Things to see & do in Inverness

Is there anything to do in Inverness? More than enough to make it worth at least a few days of your time. The Highland Capital is a popular starting point for escorted and self-guided rail holidays on the Far North Line, or on the Kyle Line which can lead to the Hebrides. But Inverness also boasts beautifully preserved castles, ancient battlefields, world-famous bookshops and botanic gardens – linger for a day or two either side of your tour to make the most of it.

Many of the classic things to do in Inverness naturally involve its soul-stirring scenery. Inverness sits on the edge of the Moray Firth where dolphins play off the coast, at the head of the Great Glen, and close to the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. Just south of the city is famous Loch Ness, whose most renowned resident needs no introduction. Inverness is an easy city to get around and has a walkable centre, while for attractions that are slightly further afield you can simply hop on a train, a local bus, or book a private taxi.

Abertarff House

The oldest house in Inverness, built in 1593 and beautifully preserved, Abertarff House is a National Trust property that offers a fascinating look at domestic architecture from the 16th century. As well as delicious cake in the café.

Boat cruise on Loch Ness

Your chances of seeing the mythical Loch Ness Monster may be negligible, but cruising around Loch Ness is still a very pleasant experience, providing some of the best views of Urquhart Castle. The Loch Ness Exhibition on the west shore, meanwhile, illuminates the (perhaps surprisingly) extensive efforts put into trying to find ‘Nessie’ over the years, as well as the history of the loch itself. Do bring your sense of humour!

Clava Cairns

If visiting Culloden Moor, you’re also very close to this prehistoric cemetery complex, with three Bronze Age burial cairns likely to have accommodated the bodies of local chieftains. This sacred site is tucked into beautiful woodland above the River Nairn, and arranged in such a way as to suggest the beliefs of early communities here were linked with the midwinter sun. Fans of the Outlander show will also recognise the Cairns as Craigh Na Dun, the ancient stone circle through which Claire travels back to the 18th century.

Culloden Moor

Just outside Inverness, Culloden Moor was the site of the final battle in the Jacobite Rising of 1745, when supporters of the Stuarts’ claim to the British thrones were vanquished by government forces. The visitor centre here, as well as giving you a detailed background of events, has a fascinating 360-degree immersion theatre that puts you right in the heart of the battle.

There’s also a herd of hairy Highland cows wandering around, and a scattering of goats. Their grazing keeps the battlefield neat and free of scrub, reducing the need for machinery and chemicals.

Dolphin watching

Dolphin sightings are quite common by Inverness, and there are boat trips out into the Moray Firth that keep a respectful distance from the wildlife to preserve their wellbeing. But you don’t actually need to leave dry land. They can be seen in the Merkinch Local Nature Reserve, as well as seals, otters and roe deer, and sometimes even from the battlements of the 18th-century Fort George, just outside the city.

Inverness Botanic Gardens

An oasis in the centre of Inverness, the city’s botanic gardens feature a cactus house, wildflower meadow and ponds filled with koi carp, alongside formal gardens. Many of the plants have been grown by volunteer adults with learning disabilities, who have transformed a patch of wasteland into a productive garden that also meets the habitat needs of local wildlife, while gaining practical work experience.

Inverness Castle

While the current Inverness Castle was only built in the 19th century, there has been a castle on the site since medieval times, besieged on numerous occasions through the centuries. The red sandstone castle’s viewing platform offers sublime panoramas across the city and the River Ness on whose bank it sits.

Inverness Museum & Art Gallery

This combined museum and art gallery fuses historical artefacts with modern artworks to trace the story of Inverness and the Highlands. Temporary exhibitions might cover anything from ceramics made by local artists to collections of traditional Highland costumes, or correspondence between a soldier and his sweetheart that illuminate the romance and realities of wartime in 1940s Scotland.

Leakey’s Bookshop

Ciaran, one of our partner McKinlay Kidd’s expert guides, recommends rail travellers don’t weigh themselves down with too many books: “Some travellers will bring a library for the trains in case they become bored – stacks piled high in front of them. Then the train gets moving, as does the scenery, and then everyone’s naturally talking about that and taking photos. Then the journey is at an end and they look at the weight of hardbacks in front of them and they realise they’re going to have to carry these blasted things all week!”

But if you are in need of a new page-turner, you couldn’t ask for a better spot to find it than the family-run treasure trove that is Leakey’s Bookshop. Housed in an old Gaelic church, Leakey’s is thought to be the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland, with around 100,000 books piled up all over the place waiting to be leisurely perused, perhaps by the warmth of the wood-burning stove.

Ness Islands

Definitely one of the prettiest short walks in Inverness, the Ness Islands are a type of public park: three islands in the River Ness connected to each other, and the banks, by footbridges. You can wander around looking out for artworks sculpted from fallen trees, take in the views from a bench, or watch as fishermen cast their lines for salmon.
Travel Team
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Our travellers also ask…

What is the best time of year to visit Inverness?

Inverness is a fantastic city to spend a few days at any time of year. The best time to visit Inverness tends to be the summer months, though the city is just as lovely in spring and autumn too. If you’re there in July you could enjoy piping competitions, Highland dancing, a mass Highland fling, caber-tossing and haggis-hurling at the world’s oldest known Highland Games stadium. September, meanwhile, hosts the Northern Meeting, a prestigious international bagpipes competition.

Inverness has many magnificent public gardens, which are draped in all their finery in spring and summer. In winter you’ll discover Christmas markets around the city, a perfect opportunity to pick up handmade souvenirs including clothing, jewellery and fine arts produced by local craftspeople.

Where can you go from Inverness by train?

Inverness is superbly connected by rail for exploring the Scottish Highlands. The spectacularly scenic Far North Line begins here, before hugging the Moray Firth coast to Scotland’s northern tip, where you can connect to ferries over to Orkney, a land of legends, Vikings and Neolithic standing stones.

From the market town of Dingwall just northwest of Inverness you can also connect with the Kyle LineRail tours take you past the pretty village of Plockton and one of Scotland’s most iconic castles, Eilean Donan. The route terminates at the Kyle of Lochalsh. From here a bridge leads to the Isle of Skye, largest of the Inner Hebridean islands.

What to do in Inverness without a car

Inverness is easy to get around without a car, either on foot or by using public transport. Popular attractions including Leakey’s Bookshop, Inverness Castle, the Ness Islands and the Botanic Gardens are all in or around the city centre. If you want to head further afield to Loch Ness, Cairngorms National Park or the Culloden Moor Battlefield, then Inverness is well-connected by buses and trains.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: djmacpherson] [Intro: Adam Court] [Clava Cairns: shilmar] [Inverness Castle: dave conner] [What is the best time of year to visit Inverness?: Julian Paren ]