Like many destinations, the Scottish Highlands have been mapped out over the years, with established routes taking the majority of visitors along a similar circuit—Fort William to hike Ben Nevis, Inverness to visit Loch Ness and Skye to see the sea cliffs.
These areas are famous for a reason, of course, and should be visited in some capacity during your travels in Scotland. But, if you’ve been there done that, or are simply looking for something different, check out these five offbeat adventures that will show you a different side of Scotland.
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Visit Kerrera Island
Oban is the gateway to the Scottish islands, with ferries leaving from its busy port each day. But just south of the main town is a small, lesser-known dock with a wee 12-person ferry that makes the short, five-minute trip out to the island of Kerrera.
Popular with locals who live in the Oban area for hiking and biking (you will see many people loading their bikes onto the ferry), Kerrera is a scenic, scarcely populated island with walking/bike paths, an old castle (Gylen Castle), a tea garden and bunkhouse and more sheep than people. Perfect for a relaxing half-day walk, with views of the island’s highland scenery, the hills of the mainland and the bay, sound and ocean.
A ferry runs continuously throughout the day and costs about 5 British pounds roundtrip, cash only.
Swim With Sharks and Seals
Whale sharks have become a popular attraction for snorkelers all over the world and something similar, and a bit different, is going on in Scotland.
The basking shark, the world’s second-largest mega-mouthed shark, is the main (harmless) attraction in these northern waters, as well as various types of seals. Shane Wasik, a marine biologist, former travel journalist and now owner of Basking Shark Scotland, runs tours off the west coast via Dunstaffnage Marina.
Visitors hop aboard his zippy pontoon speed boat and cruise through the offshore islands to a variety of hand-picked snorkeling and wildlife viewing locations. The scenery will surprise you—it sometimes looks more like the Caribbean than Scotland—as you don a thick wetsuit and jump in for a guide-led exploration of Scotland’s kelp forests and coral reefs alongside basking sharks, seals and other sea life.
Explore Wilderness Scotland
Though it is one of the largest adventure companies in the country, it doesn’t get much better for adventurers than Wilderness Scotland, whose name says it all. The company provides the most detailed, undiscovered walking and biking trips throughout the Scottish Highlands, attracting the most knowledgeable and experienced outdoor guides in the country.
Wilderness Scotland has ties to many outdoor initiatives throughout Scotland, including sustainability and conservation projects, as well as the outdoor vibe in general: One of its owners is responsible for putting on the yearly Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival. Check them out, whether you want to join a full-service group sea kayaking or trekking trip, or put together your own mountain biking, sailing or river canoeing adventure.
Hike With a Local
If you’re looking for something less formal, where connecting with a local is more important than building the perfect wilderness adventure, Airbnb has opened new doors for travelers via Airbnb Experience.
For example, one local in Edinburgh, Barry, invites you to join him for a walk to the top of one of his favorite mountains, or munros, in Scotland. Yes, this experience provides the chance to go on a beautiful hike in the Scottish Highlands, but it moreso offers the chance to make a local friend—or at least rent one for a couple of hours—with stops at local villages, a café and a traditional Scottish highland pub and brewery mixed in along the way.
Whereas a company like Wilderness Scotland can offer you more options and deeper itineraries, Barry can plug you right into local life.
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Fly Fish for Salmon
Much of the buzz around Scotland’s rivers is the potential for canoe trips, which can be arranged around remote campsites and whiskey distilleries. But don’t miss out on another unique experience: fly fishing for salmon in the Scottish Highlands.
There are trout and other species to be had as well, but what makes salmon fishing in the Highlands unique is its allure—typically, salmon don’t feed when they’re traveling in the river, but with the right skills, anglers can indeed entice them to bite, making the catch a rite of passage for local anglers. You can join a local, like self-professed fishing addict Andy from Highland Angling, to find the best and most scenic places to fish or, if you’re a beginner, take a lesson.