Inverness is the capital of the Scottish Highlands, and there is plenty to do, see, eat and drink in this city, handily located at the start/end of the NC500. Having lived in this rapidly growing city from 2013-2017,and being a regular visitor since moving to Caithness, I felt it was finally time to write my own city guide! Included in this guide are links to travel and attraction information which are correct at the time of writing, but please check before you travel!
THE ESSENTIALS – ARRIVAL AND PRACTICAL TIPS
Inverness is a well connected city, with daily domestic flights to/from the Scottish isles of Lewis, Orkney and Shetland, as well as London (Heathrow, Gatwick & Luton), Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Dublin, and Belfast City. Since 2016 KLM has operated flights to Amsterdam, and coming later in 2019, there will also be a direct flight to Inverness from Norway (Bergen). There’s a regular Stagecoach bus service (11A) from the Airport into the city centre, which takes around 25 minutes. This link has all the bus timetable information for Inverness, and you can visit the bus station (Margaret Street) for additional help/booking tickets if you are doing trips out of Inverness.
The train station is located right on Academy Street, the main thoroughfare for vehicles in Inverness. There are regular trains arriving from Aberdeen, Wick, Kyle of Lochalsh (for Skye), Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London (including 1 daytime direct train, and the overnight Caledonian Sleeper experience, which I loved – I hope to have an excuse for trying out the new Sleeper trains soon!). There are an abundance of taxis at the front of the station for your onward journey.
There are plenty of car parks in Inverness, and there’s guidance on charges here.
Once you’ve arrived, if you need to change your cash into sterling, there’s a centrally located Post Office on Queensgate, and Debenhams in the Eastgate centre also has a money exchange bureau. There is no currency exchange service at Inverness Airport. There are also the usual travel agents, banks and building societies which also may be able to offer exchange facilities – research this before your trip so it doesn’t eat into valuable exploring time!
The final practical tip I have for you is to head to the VisitScotland iCentre – the team there will be happy to help with local tips and tour bookings!
There is accommodation for all budgets in Inverness, from hostels to B&Bs, to high-end hotels. If you visit between April – September advance booking is essential otherwise you will end up paying over the odds, or risk not finding any accommodation in your budget (trust me, I have regular travel booking headaches in my job at UHI during the summer season!). AirBnBs are a lot more common in recent years, and there are city centre Travelodges and Premier Inns (others are available a short drive from the city centre) which we have both used in the past – which are up to the usual national standards. I’ve also stayed at the Heathmount Hotel, and the Ballifeary Guest House in the past – both of which I’d recommend.
Inverness is a relatively compact city, with the immediate city centre walkable in less than an hour. However, there’s so much to see that you’ll need much more time than this! I’d recommend doing some kind of tour to help you get your bearings, and to get a basic understanding of the history of the city. Here’s a list of tour ideas/sights to add to your ‘to-see’ list:
- Inverness Castle (exterior only – beautiful views over the river and towards Ben Wyvis) and a statue of Flora MacDonald
- Inverness Town House (tours available – pre booking essential)
- River Ness – Faith Hope & Charity statues by Ness Bank Church, and Inverness Cathedral on opposite side of the river
- Bridges – Ness Bridge, Infirmary Bridge and other pedestrian suspension bridges
- Falcon Square and Mercat Cross pillar
- Walk Inverness tour – I recently joined a fundraising tour in aid of #mentalhealthawarenessweek and you can read about my experience – recommended by A Highland Blend!
- Other tours available by bike /bike hire, or by City Sightseeing Bus
- On the water: Dolphin Spirit boat tour on the Moray Firth – recommended by A Highland Blend!
- Jacobite Loch Ness ‘Temptation’ Tour – includes coach travel from Inverness Bus Station to sailing departure point near Loch Ness.
HERITAGE AND HISTORY
Being the Highland Capital, Inverness has a wealth of historical sights that are worth exploring. Slightly out of the the city, Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre is definitely worth a trip, but in Inverness itself, there’s Outlander and Jacobite history aplenty – look out for plaques everywhere with historical info – as well as the following places!:
- Abertarff House – a newly opened National Trust Property on Church Street
- Churches – Old High St Stephens Churchyard and Robertsons Mausoleum
- Dunbar Hospital (Church Street) – one of the oldest buildings in Inverness which has a history of taking care of vulnerable people.
- Leakey’s – a huge independent bookshop in a converted Gaelic Church on Church Street.
- The Victorian Market – a covered market which suffered a huge fire in 1889. (Also covered in Shopping section below).
While you can explore a lot of Inverness on foot for free, you can also support local arts and lesure attractions:
- Inverness Botanic Gardens – think of this as a mini Kew Gardens, which has free entry (donations welcome). A really relaxing place to enjoy in the summer including a tropical and cactus house.
- Inverness Castle Viewpoint – climb 94 steps to the top of Inverness Castle to see unique stunning views of the city. An entrance fee applies and you can book in advance.
- Eden Court Theatre and Cinema – a cultural centre with the latest cinematic and arthouse films, plus an excellent programme of dance, music, comedy and theatre. Also hosts craft and food fairs throughout the year!
- Ironworks – a live music venue with a regular programme of of tribute acts, Scottish trad music, and bands such as Feeder, the Happy Mondays and Primal Scream!
- Inverness Museum and Art Gallery (IMAG) – explore local culture and history in both permanent and temporary exhibitions
- Hootenanny often has live music and has a great atmosphere!
ACTIVITIES FOR FAMILIES
Inverness is a great city for getting families of all ages outdoors and exploring!
- Parks – Whin Park and Bellfield Park both have excellent outdoor play equipment; Whin Park also has a mini-railway and boating pond.
- Inverness Ice Centre – offers public skating sessions throughout the year
- Inverness Leisure – a 25m competition pool and leisure pool including flumes and wave pool
- Inverness Crazy Golf – the whole family can be challenged by a 12 hole crazy golf course (April – October only)
- Inverness SkatePark – next to Inverness Crazy Golf.
The WalkHighlands website is your friend here – I find it an invaluable guide of walking routes anywhere in Scotland!
- Ness Islands & Caledonian Canal – Taking in both the river Ness and the Caledonian Canal, there are lovely views out to the Moray Firth and to the inland hills.
- Craig Phadrig – a lovely forest walk leading up a short steep climb to a Pictish fort site with an amazing view west to Beauly and Glen Affric.
- Inverness Campus – Opened in 2016, this is a lovely college campus for a walk. The resident swans and their cygnets are always a big attraction in springtime!
- The start/end point for long distance walks: Great Glen Way |South Loch Ness Trail | Loch Ness 360
Inverness is the hub of the Highlands, with many residents of the Islands and less populated places often coming to the city to do their shopping. The Eastgate Centre houses Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, Superdry, Waterstones, Next and many other well known national chains. There are also a couple of large retail parks outside of the city. The pedestrianised High Street has suffered in recent times and is maybe less appealing than in recent years – but if you’re looking for a classic Highland souvenir there are shops including Isle of Skye Candles, Judith Glue and House of Aran. Church Street has a wealth of independent traders including the legendary Leakeys Bookshop. The Victorian Market is well worth a wander through as well- look up to see a rather unique model railway as you walk through!
EATING AND DRINKING
I could easily write a seperate guide just about the dining scene in Inverness, but for now I’m going to keep it short and sweet (ish) with just my recommendations of independent places:
- Cafes/Daytime Eating: Cafe Artysans | Rendezvous Cafe | Velocity| Blend | Girvans
- Modern-European: Mustard Seed | The Kitchen | Rocpool |
- Fine-Dining: Chez Roux Restaurant @ Rocpool Reserve (see my review here)
- American: Scotch & Rye
- Pizza: Cheese & Tomatin | Black Isle Bar
- Thai: Thai Dining
- Chinese: SHIMCA (see my review – I think this is Inverness’s best kept secret!)
- Tapas: La Tortilla Asesina
- Turkish: Aspendos
- Bars/pubs: Black Isle Bar | Hootenanny | MacGregor’s | Castle Tavern | Heathmount
- Sweet stuff: Perk (Coffee & donuts) | Coyote Coffee &Donuts | Miele’s Geletaria (Ice cream) |The Milk Bar (Coffee and ice cream)
- Out of town: Cawdor Tavern (Pub/scottish) | Saffron (Indian)
Whether you’re a Highland local or a visitor, I hope that my guide to Inverness is useful, and helps you discover new places!
All information is correct at the time of writing. Please check opening days/hours before you travel.