Inverness is a brilliant base from which to explore the gorgeous Scottish Highlands, with a variety of activities on offer from local walks to dolphin spotting. The city is well connected by road, rail and air; this, coupled with the central location, means it’s perfect for day trips. You can either select a tour company, or research and plan your own route. Here are few options to choose from, each offering a different taste of Scotland.
Almost certainly the first way you day-trippers will look is along the Great Glen and down the 23mi (37km) of Loch Ness. Apart from searching for Nessie the Loch Ness Monster, take a day trip from Inverness to visit Urquhart Castle and the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition, both at Drumnadrochit. Thereafter, continuing the journey along the loch is rewarding, with stunning views and photo opportunities, including Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK. Other attractions include the village of Fort Augustus, the Clansman centre, and Neptune’s Staircase, a series of eight loch gates allowing the Caledonian Canal to descend to sea level. Another option is to take a boat tour along the water itself, giving you a different view to that normally experienced from the shore.
Scotland’s full of castles and, while there are several options relatively close to Inverness, it’s worth driving a little further on a day trip in order to see possibly the most photographed and iconic, Eilean Donan. It’s appeared in many movies over the years (including such classics as The Wicker Man and Highlander), as well as on countless ads for Scottish products.
Combine a trip to the castle with exploring the Isle of Skye, passing the famous Five Sisters of Kintail mountains, seeing the jagged ridgelines of the Cuillin hills, or simply slowly wandering along an empty stretch of coast beach-combing. Once you’re done, make sure you pick up some of the delicious fish and chips in Portree.
The Royal Burgh of Nairn is perfectly placed for exploring. It’s frequently sunny (a rarity in Scotland) and has miles of beaches nearby. Cawdor castle and gardens are close too, as are several world-class golf courses, including Castle Stuart. Nairn also offers several places to eat and to shop, a promenade to walk along and gaze out to the Moray Firth beyond, river walks, and various activities, including wild dolphin spotting.
The Seaboard Villages, Tain and Dornoch
Follow the road north from Inverness and you’ll find picture-perfect seaside villages, each with a distinct character, golden sands, archaeological wonders, and beautiful walks. The Seaboard Villages of Shandwick and Balintore offer you a glimpse of the gentler side of Scottish scenery, despite the bulk of Ben Wyvis looming inland. Look out for otters and also the Mermaid of the North. If you love architecture, Tain is fascinating. Although it’s the oldest Royal Burgh in Scotland, many of the buildings were constructed in the late 19th century and designed by the Maitland family of architects. Head along the coast and stop off at the Glenmorangie distillery for a tour and wee dram. Then, cross over the Dornoch Firth and visit the ancient town of Dornoch, with a 13th-century cathedral, castle, and beautiful local beach walks.
Day trips from Inverness can be taken in virtually all directions. Heading south and east will take you into the vast wilds of the Cairngorms National Park. Aviemore is a good place to pause, whether for a meal or to join the Strathspey Steam Railway. When there’s snow on the ground, other possibilities include winter sports, such as skiing or snowboarding. The Reindeer Centre offers visitors the chance to see the only free-ranging herd of reindeer in the UK, and to get close to the friendly creatures themselves. It’s also possible to combine these activities with visiting one of the many Speyside distilleries.
The Road to the Isles
Heading along the Great Glen towards Fort William gives you some day trip options. Do you continue driving the Road to the Isles (formally known as the A830) all the way to where it ends in Mallaig, or do you leave your vehicle at Fort William to join the iconic Harry Potter train? The train journey has been voted the best in the world on more than one occasion. No matter which one you go for, both road and rail cross iconic landscapes, with soaring peaks, dark lochs, majestic forests, sudden bays and islands, close-up views of wildlife, and a wealth of heritage and culture. Mallaig is an excellent place to pause and find some food before the return journey.
The islands of Orkney
The northern islands of Orkney are full of wonders. They include the Unesco-recognised Heart of Neolithic Orkney, with majestic stone circles of the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness, the unique tomb of Maeshowe and the incredibly-preserved Skara Brae. Other places to visit are the beautiful Italian Chapel, decorated by European prisoners of war to a stunning standard; the Churchill Barriers, built to protect the natural harbour of Scapa Flow; and the ancient red sandstone Viking cathedral of St Magnus. All of these sites – and the warm hospitality of the Orcadians themselves – are within range of a day trip from Inverness. Just remember to check the times of the ferry sailings if you’re planning to drive the route yourself.
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