If you only have time to visit one place in the Scottish Highlands, I could not think of a better choice than Glencoe. Glencoe is one of Scotland’s most beautiful glens and also incredibly popular. No surprise – there is a lot to discover in this picturesque valley and the surrounding mountains and villages. You could easily spend your entire holiday here. If you stay for a few days, make sure to try some of these 20 fun things to do in Glencoe [outdoor & indoor ideas].
If you have started to read up on must-see places in Scotland, you have with certainty come across Glencoe. This beautiful valley in the central Highlands of Scotland is famous for its bloody history in relation to the Jacobite uprising, but also for its dramatic scenery.
Driving north from Glasgow and along Loch Lomond, the road leads continuously deeper and higher up into the mountains. From the main road, you can see many of the highest peaks in the Southern and Central Highlands, and get glimpses of the fast-flowing rivers and deep lochs that cut valleys through the mountains.
Once you reach the entrance of Glencoe though, guarded by the rocky face of Buachaille Etive Mor, you could almost forget the beauty you have seen so far – the views up and down the valley are so breathtaking!
Glencoe is a popular holiday destination in Scotland, yet many road-trippers simply drive through it on their way to places further north. And while the views from the road and the many car parks throughout the valley are gorgeous, it is worth stopping in Glencoe for a few days and exploring the area in more depth.
Hikes for all levels of experience, delicious meals and treats, cultural experiences and the most beautiful Highland scenery are waiting for you. Here are 20 fun things in Glencoe that you could include in your itinerary.
Where to stay in Glencoe
On a budget | Glencoe Youth Hostel and Glencoe Independent Hostel are next to each other and both on the old road leading to Glencoe Village. It might seem a bit excessive to have two hostels side by side, but both are very popular and can fill up in the high season. The hostels are of a comfortable size and have a very personal atmosphere. Both have great self-catering facilities, drying rooms and a fireplace for cold winter evenings. I have stayed in both hostels before and think they are both great, but would maybe slightly prefer Glencoe Youth Hostel by Hostelling Scotland because the showers were cleaner in my experience.
The hostels are about half an hour walk from the bus stop in the village and ideally located to explore the local area on foot or by car. Dorm beds start at £14 per night.
Self-catering | I love booking AirBnBs when I travel, especially when I’m looking for cosy self-catering accommodation for an adventure weekend. On a recent trip to Glencoe, I booked Caman Stay via AirBnB, a self-catering micro-lodge in the middle of the village. The lodge was small but had everything we needed – a comfortable bed, a small kitchen corner, a couch and a fireplace for the evenings and a compact bathroom. The lodge goes from £80 per night.
Traditional B&B | If you are looking for traditional Scottish B&B accommodation, look no further than the Clachaig Inn, a historic pub and inn just outside Glencoe. It lies along the same old road into the village as the hostels and is a local favourite for food, entertainment and accommodation. There is live music in the pub every weekend throughout the year, the restaurant dishes up traditional Scottish cuisine (veg & vegan options available) and the rooms offer beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. Rates start around £100/£150 per night (off season/summer).
Nearby in Kinlochleven | If you are struggling to find budget-friendly accommodation in Glencoe, check out Blackwater Hostel in Kinlochleven. The village is only a few minutes drive from Glencoe and the hostel is a popular stop along the West Highland Way. They have a selection of private rooms, dorms and self-catering micro-lodges next to the main building. The self-catering kitchen is huge and the supermarket is just a few minutes walk away. If you plan to hike in the area or join any activities from Kinlochleven (such as gorge walking or the via ferrata), this is a great home base. Note though, that the hostel only lets out private rooms and does not accept single dorm bed bookings. Twin bunk beds start at £40 per night.
Nearby in Ballachulish | One of my favourite places to stay near Glencoe, especially if you are looking for self-catering accommodation surrounded by nature, is The House in the Wood in Ballachulish. I spent a wintery weekend here before and loved everything about staying in this cosy cabin – the beautiful design, the modern kitchen, the fireplace and the remoteness without having to go too far off the main road. A 2-bedroom cabin starts at £175 per night.
How to get to Glencoe
There are two main ways of getting to Glencoe from Edinburgh or Glasgow – you can either drive yourself and choose a scenic route through the Trossachs and Highlands, or you can use public transport and go by bus. I describe all options in more detail below.
Via Glasgow and Loch Lomond
2 h from Glasgow, 3 h from Edinburgh
The drive from Glasgow to Glencoe via Loch Lomond is arguably one of the most scenic drives in Scotland. From Edinburgh, you first have to drive to Glasgow which takes about an hour on the motorway M8. There are not really any particular stops along the way and it’s best to avoid peak time traffic. Once you have crossed Glasgow on the M8 and headed past the airport in Paisley, you will soon take the exit to Erskine Bridge, cross the River Clyde and pick up the A82 main road towards Crianlarich.
This route leads you past Loch Lomond and the Falls of Falloch, through Bridge of Orchy and across Rannoch Moor, before you reach Buachaille Etive Mor which marks the entrance to the valley Glencoe. The views in the valley are breathtaking and well-worth many stops, and the village is at the other end.
For the most scenic stops, take a look at points 1 to 11 in my Glasgow to Fort William road trip guide.
Via Stirling and Callander
2 h 45 m from Edinburgh
Driving to Glencoe via Stirling and Callander makes sense if you leave from Edinburgh and want to avoid the detour via Glasgow. On the way, you could stop to see the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel and visit Stirling Castle or the Wallace Monument.
Once you take the A84 from Stirling towards Crianlarich, you cross through the beautiful landscape of the Trossachs National Park and the Southern Highlands. There will be plenty of scenic stops, such as Callander, Bracklin Falls and Loch Lubnaig. In Crianlarich, you join the A82 and continue the drive to Glencoe via Bridge of Orchy and Rannoch Mor.
If you don’t travel to Glencoe by car, it is easy to visit by public transport instead. If you travel from Edinburgh to Glencoe, you have to get to Glasgow first, either by train or by bus. From Glasgow, Citylink busses 914, 915 or 916 take you all the way to Glencoe – with a stop at Glasgow Airport, should you head to Glencoe straight off the plane!
I highly recommend booking your bus ticket in advance, especially if you travel during the summer or on weekends, as it is a popular bus journey also among locals and commuters!
20 things to do in Glencoe & nearby
Hikes in Glencoe
Glencoe is a popular hiking destination, but you don’t have to be an experienced mountaineer to hit the trails in Glencoe! There are hiking routes for all levels of experience in Glencoe, some take up an entire day, while others are much shorter and can easily be combined with other hikes or activities. In other words, Glencoe is the perfect location in which to plan your walking holiday in Scotland!
1) An Torr – Signal Rock
According to legend, Signal Rock was where the signal was given to begin the Glencoe Massacre. This quick hike is an easy walk, with some minor ascents and descents. The path is waymarked and easy to follow and the views down the Glencoe valley and up to the towering peaks of Aonach Eagach and the Three Sisters are incredible!
Distance: 2.5km / 1.5 miles
Time: 1 – 1.5 hours
Start/End: Signal Rock car park on A82
Good for beginners, non-hikers and family-friendly!
2) Glencoe Lochan (easy)
Glencoe Lochan is tucked away in the quiet woodlands behind Glencoe Village. A lochan is a small loch – or lake – and so the trails at Glencoe Lochan lead up and around this little scenic lake. There are several different trails, all waymarked in different colours and explained on a board at the car park. The easiest trail leads around the lochan and is more or less flat. the Woodland Trail leads away from the water and into the forest but is still fairly easy. The Mountain Trail leads away in the other direction and climbs up steeper into the forest. You can choose one or combine as many of these trails as you like.
Distance: 2.5km / 1.5 miles
Time: 1 – 1.5 hours
Start/End: Glencoe Lochan car park
Good for beginners, non-hikers and family-friendly!
3) Lost Valley (moderate)
The Lost Valley hike leads to a hidden valley tucked between the high peaks of the Three Sisters and their companions at the southside of Glencoe valley. The path is easily recognisable but requires some mild scrambling. The valley at the bottom of the trail is completely cut off from the valley and as you can imagine, absolutely breathtaking.
Distance: 4km / 2.5 miles
Time: 2 – 3 hours
Start/End: Glencoe Valley car park
Good for a half-day walk, dramatic scenery and family-friendly!
4) The Pap of Glencoe (moderate)
The Pap of Glencoe is a cone-shaped mountain that towers above Glencoe Village and is really hard to miss! You can see it in the picture above. The trail up the Pap is very simple to follow, even though it gets quite steep at times. You won’t need much experience with navigating, but it requires a light scramble to reach the true summit at 742 m.
Distance: 7km / 4.5 miles
Time: 3.5 – 5 hours
Start/End: Near Strath Lodge Glencoe on the unnamed minor road to Glencoe Village
Good for a half-day walk, amazing views and less experienced hikers!
5) Ballachulish Horseshoe (moderate)
The Ballachulish Horseshoe takes in two Munros Sgorr Dhearg and Sgurr Dhonuill, and is named for the banana-shaped ridge you walk along between them. Ballachulish is the next village over from Glencoe, and you can reach it either by car or bus towards Fort William. Walking is possible but will add quite a distance to the already long day-hike. The paths up the two peaks are good, however, this is not a trail to follow if you don’t know how to navigate with map and compass.
Distance: 15 km / 9 miles
Time: 5 – 7 hours
Start/End: Ballachulish car park.
Good for a full day out, experienced hikers and Munro baggers!
6) West Highland Way to Kinlochleven (moderate)
The West Highland Way is Scotland’s most popular long-distance trail and leads past the entrance of Glencoe near Buachaille Etive Mor. You can walk the second but last section between Altnafeadh and Kinlochleven, which is about half a day’s walk, but rewards you with the most amazing views down Glencoe valley and the Mamores mountains. There is a good path to follow and you won’t need navigation skills. The initial ascent is quite steep, but it flattens out at the top and is followed by a long descent to Kinlochleven. In Kinlochleven, there is a spot further down the West Highland Way trail where you can bathe in the river before getting the bus back to Glencoe Village.
Distance: 12km / 7.5 miles
Time: 4 – 5 hours
Start/End: Altnafeadh car park / Kinlochleven
Good for easy views, long-distance trekkers and family-friendly!
7) Buachaille Etive Mor (moderate to difficult)
The Buachaille Etive Mor is an iconic mountain which guards the entrance of Glencoe Valley – it is one of Scotland’s most photographed hills. Its rocky face looks unassailable, but it actually makes for a great and challenging day out for experienced hikers. The ascent is rough, but easy to follow up the gully. From the top of the corrie you can climb the two summits of the Buachaille, which are both classified as Munros, Stob Dearg and Stob na Bròige, and connected by a ridge.
Distance: 13km / 8.25 miles
Time: 7 – 9 hours
Difficulty: Moderate to hard
Start/End: Altnafeadh car park.
Good for Munro baggers, a challenging day out and experienced hikers.
8) Aonach Eagach (difficult)
The stunning mountain ridge of Aonach Eagach has been on my bucket list for a while now and is the perfect day out for experienced hikers in Glencoe. In the summer, it looks trickier than it is, while in the winter you will need full equipment (crampons, ice-axe and ropes) to stay safe. The hike includes a lot of exposed scrambling along the ridge and two Munros, Meall Dearg and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh. This is not a loop trail, which means that you need to figure out how to get to the start point without your car, or how to get back to it after descending to Glencoe village!
Distance: 9.5km / 6 miles
Time: 7 – 9 hours
Difficulty: Moderate to hard
Start/End: Three Sisters car park/Glencoe village
Good for experienced hikers, Munro baggers and thrill-seekers!
Outdoor activities in Glencoe
Girls on Hills is a women-only outdoor organisation that offers guided walks, trail-runs and navigation courses for women. Sorry blokes – you can find many other mountain guides and courses in the area that are open to all! I joined a Girls on Hills navigation training recently and loved learning in a single-sex environment. Outdoorsy men can be overbearing sometimes, especially when it comes to navigation and leading the way. As a solo hiker though, I need to know how to get myself out of sticky situations independently.
The course environment was super supportive and we all had a great laugh practising out in the hills of Glencoe. Next year I hope to join some Girls on Hills hike or hire a guide to lead a group of us safely across Aonach Eagach. I can’t wait to hike more with other women!
10) Via Ferrata in Kinlochleven
Also in Kinlochleven, is Scotland’s only Via Ferrata, which means something like “iron path” in Italian. The Via Ferrata in Kinlochleven is made up of a series of steel cables and iron steps anchored into the bare rock. The route leads up the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall, which is the third-highest waterfall in Scotland! The views of the waterfall, towards Loch Leven and the surrounding mountains, are stunning. My highlight was definitely the short zip-line, which lets you fly high above the waterfall, which drops 90m to the bottom.
Climbers are always clipped onto the steel cable with two carabiners and there is ample safety training to ensure everybody’s safety. You don’t require any climbing experience, but you have to be physically fit, prepared to get wet and comfortable with heights to do this. Once you are on the route and there is a group of other climbers behind you, there is no turning back.
The Via Ferrata is operated by Vertical Descents and I can’t recommend this activity enough!
11) Skiing at Glencoe Mountain Resort
Did you know that there are five ski resorts in Scotland? One of them is the Glencoe Mountain Resort, about a 20-minute from Glencoe village. During the winter, it is a popular ski destination that offers pistes on every level. You can bring your own equipment or rent it at the ski centre (advance booking is recommended), ski or snowboard by yourself or take lessons with one of the local instructors. There is a cafe up at the resort, as well as a full restaurant down at the base station. They also offer accommodation there, if you’re keen to be the first on the mountain in the mornings.
During the summer, the Glencoe Mountain Resort transforms into a mountain-biking destination, offers tubing or simply scenic chairlift rides and day hikes. The West Highland Way leads directly past it, so it’s easy to combine a hiking trip with some adventure!
12) Sea Kayaking at Loch Leven
The Scottish coast is stunning from the land, but it transforms completely when explored from the waterside. Sea kayaking is a fantastic way to change your perspective and get up close with the coastal environment of Scotland. Glencoe lies right by Loch Leven, a sea loch that extends over 14 km (almost 9 miles) from Kinlochleven out to the sea. Near Glencoe, there are several small islands and there are many sheltered bays.
Rockhopper in Fort William offers sea kayaking trips (half- or full-day) to Glencoe and Loch Leven, as well as multi-day camping trips in nearby destinations!
13) Canyoning near Glencoe
The folks from Vertical Descents, who run the Via Ferrata in Kinlochleven, also offer loads of other activities. One of them is Canyoning, which is an exciting, but beginner-friendly activity that sees you squeeze into a warm wet-suit and climb down a waterfall in the Scottish Highlands. They offer tours in five different canyons in the Fort William/Glencoe area, which are suitable for different skill levels. There are family-friendly routes as well as more advanced adventurer tours.
If you have never heard about canyoning think of it as a combination of cliff jumping, wild swimming, sliding down natural water flumes, abseiling and scrambling under waterfalls. It is a fun activity with plenty of adrenalin!
14) Cycle all the way to Oban
If you are an avid cyclist, there is nothing better than taking in the spectacular scenery of Glencoe and the Highlands by bike. While there are ample mountain biking paths in the area, there is also the option for a relaxed cycle from Glencoe all the way to Oban. The Sustrans cycle route is separate from the main road, and thus a super family-friendly bike path. From views over Loch Leven and Ballachulish Bridge to the ruins of Castle Stalker, Barcaldine Castle and Dunollie Castle, there is a lot to see along the 55 km/35 mile route (one way)! If you don’t have your own bike, you can hire one from Crankitup Gear in Glencoe village.
Safety first – get your cycle route map for Oban to Inverness (incl. Glencoe & Fort William) here!
Indoor activities in Glencoe
15) Ice climbing in Kinlochleven
Kinlochleven – a former mining town turned quaint loch-side village near Glencoe (15-minute drive) is the home of Scotland’s National Ice Climbing Centre. Ice Factor offers the biggest indoor ice climbing wall in the world. It rises 12 metres high and is made from 500 tonnes of real snow and ice. The ice climbing room looks like a massive fridge and is kept steadily below zero.
If you’re not in for the chill thrill, there are regular indoor climbing walls and a bouldering area to play around in as well. Experienced climbers can climb without instruction, but there are also learning and 1-2-1 sessions available. There is also an aerial adventure course at Ice Factor, and the team offers several guided outdoor activities from rock climbing and guided hikes to winter mountaineering and mountain safety courses.
16) Live music at Clachaig Inn
The Clachaig Inn is an iconic, traditional inn, a top example of Highland hospitality. They offer lovely rooms and chalets (see section on where to stay above) and have a great restaurant. In the weekends, the real action goes down in the Boots Bar in the back though. Apart from a wide range of ales and huge selection of whiskies, the bar also offers a regular live music programme. Every Saturday a different Scottish band takes the stage and every Sunday the Open Session invites anybody who plays an instrument to show off their talent. With the log fire burning and the tunes playing, the bar creates a perfectly cosy atmosphere. Don’t miss it!
17) Glencoe Folk Museum
The Glencoe Folk Museum provides an insight into the history and the lives of the people if Glencoe throughout the centuries. The museum is located in 18th-century cottages with thatched roofs in the middle of Glencoe village and is open from March to October.
The museum collection includes Jacobite relics, costumes, toys, domestic utensils and weapons, many of which were found in the thatched cottages of the area. It is a lovely place to learn about local history! Find out more here.
18) Shop at Crafts and Things
Crafts and Things is a 3-in-1: a crafts shop, a clothing shop and a cafe. The crafts shop stocks rare and unusual gifts, many of which are produced locally and my local makers. The clothes shop has a focus on active outdoor clothing but offers also a range of indoor clothes. Finally, the cafe serves light meals and baked goods. It’s a perfect place to fuel up before or after a day out, and a great place to pick up unusual souvenirs.
19) Indulge at Glencoe Cafe
The best food and cake in Glencoe are arguably served at Glencoe Cafe, popular among locals and visitors alike. They do breakfast and lunch, as well as cakes and scones for afternoon pick-me-ups. There is free wifi and a range of maps is available if you plan to go hiking or biking in the area.
20) Sweating it all out
Glencoe is first and foremost a destination for anyone who loves outdoor activities – the number of hiking trails, bike paths, waterways and other adventures in the area, speak for themselves. However, who doesn’t like to relax a little bit? Whether you want to treat yourself after a few active days in the Scottish Highlands, or need a soothing indoor activity on a rainy day, a day between pool and sauna will do you good. There are a few hotels in and near Glencoe which have sauna facilities – Isle of Glencoe Hotel in Ballachulish and Hollytree Hotel further west along the coast towards Kentallen. Treat yourself!
Glencoe is an amazing place to experience Scotland from all its different sides. There are great culinary and cultural experiences and of course many different ways to spend time in the Scottish Highlands – from hiking trails to mountain biking routes, skiing pistes and kayak trails. I hope that this list of 20 fun things to do in Glencoe inspires you to try some of them!
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner, unless otherwise stated.