Looking for day trips from Fort William, Scotland?

We used Fort William as the base for our Scottish highlands adventure and took several day trips, which we will share with you.

We typically plan our trips so we move every three to five days. So when we plan our travel we look for our “base.” 

We chose Fort William as our Scottish Highlands base for its access to the Isle of Skye and the Jacobite Steam Train (the Harry Potter train). The town is also close to Inverness and Oban.

Read on for day trips from Fort William, and why the small town can make a great Scottish Highland hub for your family.

Is Fort William Worth Visiting

On the shores of Loch Linne, Fort William is the outdoor capital of the Highlands. Second only in size to Inverness, Fort William is an ideal base for those wanting to explore the area.

While it is more typical that people choose Fort William to hike Ben Nevis or explore Glencoe, we chose it because of its proximity to the Jacobite Steam Train. 

However, in addition to the train, we knew we wanted to spend a day exploring the Isle of Skye. And getting to Skye is tricky. Most people who come to this part of the Highlands have a car. But not us.

Travel by public transit is our thing. So we knew we needed to stay where we could also get a day tour to Skye. And that is why we chose Fort William.

Other Options in the Scottish Highlands than Fort William 

If Fort William is not your home, maybe because you are not taking the train or prefer to be closer to Skye. You can also stay in Mallaig, Inverness or Oban. Let’s first talk about the advantages of Mallaig.

Is Fort William Better Than Mallaig

Mallaig is the mainland town closest to Skye. It is also the end of the Jacobite Train. It takes about an hour to drive or 1.5 hours by train from Fort William to Skye. Ferries go daily from Mallaig to Skye.

From the ferry stop on Skye, there are public buses that pick you up at the ferry station and take you into Portree, the largest town on the Isle.

Several sail boats in the dock in Mallaig
The port city of Mallaig

So in essence, both of the day trips that we were interested in centered on Skye: the Jacobite train done in reverse from Mallaig to Fort William and a day trip to Skye would have been possible out of Mallaig.

So why didn’t we choose it?

Mallaig is a lovely, little port town. However with only 600 people and limited accommodations, Mallaig did not have many options for apartment-style accommodations. It was also more expensive than Fort William.

Additionally, we stay in apartment-style accommodations so we can eat the majority of our meals out of home. And Mallaig just doesn’t have much in terms of groceries, just one small store. 

So Mallaig wasn’t for us. But I could see it working if we stayed in hotels and were comfortable eating out.

Mallaig is a quaint seaside town and for that, it would do nicely. 

Is Fort William Better Than Inverness

Another good option to stay in the Highlands is Inverness, especially if the Jacobite train is not on your list of things to do.

In addition to the ferry, Skye is connected to mainland Scotland through a large bridge. On our tour, we went by bridge to arrive and by ferry to come back to Fort William. 

There is daily service by bus from Inverness to Skye. However, it is important to note that while it only takes 2 hours to drive from Inverness, the bus takes closer to 4 hours.

So while the bus is an option if you are planning to stay on Skye, it is not very practical for a day trip. 

It is also important to note that the sites you want to see on Skye: Kilt Rock, the Fairy Glen and the Fairy Pools are spread out across the island.

So even if you can get to Skye by bus, you aren’t going to be able to see much in a few hours using their public bus system. Another reason why we hired a private tour. 

Is Fort William Better Than Oban

Choosing Between Fort William and Oban for Your Stay

Fort William is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. If you’re into hiking, climbing, or simply immersing yourself in the rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands, Fort William is your spot.

The town offers a range of accommodation options, from B&Bs to hotels, catering to various budgets. You’ll find a laid-back atmosphere with pubs and restaurants, perfect for winding down after a day of adventure.

On the other hand, if you crave a coastal experience with a side of maritime charm, Oban might be the better fit. Overlooking the Firth of Lorn, Oban is famous for its seafood, vibrant harbor, and proximity to the Western Isles.

Oban is a more lively town than Fort William with seafood restaurants, shops, and attractions like McCaig’s Tower. Choose Oban for a lively atmosphere and easy access to island-hopping adventures.

However, for us, Oban was too far from the Isle of Skye and the Jacobite train. If you want to do more island jumping to Mull and Iona then Oban is a better choice.

Your Guide to Day Trip from Fort William to The Isle of Skye

First of all, let me say that a tour from Fort William around the Isle of Skye is a full-day event. For us, it was around 12 hours. A few companies offer day tours to Skye from Fort William. 

Isle of Skye Tours from Fort William

We started by investigating Wow Scotland Tours. But they required us to navigate a separate bus to get to their pick-up spot. And in the end, the price was just slightly less than hiring a private driver for the three of us. If you are staying in Inverness, this could be a great company as they pick up and drop off in Inverness. 

Next, we reached out to Highlands Mini Tours, but Alastair was booked. So he directed us to a colleague of his, Christo Alonso of Looking4Taxi.

Now, it may sound a bit unusual to basically charter a taxi all day. But in addition to running a small taxi service in Fort William, Christo takes small groups on private tours of Skye. 

Originally from Spain, Christo has lived in Fort William for over a decade and was trained by Highlands Mini Tour to be a tour guide. We found him to be knowledgeable, accommodating, and lovely.

We recommend using Looking4Taxi. And the company has a video of what their tour to the Isle of Skye entails

Day Trip to the Isle of Skye: A Stop at Eilean Donan Castle

Any tour to Skye should take you first to Eilean Donan Castle. One of Scotland’s most iconic castles, Eilean Donan is situated on an island where three lochs meet, and the castle was used during the Jacobite rebellion. The castle’s role in the uprising led to its downfall.

The castle spent 200 years in ruin before it was refurbished in the 1930s. Fans of the 1986 film Highlander will also recognize Eilean Donan as the home seat of Clan MacLeod.

Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle

Day Trip to the Isle of Skye: Portree

After the castle, you will cross the bridge onto the Isle. The first stop is the town of Portree, the largest on the island.

In Portree, you can grab lunch or walk around to the many little shops. True to our travel style, we brought lunch with us. So we didn’t stay long in Portree but rather headed out to experience more of the island.

Other Beautiful Stops on Your Day Trip from Fort William to Skye

Island of Skye tours will take you around the island. From the Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock, and the Quiraig, depending on the amount of time, tours will take you to all the iconic places that make up Skye. 

The Quairang
The Quairang

There were so many reasons why we were glad we had a driver. The first was how insane the narrow roads on the island are. 

Kilt Rock
Kilt Rock

There is a ring road around the island, but to get to many of the locations, especially the Fairy Glen and the Quiraing, you have to traverse single-track roads.

And not only are there super narrow roads, but lots of people are attempting to navigate those roads with RVs, that they don’t typically drive. We came across an accident where two RVs had sideswiped each other. Yikes.

We also absolutely appreciated that at each of the stops, you have to pay for parking. You will find these pay stations throughout the Isle. The least time you can pay for is 3 hours, but most people just need 20 minutes. They definitely got you.

But with a tour, our driver was able to wait in the car saving that expense. We also didn’t need to worry about finding these locations. We just sat back and let him do the driving.

Pay station

Best Stop on the Isle of Skye

While Kilt Rock was perhaps the most gorgeous, our favorite stop was the Fairy Glen.

Several of the places on the tour, the Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing in particular, can and probably should be experienced by taking a longer hike. A day tour doesn’t allow for that if you want to see the whole of the island.

Matthew, Faith and I in front of the rock outcropping called Castle Ewan
Castle Ewan as our backdrop

However, at the Fairy Glen, we got out for a short scramble through the Glen to experience the Castle Ewan, a very cool outcropping, and the stone circle.

We learned that there are a lot of myths and stories–from wizards to tourists, and of course, fairies– about who made the circles, but no one knows.

We love a good mystery. 

The Circle of rocks at the Fairy Glen
Who made these circles? No Scot is telling us.

The Ferry from the Isle of Skye to Mallaig

After a very, very full day driving around the island with beautiful stops and short hikes, we ended the day taking the ferry from Skye to Mallaig. The wind was insane the day we were on the Isle so they canceled all but the last ferry. 

Tip: If you are navigating Skye by yourself, be sure to check the ferry feed throughout the day. Our tour guide said it cancels quite often. So be prepared.

In the summer, you also need to book your tickets in advance.

The Cost of the Private Tour from Fort William to the Isle of Skye

In June of 2022, The cost of the tour for all three of us was £330, which included the private transport, our tour guide’s expertise, and the ferry tickets.

We paid for tickets to Eilean Donan Castle separately.

One Last Stop When Returning to Fort William: The Glenfinnan Viaduct

On the way back from Mallaig to Fort William, our tour stopped so we could see the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct. Featured in the Harry Potter movies, the viaduct is its own tourist stop.

We went by late in the evening after all the trains had passed by for the day so it was empty. If you want to get a good spot, you have to get to the stop several hours before the train passes. 

Glenfinnan Viaduct
People will walk in and wait hours to see the Jacobite crossing.

Speaking of the train….Our second-day trip was riding The Jacobite Train.

Your Guide to Day Trip from Fort William on The Jacobite Train

If you have some Harry Potter fans in your family, then this is a must-do experience. And even if you are not super fans (like us), the Jacobite Train is still an amazing experience. At 84 miles, the journey is through some of the most beautiful scenery of the Highlands. 

The Jacobite train chugging across the Glenfinnan Viaduct
The Big Moment over the Viaduct

All Aboard the Jacobite Train

When we first arrived at the station, there was an announcement that due to a problem with the engine, we would not be going under steam and would be using a diesel engine instead. West Coast, the company that runs the Jacobite train, said it would be giving a 50% refund. But even at that clearly, there was some disappointment. 

O and Matthew boarding the Jacobite train
All Aboard!

However, about 20 minutes after we were set to go, the conductor announced we would instead wait for the morning steam train to return and use it to power us up to Mallaig. But we had to wait an hour or so for the engine to return.

In the end, we ran over to the grocery store got some snacks and drinks, and absolutely made the best of it. 

But the delay meant that our trip on the Harry Potter Steam train might be different than yours. First, the train was supposed to stop at the town of Glenfinnan but due to time, it did not. 

The journey is also supposed to include about 1.5 hours in Mallaig. However, given that we left Fort William nearly 1.5 late, it also just stopped briefly in Mallaig–about 30 minutes in total–and then headed back to Fort William.

We had seen Mallaig the day before as we came in from Skye so we were fine with the changes. 

We got the sense that what happened to us was pretty rare. I am sure you won’t run into the same issues. On the flip side, the extra hour allowed us to get some drinks and snacks at the grocery. We hadn’t realized you could bring your own treats before. And that was absolutely worth it.

So, pro tip if you do book a trip on the Jacobite train: pack a picnic (even beer and wine is allowed, if that’s your thing).

three glasses and two chocolate bars

However, if you don’t have time to get snacks, there is a bar cart on the train. And we still got to cross that ever-famous viaduct.

The train also goes by the small island of Eilean Na Moine, which is Dumbledore’s final resting place. The island is digitally imposed on Loch Arkaig, another loch in the Highlands, but the trees are so completely distinct.

the small island of Eilean Na Moine
RIP Dumbledore

The Cost of the Jacobite Train

Standard return tickets for adults on The Jacobite are £65 for adults and £36 for children, 16 or under. In essence, our afternoon on the train was roughly half of our day tour to Skye.

While we enjoyed both trips, if budget were a constraint, we would recommend the day tour to Skye. Of everything we experienced in our two weeks in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, Skye continued to be O’s favorite.

Even though it was a lot of driving and a long day, the scenery was spectacular. And we would now argue that no trip to the Scottish Highlands is complete without time on Skye.

Your Guide to Day Trip from Fort William to Inverness

Getting There

Heading from Fort William to Inverness is a breeze, and you’ve got a couple of good options to get there.

By Car: If you’re up for a scenic drive, hop in your car, and you’ll reach Inverness in about 1.5 hours. The journey takes you through the stunning Highlands, where the landscapes switch from mountains to peaceful lochs.

By Bus: Do you prefer to let someone else do the driving? We do. Buses connect Fort William and Inverness in around 2 hours. It might take a bit longer than driving, but you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the views without worrying about traffic.

However you choose to travel, the journey itself is a treat, offering glimpses of the beautiful Scottish countryside.

Exploring Inverness

Loch Ness: A trip to Inverness wouldn’t be complete without some time at Loch Ness. It’s just a 30-minute drive or bus ride south from Inverness. Once you get to the lake, you must take a boat tour to do your own Nessie spotting.

Loch Ness is famous for its mysterious depths and, of course, the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Consider hopping on a boat tour to explore the loch and maybe catch a glimpse of Nessie.

Culloden Battlefield: If you’re into history or love Outlander, check out the Culloden Battlefield. It’s not far from Inverness and marks the final showdown of the Jacobite Risings in 1746. Walk the field, visit the visitor center, and get a feel for the historical weight of the place.

Inverness Castle: You can’t miss Inverness Castle towering over the city. It’s been around since 11 AD and has seen its fair share of history. Once turned into an 18th-century citadel (Fort George), and later transformed into the neo-Norman style structure you see today, the castle is a blend of architectural styles. Take a stroll around the castle grounds for panoramic views of the city and the River Ness.

Inverness is a cool mix of history, nature, and culture, making it a perfect day trip from Fort William. Whether you’re into the mysteries of Loch Ness, fascinated by historical battles, or just love exploring old castles, Inverness has something for everyone.

Where to Eat in Fort Williams After a Busy Day Traveling the Scottish Highlands

As budget travelers, we are always going to promote our philosophy of not eating out while traveling. But after a long day of tripping, you may need a night out.

If you are a fan of craft beer and pizza, there is no better place in Fort William than Black Isle Brewing Co. Centrally located in a renovated church, the brewpub is a great place to have some good food, good drink and good vibes.

Where to Eat in Fort William
Black Isle Brewing Co. is a great stop after a day of touring and exploring

How Far is Fort William from Edinburgh

Fort William is roughly 140 miles from Edinburgh. You can travel by car, train or bus.

We privilege travel by public transit for it economic and environmental impacts, so we traveled by train to Fort William from Edinburgh. And we traveled by bus from Fort William to our next stop in Glasgow.

It you are going by train, there are around 4 trains daily from Edinburgh to Fort William. Travel time is roughly 5 hours.

There is also a daily bus on Citylink from Edinburgh to Fort William. The travel time is 4.5 hours.

Need more advice on what to see and how to travel around Scotland using public transit. Read more of our Scotland content….including 24 Hours in Edinburgh and Scotland Without a Car.

Or Watch our YouTube Video to see why Fort William is the Best Scottish Highland Base.

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