While Edinburgh may be the capital of Scotland, the remote northern regions can feel a world away – which is why Inverness is best known as the capital of the Scottish Highlands. The River Ness flows through the center of town, from the infamous Loch Ness on to the Moray Firth. It’s a city of typical Scottish fashion, with faded stone buildings, welcoming pub facades, and the occasional chapel campanile towering above the rest.
Settled perfectly in the center of the highlands, Inverness makes for the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the surrounding terrain. To the south, boats wait to take visitors out into the expanse of Loch Ness. Just to the east, Culloden moor offers a glimpse into Scotland’s bloody history. To the west, a bridge carries people over the sea to the Isle of Skye. There’s no shortage of things to see in the Highlands. But it’s worth dedicating at least a day to exploring Inverness! It isn’t a particularly large city, but it is immensely charming. The locals are affable, the whisky is strong, and the history and highlander culture is palpable.
Explore Around Inverness Castle
Inverness Castle is a hillside fortress overlooking the River Ness. Built in the 1800s, the castle that stands today is actually a replica. The original medieval structure was destroyed by the Jacobites. Although the castle isn’t open for tours, it is worth a walk around as the grounds offer stunning views of the city from its highest perch.
Visit Leakey’s Bookshop
If you’re a bookworm like me, you’ll find the gem of Inverness to be Leakey’s Bookshop, tucked away at the end of Church Street. It felt like stepping into Flourish and Blotts from the world of Harry Potter. I half expected the books to float off the highest shelves. An old wood-burning stove warms the shop, inviting readers in to take something off the shelf and get comfortable on a couch.
Stroll Along the River Ness
The River Ness flows from Loch Ness to the Moray Firth, and snakes its way through the heart of the city. Some of the most stunning architecture can be found riverside. The best way to spend your time in Inverness is by simply wandering down one side of the river and up the other. From here you can see from Inverness Castle to the Old High Church, and you’ll pass the likes of Old Town Curiosities and St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
Visit a Distillery
There’s no denying that Scotland produces some of the best whisky in the world, and you can visit distilleries all around the country for a taste of what makes it so good. Although not located directly within the city, both Tomatin Distillery and Glen Ord Distillery are just short drives away. Both offer affordable tours and tastings for those interested in learning more about how Scotch whisky is made!
Old High Church and Cemetery
Perched along another hilltop down the river from the castle is Old High Church, a parish of the Church of Scotland. The building dates back to the eighteenth century, although the grounds upon which it stands have been used for worship since Celtic times. Beside the church is a harrowingly beautiful cemetery, bordered by St. Stephen’s Church.
Explore Loch Ness
What would a trip to Inverness be without looking for Nessie? Head down to the infamous Loch Ness for a serene afternoon on the lake. Boat tours take visitors around the loch, while visitors can also visit the ruins of Urquhart Castle.
Visit Culloden Battlefield and Clava Cairn
You don’t have to travel far from the city to discover some of the best attractions of the highlands. Culloden Moor lies approximately fifteen minutes to the southwest of the city, and is home to one of the most prominent battles in Scottish history. And hidden in the countryside nearby are Clava Cairn, a Bronze Age circular chsamber tomb surrounded by standing stones. You can read more about visiting these sites here!
Where to Eat and Drink
There are plenty of hot spots in town to test the local whiskies and ales – and if you’re feeling brave, maybe even the haggis!
Black Isle Bar – Black Isle Bar serves up delicious wood-fired pizza, as well as nearly 100 different types of beer. Be sure to check out their secret garden!
Hootananny – If you’re looking for a traditionally Scottish good time, head to Hootenanny for a pint. This lively pub offers music daily, including traditional Scottish folk music and ceilidh dances. I recommend a pint of the Black Isle ales!
The Castle Tavern – This cozy and traditional tavern sits beside the castle, away from the nightlife bustle of Church Street. If the weather isn’t too typically Scottish, you can even enjoy a pint in their beer garden.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Inverness?