Loch Linnhe and tuck into delicious Highland cuisine. Read on for a full travel guide and ideas for things to do in Fort William.
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Many people stop in Fort William on their way further north into the Scottish Highlands or to the Isle of Skye. They might spend a few hours or even a night, but then – they move on.
Until recently, the same was the case for me. I was never one to rave about Fort William and only ever visited to leave again the next day.
That said – I regularly include Fort William in my itineraries. However, this is primarily because it’s a practical place to stop. Somewhere to have supermarkets, cafes and restaurants at your doorstep.
But then, an unfortunate circumstance saw me travel to Fort William for a few nights without a car. I was forced to slow down and explore the town more in-depth.
I’m so glad I did!
Fort William is so much more than a “practical stopover”. It’s a bustling town, surrounded by some of Scotland’s most iconic scenery. It lies at the foot of the Nevis Range which includes Britain’s tallest mountain (Ben Nevis) and at the shores of the deep-blue sea loch Loch Linnhe.
As the Outdoor Capital of the UK it is a honeypot for outdoor enthusiasts such as hikers, mountain bike riders and kayakers alike. But there is also lots to discover for anyone who is into history, food or whisky.
This travel guide includes 16 things to do in Fort William and lots of practical travel advice, such as how to get there, where to stay and where to find delicious vegan food.
Fort William FAQ
Where is Fort William?
Fort William lies in the heart of the Scottish Highlands and is the biggest town in the Lochaber region. The A82 – the main road connecting Glasgow with Inverness – runs right through the town.
Glencoe is just a stone’s throw away and the Road to the Isles, which leads to the ferry port of Mallaig on the coast, starts right here.
Fort William is a major stop on my Best of Scotland itinerary – if you like what you read here, use it to plan your trip!
How to get to Fort William?
Driving from Glasgow is easy – simply follow the A82 north for approximately 100 miles. That should take you around 2,5 hours, but if you follow my Glasgow to Fort William road trip guide, you’ll soon notice that you could easily spend an entire day or more on this route.
Driving from Edinburgh, the drive is a little longer and more complicated. There are a couple of routes you can take, but I recommend driving via Stirling, Callander, Crianlarich and Glencoe. This takes around 3.5 hours and is roughly 130 miles.
It is easy to get to Fort William by public transport. The West Highland railway line leaves from Glasgow to Fort William multiple times a day, but there is also a bus that drives through Glencoe along the way. From Edinburgh, you should go via Glasgow. From Inverness, take the bus south to the town.
How long to stay in Fort William?
That is the question of all questions. As I mentioned, many stop in Fort William for just one night and you might be able to do a couple of the recommended activities on your way there or out of the town.
But in order to explore Fort William more closely, I suggest spending at least 2-3 nights here. Check out my recommendations for places to stay below!
16 Things to do in Fort William
Visit the West Highland Museum
Right in the centre of Fort William, the West Highland Museum is a volunteer-run treasure trove of local history, artifacts and memories.
The collection is eclectic. For history fans, there is an exhibition focussing on the Jacobites. Military history buffs will enjoy the gallery that is dedicated to the British Commando Forces who trained in the area since the 2nd World War. Apart from that, the display cases are filled with archaeological finds, historical jewelry, weaponry, farm equipment, clothes and animal bones.
It’s a really lovely space to visit to learn about local history and the people of the Lochaber region. Entrance is by donation.
Explore Loch Linnhe with Crannog Cruises
Due to unforeseen circumstances Crannog Cruises is not operating in 2022.
Fort William lies on the banks of a large sea loch: Loch Linnhe – an inlet that connects the central Highlands with the west coast. Head out on a cruise to explore the loch with Crannog Cruises. They have four daily departures at 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm and 4 pm.
The morning cruise catches a glimpse of the Jacobite Steam Train as it chugs down the tracks near the water in Corpach. Note: The steam train only runs from late April to late October.
The two midday cruises head out to a local seal colony, while the final cruise of the day follows the morning route and stays closer to Fort William.
Take the Jacobite Steam Train
Attention, Harry Potter fans! In Scotland, you can ride the Hogwarts Express IRL!
Taking the Jacobite Steam Train must be one of the most popular things to do in Fort William. The train departs up to twice a day and heads towards the coast. Along the way, it crosses over the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct.
After a little break in Mallaig, the train heads back to Fort William. You can buy return tickets, or ride the Steam Train one way and return by the regular train service – or head on to an island like Skye or Rum, if you’re travelling without a car.
Hire an (e-)bike and explore Glen Nevis
Fort William is one of the best places to try your hand at mountain biking.
I hired an e-bike from Nevis Cycles and explored Glen Nevis. I enjoyed a scenic drive at the foot of the Nevis Range – although I’m certain there are also more challenging routes to choose in the area.
Hike to Steall Falls
Steall Falls is a breathtaking waterfall at the top of Glen Nevis. From the Upper Glen Nevis car park, it is a fairly simple walk along an easy-to-follow trail through the Nevis Gorge.
As the glen broadens, the waterfall comes into view. It’s worth bringing a picnic. If you feel adventurous, don’t miss crossing the river on the wire bridge – I dare you!
Walking there and back is just over 2 miles and takes around 2 hours. You can drive to the car park or hire a bike to cycle there, which is what I did.
Learn about Highland Geology
The Highlands were formed over hundreds of millions of years and the Lochaber region around Fort William is an excellent place to learn more about this journey. The Lochaber Geopark has a fascinating visitor centre on the High Street of Fort William and info boards at interesting geological sites all over the region.
At the visitor centre, you can first learn about the geological timeline of Scotland, the different kinds of rocks you can find here and what brought them, and how the landscapes were formed – – think volcanoes, glaciation and continental drift.
Then, pick up some of the leaflet with suggested routes and trails through the Geopark to learn more about geology on the road. Some of my favourite places to visit is the middle of Glen Loy from where you get a great view of the Nevis Range and the Great Glen, the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy where you can learn about Darwin and glaciation, and the caldera near the tip of the Ardnamurchan peninsula.
You might also like: 11 Educational & Science-Based Tourism Experiences in Scotland
Take the Nevis Range Mountain Gondola
An easy way to experience the tallest mountain range in the Scottish Highlands is to take the Nevis Range Mountain Gondola. It doesn’t actually go up Ben Nevis – can’t make it that easy! – but up the north face of Aonach Mòr, the 8th highest mountain in Scotland.
From the top of the gondola, there are two easy walks to viewpoints from where you can enjoy stunning views of the mountains, lochs and glens around. From one of them, you can even just about make out the top of Ben Nevis.
The journey takes about 15 minutes one way and the hikes approximately 2 hours combined. At the top station, there is a restaurant serving up Scottish classics.
Winter special: Snow-shoe hiking in the Nevis Range
If you visit Fort William in the winter, hire snowshoes at the bottom of the mountain gondola, travel up and hike to the viewpoint in your snowshoes.
I don’t really ski or snowboard anymore, but I still love spending time in the snow. We hired snowshoes on a winter getaway to Glencoe and it was so much fun!
You might also like: 20 Tips for visiting Scotland in Winter
Sea kayaking on Loch Linnhe and Eil with Rockhopper Scotland
Whenever I travel to the coast, I love sneaking in some time on the water. Sea kayaking is one of my favourite things to do, and even though I’m far from being a pro, it’s an activity you can pick up fairly quickly. And with an experienced guide, you know you’re safe.
Rockhopper Sea Kayaking offers half-day, full-day and multi-day kayaking outings in the Lochaber region. Paddle on Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil to see Ben Nevis and the Jacobite Steam Train or discover the coastal waters of Arisaig or Loch Moidart.
There are many fresh and sea water lochs waiting to be explored, and the ragged coastline offers plenty of sheltered bays to make this a fun activity for pros and beginners.
Climb Ben Nevis
Whether you’re an avid Munro-bagger or a first-time mountaineer, no one can escape the charm of Ben Nevis. It is the highest mountain in Scotland and beyond that, the highest peak in the UK.
It is a popular, but strenuous hike as you start pretty much at sea level and have to climb all 4,413 feet to the top (1,345m). There are not many hikes in the country where you climb literally from the sea to the summit.
There are a couple of routes up Ben Nevis. The Mountain Path (also sometimes called the Tourist Route) is the most popular and straight-forward ascent up a busy track. More experienced hikers can climb Ben Nevis via the CMD Arete which includes a ridge walk, light scrambling and another Munro along the way (Càrn Mòr Dearg).
Like always when hiking in the Scottish Highlands, keeping an eye on the weather forecast is crucial. Wear hiking boots, bring warm layers (even on a hot day in the glen – it gets cold high up), and plenty of food & drink. Know what to do in an emergency and take great care.
If you’re new to the Scottish mountains, consider booking a hiking guide to keep you safe – for example via Girls on Hills.
You might also like: A Guide to Munro Bagging for Beginners
Shop on the High Street
Fort William is not only the Outdoor Capital of the UK, but also the de-facto capital of the region. For many people who live in the Highlands, it is the place they’ll go if they need something.
And that can mean only one thing: shopping.
While the locals are probably more interested in the large supermarkets, travellers will be happy to wander down the High Street (= main street) of Fort William and discover what’s on offer.
As expected for a hub for outdoorsy people, there are a lot of outdoor clothing brands represented, but also some typical tourist shops like House of Clam Jamfrie or the Caledonian Wool Company.
Another highlight is the Highland Soap Company shop where you can pick up scented soaps, hand sanitiser and more. They also have a visitor centre nearby where you can tour the factory or learn how to make soap yourself!
Drive the Road to the Isles
The Road to the Isles connects Fort William in the heart of the Highlands with the bustling west coast port Mallaig.
Its official name is A830 – a bit boring, ey? It gets its awe-inspiring name from the fact that ferries leave from Mallaig for islands like Skye, Rum, Canna or South Uist. If you want to visit the isles, you have to drive down this road.
The route is just over 40 miles long. Make a day of it and stop along the way – for scenic views, historic sites and iconic landmarks.
Wanna know what it’s like? Listen to my immersive travel podcast episode ‘Road to the Isles’.
Visit Glenfinnan Monument and Viaduct
About 15 miles west of Fort William and on the northern end of Loch Shiel lies the scattered village of Glenfinnan.
Bonnie Prince Charles raised his army here and led them to fight for the Jacobite Cause. Alexander Macdonald of Glenaladale later built a monument to their fate – the Glenfinnan Monument. You can climb the tower and enjoy views of Loch Shiel and the mountains from the top.
Behind the monument, lies another landmark: the Glenfinnan Viaduct. 21 towering arches, made from concrete – the viaduct is a miracle of Victorian engineering. Harry Potter fans will know it undoubtedly.
And if you time your visit right, you might even catch the Jacobite Steam Train as it crosses the viaduct. The best views for the occasion can be seen from the top of the monument or from the path that leads up behind and above it.
Harry Potter Canoeing with River to Sea Scotland
If sea kayaking is not your jam – why not try canoeing? The difference lies in the boat and equipment – a kayak is usually closed around your waist and you use a paddle with two blades; a canoe is open and your paddle has just one blade. In my experience, it can feel a little bit more stable in an open canoe – that’s why it’s sometimes considered more family-friendly.
River to Sea Scotland offers a Harry Potter-inspired day trip. Paddling on the waters of Loch Eilt you will visit several Harry Potter sites and catch a glimpse of the returning train along the loch.
Neptune’s Staircase & Caledonian Canal
The Caledonian Canal is a waterway that connects the Scottish northeast coast at Inverness with the west coast at Corpach near Fort William. Instead of taking your boat all the way around the northwest coast, the canal allows a shortcut through the scenic Great Glen and a series of lochs (Loch Dochfour, Loch Ness, Loch Oich, Loch Lochy).
Before the canal flows into Loch Linnhe by Fort William though, boats have to go through a series of locks called Neptune’s Staircase. These locks allow boats to overcome a significant drop in elevation. With each lock, they drop further down towards Loch Linnhe. It’s a long process, but pretty cool to observe as a spectator.
Try seatrekking on the coast
Seatrekking is a fun activity that combines walking, swimming and snorkelling to cover an A to B distance on a stretch of coastline. It’s immersive, physically challenging and with the right guide it can even be educational!
Lyndsay and Huw from Seatrek Scotland are two such excellent guides who can take you seatrekking, snorkelling or coasteering on the west coast near Fort William.
I went out for a few hours in the water with Lyndsay. Along the way, we stopped at the remains of the abandoned village of Smirisary, swam in the rain and observed tons of wildlife below the surface, including three different species of jellyfish (Moon jellyfish, Blue jellyfish and the scary Lion’s Mane).
The duration of the trip and distance covered can be adjusted to your experience and fitness level. All equipment including a thick wetsuit, snorkel & mask, and waterproof tow bag are provided. You must be comfortable in the cold water. If swimming isn’t your strength, consider booking a snorkel or coasteering session instead!
Go to the beaches by Arisaig
Looking for a day trip from Fort William? Visit the white sandy beaches between Arisaig and Mallaig!
There are countless bays and beaches to choose from. Some of the most popular ones are Camusdarach Beach, the Silver Sands of Morar and Silversands Beach.
To get to the beaches, drive down the Road to the Isles and take the scenic coastal route from Arisaig; or take the bus from Fort William to Mallaig and ask for a stop at one of the beaches.
Where to Stay in Fort William
The road leading into Fort William (A82 = Achintore Road) is lined with traditional bed & breakfasts and hotels – one after the other; you’d think it must be easy to find accommodation here.
However, Fort William is such a popular place to stay or stop-over, it can actually be tricky to find accommodation from May to September. It’s important to book ahead.
I recently stayed at Lochview Guest House, which is a traditional bed & breakfast away from the main road. It is located up a steep hill, but in turn has fantastic views of Loch Linnhe from the rooms, the breakfast lounge and the terrace. It’s a joy to watch the sunrise in the morning and set in the evenings from here. Karen is a lovely host, full of local recommendations, and I really enjoyed my stay here.
On previous trips I have also stayed at Minaig B&B (a traditional B&B on the main road, but well set back from the traffic), Cruachan Hotel (a 3-star hotel in a historic Victorian mansion) or Glen Nevis Youth Hostel, which is great for groups and hikers.
An outstanding B&B that is high on my list and I love recommending to guests is Torlinnhe Guest House.
Many people who visit Fort William also want to see Glencoe. Why not base yourself there instead? It’s just a 30 minute drive away!
Treat yourself to a stay at Woodlands Glencoe – luxurious lodges with private hot tubs and stunning views.
Where to eat: Vegan Food in Fort William
Getting vegan food in Fort William has become a lot easier than when I first walked the West Highland Way – back then, it was difficult to even get a coffee with soy milk.
Now, there is a vegan cafe in town and many restaurants and cafes have really delicious options.
Here are some places for vegan food in Fort William:
- The Wildcat: Fort William’s own vegan cafe on the High Street
- Rain Bakery: A beautiful cafe and bakery with vegan options on the menu, including some luxurious cake
- Cafe Bar at Highland Cinema
- Black Isle Bar: Craft beer and delicious wood-fired pizzas, including options with vegan cheese
- The Geographer: A small restaurant on the High Street with vegan and gluten-free options clearly labelled on the menu. No reservations!
- Grog & Gruel: A traditional gastro pub with great grub.
- Cafe Mango: An Indian restaurant with Indian and Thai dishes.
- The Crannog: A popular seafood restaurant on the shores of Loch Linnhe. They don’t have vegan options on the. menu, but if you’re in a mixed party and call ahead, they should be able to sort you out!
You might also like: Travelling Scotland as a Vegan
Of course, there are many more things to do in Fort William, from touring the Ben Nevis Distillery to visiting the ruins of Old Inverlochy Castle – the fun just doesn’t stop!
I hope you find this travel guide for Fort William useful and I have inspired you to spend a few nights in the Outdoor Capital of the UK. It’s definitely worth it!
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