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 (check our post on best day trips from Inverness). 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. It also marks the end of the Great Glen Way. You’re unable to visit the castle at present, however, Highland Council have plans to develop the castle and transform it into a major Inverness tourist attraction. Watch this space!
Admire the statue of the legendary Flora MacDonald
Although you’re unable to visit Inverness Castle at present, it’s still worth walking up the hill to admire the Flora MacDonald statue located in front of the castle. This bronze statue honours the woman who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape following the battle at Culloden. You also get a great view of the city, the river below and surrounding area.
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
Head back down the hill from the castle and you’ll find the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery (IMAG). This is the place to come to if you’d like to find out a little more about Highland life and the talented artists that call it home. 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. There’s a lovely café and giftshop on the ground floor which stocks lots of local products. It’s free to enter and is one of the many places suggested in our guide of free things to do in Inverness.
River Ness Walk and Ness Islands
One of our favourite areas in Inverness! 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!
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! The Food Hall has recently been renovated and is a great spot to indulge in a sweet treat from Bad Girl Bakery or pick up some shopping at their sister company Good Girl Greengrocer’s!
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.
Indulge in a “dream ring”
Since moving to the area, we’ve discovered that “dream rings” from the Harry Gow bakeries, are something of an institution. Described as a “soft brioche bun with a hole in it and filled with cream and vanilla fudge icing”, you can pick them up in their bakery on Union Street (among others). So why not join in with the locals and sample one of these creamy delights. Click here to read a brief history of the family-owned Harry Gow bakery brand.
An evening of live music
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.
Let loose at Whin Park
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.
Inverness Botanic Gardens
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.
Cathedral and café
Inverness cathedral is an imposing piece of gothic sandstone architecture, whose foundation stone was laid in 1866 by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Its doors are open all year round from 8am to 7pm and if you wish, you can take a stroll inside for a small entry fee.
From time to time the cathedral plays host to classical music concerts, choir concerts and Scottish dancing, so keep an eye on their events page.
The lovely cafe and gift shop is housed in an ornate stone building adjacent to the cathedral, serving a wonderful array of cakes, soups, filled rolls and quality coffee.
Both the cathedral and cafe are situated just off the Ness Walk path, close to the Eden Court theatre (see below) and it makes a great stop off, if you choose to do the Ness Islands trail.
Catch a show or a film at Eden Court Theatre
This impressive purpose built theatre feels like the cultural centre of Inverness. Inside, discover the pleasant cafe bar which serves both drinks and tasty snacks behind huge glass windows, with views to the River Ness. The theatre hosts regular touring companies, including some big productions such as ‘Six the Musical’ and ‘Pride and Prejustice (*sort of)’. There is also a lovely cinema which shows a mix of mainstream and art house movies. While in November, there is a yearly film festival that showcases an eclectic mix of world cinema.
The theatre is located on the banks of the River Ness close to Bught park/Botanic Gardens and features a well kept garden with a lawn that is perfect to relax on during the summer months. Watch out for the ‘Under Canvas’ event during July and August where you can expect to find live music, Djs and a wood fired pizza oven.
Walking tour of Inverness with a local
Born and bred in Inverness, Cath has been offering guided tours of the city for many years. The walking tour lasts approximately 1hr30 taking in the castle, the river ness, the cathedral, the Victorian market, the oldest house in Inverness, Abertarff House and more. Cath is an experienced local tour guide who will share many stories, historical fun facts, hidden gems and plenty of insider knowledge.
If there’s no availability on Cath’s tour, you can also check the Inverness City Daily Walking Tour – CLICK HERE.
Inverness Waterways Bike Tours (Ness River + Caledonian Canal)
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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.
Swim at Inverness Leisure Centre
Perhaps you’re looking for a work-out or a leisurely swim. Situated close to the Botanic Gardens and at the end of Ness Walk, is the amazing modern Inverness leisure centre. There is plenty of parking, a cafe, a well equipped gym, a climbing wall and an impressive swimming pool complex. It includes water slides, a wave machine, a fun leisure pool – perfect if you have kids – and a serious 25 metre training pool for athletes. While on the upper floor, for adults only, you will find spa facilities such as a sauna, steam room and a solarium. Facilities are open to non-members and are priced individually, please click the link below for further information.
Inverness sightseeing doesn’t need to be limited to the city… A beautiful 30 minute drive away and you’ll find Urquhart 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! Read our detailed post full of top tips if you’re planning to visit Urquhart Castle.
Here’s a selection of organised Loch Ness and/or Urquhart Castle tours you might enjoy
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 moving and atmospheric about this place. This is the plac e where the last battle was fought between the Jacobites (those faithful to the Stuart monarchy) and the government troops back in April 1746. 1500 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 (it’s a bit gruesome so we’d only recommend for older kids). 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. You can also book onto Rabbies organised tour which combines a visit to Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns (aka Outlander Stones) and Glen Affric – CLICK HERE to check availability and prices.
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.
Café 1 – This chic restaurant can be found close to Inverness castle and is proud to serve dishes that make the most of local ingredients. Some of the meat on the menu even comes from the family run farm, just 12 miles away, ensuring that farm to fork miles are kept to the absolute minimum. While seafood and game comes from Duncan Fraser located in the Victorian Market.
We recently discovered the Walrus and Corskrew wine bar, Inverness’ only 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
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 Hotel. You’ll be greeted with a glass of champagne – what more could you ask for! Click here to read our full Ness Walk Hotel review!
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 is very well served by bus companies – Stagecoach, Megabus, Citylink. We find the best way to check times and bus routes, is to use the website Traveline Scotland.
Inverness by Air
Inverness has a small airport located a 15 minute drive from the city centre. It is served by various airlines across the UK, Ireland and direct from Amsterdam. Easyjet fly from London Gatwick, Bristol and London Luton. British Airways fly from London Heathrow. The Scottish airline, Logan Air, serve the Scottish Islands but also Dublin, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester. KLM fly direct between Amsterdam and Inverness.
You can either catch a taxi (Inverness Taxis) into the city or the bus (Stagecoach Inverness) which links the airport to the city centre as well as Nairn (heading east). There will soon be a train stop close to the airport which will serve travellers, however, it will require a short bus journey to get from the airport to the train stop as it’s about a 1 mile walk away. The best option is probably a taxi or a bus to get into Inverness.
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!