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The most northerly city in Scotland, Inverness is a fantastic place to visit. It’s one of those cities that just has everything, from culture and history to stunning landscapes just a short drive from the city centre as well as being the gateway to the tourist favourite North Coast 500 route.
It’s not the biggest city by any means and the shopping offering isn’t amazing if that’s what you’re looking for, but what it lacks in retail tourism it certainly makes up for in history.
We usually take a trip up to Inverness at least a few times a year and quite often stop in by to do some exploring when we’re on the road up to Ullapool for our ferry over to Stornoway. There’s still so much for us to explore, but we’ve tried to cover some of the best things to do in Inverness and the nearby area.
Most people arriving into Scotland are coming in to Edinburgh, so we put together a guide of how to get to Inverness from Edinburgh.
Hopefully, this should help you build a great Inverness itinerary for your trip.
Situated just outside of Inverness is our first top thing to do in Inverness and that is Fort George.
Built shortly after the historic Battle of Culloden in 1746 and was used as a secure base for King George II’s army. More recently it has been used by the British Army.
Fort George is most frequently visited by those looking to learn about the history of the fort at the Highlanders Museum which is actually Scotland’s largest regimental museum outside of Edinburgh. Here you will have the chance of seeing the grand magazine which was designed to hold over 2000 gunpowder barrels and is now home to a large selection of weapons.
You’ll also be able to see how the soldiers once lived in the centuries gone by.
Due to the positioning of Fort George, it’s built on the very edge of the coast with the Moray Firth surrounding it and this gives you an ideal opportunity to potentially spot dolphins in the water.
Inverness Botanic Gardens
Heading back in to the city you can find a little tropical paradise in the Inverness Botanic Gardens.
Open 7 days a week (restrictions permitting), this is one of the best free things to do in Inverness, but they do welcome donations which help keep the gardens running and open to the public.
You can walk to the gardens from the city centre, which will take you along the banks of the river and some of the other main visitor attractions in the city on the way such as the cathedral, Ness Islands and more.
These are a great way to spend an afternoon in Inverness if the weather is nice and you appreciate the tropical climates on offer inside. What really impressed us is that although small, there’s plenty of different fauna to look at both inside and out.
Inside you’ll find the Tropical area, filled with peace lilies, rubber plants, monstera and more as well as a pool filled with Koi Carp and Goldfish as well as some seating areas which seemed popular with young families. You’ll also find the cactus house which is quite impressive.
Be sure when visiting the gardens that you keep an eye out for the resident cat Shadow. He’s a very well looked after cat, let’s just put it that way.
Update September 2022: Sadly we learned that Shadow had unfortunately passed away. We hope that some memorial is placed up for this beautiful cat as we’re sure that we’re not the only visitors with fond memories of meeting him.
Inverness Castle (Castle Viewpoint)
Overlooking the city, you’ll find it hard to miss this monument when in the city centre.
It’s one of the most impressive sights in the city that offers almost equally as impressive views over the city skyline when standing at the top looking down.
Sadly, at the time of writing this post, the Castle is currently closed for renovations, but that shouldn’t put you off heading up the hill to take a look at the views. When it’s a clear day, you can see for miles in all directions.
Originally built in 1057, Inverness castle has been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times with the most recent and current castle being built quite recently in 1836.
Hopefully the work on the castle shouldn’t take too long and the castle will be back open for business next season as we would love to explore inside and get up to the Castle Viewpoint which I’m sure will give you even better views of the city.
Now, this is definitely the stand out building for me personally and such a dream of a building to photograph.
Perched on the edge of the River Ness is Inverness Cathedral.
Again, just a short walk along the banks of the river from the city centre, the cathedral has stood in place since 1869 and is unique in the sense that it doesn’t have the two spires that were included in the original designs due to a lack of funding.
I actually quite like that it doesn’t have spires at the front as it reminds me a lot of Notre Dame, which is perhaps one of my favourite buildings that I’ve ever been fortunate enough to lay eyes upon.
You can go inside the cathedral, which we have yet to actually do and looks just as impressive as the exterior.
Our So Called Life Recommended Accommodation
Highland Apartments by Mansley
If you’re planning to stay overnight in Inverness then we can highly recommend the Highland Apartments by Mansley.
These are incredibly central and a fantastic accommodation option for travellers visiting the city.
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery is a weird building, in the way that if you didn’t know where it was then you’d possibly completely miss it.
Nestled behind some shops and in the shadow of the looming Inverness castle above it, you’ll find it on Castle Wynd, which is just off one of the main streets in the city coming from the riverside.
Combining both the museum and art gallery in the one building, this is one of the top tourist attractions in the city, filled with artefacts for the history of Scotland and the highlands.
As well as a bit of history, you can see some more modern pieces in the form of ever changing art installations.
Entry to both is completely free, although as with most travelling art exhibitions there may be a charge for special displays, I can’t be completely sure.
Eden Court Theatre
By far one of the most bizarre buildings that I think I’ve ever seen, Eden Court theatre has parts which span three different centuries of construction which creates this almost Frankensteins monster of buildings on the riverside.
With theatres, cinemas and a range of classes, there’s plenty of things happening at Eden Court that you could do on a rainy day in the city.
We only got to view the outside, so there’s probably a lot more worth seeing inside and if you’re doing the riverside walk to the Ness Islands then pop your head in and see what you find.
River Ness and Ness Islands
Possibly one of the most enjoyable areas of Inverness is the walk along the river itself and towards the Ness Islands.
A small collection of islands in the middle of the river, these are all connected by a series of bridges. It’s hard to believe at times that you’re actually in the middle of a city when taking a walk up the riverside and around the islands.
Often you’ll find salmon fishermen standing in the middle of the water casting their fly which makes quite mesmerising watching on a glorious day.
Walk around the islands and make sure you spend some time trying to find the Nessie statue.
Possibly the most iconic bookshop in Scotland. Leakey’s is a proper tourist favourite and a real treasure trove of books of all sorts and ages.
Set over two (and a half) floors, you’ll find books of all sorts organised by category and I promise you that if there’s an old book that you’re struggling to find in high street book stores, you’ll likely find a copy here.
With a beautiful spiral staircase in the middle, you get views over the balcony of the first floor down to really see the amount of books that this store has.
There’s so much books here that you could quite easily spend hours just getting lost and browsing the shelves.
A definite recommended place to visit, even if you’re not a huge bookworm.
Right in the centre of Inverness, across from the railway station, you’ll find the Inverness Victorian Market.
A beautiful market building originally constructed during the Victorian era surprisingly enough and housing a number of local businesses and cafes under the impressive structure of metal beams.
Recently refurbished, it’s definitely retained a lot of the traditional feel and it’s worth spending some time wandering through and taking a look in some of the stores.
The newly renovated area of the market has opened which now contains a food court complete with pop up eateries and looks like somewhere we’ll definitely have to revisit some time soon.
Just outside the main entrance to the market, you’ll find Coyotes Inverness. Possibly the best buger place in Inverness.
Now, this is by far one of the most bizarre and frankly quite creepy places on our list or infact places that I’ve visited in general.
Just a short distance outside of Inverness you’ll find “Clootie Well”.
Clootie well is a part of forest that contains hundreds if not thousands of items of clothing tied to trees.
There’s purpose and meaning behind it though.
People visit Clootie well and wash the items in the stream before tying them to the trees in a ritual dating back centuries and this is meant to ease any ailments or illnesses suffered by the person who is the owner of that item of clothing.
It’s an exremelt bizarre site that quite often is maintained to avoid too much build up of non-biodegradable fabrics in the area.
Add it to your list if that sounds like something that you’re interested in seeing, but in my opinion I’d quite happily not bother.
By far one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area, if not the country is Loch Ness.
Home to the famous “Loch Ness Monster” thousands of people head here every year in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the fabled Nessie.
In reality though, Loch Ness is just a big body of water and that’s kind of it.
There’s some lovely views to take in on the Loch that you can take in by stopping off at a few points along the banks such as Dores and the Dores Inn or nearer the top of the loch at An Talla, where you can grab a bite to eat.
You’ll also find the Loch Ness visitors centre here filled with souvenirs and exhibitions about the history of the Loch and the monster as well as being somewhere that you can book cruises from.
Situated on the banks of the Loch you’ll find the stunning Urquhart Castle.
You’ll more than likely have seen plenty of photos on social media of this castle and it’s one of the most visited castles in the country along with Eilean Donan and Dunnottar Castle.
At the castle, you’ll be looking at around a £12 entry fee if you book online for adults, which includes an audio tour that you can access on your mobile phone to guide you around the ruins of this castle.
For you Outlander fans, this is one that you’ll want to visit.
Near to the Battlefields of Culloden are the Clava Cairns. A group of stone structures used as burial chambers during the bronze age and are extremely fascinating due to the strategic positioning and the way that they are built to harness the sunlight.
It’s also one of the filming places of Outlander, which I won’t pretend to know anything about, but if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll probably recognise them.
It’s free to visit here and when we visited, there was nobody else around……that could be due to it pouring rain, but who knows.
If you’re an Outlander fan, then why not follow along with some of Lauren’s lessons teaching you basic Scottish Gaelic with Phonetics to make it easier?
Possibly one of the most historically known sites in Scotland is the Battlefield at Culloden.
The Battle of Culloden is something that everyone is taught about in schools here in Scotland and is the site of the final battle of the Jacobite uprising in 1746.
During this battle, Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated by the British Government in the last pitched battle fought on British soil.
Here you’ll find a fantastic visitor centre that gives you all the information you need in order to learn about the history of the Moors as well as access to the Battlefield and viewpoints.
It’s an incredible place that is definitely worth visiting and if you can catch it with a morning mist, you’ll perhaps get a sense of how eerie the atmosphere can get here.
So there you have it.
Those are some of the best things to do in Inverness and will hopefully help you plan the best trip to this beautiful area in the Highlands.
We’d love to hear from you if you’re planning to visit or if you’ve been and used any of our recommendations to see more of the area.
Find out the best things to do in Fort William, which you’ll find just south of Inverness and if you’re looking for somewhere to stay in the area, then definitely check out Highland Holidays Ben Nevis.