In the heart of the Scottish Highlands, Inverness is surrounded by a wealth of places to visit. From naturally beautiful areas like Loch Ness to man-made marvels like Cawdor Castle, the scope of things to see and do can be dizzying. To help, Culture Trip has outlined 25 of the very best attractions in the area.
As it’s the most famous loch in the world and home to Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, Loch Ness needs little introduction. Whether you decide to drive the short distance here from Inverness or walk or cycle along the canal and river, this is one place you need to see when visiting the area.
On the banks of Loch Ness stands Urquhart Castle, an ancient fortress. While it’s mostly in ruins, it’s supposedly one of the best places to spot Nessie. There is a full-sized trebuchet siege engine, a pier for boat tours of the loch and an excellent visitor centre.
On a windswept moorland, the Battle of Culloden ended the Jacobite cause and altered the course of world history. Today, the battlefield is home to an informative visitor centre that provides excellent audio tours and features various artefacts.
Gerald Laing designed the sandstone-and-bronze Falcon Square Mercat Cross in 2002. It features a falcon on each side, swooping down to catch its prey, and a 2m (8ft) unicorn, Scotland’s national animal, at the top.
Specialising in native Scottish wildlife and other colder weather creatures, the RZSS Highland Wildlife Park has received acclaim for its Scottish wildcat breeding programme, as it tries to save the species from extinction. Other natural treasures include native grey wolves, polar bears and red pandas.
With several different shows every year, two theatres, two cinema screens, three galleries and various workshops, Eden Court Highlands is the pre-eminent arts venue in northern Scotland. It underwent a refurbishment and extension between 2004 and 2008, and many people travel to Inverness for the sole purpose of seeing one of the performances it hosts.
Clootie wells, the eerie and ancient Celtic tradition of hanging rags from trees, are seen in a few spots around Inverness, such as near Culloden. However, the main place to see this is at Munlochy, just north of the city, where there are thousands of scraps of fabric ominously decorating the trees.
This 15th-century castle, with roots dating back to the 14th century, was the home of the Thane of Cawdor, made famous by his mention in William Shakespeare’s cursed play, Macbeth. In addition to its rich history, the castle is home to three beautiful gardens: the walled garden, flower garden and wild garden.
Disestablished in 1634, the ruins of this 13th-century monastic settlement are still surprisingly preserved and worth exploring. The monks, originally from France, gave the priory the name Beauly, from the French beau lieu, meaning “beautiful place”. Upon visiting, you can certainly understand why.
A subtropical wonderland in northern Scotland, the Inverness Botanic Gardens grow an astounding array of plants, from cacti to pitcher plants, with added fish ponds and even a waterfall. The sheltered outdoor garden is also colourful and an excellent place to walk around on a sunny day; as they sit between the Caledonian Canal and the River Ness, the opportunities to walk further are tempting.
It isn’t easy to select one distillery to recommend, simply because there are so many excellent options on offer. However, Glenmorangie is an excellent choice. It has three different tours and experiences, and a visit can potentially be combined with a day trip to Dornoch, Tain and the Seaboard Villages. Just be careful not to have too many wee drams on your visit.
Apart from the miles of sand, the challenging golf course, the walks, the shops and the excellent places to eat, the beauty of this little seaside town is that it’s only a 15-minute train ride from Inverness. Actress Tilda Swinton lives here, and with good reason; it’s a lovely corner of the world.
If you want to sample traditional Highland hospitality, drink, music and dance, Hootananny is perhaps the best option. On Fridays and Saturdays, some of the tables are cleared to enable ceilidh dancing, bringing with it many smiles, laughter and a feeling of accomplishment when you remember the steps.
The best way to see Inverness Castle is to walk along the River Ness, which provides several picture-worthy angles. Strolling along the banks, as people have been doing since before St Columba preached here in 565CE, is a great way to explore the heart of the city.
A prehistoric, Bronze Age cemetery, first used around 4,000 years ago, Clava Cairns is also a popular place to visit for Outlander fans. As it’s close to Culloden, it’s worth combining a visit to both sites.
Possibly the largest artillery fortification in Europe, the 18th-century Fort George was built to deter another Jacobite rebellion. There is an excellent museum detailing the Jacobite uprising, and the walls are a wonderful place to catch a glimpse of the wild dolphins that make the waters nearby home.
If you are looking for classic Highland scenery, somewhere away from the bustling crowds and full of incredible natural beauty and an abundance of wildlife, then Glen Affric is worthy of a visit. To get there, it’s a short trip to Cannich from Inverness, and you can then walk or cycle along the stunning glen.
Built in the 19th century, as the name suggests, this picturesque market is home to an abundance of cool craft shops and independent boutiques. If you start feeling a little peckish while perusing, the market also has a selection of delicious cafés and eateries.
Built to house the artefacts that tell the story of Inverness’s and the surrounding area’s heritage and culture, the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery offers you an insight into Highland life. Meanwhile, the adjoining art galleries feature both permanent and temporary exhibitions, with a special highlight on local artists.
One of the more defining landmarks in Inverness, the cathedral, designed by famed architect Alexander Ross, stands as a monument to the religious beliefs in the area. With its foundation stone laid in 1866, it was the second cathedral built following the reformation.
Among the largest bookshops in Scotland and built inside a former church, Leakey’s Bookshop is a literature lover’s dream. With everything from rare prints to classic editions, there is sure to be something that catches your eye. The shop also houses a café, which is perfect for taking a break.
Showcasing the rich military history of Scotland’s Highland regiments, the Highlanders’ Museum is a must-visit for any history buff. Chronicling the Highland soldiers’ history from the nearby Battle of Culloden straight through to today’s active regiments, the museum shares the lives of the soldiers as well as the stories of some of their greatest victories.
A short trip out of the city, the Fairy Glen is a magical spot in the Highlands, complete with two picturesque waterfalls. The glen was once used for a traditional ceremony where children would decorate the pond with flowers to keep the resident fairies happy. Part of a nature trail, the walk to the glen leads you through some terrific woodland.
Lying in the middle of the River Ness, the Ness Islands are the perfect destination for a leisurely Sunday stroll. Crossing Victorian suspension bridges over to the islands, you’ll find several nature trails that will lead you around the area and past other local attractions, such as the Inverness Botanic Gardens and Whin Park.
For any Harry Potter fans who fancy a treat, why not take a trip on the real-life Hogwarts Express? Travelling from Inverness on the famous Jacobite steam train, the tour of the Highlands will take you through some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country. As a bonus, you’ll travel over the magnificent Glenfinnan Viaduct, a feat of Victorian-era engineering.