Fort William is a large town situated close to the central-west coast of Scotland. Some of you may know it as the home of the Harry Potter train. However, if you’re looking for a longer stay in the area there’s a host of fabulous things to do in Fort William with kids.
Things to do in Fort William with Kids
A Guest Post by Written by Emma Pamley-Liddell from Journey Of A Nomadic Family
Traveling with kids around Fort William couldn’t be easier thanks in part to the abundance of natural scenery Scotland has. It’s literally impossible to venture a few miles before stumbling across another loch, waterfall or inlet that you can explore.
Explore The Town Of Fort William with kids
The town of Fort William itself is picturesque and situated around a high-street. The low-lying town sits on the banks of Lochs Eil & Linnhe. Twice a day you’ll be able to watch the tides come in and out. If you’re fortunate you might be able to see otters, seals and birds of prey.
The town is dwarfed by a selection of local mountains. One, of course, is Ben Nevis which means that Fort William has its own micro-climate. You may well become obsessed with the clouds that roll in and out of the area, often engulfing the town and the fog that lifts from the lochs can be extremely beautiful.
Here are six things to do at Fort William with kids you can do in town:
- Walk up Neptune’s staircase and have a picnic next to the locks.
- Visit the museum ‘Treasures Of The Earth’ on the outskirts of the town.
- Book a session at 3 monkeys climbing center just off the town’s high-street.
- Stop for a coffee & a piece of cake in the Wildcat Café on the high street.
- Find the old castle on the shores of Inverlochy River.
- Pop into the West Highland Museum which will teach you all about the history of the area.
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Hiking in Fort William
No trip to Fort William with kids is complete without a few hikes. With Ben Nevis towering above the town, you should really try to conquer it, if you can!
Did you know that Ben Nevis is an imploded volcano? You can best see this from aerial photos which show the rim of the crater. If you stop off at the Visitor’s Center in town, you can see a 3D aerial model of it too.
The hike up to Ben Nevis via the Pony Route is well pathed but long and arduous and usually, in summer there are thousands of others doing it. If the visibility is poor, you might see nothing of the view and be surrounded entirely by clouds. We think this route is a bit boring and underwhelming but it is suitable for kids over the age of 7/8 or younger if they’re used to hiking.
If you have children older than 12 years (good at instructions & used to scrambling), you might consider hiring a local guide and scrambling the north face of Ben Nevis. This is an exciting route and includes crossing a river and traversing a gully. This route will take around 6-8 hours to complete.
For older kids still and those really used to hiking, scrambling and being adventurous you could hire a guide and traverse the CMD Arrete. It’s a big walk and provides a real opportunity to test yourself scrambling a ridge. In our opinion, it is the UK’s second-best ridge walk with the first going to Striding Edge & Helvellyn in Cumbria.
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Walking Fort William’s Steall Falls
For smaller kids we think that the Steall Falls to the south of Ben Nevis are great for a short walk, paddling and a brilliant place for a picnic. Even in spring when the temperatures are still cold. Children rarely seem to feel the cold and the crystal clear, shallow waters here provide a safe place for kids to explore. For children with longer legs, they can cross the dare-devil rope bridge and hope they don’t fall in.
Walk Behind Glen Finnan Station
For a medium hike, we suggest walking from Glen Finnan Station up, behind and under the Glen Finnan Viaduct and down to the Glenfinnan monument. There are lots of hikes around here ranging in size. If you time it right, you can stand on the banks waving to the steam train going through.
We took our kids hiking here before our train journey and it built the intensity of the excitement of catching the train. Don’t worry about any anti-climax because catching the steam train is a phenomenal experience.
The steam train is pretty expensive so if you can’t afford the Hogwarts Express train, don’t panic because the regular electric train crosses the bridge too and for a fraction of the price. Kids will have a great time crossing the viaduct on the train, regardless of which train it is.
Things to do in Fort William: Explore Mallaig Like a Local
Of course, the highlight of visiting Fort William is the chance to go on that very noisy and dirty steam train over to Mallaig. I say dirty because if you leave the windows open as you’re going through the tunnels ash will land on the tables.
We recommend that you leave time between arrival and departure trains so that you can get to know Mallaig. You could also book a one-way ticket on the steam train and return on the electric train if you wanted to give yourselves more time and save money.
From Mallaig, you can explore the village and go hiking around the headland. I recommend you head out on a nature boat-cruise or visit the white-sandy coved beaches of Morar & Arisaig. These two calm beaches are ideal for kids of all ages. If you have more time to spend there go canoeing or SUP board the inlets. There are local guides who can meet you, hire out equipment and give you tours of this gorgeous stretch of coastline.
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Explore The Local Castles
It is estimated that there are over two thousand castles in Scotland. Castles within a 90-minute drive of Fort William are:
- Tor Castle
- Old Inverlochy Castle
- Castle Tioram
- Kilchurn Castle
- Castle Stalker
- Achanduin Castle on the island of Lismore
- Dunstaffnage Castle and Chapel
A Day In Kinlochleven
A short drive south from Fort William, you’ll find yourself in the town of Kinlochleven which is home to Scotland’s second-largest waterfall (Grey Mare’s Tail) and the Ice Climbing Center.
From here we definitely recommend that you book the Via Ferrata with Vertical Descents up and over the waterfall and also book a session learning how to ice climb. The room is lowered to –40*c so don’t forget to pack some warm clothes.
If you’re into wild swimming you can take the plunge in the local River Leven and it’s very refreshing!
Wild Swimming Near Fort William
If you really like a bit of wild swimming, you’re in for a treat. The inlets around Fort William are incredibly tidal so do be careful but there are some wonderful places to wild swim. I’d recommend a wetsuit and a hat. There’s never a time in Scotland when you wouldn’t need a hat!
Corpach Basin Swim Spot is roughly a 10-minute drive from Fort William and can be accessed via the Kilmallie Community Centre. Walk down the cute little jetty and hop in.
The Witch’s Cauldron in Clunes is a set of three waterfalls above a pool featured in the Rob Roy film. Roughly a 30-minute drive from Fort William this is a beautiful spot and there’s plenty of room for a picnic. Whilst you’re in Clunes, you could also visit Bunarkaig Bay & the Gairlochy Lighthouse.
Spend The Day In Glencoe
You can’t visit Kinlochleven without also visiting Glencoe. There are some amazing hikes around Glencoe too. If you’re travelling with children who can’t yet walk any great distance you could head to the Ballachulish Visitor Centre and walk the Quarry Trail whilst learning about the history of the area. Head to The Ballachulish Peninsula for sunset and watch the hues glisten on the loch or for kids of all ages, hire a segway at the Scottish Segway Centre.
Glencoe’s big & brutal hike would be Bidean Nam Bian at 3,770 feet high. The highest mountain in Argyll, the hardest loop trail is 7 miles long. From here you’ll see a lake and also the infamous Three Sisters of Glencoe. Even if you hike this in summer months, there’ll probably still be snow up there.
Of course, if you’re looking for something more serene, you’ll want to visit Loch Etive. At lower Glen Etive there’s a river with higher cliffs you can jump from whilst at higher Glen Etive there’s a phenomenally dramatic glen with picture-perfect river pools.
Most people know that Skyfall James Bond was filmed in Glencoe so if you want to find this very road, the exact coordinates are 56°37′10.31″N 04°55′51.23″W. There’s absolutely loads to do around Glencoe too; the Glencoe Folk Museum will teach you about bye-gone days, keep an eye out for Signal Rock, Coe River Waterfall, Noshbat Rock & Loch Achtriochtan.
Explore The Hebridean Islands
Fort William is also the gateway to the Hebrides and from here you can make your way over to the coast and take a ferry out to the islands. Scotland has 790 islands and the ones closest to the west coast of Scotland are categorized into the Outer Hebrides and the Inner Hebrides.
The Inner Hebrides are those that hug the coast closest to the mainland whilst The Outer Hebrides are further west and provide some shelter to the Inner Hebrides. In order to get over to The Outer Hebrides you’d need to take a larger ferry which takes roughly eight hours but those closest are easier & quicker to reach.
The islands closest to Fort William form part of the Inner Hebrides. These are the islands that are quickest to reach.
- The tiny islands of Eigg, Muck & Rum.
- The Isle of Skye.
- Mull & Iona.
Visiting Skye With Kids
Most of the tourists head to the north of Skye but we recommend sticking to the south and visiting the Aird of Sleat, Armadale Castle and the otter hides at Kylerhea.
The easiest way to cross over to the Isle of Skye is by the bridge however there is a lesser-known and more fun way! Kylerhea Turntable Ferry is the only manually operated turntable ferry in Scotland and it’s located in the remote coastal community of Glenelg. If you’re looking for a really unique experience this is it. The ferry can take very few cars at a time and whilst you wait for the ferry, you can scramble the rocks nearby and watch out for sea eagles and otters.
A Day Trip To Glenelg
Glenelg is a 90-minute drive from Fort William but we are totally in love with this small community. It would be a long day trip from Fort William however the trip over is beautiful as you summit the Mam Rattagan Pass and the sand islands of Sandaig.
The area is full of Broch Towers and Cairns but what we adore the most is the tiny coastal village of Corran. It’s beach, river and of course, Sheena’s Tea Hut are a must-visit when there. Sheena’s is quite possibly the most remote tea house we’ve ever been to and we think you’ll love it!
About the Author
Emma is a British photographer and blogger who spends her time looking for remote places where her family can live like locals. She writes about adventurous, budget travel with kids with an emphasis on sustainability. Travelling with three kids and a backpack, Emma has taken them to four continents and over fifty countries. You can follow her on: