Explore Scotland: Scottish Highlands and Western Isles

When most people think of Scotland its the Highlands and Western Isles they see in their mind's eye. Indeed, driving north through the jaw-dropping beauty of Glencoe and the Kyle of Lochalsh, you have to remind yourself that this isn't a movie set!

Wherever you roam, you'll find outstanding natural beauty: the Cairngorms National Park, Ben Nevis, Ardnamurchan, Glen Affric - the list is as long as the Great Glen itself.

Across the water lie the Western Isles. Part of the Outer Hebrides, this beautiful, unspoilt chain of islands is made up of Harris (whose east coast is a dramatic moonscape of volcanic rock, while the west coast is made up of miles of golden sands), Lewis (whose capital Stornoway is the largest town in the Western Isles), and the smaller islands of North and South Uist, Barra and St Kilda.

Closer to the mainland are the islands of the Inner Hebrides. The largest of this archipelago is Skye, which has long been one of Scotland's most popular island destinations; increasingly so since the island was connected to the mainland by bridge.

Further south the Inner Hebrides continue, with the larger islands of Mull, Islay and Jura surrounded by dozens of smaller islands.

The Isle of Iona, just off the Isle of Mull, is home to Iona Abbey and cemetery, where many of Scotland's early Kings are buried. Islay is famous for its whisky, with no fewer than eight distilleries on the island, and Jura, apart from being home to thousands of deer, is the place where George Orwell retreated, to Barnhill, to write his masterpiece, 1984. You can still visit the house today.

All the islands of the Inner Hebrides have something different to offer, as well as certain things in common: beautiful scenery, fabulous beaches and world-class local produce.

Back on the mainland, from the amazing flat lands of the Flow Country in Caithness and Sutherland to Fort William, into Inverness and Loch Ness, or the skiing Mecca of Aviemore, there are a bewildering array of activities on offer: water sports, mountain biking, golf, fishing, pony-trekking, dolphin-spotting. But there is one more prized than any: walking. The best way to enjoy one of the most beautiful parts of the world. And it's free!

Visit Scotland: Plan your trip to the Scottish Highlands and Western Isles

Last updated 23 Nov 2012