Dubbed the capital of the Highlands, Inverness has lots to offer visitors and is also the gateway to the NC500 (North Coast 500). You can easily spend a day or two exploring this pretty city or use it as a base to discover the beautiful surrounding countryside. Read on to discover some great Inverness attractions!
There are plenty of places to visit in Inverness, however, the castle is definitely a place that draws visitors’ attention. Located on a cliff above the river Ness, the site is ancient with the first castle being built here in 1057, although Robert the Bruce destroyed it in 1308. The red sand stone structure you see today dates from 1836.
You can wander around the outside, take a photo next to the statue of Flora McDonald or join the Great Glen Way here. The Highland Council have plans to develop the castle and transform it into a major tourist attraction. Watch this space!
River Ness Walk and Ness Islands
Just a stone’s throw from the castle is the attractive River Ness, which flows through the centre of Inverness. There is a lovely walk along its banks that includes crossing the river on a number of suspension bridges which link little islands. The nature walk is well signposted from the city centre.
Highland Food and Drink Trail
Head to the riverside by the Cathedral (Ness Walk) to discover the wonderful new Highland Food and Drink Trail. You’ll find an array of street vendors selling delicious fayre including cullen skink, chilli chicken burrito, pulled burgers, orkney mac, pizzas and smoothies. They’re usually there from Thursday through to Sunday, however, check their website for up-to-date information. There’s a really great buzz about the place – amazing local food in a beautiful setting by the river Ness!
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
If you would like to find out a little more about Highland life and the talented artists that call it home, then visit the Inverness museum. For art lovers, there are two floors full of work by local artists and craft makers. Our favourite part was the photographic exhibition which documents 100 years of history.
Whenever you arrive somewhere new it’s always fun walking around and doing a bit of window shopping. Inverness has a good selection of shops from small boutiques to major chains found in the modern Eastgate Shopping Centre. But for something a little different head to the old Victorian Market. Products on offer include handmade chocolates, Celtic jewellery, unusual cakes and sweets and other gifts. There is also a traditional barber if you need a trim. Be sure to try out the Milk Bar for a great coffee and cake!
Leakey’s Second Hand Bookshop
It’s like something from Harry Potter in this wonderful old church… the building features stain glass windows and a spiral staircase. The books are piled high from the floor to the ceiling. If you visit in the winter months, then you will really appreciate the central wood burner that keeps the place heated. This is Scotland’s largest collection of rare books and maps. It’s located centrally, just a short walk from the train station and the staff are really friendly.
Address: Greyfriars Hall, 117 Church Street, Inverness, IV1 1EY
Inverness Bike Tours
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Perhaps you’re looking for some more vigourous activities in Inverness? Why not exchange 4 wheels for 2 and try out Inverness Bike tours. They do a great wee tour of the waterways of Inverness. The tour will take you along the river Ness and the legendary Caledonian Canal, which runs from Inverness to Fort William. A knowledgeable local guide will entertain you as you ride in a small group of up to 10 people. Check their website for full details – note, that they operate from March through to October with 2 tours daily.
Address: 5-7 Ness walk, Inverness, IV3 5NE
If you’re travelling with children, then a visit to Whin park is a must, it’s a great place to burn off some energy. You can either drive there (it’s located on the opposite side of River Ness) or walk there using the lovely Ness Island walking trail. Allow time for little legs though.
There is loads of space to run around, some great play structures, a well-kept boating lake, crazy golf and of course the brilliant miniature railway. The railway is tons of fun for both kids and adults, take a picnic or pick up a treat from the little shop at the entrance.
Address: Bught Road, Inverness, IV3 5TH
Inverness Botanic Garden
A beautiful green oasis in the city and depending on your time of visit, it has a stunning display of flowering plants. The garden was opened in 1993 by Prince Edward and features heated glass houses, with a range of tropical and arid plants. Our kids loved the cactus house and the café. Entry to the garden is free, but donations are welcomed. It’s located close to Whin Park and can be reached on foot in about half an hour (walk along River Ness + Ness islands) or by car in about 5 minutes.
Address: Bught Lane, Inverness, IV3 5SS
Inverness sightseeing doesn’t need to be limited to the city… A beautiful 30 minute drive away and you’ll find Urqhart Castle, one of Scotland’s most iconic castles. The ruins of this 13th century castle sit proudly on a rocky promontory on the banks of Loch Ness. A great location to do some Nessie spotting! It has a long and colourful history and was involved in a tug of war battle between the English and the Scots during the Wars of independence. Another must on your Scottish bucket list!
If you have your own transport and are looking for things to do near Inverness, head to Culloden Battlefield, an easy 15-minute drive from Inverness. There is something incredibly atmospheric about this place. It’s where the last battle was fought between the Jacobites (those faithful to the Stuart monarchy) and the government troops back in 1746. The Jacobites were slain within an hour and the battle marked the end of the Jacobite Rising. Visitors can walk on the ‘battlefield’, see some of the clan headstones and immerse themselves in the visitor centre. Our kids were particularly taken with the 360-degree battle immersion theatre (for older kids though). You could easily combine a visit to both Culloden and Clava Cairns if you’re planning to do some day trips from Inverness.
Any Outlander fans out there? Just a short five-minute drive from Culloden Battlefield and you’ll find Clava Cairns. This 4000-year-old bronze age cemetery has been firmly placed on the map following the incredible success of the Outlander series. It’s been said that Clava Cairns served as the inspiration for the fictitious Craigh na Dun stone circle in the series although there is much debate as to whether this is true or not.
Where to eat & drink in Inverness
There is plenty of choice for places to eat in Inverness. Here are some of our top picks:
Enjoy dinner down by the river at the Mustard Seed restaurant, such a lovely setting. They also do a great value pre-theatre dinner.
Rocpool – located on the north-side of River Ness, enjoy a meal in this classy restaurant where you’ll be spoiled with wonderful fresh Scottish ingredients. They do a great value lunch and early dinner menu if you fancy treating yourself.
We recently discovered the Walrus and Corskrew wine bar. What a great find and a must if you’re visiting Inverness. They offer great cheese and charcuterie platters – all locally sourced.
A pint at the Black Isle Bar is a must! Located in the city centre, this bar does great wood-fired pizzas and of course, fantastic craft beer which is made just a few miles away on the Black Isle. You can even visit the brewery if you’re planning a visit to the Black Isle: check out our guide here!
And of course, as mentioned above, if you enjoy street food, then we highly recommend heading down to the riverside and checking out the various food trucks at the Highland Food and Drink Trail which generally takes place Thursday to Sunday (check their website for details).
Where to stay in Inverness
There are lots of great options of accommodation in Inverness. We’ve tried budget, B&B and luxury… here are our favourites :
If you’re on a budget, there’s the Travelodge or the Penta Hotel in the town centre. There’s also Bazpackers Hostel which is a great option and a fun way to meet other travellers.
We loved our stay at the Ardentorrie Guest House located in the Crown neighbourhood. The views of the castle from the rooms and the dining room are fantastic.
For the ultimate in luxury, treat yourself to a stay in Ness Walk. You’ll be greeted with a glass of champagne – what more could you ask for!
How to get to Inverness
Inverness by Car
If you’re coming from the south (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth), the easiest way to reach Inverness is via the A9. Alternatively, you can take the more scenic A82 if coming from Glasgow which will take you along the banks of Loch Ness.
Inverness by Train
There are many direct trains to Inverness train station which is located a stone’s throw from the town centre. Check out train timetables on the trainline website or on the Scotrail website. For a truly unique experience, you might want to consider catching the overnight Caledonian Sleeper from London. Fall asleep in London and awaken in the stunning Highlands. Prices are a little eye-watering so make sure you book ahead!
Inverness by Bus
Inverness by Air
Inverness is the starting point of the North Coast 500. Check out our epic guide to the East Coast section of the NC500 – CLICK HERE!