Fort William is a town in the Scottish Highlands, sitting at the head of Loch Linnhe. With a population of 10,500, it's the main transport, commercial and visitor hub for the area. It's a major centre for outdoor activities, particularly hill-walking on Ben Nevis and skiing on the Nevis Range. The TIC is Fort William iCentre at 15 High St, open daily 09:00-17:00. A couple of miles north of town is a secondary built-up area at the point where Loch Linnhe turns west into Loch Eil, the River Lochy flows out, and the Caledonian Canal begins. Facilities in these villages of Corpach, Bannavie, Caol and Inverlochy are also described on this page.
Loch Linnhe is a fjord, the sea-flooded southwest end of the Great Glen, the long diagonal fault line that slices across the Highlands to Inverness. Inland along the glen are the freshwater lochs of Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness.
Inverness Airport is closer, but since you'll need to hire a car anyway, fly to Glasgow GLA for its better choice of flights and fares. Turn west onto M8 and cross the Erskine bridge to join A82 northwards past Loch Lomond; maybe 2 hours 30 min to drive.
By trainFort William has trains from Glasgow Queen Street via Arrochar (for Loch Lomond), Crianlarich and Spean Bridge. (These trains split at Crianlarich, with part of them going to Oban, so you need to be in the right section.) There are four trains Mon-Sat and one on Sunday, taking four hours. They continue west on the scenic West Highland Railway to Glenfinnan, Arisaig and Mallaig.
The Caledonian Highland Sleeper runs Su-F from London Euston, departing around 21:30 to arrive by 10:00. (Other portions run to Aberdeen and Inverness; they divide / join at Edinburgh.) The southbound train leaves around 20:00 (Sunday 19:00) to reach Euston towards 08:00. No trains on Saturday night. New rolling stock was introduced on all the sleeper routes in 2019. Compartments have two berths and are sold like hotel rooms: you pay extra for single occupancy, and you won't be sharing with a stranger. Tickets can be booked at any UK mainline railway station or online: a single sleeper fare is around £160 for one or £200 for two people. You can also just use the sitting saloon, single £50. If you have an existing ticket for a daytime train you need to buy a sleeper supplement. Pricing is dynamic - weekends cost more, if indeed there are berths available. Booking is nominally open 12 months ahead, but (as of Oct 2019) the website hasn't grasped this. If you buy online, you need to print out your e-ticket to present on boarding.
Alternatively you can take the Lowland Sleeper from Euston near midnight to arrive Glasgow Queen Street at 07:20, then the 08:20 for Fort William (arriving midday) and Mallaig. Returning south by that route you need to be on the 17:30 from Fort William to Queen Street, arriving 21:30 and waiting two hours for the southbound sleeper, reaching Euston by 07:00.
There's no railway along the Great Glen between Fort William and Inverness, or south to Oban, take the bus.
By busCitylink buses 914 / 915 / 916 run four times daily from Glasgow Buchanan Street to Fort William, taking 3 hours. Two of them continue via Spean Bridge and Laggan to Portree on Skye.
Citylink Bus 918 runs twice a day (not Sunday) to Oban, 90 mins. Bus 919 runs along the Great Glen past Loch Ness to Inverness via Spean Bridge, Fort Augustus, Urquhart Castle and Drumnadrochit; there are six Mon-Sat and two on Sunday, taking two hours.
Between Fort William and Mallaig, Shiel Bus 500 runs four times a day M-F, once on Saturday and Sunday, 90 mins. Sit on the right for views of Glenfinnan Viaduct. Shiel Buses also connect the small villages of Kilchoan, Acharacle, Lochaline and Strontian on the Arnamurchan peninsula. These are timed for the school / shopping run, with just one bus (M-Sa) in the morning coming into Fort William, and one bus going back in the afternoon; see Strontian for details. Shiel Bus N44 runs six times a day (M-F) to Corran ferry pier, Ballachulish, Glencoe and Kinlochleven.
The centre of Fort William is small enough to get around on foot.
Shiel Bus N41 runs between Fort William and Roy Bridge, via Torlundy, Nevis Range Ski Centre and Spean Bridge. It runs 7 times a day M-Sat. Twice a day (at around 09:00 and 17:00) year round, it extends from Fort William to Glen Nevis Youth Hostel. May to Oct it's supplemented by Bus N42, which run 6 times daily to the Youth Hostel, with three buses extending to the Lower Falls.
Bike is ideal for exploring along the glens and Caledonian Canal. Off Beat Bikes on High St (daily 09:30-17:30) do hires and repairs and can suggest trails.
phone: +44 1397 704901Offers tours from Fort William in luxury buses, and taxis and cars from Fort William.
address: 131 Blar Mhor Rd CaolA family-run taxi company, they cater to bikers, hill-walkers, or day trippers who don't know their way around. They have bike racks and ski racks, and a secure luggage trailer can be provided. They operate 4- & 6-seater cabs.
- Pleasant views across Loch Linnhe, the old Fort is just a few courses of masonry in a seaside park. The town centre is Victorian, but has suffered from poor modern planning, with the busy A82 cutting it off from the prom.
address: Cameron Square, PH33 6AJRegional history from earliest times through Jacobites and Victorians to the present.
- The Caledonian Canal is a coast-to-coast channel, built by Thomas Telford in the early 19th C, that makes use of the string of lochs and rivers along the Great Glen - it's 60 miles long but only 22 miles are man-made. Commercially and strategically it was obsolete as soon as it was completed in 1822, as shipping had outgrown it, and round-the-coast navigation was much safer since the end of the Napoleonic wars. It fell into disrepair but was rehabilitated for pleasure craft. At the south end, it starts from Loch Linnhe by a short ladder of locks at Corpach near Fort William. A mile east at Banavie is the photogenic
Neptune's Staircaseaddress: Banavie PH33 7NGThis is a ladder of eight locks, great for photos, but a long afternoon's work to navigate. It then runs to Lock Lochy, to ascend further at Laggan at the other end. (So yes, these could be called the Loch Lochy locks, which, when locked . . . ) Another straight run connects Loch Oich, the highest part of the system. (Higher still, Loch Garry feeds water to the canal via the River Garry, but the river isn't navigable.) From Loch Oich the canal continues north, descending by another ladder of locks into Loch Ness. Loch Ness is the magnificent natural channel at the heart of the canal system. At its north end, canal and River Ness flow down from Dochgarroch Weir towards the sea at Inverness.
- Lochaber Geopark in High St (M-Sa 10:00-16:00) promotes awareness and organises trips and study around the region's weird geology. This played a key role in shaping 19th / 20th C understanding of how the world's landscapes were constructed - it was realised that the Caledonian Mountains once stretched through Svalbard and Greenland into the Appalachians, until sundered by the new Atlantic Ocean. The geopark stretches from Rannoch Moor in the south to Glen Garry in the north, and from Loch Laggan in the east to the Small Isles out west. For instance 20 miles away are the "Roads of Glen Roy": this glen above the Spean valley has three long parallel ledges on the hillside that look man-made. They were in fact cut by ice grinding along the shore of a vanished lake, which lay at different levels during a cold period after the last Ice Age when arctic conditions returned.
- Treasures of the Earth is a geology museum and shop at Corpach PH33 7JL. Collection of crystals, gemstones and fossils. Open daily Nov-Feb 10:00-16:00; Mar-June & Sept Oct to 17:00, July Aug to 18:00, adult £5.
- Long-distance hikes: the West Highland Way stretches from Milngavie near Glasgow to Fort William, and the Great Glen Way continues north to Inverness. They're usually done in stages in that direction, south to north, so the sun and the weather are on your back. But invest in good maps and plan your own itinerary.
- Climb Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain at 1345 m / 4413 feet. This is no small task as you start from almost sea level. The usual route is the "Mountain Track", starting from the visitor centre in Glen Nevis: this is an arduous slog and scramble in good weather, and in winter it demands technical mountaineering skills. Other routes such as the "CMD Arete" are even more testing.
- For less touristy mountains, the Mamores are the ridge above Glen Nevis, west and south of the river. They're opposite Ben Nevis so there's better views of it than on the Track itself. The Mamores are crossed by the most northerly section of the West Highland Way, a 15-mile hike from Kinlochleven.
Ski & snowboard at Nevis RangeNevis Range ski resort is on Aonach Mor, the mountain just north of Ben Nevis. From the car park (£3 per day) take the gondola to "Snowgoose" at 650 m. Chairlifts and tows lead to the summit plateau around 1221 m, with most pistes along this stretch. Just east are some hairy steep descents. Mountain & skiing conditions are highly variable, always check ahead on the resort website.
- The Nevis Range gondola runs year round (adult £20, child or senior £11) and is the access to other activities. It has six-seater enclosed cabins, dogs welcome but must be leashed on the mountain. Three easy hill walks loop from the Snowgoose station. Climbers ascending Ben Nevis by the North Face route often start by riding up the gondola. There are cross country and downhill mountain bike courses, and the UCI mountain bike World Cup is often held here. The next event is 1-2 June 2019, tickets now on sale.
- If Nevis Range skiing is unavailable for any reason, check out conditions at Glencoe ski centre, 20 miles south.
Glen Nevis is worth exploring in its own right, and not just as an access point for Ben Nevis, or as a fallback if you called off a climb. Drive up the south-bank road past the visitor centre and youth hostel to the Lower Falls (bus N42 comes this far in summer) and onward to the final car park "Nevis Gorge" (free). A trail leads up the gorge to the cable bridge, if you dare teeter across, and the
Steall FallsIt's a two hours walk to the waterfall, a 120 m three-tiered cascade. An alternative route up Ben Nevis branches north from here, and trails south into the Mamores.
- The Jacobite steam train runs April-Oct between Fort William and Mallaig. It's a six-hour excursion (depart 10:15, return by 16:00) staying two hours in Mallaig, adult day trip £38 standard, £60 first class, child £21 / £33. Mid-May to mid-Sept there's also an afternoon train (14:30 - 20:30), so you could have six hours in Mallaig, time for a boat trip to the Small Isles, by going in the morning and returning on the afternoon excursion. Trains also stop at Glenfinnan for the obligatory photo of the viaduct, and by request at Arisaig. The morning excursion connects with the Caledonian Sleeper from London. In previous years some of them started from Glasgow or Edinburgh, but they're don't do so in 2019.
address: Fassifern Road PH33 6QXIndoor climbing (roped) and bouldering (unroped) walls in an old church.
Plenty of touristy-trappy shops along High Street, regaling the coach parties with Scottish dresses, knitware, souvenirs and whisky. They can offer nick-nacks in just about any clan tartan you've heard of, and probably a few that that you haven't.
There's a string of cheap and cheerful eating places along the length of High Street, mostly open every day; there's no standout.
For self-catering, the main supermarket is Morrisons behind the railway station. Behind the Morrisons there is also a Lidl. There's also a Tesco Metro on High Street and a Spar on Grange Rd at the south end of town.
Several pubs along High Street (but no public drinking allowed on the street).
address: 47 High Street PH33 6DHA good laugh, decent beer, and well-priced spirits. Live sports, dance floor, a good place to warm up before heading to the clubs.
- Grog & Gruel at 66 High St has a wide selection of real ales. Open daily 12:00-00:00.
address: 104 High StreetJD Wetherspoon's pub, with cheap beer and reasonably priced meals.
- Ben Nevis Distillery produces single malt whisky at Lochy Bridge (junction of A82 and A830). Open M-F 09:00-17:00, Sa 10:00-16:00, tours £5.
In Fort William
phone: +44 1397 700070address: Bank Street PH33 6AYGood quality hostel accommodation in the town centre.
address: High Street, PH33 6DXDecent chain choice. Parking £5.
Out of town
phone: +44 1397 702191address: PH33 6SXOpen mid-March - Oct, has caravan pitches, static caravans, pods, campsite . . . and sometimes a lot of midges. Restaurant on site open May-Oct.
Glen Nevis Youth HostelSeveral kilometres from town, but convenient for Ben Nevis and the West Highland Way. The hotel was extensively refurbished in 2018, and offers private ensuite rooms in addition to dormitory beds.
address: Achintree Rd PH33 6TEA great base camp for climbing Ben Nevis. The bunkhouse, open all year, has three (no door) 8-bed dorms and a kitchen with decent showers. Inn & restaurant open daily Apr-Oct, closed Nov, open Th-Su Dec-Mar.
phone: +44 1397 748044address: Banavie, PH33 7LZBackpackers’ hostel, providing accommodation for walkers, cyclists, people on activity holidays, families and groups . . but no hen or stag parties! Private rooms available.
In Fort William
- There's a string of B&Bs along A82 the main road south, petering out after 3 miles.
address: Fraser Square PH33 6DWCheap & cheerful 3-star, kinda creaky, gets mixed reviews. No lift, no pets. With restaurant, pizzeria & public bar.
- Premier Inn: off High Street, by car enter via Camanachd Cres. Reliable chain hotel, B&B doubles from £60.
phone: +44 1397 708496address: Argyll Road PH33 6LFWelcoming B&B overlooking Loch Linnhe, open Apr-Oct.
phone: +44 7833 586323address: Lochview Drive, Lochview Estate, PH33 6UPSmall B&B, also offers self-catering.
Out of town
phone: +44 1397 702240address: Glen Nevis, PH33 6TEB&B open 10 May to 6 Oct, self-catering all year.
The Corran InnComfortable loch-side inn. Room-only in winter as restaurant & bar are closed.
phone: +44 1397 700079address: Druimarbin PH33 6RPBright modern rooms with loch view.
phone: +44 1397 772262address: Hillview Drive, Corpach PH33 7LSB&B in former church manse, six rooms en suite. No children under 12.
phone: +44 1397 772797address: Banavie PH33 7LYSmall hotel with bistro by ladder of locks. Dog-friendly.
- Spean Bridge is a village 11 miles north of Fort William, at the junction of A82 and A86, and with trains between Fort William and Glasgow. There's several accommodation choices here, the pick of them being Smiddy House.
Out of town
phone: +44 1397 702177address: Torlundy PH33 6SNLuxury country house hotel in a 19th-C Baronial mansion. A big splurge but guests rate it well worth the money. With Michel Roux restaurant serving dinner from £67 (£116 with matching wines).
- Fort William is the northern end of the 96-mile West Highland Way footpath from Milngavie north of Glasgow. Clearly, having just arrived, you'll be impatient to do two things: i) ascend Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis; and ii) set off on another long-distance hike, the 78-mile Great Glen Way to Inverness. Fortunately both these needs have been thoughtfully catered for.
- The scenic Road to the Isles (A830) runs west from Fort William via Glenfinnan and Arisaig to Mallaig, where ferries ply to Armadale on Skye and to the Small Isles. You can also use this route to reach the Ardnamurchan peninsula via Moidart.
- However the usual route to Ardnamurchan is by the short car ferry crossing at Corran. Routes on the peninsula converge on Strontian. There's also a ferry for foot passengers and bicycles from Fort William town centre to Camusnagaul, connecting with buses on the other side.
- Follow A82 north along Loch Ness, via Fort Augustus and Urquhart Castle near Drumnadrochit, to reach Inverness.
- The road south to Glasgow runs through Glencoe with stunning views, louring mountains, and a ski centre.