Top Things to do in Inverness | A Complete Guide to the Capital of the Highland
When I visited Inverness, autumn was beginning to dress herself for the season. Though the first leaves tumbled to the soil, most remain green, glowing with new hues. The subtle golden and earthy hues took a sweet turn all along the River Ness. The fresh calm air, soothing sounds of the waters and the sight of a salmon fisherman in the River were moments of serenity – moments that awaits every visitor.
Though a small city in Scotland‘s northeast coast. Inverness offers a wealth of discovery, so much more than a base to visit the infamous Loch Ness, or the surrounding attractions. From fine food, historic architecture, green spaces and Highland tales, Inverness is perfect for short getaways. Plan your itinerary to Inverness with this Complete Guide to the Capital of the Highland so that you do not miss the highlights of the city and things to do around the cultural city of the Highlands.
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Best Tips: Book tours and tickets beforehand so not to miss:
Our Best Selling Day Trips and Multi Day Trips to undertake when visiting Scotland:
1 | See the best of Scotland in a day — Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Scottish Highland
OUR BEST READ ARTICLES ON SCOTLAND
A brief history of Inverness
Inverness, means the mouth of River Ness as it is located at the best crossing place of the River Ness where it meets Moray Firth. It flows from River Ness at the east end of Glen Mor, commanding the route system of northern Scotland.
This small city is also known as the Capital of the Highland. Once an ancient settlement, Inverness had played key roles in Scottish history. One of the historic events was the visit of St Columbo in 565 AD when he converted the King of the Picts to Christianity. Then, in 843, the Kingdom of the Scots and the Picts were united to create the Kingdom of Alba which has developed into Scotland as we know today. In 1040, Macbeth is said to have murdered King Duncan at his castle in Inverness.
The real story though, Macbeth killed King Duncan I in August 1040 in a battle near Elgin, Morayshire.
Learn more about “Macbeth” – one of Shakespeare’s most important works that also reflects the tensions, battles and destruction that took place during this era.
Buy Macbeth: by William Shakespeare on Amazon
The early Modern Ages sees tension escalating between the Highlands and the Scottish Crown, heightened when Mary Queen of Scots was refused entry to the castle in 1562 by the Highlands governor, who was later executed.
Learn more about the Highlands battles between the ninth and fourteenth centuries as well as the confused and turbulent period which led to a more settled history of the region in The Highland Battles: Warfare on Scotland’s Northern Frontier in the Early Middle Ages by Chris Peers (Hardcover – 30 Oct. 2020)
Some basic facts about Capital of the Highland
1 | Population
The city of Inverness covers a small surface area totaling 21 square kilometers (8 square miles) and is home to a population of over 46,000 residents.
2 | Climate
Inverness lies 7 metres above sea level and the climate is warm and temperate. Rainfall is significant with precipitation even during the driest months.
The average temperature is 8.0 °C | 46.4 °F. Precipitation here is about 740 mm | 29.1 inch per year.
3 | Culture
Inverness is the cultural centre for a number of events in the Scottish Highlands. Every September the city of Inverness hosts the Northern Meeting, for bagpipe players and lovers. Another major event is the annual City of Inverness Highland Games that can be traced back to 1822. Two summer music festivals are held each year, the Rockness and the Tartan Heart Festival, that bring a variety of music to the city.
4 | Language
Although official language of the Highlands is the English Language, Inverness still has a solid Scottish Gaelic speaking community and a relatively lively Gaelic scene. About 4.8% of Invernessians above the age of 3 speak Gaelic compared to 1.1% nationally.
5 | Long-distance Walking hub
Inverness is connected to three long-distance walking paths:
i | The Great Glen Way – Connects to Fort William along the Great Glen | 127 km (79 miles) | 5-6 days;
ii| The John O’Groat’s Trail – connects to John O’Groats along the coast;
iii| The South Loch Ness Trail – Connects to Fort Augustus along the southeast side of Loch Ness.
6 | Geographical location
Inverness is located in the northeast coast of Scotland, at the mouth of River Ness. It lies on the Great Glen Fault. There are minor earthquakes and the last one to affect Inverness was in 1934.
The City of Inverness is located at:
Latitude: 57° 28′ 44.69″ N | Longitude: -4° 13′ 26.33″ W.
Click on the image to view a larger scale | Google data
Things to do around the Capital of the Highland
Here is an outline of the things to do in and around Inverness to be included in your itinerary.
1 | River Ness Walk
A great way to explore the cultural city of the Highlands is to stroll along River Ness. The beauty of this walk along the banks of the River is that one minute you are in the busy streets of the city, and the very next you are in the “countryside”. If you are lucky, you may spot some seals bobbing up and down between the two road bridges in the centre of Inverness.
The Ness Walk route starts from the castle and follow the riverside path along the Great Glen Way. There are a number of footbridges along the length of River Ness allowing you to cross from one side of the river to the other.
Along the route, look out for some iconic landmarks such as the Inverness Cathedral and the Inverness War Memorial. You might also see a salmon fisherman standing in the river – apparently, and the story goes that around here years ago, a fisherman caught a massive salmon weighing 29kg (64lbs) but returned it to the waters after having it photographed.
Georgina suggests: Walk upstream alongside one side of the River Ness to Ness Island and returning down the other bank. This allows you to have two different experiences of some magnificent views.
2 | Inverness Cathedral
Inverness Cathedral, Highland, Scotland | Image: ©timelesstravelsteps, georgina_daniel
Inverness Cathedral is a cathedral dedicated to St Andrews. The Cathedral is not a large one but the serenity is one to be experienced. It is built of pink freestone from Conon Quarry near Dingwall. Dressed in warm cream coloured stone from Covesea Quarry near Lossiemouth, in Moray. It’s roof is green Westmorland slates and has a pine ceiling. Spend a moment or two here while on your walk along River Ness.
Address: Ardross St, Inverness IV3 5NN | Opening hours: Generally from 10 am.
3 | Ness Island
Walking upstream, you will reach Ness Island. Ness Islands is a collection of small islands in the middle of the River Ness. These small islands are connected to one another by a series of suspension foot bridges that gives a Victorian feel, sturdy and well built.
4 | Inverness War Memorial
A walk along River Ness on the east bank as it heads towards the southern outskirts of Inverness is the Inverness War Memorial. The memorial is dedicated to the men who fought in the Burma Campaign during World War II.
5 | Inverness Botanic Gardens and Nursery
A little beyond Ness Islands, is an oasis of calm and beauty. The Inverness Botanic Gardens and Nursery was formerly known as the Floral Hall is an explosion of colour, texture, impressive glass houses and subtropical horticultural gem.
Tea & cakes in the Cafe is highly recommended.
Entry: FREE | Hours: 7 days a week – 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Address: Bught Lane, Inverness, IV3 5SS | Inverness Botanic Gardens
Georgina suggests: With the Ness Walk, allow yourself up to 2-3 hours for a complete circular walk. You can make this walk as long or as short as you like as there are a number of bridges that allows you to shorten your walk if necessary, so you could return to your starting point. Alternatively, you could extend your walk along the Great Glen Way.
6 | Cameron Highlanders Memorial
An impressive statue and monument dedicated to the Cameron Highlanders who lost their lives during the war. Erected in 1893, the monument stands testament to the 142 soldiers from Inverness who lost their lives in the Egypt and the Sudan conflict (1882-1889). Names of the soldiers and references to the many campaigns are also engraved thereon. This memorial is situated immediately outside of the Inverness Railway station. The Station Square was purposefully chosen as the statue’s location to ensure maximum exposure and reverence from visitors to the Capital of the Highlands.
7 | Inverness Castle
Capital of the Highland
The beautiful Inverness Castle is made of red sandstone building and sits on a hill overlooking the River Ness. A castle had been on this site since 1057 but it had been destroyed and rebuilt many times. The present castle dates back to 1836, designed by architect William Burn.
Today, most of the Inverness Castle is closed to the public except for the Castle Viewpoint in the north tower. The Castle is home to the Inverness Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court. However, the Court is due to move to another location soon. There are plans to open up more of the castle for public viewing.
The Inverness Castle Viewpoint gives 360° view of Inverness and the Scottish Highlands.
Costs: Adults – £6.00 | Children – £4.00 for 25 minutes timeslot. Visits must be pre-booked.
8 | The Victorian Market
Victorian Market, Inverness, Scotland | Image: ©timelesstravelsteps, georgina_daniel
Spend a few minutes at the Victorian Market, Inverness.
The original market was built in 1870 but was destroyed by fire in 1889. The only life lost was a faithful dog which refused to leave a shop it guarded. The market was rebuilt in 1890-1891. This picturesque market is home to a fish market (accessed from Church Street) as well as a wide selection of cool craft shops and independent boutiques which are great for unique souvenirs. There are a number of eateries as well for some freshly baked pies and cream cakes.
9 | Leakey’s Bookshop, Inverness
When in Inverness, the one place not to be missed and even more so if you are a literary lover is Leakey’s Bookstore on Church Street. Leakey’s is the largest secondhand bookstore in Scotland and is independently owned. Sprawling with 100,000 books or so from ceiling to floor, organised into sections albeit not in any great order. Leakey’s Bookstore is a paradise for both young and old alike. As it covers all genres, as well as antique prints and maps, any one of the books can easily leap off the shelves and find it’s way into your purchase basket.
Located in a former 17th century Gaelic church, the bookstore retains most of the Church’s features. The only exception being an iron spiral staircase connecting the two floors that was added after it opened in 1979. Complete with wood burning fire that heats the shop, visitors to Leakey’s will have an amazing experience, for sure 🙂
Address: Church St, Inverness IV1 1EY
Opening hours: 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM | Monday – Saturday
10 | Meet the Unusual Greeter at Inverness Town House
The unusual greeters, wolves once roamed the Highlands and many places still bear their Gaelic name, madadh-allaidh. They greet visitors to the Town House to remind us of the wild landscapes that the Highlands is known for.
The wolves join an Inverness bestiary along with the camel and elephant on the city’s coat of arms, unicorn, falcon and gargoyles that you may see around the city.
Address: Castle Wynd, Inverness IV2 3BJ
11 | Walk around Inverness town
Take a walk around the city centre and see where the old courthouse was. Learn about one of the most notorious times in the history of the Highlands associated with the infamous Patrick Sellar
While all of the above can easily be accomplished in one day, you may also wish to explore the surrounding areas of Inverness. The following are some suggestions for you which can easily be done as part of a day or as a day trip.
Day trips from Inverness, Capital of the Highland
Take a break from the city and explore the magical land of castles, myths and extraordinary landscapes that will leave you with moments of speechlessness. The Scottish Highlands offers endless panoramic views of Scotland’s natural beauty which you would not want to miss! Here are some suggestions for you:
1 | Dolphin Tour
I did a boat trip with Dolphin Spirit Inverness. Dolphin Spirit Inverness boat trip takes you into the Moray Firth in search of dolphins, sea seals and a variety of sea birds. Each trip lasts about an hour fifteen minutes and run four times a day. I did not see any dolphins, but I guess such is luck.
2 | Loch Ness, Fort Augustus
Loch Ness needs little introduction. It is the most famous loch in the world, home to Nessie, the Loch Ness monster. Located just a short distance from Inverness, you could either drive, cycle or hike the South Loch Ness Trail, connecting to Fort Augustus along the southeast side of Loch Ness.
3 | Urquhart Castle
The beautiful Urquhart Castle ruins stands on the banks of Loch Ness, and apparently it is one of the best places to spot Nessie. There are boat tours and visitor centre here as well.
Embark on a beautiful day trip to Loch Ness from Inverness for an unforgettable complete Loch Ness experience. Discover picturesque villages, ancient summerhouse and go on scenic walks.
Learn more about the complete Loch Ness experience and secure yourself a spot on this day tour > > Loch Ness Experience
4 | Culloden Battlefield
Visit the moorland where it all happened that changed the course of world history – The Battle of Culloden ended the Jacobite cause. There is a visitor centre and audio guides.
Visit the Culloden Moor, along with Glen Affric and Clava Cairns on an amazing day trip from Inverness >> Glen Affric, Culloden, Clava Cairns in one day from Inverness.
Go a little further and experience the amazing scenery of Scottish Highlands
5 | Isle of Skye
Experience the amazing scenery of this beautiful isle either in one day or over several days. The spectacular rock formations of the Quiraing and Trotternish Ridge are breathtakingly beautiful and one not to miss.
6 | Hogwarts Express
Ride one of the greatest train journeys in the world – onboard the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig and marvel at the scenic beauty of Scotland.
While in Inverness, give yourself plenty of time to explore the bars and the many restaurants for a Scottish culinary delight.
Places to Eat and Drink in Inverness
Scotland is renowned for its unique delicacies and dishes. These include haggis and black pudding to porridge with a wee drum and shortbread.
The Scottish Highlands is a great source for prime steak, organic vegetables, freshly caught kippers, salmon and mussels. It’s a gastronomical heaven.
Inverness offers a great selection but the one “dish” I have heard a lot of is the Mac n cheese pie – apparently you will either love it or hate it! I haven’t tried, so I can’t comment.
Here are some suggestions of restaurants and bars for you to try:
CASTLE TAVERN | Scottish | Vegetarian & Vegan Friendly
Good service, good quality food and apparently serves the best haggis in town! (I did not try the haggis).
1 View Place, Inverness IV2 4SA Scotland
MUSTARD SEED RESTAURANT | European Cuisines | Dine in only
Nice and cosy restaurant in a former church with wood burner.
16 Fraser St, Inverness IV1 1DW
CAFE ONE | European & Scottish dishes from locally sourced produce | Dine-in and Take-away available.
75 Castle St, Inverness IV2 3EA
RIVER HOUSE | Sleek and upscale dining experience with beautiful river views | Seasonal, sustainable local seafood.
1 Greig St, Inverness IV3 5PT
THE BOTANIC HOUSE | Excellent Cocktails!
9-11 Castle St, Inverness IV2 3DX
Places to Stay in Inverness
Recommended read: Guide to Top 5 Hotels to Stay in Inverness
A final note on Inverness
Inverness is a small and bustling city that is steeped in history, surrounded by landscapes untouched by time where monster myths and ancient mysteries are waiting to be discovered. With misty lochs, wildlife and fabulous traditions as well as warm hearty food, Inverness is a delight from the moment you arrive. I sincerely hope this guide has given you an inspiration to visit (if you haven’t already) which has famously become known as the Capital City of the Highlands.
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Have a splendid time discovering Inverness and the magical Scottish Highland.
Basics for Inverness
Quick Facts on Scotland
Population: Over 5.4 million (2020)
Common Language: English. Gaelic is spoken by 1.3% of the population mostly in the west and in the Highlands.
Currency: £ – Pound (GBP)
Capital City: Edinburgh. Home to the first fire brigade in the world, and is the second largest city in Scotland. The largest metropolis in Scotland is Glasgow.
High season: Summer (July – August)
Religion: Christianity – 40% Church of Scotland. 15% Roman Catholic and 6% other Christian denominations. Minorities include Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh with a quarter of the population has been recorded as having no religion.
Social courtesies: Handshaking is customary when introduced to someone for the first time. When visiting someone’s home, a small gift such as flowers or a box of chocolates is appreciated.
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Inverness | A Complete Guide to the Capital of the Highlands first published at timelesstravelsteps.com and is regularly updated. Last updated May 22, 2022