1. Climb Ben Nevis:
It would be impossible to talk about things to do in Fort William without mentioning Ben Nevis. It’s the highest mountain in the UK (So high, in fact, that I’d visited the town at least three times before I actually got to see it – it’s so often buried in clouds that when they finally clear and the mountain emerges, it feels a bit like you’ve just won the lottery…), and the reason tourists flock to Fort William all year round. I’m unfortunately not one of them, preferring to stay firmly at ground level, but it’s definitely on the ‘to do’ list…
Check out our guide to climbing Ben Nevis!
2. Take the Jacobite Steam Train
(Voted one of the best things to do in Fort William for kids)
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll know it as the Hogwarts Express or “Harry Potter train” . If you’re not, however, you’ll still appreciate the views of the West Highlands from your seat on board the Jacobite Express. Here’s what you’ll need to know:
- Boarding: The train departs from Fort William and Mallaig stations. You can purchase tickets in advance online or on the day of travel at the station, subject to availability. It is recommended to book in advance, especially during the peak season (May to October), to avoid disappointment.
- Route: The Jacobite Express travels through some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery, including the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which is a famous filming location in the Harry Potter movies. The journey takes approximately 2.5 hours each way.
- Schedule: The Jacobite Express runs from mid-May to the end of October each year, with a limited schedule in the shoulder months of May and October. There are usually two trains running per day, departing from Fort William in the morning and afternoon, and returning from Mallaig in the early afternoon and evening.
- Cost: The cost of tickets for the Jacobite Express varies depending on the class of travel and time of year. As of 2021, the prices range from £37.50 for a standard-class adult ticket to £415.00 for a first-class compartment for up to six passengers.
3. Explore Glen Nevis
That’s GLEN Nevis, not BEN Nevis. The picturesque valley is home to the famous mountain, of course, and, in addition to its outdoor activities, Glen Nevis is also home to a range of historical sites, including the remains of an ancient fort and a number of old farmhouses and cottages. The glen has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and evidence of human activity can still be seen in the form of standing stones and other archaeological sites.
4. Visit the West Highland Museum
Learn about the rich history and heritage of the Scottish Highlands at the West Highland Museum, which showcases artifacts, photographs, and exhibitions.
5. Ride the Nevis Range Mountain Gondola
(One of the best things to do in Fort William for adventure lovers)
This is the only mountain gondola ride in the UK and takes visitors up to 650m above sea level to enjoy stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, including Ben Nevis itself.
The gondola operates all year round, with different opening times depending on the season. During the summer months, it generally runs from early morning to late afternoon, while during the winter, the opening times are slightly shorter. The ride takes around 15 minutes to reach the top station, and there are two stops along the way where visitors can disembark to explore the walking trails and take in the stunning views.
At the top station, visitors can enjoy a meal or a drink at the Snowgoose restaurant, which offers panoramic views of the mountains and the Great Glen. There’s also a gift shop selling souvenirs, as well as a viewing platform that provides even more stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
The cost of the gondola ride varies depending on the time of year and whether or not you’re an adult or child. At the time of writing, prices for an adult ticket start at £16.50, while children aged 5-15 can ride for £10.50. Children under five ride for free.
6. Explore the ruins of Old Inverlochy Castle
Wander through the ruins of Old Inverlochy Castle, a 13th-century fortress with a fascinating history, situated on the banks of the River Lochy.
7. Cruise on Loch Linnhe
Take a leisurely boat trip on Loch Linnhe, a picturesque sea loch, and enjoy the stunning vistas of the surrounding mountains and wildlife.
8. Visit the Commando Memorial
Pay tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of the British Commandos at the Commando Memorial, located near Spean Bridge, offering panoramic views of Ben Nevis. This is a hauntingly beautiful site, and no matter how many times we make the trip from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye, we always make sure to stop here for a few minutes at least; it’s a view that we never tire of, and the memorial itself is an important reminder of the past.
9. Explore Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge:
Embark on a hike to Steall Falls, a dramatic waterfall nestled in the Nevis Gorge, surrounded by stunning scenery.
10. Discover the Treasures of the Earth:
Explore the Treasures of the Earth museum, which showcases an extensive collection of crystals, gemstones, fossils, and minerals. Our little boy was obsessed with gemstones and minerals when we came here, and he absolutely loved both the museum itself and the attached gift store, which I challenge you to leave without spending a small fortune…
12. Go fishing in Lochaber
Try your hand at fishing in the Lochaber area, known for its abundant lochs and rivers, offering opportunities to catch trout, salmon, and other species.
13. Enjoy outdoor activities at the Leanachan Forest
Engage in various outdoor activities, including walking, cycling, and wildlife spotting, in the scenic Leanachan Forest.
14. Visit the wreck of the MV Dayspring
The MV Dayspring is a shipwreck that can be found on the coast of Loch Linnhe, near Fort William. The vessel was a 600-tonne cargo ship that ran aground on the rocks of Caolasnacon in 1935.
Today, the wreck of the MV Dayspring can still be seen from the shoreline, although it is now heavily rusted and decayed. To get to the wreck, you can take a short walk from the nearby village of Ardgour. From here, you can follow a path along the shore that leads to the wreck site.
It’s important to note that the wreck is located on private property, so visitors are advised to be respectful and stick to the designated path. Additionally, the area around the wreck can be dangerous due to slippery rocks and strong currents, so visitors should take care and wear appropriate footwear.
15. See Neptune’s Staircase
(Voted one of the best things to do in Fort William by us…)
I left the best for last: our personal favourite thing to do in Fort William is to see Neptune’s Staircase – a series of eight locks on the Caledonian Canal, located near Banavie in Fort William. It is named after Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.
The staircase was built between 1803 and 1822 and is the longest staircase lock in the UK, lifting boats up to a height of 70 feet (21 meters) over a quarter-mile (0.4 km) stretch. It was designed by the famous Scottish engineer, Thomas Telford, and is considered one of his most impressive works.
The staircase is a popular attraction and visitors can watch as boats navigate through the locks. There is also a towpath where visitors can walk or cycle alongside the canal. In addition to being a popular tourist attraction, the staircase is also an important transportation route for boats and yachts traveling through the Scottish Highlands.
Neptune’s Staircase is open to the public year-round and admission is free. There is a visitor center located nearby, where visitors can learn more about the history of the canal and the staircase.
More things to do in Fort William: Where to eat
Although not best known for its food, Fort William does have its fair share of restaurants, ranging from some of the usual chain restaurants you’ll find all over Scotland, to some more eclectic eateries: here are 6 to try…
- Crannog Seafood Restaurant – Crannog is a popular seafood restaurant located in a unique setting on the waterside. The restaurant serves a variety of seafood dishes, including fresh oysters, mussels, scallops, and more.
- The Grog & Gruel – This is a cozy pub-style restaurant that offers a range of dishes, including burgers, fish and chips, steak, and more. The restaurant also has a good selection of beers and whisky.
- The Lime Tree An Ealdhain Restaurant – This is a fine dining restaurant that serves Scottish cuisine with a modern twist. The restaurant sources its ingredients locally and offers a unique dining experience.
- Ben Nevis Bar & Restaurant – The Ben Nevis Bar & Restaurant is a family-friendly restaurant that serves a range of dishes, including burgers, pizza, fish and chips, and more. The restaurant also has a good selection of beers and whisky.
- Browns Restaurant – Browns Restaurant is located in the heart of Fort William and serves a variety of dishes, including Scottish cuisine, seafood, and vegetarian options. The restaurant has a cozy and welcoming atmosphere.
- The Snowgoose Restaurant – The Snowgoose Restaurant is a fine dining restaurant located in a hotel. The restaurant serves a range of dishes, including Scottish cuisine, seafood, and vegetarian options.