Sprawled in the shadow of the UK’s highest mountain, Fort William is a small town with a big title. It’s known as the country’s Outdoor Capital thanks to its spectacular scenery and wealth of outdoor activities right on its doorstep. 

Fort William also has easy access to the West Highlands and decent transport to the west Scottish islands such as Mull and Skye, making it a popular base with travellers. 

If you’re keen to leverage it as a base too and see some of the most spectacular sights in Scotland, here are the best day trips from Fort William. 

Climb Ben Nevis 

The snow-covered summit of Ben Nevis mountain in Fort William.
The Ben Nevis hike is a bucket list day trip from Fort William

Let’s start with probably one of the most famous day trips you can do from Fort William – climbing Ben Nevis. Towering over the town, this iconic mountain is the highest in the UK, standing at 1,345 metres above sea level. 

Once an active volcano, it belongs to the Grampian mountain range and offers dramatic 360-degree views of the surrounding Munros. 

It takes around 7-8 hours to hike to the peak and back again. There are several routes you can take, but the easiest one starts at Glen Nevis Visitor Centre about 2km outside of Fort William. 

Ben Nevis is not a challenge to take lightly. Make sure you have a good level of fitness and bring the right equipment. Always check that the weather conditions are clear too. Do a group tour like this one if you’re not confident. 

How to get there: Start the hike at Glen Nevis Visitor Centre

Ride the Jacobite steam train 

The Jacobite steam train going over Glenfinnan Viaduct - an easy day trip from Fort William
The famous Jacobite going over Glenfinnan Viaduct

Another popular excursion you can do is riding the Jacobite steam train. 

It’s famous for being known as the Harry Potter train (Hogwarts Express), although the real train from the films is at Warner Brothers Studios. Still, you don’t have to be a Potter fan to enjoy it!

Hailed as one of the world’s greatest railway journeys, it’s one of the last remaining vintage trains in the UK. Choose between Standard or First Class tickets. All tickets include a round trip. 

The steam train starts in Fort William and chugs its way through some incredible Scottish Highland scenery before arriving at the seaside town of Mallaig. It then returns to Fort William. 

Notable sights to look out for include: 

  • Glenfinnan Viaduct 
  • Glenfinnan Monument 
  • Loch Shiel
  • Loch Morar 
  • Loch Eilt
  • The southern end of Skye (on a good day)

How to get there: Board the train at Fort William Station. Or ride the ScotRail train to Glenfinnan and see the Jacobite cross the viaduct.

Editor’s tip: The Jacobite steam train only runs for half the year – from April to October. Tickets sell out fast too so book them well in advance. Read my complete guide to plan your trip. 

Visit Glenfinnan

A red steam train crosses a cement curved viaduct with a huge plume of white steam. Rugged mountains form the backdrop. The Jacobite train on Glenfinnan Viaduct.
The magnificent Glenfinnan Viaduct

Glenfinnan may be a view from the Jacobite, but it’s well worth a visit in its own right. Firstly, you can see the striking archways of Glenfinnan Viaduct up close. 

If you time it well, you can also see the Jacobite steam train go over it depending on the season. The best view of this moment is from Glenfinnan Viewpoint on the hill above the viaduct.  

Secondly, on the shores of Loch Shiel is the Glenfinnan Monument which was built to remember the Jacobite Rising of 1745 and the Highlanders who lost their lives at the Battle of Culloden. 

A lone Highlander often stands at the top and you can climb up to meet him. There’s also a museum, cafe and visitor centre. 

How to get there: Take the ScotRail train to Glenfinnan

Read More: 14 Best Things to Do Near Aviemore, Scotland

Take a boat trip across Loch Linnhe 

The ferry landing jetty in Loch Lihnne in Fort William. Low hanging clouds coming down on the other side of the loch.
Take a boat ride across Loch Lihnne

One of the best excursions from Fort William is out across the water. Take a boat trip across Loch Linnhe and spend a leisurely few hours admiring the tranquil scenery. 

Highlights include spotting the resident seal colony at Black Rock, seeing the ancient Caledonian forest from the water and small islets teeming with birds. 

The boat will take you past the pretty village of Corpach where you’ll find Scotland’s most Instagrammed shipwreck. 

How to get there: Boat trips from Fort William depart at Fort William Ferry Landing

Editor’s tip: This boat trip only takes about two hours to complete. You could do it in the morning or afternoon and do something local like visiting Spean Bridge or Inverlochy Castle for the remainder of your day. 

Explore the Isle of Skye 

The Fairy Glen on the Isle of Skye. A spiral of stones in a hilly landscape.
Skye’s magical Fairy Glen

If you drive, it’s possible to do a day trip from Fort William to the Isle of Skye. Bear in mind, it will take about 2.5 each way! It’s a nice drive though and it will take you past Eilean Donan Castle – a great photo spot!

Skye is an incredible island with so much to see and do there. I highly recommend spending two or three days there to really see it all. 

If you’re short on time, head to Portree, the main settlement and pretty fishing village. From there, drive up the Trotternish Peninsula to see some of the most beautiful scenery on the island, including: 

  • Old Man of Storr 
  • Fairy Glen
  • Quiraing 
  • Kilt Rock 

If you don’t drive, the easiest way to get to Skye is with a small group tour rather than relying on public transport. 

WOW Scotland does popular day tours from Fort William to the Isle of Skye. You can also do tours departing from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. 

Visit Inverlochy Castle, old and new 

Ruins of Old Inverlochy Castle with green grass and a tree in the foreground. One of the easiest day trips from Fort William
Old Inverlochy Castle is now ruined while Inverlochy Castle Hotel serves afternoon tea (photo credit: Canva.com)

You might expect Fort William to have a fort but there’s sadly very little left of it. However, two miles outside of the town you’ll find Old Inverlochy Castle. 

Although now also a ruin, this fort dates back to the 13th century and had a great defensive position on the River Lochy. 

At the time of writing, you can’t currently go inside but you can wander around what’s left of the perimeters. 

It’s one of the easiest things to do from Fort William, but if you want a little more…

A much more intact castle to visit is Inverlochy Castle Hotel. The 19th-century castle lies at the foot of Ben Nevis with serene grounds that led Queen Victoria to write: ‘I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot’ during a visit. 

The castle is a five-star hotel but it’s possible to visit for coffee, dinner, afternoon tea and take a look around the grounds. If you do, I recommend making a reservation as you may be turned away otherwise. 

Afterwards, pop into Ben Nevis Distillery for a dram or a whisky tour. It’s located between the two castles so, really, it would be rude not to!

How to get there: It will take you about 30 minutes to walk to Old Inverlochy Castle from Fort William – and another 30 minutes to get to the hotel. 

See Glen Coe 

Lush grassy hills and Munros of Glen Coe with grey clouds above.
The lush dramatic landscape of Glen Coe (photo credit: Canva.com)

If you want to see the dramatic Scottish landscape at its best, a day trip to Glen Coe is a must. 

Just around the corner from Fort William, Glen Coe is characterised by a deep valley surrounded by towering mountains. 

The impressive scenery was formed by ancient (and now extinct) volcanic eruptions and glaciers that scarred the land. Revel in its beauty by hiking across its landscape. 

Popular trails include: 

You can also wander around the glen, learn about the massacre of Clan McDonald in the Visitor Centre and have a coffee in the village of Glencoe. 

How to get there: Take the A82 down Loch Linnhe to get there. It’s about 30 minutes to drive. The 914 bus to Glasgow will take you some of the way and then it’s another 50 minutes walk to the Visitor Centre. 

Visit Spean Bridge 

Close-up of the Commando Memorial near Spean Bridge. A statue of three World War II soldiers against a backdrop of blue sky.
The Commando Memorial in Spean Bridge

The small but pretty village of Spean Bridge is situated at the southern end of the Great Glen. 

It’s known as the ‘crossroads of the Highlands’. Roads to the north take you up to Inverness, south to Fort William and east to Loch Laggan. 

About 1.5 miles west of the village, you’ll find the Commando Memorial with panoramic views of the surrounding hills. The striking memorial was built to remember the local commando soldiers who died during World War II. 

How to get there: Drive 16 minutes up the A82. You can also get a ScotRail train which takes about 25 minutes including a 10-minute walk. 

Read More: Scotland West Coast Itinerary: How to See the Best of the West Coast in 10 Days

Admire Glen Nevis 

The rolling hills of Glen Nevis with a road leading through it and trees on either side.
The rolling green hills of Glen Nevis (photo credit: Canva.com)

At the foot of Ben Nevis is Glen Nevis, located just a few minutes from Fort William town centre. An ancient glacial valley, it offers a nature lover’s paradise with its plethora of walking trails. 

The River Nevis flows through it, feeding several spectacular waterfalls. A popular one to hike to is Steall Falls. 

Tumbling 120 metres down into the valley with the Nevis Gorge behind, it’s rumoured to be the highest waterfall in Scotland. 

The glen is also the starting point for the hike up to Ben Nevis – but you don’t just have to be a hiking enthusiast to visit. Find cycling routes or spot wildlife including red squirrels, golden eagles and otters. 

You could even see how many filming locations you recognise from Braveheart to Harry Potter. 

How to get there: Glen Nevis is reachable in eight minutes by car, 24 by public transport and one hour on foot from Fort William. 

Enjoy the abundance of hiking trails 

Close-up of a loch with marine plants on top and hills in the distance. Near Fort William.
The beautiful Loch Lihnne near Fort William (photo credit: Canva.com)

If you haven’t noticed already, there are endless hiking trails around Fort William, so its Outdoor Capital status is justly deserved. 

Located within the Lochaber Geopark (which stretches all the way west to the Small Isles), you’re spoilt with unique and breathtaking scenery whichever trail you follow. 

Some scenic hikes include: 

Fort William practical information

Steall Falls in Glen Nevis with purple flowers in the foreground.
Steall Falls in Glen Nevis (photo credit: Canva.com)

Below are some quick practical travel tips to help you plan your trip: 

Is Fort William worth visiting? 

The town itself sits on the shores of Loch Linnhe and has some nice eateries and shops. There’s also a West Highland Museum and the remains of the old fort (which is now mostly underneath the train station). 

Other than that, there are not huge amounts to do, but it’s 100% worth a visit as it’s a great base for exploring the West Highlands and Islands. It’s in a beautiful location too. 

Fort William was central to my trip to the isles of Skye and Mull. I was there about four times in 10 days! 

If you want to explore further afield, check out my guide to the best places to visit on Scotland’s west coast.

When is the best time to visit Fort William? 

The best time to visit really depends on what sort of holiday you want. Generally, April to October is the best time for the warmest weather and the least amount of rain. 

It’s an ideal time for hiking as the trails will be free from snow and ice. The Jacobite train only runs during these months too. 

Fort William is not just a summer destination though. 

As the landscape submerges under a thick blanket of snow, the Nevis Range Mountain Experience is in full swing high on Aonach Mor. Here, you’ll also find the UK’s only mountain gondola. 

The ski resort is typically open from December to April. 

I wouldn’t attempt climbing Ben Nevis during the winter unless you’re an expert hillwalker. 

How do you get to Fort William? 

If you don’t drive, the easiest way to get to Fort William is via the train. ScotRail’s West Highland Line connects Glasgow to Fort William and Mallaig. It also runs down to the fishing town of Oban. 

In my opinion, the train is the best way to reach Fort William because of the scenery. Hailed as one of the most scenic railway lines in the world, the view outside your window never dulls. 

Highlights include Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, Rannoch Moor, Carrour and of course, if you go further than Fort William, you reach Glenfinnan Viaduct. 

The train from Glasgow to Fort William takes about 3 hours 50 minutes. 

If you’re driving up from Glasgow, follow the A82 right through Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, skirting around Glencoe and alongside Loch Linnhe. 

It’s a beautiful journey too and it takes around 2 hours 30 minutes. 

Editor’s tip: Did you know you can travel all the way from London to Fort William via the Caledonian Sleeper? It’s absolutely magical waking up to the Highlands whizzing past your window!

Map of all the Fort William day trips

Here’s a map to help you find each location I’ve mentioned in this post: 

Final thoughts on the best day trips from Fort William 

Fort William may be a small and slightly unassuming town, but if you want to explore Scotland’s West Highlands and islands, you really can’t ignore it. 

With its great public transport links and scenic countryside all under the shadow of the UK’s highest mountain, it’s no wonder it’s called the Outdoor Capital. 

I hope this guide has inspired you to try some of these day trips from Fort William, Scotland and see this incredible corner of the world for yourself. 

Whether you’re a hiker, nature lover or history enthusiast (or simply want to tick the Jacobite train off your bucket list), the scenery here will take your breath away. 

Looking for more Scotland travel tips? These posts can help!

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