Inverness, the capital of the Highlands of Scotland, is frequently used to access popular destinations, including the NC500 or Isle of Skye. However, Inverness itself is worth visiting, too. Make a minimum of a 2-day stay here in the middle of your trip. This travel guide contains the essential details for an Inverness weekend. Let's start planning your day in Inverness!
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Table of Contents
Holiday, day out or adventure ideas right here! You can go on some pretty exciting trips with all the great landmarks in a small area. Try combining this with stunning natural landscapes like Loch Ness and the bright lights and city views too.
Rather than “unplugging” and then jumping on your phone the minute you arrive, take time to really unpack your surroundings. Connect with nature and ground yourself in a place rich with history and culture.
Here are memorable travel experiences in the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands!
1.Immerse into Highlands Capital
After checking in to your hotel, take a walk to the main attraction, the spectacular Inverness Castle overlooking the River Ness. Inverness Castle, which occupies this strategic site, was built after three earlier castles. The building is not open to visitors, but there are fine views from its terrace. The statue of Flora MacDonald was unveiled in 1899.
Make sure you take a stroll along the River Ness and around St Andrews Cathedral. St. Andrews Cathedral is the seat of the Episcopal Bishop of Moray, Ross, and Caithness. It is constructed with Tarradale sandstone, while the columns of the nave are in Peterhead granite.
Construction was completed in 1869, a time when most of the landed gentry were Anglicans. The choir is the most impressive feature of the church, as are the altar and reredos in Caen stone. The best of the beautiful stained glass windows is the west window.
If you would like to learn more about Scottish life in the Highlands and see some of the work from local craftspeople, head to Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
2. Spend time in nature at the Ness Islands and the Botanic Gardens
One great local secret that’s not well known is that the Ness Islands are actually connected by suspension bridges. An extensive network of paths covers the wooded areas and follows the river, so there are tons to explore while on your short circular walk from below the castle.
The botanic gardens are near the south end of the walk and offer free entry to all, providing a quiet space away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Within the formal gardens lies a secret garden, or as the locals call it, the G.R.O.W Project (Garden, Recycle, Organic, and Wildlife). Run by adults who have transformed the ground into a beautiful space full of life and produce.
They depend on donations and plant sales to keep their secret garden alive.
Inverness Botanic Gardens address: Bught Ln, Inverness, IV3 5SS
3. On a Rainy Day…
Leakey’s Bookshop is based in St Mary’s Gaelic Church, in Church Street. Said to be the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland, this is an essential stop for all book lovers.
With 100,000 books, rare copies, old maps, and a log-burning stove, you’ll find whatever you’re looking for. Even if it’s raining outside. A great bookish spot for people who want to browse for hours!
The bookshop is located in the old Gaelic Church (1793) with original features, like the spiral staircase and fireplace, making it a very atmospheric place.
Visit the Kiltmaker Visitor Centre which is situated on the West of the River Ness. Here, you can find out about the origins and evolution of the kilt and see skilled kiltmakers at work. Kilts and Highland Dresses can be purchased and hired here.
The Victorian Market in Queensgate dates back to 1890 and has an eclectic range of unique shops. Instead of wandering along the High Street, walk inside the Victorian Market where you can find cafes, unique gifts, and handmade treasures from local independent retailers.
With fairy lights hanging, a warm Highland atmosphere, and a traditional wooden roof, you’ll feel like you have gone back in time to the good old days..
The Victorian Market is the perfect place to visit but also a great place to learn about the history of the market, such as this beautiful legend of one loyal member market dog.
St, Inverness, IV1 1JN
4. Velocity Cafe & Bicycle Workshop
For the love of bikes, this social enterprise promotes a range of projects to promote health, wellbeing and sustainability. Named Scotland’s Cyclist Café of the Year by Cycling UK is a popular spot among locals and tourists, bikers and not bikers.
if you need a bike, repair or some supplies, everyone knows to hit up Velocity.
Velocity Cafe and Bicycle Workshop address: 1 Crown Ave, Inverness, IV2 3NF
5. Taste the Highlands
Inverness has a whole host of restaurants for people to choose from, from simple cafes and coffee shops to fine dining and a wide range (including many cuisines). Chez Roux at Rocpool Reserve and Rocpool both need advance booking.
The Mustard Seed has become an Inverness institution. Located on the banks of the River Ness in a converted church building, the restaurant has a lovely ambience.
The menu offers a great choice of simple, fresh, quality ingredients. Steaks or grilled local haggis are highly recommended.
The Mustard Seed, 16 Fraser Street, Inverness, Telephone: +44 (0) 1463 220220
Fig & Thistle Bistro contemporary wee bistro opposite Eastgate shopping centre. Using Quality local produce with daily specials, good value for money
Figs & Thistle, 4 6 Stephen’s Brae, Inverness, +44 (0)1463 712422
Girvans busy restaurant with queues waiting outside but the service is fast. The restaurant strongly focuses on local producers and homemade meals. Budget-friendly.
Girvans, 2-4 Stephens Brae, Inverness, tel.+44 (0)1463 711900
6. Indulge in 5-star Inverness nightlife!
Pubs and live music are a very important part of Inverness’s social scene. Several pubs have live music every night, including Hootananny, The Gellions Bar, and Johnny Foxes.
A brilliant place to start the evening is Hootananny’s, or Hoots as it’s commonly known by locals. Folk sessions are held every Sunday to Thursday night, but live music is also played through the weekend.
For a more traditional pub atmosphere, try Innes Bar. For a more upscale experience, try Nicky Tam’s Restaurant, Bar One Inverness, or number 27.
If you follow the famous band, The Proclaimers (yes, that’s the one with 500 Miles), then pay a visit to the less touristy but still legendary Gellions Bar where you can hear live music every day.
In the summer months, you may also be fortunate enough to see the Inverness British Legion pipe band playing in the High Street (Tuesday night), along with local Highland dancers in their colourful tartan kilts.
7. Get a Taste of Country Life in Secret Rooftop Garden
A pub stocking local organic beer, and a rooftop secret garden. The Black Isle Bar stocks local organic beer from the Black Isle brewery in addition to its tasty food menu.
8. A historical deep-dive at Culloden Battlefield and Clava Cairns
The Battle of Culloden (; Scottish Gaelic: Blàr Chùil Lodair) was the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745. You can visit the battlefield and the visitor centre or join a guided walk. Find out more here. From Culloden, you can visit another Outlander location which is nearby Clava Cairns. It is about 3 miles round trip and is a lovely walk. The cairns are a series of round chambered tombs and standing stone circles dating back to at least 2000 BC.
Local Bus no 2 Depart to Culloden Battlefield every hour from Inverness Marks and Spencer. The journey takes 30 min.
9. Discover the Lost Kingdom of the Highland Picts
The Pictish Trail and its fascinating story starts at Inverness Museum & Art Gallery. Mysterious and often finely carved stones, important religious sites, hillforts set on towering hills and ridges, finely worked jewellery and sculpture cared for in local museums, and stories of kings, wizards, faith and battles.
A visit to the museum, which has displays on three floors, can be enjoyed in its own right as an introduction to the history and heritage of the Inverness area.
Knocknagael Boar Stone, a large carved symbol stone decorated with the enigmatic mirror and case symbol alongside a wild boar and the hill fort of Craig Phadrig is just a few minutes drive from Inverness are one of the many sites ideal for exploring on foot or by bike.
10. Join a boat tour of the Moray Firth and possibly catch sight of Dolphins
Take an educational wildlife cruise with the Dolphin Spirit. The Moray Firth & Inverness Dolphins Cruise will give you the opportunity to see otters, seals, red kites, ospreys, herons and, with some luck, the resident bottlenose dolphins which all make use of the Moray Firth.
All guides are experts in their fields and include several marine biologists and shore watchers.
You will hear a commentary about local wildlife, history, folklore and attractions. The company is part of the Dolphin Space program, which means they follow regulations that protect animals and make sure no harm is done to wildlife.
Tours run at 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm and 4 pm every day, weather permitting. The trip is roughly 1 hour and 20 minutes long, going between the Beauly Firth and Inverness Firth.
The peak season for dolphin activity is between May and August. I would advise checking with the office when the tide will be rising, which can affect your chances of seeing dolphins (the best time to see them is usually on a rising tide). The company also runs rib experience, a speedboat which goes much further than the larger vessel (and faster) so you have more opportunity to see the dolphins.
The boat leaves from Inverness Marina, which is located on Longman Drive. There are signposts just outside of the entrance for Dolphin Spirit Inverness and the marina.
Another chance to see the dolphins is to get bus 26A or 26C to Fortrose/Rosemarkie on a Black Isle. The bus is operated by Stagecoach Highlands. From Inverness Bus Station, get off outside the Church of Scotland, Fortrose.
11. Take Nessie Hunter Cruise
Thanks to the legends of the Loch Ness Monster Nessie, this is easily the most famous loch in Scotland. This long and deep loch is a sight to see in itself. However, one of the major attractions along the loch is Urquhart Castle.
Dating back to 1509, this ruined castle rests next to the mighty loch. It’s eerily picturesque, especially when there is a soft mist lifting from the loch behind it.
Jacobite cruises operate the different cruises on Loch Ness and delving into the mysteries and myths of the famous Loch Ness is simply a must-do activity.
For a glimpse of the famous loch and the Urquhart Castle take a Freedom tour, which includes a visit to the castle as well as a cruise across the waters of Loch Ness. All of that in just 2 hours!
12. Learn more about Nessie and the History of the Legend
The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition covers not just the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster but also the geology, natural history, myths and history of the loch.
It’s a very interesting display of the information and Visit Scotland marked it as a five-star attraction.
13. Meet a Professional Nessie Hunter
Is there a monster? Or isn’t it here? Have you heard about a full-time monster hunter? There’s a guy who has lived by Loch Ness since 1991 and who followed his dream to become a full-time Nessie hunter.
Steve Feitham is living proof that no matter what others think, it’s worth it to try to make your dreams come true. Though, the search for Nessie is still to be continued.
Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to chat with him, but he leaves behind the Dores Inn
Inn if you want to take a chance
14. Rait Castle a hidden gem 13th-century castle ruin
This 13th-century castle ruin is hidden at the end of a farm track. The first written record of the family’s ownership is from a charter dated 1165 when it was granted by William I (the Lion) to Shaw MacIntosh.
Quite a turbulent story of the castle and the dispute between the Cummings and the Mackintosh families led to the death of the Cummings.
Shortly after the castle was abandoned in the 16th century, an unsubstantiated local rumour suggests that Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, stayed here in 1746 on his way north to defeat the Jacobites at Culloden.
The best way to get there is to take A96 out of Nairn to the east, toward Elgin. Turn right onto A939. Go past Househill and turn right onto B9101. Go about 1/4 mile and look for the very first left turn.
Look for the truly small “Rait Castle Farm” and even smaller “Rait Castle” signs. Follow this farm track all the way to its end. You will have to pass through at least one farm gate; make sure you close them behind you.
There is ample free parking at the top of the pasture. There is no admission fee
15. Taste Great Glen Premium Scottish Gin
Great Glen, Scotland’s newest and smallest craft distillery is also proud to be its “wildest”. With a smooth earthy gin that embraces nature, the distillery sources natural and local ingredients to give you a taste of our rugged landscape.
15. Take a Guided Small Group Tour
Take a relaxing day and let someone guide you around the best sightseeing spots around Inverness. These tours have received 5* ratings from travellers and I can personally highly recommend them. The tours are run by local people who are knowledgeable about the history and local traditions. There are many tours to choose from, and what you select depends on what you are most interested in. You can choose between:
Small groups’ day tours from Inverness:
If you want to see Loch Ness, I highly recommend The Complete Loch Ness Experience. You can enjoy incredible views from a cruise, learn about the historic ruins of Urquhart Castle, and experience the less frequented south roads of the loch.
Experience the natural wonders of Scotland’s most famous island Isle of Skye with the Skye & Eilean Donan Castle tour
Glen Affric, Culloden & Clava Cairns – 1-day tour for Outlander fans plus discovering Scotland’s most beautiful glen.
Torridon, Applecross & Eilean Donan Castle – 1-day tour to see the iconic castle and the wildest part of the Highlands
Three-day tours from Inverness:
Lewis, Harris & the Outer Hebrides – 3-day tour. If you like to see more of Scotland, take a small group (max 16 people) tour to the Outer Hebrides. Learn about the rich history of the island, including its Viking past, not to mention the stunning scenery as you travel through.