If you’re spending any time in the Scottish Highlands then you’ll likely visit the city of Inverness at some point. It’s the capital of the Highlands and a great jumping off point for day trips and to explore all that Scotland has to offer.
Lots of people simply touch down in the city and then head straight out again but there’s actually quite a lot of things to do in Inverness so if you have the time I definitely recommend a day or two exploring what it has to offer.
I’ve been to Inverness numerous times now over the years and we find something new each time we come. It’s a small, compact city so no worries about feeling overwhelmed here.
Let’s take a look at some of the things to see in Inverness and the surrounding area too.
A note from the writer: Hey! I’m Kirsty and I’m a UK travel expert – while I grew up in Scotland, as an adult I now return to visit almost every year – there’s so much to see! Shout (or comment below) if you have any questions about your next trip and I’ll get back to you ASAP.
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10 things to do in Inverness city
Inverness Botanic Garden
The Inverness Botanic Gardens are a delight in a city that can be plagued with bad weather, so if you’re in need of a warm and dry place to spend a few hours you could do a lot worse than heading here.
There are three distinct areas to explore: the Tropical House, the Cactus House and the Gardens.
The tropical house has plants from all over the tropical regions, it’s indoors and even has a waterfall leading to a pond with carp. The Cactus house has plants suited to more arid conditions.
There’s also the outside gardens which are a joy to spend some time in as well with a wide variety of flowers and plants from all over. There’s lots of space to take time and just soak in the atmosphere.
Open daily. Admission is free with donations appreciated. You can also support the gardens by visiting their shop and cafe as well. Only guide dogs are allowed in the gardens.
The River Ness flows through the city of Inverness and is a really picturesque area to walk along.
Wherever you start in the city you can spend some time walking down one side of the river and then cross over at one of the many bridges to return on the other side making a very simple circular walk. The Greig Street Bridge is a particular favourite and is beautiful to photograph.
You get amazing views of the city on a river walk and can see all of the impressive buildings with the backdrop of the hills and countryside around. There’s a lot of cafes and options for eating as you walk too should you need some sustenance.
You can walk as far as you like or keep it simple. For those wanting to explore I recommend heading south to the Ness Islands which are some islands in the middle of the river that are connected by bridges. A great place to see some wildlife.
Inverness Museum & Art Gallery
For those who want to explore the heritage and culture of the Highlands of Scotland then a trip to Inverness’s main museum should be on your sightseeing itinerary.
You’ll find artefacts from history as well as galleries showcasing local artisans as well.
Open Tuesday – Saturdays. Closed Sunday and Monday. Admission is free but donations welcome.
Leakey’s 2nd Hand Bookshop
If, like me, you love to spend time exploring 2nd hand bookshops then you’ll adore Leakey’s Bookshop in the centre of Inverness.
It’s 2 floors of wall to wall books in all sorts of genres. We spent a lovely hour or so here just perusing all of the vintage and second hand items. There’s a fab spiral staircase in the centre – it feels like it belongs in Harry Potter!
The owners are really friendly too and there’s even a wood burning stove in the centre to keep it warm which makes the trip even better.
Open Monday – Saturday from 10.30am – 5.30pm
For some under cover shopping in a stunning building head to the Victorian Market on Academy Street.
You’ll find a host of different shops, all unique and independent in the covered market arcade that dates to the 1800s.
As well as shopping and finding the best souvenirs to bring back from a Scottish vacation it’s also a good place to sit down and have a cup of tea and a Scottish treat.
While just a small selection of shops it’s a great option if the weather isn’t on your side. You’re not far from more mainstream shops as well.
The oldest house in Inverness and dating back to the 16th century is Abertarff House.
You can look inside the house in the summer months and learn about what life was like in Inverness in the 16th century when it was built. This is before the battle of Culloden but still a time of great upheaval and conflict.
Open April – October, Wednesdays – Sundays, 11am – 6pm. Admission is free.
St Andrews Cathedral
A relatively new cathedral on the banks of the river Ness, St Andrew’s Cathedral was built in the 19th century but the history extends a lot further back.
You can visit but be aware of any scheduled services since this is a working church.
Scottish Kiltmaker Visitor Centre
If you’re interested in the traditional dress of Scotland, how it’s made or are even slightly tempted to buy one to take home with you then the Kiltmaker visitor centre is worth a trip to.
As well as the shop where you can see lots of tartan on show they also do guided tours of the factory where the kilts are made.
Might be a little on the touristy side for some, but if this is your first taste of Scotland then it’s worth exploring.
Eden Court is Inverness’s cultural centre with theatre performances and cinema screenings in a very unique building that actually spans three centuries.
As well as traditional theatre offerings they also have comedy performances and other events too – it’s definitely worth checking out what’s on when you’re in the city especially if you’re looking for something to do in the evening..
If you’re doing a walk around the river then it’s not too far to explore Eden Court as well – you could check out their art gallery if you’re just popping by. There’s also a cafe inside if you fancy a treat in a relaxing atmosphere.
Inverness Castle Viewpoint
Inverness Castle is undergoing some renovation works to make the whole space a tourist attraction. It’s currently closed, but keep an eye out on their website for when it reopens.
Get amazing views over the city and to the stunning Highland surroundings with a trip to the Inverness Castle Viewpoint. You can learn about some of the stories and legends associated with Inverness as you climb to the viewpoint.
You’ll be looking out over one of the turrets of the castle and you’ll see the River Ness below you.
Currently closed – hopefully back open soon!
As well as the river walk in Inverness you should also take time to walk a little further west to find the Caledonian Canal.
It starts at the Beauly Firth and you can spend a good couple of hours walking along the side of the canal, past locks and bridges and exploring some of the boats around. Perfect if you get some nice weather on your trip.
Things to do around Inverness
As cities go, Inverness is quite small but there’s still a lot to do that’s just around it. Check out these ideas when you’ve explored all the city has to offer.
Culloden Moor and Battlefield
The historic battle of Culloden took place just a few miles outside of Inverness. It’s easy to get to from the city and it’s well worth a day out.
Culloden Battlefield draws in people with it’s connection to historic Scottish clans, people who are interested in the Jacobites and also more recently fans of the Outlander TV series.
If you don’t know much about the history then there’s a visitors centre to guide you through what happened.
On the banks of the Moray Firth is another site that might be of interest after a trip to Culloden. Fort George was built to house the English troops after their success in battle.
You can explore lots about military history if you like that kind of thing including the Highlanders Museum. You can also spot dolphins from the ramparts so keep an eye out.
Dolphin Spotting at North Kessock
Just North of Inverness, over the Kessock Bridge, is a small village called North Kessock and it’s a good place to explore and take a walk along the shore. Not only is it a really pretty place but it’s also a great dolphin spotting area.
This whole area has lots of dolphins, we would often go further afield to Chanonry Point on the Black Isle but you can see them here too if you don’t want to travel far.
Pack a picnic or pick up some lunch from a local bakery and don’t forget some patience!
For those who want a bit more of an active dolphin spotting adventure a boat trip is a good option. Dolphin Spirit Inverness runs trips from just on the north side of the city where, hopefully, you’ll see a variety of Scottish wildlife like dolphins, seals and seabirds.
Merkinch Nature Reserve
A small local nature reserve on the north side of the city by the shores of the Beauty Firth. Merkinch Nature Reserve is a nice place to gather your thoughts, see some local wildlife and truly get away from the tourist sites!
Of course! This wouldn’t be a good guide to Inverness’s attractions without including the famous Loch Ness!
It’s actually really close by and easy to get to from Inverness and the river that flows through the town connects with the loch.
There’s a lot to do at Loch Ness from boat trips to exploring Urquhart Castle and spotting the legendary beast – the loch Ness Monster! Nessie is a big part of the culture round here!
Practical Information For Visiting Inverness
Air: Inverness has an International Airport which receives flights from Europe and around the UK, including London
Check Skyscanner for options
Train: Inverness is well connected with both Glasgow and Edinburgh where you can also get connecting trains to London and the rest of the UK
There’s also a Caledonian Sleeper service from London to Inverness which will transform your view from city skyline to the highlands of Scotland overnight. Perfect for those also looking for a romantic overnight train trip.
Check The Trainline for options and to book tickets
Coach: You can get the Megabus from lots of locations in Scotland but also from London too. It does take a whopping 13 hours to get there by bus though!
Car: Car is a great idea if you want to explore more of the Highlands of Scotland. Inverness is on the A9 which is the main road through the highlands from Stirling.
A rental car is worth considering even if you arrive by one of the other options. Check RentalCars for options.
Where to Stay:
In town check out the Royal Highland Hotel if you want to stay central.
there’s also a lot of guesthouses in the area, some with a lovely riverside view and a great option if you want some local knowledge and Highland hospitality.
Check hotel options on Booking.com and Hotels.com
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🏴 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.