Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands, has an incredible variety of sights. Whether you’re searching for Nessie on the banks of the infamous Loch Ness or having a pint downtown, you can find your own adventure in this round up of things to do in Inverness.
Known as the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands, Inverness is the region’s busiest city and is on most Scotland itineraries.
The city itself is pretty and worth devoting part of a day exploring; but some of the best things to do in Inverness are actually outside the city limits.
We’re going to share some of the top attractions in Inverness as well as some worthy off the beaten path adventures.
Plus, you better believe we’re also including where to eat and fun places to grab a drink.
So sit back as we walk you through how to plan the perfect trip to Inverness and the Scottish Highlands!
Psst! If you have time to discover more of the country, don’t miss these epic places to visit in Scotland.
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1. Start your day at a cafe-slash-bike-shop
Start your day at Velocity Cafe, a cozy cafe-slash-bike-shop that has a variety of yummy breakfast options, like a vegetarian breakfast sandwich featuring eggplant and halloumi. Get in mah belly!
They also serve excellent coffee in a hip yet down-to-earth atmosphere.
2. Get lost in Leakey’s Bookstore
Leakey’s Bookstore is an Inverness staple.
This charming independent bookstore is full, from floor to ceiling with books new and (very) old. Peruse the stacks and you might just find some treasures to take home.
Looking for a unique souvenir from Scotland?
In addition to books, Leakey’s has quite a selection of antique prints (guaranteed to be over 100 years old) that have been hand-colored and make really unique souvenirs.
Flip through the hundreds of prints and see if there are any that suit you. We found a lovely flower drawing that we bought for £24, which we thought was quite a good price.
Will you be traveling from Edinburgh? There are several options for transportation between the two cities, and we have a detailed guide on how to travel from Edinburgh to Inverness which outlines all of your options.
3. Go window shopping on High Street
This is the main drag of Inverness and home to all sorts of boutique shops, cafes and pubs.
Wander at your leisure and pop into any spots that pique your interest.
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4. Do a DIY Walking Tour
If you want to see the top attractions in Inverness in a short amount of time, you can do your own DIY walking tour.
Here’s the route at a glance:
- Falcon Square
- High Street
- Inverness Town House
- Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
- Inverness Castle
- Flora McDonald Statue
- Inverness Cathedral (one of the most iconic buildings in town)
- Highland House of Fraser
- Greig Street Bridge
- Free North Church
- Dunbar’s Hospital
- Abertarff House (oldest house in Inverness)
- Victorian Market
Here’s more background information and history tidbits about each stop on this Inverness walking tour.
Planning a trip to Scotland? Find out the best time to visit Scotland based on seasonal weather patterns and your personal travel style.
5. Explore Highlands history & heritage at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
The Scottish Highlands are filled with historic battles, tall tales, and many important locations in the country’s history.
At the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, you can explore a fascinating array of artifacts and collections to immerse yourself in these stories for free. Admission grants you access to both permanent and pop-up exhibits.
Discover the importance of the Gaelic language, how the Highlands were formed, the fascinating history of the Highlands people, and how it connects with the rest of the world.
6. Enjoy a 2-course lunch at the Mustard Seed
This award-winning restaurant is located inside a former church right beside the River Ness. They have a great 2-course lunch special, making it the perfect place to stop for a midday meal.
Starting at just £16, you can choose a starter and a main course. Their menu features modern European cuisine including local ingredients when possible.
The Mustard Seed also has a large and varied gin menu featuring spirits from all around Scotland.
Insider Tip: The tables on the second floor offer a really nice view of the River Ness.
7. Wander the Inverness Botanic Gardens
Situated in the heart of Inverness’s century-old stones, the gardens are an emerald in a sea of neutral tones where you can find peace from the bustle of the city.
Walk through the cactus house, wildflower gardens, tropical houses, and formal gardens for a serene, nature-filled walk through many different biomes.
Entry is free, but the entire place is funded through charity and donations, so that’s something to consider when you arrive. Otherwise, this is one of the best, free things to do in Inverness.
8. Walk Ness Islands (and spot the giant snake!)
Taking a leisurely stroll or bike ride (you can rent them in town) around the Ness Islands is one of the best things to do in Inverness.
Situated in the middle of the River Ness which cuts through town, the Ness Islands are located just south of the city center.
This tree-lined path is popular with locals on daily runs or walking their dogs, and along the way, there are unique artfully-made benches with lovely viewpoints.
Try to spot the large log that a local artist painted to look like a snake.
Or is that Nessie…?
9. Book a scenic bike tour guided by an Inverness local
Cruising down the River Ness with a local is an immersive and fun way to see the city.
You’ll pedal by over a dozen of different stops in Inverness including the Botanical Gardens, Caledonian Canal, and the Merkinch Nature Reserve.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to spot pods of bottlenose dolphins while cruising along the city seawall!
For any first-timer in Inverness, a tour like this is ideal for getting a decent a lay of the land, so you can make note of interesting stops and revisit them after the tour.
What you need to know
- Hours: Daily, 10:00 am and 2:30 pm departures
- Price: £30 per person
What guests are saying
“Alison’s tour was a delight. The bikes were well maintained and enjoyable to ride. The route included ~12 stops at key attractions and viewpoints around Inverness. The pace was easy to keep so that the tour was enjoyable while brisk. Alison herself was the best part. She is informative and shared stories in an engaging way and with an infectious wit. We would highly recommend to anyone looking for a fun way to visit Inverness.” -Kimberley, (August 2022)
10. Hear live Scottish folk music at Hootananny pub
Perhaps one of the most well-known pubs in Inverness (and there are a lot!), Hootananny is famed for hosting live Scottish folk music each evening (starting at 9:30 p.m.).
They also host music all day on Saturdays (hey-oh!) during their weekly ceilidh (Scottish word referring to a party with music, dancing and storytelling).
Big names, such as Mumford and Sons, have performed at Hootananny, so you never know who you’ll hear performing.
Grab a pint and get ready for a cracking good time!
Sláinte! That’s Gaelic for “cheers”.
11. Glimpse the Inverness Castle
The Inverness Castle is a famed symbol of the city.
Unfortunately, it is closed for renovations and won’t be open until 2025.
In truth, you won’t even be able to get an up close view of the castle until the construction has been completed, as there is a fence closing it in. Womp womp.
But until then, you can spot it from afar. The best view you can get right now (while it’s closed off) is
12. Make a wish at the Munlochy Clootie Well
Walking among the woodlands of the Highlands, you wouldn’t expect to stumble across a network of clotheslines draped in pieces of cloth.
Clootie wells are holy wells, or sacred springs, that are commonly found in Celtic countries like Scotland, Ireland, and Cornwall in England.
It’s said that if you’re ill, dipping a “clootie” or rag into the healing waters of the well will heal you from illness and ailments as the cloth disintegrates back into the earth.
These wells have been a local tradition for centuries that has attracted travelers from all over the world. If you visit the Munlochy Clootie Well, be sure to bring a biodegradable clootie to help maintain the cycle of disintegration.
13. Wander the historic Victorian Market
This covered market dates back to the 19th century, and wandering through is one of the most popular things to do in Inverness.
While the building itself has historic charm (the ceiling was my favorite part!), most of the shops inside are on the more kitschy-touristy side. That said, if you’re searching for a souvenir, you’re sure to find plenty to choose from here.
In addition to souvenir shops, jewelry purveyors, and even a florist, there is a small cafe and seating area that is currently being expanded into a small food hall.
14. Choose your vice: Doughnut or Espresso Martini…
Perk is a cozy shop nestled just beside the Victorian Market in downtown Inverness and is known as a “doughnut shop by day, espresso martini bar by night”.
With options like a Biscoff espresso martini and a lemon curd filled doughnut with toasted meringue, how is one supposed to choose?!
I suppose you truly can have both… Come for your morning coffee and doughnut, then return at dusk for a pre-dinner cocktail.
- Cafe from 8:30am – 3pm
- Bar from 4pm – 11pm
See, you really can have it all!
15. Take a boat trip on the infamous Loch Ness
Taking a boat cruise on Loch Ness makes most travelers’ itineraries. If not the most popular thing to do in Inverness, it’s got to be up there in the top three.
On the Loch Ness boat tour, you’ll cruise this long and narrow body of water (25 miles long!) and listen as the captain shares interesting facts and tidbits about this famed lake over a speaker.
One of the most interesting facts (in my opinion) is that it is the largest freshwater lake in the UK by volume. In fact, it has more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined!
At its deepest, Loch Ness measures 755 feet (227 meters). As you’re cruising, you can watch the sonar screen and see the current depth.
What about the Loch Ness Monster?
Well, it turns out the famous picture of the Loch Ness Monster (aka “Nessie”), taken in 1934, were proven fraudulent. Scientists spent the next 30 years denouncing the creature’s existence.
But that doesn’t detract from the fact that sightings of a large sea creature are recorded as early as the first century A.D.
Believe what you might, this deep lake is certainly big enough to hold some secrets beneath its surface…
How to choose a Loch Ness Boat Tour
There are several Loch Ness boat tours, and they are all essentially the same. And curiously, the companies all have very similar names so it’s a little confusing.
While the specific company doesn’t matter too much, the major decision you’ll need to make is whether you want your tour to include a stop at Urquhart Castle. It is a bit more expensive to stop at the castle, but we’d recommend it. Without getting off for this stop, it would be kind a boring boat trip. Just being honest!
Insider Tips for booking a Loch Ness Tour
Be sure you know the exact name and location of your tour company, as they all have different launching points and with such similar names it can be confusing.
Arrive early so you can choose your seat. We arrived with about 15 minutes to spare, but finding parking was difficult, and by the time we walked down the path to the dock, there were few seats left. So we ended up on the upper deck on a very cold and drizzly day.
Our honest opinion about the Loch Ness boat tour
Now, I don’t want to dissuade you from taking a Loch Ness boat trip, but I want to be totally honest with you…
In our opinion, the boat tour was just okay.
The legend of the Loch Ness monster is what catapulted this lake to fame, but the lore is almost bigger than the place itself.
It’s a beautiful lake, don’t get me wrong. But the best views can’t even be seen from the boat. Instead, you’ll want to head to Dores Beach (preferably for sunset) for the very best vista of Loch Ness. (See #17 on this list for more info.)
In short: If you’re pressed for time during your Scotland trip, I personally wouldn’t be too bothered if you miss this boat ride. However, it is one of those iconic activities and I totally get the FOMO.
16. Explore the ruins of Urquhart Castle
The history of this castle goes back more than 1,000 years. And while only ruins are left, it’s a picturesque place to explore.
Situated on the shores of Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle is one of the stops you can opt for on many of the boat tours.
Related: See our roundup of beautiful castles in Scotland to visit!
17. Sunset at Dores Beach
Most visitors to Inverness take a Loch Ness cruise, but many people don’t know that the best view of the loch is actually on the other side of the water.
We did the boat trip and can say without a doubt that the view from this beach is better than any we got on the boat.
Dores Beach sits on the northeast shore of this iconic lake, and offers views that stretch the length of this narrow body of water, with layers of mountains looming in the distance.
If it works with the timing of your visit, we’d recommend stopping at Dores Beach for sunset. Pack some snacks to enjoy while you watch the sun go down, or better yet, pop into Dores Inn for dinner and a pint, which is located just beside this beach.
18. Grab a pint and pub grub at Dores Inn
This cozy inn is situated on the shores of Loch Ness and looks just as you’d expect of a traditional pub — fireplace, flickering candles, homey decor, and classic pub fare.
Enjoy a shepherd’s pie or fish and chips, and pair it with a pint or a Scottish (aka boozy!) coffee.
We ordered a few dishes to share, and they were good, but nothing super special. The Scottish coffees were a nice treat, and the sticky toffee pudding here is not to be skipped.
We’d recommend having dinner and watching the sunset on Dores Beach just next to the pub.
This was truly our favorite thing to do near Loch Ness (& one of our favorites in Inverness!).
19. Go back in time at Clava Cairns
Clava Cairns is a sacred spot that is thought to be 4,000 years old.
With standing stones and circular structures built out of piled rocks, it is a really unique place to see near Inverness.
Wandering around the tranquil grounds doesn’t take much time, but it feels like you’ve entered a different time. And maybe you have…
If you’re a fan of the series Outlander, you’ll recognize these stones as similar to those used to travel through time.
20. Walk through history at Culloden Battlefield
“Outlander” fans will recognize this as the location of a very bloody battle between the British and Jocobites in which more than 700 Scots were killed in just mere minutes.
If you’re in the area and have time, or just have a keen appreciation for history, this battlefield is worth a quick stop. However, if you’re pressed for time, this stop could be missed, in our opinion.
Other than a memorial marker and some stones for Scottish clans, there’s not a ton to see here. That said, if you love “Outlander” (hey, us too!), you might just have to see the Fraser clan stone for yourself!
21. Take a distillery tour near Inverness
If visiting a whisky distillery is one of the things you want to do in Scotland, Inverness (or the surrounding area, really) is a great place to book a tour.
When in Rome — err — Scotland, right?
Scotland has 5 whisky regions, each with their own characteristics and flavor profiles: Highland, Lowland, Islay, Speyside and Campbeltown.
Conveniently, Inverness is just a short drive from distilleries that belong to both the Highlands and the Speyside regions.
The Highlands: Covering the largest area, this region is known for a variety of styles, ranging from full-bodied whiskeys to lighter versions, they can be enjoyed by many palates. Inverness itself is part of the Highlands region.
Speyside: Famed for having the highest concentration of whisky distilleries in the world, this fertile river valley is home to some of the most famous names, like Glenfiddich.
Good to know: The American spelling of whiskey has an “e”, whereas it is spelled whisky in Scotland and the UK.
Whisky Distillery tours in Speyside and the Highlands
The Highlands region is home to 47 whisky distilleries and Speyside (a much smaller region by land mass) has 50. So it goes without saying that there are plenty to choose from. But it can also be a bit daunting figuring out where to begin.
Here are a few notable distilleries in the region that are all known for different things:
Quite possibly the biggest name in Scotch, Glenfiddich is an easy choice. If you are a whiskey aficionado, you’ll love going behind the scenes at this vast and iconic distillery.
- Region: Speyside
- Getting there from Inverness: 1 hour 20 minutes
- Tour days: Wednesday – Sunday
- Book your Glenfiddich tour
Insider Tip: After your distillery tour, stop at the nearby Linn Falls for a lovely walk.
This single malt distillery is a smaller player than the Glenfiddiches of the world, but their size is part of the charm. What they do, they do well.
This was the distillery we personally visited during our trip to Scotland, and we had a great experience. While not as polished or large as some other distilleries, the tour felt intimate and the Scotch they produce is excellent.
As a Scotch newbie, this was a very approachable, down-to-earth experience, and since, I’ve actually ordered Scotch because I have felt like I understand it a little better and know what I like.
- Region: Highlands
- Getting there from Inverness: 25 minutes
- Tour days: 7 days a week
- Book your Tomatin tour
Why we chose to visit Tomatin Distillery
- It was an easy stop on our drive from Cairngorms National Park to Inverness.
- We liked the idea of supporting a smaller distillery.
- They allow children of all ages on their tours (and we were traveling with our daughter who was 9 months old at the time).
The Singleton Distillery
This large facility is conveniently located near Inverness and offers guests a peek inside the whisky-making process in their sleek, modern facility.
- Region: Highlands
- Getting there from Inverness: 25 minutes
- Tour days: 7 days a week
- Book your Singleton tour
This distillery is located near the River Spey and has been family-owned for 5 generations.
- Region: Speyside
- Getting there from Inverness: 1 hour 10 minutes
- Tour days: Open Monday – Saturday in the summer months; Open Monday – Friday in the winter months
- Book your Glenfarclas tour
How to do visit a whisky distillery yourself
Determine what type of tour you’d like to take. Most distilleries offer 2-3 different types of tours — from shorter visits geared more towards newbies, and more immersive tours for whisky fanatics. Read each description carefully to determine which is best suited for your preferences (and budget).
Make your reservations in advance. No matter which distillery you choose to tour, we’d recommend reserving your spots in advance, as they do fill up. Even though we went to a lesser-known distillery (Tomatin), they were fully booked at least a week before our visit. Luckily, we had made reservations, but we saw people show up trying to snag a last-minute spot to no avail.
Traveling with kiddos? Make sure you check to see if the distillery allows children. There are quite a few that welcome children, but not all do.
22. Get fancy at afternoon tea
Clotted cream, fresh jam, and piles of pastries are staples of afternoon tea. This has been a tradition in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom since the late 1900s, so it’s a must while in Inverness.
- Ness Walk Hotel: A seasonal afternoon tea with freshly baked scones and other goods.
- Kingsmill Hotel: Indulge in french teas, fair trade coffee, and delectable bites.
- The Palace Hotel and Spa: Traditional afternoon tea with a view.
- Simpsons: Luxurious afternoon tea for any occasion.
- Waterside Restaurant: A satisfying and budget-friendly afternoon tea along the River
23. Visit historic Fort George
This 18th-century fortress stands as one of the most outstanding battle fortifications in Europe.
After the Jacobites seized control and blew up the original fortress in 1745, Fort George was built to regain control and serve as a base for King George II’s army.
The current fortress has never been attacked or seized, and has served the British Army for more than 250 years. Visiting these grounds gives you an impressive look into what the 18th-century military life was like.
Walk around the main ramparts, see the massive collection of weapons in the Grand Magazine, visit the historic barracks, or find peace in the garrison chapel.
24. Get off the beaten path and hike to Fairy Glen Falls
- Distance: 1.7 miles (2.7 km), out-and-back
- Elevation: 232 ft (70 m)
- Difficulty Rating: Moderate
- View the trail notes
Experience the awe and wonder of the Scottish woodlands as you walk along a river to two pretty waterfalls.
It was told In Scottish folklore that this glen was the setting of the well-dressing ceremony, a practice where young children would dress the glen in flowers so the fairies would keep the waters clean.
The mushrooms, moss, and plant varieties on the trail add that extra touch to the area. It definitely has that extra sparkle as you walk through it.
25. Visit a local farm shop with Highland Cows
There are few things more symbolic of Scotland than men in kilts, bagpipes, and highland cows.
The first two things on this list will be easy to spot, but Highland cows can be a little trickier.
If you’re up for a unique place to visit near Inverness, Robertsons the Larder is a charming farm shop not far from the city. They sell local produce, honey, and souvenirs. Plus, they have animals you can meet, including alpacas, donkeys, goats, and yes, Highland cows!
So grab yourself some ingredients for a little picnic and get a selfie with a cow!
Where to eat in Inverness
Inverness has an eclectic food and drink scene with a variety of different places to fuel your adventures in the city. These spots are great choices to get you started.
- Velocity Cafe: A cozy cafe with creative vegetarian bites.
- Café Artysans: Comfort food in a modern setting.
- The Mustard Seed: European bites in a renovated church.
- Fig & Thistle: Classy bistro with elevated food and drinks.
- Urquhart’s Restaurant: Family-run stop for classic Scottish food.
- The Kitchen Restaurant: Three-tier restaurant along River Ness with a creative Scottish menu.
- River House: Local seafood with Scottish dining.
Where to stay in Inverness
It makes sense to spend at least one night in or around Inverness as a base for exploring the Highlands. Find the best hotels and campgrounds near the city,
Hotels in Inverness
Bazpackers Hostel: This hostel is in a prime location in the heart of downtown along the River Ness. You’ll be steps away from Inverness and the excitement of the city.
Mansley Two-Bedroom Apartment: Sleep in style inside this modern and upscale apartment in the heart of the city. The views of Inverness on the outdoor terrace are some of the best in the city!
Ness Walk: Stay between the Ness Islands and downtown Inverness at this 5-star hotel. The stunning scenery and riverside location make this the perfect place to wind down and relax after a day in the city.
Camping near Inverness
Ardtower Caravan Park: If you are traveling Scotland in a campervan (like we did!), we highly recommend staying at Ardtower Caravan Park. The view over the city is nice, and it had the best facilities of any campground we stayed at in all of Scotland. They even have a small onsite cafe that serves pizza, and an ice cream truck comes through here most days.
Our only complaint is that the sites are pretty close together and there’s not much in the way of nature nearby. But that’s what you get for proximity to a large city, I suppose!
Bunchrew Caravan Park: We also stayed at this campground, and while it was a little more spread out and felt more nature-y, the facilities were pretty rough compared to those at Ardtower.
Our opinion: Between the two campgrounds, we’d recommend Ardtower.
Are you planning a trip to Scotland?
We have lots of resources on travel in Scotland and destinations throughout the country. Check out our Scotland Travel Homepage for everything you need to know, or read some of our favorite articles below.
- Best Places to Visit in Scotland
- Insanely Fun Things to in Edinburgh
- Ultimate Guide to Isle of Skye: Things to do + Essential Tips
- Unique Things to Do in Glasgow
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Which of these fun things to do in Inverness has made its way to the top of your list? Are there any experiences you think we are missing? Leave your comment below and let us know!