If you’re looking to plan a weekend break in the Scottish Highlands, there are plenty of fun things to do in Inverness.
Inverness is located on Scotland’s northeast coast, where the River Ness meets the Moray Firth. It’s the largest city and the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands. Inverness is also the start point for those keen to road trip Scotland’s scenic North Coast 500 route.
Before planning a trip to Inverness please check the local health authority guidelines to ensure you’re traveling Covid safe. We suggest contacting local businesses in advance to confirm if they are open as hours might have changed.
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History of Inverness
Inverness translates to “the mouth of the River Ness,” and is the location of one of Scotland’s most ancient settlements. The capital of the Scottish Highlands is steeped in folklore and clan mystique.
In the 6th century St Columba apparently visited the Pictish King Brude at his fortress. While centuries later, in 1040, Macbeth supposedly murdered King Duncan at his castle at Auld Castlehill.
During the medieval period Inverness boomed. The city played home to fishermen and shipbuilders thanks to its bustling 13th century port. The main exports in Inverness were wool, fur and hides.
Fun Fact: In 1562 Queen Mary traveled to Inverness. She tried to enter the city’s castle but the governor refused. Queen Mary ended up staying somewhere else in town but later the governor was hanged. An excellent lesson in, “always treat your guests like royalty.”
How To Get To Inverness
- Plane: you can fly to Inverness Airport from several UK cities including London, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
- Train: direct daily trains arrive into Inverness Station from London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. If you’re looking to save money and time book The Caledonian Sleeper service from London Euston.
- Car: the A9 travels through Inverness and is a 3 hour 20 minute drive from both Glasgow and Edinburgh.
- Bus: Citylink and Megabus offer bus routes from Perth, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Stagecoach Bluebird offers a link to Aberdeen. Those arriving into Scotland from London can arrive via National Express or Megabus.
Best Things To Do in Inverness
Inverness offers the perfect weekend break in the Scottish Highlands. History buffs will enjoy learning about Scotland’s most tumultuous period, the Jacobite Risings.
You can see where the last battle on British soil took place at Culloden, or visit the nearby Fort Geroge, an impressive 18th century military marvel. Is monster hunting more your thing? Plan a day trip to Loch Ness and explore Scotland’s famous lake on a cruise while on the lookout for Nessie.
Keen to sit back and relax on your Inverness getaway and don’t want to worry about renting or driving a car? Here is a list of our favourite tours from Inverness offered by local operators.
- Isle of Skye Full Day from Inverness: Visit the Isle of Skye on this 11 hour day trip from Inverness.
- Loch Ness and Beyond from Inverness: this 7 hour tour takes guests to visit all of the best highlights just outside of Inverness including Loch Ness, Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns and Cawdor Castle.
- 3 Day Orkney Islands Tour from Inverness: spend 3 days exploring Scotland’s far-flung Orkney islands.
If you’re planning a road trip through the Scottish Highlands you’ll need to research the best Inverness accommodation in advance. Inverness and the surrounding area offers luxury resorts, historic boutique hotels and more affordable family-run B&Bs.
- Daviot Lodge 5 STARS: a luxurious 5 star B&B located 10 minutes drive from Inverness. Seven well-appointed suites are located in an 80-acre rural setting. Check Reviews
- The Craigdarroch Inn 4 STARS: family owned boutique hotel property situated in the Highland village of Foyers, 18 miles from Inverness. Check Reviews
- Mercure Inverness Hotel 4 STARS : a stylish and contemporary Inverness hotel located a short 7 minute walk from Inverness Castle. Check Review
- Columba Hotel Inverness 4 STARS : historic 1881 property overlooking the River Ness located a short 3 minute walk from St Andrew’s Cathedral. Check Reviews
- Glen Mhor Hotel 3 STARS: a sprawling hotel complex perched over the river. It’s located in the heart of downtown Inverness, walkable from all the city’s top attractions. Check Reviews
Academy Street, 014-637-24343
If you’re looking to shop local in Inverness head to the historic Victorian Market. The indoor shopping mall dates back to the 1890s and today offers a range of independent local shops offering uniquely Scottish products. The Victorian Market offers 41 shops as well as two cute cafes. It’s the perfect place in Inverness to enjoy a stroll if it’s raining in the morning. Nibble on freshly baked pastries while sipping a hot cup of coffee.
The Victorian Market’s original 1870 entrance can be found on Academy Street. The historic entrance consists of three round arches. At the top the centre arch features a bull’s head on and top of the two smaller arches are two rams’ heads. Also be sure to spot the Victorian Market Clock, located in the centre of the market. Pear above the clock and you’ll find the coat of arms of the various councils that have been responsible for managing Inverness’s covered market over the years. While window shopping be sure to look up to appreciate the splendid and ornate Victorian cast-iron and wooden-domed roof.
Inverness Castle sits perched over a cliff overlooking River Ness. A fortification has existed on the site of Inverness Castle since the 11th century. It was rebuilt into an 18th century citadel, known as Fort George, following the first Jacobite rebellion and one hundred years later was converted into a neo-Norman architectural icon.
Today, the city’s famous castle is used as a Sheriff Court and is not widely open to the public for exploration. In April 2017 the north tower of Inverness Castle was opened to the public as a view point. If you’re keen to visit the castle in Inverness you can enjoy the gorgeous grounds and pop up to the north tower for a panoramic view of the city. In the garden be sure to spot a statue of Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald and her dog, erected in loving memory back in 1899.
St Andrew’s Cathedral
Inverness Castle, also known as the Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew, is a Scottish Episcopal Church located on the banks of the River Ness. It’s the northernmost cathedral in mainland Britain and was the first new Protestant cathedral to be erected in Great Britain since the Reformation.
St Andrew’s Cathedral’s foundation stone was laid by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1866 and construction was completed in 1869. The local architect Alexander Ross built the cathedral using red Tarradale stone, with the nave columns of Peterhead granite. Inverness Cathedral also contains a ring of ten bells, which are famous for being the most northerly peal of change-ringing bells in the world.
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If you’re keen to enjoy a scenic nature stroll in the heart of downtown Inverness look no further than the Ness Islands. The city’s beautiful nature park is made of of a group of small islands located in the middle of the River Ness. Outdoor enthusiasts can easily spot mature Scots pine, fir, beech and sycamore trees.
The Ness Islands are connected by suspension bridges, which were originally built in Victorian times around 1828. If you complete the entire loop it takes around one hour, approximately 3 miles from start to finish. If you’re short on time you can easily cut across one of the Ness Island bridges to shorten the trip.
Keen to keep fit on holiday? The loop around the Ness Islands are perfect for a 5km morning run. It’s such a popular running trail with local athletes that the annual Race for Life and other community runs feature the Ness Island loop in their running route.
The Ness Islands walk takes visitors past a number of other popular Inverness attractions such as Whin Park, Inverness Ice Centre, Inverness Botanic Gardens and Inverness Cathedral.
Inverness Botanic Gardens
Horticulture fans visiting the capital of the Scottish Highlands on a rainy day should enjoy a stroll through Inverness Botanic Gardens. Opened to the public in 1993 by Prince Edward, Inverness Botanic Gardens is an urban oasis located a short walk from the Ness Islands.
The public gardens are free to visitors and change throughout the seasons to reflect what’s in season. The properties greenhouses showcase a wide variety of growing conditions. Flower lovers can enjoy plant diversity from tropical rainforests to dry deserts.
Step inside the Tropical House and you’ll find yourself transported to a hot and humid rainforest. Highlights include wild orchids, bougainvillea, bird of paradise and a waterfall that pours into a pretty Koi pond. Next door you’ll find The Cactus House, which features hundreds of cacti that sprout from 75 tonnes of dramatic rock.
Opened in 1979 by Charles Leakey, Leakey’s Bookshop is considered one of the world’s most wonderful bookstores. The independent second-hand bookstore in Inverness is located in one of the city’s old Gaelic churches. Much of the original church remains, although Leakey added an iron spiral staircase to connect the shops double decker interior.
If you’re a bookworm, a stroll through Leaky’s Bookshop is one of the best things to do in Inverness. Book-lovers pilgrimage here to flip through the shops nearly 100,000 books. It truly is a literary lovers Nirvana! The popular Inverness shop features sections on topography, cookery, and shooing and fishing – thought its best known for its antique prints and maps.
The interior features a huge log fireplace and also happens to be one of celebrated novelist Ali Smith’s favourite places in Inverness. As a teenager she used to work at a cafe down the road and would spend her free time at Leaky’s Bookshop.
River House Restaurant
1 Greig St, 44-1463-222033
River House sits perched over the banks of the River Ness in downtown Inverness. Located at the foot of an old Victorian suspension bridge on Greig Street, it’s one of the best restaurants in Inverness.
Skip inside and you’ll find a petite dining room featuring pretty orchid pots, bright white mirror frames and intimate booths stuffed with oversized pillows.
The kitchen at River House Restaurant specializes in serving Scotland’s finest seafood and shellfish. Fish fans will find happiness while wagging through a menu featuring fresh oysters, crab, mussels, langoustine, clams, halibut and bass.
Each day from 3-5:30pm the chef serves a special cicchetti menu. From 5.30pm the elegant interior bustles as guests feast on fresh salads, grilled steaks and finely seared fillets.
67 Church Street, 44-1463-233651
The best place to enjoy live Scottish music and pub grub in Inverness is at a local watering hole called Hootananny. The bright, high-ceilinged pub regularly offers live Scottish folk music and a weekly ceildh (traditional Scottish social gathering, a Gaelic house party if you will).
Locals affectionately refer to the popular ale pub as “Hoots.” The majority of beer severed at Hootananny is brewed six miles away by Black Isle Brewery.
If you’re keen to feast on traditional Scottish pub fare you’ll find all the classics on the Hootananny menu. Popular Scottish dishes at Hootananny Pub in Inverness include Haddock and Chips, Haggis Neeps n’ Tatties and Porter Pudding.
Visitors can enjoy live Scottish music every night of the week until midnight. Local Scottish musicians either perform around one of the restaurants tables in the middle of the dining room, or on a raised stage.
The White House
50 Union St, 44-1463-226767
Looking to enjoy a late night tipple? The White House, located in the heart of downtown Inverness, offers one of the best craft cocktail menus in town. Hop up at the bar and watch as expert mixologists shake and stir a parade of creative libations.
Using fresh local ingredients and premium spirits and liqueurs, The White House cocktail menu features both contemporary in-house creations and classics.
Wag your finger down the bar’s cocktail list and you’ll find creative ingredients such as hibiscus grenadine, fig jam, orange marmalade, plum infused sake and salted caramel Kahlua.
Black Isle Bar
68 Church St, 44-1463-229920
Are you a craft beer fan looking to feast on the best pizza in Inverness? Black Isle Bar is a popular craft beer bar and restaurant serving up gourmet thin crust pizzas.
Black Isle Brewery was originally founded by David Gladwin in 1998. At the time he was an unemployed beer lover, keen to make world-class beer using only barley and hops grown on organic farms.
Today, the Scottish brewery in Inverness produces 10,000 litres a day packaged in bottles, casks and kegs. Peruse the drink menu and you’ll also find a fine selection of wines and whiskies.
Peak behind the bar and spot a choir of beer taps, always in constant craft beer rotation. We suggest asking the friendly bartenders what new brews are on offer and ordering a paddle to sip and sample.
If you’re feeling peckish we suggest sharing a wood-fired pizza alongside a fresh salad and locally sourced Scottish cheese board.
The Scottish Kiltmaker Visitor Centre
4-9 Huntly St, 44-1463-222781
Fashion fans keen to shop for an authentic, handmade Scottish kilt should first step inside Inverness’s petite museum that celebrates everything tartan.
Inside The Scottish Kiltmaker Visitor Centre you’ll find an extensive collection of Scottish fashions crafted by the award-winning Highland House of Fraser.
Buy a ticket to the kilt museum located on the second floor and you’ll enjoy a compressive overview of the Scottish kilt-making tradition. Start your visit by watching a hilarious documentary that showcases the important of the Scottish kilt as a cultural icon. Afterwards, stroll through a choir of mannequins dressed in gorgeous tartans representing popular Highland clans such as McRae and MacKenzie.
Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe
27 Church St, 44-1463-709959
Call yourself a candy lover? Sampling your way through Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe is one of the best things to do in Inverness. The iconic British candy chain offers a taste of nostalgic, retro and modern sweets, from creamy chocolate truffles to fruit-filled bonbons.
The first Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe opened in Leek in September 2004. The popular British candy company now boasts over 100 Victorian-style stores, from Inverness to Hong Kong.
Ask one of the friendly staff to offer a tour of the shops most popular sweets, which are colourfully displayed on shelves in large vintage jars. The most popular candies at Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe include Cherry Lips, Coldsfoot Rock, Uncle Joe’s Mintballs, Cough Sweets and Pear Drops.
Located a short drive west of Inverness, Achnagairn Castle is a popular wedding venue, boutique hotel and award-winning restaurant.
Achnagairn Estate has recently been awarded the Highlands, “Best Wedding Venue” by the Scottish Wedding Awards and Best Wedding venue in the United Kingdom by Harper’s Bazaar Magazine.
The luxury property features an ornate ballroom, gorgeous gardens, 24 designer suites, 40 bedrooms in the nearby Mini Manors, and a celebrated fine dining restaurant.
If you’re looking to enjoy a memorable meal outside of Inverness reserve the tasting menu at Table Manors Restaurant. Head Chef Euan Walker and Sous David Macdonald create a farm to table menu that changes weekly based on what local produce is in season.
Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness
The most popular day trip from Inverness involves a short drive south of the city to Scotland’s famous Loch Ness. The deep, freshwater lake is located in the heart of the Scottish Highlands and extends 37 kms.
Lock Ness is best known for alleged sightings of the cryptozoological Lock Ness Monster, also known affectionately as Nessie. At Drumnadrochit you’ll find the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition, which examines the lakes natural history and legendary monster.
The best way to enjoy Scotland’s famous lake is by hopping on a scenic Jacobite Loch Ness cruise. While a sea monster might lurk below the lakes darkest depths, Urquhart Castle is the best attraction on Loch Ness for those who come up empty handed.
The famous Scottish castle sits perched over Loch Ness, offering visiting history buffs a fascinating 1,000 year history. Urquhart is one of Scotland’s largest castles, control of which passed between the Scots and English during the War of Independence. Power struggles were ongoing as the Lords of the Isles regularly sacked the region up until the 1500s.
The last of the government’s troops were stationed at Urquhart Castle during the Jacobite Risings. They tragically blew up the castle when they left, but today the medieval icons ruins still remain.
History and military enthusiasts should add Culloden Battlefield to the top of their list of things to do in Inverness. Located a short drive east of the city, it’s one of Scotland’s most important historical sites.
The powerful and moving attraction marks the exact spot of the final Jacobite Rising The massacre took place on April 16, 1746 and is recognized as the last battle fought over British soil. It is said that in under an hour, over 1,500 men were dead.
Today, visitors can step back in time at Culloden Battlefield by exploring an interactive visitors centre, viewing ancient artefacts from both sides of the conflict, and experience the battle first hand during an immersive cinema experience.
Ancient headstones mark the graves of hundreds of Scottish clansmen who gave up their lives for the Jacobite cause.
A short drive from Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns is one of the Scottish Highlands other most visited historical attractions.
The Clava Cairns date back to 4,000 years ago and were originally built to house the dead. The Scottish cemetery remained a sacred place in the region for millennia, and provides fascinating clues to the belief systems of society in the Bronze Age.
Approximately 50 ring and kerb cairns have been found in the region surrounding Inverness. What remains today at Clava Cairns is only a small part of what is thought to have been a larger religious complex. Clava Cairns features a group of three Bronze age cairns.
The Scottish historical monument is hugely significant and exceptionally well preserved. Archaeological excavations have found evidence of farming before any of the monuments were built. The settlement was directly replaced by the cairns and even seems probable that the material used to build them had been repurposed from demolished houses.
If you’re enjoying a weekend break in the Scottish Highlands be sure enjoy a visit to the stately Cawdor Castle. If your’e romanced by Scottish gardens and stately castles add Cawdor to your list of things to do in Inverness.
Located a short drive east of Inverness, 14th century Cawdor Castle is set amid gorgeous gardens. The castle is best known for its connection to William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, in which the main character is made Thane of Cawdor.
According to legend, Cawdor Castle is built around a thorn tree, which has been identified as a holly dating from 1372, which visitors can still see today in an underground dungeon.
Skip inside Cawdor Castle and you’ll find elegant interiors featuring a jaw-dropping Drawing Room, precious wall hangings in the Tapestry Bedroom, and marvellous stone fire place in the Dining Room. Food fans will love loitering in the Old Kitchen as its retains its 19th century range and a selection of antique cooking tools.
Be sure to make time to skip through Cawdor Castle’s manicured gardens, ranked as one of the best gardens in all of Scotland. You’ll find three lush English gardens, the Cawdor Big Wood and a 9-hole golf course. Shopaholics should also take a turn at the castle’s trilogy of shops, specializing in unique gifts, books and wool products.
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Whisky lovers can visit one of Scotland’s best distilleries by embarking on a short drive south of Inverness.
The tiny town of Tomatin has played home to a formal distillery since 1897. Though, local historians believe illegal whisky production has been going on here since the 1700s. The brands name offers insight into its secret past as tomatin translates to “Hill of the Juniper Bush.” Juniper wood gives off no smoke while burning so it has long been a favourite of illicit distillers.
Today, whisky lovers visit the popular Scottish Highlands distillery for daily tours and tastings. Friendly guides host small groups on tours that showcase Tomatin’s unique history, ancient stills, barrel rooms and finish with a Scotch tasting. After sipping a few drams you’ll leave having fully appreciated the fact that at one time Tomatin was the largest producer of whisky in all of Scotland!
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