The Highlands and Islands have been named as one of the top places in the world to visit next year by respected travel guide Lonely Planet.
The area’s natural beauty, wildlife and fine seafood helped earn its place in the top 10 of Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2019, a collection of the best travel destinations, trends, journeys and experiences to have in the year ahead.
The guide said that the whisky boom, which has seen a number of new distilleries open in the region, helped secure its place on the list.
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It said they offer “a great introduction to one of the wildest, least inhabited and most scenic parts of Europe” while the region’s “innovative and fast-developing” accommodation sector is also highlighted.
Lonely Planet experts recommend “unmissable experiences” including joining a nature-watching trip to discover the wealth of wildlife, from red deer, golden eagles and otters to whales, dolphins and basking shark.
Savouring the region’s seafood at restaurants such as the Kylesku Hotel, Skye’s Oyster Shed or the Scallop Shack on Lewis was also recommended.
The guide gives special mention to the “hugely successful” North Coast 500 driving route, as well as the North East 250 and the Snow Roads through the Cairngorms.
Tom Hall, Lonely Planet’s editorial director, said: “The wild landscapes of Scotland’s Highlands and Islands offer the ultimate escape and visiting the region’s remote areas is now easier than ever thanks to impressive developments in accommodation.
“This is a stunning area with so much to offer travellers, from its glorious natural landscape and rich history to enviable local food and drink.”
The guide highlights the range of accommodation on offer from purpose-built campervan parking spots to designer cottages modelled on ancient buildings which it said makes visiting remote areas “easier than ever”.
It also suggests experiences such as climbing Suilven following the repair and upgrade of its footpath.
The Highlands and islands feature fifth on the list of top regions for 2019, coming in ahead of Gujarat in India, Manitoba in Canada and Elqui Valley in Chile.
Piedmont in Italy was in first place.
Sri Lanka has been named the number one country to visit in 2019, while Denmark’s capital Copenhagen has been named the number one city to visit.
The Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2019 is a highly-anticipated annual collection of the best travel destinations, trends, journeys and experiences to have in the year ahead.
Tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “It’s fantastic to see the Highlands and Islands receive recognition for its breath-taking scenery, history and heritage.
“From its wide range of distilleries and tourist attractions, to its beautiful islands and iconic landmarks, I am sure the Lonely Planet’s support for the Highlands and Islands will help to inspire and captivate the imaginations of new visitors.”
Malcolm Roughead, VisitScotland Chief Executive, said: “I am thrilled, though not entirely surprised, to discover that Scotland’s Highlands and Islands have appeared in this prestigious list.
“This stunning part of Scotland punches well above its weight on the world stage, as a thriving holiday destination for people from both across the globe and the UK, as well as a popular location for film production companies looking for a beautiful backdrop for their next blockbuster.
“With accolades like this one to their name, Scotland’s Highlands and Islands will be in the global spotlight once again. However, it is imperative that we don’t become complacent, as we need to continue to provide world-class experiences, events and attractions to keep up with the ever-changing visitor demands.”
Margaret Davidson, leader of Highland Council, said: “The Scottish Highlands and Islands are a wonderful part of the world. I have always considered it one of the best places to visit not just for our fabulous scenery but also for the range of activities available, our distinct culture and of course the warm welcome for which the Highlands are famous.
“Being chosen as one of Lonely Planet’s top regions in their forthcoming prestigious global campaign ‘Best in Travel 2019’ is a splendid accolade. The fact that this endorsement comes from such a globally-recognised and trusted travel publisher as Lonely Planet will undoubtedly boost the area’s profile on a global stage and encourage more visitors to come and experience a true Highland welcome.”
A Comhairle nan Eilean Siar spokesperson, said: “Comhairle nan Eilean Siar welcomes this recognition of the Outer Hebrides and the Highlands of Scotland in the top ten global destinations.
“It is particularly satisfying and well-deserved to see the Hebridean Way - a Comhairle-led EU funded project - featuring so highly.
“The Outer Hebrides is a must-visit destination and the local industry works hard to ensure an excellent visitor experience - all sectors should rightly be proud to have received this accolade.”