The Royal Burgh of Dornoch is located in the northern Highlands, approximately 1 hour north of Inverness, just off the A9. This seaside town is a great place to base yourself if you’re looking to explore the area or if you’re doing the North Coast 500 (NC500). Hopefully you’ve already checked out our comprehensive guide on things to do in Dornoch – if not, click here! So if you’re now wondering if there’s much to do in the surrounding area, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve been visiting Dornoch for years and know the area very well so here are our top places to visit around Dornoch, many of which feature on the NC500 circuit.
>> Check out our detailed guide on things to do in Inverness. Click HERE! <<
Things to do north of Dornoch
Visit the fairytale Dunrobin Castle (Golspie)
The ultimate fairy tale castle of Scottish Highlands, Dunrobin castle is impossibly beautiful with its stunning French style architecture, formal gardens and sea views. Located a short 15 minute drive from Dornoch, Dunrobin castle is the perfect destination for a day trip. Check out this post for further details on the castle, opening hours and tickets.
Admire the waterfall at the Big Burn Walk in Golspie
You may want to combine a visit to Dunrobin Castle with a walk in the nearby woods. You’ll see a signpost for the Big Burn Walk as you leave Golspie heading north (towards the castle). There’s a dedicated car park which marks the start of the walk. Enjoy the magical 3km walk along a burbling stream, meandering over and under bridges with a stunning waterfall at the end of the trail.
Stretch your legs on the Golspie Coastal Walk
This is one of our favourite coastal walks in Sutherland! Park up on Duke Street, just off the A9 as you leave Golspie travelling north. Cross the little foot bridge next to the ford, hop over a farm stile and you will now find yourself right next to the sea. Follow the coastal path for about 2km and you’ll find yourself staring at the beautiful fairly tale Dunrobin Castle. You can follow the path all the way to Brora (11kms) if you’re feeling energetic. You can then catch public transport back to Golspie (train or bus).
>> If you’d like to discover everything that Golspie has to offer, click HERE for our full detailed guide! <<
Have a dram at the Clynelish Whisky Distillery (Brora)
Sample the water of life at the newly revamped Clynelish whisky distillery. Located in Brora, 25 minutes’ drive from Dornoch, this distillery has been on this site since 1819. Some of the buildings we see today date from the 1960s, when demand for this excellent malt grew and larger premises were required.
Enjoy an ice-cream and a walk along the Beach in Brora
There’s yet another lovely beach to explore in Brora! Combine an ice-cream from the legendary Capaldi’s and a walk along the wind-swept beach. If you’re looking for shelter from the elements, we can recommend a great coffee accompanied by some delicious mini home-made chocolates from Cocoa Skye
Bird watching at Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve
Located just 10 minutes north of Dornoch on the banks of Loch Fleet, this nature reserve is a unique area of natural fauna and flora. You can choose between Balblair Woods or the coastal section called Littleferry. It’s a great spot for birdwatching or for having a picnic.
Blow away the cobwebs at Embo Beach
Once you’ve discovered Dornoch beach, you may wish to head slightly further afield and discover another inviting beach. Head a few minutes’ north of Dornoch and discover the quiet sandy beach of Embo. Think large expanse of golden coloured sand, bliss.
Things to do south of Dornoch
Whisky Tasting at Glenmorangie (Tain)
Located on the outskirts of Tain and a short 10 minute drive south of Dornoch, the world-famous Glenmorangie is a must on your itinerary. Established back in 1843 by William Matheson, it is today recognised as a highly regarded award-winning single malt throughout the world. Check out their tour options here.
Visit Tain Pottery
Located just off the A9, south of Dornoch and near the town of Tain, you’ll find a small family run pottery business. A team of highly skilled artisans have been perfecting their traditional methods on this site since 1996. We’ve been buying their pottery for years and always receive compliments for their tasteful designs.
Pick up a holiday souvenir at Anta Pottery & Home Furnishings
If pottery is your thing, then here’s another place to add to your list. Located 20 minutes south of Dornoch, near the small town of Fearn, you’ll find Anta pottery and home furnishings. Established in the Highlands since 1984, Anta pottery has a beautiful factory shop that’s well worth a detour. You’ll find a stunning array stoneware, homeware and accessories. The perfect keepsake from your trip to the Highlands!
Admire the Mermaid of the North in Balintore
Located 20 minutes’ from Dornoch, head to the pretty seaside town of Balintore to discover the sculpture trail along the water front. The Mermaid of the North perches majestically in the sea and is often included in people’s NC500 itinerary. The mermaid was originally built of wood and resin, however, she was destroyed following a serious storm and was subsequently replaced by a bronze cast model. She is really quite majestic!
>> ARE YOU DOING THE NORTH COAST 500 ? CHECK OUT OUR EPIC GUIDE TO THE NC500 EAST COAST!! <<
Things to do West of Dornoch
Falls of Shin
Head about 25 minutes inland to see the salmon leaping at the Falls of Shin. Apparently the best time to see them leaping is from the middle of May until the end of autumn. We saw them jumping up the peaty coloured waters during the month of August. There’s also a lovely walk in the woods as well as a cafe on site. We strongly recommend that you take the Spinningdale road to get there, it’s so incredibly picturesque. If you feel like heading a little further, carry on a further 10 minutes north to Lairg and sample a delicious meal from the Pier. Great food, great cakes and great views over Loch Shin.