Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh offers historic beauty and Glasgow offers multiculturalism and vibrancy, so many visitors overlook Inverness. It is the unofficial capital of the Scottish Highlands and the gateway to many cool places in this part of the country.
It is the closest town to the storied Loch Ness (the clue is in the name!) and it’s the start and finish line to the epic North Coast 500 road trip.
However, Inverness is more than just a stop-off city and you’ll find plenty of things to do in Inverness. It’s a city of 50,000 residents (that’s big for Scotland!) and is also next door to the Black Isle and Cairngorms regions.
With lots of Inverness attractions like cathedrals, castles, markets, and other historic landmarks, you won’t be short of things to do in this city!
Before you book your trip to Scotland and only plan a night in Inverness on your way to Orkey, the NC500, or Loch Ness, consider sticking around.
This guide has a list of all the best things to do in Inverness city as well as lots of interesting activities in the nearby area.
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Things To Do in Inverness
Search for the Loch Ness Monster
One of the best things about Scotland is its ability to capture the imaginations of people around the world with nothing more than a legend or story.
The myth of the Loch Ness Monster (known affectionately as Nessie) is so powerful that people travel thousands of miles to see a creature in a loch (that’s the Scottish term for a lake, in case you were wondering!) that doesn’t even exist.
…Or does it?
Whether or not it exists is irrelevant, because the loch itself is worth the visit anyway. It’s the second-largest loch in the country by surface area and stretches from Inverness in the north to Fort Augustus in the south.
You can drive around the loch and stop at several places to see it up close and take photos. Hiking around the lake is also possible and you can take a cruise too.
Joining a local guide will ensure you see the best views of the lake and learn more about the origins of the Loch Ness Monster and the history of the lake.
There has been a castle in Inverness since 1057 though the one that exists today dates back to 1836. Inverness Castle is a red sandstone structure that stands on top of a hill overlooking the River Ness and the rest of the city.
It’s a Category A listed building (which means it’s of great historical importance) and it’s one of the top places to visit in Inverness.
At the castle, you’ll find a lush manicured lawn as well as a museum and a statue of Flora MacDonald, a famous Scots woman from history.
She’s known for helping Bonnie Prince Charlie evade the troops of the British Government after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 (more on Culloden soon!).
Walk to the Ness Islands
The River Ness runs from the Beauly and Moray Firths, through the city of Inverness and down into Loch Ness.
This is a substantial body of water that just so happens to have beautiful scenery like the Ness Walk which runs alongside the river and the Ness Islands which are small islets in the middle of the river.
You can start the walk along the river from wherever you are in Inverness. Cross the pretty Greig St Bridge to the left bank of the bridge as this is the official Ness Walk; it is on the opposite side of the castle.
The Infirmary Bridge a short distance down the path is also a very instagrammable bridge.
Walk past the University of the Highlands and Island and cross over to the Ness Islands via the Great Glen Way Bridge, also known as the Ness Bank Footbridge.
There are lots of woodland areas to explore on the islands as well as a landmark called the Circle of Wise. In the summer, this is where the city hosts outdoor performances.
Inverness Botanic Gardens
One of the best things to do in Inverness, Scotland has to be to visit the Inverness Botanic Gardens. Inverness can be seen by some as a grey, industrial city but it has many pockets of beauty to explore.
The Inverness Botanic Gardens are mostly inside a very large greenhouse so you can include this on your Inverness sightseeing itinerary even if it’s raining.
There are lots of cacti varieties and all sorts of other exotic plants as well as an artificial waterfall and carp pond.
It’s near lots of sports parks (like hockey and rugby pitches) as well as parks you can stroll through like Queen’s Park, Canal Park and Whin Park.
Eden Court Theatre & Cinema
This is Inverness’s premier performance venue and you’re go-to spot if you are seeking out quality entertainment in Inverness.
The Eden Court Theatre & Cinema sits on the banks of the River Ness and has two cinemas, one main theatre, lots of smaller performance spaces and outdoor space for shows too.
Not only is it a wonderful blend of architectural styles and eras, but it’s also a real community-driven venture. By booking tickets to a show here you’ll be supporting the artistic community of Inverness.
Loch Ness is a very big river and it’s easy to miss some of the gems that sit along its banks. When visiting the loch, don’t miss Urquart Castle.
You’ll find this 16th-century ruined castle on the left bank of the lake alongside a visitor’s centre and a car park so it’s very easy to visit. It’s a sprawling castle that is much bigger than it looks so you could spend around 30 minutes or more exploring all the rooms and grounds.
Are you short on time and only driving along the eastern side of the lake? There is a layby/stopping area called the ‘Lochness View’ where you can still get a great view of the castle from the opposite side.
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
Another of the best things to do in Inverness is to visit the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. It’s right next to Inverness Castle in the heart of the city so it’s super convenient to visit.
It displays exhibits on geology, natural history, art, and archaeology related to the area. There are lots of centuries-old weaponry and examples of tartan clothing too.
As with the majority of museums in the UK, the permanent exhibitions are free to visit so you’ve got nothing to lose!
Black Isle Brewing Co. & Bar
Scotland might be famous for its whisky, but there are lots of great craft breweries to check out too. One of the best is Black Isle Brewing Co. and their brewery is only a 15-minute drive north of Inverness which is approximately seven miles.
If you are driving to Inverness and you love beer then visiting the brewery is a must-do. Don’t worry if you can’t partake in the tour because you’re driving as they sell gift boxes too.
If you are only staying in Inverness city centre, you can check out their bar. They have all of their organic regular and seasonal beers on tap as well as a pizza oven for delicious, homemade pizza. Visiting this bar is one of the best things to do in Inverness at night! Try their Scotch Ale, it’s absolutely delicious.
The Victorian Market
Inverness has all the popular high-street stores but if you like shopping in unique places then you should check out the Victorian Market.
This is a 19th-century covered shopping arcade where you’ll find all kinds of stores from gift shops to flower shops, skin care shops, jewellery shops, and more.
This is where you should go if you are looking for locally-made souvenirs because it showcases the best of Scottish artisanal produce. Plus, the high ceilings with red and white interiors are pretty too!
One of the best things to do near Inverness is to visit the Culloden Battlefield. It’s around a 20-minute drive east of Inverness so it’s very close by. Culloden Moor, now run by the National Trust for Scotland, is the site of the 1746 Battle of Culloden.
This battle was between Bonnie Prince Charlie leading the Jacobite army and the British Government. It was the last battle of its kind fought in Britain and it was also one of the bloodiest.
You can learn all about the significance and importance of this battle by paying for a ticket to the interactive onsite museum.
Culloden Battlefield itself is completely free to visit. This is a must-visit for fans of the Outlander TV show because the Battle of Culloden is a big part of the plot!
Only a five-minute drive from the Culloden Battlefield is the Clava Cairns. These are 4,000-year-old burial monuments and stone circles.
There are many stone circles that are thousands of years old all over Scotland, but the Clava Cairns are some of the most popular with visitors.
It helps that they are in such a convenient spot near Inverness, but many like visiting Clava Cairns because one of the stones closely resembles one used in the TV show Outlander.
It isn’t the same one but if you love the show then you will enjoy posing for photos next to these stones.
Another one of the top things to do in Inverness is to drive up to Fort George. It’s around a 30-minute drive east along the Moray Firth coast like but it’s 100% worth the trip.
Fort George is an army garrison that dates back to the 18th century. It has a museum dedicated to the Highlanders’ regiment but it’s also still a working army barracks.
It’s an impressive site with its own church, drawbridges, red telephone boxes, and canons. If you’re at all interested in military history then it will be absolutely fascinating to visit.
Scotland’s patron saint is St Andrew and that is to whom Inverness Cathedral is dedicated. Sitting on the left bank of the River Ness next to Eden Court Theatre & Cinema, this red stone and granite church was built in the Victorian era in a classic Gothic style.
Inverness Cathedral’s opening times can be sporadic out of peak season, but it’s always free to visit.
Eat Cranachan at MacGregor’s
Inverness has lots of cool restaurants and bars for foodies but one that you shouldn’t miss for an authentic Scottish dish is MacGregor’s.
They serve a traditional Scottish dessert here called cranachan. If you’ve ever eaten an English dessert called Eton Mess then it’s similar with a few key differences.
Eton Mess is a mixture of strawberries, meringue and whipped cream. Cranachan is a mixture of raspberries, cream, oats and whisky.
This dessert used to celebrate the Scottish raspberry harvest in June but now it’s a delicious treat you can find in Inverness year-round.
Are you a bookworm? You absolutely have to visit Leakey’s Bookshop while you are in Inverness. Housed in a former church, this is the largest used bookstore in Scotland.
You’ll find books of all eras and genres across several floors of this stunning historic building with all its original stained glass windows.
You could spend hours and hours trawling through their selection if you wanted to. Luckily, they have an open wood fire lit in the winter months so you won’t get cold!
Dunrobin Castle Day Trip
One of the best day trips from Inverness is to Dunrobin Castle. It’s only around 54 miles north of Inverness along the North Coast 500 route which will take just over one hour to drive.
Or, you could save yourself the drive and having to find a parking space by hopping on a tour instead!
Dunrobin Castle is an utterly stunning fairytale castle in a small town called Golspie. It is the ancestral home of Clan Sutherland and it sits right on the coast with its white turrets and beautiful lawn. Be aware that, like many castles and stately homes in Scotland, it closes during the winter months.
Chanonry Point Lighthouse
Do you want to spot some of Scotland’s native sea life while you’re in Inverness? Your best chance is to drive up to Chanonry Point Lighthouse.
It takes around 30 minutes to drive to Chanonry Point which is around 16 miles but you can also visit the Black Isle Brewery along the way.
Here you might be able to spot bottlenose dolphins and grey seals just off the coastline. If you don’t, you’ll still get to visit a beautiful beach with panoramic views of Fort George.
You’ll also see the historic daisy-coloured lighthouse built in 1846 by Alan Stevenson, a member of the famous Scottish lighthouse-building family.
Recommended tours in Inverness
- Highlander Loch Ness and Culloden Battlefield 8 Seater Tour from Inverness
- Isle of Skye Full Day 8-Seater Bus Tour from Inverness
- Inverness Bike Tour a 2 hours guided bike tour around the Waterways of Inverness
- Loch Ness and Caledonian Canal Cruise from Dochgarroch
- Hogwarts Express and the Scenic Highlands Day Tour from Inverness
- Loch Ness & The Highlands from Inverness
- John O’Groats, Dunrobin Castle & the Far North from Inverness
- Glen Affric & Culloden Tour from Inverness
- Walking Tours in Inverness City Centre
- Loch Ness Cruise and Outlander Day Tour from Inverness