12 breathtaking lochs in Scotland

Nature, The Great British Outdoors

Posted by Clare Willcocks on 26th April 2021

Loch Tummel

Twinkling lakes cupped between majestic mountains, mirror-like idylls where nature thrives, slivers of emerald water stretching inland from the sea; each of Scotland’s lochs has its own, inimitable personality.

Before we go on to explore our list of lochs in Scotland, let’s take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions regarding these beautiful bodies of water.

How many lochs are there in Scotland?

There are an estimated 31,460 lochs in Scotland, from the vast, inky depths of Loch Ness, whose legendary monster is a household name, to tiny fishing lochs such as Loch Drunkie, well off the beaten trail.

How many lakes are there in Scotland?

There is only one lake in Scotland, which may come as a surprise considering the astounding number of lochs scattered across its ancient landscapes. Scotland’s only lake is the Lake of Menteith near Stirling, but even though it flies the flag for lakes in Scotland, it also goes by the pseudonym Loch Inchmahome.

What is the difference between a loch and a lake?

The difference is in name alone, with loch being the Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Scots word for a lake or sea inlet. The words loch and lake essentially both describe a large body of water.

 

The lochs of Scotland are a playground for outdoor enthusiasts, with exhilarating activities including sailing on Loch Venachar, kayaking on the Gareloch, windsurfing on Loch Lomond and water skiing on Loch Earn. Other visitors prefer to take a spectator’s role, catching glimpses of the shimmering lakes on rambles through the forest, or being rewarded by aerial views after a gruelling climb.

We’ve compiled a list of some of our favourite lochs in Scotland, each one worthy of its spot in the limelight. If you’re already sold on a Scottish holiday, take a look at our beautiful collection of holiday cottages in the country, or read on to discover our best lochs in Scotland.

Cottages in Scotland


Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond is a freshwater loch – at 22.6 miles long, 4.7 miles at its widest point, with a surface area of 27.5 miles, it is the largest loch in Great Britain by surface area, and second largest lake by volume.

The beauty of Loch Lomond is captivating, whether you’re admiring it from the water on a cruise, or drinking in the scenery from the shore with Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps providing an awe-inspiring backdrop.

There are a whole array of ways to get to know the loch, one of the most popular being jumping right in and trying one of the many water sports on offer. Kayaking, canoeing, jet skiing and windsurfing are sure to get the adrenaline pumping!

The surrounding Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is bursting with walking routes through beautiful hills and glens and across dramatic rocky peaks. Appreciate the vastness of the views you’ve seen so many times in photos, and find peaceful corners where the loch becomes your own.

Activities to try: Shopping (yes, shopping!) at Loch Lomond Shores, taking a loch cruise, trying some water sports and exploring the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

Stay nearby: High Wards, Gartocharn | Sleeps 22 + 2 dogs

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs cottages


Best lochs in Scotland - Loch Coruisk

Loch Coruisk

Nearly 2 miles long and just 370 metres wide, Loch Coruisk takes its name from the Scottish Gaelic meaning Cauldron of Waters.

Held up by many as one of the most beautiful lakes in Scotland, Loch Coruisk nestles amidst the dramatic scenery of the Cuillin Mountains on the Isle of Skye. Jagged rocky peaks tower over the water, their reflections magnifying the impact of the view as you glide in by boat. It’s no surprise to discover that the scenery has inspired many a creative, from painter JMW Turner to historical novelist Sir Walter Scott.

If you want to experience the magic of Loch Coruisk yourself, you can book a boat trip from the village of Elgol, or take the rocky route up to summit Sgurr Na Stri from where the views of the loch are astounding.

It is possible to walk around the lake from the boat landing stage, but the route is boggy in places and rocky in others, so it pays to be prepared. However, if you do take on the challenge, the scenery and geology are incredible.

Activities to try: An excursion by boat with Misty Isle Boat Trips.

Stay nearby: Sulaire, Broadford (7mls W) | Sleeps 6 + 2 dogs

Isle of Skye cottages


Best lochs in Scotland - Loch Morar

Loch Morar

Loch Morar in Lochaber is the deepest body of fresh water in the British Isles, with an unfathomable depth of 310 metres.

The result of glacial action around 10,000 years ago, the loch is a magnet for photographers, whose images capture the impressive rocky slopes, pockets of forest and wooded islands.

Morag the Monster is rumoured to lurk in its murky depths. Some say she is half-human, half-fish; others liken her to her famous cousin, the Loch Ness Monster. Keep your eyes peeled during your visit - you never know what you might see!

Activities to try: Go fishing for salmon and trout, spot Sika deer, otters, sea eagles and other creatures or follow one of three way-marked paths in the surrounding hills.

Stay nearby: Taigh Na Coille, Roshven | Sleeps 10 + 2 dogs

Mallaig cottages


Best lochs in Scotland - Loch Ness

Loch Ness

At 22.5 miles long, 1.7 miles wide and 230 metres deep, Loch Ness holds more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined, a staggering 1.8 cubic miles!

We couldn’t compile a list of breathtaking Scottish lochs without a mention of Loch Ness, and by extension, the mysterious Loch Ness Monster! Besides being the supposed home of everybody’s favourite Scottish beast, Loch Ness is also one of Scotland’s most loved destinations, with something to appeal to every visitor.

With 1,000 years of history, Urquhart Castle on the shores of the loch is a must-visit for history buffs. Stunning hiking trails provide adventurous ramblers with no end of scenery to explore on foot and Highland wildlife such as red deer, golden eagles, red squirrels and otters make it a nature-lover’s dream destination.

Taking to the water itself is another enjoyable pastime, with stand up paddleboarding, kayaking and cruises (including The Beastie Boats tours) just some of the activities on offer. At the north end of the loch, the vibrant city of Inverness is packed with attractions and eateries to try out during your stay. More restaurants and pubs are dotted along the shores and opposite end of the loch at Fort Augustus, where there’s also a golf club on the banks of the Caledonian Canal.

Activities to try: There are not many activities you can’t do at Loch Ness – all sorts of water sports, hiking, shopping, eating and drinking can be enjoyed.

Stay nearby: Strone Castle Cottage, Loch Ness | Sleeps 4

Loch Ness cottages


Best lochs in Scotland - Loch Shiel

Loch Shiel

Some 17.5 miles long and 120 metres deep, 12 miles west of Fort William, Loch Shiel is another leviathan of the loch world.

Home to arguably one of the most famous loch views in Scotland, looking south from the Glenfinnan Monument, Loch Shiel is the embodiment of the image which springs to mind when you think of the Scottish lochs. Filling a glacial cleft and surrounded by craggy hills, it is the location of the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct, immortalised in the Harry Potter films.

Take a cruise around the lake to spot all manner of interesting and elusive species, including golden and white-tailed eagles, hen harriers and red deer. Loch Shiel is steeped in history, being the place in which Bonnie Prince Charlie began the second Jacobite rebellion.

Activities to try: Book a trip on board the Jacobite Steam train which crosses the majestic Glenfinnan Viaduct. Go hillwalking, pony trekking and fishing.

Stay nearby: The Cabin, Fort William (17mls W) | Sleeps 5 + 1 dog

Fort William cottages


Best lochs in Scotland - Loch Awe

Loch Awe

A sweeping, 26-mile loch, carved into the astonishingly untouched scenery of Argyll and Bute, Loch Awe lies parallel to lochs Etive and Fyne. 

Pouring out into the Atlantic Ocean via the River Awe and Loch Etive, it is a long and narrow freshwater mass. Largely undeveloped, the banks of the loch are rich in wildlife which thrives in the woodland, at the water’s edge and in the vast skies above. Some of the many animals you may be in with a chance of spotting are barn owls, eagles, red squirrels and otters.

Much of the loch is only accessible by boat or on foot. If you fancy exploring under your own steam, you can hire out rowing, motor and cabin boats, and can even fish for species such as wild brown trout, rainbow trout and salmon.

Besides activities on the loch, the surrounding area is popular for pony trekking – the ideal way to experience some of the vast open spaces and distinctive landscapes around the loch.

Activities to try: Cycling on the tracks and roads around the loch, boat hire, fishing, wildlife watching.

Stay nearby: Achnasmeorach House, Kilchrenan | Sleeps 10

Loch Awe cottages


Best lochs in Scotland - Loch Maree

Loch Maree

Dramatic scenery awaits at the epic loch, which is cupped within a glacial trough whose depths plunge to an unnerving 110 metres. 

13.5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide at its broadest point, it is the fourth largest freshwater loch in Scotland. The gargantuan proportions of the loch itself are reflected in the surrounding scenery, with the towering hulk of Slioch to the south east end. The loch is lined by the oak forests of Letterewe on one side, and the pinewoods of Beinn Eighe Nature reserve on the opposite bank, creating a place awash with beauty and nature.

The expanse of water is peppered with islands, five of which are large and wooded, and more than 60 smaller ones, some harbouring their own small bodies of water known as lochans. On the largest island, Eilean Sùbhainn, there is even an island within the lake on the island!

Otters and black-throated divers are among some of the important species which live in Loch Maree, the latter is one of the largest breeding groups in Great Britain. As for interesting features, the Isle Maol Rubha features the remains of a chapel, graveyard, holy well and holy tree, thought to be the 8th-century hermitage of Saint Máel Ruba.

There is one trail, the Tollie Path, to explore the loch on foot. The 5-mile route begins at Slattadale parking place and ends close to Poolewe, taking in stunning views over Loch Maree’s islands and the rugged mountains. The woodland at Beinn Eigne and trails through the mountains are also serene and beautiful.

Activities to try: Kayaking or canoeing, walking, driving around the loch to admire the scenery from viewpoints such as at Glen Docherty and the Glas Leitr Trails car park.

Stay nearby: Writers Retreat – Poolewe, Poolewe | Sleeps 2 

Poolewe cottages


Best lochs in Scotland - Loch Etive

Loch Etive

Almost 20 miles long and up to 1 mile wide, Loch Etive is a sea loch in Argyll and Bute, meeting the sea at Connel near Oban.

The distinguishing feature of this majestic loch is its narrow mouth, which produces a tidal falls, known as the Falls of Lora, when the level of water in the Firth of Lorn drops below that of Loch Etive. The phenomenon occurs between two and five days either side of the spring tides, attracting kayakers to ride the exciting currents and swells. Spanning the river at this point is Connel Bridge, which was once a rail, road and passenger crossing, but is now only for road traffic.

Another of the loch’s treasures is the small colony of seals which call it home – take a boat trip to be in with a chance of spotting them and other wildlife. From the water, you can also admire the surrounding landscape of oft-snow-capped peaks, or strike out on foot to appreciate the scenery from a different perspective. Glen Etive is a highlight for walkers, with the Glen Coe Mountains, Buachaille Etive Mor ridge and Lairig Gartain providing no end of walking routes and habitats.

Inland, close to Connel Bridge, Ardchattan Priory is a popular visitor attraction, alongside Ardchattan House and Ardchattan Garden.

Activities to try: Walking opportunities abound, as well as boat trips, wildlife watching and exploring in small boats from the beach. Loch Etive is also one of the best places for fishing on the west coast of Scotland. Serious rock climbers can tackle the rocks of Bein Trilleachean. 

Stay nearby: Gorstain Bheag, Balindore | Sleeps 2 + 1 dog

Oban cottages


Best lochs in Scotland - Loch Tummel

Loch Tummel

A thin, sliver of water carved into the Perthshire countryside, Loch Tummel is 7 miles long and up to 1 mile wide. 

The River Tummel feeds the loch at one end, and drains it at the other, and the area around the loch is a designated National Scenic Area – a testament to its incredible scenery. Fishing is a popular pastime on the loch, with anglers fishing for brown trout and pike (permits available from Loch Rannoch Conservation Association). The loch is also enjoyed by sailors and has its own sailing club at Foss.

One of the most well-known views in Scotland is that which was experienced by Queen Victoria in 1866 from the north shore, an event which earned the viewpoint the name ‘Queen’s View’. From there, the glistening loch below gives way to hills with the broad ridge of Schiehallion in the distance.

Loch Tummel is among the best lochs to visit in Scotland if you’re looking to enjoy woodland walks, with Forestry Commission paths and cycling routes across Allean Forest providing dazzling views of the loch and surrounding scenery.

Activities to try: There are several cycle routes and roads, including along the south shore which is peaceful and pretty. Hiking and walking can be enjoyed here, Munro-bagging in the local vicinity, with activities such as angling and geocaching being popular too.

Stay nearby: Kioma, Pitlochry | Sleeps 6

Pitlochry cottages


Best lochs in Scotland - Loch Earn

Loch Earn

This freshwater loch sits in the southern highlands of Scotland. 10 miles long and only 0.75 miles wide at its broadest point, it’s a top choice amongst water sports enthusiasts.

The Loch Earn Watersports Centre is the place to head if you’re serious about getting out on the loch and trying one of the many activities which range from exhilarating water skiing to more sedate stand-up paddleboarding.

While the most fun is to be had on the loch itself, the best views can be admired from the summit of Ben Vorlich. Gazing down at the languishing blue loch below, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world!

Activities to try: Check out Loch Earn Watersports Centre for all sorts of water-based fun, or stick to dry land with walks around the loch, including the BLiSS Sculpture and Art Trail. It’s also a popular spot for trout and salmon fishing.

Stay nearby: Loch Earn Milestone Cabin, Callander (11mls N) | Sleeps 2

Callander cottages


Best lochs in Scotland - Loch Katrine

Loch Katrine

This scenic freshwater loch in the Trossachs area of the Highlands is 8.1 miles long and 0.62 miles wide and is a favourite amongst visitors from nearby Glasgow.

The name Katrine is derived from Celtic roots, meaning ‘dark, gloomy place’, thought to be due to the forests surrounding the loch. An alternative suggestion for the origin of the name is that it comes from the Gaelic word meaning ‘cattle thief’ – a nod to its connection to Rob Roy MacGregor who was born by the loch.

Loch Katrine is the main source of water for the city of Glasgow. It has a sprinkling of islands and one of the most unique visitor experiences of all of the lochs in Scotland: Steamship Cruises from the Trossachs Pier. On board, enjoy Loch Katrine in the shadow of Queen Victoria who took the same route in 1869.

Fans of the TV series Outlander can also relive the scene in which Brianna and Roger sit down for a picnic on the banks of the loch. In fact, Loch Katrine has played many a role in the arts, being also the inspiration behind Sir Walter Scott’s famous poem Lady of the Lake. 

Activities to try: Hop on a steamship for a cruise across the lake, cycle along the single track road on the northern shore or take to the hills and mountains for hikes with astounding views (the walk to the summit of Ben A’an is good for families).

Stay nearby: Scott Cottage – Loch Katrine, Loch Katrine | Sleeps 5 + 1 dog

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs cottages


Best lochs in Scotland - Loch Lochy

Loch Lochy

9 miles long and 0.6 miles wide, Loch Lochy is linked to Loch Oich by the Caledonian Canal, and flows into the River Lochy at the southwestern end. 

With a name about as imaginative as the famous ship Boaty McBoatface, Loch Lochy is a large, freshwater loch, hugged by glorious mountains and rich in wild brown trout. Its banks are ripe for picnics and lined with scenic forests for peaceful rambles; it is a perfect place to get back to nature.

As with many of the lochs in Scotland, Loch Lochy has a history of monster sightings. Its resident monster has been dubbed Lizzie the Loch Lochy Monster, rumoured to be a 15-20 foot creature whose presence has remarkably been witnessed by many people over the years, so keep an eye out if you take to the water!

If you’d rather not take the risk, there are lots of ways to admire the loch from afar, with walks ranging from family strolls to challenging mountain hikes. And when you’re out of energy, head to one of the lochside eateries, which includes Corriegour Restaurant – fine dining right on the water’s edge. You can also take a cruise along various parts of the Caledonian Canal, of which Loch Lochy is a part. The lochs of the Caledonian Canal lie along the geological fault of the Great Glen – a particularly scenic area that makes for a wonderful boat trip.

Activities to try: Take a cruise on the Caledonian Canal, keep an eye out for Lizzie the Loch Lochy Monster, take walks in the forest and along neighbouring Loch Oich and watch boats navigate through Laggan Locks.

Stay nearby: Ardechive, Achnacarry | Sleeps 6 + 2 dogs

Invergarry cottages


Best lochs in Scotland

Other lovely lochs in Scotland

With over 31,000 lochs in Scotland, we couldn’t leave our list at a mere 12, so here are a few more stunners to add to your holiday itinerary.

An Lochan Uaine (Green Loch)

A captivating turquoise lake with woodland walks from the Glenmore Visitor Centre, Green Loch is one of the more unusual bodies of water in Scotland.

Loch Fyne

You may already associate the name of Scotland’s longest sea loch with its famous oysters and whisky, but Loch Fyne is also a stunning destination for photographers, walkers and wildlife watchers alike.

Loch Long

Living up to its name at 20 miles in length, Loch Long is easily accessible from Glasgow and attracts visitors with its climbing and walking opportunities in the nearby Arrochar Alps, Ben Arthur and Ben Narnain. It is also good for water sports, diving and sea fishing.

Loch Leven

Scotland’s largest lowland loch, Loch Leven, is a freshwater haven for wildlife, home to RSPB Loch Leven and the Loch Leven National Nature Reserve which welcomes thousands of geese each year, flying south from Iceland and Greenland.

Loch Loyne

Surrounded by an enthralling landscape of mountains and peaks sprinkled with snow, Loch Loyne is a photographer’s dream.


Map of breathtaking lochs in Scotland



See the best lochs in Scotland for yourself

These majestic bodies of water, steeped in legend and as old as the landscape itself, are a wonder to behold. Whether you’re gliding around in a kayak on the surface, diving to discover the treasures of the deep, or taking a hike to admire them from afar, they make magical destinations for a holiday in Scotland.

If you’ve been tempted to add these beauties to your itinerary, take a look at our collection of holiday cottages across Scotland. Discover more watery wonders in our lakes and rivers guide.

Cottages in Scotland



Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.