By Jessica Russo
Ah, Inverness - where Scottish tradition meets the rolling countryside. Explore historic castles, shop at the bustling Victorian Market, and take a short drive to nearby Loch Ness! This cultural capital is the perfect home base for exploring the magical Scottish Highlands.
What to Know
While Inverness holds the rank as the largest city in the Highlands, it's compact enough to explore on foot! This charming riverside city boasts everything from historic castles to hip breweries. Perfectly placed near Loch Ness, Inverness is a dream from the inside, out.
When to Go
It is no secret that the magical Scottish Highlands are spectacular year-round. But of course, everybody wants to go when the weather is nice and it's not "too touristy," right? Those ideal months are May, June, and September. While July and August are sunny (okay, "sunny" for Scotland's standards) and boast bright emerald green landscapes, those two months are peak, so get ready to share the sights with other tourists. Scottish winters are lovely, but they are cold. While snow-capped mountains are photo-worthy, you won't have much sunlight to experience them in, so you may want to hold out for spring or fall.
How to Get Around
Within the city proper, walking is your best bet. Exploring a city by foot is the best way to really see everything and immerse yourself in Inverness' vibrant day-to-day-culture. Inverness is also a great biking city, so take advantage of the bike paths along River Ness!
Now, if you're planning on heading out to the Highland's spectacular countryside, you have a few options. Choose between a convenient and scenic train ride, an adventurous road trip (yes, on the "other" side of the road), or a relaxing and informative guided tour!
Where to Eat
This culture capital has no shortage of amazing places to eat (and drink). From chic cafes to traditional pubs, Inverness is filled with lively spots to enjoy local favorites. Be sure to try haggis, bangers and mash, and cullen skink - paired perfectly with whisky, of course.
- River House 1 Greig St, Inverness, Scotland Phone: +44 1463 22203
- Cafe One 75 Castle St, Inverness, Scotland Phone: +44 1463 226200
- The Mustard Seed 16 Fraser St, Inverness, Scotland Phone: +44 1463 220220
- Urquhart's Restaurant 2 Young St, Inverness, Scotland Phone: +44 1463 233373
- The Castle Tavern 1 View Pl, Inverness, Scotland Phone: +44 1463 718178
- Rocpool 1 Ness Walk, Inverness, Scotland Phone: +44 1463 717274
- Dores Inn B862, Dores, Inverness, Scotland Phone: +44 1463 751203
What to See
Perched on a cliff overlooking the sparkling River Ness, this beautiful red sandstone castle is an architectural gem. While the structure that stands today was built in 1836 by architect William Burn, this site of land holds defensive history that dates back to the 11th century. Currently, it houses the Inverness Sherrif Court - and also attracts tons of tourists every year.
In the Highlands, you can never see too many castles. This must-see beauty (pronounced "urk'at") sits on the north shore of Loch Ness and boasts picture-perfect surrounding scenery. Whether it's a quick photo-op or a full-day historical experience, a visit to this 13th-century ruin never disappoints.
You know those jaw-dropping, eye-widening structures that make your head bobble around and your lips say "whoa. This massive cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Saint Andrew, is one of those structures. Opened in 1869, this Victorian Episcopalian cathedral was one of Scotland's most active and well-known churches, and remains so today. Regardless of religion, this holy structure is, hands-down, a piece of art.
Experience the powerfully moving history of the final 1746 Jacobite Rising battle. Explore Culloden's interactive visitor center, walk the vast grounds, and discover amazing artifacts. Just east of Inverness, this historic battlefield is a quick 20-minute drive from the city proper.
Nestled within picturesque gardens, this castle is a storybook spectacle. If the name sounds familiar, that's because this romantic 14th-century structure was home to the Thanes of Cawdor - famously connected to Shakespeare's Macbeth.
Clap along to the sweet sound of live folk music, clink glasses with locals, and take a bite of a savory haggis burger n' chips. This popular Scottish music venue is the spot for a true Scottish nightlife experience.
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
Rainy day? There probably will be, or it wouldn't be Scotland. Head to the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery and discover why Inverness is deemed the "culture capital of the Highlands." Best part? It's free!
Tips and Tricks
Bring a raincoat and waterproof boots. Let's face it - rainy weather is part of the UK's charm! While your vacation won't be a washout, Scotland faces its fair share of misty, drizzly days - which means slippery stones and muddy hiking trails. Yes, you'll still be able to walk around and go hiking, but you'll be much happier that you're dry.
Did you know that some people in Scotland speak Gaelic? When exploring the Highlands, you'll run into Gaelic road signs, and you might even hear locals speaking it. Though you'll be able to get by using English, it might be fun to learn a few Gaelic words before your trip!
Watch out for sheep, goats, and highland hairy cows! You'll find these furry friends all over the Highlands, so have your camera ready for some iconic photo-ops.
Tap your foot to bagpipes and sip on some whisky. Slainte! (pronounced "slan-sha" means "cheers!" in Gaelic)
Loch Ness - 25-min drive
Get ready to spot one of the largest, most monstrous legends of all time - Nessie! While seamonster watching, be sure to enjoy the beauty of the largest body of freshwater in the UK. Have a delightful lunch in the town of Fort Augustus, where you'll find tons of quaint pubs and Loch Ness souvenirs.
Cairngorms National Park - 45-min drive
Filled with lakes or lochs, castles, and wildlife, this national park is a Scottish dream. When you spot roaming sheep, gawk at sky-high mountains or bens, and gaze out at where sparkling water meets vast greenery, you'll think "wow, this is the Scotland I've seen in postcards."
Glencoe - 2 hr 20-min drive
Okay, so a 2-hour drive may seem like a bit of a hike, but trust us, a drive to Glencoe is beyond worth it. And guess what? The drive itself is spectacular! There's no way to not take a scenic route. Along the way, spot Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles! Once in Glencoe, visit the Three Sisters for one of the most breathtaking views in all of the UK.
Tip: Be sure to stop for some good food at the Clachaig Inn. What's better than sipping an ale while staring at one of the prettiest mountainscapes in Scotland?
Eilean Donan Castle - 1 hr 45-min drive
A drive to Eilean Donan is a must-do from Inverness. Think: jaw-dropping mountainscapes, sparkling lakes, grazing sheep, and cute villages sprinkled throughout. Upon arrival, head inside this iconic castle and immerse yourself in its history. After that, head to the nearby Plockton for a true Scottish village experience! If you're feeling adventurous, you'll already be halfway to the Isle of Skye!