Inverness is the largest town in the highlands of Scotland and as such is a great place to base yourself if you’re looking to explore this amazing area of the country.
Here are some of the best day trips from Inverness that you can take when you’re here – some are simple enough to get to, some require a bit more driving. If you don’t have access to your own car then you’ll find plenty of tours that should be able to incorporate these sites as well.
If you’re still looking for some accommodation ideas for visiting Inverness, take a look at the end of the post for some options to consider.
This post was originally written in 2019 and has been updated in 2023 to ensure it’s fully up to date after tourism opened up again!
The best day trips from Inverness
It’s a lovely city and there’s plenty of things to do in Inverness but if you have more than a couple of days in the area you might find that you want to get out and explore a little. The Scottish Highlands are just brimming with amazing scenery, exciting history and natural spots that will stay with you for a lifetime.
1. Monster spotting at Loch Ness
The first day trip from Inverness on many people’s minds is definitely Loch Ness and probably the first thing to come to mind will be the possibility of catching sight of the famous Loch Ness monster, Nessie. It’s the top thing to do at Loch Ness!
It’s actually really easy to get to Loch Ness from Inverness and an ideal day trip for that reason alone.
Loch Ness is the second largest loch in Scotland and actually has the highest volume of freshwater in the whole of the UK thanks to it being so deep.
It’s hard to comprehend the scale of it when visiting as it’s such a long and narrow loch but it’s certainly an impressive sight. Catch it on a dark and dreary day and you’ll find an almost oppressive feel in the air around there, I think it’s the high hills on either side that do it.
It’s a stunning area to visit though and you’ll not regret the short journey to get there.
You’ll pass through many small villages that dot along the edge of the loch – a good place to stop and explore is Drumnadrochit which is the main village along the shores. It’s situated about half way along on the west shore, and is the main driving road from Inverness, the A82.
There’s a tourist information point as well as plenty of Nessie inspired attractions – worth it if you’re really interested in the history of the myth about the Loch Ness Monster, but if you’re not and time or money is tight then give them a miss.
I’d definitely recommend a boat tour on the loch if you can, kids especially will get a kick out of searching for Nessie and I know plenty of adults do too! Tours can be booked in the village but if you want to be sure of a spot, especially in the summer months then I recommend booking online.
While here there’s also the wonderful Urquhart Castle to visit. It’s the ruins of a medieval castle and one that has hundreds of years of history to tell. It was part of a struggle between the Scots and the English back in the times of Edward I and Robert the Bruce and was often passed between the two. It was reduced to ruins in the time of the Jacobite uprising and has been left as an iconic castle that has enchanted visitors ever since!
You can visit Urquhart Castle using the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass if you’re likely to explore other historic sights in Scotland on your trip.
If you miss out on searching for Nessie or if you want to practice you can always take a look on Google Street View as well here!
How to get there:
Loch Ness is a perfect trip from Inverness, not least because it is so beautiful, but because it is just a 15-20 minute drive from Inverness to the beginning of the loch and plenty of parking at the attractions.. There’s enough to do here to make it a full day out no matter what the weather as well. The main road is the A82 and you can do a whole loop around the loch if you wanted.
If you don’t have your own transport then you’ll find many tours leaving from Inverness.
Loch Ness Guided Tours from Inverness:
These tours will help you explore the area with ease and if you like to learn from tour guides to get the most from your trip then definitely check them out
Complete Loch Ness 1-day experience
Loch Ness and Highlands Tour
Loch Ness and Whisky full day tour
2. Eilean Donan and the Isle of Skye
Next we have the beautiful and evocative castle of Eliean Donan. It’s a little further away than some of the other places on this page but it’s often one of the most requested day trips from Inverness that it’s worth including! You’ll recognise it immediately as it’s one of the most photographed castles in Scotland.
It’s another medieval castle but what’s interesting about this one is that it was almost completely in ruins until the 1930s when it was begin to be restored to how you see it today. It’s based on the original plans from when it was built in medieval times and it really shocked me to see how it looked originally and what work had been done to it!
There’s a visitor centre by the castle with a cafe for refreshments and the castle is also open for visitors too.
The drive there is also spectacular and you’ll really get a sense of the grandeur of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. From Eileen Donan you’re also very close to the Isle of Skye which you reach via a bridge – no ferry needed, in case you fancy a quick trip over.
How to get there:
It’s about 70 miles by car which, since you’re travelling the country roads, is around 1 hour 45 minutes from Inverness. It’s a further hour drive to the main town in Skye if you want to continue on.
There are buses that go from Inverness to Skye but do check the times to make sure you can get a return journey. If you don’t have your own car I’d highly recommend a day tour like the ones mentioned below.
Isle of Skye Guided Tours:
Let someone else do the driving with these guided tours:
Isle of Skye and Eileen Donan Castle Tour
Isle of Skye Scenery Tour with Fairy Pools
Skye and Eilean Donan Small Group Tour
3. Speyside Malt Whisky Trail
Scotland is famous for its whisky and what better way to learn more about the art of making it than discovering the Malt Whisky Trail in Speyside! Although there are distilleries all over Scotland, there’s a huge amount of them in a concentrated area in Speyside. If you’re a bit of a whisky connoisseur then I’d highly recommend going to one or two distilleries.
There are some things to consider if you want to visit whisky distilleries near Inverness, depending on your circumstances. Not all of them do tours but the vast majority do and not all of them allow kids to go on the tour as well. Most distilleries have a small charge for the tour these days- this is normally to cover the cost of the whisky tasting at the end but generally it’s charged whether you drink it or not.
There’s a big difference in the companies and tours with some being a bit more friendly and others where you can tell they are owned by large corporations. We went on two tours when we were in the area: Glenfiddich and The Glenlivet. We enjoyed them both but our favourite was definitely Glenfiddich.
The area is also dotted with some lovely towns so it’s worth spending a day and exploring the area if you can.
How to get there:
by car from Inverness it’s around 50 minutes drive to Grantown-on-Spey which is the largest town in the area and a good place to start your journey through the trail.
If you don’t have a car then take a look at these tours which should give you a taste of the region.
Whisky Guided Tours
These whisky tours from Inverness will at least allow you to taste a dram or two and not need to worry about driving!
Loch Ness & Whisky Full day Tour
Speyside Whisky and Moray Firth Tour
4. Sombre history at Culloden Battlefield
The battle of Culloden was the culmination of the Jacobite uprising of 1745 where Bonnie Prince Charlie was attempting to gain the throne of Great Britain for his father who had been exiled in a very confusing and interesting part of British royal history!
There had been some successes for Charles and the clans involved in the uprising with an invasion of England but eventually the Duke of Cumberland raised an army and met them at Culloden where the highlanders suffered a devastating defeat.
This part of Scottish history is something I knew very little about and wanted to learn more of and this was a perfect place for that. There’s a lot of romanticism about the era but what’s true is that the final battle at Culloden was brutal and as such it’s a very sombre place to visit now.
If you’re like me and want to learn more you’ll be pleased to know that there is a really informative visitors centre at the battlefield which details all the events in the run up to the battle. I learned a lot about it all and they also have some worksheets for kids to get involved too which my two enjoyed.
You can also walk out on to the field using pathways. Make sure you get yourself an audio guide as well to make sure you know what it is that you’re looking at while exploring around.
You can see the markers of the clans which shows where the mass graves were and a large memorial cairn that was erected in the late 1800s. An estimated 1500 – 2000 were killed or wounded in the battle which is a huge amount in comparison to the English who only lost around 50.
While many people might not find a trip to a battlefield a great day out, it’s such an important piece of Scottish history that it’s well worth travelling to and learning about. It’s also been featured in the Outlander TV series which has brought it to the forefront of many people wanting to learn more about the sites depicted in that. There are also the Clava Cairns near Culloden to see too – another Outlander site!
How to get there:
Visiting Culloden Battlefield from Inverness is easy since it’s really close, only 5 miles away, and so it’s incredibly easy to take the trip if you’re based there with plenty of parking.
If you don’t have your own transport then there are buses that go from the Inverness bus station which takes around 30 minutes or alternatively a taxi can be taken too. Some tours also will go from Inverness if you’re more comfortable with that option and want the least hassle.
Culloden Battlefield Guided Tours:
Although easy to get to from Inverness you might enjoy a guided tour that explores other areas of the Highlands too.
Loch Ness cruise, Outlander and Whisky Tour
Glen Affric, Clava Cairns and Culloden Tour
5. See the Harry Potter train at Glenfinnan
The wonderful curved viaduct that was made famous in the movies is in the Highlands and not too far from Inverness.
What makes it even more special is that there are actual steam trains that look just like the Hogwarts Express that go over during the day and if you can catch one as it’s on its way it’s very special! I haven’t seen a flying car yet though!
You can also get tickets for the Harry Potter train if you fancy a day trip on it – it goes from Fort William so an easy trip from Inverness.
How to get there:
From Inverness it’s around about 80 miles and a 2 hour drive. You’ll go past another of the Highlands main towns, Fort William .
Harry Potter Train & Glenfinnan Guided Tours:
These tours will help you get to the viaduct in time to see the train go over. Most don’t include a trip on the train though.
Glenfinnan Viaduct, Mallaig & Loch Ness Day Tour
6. Dolphin watching at Rosemarkie and Chanonry Point
Ok, you’ll have to excuse the rather amateur photo above of a dolphin, but if I tell you that this was taken from the shore and it’s a really easy day trip from Inverness perhaps you’ll be intrigued!
About a 30 minute drive from Inverness is a lovely little town on the Black Isle called Rosemarkie. This is one of our favourite beaches and towns in the area and for one good reason – dolphin spotting! We’ve been a number of times and always manage to spot them – you don’t need to go on a boat trip or a tour, you can see them right from the shoreline.
Chanonry Point is just up from the village and a nice walk along the beach – probably taking around 15 – 20 minutes. Head towards the lighthouse and probably, depending on the time of year, the crowd of people! You can sometimes spot dolphins further out in the bay but normally the best place is just by the point as this is where the Moray Forth meets the North sea and the tides bring with them salmon that the dolphins just love. Sometimes you’ll just catch the tops of them as they are swimming around but every so often you’ll see some playful ones that will do a jump! There are often some wildlife volunteers around who keep track of the dolphins and they can be a wealth of information if you’re interested in sea life.
It’s important to know when is the best time to visit as the optimum times to see dolphins are based on the tides. Low tide is generally a good time so I’d advise you to check before deciding on your trip so you’re not disappointed. You can also see dolphins year round but the summer months are definitely the best.
Rosemarkie itself has a wonderful beach and is a nice little town to walk around as well with a small museum about the Picts and some history of the area that is well worth a look.
How to get there:
Chanonry Point has a car park right next to the point although this can get really busy at the times when dolphins are due to be seen. You could also park in the town of Rosemarkie itself and walk along while also taking in some nice cafes, restaurants and shops there.
Buses also go from Inverness if you want to take public transport – again check with the tide times to get the best out of your day trip.
Guided tour including dolphin spotting from Inverness
Loch Ness & Whisky Full day Tour
7. Aviemore and the Cairngorms
Another day trip if you’re really wanting to soak in that amazing Scottish air is to the Cairngorm mountain range near Aviemore. It’s perfect for you if you like hiking, nature and getting away from it all. It’s the place to go if you’re looking for some snow in the winter and it’s even a popular ski area.
There is a Funicular Railway that runs to the top of CairnGorm mountain year round for amazing views although it’s currently undertaking refurbishment so hopefully that will reopen soon.
The area also has some stunning lochs as well – some favourites of mine are Loch Morlich which has access to water sports if that’s something you enjoy and also Loch Garten. We visited the RSPB centre in Loch Garten and were lucky enough to see an osprey chick fledge the nest. They breed in the area in the summer so if you’re around then a visit is worth it and if it’s really warm you could even go for a swim in the lochs – I know it sounds crazy and perhaps you’re wondering if it ever does get that warm – we hit upon a great period of warm weather one year and it was the highlight of James’s trip (even above the whisky distilleries!)
How to get there:
Aviemore is the main town in area and it’s about a 45 minute drive from Inverness. There are some buses and trains that go to there too so don’t rule it out if you don’t have your own car.
Cairngorms Guided Tours:
Although having a car will make your exploration easier there is a guided tour from Inverness that might fit your plans better, and it also includes whisky!
Cairngorms & Speyside Whisky Tour
8. Brodie Castle
Heading east from Inverness and along the midge-free Moray area is Brodie Castle. If you’re looking to get a glimpse of a distinctly Scottish looking castle with turrets and a fairytale look then this one might be for you.
Home to the Brodie Clan, the history dates back over 400 years. You can look around the castle when it’s open (Covid is currently restricting this) and the grounds and gardens too. It’s a lovely, peaceful day out with a quite different feel to the West coast and the Highlands.
The Castle is owned by the National Trust for Scotland. Entry is free if you’re a member (and it’s a reasonable cost to become one).
How to get there:
Brodie Castle is about 25 miles East of Inverness by car and an easy journey along the A96.
The number 10 bus goes from Inverness, through Nairn and stops about half a mile from Brodie castle. It takes just over an hour on the bus.
9. Elgin Cathedral
A little further along the Moray coast is the magnificent ruins of Elgin Cathedral. It’s still well within reach of Inverness for a short day trip out and you could definitely incorporate it into some of the other sights nearby.
Elgin Cathedral is in ruins now but it dates back to the 12th century. I have a bit of a obsession with these ruined Abbeys and Cathedrals in Scotland – we also explored a lot of Abbeys in the the borders of Scotland. They are so romantic looking and great for getting photos!
If you’re unsure of any of the history then check out the information plaques all around which will tell you about the site. It’s a Historic Scotland site and costs around £9 for an adult to visit or is free for members. If you’re an English Heritage member you’ll get in half price.
How to get there:
Elgin Cathedral is about 40 miles East of Inverness by car and an easy journey along the A96. It takes about an hour by car.
If you are looking for public transport then the number 10 bus also goes from Inverness to Elgin and takes around 1 hour 45 mins. There is also a train you can get which is slightly quicker, just taking an hour.
Elgin Cathedral Guided Tours:
Incorporating some of the other sights in the area this tour will help you make the most of your time in Scotland
Speyside Whisky and Moray Firth Tour
10. John o’Groats
The northernmost tip of Scotland is a must for many tourists and as you can imagine it’s well set up for people to come and have a photo opportunity.
To be honest thought there’s not too much else there at the tip of Scotland so although I’m glad I’ve done it – once when a child myself and we also took our kids a few years ago now, its not somewhere I’d rush off again to do. But you know, it’s just one of those sites that you just have to do! There’s a sign that you can have your photo taken with and shows how far away you are from some other places in the world.
If you’re interested in wildlife you’ll find some boat trips like this one operating – there’s some stunning coastline so it’s a great way to see that.
If you’re going to do this trip then I recommend adding in some time to explore the coast, perhaps Dunrobin Castle which is on the way as well, near Golspie, and just take your time to explore what’s there. It’s often overlooked in favour of the west coast of Scotland so you might find it a little quieter.
This is part of the NC500 – if you’re interested in driving that road around the north of Scotland I can highly recommend it. We did it in our camper a few years ago now and have some tips for those doing the NC500 in a camper here or a more general North Coast 500 5 day driving itinerary here.
How to get there
It’s a decent drive from Inverness to John o’Groats – 2 and half hours so definitely make the most of the day. It’s a main road though so no worrying about navigating small and narrow routes.
John o’Groats Guided Tours:
Let someone else drive you to the very tip of Scotland!
John o’Groats and Far North Scotland Tour
11. See salmon leaping at the Falls of Shin
About an hours drive from Inverness is a lovely waterfall which I think is well worth visiting if you have a longing to see the salmon migration.
Every year salmon migrate from the sea back up the river to where they spawned and if you’re around at the right time of year (Sept – Nov) then you might well be lucky enough to see it.
By seeing it, I mean watching the salmon leap as they try to go against the river flow. Salmon are so strong that they can leap all the way up the waterfall which is quite impressive!
There is a new visitors centre now open with a restaurant and gift shop and plenty of forest trails if you like to walk and hike. There’s a vast amount of Scottish wildlife to be seen in the area as well as the salmon – perhaps you’ll be lucky to see one of the very rare red squirrels?
How to get there:
It’s easiest to drive to these waterfalls as public transport is quite long winded. It’s about 45 minutes away, around an hours drive from Inverness. There’s ample parking at the site.
Planning your trips around Inverness
For help planning your ultimate vacation in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland I always recommend Lonely Planet books – they are my favourite. You can see them Amazon
Inverness – where to stay
We’ve been lucky enough to spend time in this area by house sitting but of course there are plenty of other accommodation options as well!
If you’re looking for budget then a hostel like Hostel Highland Backpackers is a great choice and is in the centre of Inverness so perfect for doing these tours.
- The Royal Highland Hotel is right next to the train station so perfect for using public transport for getting around Scotland.
- The Glen Mhor has great reviews and is situated in Inverness Centre. It also has rooms suitable for families.
I find that Holiday Cottages has a really good selection of properties in the UK, including Scotland, and I have used them a few times myself so I’d definitely check that out if you want the comfort of your own apartment for your time in Scotland. See what they have available here.
Alternatively Airbnb or VRBO.com is worth looking at as well and I really like seeing what different options they have.
🏴 Scotland Travel FAQ 🏴
Do I need insurance for traveling to Scotland?
YES! I always recommend people take travel insurance when exploring the world!
Check Travel Insurance Master for quote comparisons from different providers.
Do I need a car for visiting Scotland?
YES – If you’re wanting to explore Scotland fully then a car is worthwhile. It will get you to all the best sights and on your own timetable
I recommend DiscoverCars to compare car rental prices in Scotland
How to book accommodation in Scotland?
For hotels I recommend Booking.com
For apartments and cottages check out VRBO
Will my phone work in Scotland?
Perhaps – it depends if you have roaming enabled and beware this can be an expensive way to use your phone.
What to pack for Scotland
Keep yourself dry be prepared for any weather is my motto for Scotland! A rain jacket and comfy shoes are a must.
See my post about what to pack for Scotland
Do I need midge spray for Scotland?
YES – if you’re traveling in the summer months to any of the west coast, highlands, islands or lochs it’s recommended.
Locals swear by Avon’s Skin So Soft!
If you’re sticking to the cities or traveling in winter, early spring or late fall then you likely won’t need it.
What’s the best guidebook for Scotland?
I really like the Lonely Planet Guidebooks
Where to get flights for Scotland
Skyscanner is my first port of call for finding cheap flights to Scotland.
Do I need a visa for Scotland?
Many countries don’t need a visa for visiting Scotland as tourists (USA, Canada, Aus, NZ and Europe) – it’s always best to check first though.
You might also like:
- 5 gorgeous hotels overlooking Edinburgh Castle
- How to find budget accommodation in UK – cheap options for your England or Scotland vacation
- Driving from UK to Italy – tips for an epic road trip!
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