If you’re searching for things to do in Fort William, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Known as the outdoor capital of the UK it is a haven for adventure seekers, attracting all kinds of crowds from hikers to Harry Potter fans.
However, the last time I was in Fort William I was 8 months pregnant. It also happened to be the height of Summer so the idea of squeezing my puffed-up little toes into any kind of hiking shoe gave me the fear and my sense of adventure was in short supply. Many people overlook the town of Fort William and head straight for the famous hike – Ben Nevis.
This meant, I made it my mission to find things to do in Fort William that didn’t involve hiking and would prove this Highlands town is worthy of more than a quick stop to climb the UK’s highest peak.
WHERE IS FORT WILLIAM
If hiking Ben Nevis isn’t on your to-do list, it’s likely Fort William is on your radar as a practical stop on your way to The Isle of Skye, Glasgow or Edinburgh. However, there is so much more to this town than a simple stopover (which we hope to prove!) and it’s definitely worthy of adding a few days here to your itinerary.
Both Edinburgh and Glasgow are only a 2/3 hour drive away, Glencoe is a mere 25 minutes down the road and it’s the starting point to the Road to the Isles taking you straight to Mallaig. This means if you’re visiting Scotland, squeezing in a Fort William visit shouldn’t be difficult to do.
Despite the numerous Fort William attractions, the town itself isn’t overwhelmingly big so it’s easy to navigate on foot. As there are many things to do near Fort William also, we would recommend having your own car for ease, but there are excellent public transport links too.
THINGS TO DO IN FORT WILLIAM
Now you know where Fort William is, get your pen and paper ready as our list of things to do in Fort William begins. Let us know in the comments how your Highlands roadtrip goes or if we’ve missed your favourite Fort William attractions from our list!
1.Admire the historic Old Inverlochy Castle
One of the most famous Fort William attractions is Old Inverlochy Castle which is located around one mile from the centre. As a tip, make sure to enter Old Inverlochy Castle into your sat nav as it’s often confused with Inverlochy castle hotel. Needless to say, many a tourist has made a disappointing arrival to the castle ruins expecting a five star hotel.
It neighbours the Highland Soap Company visitor centre so we parked here and it was less than a 5 minute walk to the castle. You can also walk or cycle to it from Fort William following the Great Glen Way.
While there is no shortage of castles in Scotland, this particular ruin is actually one of the most important castles in Scottish history. This is because it was the backdrop to the first and second battles Inverlochy – two major historical events. It is also one of the few Scottish castles from the 1200s to still remain.
It is one of the best things to do in Fort William as a walk around the castle ruins is striking in both rain or shine, so regardless of the weather make sure it’s on your itinerary. Our visit happened to be on the hottest day of the year, so my puffed pregnant feet were very grateful for the castle’s strategic positioning at the mouth of River Lochy as both me and our dog enjoyed a paddle to cool down.
It’s a beautiful spot for a picnic with Ben Nevis towering high in the background, or if you’re trying to avoid the infamous Scottish midges, head to the Highland Soap Café next door for a bite to eat instead.
- Location: Inverlochy Mains, Old Inverlochy Castle, North Rd, Fort William PH33 6TQ
- Opening Hours: 24 Hours (Note, there was recent masonry work which meant access to the castle was closed. Double check here before your visit for the most up to date opening hours)
2. Dine and Shop at the Highland Soap Company Visitor Centre & Larder Café
When searching for things to do in Fort William that didn’t involve the great outdoors, my pregnancy cravings and I were delighted to discover the Larder Café at The Highland Soap Company Visitor Centre. Famed for its delicious coffee and cake, it is a worthwhile stop after a walk around Old Inverlochy Castle.
However, coffee and cake is just one of the many reasons to visit. Not only can you enjoy a factory tour but you can also make your own bespoke soap with essential oils and organic ingredients. The Factory shop is packed with beautifully fragranced soaps, gifts, homewares and skincare which make excellent gifts.
We were also delighted to learn that the Larder Café is dog friendly. This was ideal as the weather was 27 degrees it was far too hot for our dog Bonnie to join Darren up Ben Nevis, so she enjoyed a day of castle and cake with me instead.
- Location: Inverlochy Mains, Old Inverlochy Castle, North Rd, Fort William PH33 6TQ
- Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday 9:00-5:00pm. Sundays 10:00-4:00pm.
3. Admire the engineering of Neptune’s Staircase
Not gonna lie, when I heard Neptune’s Staircase my wee mermaid heart got a little excited thinking it involved something under the sea. It is in fact an engineering marvel and one of the most unique things to do near Fort William (especially if you’re into canals n’stuff) as it’s the longest staircase lock in the UK.
Designed by Scottish engineer Thomas Telford, Neptune’s Staircase is a series of eight interconnected locks that allows ships to travel up or down 19.5metres in height within just 450 metres. Located at the start of the Caledonian Canal, the locks were originally operated by hand but nowadays boats take around 90 minutes to get from one end to the other.
Even if you have zero clue about engineering or hydraulics it’s still fascinating to witness and a fun free thing to do. You can watch from the towpath or if it’s drizzly there’s a café next to the locks which also offers beautiful views of Ben Nevis.
- Location: Banavie, Fort William PH33 7NG
4. Ride the Hogwarts Express also known as the Jacobite steam train
When it comes to finding things to do in Fort William, I bet you’d never guess boarding the Hogwarts express would be one of them. Cue the Jacobite steam train. Not only is this magical train ride a favourite with the Harry Potter fans but it is often regarded as one of the greatest train rides in the world, thanks to the incredible natural wonders it passes on route.
During the 84 mile round trip from Fort William to Mallaig, you will encounter:
- The highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis where the train departs
- The most Westerly mainland railway station in Britain, Arisaig
- Britain’s deepest freshwater loch, Loch Morar as well as the deepest seawater loch in Europe, Loch Nevis
- River Morar known as the shortest river in Britain.
Let’s not forget the Hollywood highlights such as the 21-arched Glenfinnan viaduct made famous in the Harry Potter films. As well as passing Morar and the silvery beaches used in the films “Highlander” and “Local Hero.”
Once you arrive in Mallaig, you have around an hour and a half for a wander round the gift shops or grab a bite to eat before heading back to Fort William. Although it is a little pricey at £52 per adult it is regarded as one of the best things to do in Fort William as it is an entire day affair with the train departing at 10am and returning at 4pm. There is also an afternoon service that departs Fort William at 12:45pm and returns nearer 7pm. Check out the timetable here.
Location: Tom-na-Faire, Station Square, Fort William, Highland, PH33 6EN
Opening Hours: The Morning service runs from Monday 4th April to Friday 28th October 2022 (7 days a week) The Afternoon service runs from Monday 2nd Mary to Friday 30th September 2022 (7 days per week)
5.Photograph the Postcard Perfect Glenfinnan Viaduct
If you do not have time to spend the entire day on board the Jacobite steam train or your budget won’t allow you can still enjoy the majestic Glenfinnan Viaduct. It is one of the best things to do near Fort William even if like me, you haven’t seen a single Harry Potter film.
Although its often deemed one of the best Fort William attractions, the Glenfinnan Viaduct is around a 25-minute drive from the town centre. There is also a bus that runs between Fort William and Mallaig which stops via the Glenfinnan Viaduct car park.
There are a few tips and tricks if you hope to see the Jacobite steam train pass over the Glenfinnan viaduct and timing is most definitely key. However, if (like us) you are travelling out of season the views are stunning regardless and I still feel the Glenfinnan Viaduct is one of the most beautiful things to do near Fort William.
As well as the viaduct, it is worth crossing the road to admire Loch Shiel, if you’re a Harry Potter fan you may recognise it as a filming location for some of the Black Lake scenes. Even though it was grey and overcast during our visit, this made the loch and Glenfinnan monument even more striking and a stop not to be missed.
6. Hike the Highest Peak in the UK, Ben Nevis
We couldn’t combine a list of the best things to do in Fort William without mentioning the most famous attraction of all – Ben Nevis. As an avid Munro bagger, Daz was particularly excited to bag the highest peak in the UK. What he didn’t bargain on however, was that our trip to Fort William would fall on the hottest day of the year, which meant hiking in 27-degree heat. To a Scotsman, that makes the Highlands feel like the Sahara so he set off at 5am to beat not only the crowds, but the sunburn. He reached the summit and was back at our Airbnb before a very pregnant Loz had even had breakfast.
While it is famed for having a “tourist route” it should not be underestimated. There is still a wealth of safety advice you must know and we cannot stress enough how important it is to be well equipped. Too often people need to be rescued from Ben Nevis as they wrongly assume a tourist route means it’s easy and they can attempt it in their flip flops, with a can of Iron Bru in hand.
It is essential you have warm clothing as the temperature on Ben Nevis can be up to 10 degrees colder than in Fort William. Other essentials include plenty water, a good level of fitness and allow for 4 hours minimum to the summit then an additional 2/3 hours to descend.
Although it’s tempting to avoid the crowds, it is best to avoid hiking Ben Nevis between November to May as snow is still likely which requires specialist equipment. The weather can also be particularly unpredictable during these times and visibility difficult.
Park at the visitor centre which is around 1.5 miles from the town centre, then the Mountain Path starts in Glen Nevis. It is a 16km long round trip to reach the 1344m summit.
- Location: Park at the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre, Glen Nevis, Fort William PH33 6PF. Note parking is £4 per car.
- Opening hours: Open at all times though check the weather here. If its safe to visit during your stay.
7. Try traditional Haggis
No visit to Scotland and indeed the Highlands is complete without sampling our national dish – Haggis. Thankfully, there is ample opportunity to try it in Fort William so you have no excuse to leave without attempting a bite or two.
For those unaware, Haggis is best described as a crumbly sausage-like meat. It is made using sheep pluck minced with onion, spices, stock and oatmeal. Traditionally the meat was then cased in sheep’s stomach but nowadays it is an artificial casing. While that description sounds anything but delicious, we can vouch that haggis is one of our favourite foods and so worth trying.
Trying haggis is one of the best things to do in Fort William as it can be served in so many ways from veggie versions to sprinkled on pizzas. We recommend the following places for your first haggis helping:
- Ben Nevis Inn: Amid stunning views of the famous summit, according to TripAdvisor this is where to find the best haggis in Fort William.
- The Grog & Gruel: A pub that not only offers vegetarian and traditional haggis but a great selection of whiskies to help wash it down.
- The Tavern: Offers gastropub food including “Scottish haggis tapas” where you can enjoy traditional haggis, neaps and tatties in bitesize portions which are ideal for a first try. They also had haggis fritters on their menu which is a particularly tasty way to try it.
8. Explore Glen Nevis
In Scotland, a valley is known as a Glen and Glen Nevis is considered one of the best examples of a glaciated valley in the country. You may even recognise it from the movie Braveheart. A visit here is considered as one of the most memorable things to do in Fort William as it is not only tranquil and peaceful but there is ample opportunity for adventure too.
For adrenaline seekers you can hire mountain bikes to explore Glen Nevis, or if travelling on foot park in the Braveheart carpark then follow the forestry paths. A major feature of Glen Nevis is the River Nevis which is fuelled by the rainfall off the surrounding mountains including Ben Nevis. Thanks to the year-round snowy summit, the river leads to spectacular waterfalls including Steall Falls (more on those later) and Lower Falls.
Glen Nevis is also home to extensive remains of an Iron Age hill fort as well as panoramic views across Lochaber and along the Great Glen.
9.Visit a Museum
If you’re searching for things to do in Fort William when it’s raining a museum is never a bad idea. There are two in particular we would recommend – The West Highland Museum and Treasures of the Earth Museum.
- West Highland Museum
Founded in 1922, the West Highland Museum offers a historical insight into the West Highlands. From Bonnie Prince Charlie to the Jacobites and many archaeological artifacts in between, it’s a worthwhile stop for history buffs and curious kids alike. It’s also conveniently located in the centre, so it’s ideal if you’re looking for free things to do in Fort William.
- Treasures of The Earth Museum
Located in Corpach around four miles outside of Fort William Treasures of The Earth Museum is a fascinating wee find that is a mini museum dedicated to all things under the ground. It’s a worthwhile visit if you’ve half an hour spare in Corpach and fancy ticking Europe’s largest collection of Crystals, Gemstones & Fossils off your bucket list.
10. Watch a Movie at Highland Cinema
Talking of the best things to do in Fort William when it’s raining, next door to the West Highland Museum is the beautiful Highland Cinema. Opened in September 2020, it was cleverly designed to resemble a traditional bothy using local stone.
Not only does it house a state-of-the-art cinema where you can enjoy a movie sitting in a Lotus Elan car, but the café offers gourmet pizzas, charcuterie, Scottish whiskies and more. It is a perfect way to spend date night in Fort William or snuggle up after a tough day hiking.
- Location: Cameron Square, Fort William, PH33 6AJ
- Opening times: Highland Cinema is open from 10am – 10pm every day but until 11pm on Friday / Saturdays. The café is currently open from 12pm, with hot food served until 9pm.
11. Photograph the Famous Corpach Shipwreck
If you head to Corpach for the Treasures of the Earth Museum, make sure you leave enough time to visit another famous Fort William attraction – the Corpach shipwreck. Also known as the Old Boat of Caol it is one of the most interesting things to do near Fort William. You can find it near the far end of the Caledonian Canal on the Loch Linnhe beach.
After a wild storm caused a raiser chain fault in December 2011, this striking vessel has been stuck sideways on the Loch Linnhe beach ever since. Not only is the shipwreck one of the most stunning Fort William attractions, but the surroundings are equally photo-worthy. Ben Nevis provides a unique backdrop for your shipwreck snaps with sunrise and sunset proving particularly picturesque times to visit.
To visit the Corpach Shipwreck from Fort William, follow the signs for Corpach and the Corpach train station. Instead of actually turning at the station, continue to the end of the road until you reach a carpark at the harbour. Park here then cross the canal via one of the bridges so you are on the beach side and not the car park side. If you continue on this path (the Great Glen Way) you will soon come to a gap in the trees where the beach and shipwreck is then visible.
- Opening Hours: 24 hours, however during sunrise or sunset is best. Beware of tide times too if you wish to get close to the shipwreck without soggy shoes!
12. Stay in a Prison
I bet you were not expecting a night in the cells as one of the top things to do in Fort William? However, a stay in the Garrison is exactly that. Located on High Street on the site of the old police station, The Garrison has 36 modern rooms and six original prison cells.
There are very few prisons that provide bathrobes and fluffy pillows but a night here promises a night to remember. Their cell experience involves authentic prison cells that have received a contemporary makeover that are a huge hit with hikers and Insta-fans alike.
Daz stayed here while hiking across Scotland coast to coast, so needless to say he was a little tired to take photos. He did take full advantage of the fluffy robes and complimentary coffee in the bar, however.
- Location: High Street, Fort William, Scotland, PH33 6EE
Book your stay in the Garrison Cells here.
13. Visit Steall falls the UK’s second highest waterfall
If you’re ticking off climbing Scotland’s highest peak, you might as well tick off visiting the UK’s second highest waterfall also. Steall Falls are considered one of the best things to do near Fort William as the walk is relatively short and easy, but the rewarding views make it an unmissable attraction.
We’d need a local to confirm, but we’d always pronounced them St-eel falls, yet have also heard they can be pronounced: “sh-tow-el” (as on towel) falls too. With a drop of 120m and situated within the stunning Glen Nevis and Nevis Gorge, this is a hike not to be missed.
For the Steall Waterfall hike, there is a dedicated car park located around seven miles from Fort William, at the end of Glen Nevis Road. As it is one of the most popular things to do in Fort William we recommend arriving early in the day to guarantee a parking spot.
If you are walking with children or are short on time, it’s best to stick to the path as it’s an easy route that allows you to admire the falls and snap a photo or two from afar. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can then opt to get up close via the infamous Steall Falls Rope Bridge.
Needless to say, a very pregnant Loz was not attempting a rope bridge, which is essentially a tight rope over a river. It’s definitely a unique thing to do in Fort William but possibly not the safest. We’d love to return to attempt it and enjoy closer views of the falls.
- Location: Old Military Rd, Fort William PH33 6SY
14. Enjoy a Dram at Ben Nevis Distillery
Drinking whisky is probably one of our favourite things to do wherever we are in the world, but enjoying a dram is also an ideal thing to do in Fort William when it’s raining (which is often.) You may have guessed by the name, that the Ben Nevis distillery is located at the base of the famous summit.
Due to the strategic location, Ben Nevis whisky is actually made using water from two pools near the Ben Nevis summit, Coire Leis and Coire na’Ciste.
The distillery has been crafting whisky for over 200 years and offers tours and tastings all year round. If you plan on enjoying a dram or three, you can walk from the centre of Fort William in around 30 minutes or you can use public transport.
As it’s so close to Ben Nevis it’s one of the most popular things to do in Fort William, so if you plan on touring the distillery we’d recommend booking in advance as the tours are super busy.
- Location: Lochy Bridge, Fort William PH33 6TJ
- Opening Hours: Year Round Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm. June, July & August they are also open weekends: Satursay 10-6pm and Sunday 12 – 6pm.
15. Escape the rain at the Nevis Centre
If searching for things to do in Fort William when its raining the Nevis Centre is the perfect place, especially for families. Located a stone’s throw from the town centre it is home to a ten-pin bowling alley, café/bar and soft play area. They also regularly run events including comedy nights, art workshops and live music. It’s best to keep an eye on their Facebook page events coming up,
- Location: Nevis Centre, An Aird, Fort William, PH33 6AN
- Opening Hours: Opening times vary – check out the Nevis Centre website for the most up-to-date info.
Hopefully this list of things to do in Fort William will keep you entertained from dusk until dawn with breakfast, lunch, dinner and all the drams in between. We’d love to know what you get up to whether you’re hiking or haggis scoffing – let us know in the comments!