Inverness is known as the gateway to the Highlands and is a great place to base yourself if you’re visiting this area. The city itself has plenty of attractions, but there are also some incredible day trips you can take from Inverness to explore the surrounding area. From castles and lochs to beaches and gardens, there’s something for everyone! Let’s take a look at some of the best day trips from Inverness.
We’ve concentrated on day trips from inverness by car and have chosen places that are no more than an hour’s drive from Inverness with driving distances (in minutes) after each location. We’ve also created several handy clickable maps so that you can get your bearings.
Day Trips South of Inverness
You may be wondering if you can make a day trip to Loch Ness from inverness and the answer is most definitely, yes! In this section, we’ll head south of Inverness to the world-famous Loch Ness and surrounding area. From Inverness, you will join the A82 that takes you south all the way along the banks of Loch Ness to Fort Augustus at the southern tip of the Loch (and beyond). You can carry on round and follow our Loch Ness Loop, a great roadtrip from Inverness (read this post for full details) or simply make day trips to the ‘other’ side of Loch Ness from Inverness.
The map below will hopefully help you find your bearings:
Take a boat trip on Loch Ness from Dochgarroch Lock & An Talla [15 mins]
One of the best ways to fully appreciate the splendour of Loch Ness, is to experience it from the large expanse of water itself. Make your way to Dochgarroch Lock in just 15 mins drive from Inverness and jump aboard a Jacobite cruise. Park up at An Talla, a lovely restaurant and gift shop located at the point of access to the cruises. You can buy your cruise ticket ahead or onsite at An Talla. This is a great Loch Ness day trip from Inverness.
It’s also a great spot for a walk as you’ll find yourself right on the Caledonian Canal. There are regular cruises all year round and depending on which one you choose, can include a stop-off at the famous Urquhart Castle. You can join a cruise from other spots around Loch Ness but this is a firm favourite for us as the parking is so easy and it’s just a short drive from Inverness.
Walk at Abriachan Forest Trails [20 mins]
This is a great place to stop off at if you enjoy walking, mountain biking or have young children. It’s a large area of forest and land that was bought and developed by the Forest Enterprise in 1998 and is now managed by the Abriachan Forest Trust. There’s a wonderful playpark, picnic tables, walking trails, mountain biking tracks and a small café. To get there, you need to drive south along the A82 following the banks of Loch Ness and after the village of Lochend, you’ll find a turning to the left for Abriachan. The road up to Abriachan is very steep but once there, you’ll appreciate the full beauty of the area.
Drumnadrochit & the Loch Ness Visitor Centre [25 mins]
This is the must-visit place for anyone interested in Nessie. Located a stone’s throw from Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, Drumnadrochit is also home to the Loch Ness Visitor Centre.There is a large car free park as you enter the village on your right-hand side (coming from Inverness) along with a small tourist information centre, the Loch Ness Hub. Across the road, you’ll find a small green with some picnic tables as well as a few restaurants and cafés. Our favourites are Ness Deli for lunch and Fiddler’s for great fish & chips. There’s a lovely atmosphere here during high season as many visitors congregate in this area. You can walk up to the Loch Ness Visitor Centre from the village or drive and park up next to the centre. We also love Café 82 which is located on the way out of Drumnadrochit on your left-hand side when heading towards Urquhart Castle. Danni does wonderful fresh, local home-made food.
→ Check out our comprehensive local’s guide to Drumnadrochit for top tips on walks, what to see, where to eat and stay.
Urquhart Castle [30 mins]
Located a short five minute drive from Drumnadrochit or a beautiful 30 minute scenic drive from Inverness, this iconic castle sits overlooking Loch Ness. It has been standing since at least the 13th century when it served as an important stronghold in battles between the Scottish Crown and the English invaders. Though it has since fallen into ruins, visitors can still explore its walls and discover stories about its turbulent past through interactive displays at Urquhart Castle’s visitor centre. Allow a good couple of hours to visit the castle.
Fort Augustus [60 mins]
Right at the southern tip of Loch Ness, you’ll find the charming village of Fort Augustus. There’s a large (paying) car park as you enter the village on your right. All the sites in Fort Augustus can easily be reached on foot so we recommend parking up there. Walk into town and discover the Caledonian Canal and the 5 locks that join the canal to the loch. It’s great fun watching boats manoeuvre through the locks. Check out the Caledonian Canal Heritage Centre and grab an ice cream from Miele’s gelateria. There’s a lovely walk down to the Loch Ness viewpoint as well as a restaurant if you’re feeling peckish.
Falls of Foyers [40 mins]
The spectacular Falls of Foyers are on the other, less frequented side of Loch Ness. You could head there directly from Inverness taking in the beautiful Dores beach on route (we’ll cover Dores Beach below). Or you could carry on from Fort Augustus and do an entire loop of Loch Ness (read this post for our detailed guide of things to do around Loch Ness).
The Falls are set in a deep gorge and offer a dramatic 140ft drop. There’s a fairly small car park at the entrance of the village and you will then cross the road to follow the winding stepped path through woodland, down the side of the hill until you reach the falls viewpoint. It’s a short 15 minute walk if you choose the most direct route (to the upper viewpoint) and it’s very well sign-posted. You will undoubtedly come across other visitors heading the same way. Access could be a problem for anyone with mobility issues. There’s also a charming café next to the car park or alternatively stop off just 5 minutes from the Falls of Foyers at Cameron’s Tearoom & Farm shop for a delicious, wholesome lunch.
Dores Beach [20 mins]
You’ll get some of the best views of Loch Ness from Dores Beach. Located 20 mins south-east from Inverness on the east side of the Loch, this beach is something of a hidden gem (well maybe not in the summer months when visitors and locals alike flock here). There’s a free car park near the church in the village or you can park at the Dores Inn if you’re planning on eating or drinking there (highly recommend their fish & chips). You’ll find a lovely pebbly beach, the Nessie Hunter van, a small playpark, a lovely walk to Torr Point and of course, some exceptional views. You might even spot Nessie! It’s a popular spot for wild swimming, canoeing and paddling if that’s your bag.
Day trips South-west and west of Inverness
Next, we’ll cover the stunning area of Glen Affric which is located south-west of Inverness and can be reached via Drumnadrochit (home of the Loch Ness Centre) or via Beauly which is located to the west of Inverness.
Explore Glen Affric
Known as one of the most beautiful glen’s in Scotland, Glen Affric is an area of outstanding beauty and can easily be reached from Inverness. This national nature reserve will blow you away with its impressive pinewoods, stunning walks, beautiful lochs and rivers. You can easily spend an entire day working your way down the Glen, stopping at various viewpoints, having a picnic and going for a walk on one of the many designated nature walks in the area.
Dog Falls (Glen Affric)
The first place you’ll reach along the glen is ”Dog Falls”. Although less spectacular than Plodda Falls, these falls are set against a beautiful gushing river and mark the start of a number of stunning nature walks. You can choose the white trail which will take you to amazing viewpoint towards Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin (see below) or alternatively, do one of the loop walks.
Read this post for detailed information on walks in the area + parking info, toilets and wifi coverage (there’s none!).
Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin
Next up and you’ll come to Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin [pronounced Loch Ben-a-vey-an]. There aren’t any specific walking trails but you can easily wander through the woods and along the Loch’s edge. There are many picnic benches set against fantastic backdrop of water, Caledonian pine trees
River Affric and Loch Affric trail
Carry on as far as the road will take you and you’ll reach the river Affric car park. From here you can walk up to the River Affric viewpoint or head down to the river. If you have time (allow 6 hours), why not take on the challenge of walking (or cycling) round Loch Affric. You’ll be rewarded with some incredible scenery. We did this on our mountain bikes and we were absolutely blown away by the stunning landscapes. It’s wild, remote and most definitely off the beaten track.
Walk to Plodda Falls
On the east side of Glen Affric, amongst giant Douglas firs, you’ll find the stunning cascade Falls known as Plodda Falls. Measuring 46 metres in height, the falls can be viewed from the dizzying heights of a wooden viewing platform. Make sure you have a head for heights! The falls can also be admired from a lower viewing point which can be reached via a steep (well signposted) walk from the car park.
The road leading to the falls is narrow (with passing places) and more remote than the other side of the Glen. To get there, you will need to drive past Cannich and then follow signs for the small village of Tomich (stop for a bite at the Coach House Café!). The falls car park is located about 8kms after Tomich.
Visit Beauly Priory [25 mins]
The small town of Beauly in the Highlands of Scotland is a hidden gem. Join the A862 from Inverness and follow along the banks of the Beauly Firth until you head inland and reach Beauly. With its quaint cobblestone streets, charming cafes, and surrounding natural beauty, this village makes for a great day trip from Inverness. The ruins of the 13th century Beauly Priory are located right in the heart of town and are well worth a visit. If you’re peckish, be sure to grab a bite at Corner on the Square or Café Biagotti. We love browsing in the Old School House and Campbell’s of Beauly. For some great local produce, check out Munro the Butcher’s as well as Robertson’s Farm Shop just a couple of minutes drive out of the town. There you’ll find some friendly Highland cows.
Glen Ord Distillery [25 mins]
You could easily combine a trip to Beauly with a visit of Glen Ord Singleton Distillery in nearby Muir of Ord. Located on the edge of the town, this distillery may just take you by surprise. There’s a modern visitor centre, a bar/deli and some great tour experiences including a guided distillery tour, a Singleton pairing exp erience and the newly launched ‘malt to cask’ experience.Round off your visit to Muir of Ord with a coffee and a fabulous cake from Bad Girl Bakery.
Day trips North of Inverness
We will now cover places that are located north of Inverness. You’ll find many of these places on our guide to the NC500 (click here). You will head out of Inverness via the Kessock Bridge onto the A9. This road will take you all the way up to Thurso at the northern tip of Scotland if you so choose.
The Black Isle [20-40 mins]
The Black Isle is located just north of Inverness (around 20 minutes’ drive). It’s almost entirely surrounded by the sea which gives it a real island feel. There are many areas to visit on the Black Isle and distances will vary depending on where you want to visit. One spot not to be missed is Chanonry Point Lighthouse – located at the tip of Fortrose Peninsula – where visitors often see pods of dolphins enjoying their natural habitat in the Moray Firth. Other must-see spots include Rosemarkie Beach (photo above), the Black Isle Brewery, Fortrose Cathedral, the picturesque town of Cromarty (the Old Courthouse Museum and Hugh Miller’s Cottage) and a walk to the Fairy Glen Falls.
Lunch at the Storehouse [25 mins]
Rejoin the A9 from the Black Isle and drive a short distance north across the Cromarty Bridge to reach the Storehouse. This is a very popular farmhouse restaurant located on the A9 and literally on the NC500 route with a fabulous sea view to boot. The food served in the restaurant is homemade and delicious. On your way out, don’t miss the little shop which is packed full of local crafts, farm produce and unusual gifts. You might find it hard to leave empty handed!
Walk at Black Rock Gorge [30 mins]
A 10-minute drive from the Storehouse and a few minutes’ west of Evanton, you’ll find the impressive Black Rock Gorge walk. This walk has been put on the map as it featured as a filming location in the Harry Potter film “The Goblet of Fire” (the dragon scene). It’s 4 kms long and takes around 1.5 hours through fairly easy terrain. The gorge part is quite formidable! This unique natural feature is 36 meters deep and 1.5km in length with a number of little wooden bridges that cross the cleft. It is rather dark, deep and spooky in areas!
Strathpeffer [30 mins]
The Victorian Spa town of Strathpeffer is located just 30 mins north of Inverness and is often one of the first stops on the North Coast 500 for those doing it clockwise. This charming town centres around the original Spa pavilion which is now used for various events such as concerts, conferences, dances. Located at the renovated Victorian train station, you’ll find the Highland museum of childhood along with a cafe as well as some shops. There are some lovely walks around the village (check out the Eagle Stone) and further afield including up to Cnoc Mor hill and the Touchstone Maze.
Hike up to the Fyrish Monument [45 mins]
You can’t help but notice the unusual stone monument standing at the top of a hill as you drive along the A9 north around Alness. This distinctive sculpture is known as the Fyrish Monument. It was built in 1782 by Sir Hector Munro and was modelled on the Gate of Negapatam located in Madras, India. If you have a couple of hours’ spare, you can reach it by joining the Jubilee path trail just off the B9176 (there’s a designated car park on site – click here to open up exact location on googlemaps). It’s a 6km round-trip hike – very steep and challenging in parts. You will, however, be rewarded with some stunning views of the Cromarty Firth and Ben Wyvis once you reach the top. Park up in the designated car park just off the B1976 and follow the Jubilee path trail.
Visit Anta pottery and the Mermaid of the North in Balintore [50 mins]
Leave the A9 and discover the home of Anta, a Scottish Highlands luxury brand. Although their flagship stores are in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London, the home of the brand is very much in the Scottish Highlands. They have an attractive factory shop (and café) in Fearn where you can pick up some carefully crafted items of stoneware, homeware and accessories. You’re bound to find a beautiful keepsake from your trip to Scotland.
Next, jump back in your car and head to the coastal town of Balintore just 2 minutes away. Park up at the Seaboard centre and join the short coastal sculpture trail. You’ll soon discover a beautiful 11 ft tall bronze mermaid sitting atop a large rock at the water’s edge. She was originally built of wood and resin, however, was destroyed following a serious storm. She was subsequently replaced by a bronze cast model. A stop at the Mermaid of the North is often included on the NC500 itinerary. Finally, round-off your trip with a bite at the Seaboard Centre which provides delicious, simple homemade food and a beautiful sea view.
Dornoch [60 mins]
Dornoch is a charming seaside town in the northern Highlands and a highlight of the east coast part of the NC500 (check out our post here). It was put on the map in 2000 when Madonna had her son, Rocco, christened in the town’s cathedral. There’s also a world-famous golf course, lovely shops, cafés as well as a beautiful beach. It’s one of our favourite spots in the area and we highly recommend you read this post to discover more about the town and the surrounding area.
Visit the Fairytale Castle of Dunrobin [70 mins]
Okay, we may have gone over the maximum one hour’s drive from Inverness rule, however, if you’ve driven as far north as Dornoch, you might as well drive the extra 10 minutes to reach this beautiful castle. Dunrobin Castle is located on the A9 on your right just after you leave the town of Golspie (although check opening times as they’re closed during the winter months). Built by the Sutherland clan, it’s like something out of a fairytale and reminiscent of a French château. The building is beautiful as are the grounds and the views out to sea.
Day trips East of Inverness
Head east of Inverness and you’ll find plenty of history and sweeping beaches the length of the Moray coast. You’ll need to join the A96 in order to reach most places mentioned below. This road can get very busy and congested during high season so be sure to plan ahead. You can easily spend a day exploring the coast line or you might want to focus on just a couple of sites. We’d recommend visiting Culloden Battlefield and Clava Cairns on the same day. You might even be able to fit in Fort George. A walk on Nairn beach combined with a visit to Cawdor Castle works well too. Finally, explore Brodie Castle and carry on to Findhorn for a walk around the village, the beach and perhaps even the Findhorn Foundation.
Culloden Battlefield & Visitor Centre [15 mins]
This historic site marks the location where Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated in his bid for power in 1746. The Culloden Battlefield & Visitor Centre offers visitors a chance to learn about this momentous event as well as discover other local landmarks such as Clava Cairns and Cawdor Castle.
Outlander vibes at Clava Cairns [18 mins]
A short 5 minute drive from Culloden and you’ll find Clava Cairns, a 4000 year old bronze age cemetery, which has been firmly placed on the Outlander tourist map. It’s rumoured to have been the site that inspired Diana Gabaldon’s fictitious Craigh na Dun’s stone circle in the series. It certainly worth visiting Culloden and Clava Cairns at the same time.
Jacobite History at Fort George [20 mins]
Located just 20 minutes from Inverness, Fort George is a sprawling 18th century fort built to protect the area against Jacobite rebels following the 1746 uprising. Today it stands as one of Europe’s best preserved fortified locations, boasting stunning views of the Moray Firth and its surrounding countryside. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some dolphins from the ramparts. A visit here is a must for any history buff!
Cawdor Castle [25 mins]
Cawdor Castle, located near Inverness and between Culloden Battlefield and Nairn, is another great example of Scotland’s castles at their finest. Originally built in the late 14th century by the Thanes of Cawdor, it has been in the same family for over 600 years! The castle is closed over the winter months, however, there are beautiful gardens to wander around even if it’s not open to the public. We highly recommend a stop-off at the nearby cozy Cawdor tavern for a pint or a bite.
Blow away the cobwebs at Nairn Beach [25 mins]
Located 25 minutes east of Inverness along the A96, you’ll find the seaside town of Nairn. One of the highlights of this ancient fishing port are its three beaches (and its 18 hole golf courses). The sweeping open beaches are popular with locals and visitors alike. It’s a great spot for a family outing or those visiting with their furry four-legged friends. You’ll find plenty of play areas, takeaway cafes, outdoor workout machines and lovely views across to the Black Isle. If you want to treat yourself, don’t miss the Sun Dancer bar and restaurant with its fabulous food and views to sea.
Located along the Moray coast close to Forres, Brodie Castle was the ancestral home to the Brodie clan for over 400 years. Now run by the National Trust for Scotland, you’ll be able to explore the inside via a guided tour (make sure you book ahead), discover it’s fascinating history, including a letter from Robert the Bruce and enjoy the fabulous grounds.
The gardens, woodland walk and park are wonderful – they are a great place to bring children, especially the playful garden.
Explore the Moray Coast
If you’re looking for some beach time on your day trip from Inverness then head east along the Moray Coast. This stretch of coastline offers unspoiled beaches with golden sand dunes and clear blue waters perfect for swimming or surfing. You can even go rock pooling here or visit nearby villages like Findhorn where you can enjoy delicious seafood dishes while taking in breathtaking sea views. We particularly love the coloured beach huts and the harbour restaurant area at Findhorn beach. Why not explore the Findhorn Foundation, a spiritual ecovillage that’s been around for the past 50 years and promotes sustainability.
Day trips south-east of Inverness
Under an hour south-east down the A9 and you’ll find the Cairngorms, the UK’s largest National Park. It’s one of Scotland’s most beloved natural areas and offers plenty of opportunities for exploration. Whether you want to go hiking or mountain biking, wildlife watching or kayaking, there is something here for everyone. Make sure you bring a camera so you can capture all those incredible views! The area is very big and here we’ll highlight some of the top sites to visit that are under an hour from Inverness. This would certainly also be a great area to spend a few days as there’s just so much to do in the area.
The Old Bridge at Carrbridge
If you’ve decided to head south and explore the Cairngorm National Park, we strongly recommend taking a short detour off the A9 via Carrbridge on your way to Aviemore. It won’t add much time to your journey but you’ll be sure to enjoy this impressive piece of history. Dating back to 1717, the old Pachkorse bridge is the oldest stone bridge in the Highlands. It was primarily built to carry coffins across the river Dulnain to the nearby Duthil church. It’s located right in the centre of the village and can be admired from a small lower viewing area next to the river or from the modern bridge. From Carrbridge, you can head to nearby Landmark Forest Adventure Park if you have kids and onwards to Aviemore.
Located just 40 minutes drive south from Inverness, Aviemore is Scotland’s answer to a ski resort. It’s a small town but it has a lot going on with various bars, restaurants, shops and some stunning scenery on its doorstep. It’s a great place to base yourself if you’re wanting to explore the Cairngorms National Park. There is so much on your doorstep from Loch Morlich, Rothiemurchus to the Highland Wildlife Park and more. The great thing about Aviemore is that it’s lovely all year round due to its all-season appeal. Summer + spring + autumn = walking, paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking and more. Winter = sledging, skiing, snowboarding.
Located amongst stunning scenery in the heart of the Cairngorm National Park, you’ll find the Rothiemurchus estate. It can easily be reached from Aviemore (just 3 miles away) and offers so much for lovers of the great outdoors. You can try quad biking, clay pigeon shooting, fishing, falconry, archery, canoeing, pony trekking, cycling or embark on a walk in the area and around the beautiful Loch an Eileanwith its ruined island castle.
Surrounded by woods and sandy beaches, this is such a stunning loch situated in the Cairngorm National Park. Head there for some gorgeous woodland walks (well signposted) or check out Loch Morlich Watersports for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and mountain biking offerings. Nearby, you’ll also find the Cairngorm Reindeer centre as well as the Glenmore visitor centre (also the starting point for “Green Loch” walk mentioned below). You’ll find some great food and a warm welcome at the Pine Marten Bar. Get there early if it’s a sunny day as it’s very popular spot!
Search for Pixies at the Green Loch [50 mins]
An Lochan Uaine, known as the Green Loch to locals, is a beautiful spot close to Aviemore. You can park up near the Glenmore visitor centre about 15 mins drive from Aviemore and follow the signs for the Green Lochan. There are various trails to choose from with the 7kms circular walk being one of the more popular ones. Legend has it that the loch gets its colour from the pixies who wash their clothes in it!
Highland Wildlife Park
Located 20 minutes south of Aviemore and just off the A9, you’ll find the Highland Wildlife Park, a wildlife conservation charity. You’ll find snow leopards, polar bears, Scottish wild cats, wolves, red pandas, tigers and more. You can drive around the main reserve and walk around the park too. There are 2 great onsite cafés as well as onsite catering vans, the staff are very knowledgeable, passionate and helpful. A visit to this wildlife park truly makes for a great family day out!
As you can see there are so many great day trips from Inverness and so much to see within an hour’s drive of the city. Whether you’re interested in nature, walks, history, beaches, wildlife, outdoor pursuits, you’re truly spoiled for choice!
You may find the following posts useful when planning your trip to the Scottish Highlands:
→ Explore Glen Affric – everything you need to know