IF the past two years have made us realize anything, it’s the value of seemingly smaller moments and for many of us, just being outside and walking into a cafe has to be up there.
The beauty of Scotland, however, means that while sipping your coffee, you can often turn your gaze and peek out the window to find a big, beautiful view that will make your simple moment unforgettable.
And surely nowhere is this opportunity easier to seize than amidst the majesty of the Highlands and Islands.
If you’re already in the area or considering a visit, here’s a selection of some of our favorite cafes that also offer spectacular scenery on the menu to boot.
Knoydart Pottery and Tea Room, Inverie
Access to Knoydart, a Lochaber peninsula on the west coast of the Highlands, can only be achieved by an arduous two-day hike up the hills or a short ferry ride from the fishing port of Mallaig. The rugged, isolated landscape is one of the area’s main attractions and at Knoydart Pottery and Tearoom in Inverie – mainland Britain’s largest off-road settlement – the food is a draw, ranging from dumplings from Knoydart’s venison meat to clotted cream scones, as is pottery and other arts and crafts to peruse. But wow, the views offered are just amazing. Grab your coffee, sit on the deck and come rain, hail or shine, the view of Loch Nevis will hit the mark. A cafe a world away from everywhere.
The Birch, Portree
In the center of Portree, Birch is a specialty cafe that is surrounded by the rugged beauty of the Isle of Skye, but draws inspiration from further afield. Created by Niall Munro – son of former Runrig frontman Donnie Munro – Birch was inspired by trips to coffee mecca, Melbourne, and aims to replicate Melbourne’s hip café style, while using beautiful local produce Highlands and Islands. The coffee roastery opened in 2021 and offers a range of coffees to enjoy at home. A stunning mural overlooked by the cafe, depicting one of Skye’s most recognizable landmarks – The Storr – was actually painted by Donnie, who was an art teacher before rising to world fame with the Scottish band.
Puffin Cafe, Kilchoan
The scattered village of Kilchoan, near the tip of the Ardnamurchan peninsula, is home to the family-run Puffin Coffee, located in the community center of Kilchoan and serving bespoke, fair-trade coffee. This is a great place for tea or coffee or lunch, either to catch the ferry to Tobermory or take a boat trip to see the puffins on the Treshnish Islands. Regular local produce fairs are held in the Community Center on Wednesdays during the summer months, where you can meet the locals and catch up on life at the westernmost point of mainland UK. Inspired by their love of puffins, many branded items are on sale as souvenirs, including puffin mugs and coffee to take home.
Glenfinnan Dining Car, Glenfinnan
Thousands of tourists flock to Glenfinnan for its famous viaduct – memorably flown over by Harry Potter in a Ford Anglia in the blockbuster films of JK Rowling’s novels – and for a glimpse of the equally famous steam train as it passes above the arches, but the dining car is a draw in itself. Located on the museum siding at Glenfinnan Station in the clachan of Lochaber, the original cafe serves up sustainable local cuisine from a restored 1950s railway carriage, the likes of Harry and his peers from Hogwarts walk to school on the big screen. As an added attraction, it has an attached ice cream parlor made from a snow plow adapted for the steam train.
Skoon Gallery and Studio, Harris
A 20 minute drive from Tarbert – Harris’ main community in the Western Isles – takes you to Skoon, a traditional island croft building in Harris Bays on the east coast of the island. The views are incredible and if you can take your eyes off the mesmerizing expanse of white sand and turquoise water that Harris has to offer, the cafe features original oil paintings by resident artist Andrew John Craig, while all cakes, breads and cookies, puddings and soups are made daily on site. Treats include baked chocolate cappuccino cheesecake and oatmeal ginger marmalade cake. You can also pick up Scottish music CDs, vinyl and even sheet music at the café.
The Bealach Cafe and Gallery, Tornapress
The Bealach Cafe and Gallery is nestled in the North West Highlands at the foot of breathtaking Bealach Na Ba, the winding single-track road that takes you through the mountains of the Applecross Peninsula to Wester Ross – the steepest road in Britain. As well as a gallery displaying a wide range of original work by artists and craftspeople from across Scotland, such as art, jewellery, weaving, ceramics and textiles, the cafe offers soups and homemade cakes, coffees and loose tea, plus an outdoor terrace. offering stunning views over the Kishorn Estuary. It’s a great place to stop and breathe before making the 2000+ foot climb of Bealach Na Ba.
Ceilidh Square, Ullapool
This hotel, dormitory, restaurant, bookstore and music venue is also a café/bar, in Ullapool, in the spectacular surroundings of Wester Ross. With views of the mountains, the cafe is described as “the warm heart of The Ceilidh Place”, offering sensory overload as you walk through the door, from the smell of freshly brewed coffee to the warm glow of the wood-burning stove. As well as a well-stocked bookshop offering an “eclectic collection with a Scottish literary bias”, the venue has always been a base of support for writers, musicians and artists, with the walls a gallery space for Scottish makers and the venue regularly hosting a variety of concerts. If a latte and a good book, surrounded by artwork in a glorious Highland setting, is your thing, then you know where to go.
The Wildcat, Fort William
Home to Britain’s tallest mountain, if you’re heading to Fort William – the outdoor capital of the UK – to climb the Ben, you surely deserve a piece of cake and a specialty coffee for your efforts. And if you’re just there to enjoy the stunning scenery, all the more reason to seek out this warm and welcoming vegan cafe operating on the bustling fort’s main street since 2018; an ideal place to take a break while exploring the city and the beauty of its surroundings. Serving artisan roast coffees, loose leaf teas and locally made organic foods that are 100% vegan and locally sourced, there is also a whole foods store focused on zero waste to landfill, offering a growing range of products entitled “West Highland Weigh”, in honor of the fact that the famous footpath ends in the town.
Old Post Office Cafe Gallery, Kincraig
The pretty little village of Kincraig sits on the west bank of the River Spey at the northern end of Loch Insh, and so this little artisan cafe really is in the heart of the Cairngorms. The family business aims to ‘showcase the best of our neighborhood of Kincraig and bonnie Badenoch beyond’ and offer a warm welcome to Scots. Blending family passions for food and art, the cafe aims to source locally, seasonally and responsibly, with a menu featuring Mediterranean dishes. food that has a Highland touch. The cafe also focuses on the talents of local artists and makers with artwork by resident artist Ann Vastano on display. It’s all just along the road from the Highlands Wildlife Park, so you might see a Snow Leopard or Scottish Wildcat, then enjoy a slice of Strawberry Rhubarb Cream Cake or a Scone, or maybe a plate of Sicilian cannoli in a truly crazy adventure.
Slaughterhouse Cafe, Cromarty
This independent specialty cafe and cafe is in a truly beautiful location on the Cromarty shore in the Black Isle, right next to the ferry slip. Originally a sit-down cafe, it now takes the form of a hole-in-the-wall service with the cafe outside, offering the chance to spot Moray Firth’s resident bottlenose dolphins writhing and turning while you relax and watch the Cromarty-Nigg Ferry Terminal and beyond. Stocking and serving their own famous Vandyke Brothers specialty coffee, the cakes come from Black Isle Baking. The venue prides itself on its ‘community spirit’, with Laura Thompson, who took over the business during the pandemic, saying: ‘Friends, family and strangers are what add to the slaughterhouse experience’ .