The gateway to the Highlands – not to mention the legendary loch and its monster – is a gracious city with a castle overlooking the River Ness. Spending time in this lovely location is always a pleasure. But when you haven’t got too much cash to splash, can you find any free things to do in Inverness, to keep both kids and adults entertained?

The answer, of course, is a resounding yes! Since living in the area, we have discovered plenty of free things to do in Inverness for families, couples, groups and solo travellers. This list of places to visit in Inverness for free will set you on the right track. To cover all bases, we’ve also included some great things to do beyond the city limits. 

Here are 12 of the top things to do in Inverness for free. Plus the 8 best things to do around Inverness on a budget, should you wish to explore the surrounding area as well. So if you’re on a tight budget, read on for plenty of ideas that won’t cost you a penny.

12 Best Free Things to do in Inverness

Browse Leakey’s Bookshop

Leakeys secondhand bookshop in Inverness

Best for bookworms

  • Where: Church Street, Inverness IV1 1EY
  • When: 10 am to 5.30 pm Monday to Saturday

Did you know that you can find the biggest secondhand bookshop in Scotland in Inverness? And it’s not only among the best free places to visit in Inverness – it’s also a local institution. Operating since 1979, it’s still family run and stocks an intriguing array of prints and maps as well as preloved books. 

Whatever genre you’re into, you’ll find it at Leakey’s in Inverness. There are books for all budgets in stock too. Simply spending time in this cosy, welcoming environment makes you feel all warm inside – and connected to the local community to boot. 

Shopping at the Victorian Market

The Victorian Market in Inverness

Best for shopaholics

  • Where: Academy Street, Inverness IV1 1JN
  • When: 8 am to 8 pm daily

Another place that’s firmly embedded in local history is the Victorian Market. This 19th century retail centre is another top place to visit in Inverness for free – if you can resist spending your pennies there, that is…

The Victorian Market is home to over 30 independent businesses and is a world away from the usual high street stores you find all over the UK. It’s such a great place to pick up gifts, souvenirs of your Scottish sojourn or little treats for yourself. Make sure you don’t miss the chocolate shop. We also highly recommend the recently refurbished Market Hall, a great spot to indulge in some tasty street food. There’s even regular evenings of live music in the Market Hall, click here to find out what’s on.

Find out about Highland Life at The Inverness Museum & Art Gallery (IMAG)

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

Best for culture vultures

  • Where: Castle Wynd, Inverness IV2 3EB
  • When: 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday to Saturday

Free attractions in Inverness don’t come much better than the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery! Packed with historical artefacts and engaging artworks, the gallery and museum can be found at the foot of Castle Hill in the heart of the city. 

Both the city itself and the Scottish Highlands are the focus of the museum and gallery. The work of local creators is showcased via permanent and temporary exhibitions. There’s also a good gift shop and a nice cafe for whiling away the hours. 

Find Serenity at Inverness Cathedral

Cathedral in Inverness

Best for a spiritual encounter

  • Where: Ardross Street, Inverness IV3 5NN
  • When: 9 am to 4 pm daily

Exploring beyond the imposing facade of the cathedral is another option for those wondering what to do in Inverness for free. While entry is free, though, donations towards the considerable upkeep costs are encouraged. The soaring gothic arches, stone pillars and filigree detailing inside are impressive. 

This is a Scottish Episcopal Church religious institution and is also known as the Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew, who happens to be the patron saint of Scotland, and the Saltire flag bears his cross. As the seat of the Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness, this is a pretty significant house of worship. 

Discover local produce at Inverness Farmers Market

Best for local produce

  • Where: Eastgate end of the High Street
  • When: 10 am to 3.30 pm, one Saturday per month (dates here

If you happen to be visiting the Highland city when it’s on, the local farmer’s market is a fun place to visit with a small budget in Inverness. You don’t have to spend much to snap up the freshest local produce, and it’s also a great way to engage with the local community. 

Aberdeen Angus beef, local dairy products, fresh fruit and veg and even Scottish craft beer can be sampled and bought here. The market is held monthly on Saturdays on Inverness High Street. 

Walk in Ness Islands

Bridge at Ness Islands in Inverness

Best for natural beauty

  • Where: Great Glen Way, Inverness IV2 4QS
  • When: Open 24 hours

Victorian footbridges built in 1828 will take you from the city centre to The Ness Islands on the River Ness. These natural islets are also connected via footbridges, and offer visitors the chance to encounter local flora and fauna. 

On Ness Islands you can watch the water flowing by, photograph the sculptures, observe local fishermen or simply wander between them at will. Inverness free attractions don’t come any more unspoiled than this!

Immerse in Nature at Inverness Botanic Gardens

Inverness Botanics

Best for nature and flora

  • Where: Bught Lane, Inverness IV3 5SS
  • When: 10 am to 4 pm daily

Free to enter, the local botanical gardens are an oasis on the edge of the city centre. On a sunny day in particular, this is one of the best places to see in Inverness for free. Here you can find a tropical house, a seasonal wildflower meadow, formal gardens, ponds and a cactus house.  

Kids and adults alike will love the Secret Garden. This Garden, Recycle, Organic and Wildlife (GROW) project is run by adults with special needs, and has been transformed from wasteland into a hive of productivity and beauty. 

Let Loose at Whin Park

Play park at Whin Park, Inverness

Best for playing, boating and picnicking

  • Where: Bught Road, Inverness IV3 5TH
  • When: Open 24 hours

If you want to find free things to do in Inverness with kids and the Scottish weather is kind, then Whin Park can provide plenty of entertainment. There’s a good selection of play equipment here, plus a boating lake, a trim trail and the Ness Islands railway.

Pack up a picnic if you like, or dip into the coffee shop. Be warned, however – buying ice creams here in summer is practically obligatory!

An evening of live music

Hootannys music venue in Inverness

Inverness has some great live music venues! There are a few to choose from and our favourites include Hootananny, Gellions, Highlander and MacGregor’s. They’re all located fairly centrally and will deliver you a good time. Nothing beats an evening of live music entertainment.

Take part in a Parkrun

Torvean Parkrun in Inverness

Best for adult and child runners

  • Where: Torvean, Inverness IV3 5TD
  • When: 9.30 am Saturday & Sunday

Travelling around a city is no excuse to let your usual training regime fall by the wayside! Why not join the locals on a free timed 5km run? Torvean Parkrun takes place every Saturday morning at 9:30am at the park of the same name on the outskirts of Inverness (close to the Botanics). There’s a large council car park (location here) next to the start point.  

As well as the friendly and free to enter 5K fun run for adults, there’s also a junior park run that takes place on Sunday mornings at 9:30am. This timed 2k junior park run (or walk) is open to 4 to 14 year olds.  

Bike or Walk along The Caledonian Canal [from Inverness or drive to Dochgarroch]

Caledonian Canal

Best for keen walkers or cyclists

  • Where: Torvean, Inverness IV3 5TD
  • When: 9.30 am to 11 am Saturday

The Caledonian Canal is a virtually level and very popular promenade along the Caledonian Canal towpath. You can join in Inverness near the Botanics and Leisure Centre, and find a fantastic detailed guide to the walk here

If you have a car, an alternative is to drive the short distance (4 miles) to Dochgarroch Lock to walk, cycle or run along the Caledonian Canal. This is also where you’ll find the departure point for the Jacobite cruises which can whisk you to Loch Ness and/or Urquhart Castle.  

There’s the fabulous An Talla restaurant here, plus a gift shop with a large car park located next to the centre. You could also catch a bus to Dochgarroch before making your way back along the towpath to Inverness – either on foot or on two wheels! The distance is around 8 kms (or 5 miles).

Weekly Pipe Band Performance [in the summer]

Best for Scottish music and dancing

  • Where: City centre
  • When: 7pm Tuesday (in summer)

For a free taster of Scottish tradition, you’ll find the Inverness Royal British Legion Pipe Band – along with local Highland dancers – performing every Tuesday night in Inverness city centre. Cheap things to do in Inverness don’t come with more of a local flavour than this!

Performances take place at 7pm on Tuesdays, between late June and the end of August. For 2023, the music and dancing takes place weekly between 27th June and 29th August. 

8 free things to do near Inverness

Loch Ness – Dores

Sunset at Dores Beach

Best for spotting Nessie

  • Where: Loch Ness
  • When:  Open 24 hours

If you want to visit Loch Ness while in town (and who doesn’t?), then Dores Beach is the best place to head for. It’s around 20 minutes by car from the city centre, or you can reach it by bus in 40 minutes or so. 

Bus number 302 for Foyers is the one you want, and this departs from Castle Steps in the city centre of Inverness. Alight at the Dores Inn stop, which is right by the beach. Once you arrive, a long stretch of stony beach, fragrant pine trees, walks, picnics and a scattering of places to buy food from await. 

Blow away the cobwebs at the beach

Beach at Rosemarkie, Black Isle

Best for beach life

  • Where: The Black Isle and Moray Firth
  • When: Open 24 hours

If you’ve exhausted – or want a change from – all the free things to do *in* Inverness for families, then why not pack the family off for a beach day outside the city? Here are the main options. 

Beaches on the Black Isle

Rosemarkie Beach on the Black Isle is 30 minutes’ drive or 40 minutes by bus from Inverness. For the latter you’ll need to catch bus number 26 or 26A from Inverness bus station. It’s an attractive, sheltered, curving bay with golden sands and a good cafe. 

Beaches on the Moray Firth

Nairn Beach on the Moray Firth is 25 minutes’ drive, a 20 minute train ride or 35 minutes by bus from Inverness. A big car car park is conveniently positioned right by the beach, or it’s an easy walk from the local train station. Alternatively, bus route 10 involves a 35 minute trip plus a 15 minute walk); or bus number 96 takes 30 minutes plus a 10 minute walk (find bus timetables here). 

Nairn Beach is one of Scotland’s sunniest spots. You can also expect stunning views of the Black Isle and plenty of soft sand to stretch out on. If you have time, there are of course many other beaches further along the Moray Coast including Roseisle beach, Findhorn beach, Lossiemouth and more!

Dolphin spotting at Chanonry Point [Black Isle]

Chanonry Point lighthouse near Fortrose Black Isle

Best for marine creatures

  • Where: Chanonry Point, The Black Isle
  • When: Open 24 hours

The period following low tide is the best time to spot dolphins at Chanonry Point on the Black Isle. This is another one of the best things to do around Inverness on a budget, though of course sightings cannot be guaranteed!

Parking at Chanonry Point is very limited. Hence we recommend either arriving early or parking at Rosemarkie and taking a 30 minute walk. If you do get lucky and spy the sea creatures, you can expect to be only a few metres away. 

Get close to nature at Abriachan

Abriachan near Loch Ness

Best for getting outdoors

  • Where: Abriachan
  • When: Open 24 hours

If you want to look beyond free things to do in Inverness with kids, then why not venture a short way from the city instead? Head south by Loch Ness along the A82 and you’ll soon reach the short, steep hill leading to Abriachan. 

The Abriachan Forest Trust now manages the 540 hectare site. Upon arrival you’ll find plentiful parking, lots of play equipment and picnic areas and a plethora of biking and hiking trails. There’s also a little cafe, and the Great Glen Way passes through the forest too. 

Delve into Scottish History at Culloden Battlefield

Clan Fraser memorial stone at Culloden Battlefield

Best for Scottish history

  • Where: Culloden Moor, Inverness IV2 5EU
  • When: Open 24 hours

The Battle of Culloden and the Jacobite rising is legendary. If you want to delve deeper into some of Scotland’s bloody history, then you mustn’t miss Culloden. The Culloden Visitor Centre tells the tale via engaging exhibits, and it can be a very moving experience. 

There is no charge for visiting the battlefield, although visitors will need to pay for parking (pay and display) and there is an admission charge if you wish to enter the Visitor Centre. Parking is free of charge for National Trust for Scotland members, however. This is one of the top day trips to take from Inverness.  

Outlander Vibes at Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns Scotland

Best for Bronze Age remains and Outlander fans

  • Where: Inverness IV2 5EU
  • When: Open 24 hours

Historic sites dating back to the Bronze Age are few and far between, wherever on the planet you may roam. However one of the most intriguing free things to see in the Inverness area can indeed be traced back that far. 

The circular chamber tomb known as Clava Cairn is one of around 50 to be found in this part of Scotland. This final home for the dead is an incredibly evocative site, and the lofty position above the River Nairn adds even more drama. It’s also a must for any Outlander fans!

Beauly Priory

Beauly Priory

Best for monastic history

  • Where: Beauly IV4 7DY
  • When: Open 24 hours

The attractive grounds of Beauly Priory in the heart of town are reason enough to pay this ancient monastery a visit. Then you have the remains themselves, which are pretty well preserved. 

Not least given that they date back to around 1230, when monks from France settled at the site to build their religious community. For a longer visit to the area, find out more about what to see and do in Beauly here

Walks – Reelig Glen, Craig Phadrig

Reelig Glen - walk near Inverness

Best for stretching your legs

  • Where: Reelig Glen or Craig Phadrig
  • When: Open 24 hours

If you love getting a breath of fresh air and the prospect of uncovering more of the Scottish landscape appeals, then heading out into nature has to be among the top free activities in the Inverness area. The best walks to go for are Craig Phadrig, where there’s an old hill fort, or the steep-sided gorge set among Douglas Firs at Reelig Glen.

Reelig Glen

Reelig Glen is a steep-sided gorge set among tall trees and softened by the sound of a rushing burn. The Douglas Fir trees here are more than 50 metres (or 170 feet) high, and are also over a century old. 

There is free parking at Reelig Glen, and you can take either the one-and-a-quarter mile Upper Reelig Trail or the one mile Tall Trees Trail. Toilets, places to eat and so on can be found in nearby Beauly. 

Craig Phadrig

Craig Phadrig – aka Patrick’s Rock – is home to an old hill fort, which is thought to date back to around 300 BC. Free parking is again available here, and there are two trails to choose from. 

The one-and-a-quarter mile Hill Fort Trail is well worth the effort for the views over Beauly Firth, The other option, the Craig Phadrig Trail, is one-and-a-half miles long, and comprises a gravel path with some steep, muddy and uneven sections.  

Fancy exploring Bonnie Scotland even further? Then check out our bucket list guides to what to do in Cromarty on the Black Isle, or the NC500 Inverness to Thurso route.

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