For other places with the same name, see Fort William (disambiguation).

Fort William is a town at the foot of the Great Glen, on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands. It's the main transport, commercial and visitor hub for the area: its attractions include Ben Nevis, Nevis Range ski resort, the Caledonian Canal, and "The Jacobite" steam train.

The town in 2021 had a population of 5630. A couple of miles north is a secondary built-up area, with the villages of Inverlochy, Caol, Bannavie and Corpach totalling another 5000 population; their facilities are also described on this page.

Understand edit

Neptune's Staircase on the Caledonian Canal

The Great Glen is a long fault line slicing diagonally across the Highlands. Inland along its valley are a string of freshwater lakes: Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness. The southwest end of the valley is flooded by the sea to create a fjord, Loch Linnhe. The glen has always been a natural transport route, which nervous London rulers sought to control by a series of fortresses: Fort George and Inverness Castle at the northeast end, Fort Augustus in the middle, and Fort William at the southwest end. In 1745-46 the Jacobites smashed their way down this line of dominos and besieged Fort William, but it not only stood firm, but launched counter-attacks, a tough Hanoverian thistle in the rebels' backsides.

In the aftermath the kilt was banned and the Highlanders repressed, then the kilt and Highland customs were re-invented for genteel tastes in the late Georgian era as Scottish tourism was born. The town's original settlement and medieval castle were a couple of miles north at Inverlochy, but gravitated south to the new fort and harbour. In 1822 the Caledonian Canal was built through the Great Glen: interminable wars with France made the Channel too dangerous, but rounding Cape Wrath in the far north was also dangerous, hence the need for a navigable short cut. The post-Napoleonic peace made the canal redundant from the outset but it's now used by pleasure craft. The railway arrived in 1894 and tourist traffic boomed.

Tourist information is at Fort William iCentre, 15 High St, open daily 09:30-17:00.

Get in edit

By plane edit

  • 1 Inverness Airport (INV IATA), Inverness. The closest airport, but since you need to hire a car anyway it's better to use Glasgow Airport.    
  • 2 Glasgow Airport (GLA IATA), Glasgow. Has a better choice of flights and fares. Turn west onto M8 and cross the Erskine Bridge to join A82 northwards past Loch Lomond; maybe 2 hr 30 min to drive.    
  • 3 Oban Airport (OBN IATA), Oban. Has flights to the Hebrides (effectively a flying school bus) but no connection to the mainland air network.    

By train edit

Trains from Glasgow Queen Street take four hours via Dumbarton, Helensburgh, Arrochar & Tarbet (for Loch Lomond), Crianlarich (where a portion divides for Oban) and Spean Bridge. There are five daytime trains M-Sa and two on Sunday. They continue west on the scenic West Highland Line to Glenfinnan, Arisaig and Mallaig, for ferries to Skye.

The Caledonian Highland Sleeper runs Su-F from London Euston, departing around 9:30PM to arrive at 10AM. (It divides at Edinburgh for Aberdeen and Inverness.) The southbound train leaves around 8PM (Sunday 7PM) to reach Euston towards 08:00. No trains on Saturday night. 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: the one-way fare in 2023 is £270 for two adults. You can also just use the sitting saloon, single £75. Pricing is dynamic with weekends costing more, if there are berths available. Booking is open 12 months ahead: you need to print out your e-ticket to present on boarding. You can also use the sleeper as a day-train between Dumbarton and Fort William, but it doesn't pick up in Glasgow.

Alternatively, take the Lowland Sleeper from Euston near midnight to arrive Glasgow Queen Street at 7:20AM, then the 8:20AM for Fort William (arriving midday) and Mallaig. Returning south by that route you need to be on the 5:30PM from Fort William to Queen Street, arriving 9:30PM and waiting two hours (there are plenty of pubs nearby) for the southbound sleeper, reaching Euston by 7AM.

There's no railway along the Great Glen between Fort William and Inverness, or directly south to Oban, so take the bus.

4 Fort William railway station   is north side of town centre. It has a staffed ticket office and machines, a waiting room, cafe and toilets. There is step-free access to the terminus platform: through-trains reverse out. The original station of 1894 was south, which meant railway tracks split the town centre. In 1975 the track was curtailed and the station relocated here, and the main road was re-aligned to become the new impediment and eyesore.

Banavie and Corpach are platform halts on the West Highland Railway towards Mallaig that might be more convenient for the head of Loch Linnhe and start of the Caledonian Canal.

By bus edit

Citylink buses 914, 915 and 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 M-Sa to Oban, 90 min. Bus 919 takes two hours to Inverness via the Great Glen and Loch Ness, with six M-Sa and two on Sunday.

Between Fort William and Mallaig, Shiel Bus 500 runs four times a day M-F, once on Saturday and Sunday, 90 min. 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 and shopping run, with just one bus (M-Sa) in the morning coming into Fort William, and one bus going back in the afternoon; see Ardnamurchan for details. Shiel Bus N44 runs six times a day (M-F) to Corran ferry pier, Ballachulish, Glencoe and Kinlochleven.

Get around edit

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-Sa. Twice a day (at around 9AM 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 (Tu-Su 10AM-5:30PM) do hires and repairs and can suggest trails.

Taxi firms are Turbo (+44 7803 728080), Looking 4 Taxi[dead link] (+44 7488 247730), Nevis (+44 1397 703000), Lochaber (+44 1397 706070), Viaduct (+44 7398 644463), Egor's (+44 7473 921992), Scot Taxi (+44 7928 086205), Bob Tait (+44 1397 704331), Greyhound (+44 1397 705050), Jacobite (+44 1397 719639) and DM Taxis (+44 7869 811223). Many of them offer tours or long distance transfers, for instance to and from the airport.

See edit

The Jacobite starts from Fort William
  • 1 The Fort remains only as a sea wall near the breakwater, with views over Loch Linnhe. Town centre behind it is Victorian, a miniature Inverness, but suffers from poor planning, with the busy A82 cutting it off from the prom.
  • 2 West Highland Museum, Cameron Square PH33 6AJ, +44 1397 702169, . May-Sep: M-F 10AM-5PM, Sa 10:30AM-1:30PM; Oct-Mar: M-F 10AM-4PM, Sa 10:30AM-1:30PM. Regional history from earliest times through Jacobites and Victorians to the present. Donation.    
  • 3 Inverlochy Castle. 24/7. A ruined medieval castle built in the 1270s, and patched up but little altered since. It comprises a quadrangular courtyard, 31 m by 27 m, surrounded by a sturdy curtain wall with round towers at each corner. The largest, Comyn Tower, was the castle keep. The three sides not facing the river were protected by a water-filled ditch, and both entrances were defended by a portcullis. The ruins are unstable and fenced off for safety. Free.    
  • The Caledonian Canal is a coast-to-coast channel built by Thomas Telford in the early 19th century. It uses the string of lochs and rivers along the Great Glen, so 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.
  • 4 Neptune's Staircase is a ladder of eight locks a mile inland at Banavie, great for photos, but a long afternoon's work to navigate.
  • Lock Lochy is the first natural water encountered on the canal, a nine mile reach to Laggan where the ascent continues. (So yes, these could be called the Loch Lochy locks, which, when locke....) 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 that river isn't navigable.) From Loch Oich the canal continues northeast, descending by another ladder of locks into Loch Ness, 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.
  • Treasures of the Earth, Corpach PH33 7JL (by canal outlet), +44 1397 772283. Daily Nov-Feb 10AM-4PM, Mar-Jun & Sep Oct to 5PM, Jul Aug to 6PM. Small geology museum and shop, with a collection of crystals, gemstones and fossils. Adult £8, child £6.
  • Lochaber Geopark in High St (M-Sa 10AM-4PM) promotes awareness and organises trips and study around the region's weird geology. This played a key role in shaping 19th- and 20th-century 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.

Do edit

Ben Nevis rises east of town
  • Highland Cinema, Cameron Square PH33 6AJ (by museum), +44 1397 609696, . Independent cinema and café bar with two cinema theatres, and café bar seating up to 84.
  • 1 Three Wise Monkeys Climbing Wall, Fassifern Road PH33 6QX, +44 1397 600200. M-F 10AM-9PM, Sa Su 10AM-5PM. Indoor climbing (roped) and bouldering (unroped) walls in an old church. Adult day pass £12, child £9.
  • Golf: Fort William GC is on A83 north of Lochy Bridge. White tees 6217 yards, par 72.
  • 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.
  • 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, but far fewer climbers. The Mamores are crossed by the most northerly section of the West Highland Way, a 15-mile hike from Kinlochleven.
  • Ski or snowboard at 2 Nevis Range, Torlundy PH33 6SQ (off A82 four miles north of town), +44 1397 705825. late Dec-April. Nevis Range ski resort is on Aonach Mor, the mountain just north of Ben Nevis. From the car park (£5 / 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. Weather and snow conditions are highly variable, always check ahead on the resort website. Adult lift pass £42, child or senior £27.
Skiing on Nevis Range
  • Nevis Range gondola runs year round (day ticket £13) 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 in early June.
  • Glen Nevis is worth exploring, 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.
  • 3 Steall Falls   are 200 yards above the cable bridge. An Steall Bàn means "The White Spout" in Gaelic; it's Scotland's second-highest waterfall, with a 120-m (390-ft) drop in three tiers. The walk from the car park and back is 6 km, say 2 hours. An alternative route up Ben Nevis branches north from here, and trails south into the Mamores.
  • The Jacobite steam train runs daily April-Oct between Fort William and Mallaig. It's a six-hour excursion (depart 10:15AM, return by 4PM) staying two hours in Mallaig, and in 2023 an adult trip is £57 standard, £89 first class, child £33 / £63. May-Sept there's also an afternoon train (12:50-6:50PM), so you could have 4½ hours in Mallaig, time for a boat trip. 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.

Buy edit

  • The main supermarket is Morrisons next to the railway station, open M-Sa 7AM-10PM, Su 8AM-8PM. Lidl is just east and there's Tesco Metro on High Street and Spar on Grange Rd south end of town.
  • Lots 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.

Eat edit

  • High Street has a string of cheap and cheerful places, mostly open daily.
  • The Bistro is within Alexandra Hotel facing the railway station, open daily 12:00-21:00.
  • Crannog at Garrison West, 4 Cameron Square PH33 6AJ (by museum and cinema), +44 1397 701873. M Tu 5-9PM; W-Su noon-2:30PM, 5-9PM. Great seafood, classic pub fare done well. Their branch on town pier has closed.
  • The Great Glen is a JD Wetherspoon within Travelodge on High St, open Su-Th 8AM-midnight, F Sa 8AM-1AM.
  • Lime Tree on Achintore Rd has good dining. It's also a hotel, but guests have suffered short-notice cancellations.

Drink edit

Ben Nevis Distillery
Drinking is not allowed on the street.
  • Grog & Gruel, 66 High Street PH33 6AD, +44 1397 705078. Daily noon-10PM. Good selection of real ales.
  • Volunteer Arms, 47 High Street PH33 6DH, +44 1397 702344. Daily 11AM-1AM. A good laugh, decent beer, and well-priced spirits. Live sports and dance floor.
  • Ben Nevis Distillery produces single malt whisky at Lochy Bridge (junction of A82 and A830 near the castle). It's open M-F 9:30AM-5PM, plus Jun-Aug Sa 10AM-6PM, Su noon-6PM, tours available.
  • Brewery: Glen Spean Brewery is above Spean Bridge and offers tours.

Sleep edit

Budget edit

In Fort William edit

  • 1 Bank Street Lodge, Bank Street PH33 6AY, +44 1397 700070. This is now a small hotel and no longer run as a hostel. Double (room only) £80.
  • 2 Travelodge, High Street PH33 6DX (SW end of pedestrianised High St.), +44 871 984 6419. Decent chain choice, acceptable for what you pay. B&B double £80.

Out of town edit

Inverlochy Castle: don't book a room here
  • 3 Glen Nevis Caravan & Camping Park, Glen Nevis PH33 6SX (up glen 2 miles from town), +44 1397 702191. Open mid-Mar to Oct, this has caravan pitches, static caravans, pods, campsite, and sometimes a lot of midges. Restaurant on site is open May-Oct. Camping £12 ppn, car £3, hook-up £5.
  • Glen Nevis Youth Hostel, Glen Nevis PH33 6SY (south end of caravan park), +44 1397 702336. Two miles from town, but convenient for Ben Nevis and the West Highland Way. Clean friendly place. Dorm £22-31.50 ppn, rooms from £64.
  • 4 Chase the Wild Goose Hostel, Banavie PH33 7LZ (3 miles north of Fort William), +44 7563 049068. Backpackers’ hostel, providing accommodation for walkers, cyclists, people on activity holidays, families and groups, but no hen or stag parties. Dorms are only available for exclusive hire.

Mid-range edit

In Fort William edit

  • B&Bs are strung along A82 the main road south, petering out after 3 miles.
  • Premier Inn, Airds Way PH33 6AN (off High St; cars enter via Camanachd Cres), +44 333 777 7268. Reliable chain hotel. B&B double £85.
  • 5 Imperial Hotel, Fraser Square PH33 6DW (on prom 100 m south of railway station), +44 1397 702040. Creaky old rooms but bright helpful staff. No lift, no pets. With restaurant, pizzeria & public bar. B&B double £85.
  • 6 St Anthonys, Argyll Road PH33 6LF, +44 1397 705184, . Welcoming B&B on hill overlooking Loch Linnhe, open Apr-Sep. No pets or children under 13. B&B double £150.

Out of town edit

Inverlochy Castle Hotel: don't fight battles here
  • 7 Ben Nevis Inn, Achintree Rd PH33 6TE (two miles up glen), +44 1397 701227. A great base camp for climbing Ben Nevis. No dorm, the former bunkhouse has been converted into separate rooms. Breakfast is self-catering, the restaurant is open daily Apr-Oct, Th-Su Nov-Mar. Double (room only) £140.
  • Achintee Farm, Glen Nevis PH33 6TE (opposite Ben Nevis Inn), +44 7497 082820, . B&B open all year plus self-catering rooms, friendly knowledgeable host, great location at the foot of Ben Nevis. B&B double £150.
  • 8 The Corran (Corran ferry pier 8 miles south of Fort William), +44 1855 821261. Comfortable loch-side inn. Nowadays it's room-only serviced accommodation as the restaurant and bar are closed, and no reception. Doubles (room only) £120.
  • 9 Mansefield House, Hillview Drive, Corpach PH33 7LS, +44 1397 772262, . B&B in former church manse, six rooms en suite. No children under 12. B&B double £120.
  • The Moorings Hotel, Banavie PH33 7LY, +44 1397 772797, . Small hotel with bistro by the canal ladder of locks. A bit run down, dog-friendly. B&B double £170.
  • 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.

Splurge edit

Connect edit

Highways around Fort William

As of July 2023, Fort William and its approach roads have 4G from all UK carriers. 5G has not reached this area.

There is free internet access in the library on High Street.

Go next edit

  • 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.

Routes through Fort William
GlasgowGlencoe  S   NE  Fort AugustusInverness

This city travel guide to Fort William is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.