Glen Coe in Scotland is a beautiful valley that attracts people who want to see some of the spectacular scenery of the Scottish Highlands. Glen Coe has been designated as both a national nature reserve and part of a national scenic area.
It is a fabulous place for hiking, mountain biking and outdoor activities. It’s also a wonderful area for photography, and is one of our favourite places to photograph in Scotland. But there are also other things to do in and around the small town of Glencoe, Scotland, including visiting museums and historical attractions, kayaking and even skiing in winter.
It is also a favourite location for film buffs, with a number of films and television shows using the dramatic landscape of Glen Coe as a backdrop. From Harry Potter to James Bond, Glen Coe is no stranger to the big screen.
In today’s article, we’re going to share everything you need to know to plan your own visit to Glen Coe, including how to get there, where to stay in Glen Coe, what to see during your visit and much more. Let’s start with the basics.
Basic information for visiting Glen Coe
Let’s start by providing you with all the practical information you need to plan your own visit to Glen Coe. This can help you plan when to visit, how to get there and where to stay.
Is it Glen Coe or Glencoe?
When researching Glen Coe, you are likely to come across the names “Glen Coe” and “Glencoe” used interchangeably. Glen Coe is the valley itself, as in Scotland a glen refers to a valley. Glencoe is the name of the village at the foot of the valley.
Therefore, I will use Glen Coe for the valley and area and Glencoe when referring specifically to the village in this post. However, you will find that many businesses and people use them interchangeably.
Where is Glen Coe?
How to get to Glen Coe
There are several options for getting to Glen Coe.
Firstly, you can go by car. From Glasgow, Inverness and Edinburgh, the journey takes between 2 and 2.5 hours, as mentioned above. Driving will give you the most flexibility in terms of sightseeing and getting around the Glen Coe Valley itself.
You can also take buses or coaches to Fort William. This is more convenient from Inverness, as the bus from Inverness to Fort William only takes a couple of hours. You can view train and bus timetables and book tickets online in advance here.
From Fort William, there are local buses to the village of Glencoe, as well as to various stops in the Glen Coe Valley. You can check the timetables for public transport in Scotland on the traveline Scotland website here.
Finally, one of the easiest options for visiting Glen Coe from Scotland’s main cities is to take a day trip. Many day and multi-day tours include Glen Coe in their itineraries. Obviously, this will give you a little less flexibility than driving yourself, but if you don’t have your own vehicle or prefer to let someone else navigate the highland roads, this will certainly be the easiest option.
Below are some suggested excursions to consider. See also the section on tours to Glen Coe later in this post for more ideas.
For more excursion options, see the section later in the post.
When to visit Glen Coe
Glen Coe can be visited all year round, and we have enjoyed visiting at all times of the year.
Depending on the time of year you visit, there are different things to see and do, and you will also need to plan accordingly. Here are some things to consider at different times of the year.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the weather in Scotland can be fickle at any time of year, so be prepared for rain and cooler temperatures even in summer.
Visit Glen Coe in winter
Glen Coe can be absolutely beautiful in winter, with the snow-capped mountains and beautiful golden winter light. It’s one of my favourite times to visit and photograph. If you enjoy skiing, Glencoe ski resort is also open in winter.
Of course, winter brings its own set of challenges to visiting Glen Coe. The weather can be very bad, daylight hours are more limited and it will be quite cold. So you’ll need to wear the right clothing and be prepared for changeable weather.
Visit Glen Coe in spring
Visiting Glen Coe in spring brings with it a number of advantages. There are more hours of daylight, the landscape starts to turn from brown to green and the wildflowers start to emerge.
Spring still offers the change of snow on the mountains, which means you can get good contrast in your photos, but there are likely to be fewer people than in the summer.
Visit Glen Coe in summer
For a chance to enjoy the best weather, you’ll want to visit Glen Coe in the summer. Although it is rarely “hot” in Scotland, on a good summer’s day in Glen Coe the temperatures are around 20 degrees Celsius / 70 degrees F. This allows for pleasant walks and plenty of daylight hours for sightseeing.
Of course, visiting in summer has some disadvantages. There will be more traffic and more people, so there will be more traffic on the roads and more difficulty finding parking if driving. Summer is also the time of the dreaded highland midge, a ferocious biting insect that travels in swarms and can be quite unpleasant. If you’re travelling in the Highlands in summer, you’ll want to pack insect repellent.
Visit Glen Coe in autumn
Although much of Glencoe is open moorland without many trees, there are wooded areas which can offer good photographic opportunities. In addition, the heather is often in bloom in early autumn, creating a riot of purple in the landscape.
Camping in Glen Coe
In the Glen Coe area there are a number of campsites where you can pitch a tent or park a motorhome or caravan.
Some options are:
Glencoe Mountain Campsite – Right in the heart of Glen Coe, this campsite is next to the ski resort and is open all year round. Pitches for tents, caravans and motorhomes are available.
Red Squirrel Campsite – Located on the River Coe, a couple of miles from the village of Glencoe, this quiet campsite offers tent pitches and showers. Motorhomes are accepted, but there are no hook-ups available.
Invercoe Caravan & Camping Park: On the shores of Loch Leven, this campsite offers a range of accommodation options, from tent pitches to caravan and motorhome pitches with hook-ups. Cabins are also available.
It should also be noted that wild camping is permitted in Scotland. The definition is quite clear: this is tent camping and is usually defined as camping away from roads and dwellings. It does not include motorhomes. So, if you’re going on a trip into the backcountry, this is an option. You can find out more about wild camping in Scotland on the Scottish Outdoor Access Code website here.
Glen Coe Accommodation
If you plan to visit Glen Coe for more than a day, you will need somewhere to stay. There are a number of accommodation options, some in the Glen itself and some a short drive away. The nearest towns are Glencoe Village and Bridge of Orchy. Fort William is also close to Glen Coe and is a good starting point.
Here are some options we recommend.
Glencoe Youth Hostel – located just outside the village of Glencoe, this well-rated hostel offers both shared and private accommodation, as well as a kitchen for preparing meals.
Clachaig Inn – Located in the Glen Coe Valley, this well-located inn is moments from a key Harry Potter filming location. It has a good restaurant and pub, as well as comfortable private rooms.
Cruachan Hotel: just a few minutes’ walk from the centre of Fort William, this well-rated hotel offers a range of private accommodation options, as well as an on-site restaurant.
The Isles of Glencoe Hotel: Just outside the village of Glencoe on the banks of Loch Leven, this 3* family-friendly hotel has a swimming pool and a range of private accommodation options. There is also a restaurant and bar.
Loch Leven Hotel & Distillery: This family-run hotel has a 17th-century bar and makes its own gin on site. Located on the banks of Loch Leven.
Kingshouse Hotel – Situated in the heart of Glen Coe, this recently renovated hotel offers both private rooms and a bunkhouse for walkers. It also has a restaurant and bar.
Bridge of Orchy Hotel – With good rail links and a local bus stop, Bridge of Orchy is a good base for exploring Glen Coe. This highly rated 4* hotel offers a restaurant and bar, as well as a range of charming en-suite rooms.
Of course, there are plenty more options in the area. See the listings on booking.com for Glencoe here for more ideas of what’s available.
Things to do in Glen Coe
Now that you’re ready for your visit to Glen Coe, we wanted to share some of our favourite things to do when you’re visiting. They are all located in or near the town of Glencoe, or in the Glen Coe Valley itself.
Stop at the Visitor Centre.
The Glencoe Visitor Centre, run by the National Trust for Scotland, is an excellent place to start your visit to Glen Coe. The visitor centre offers a wealth of information about Glen Coe, as well as nearby Glen Etive.
Here the knowledgeable staff will be able to tell you about walks in the area, wildlife in the surrounding area, as well as up to date weather forecasts. They have a large 3D map to help you plan your time and find your way around.
There are also a number of interesting exhibits, including a short film on the geological history of the area, and an exhibition featuring some of the mountaineers who have made the sport so popular in the area. There is also information about the infamous Glen Coe massacre of over 300 members of the Clan MacDonald in 1692.
There are a number of walks starting from the visitor centre itself, which vary in difficulty and can be a good option for those looking for a hike to do in the area. There are also occasional nature walks led by staff.
There is also a café and gift shop, the profits from which go towards the protection and conservation of the nature reserve.
There is a charge for visiting and parking, but it is free for National Trust members.
Go for a hike
One of the most popular activities in Glen Coe is hiking. It’s not hard to see why: with spectacular scenery and seemingly endless nature to explore, this is a great place to lace up your hiking boots and get out and about.
There are a variety of hikes to suit all levels, from short walks lasting less than an hour to more demanding full-day hikes to climb some of the peaks, such as Buachaille Etive Mor, from which you can get a beautiful view of the surrounding valley and Rannoch Moor.
A great resource for finding walking routes in Glen Coe and Scotland in general is the Walk Highlands website, and you can see some suggested routes in Glen Coe here.
Another option is to hike with a local guide who will ensure your safety and take you to some of the best places. This list of hikes has some great hiking options including Glencoe.
Practice your landscape photography
As a travel photographer, I obviously had to include photography as one of the top things to do in Glen Coe. The landscapes in this area offer some spectacular photographic opportunities, and you could spend days exploring and taking photos in the area.
I’d also like to say that you don’t have to be a professional photographer or carry a lot of high-end equipment to get good photos in Glen Coe. Of course, you’ll be rewarded if you take the time to do it, but you can also get beautiful photos with a smartphone or compact camera.
Around Glen Coe there are multiple great places to photograph. Some of my favourites are the view from the Lagangarbh hut, the views from Buachaille Etive Mor and the views from the Three Sisters.
However, there are many places to photograph to discover, including small bodies of water and rivers that can bring an interesting compositional element to your photos.
If you would like a guided tour of some of the best places to photograph, it is possible to book a private photography tour of Glen Coe such as this one, which includes transport and guide.
Search for wildlife
Glen Coe is a National Nature Reserve, which means that it has been recognised as containing habitats and species of national importance. Therefore, wildlife lovers will enjoy the opportunities available in the Glen to observe wildlife.
Species you may be lucky enough to see range from the ever-impressive red deer to mountain hares, ptarmigans, golden eagles, pine martens and much more. Birdwatchers in particular will enjoy what’s on offer, so I recommend bringing a pair of binoculars.
The best place to see wildlife is to get away from the road and onto some of the trails. The Visitor Center staff is a good person to ask for trail suggestions during your visit.
Cycling and mountain biking
Glen Coe is a popular area for downhill mountain biking, but it also has cycle routes suitable for riders of all levels. So whether you want to hurtle down the side of a mountain or you’re looking for something more leisurely, you should find something to suit your preferences.
One of the most popular cycle routes in the Glen Coe area is the Lochleven Circular Route (a 21-mile cycle route around Loch Leven). You may also consider cycling a section of the Caledonian Way, a 234-mile long-distance cycle route.
If you’re looking for more specific mountain biking, both Glencoe Mountain, in Glen Coe itself, and the nearby Nevis Range offer downhill mountain biking routes of varying degrees of difficulty.
You can bring your own bike or hire one from a local bike hire shop.
Visit the Glencoe Folk Museum
If you want to know more about the people who have called Glen Coe home over the centuries, then you’ll want to visit the Glencoe Folk Museum in the village of Glencoe.
Founded in the 1960s, the museum is mainly housed in a pair of restored 18th century thatched cottages. It has a wide range of exhibits, from Jacobite relics to vintage toys and household items, as well as memorabilia from the First and Second World Wars.
There is also an entire room dedicated to the Glencoe Massacre. It records the events of the early morning of 13 February 1692, when hundreds of members of the MacDonald clan were killed by government forces under the command of Robert Campbell.
The events were particularly shocking, as the perpetrators had spent the previous fortnight accepting hospitality from the MacDonalds. Such a violation of Highland hospitality shocked the country.
The Glencoe Folk Museum is well worth a visit. There is a small fee to visit, and you can see prices and opening times here.
Go skiing at Glencoe Mountain.
Yes, you can ski in Scotland. There are five ski resorts in Scotland, and one of them happens to be in Glen Coe. Glencoe Mountain Ski Resort is actually the oldest commercial ski resort in Scotland, and has been open since 1956.
It currently has 20 pistes served by 8 lifts. The difficulty of these slopes varies from beginner to expert, and Glencoe has the steepest and longest ski runs in Scotland. It is also relatively easy to get to as there is a bus stop at the ski centre as well as a large car park on site.
As well as skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing and other winter activities are available here during the winter months.
There’s even accommodation in micro lodges, although you’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag. If you’re visiting Scotland in winter, you might like to head to Glen Coe for a day or two of skiing.
If you’re visiting outside the ski season, Glencoe mountain is worth a visit. The chairlift usually runs in the summer, and there is also mountain biking, hiking and other outdoor activities available.
Finally, skiers planning to come to this part of the world for skiing might also consider including Glen Nevis resort. It is located near Fort William, just 30 minutes away, and the combination of the two resorts will give you some variety if you plan to spend a few days in the area.
Search for film and television locations.
Glen Coe’s dramatic landscapes mean that it has a starring role in a number of films and television programmes. These include the films Highlander and Rob Roy and the opening credits sequence of the television series Outlander.
However, Glen Coe is perhaps best known for two film franchises, Harry Potter and James Bond.
In the James Bond film Skyfall, the titular character’s family home is located on the road leading from Glen Coe to Glen Etive. This road is worth driving on, as it is absolutely beautiful, although you’ll want to read my guide to driving on single track roads if you’re unfamiliar with them.
Another popular film series that was filmed extensively in Glen Coe was, of course, the Harry Potter series. Numerous scenes were filmed in Glen Coe, including the location of Hagrid’s hut in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
If you’re interested in a tour, there are themed tours available for various TV and movie filming locations that include Glencoe, such as this tour to Outlander filming locations from Edinburgh or this tour from Edinburgh to Harry Potter filming locations.
If you’ve ever wanted to try ice climbing, but weren’t sure how to go about it, you’re in luck! Near Glen Coe in Lochaber (11km from the village of Glencoe) is Ice Factor, the National Ice Climbing Centre.
The good news is that you don’t need to visit in winter or have previous climbing experience to try it at Ice Factor. They have an indoor ice climbing wall, the largest in the world, where you can learn to ice climb up to a height of 12 meters.
However, it’s not just ice climbing that is offered. There are indoor climbing walls which are a good place to practice rock climbing, and there is also a 250-metre long outdoor aerial adventure. The latter is ten meters high, and although I’m proud to say I completed it, I must admit I was quite nervous.
I would definitely recommend the ice climbing experience, I had a lot of fun learning how to ice climb, even though I didn’t make it 12 meters high.
Visit local historic sites
There are a number of local historic sites in Glen Coe that will be of interest to those who want to learn about the history of the area.
The first of these is Signal Rock. Also known as Sun Hill, it is believed that this hill was used as a meeting place for the MacDonald clan in times of emergency. Beacons were lit at the top of the hill, hence the name.
Signal Rock can be reached via a relatively easy hike of about 1.5 miles round trip, which should take no more than 60-90 minutes for a fit hiker. You can see a map of the route here.
Another place you can visit and pay your respects is the Glencoe Massacre Memorial. It commemorates the members of the MacDonald clan who lost their lives in the Glencoe Massacre. It is located a short distance from the Glencoe Folk Museum in the village of Glencoe. You can see the exact location on Google Maps here.
On the way to the Glencoe Massacre memorial, you will also find the Glencoe War Memorial, which commemorates Glencoe residents who died or were listed as missing in the two world wars.
To find out more about the history of the area and get tips on more historical attractions to visit in the area, we recommend you visit both the Glencoe Visitor Centre and the Glencoe Folk Museum mentioned earlier in the article. If you’re visiting Fort William, you may also want to stop at the Museum of the Western Highlands.
If you like waterfalls, there are quite a few nice ones to discover in Glen Coe. They are generally not huge, but they are certainly very scenic. Some can be seen from the road, such as the Meeting of the Three Waters, near the base of the Three Sisters.
Others can be discovered with a bit of hiking. One of my favorites is the waterfall with the backdrop of Buachaille Etive Mor. It can be found here on Google Maps.
There are also larger waterfalls in the nearby area that are not in Glen Coe itself. Grey Mare’s Tail and Steall Falls are two large waterfalls that are a 90 minute round trip hike to get to, but well worth it in my opinion.
Play a round of golf
Although not strictly in Glen Coe, I wanted to include Woodlands Golf Course in my guide to visiting Glen Coe, as it is very scenic.
With nine holes at Glenachulish, which is about 4 miles west of Glencoe Village, this is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque golf courses in Scotland.
There is a fee to visit, and entry allows you to play as many rounds in a day as you wish. You can book your visit online here.
Go canoeing or kayaking on Loch Leven.
The River Coe, which flows through Glen Coe, empties into Loch Leven at the village of Glencoe. This maritime loch is nearly nine miles long, and there are several islands within the loch, one of which is the burial place of the MacDonald clan.
If you’re interested in exploring the Loch, a great option is to take a kayak tour with a company like this one, which will allow you to experience the Loch from the water.
Attractions near Glen Coe
If you have more time in the area, you may also want to explore nearby areas such as the town of Fort William, the Ben Nevis wilderness area and Loch Lomond National Park. Below are some suggested places of interest you might consider visiting.
Ben Nevis Distillery – This whisky distillery, located at the base of Ben Nevis, produces malt whisky. The distillery is usually open for tours, you can see more on the website.
Lochaber Geopark: the Lochaber Geopark, which covers a large area around Fort William and also includes Glen Coe, is one of three geoparks in Scotland. It means that this is an area of outstanding geological heritage. Visitors can enjoy one of the 6 geotrails, and there is a visitor centre where you can learn about the park in Fort William.
Glen Nevis/Ben Nevis: If you’re looking for a good hiking challenge, consider tackling Ben Nevis. At 1,345m, it’s the highest mountain in the UK, and is a popular day trip as well as a destination for climbers and ice climbers.
Fort William is the nearest town of any size and the local transport hub. The town is known as the outdoor capital of the Highlands, and a wealth of outdoor equipment and services can be found here. It is also home to a couple of museums, including the Museum of the Western Highlands.
From Fort William you can take a scenic trip on an old steam train: the Jacobite Express. This train became especially famous because it was the main character of the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films.
The Jacobite steam train is well known for crossing the impressive Glenfinnan Viaduct, which was also the setting for the Harry Potter films. This viaduct is about 20 minutes drive from Fort William.
If you want to visit the ruins of a castle, the closest to Glen Coe is Inverlochy Castle. Nearby is Inverlochy Castle Hotel, one of our favourite five-star castle hotels in Scotland.
To the south of Glencoe is Loch Lomond National Park. There’s plenty to see and do here, and you could easily create a Scotland itinerary that includes these places. Check out our guide to things to do in Loch Lomond for inspiration.
Visits to Glen Coe
A good option for getting to know Glen Coe is to take a tour that includes a stop here. There are a number of tour operators offering tours that include a stop in Glen Coe, departing from locations all over Scotland.
It is very important when booking a tour to check what is actually included. For example, some tours will only include a couple of photo stops at the Glen, while others will be a more complete experience. So choose a tour that fits what you want to experience. Below are some suggested tours that include both day trips to Glen Coe and some multi-day tours that stop at Glen Coe.
As you can see, there are many options to choose from, both day trips to Glen Coe and multi-day tours.
So much for our guide to visiting Glen Coe in Scotland. To help you better plan your trip to Glen Coe and Scotland in general, we have other publications that we think you will find useful or inspiring.
I had previously published a photo essay on Glen Coe which has more Glen Coe photos of this lovely location
We have a guide to Outlander filming locations in Scotland, as well as Harry Potter filming locations in Scotland. In both cases Glen Coe was used as a backdrop, of course.
If you’re thinking of skiing at Glen Coe, check out our complete guide to skiing in Scotland for all the information you need.
We’ve got a guide to Loch Ness, as well as some of our other favourite day trips from Inverness for inspiration. We also have some detailed guides to other attractions near Inverness, including a guide to the Black Isle and tips for visiting the Cairngorms
We have an itinerary for visiting Skye and the Highlands.
If it’s your first time driving in the UK, check out my tips for driving in the UK. We also have a guide on how much it costs to travel around the UK.
For road trip inspiration, check out our in-depth guide to the North Coast 500 and the North Coast 500 Accommodation Guide, as well as my featured photos of the North Coast 500 for inspiration for your trip. For a North Coast 500 itinerary, check out our detailed 7-day North Coast 500 camping itinerary.
For Edinburgh, check out our 2 day Edinburgh itinerary, our guide to things to do in Edinburgh and our guide to the best day trips from Edinburgh to get you started. We also have a guide to getting from London to Edinburgh.
For Glasgow, check out our Glasgow and Loch Lomond itinerary, our guide to the best day trips from Glasgow and our guide to things to do in Glasgow.
For Aberdeen, we have a guide to things to do in Aberdeen, our favourite restaurants in Aberdeen, a 2 day Aberdeen itinerary suggestion and a guide to the best day trips from Aberdeen.
We have a guide to all our favourite whisky distilleries in Scotland, which also has lots of information on how whisky is made, the different Scottish whisky regions and much more.
If you would like a guide for your visit to Scotland, we recommend Rick Steves’ guide to Scotland.
And so much for our guide to visiting Glen Coe in Scotland! Thank you for reading it. As always, we welcome your comments and any questions you may have about this or any of our other articles. Do so in the comments section below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.
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