Sculpted by an ice-age glacier and studded with deep lochs and soaring mountains, Glencoe is home to some of the most dramatic scenery on the planet. It is a place that you should visit at least once in your life and is an easy day trip from Fort William, the area’s main town, even without a car.
Find out why you should add this area of the Highlands to your Scotland itinerary, how to get from Fort William to Glencoe, the best things to do in Glencoe and where to stay.
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Why Should You Visit Glencoe?
Glencoe is a place of history and beauty.
This was the scene of the Massacre of Glencoe, the most infamous reprisal of the Jacobite uprising.
On 13 December 1692, 38 members of Clan MacDonald were slaughtered by Government forces for a delay in signing an oath of allegiance to King William III. The murder has gained notoriety as the architect of the massacre was Campbell of Glenlyon, to whom the MacDonalds had offered hospitality twelve days earlier.
Today this spectacularly scenic glen is hugely popular with hikers, hillwalkers and mountaineers. Glencoe’s beauty has secured its place as a shooting locations for films from Harry Potter to Skyfall.
When is the Best Time to Visit Glencoe?
Glencoe is a year-round destination.
To say that Scottish weather is unpredictable is an understatement, but visit between May and October for the best chance of dry(ish) days. In midsummer there’s also the advantage of long days.
Take heed of an old Scandinavian saying ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes’ and come prepared. Even if the forecast predicts sunny days ahead, pack a waterproof, layers and a decent pair of waterproof shoes. Scotland is not known for heatwaves.
When I visited in June, the weather was mixed but decent and the countryside was lush and in full bloom. If you want to see wild flowers at their best, May – June is the best time to visit Glencoe.
Winters can be wild and stormy but we’re talking snow season in Glencoe and it attracts winter climbers from around the world.
How to Get from Fort William to Glencoe
A car is your easiest option to get from Fort William to Glencoe. However, not everyone travels in Scotland by car, including me. But fear not; with a little forward planning it’s easy to take a day trip from Fort William to Glencoe by bus.
Getting from Fort William to Glencoe by bus
For an easy day trip to Glencoe by bus you have two options: CityLink buses or the local Shiel Buses. Both of these companies’ buses leave from Fort William’s bus station at the side of Morrison’s supermarket.
The journey time from Fort William to Glencoe by bus is around 30 minutes.
CityLink buses from Fort William to Glencoe
Glasgow-bound CityLink services from Fort William go through Glencoe. There are nine service per day.
CityLink buses stop at Glencoe crossroads (for Glencoe village) and at the Glencoe Visitor Centre, one mile out of town.
In 2021, the one-way bus fare was just over £5. Advance booking is highly recommended as this is a popular service and, at the time of writing, capacity was reduced to ensure social distancing. On my day of travel, one of the return services was fully booked a few days in advance and this was midweek.
Shiel Buses to Glencoe village
Six times a day, Shiel Buses operates a service between Fort William and Kinlochleven, stopping at Glencoe crossroads (Glencoe Junction). In 2021, the one-way fare was £4.50 (£7.40 return).
As the Shiel Buses service does not stop at Glencoe Visitor Centre, if you wish to visit this first, you are better off catching a CityLink service.
How to get to Glencoe from Fort William by car
From Fort William it’s an easy and scenic drive to Glencoe along the A82.
Visiting Glencoe on an organised day tour
Another option is to visit Glencoe on an organised day tour. However, most of these depart from Edinburgh or Glasgow, not Fort William.
Here is a selection of Glencoe day trips that I have found through GetYourGuide, which offers free cancellation up to 24 hours before your tour date.
Best Things to Do in Glencoe in One day
Glencoe is hiking central and there are walks to suit all levels of fitness. That said, there are other things to do in Glencoe that don’t involve lacing up a pair of walking boots.
Learn about the Glencoe Massacre at the Glencoe Visitor Centre
The Glencoe Visitor Centre is a good starting point for your day trip to Glencoe. Run by the National Trust of Scotland, entry is free but there is a £4 charge for the car park.
A short film in the visitor centre tells the story of the Glencoe Massacre (there’s also a monument to the fallen members of Clan MacDonald in Glencoe village).
Whilst you are there, check out the Pioneers of the Peaks exhibition which chronicles the history of mountaineering in Glencoe.
Take one of the walking trails from the Glencoe Visitor Centre
Although the Glencoe Visitor Centre has a large and shiny shop and café, there is little in the way of information on the 60 km of walking trails that the centre maintains. This is a pity.
Instead, there is a large topographical map in the reception area and a few inexpensive maps for sale. The information desk wasn’t manned on my visit (I asked a member of staff in the shop for guidance).
Waymarked trails along well maintained paths start from the visitor centre, including an easy two-mile woodland walk. Further afield, there’s the slightly more challenging An Torr walk up to Signal Rock, reportedly where the signal was sounded to start the Glencoe Massacre.
When you’ve finished exploring the area around the Glencoe Visitor Centre, take the footpath running parallel to the A82 to Glencoe village.
Explore Glencoe’s heritage
Exploring Glencoe village won’t take you very long. If you have time to spare, visit the village’s main attraction, the Glencoe Folk Museum. This attractive 18th Century heather-roofed cottage on the main street is home to an eclectic collection that celebrates the area’s heritage.
Walk along the River Coe
This easy ramble proves that you don’t need to be an experienced hillwalker, or venture very far, to enjoy some of the walks around Glencoe. One of the best walks starts in Glencoe village itself.
Glencoe is situated along the grassy banks of the River Coe which flows into Loch Leven at the western end of the village. This wonderful walk starts at the village’s war memorial and ends at Invercoe at the head of Loch Leven.
From the war memorial, cross the humpback bridge and take the first left to follow the course of the river (on your left-hand side). After ten minutes or so, you’ll have the option to take a short detour up a steep footpath to your right to Glencoe Lochan. Do it!
At the end of this path is Glencoe House, the former stately home of the Earl of Strathcona, now a hotel set in beautiful grounds. Follow the path behind the stables, go through a wooden gate and take the short extension to Glencoe Lochan.
On the Earl’s return from hist stint in Canada as the Governor General, he landscaped the house’s grounds to resemble the Canadian Rockies. Although I struggled to see it, others have commented that the lochan resembles Lake Louise.
Retrace your steps to the riverside path and continue to follow this until it reaches the campsite at Invercoe. From here, follow the road back to Glencoe Junction.
Take in the view at Loch Atriochtan
Although this is reputably one of the most scenic spots in Glencoe, I did not visit Loch Atriochtan as it is tricky to do so without a car.
I naively thought that I could walk the short distance from the Glencoe Visitor Centre only to be told that this would involve playing chicken with the traffic thundering along the A82. Although you can ask the CityLink bus driver to drop you at the car park, this is entirely at their discretion.
Is It Better to Stay in Glencoe or Fort William?
If you are not driving and want to be close to a transport hub and lots of amenities, choose Fort William.
If you prefer staying a few nights with serene beauty, opt for Glencoe. However, there’s not an extensive choice of accommodation close to Glencoe village
Where to stay in Fort William
Fort William has a good selection of places to stay, including hotels, holiday rentals and bed and breakfasts. If you don’t have a car, check where your B&B is located; some of these establishments are a considerable distance out of town.
I stayed at this Premier Inn, which is a solid budget choice – Fort William’s accommodation can be pricey in high season – located the other side of the train and bus station.
Although the room was a little tired, it was clean and functional and offered unbeatable value. Recommended.
Here are some alternative accommodation options that look good choices
This guest house, which has excellent reviews, is in a great location, on the main road and is less than 5 minutes’ walk from the town centre and train and bus stations. Rooms have a fridge and tea and coffee making facilities.
This imposing 3-star hotel located between the train station and Fort William town centre features a guest lounge (with open-fire in season). Single rooms are available for solo travellers.
Where to stay in Glencoe
Although I didn’t stay in Glencoe, here are a few options that I have found to suit different budgets.
This guesthouse near Glencoe Junction is a great mid-range option if you are visiting the area without a car. En-suite rooms boast mountain views and travellers’ reviews are stellar.
This would be a dream come true for me. This lochside hotel, three miles from Glencoe village, has a 17th century bar serving a variety of speciality drinks including over 50 gins, 60 single malt whiskies and craft beer.
Around 30 minute’s walk from the bus stop at Glencoe Junction, the Glencoe Youth Hostel run by Hostelling Scotland is a solid budget choice. This alpine-style hostel offers dorm beds and private rooms and has a kitchen that guests can use.
Why You Should Add Glencoe to Your Scotland Itinerary
There are few places in Scotland that can rival Glencoe’s epic scenery or its compelling history. Don’t make the mistake of simply driving through the glen on your way to the Isle of Skye.
Stop, take a breath and savour its majesty. You’ll be glad that you did.