7 Great Day Trips to Take from Inverness, Scotland

Inverness is the heart of the Scottish Highlands, making it a great base for many a day trip
Inverness is the heart of the Scottish Highlands, making it a great base for many a day trip | © Mark Ferguson / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Alexander Crow
3 September 2021

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 seven options to choose from, each offering a different taste of Scotland.

Loch Ness

Natural Feature
Map View
Loch Ness
© Norman Price / Alamy Stock Photo
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.
ToursEilean Donan and Skye
From $68 per person
12 hours
5 (59)

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.

Nairn

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Flower garden at Cawdor Castle near Nairn in Inverness shire, Scotland
© Angus McComiskey / Alamy Stock Photo

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 Cairngorms

Park
Map View
View over Loch Avon from Shelter Stone Crag on Carn Etchachan at the head of Glen Avon in the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
© Julian Cartwright / Alamy Stock Photo

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

Architectural Landmark
Map View
The Jacobite Steam Train, also known as the Hogwarts train as it was used in the Harry Potter movie franchise, traveling along the Glenfinnan Viaduct
© Colin Roberts / Alamy Stock Photo

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

Natural Feature
Map View
Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, Scotland, UK.
© Derek Croucher / Alamy Stock Photo
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.
These recommendations were updated on September 3, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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