Things to Do in Inverness
As huge as Loch Ness is, its vast size is not the reason for its global fame, nor is it the magnificent surrounding scenery. The real reason visitors flock to this Scottish body of water is to spot the elusive Loch Ness Monster. Rumors about Nessie have flown since an Irish monk first caught sight of something unusual swimming around the lake’s inky waters back in the seventh century. Today. travelers still cruise around the loch in hopes of catching sight of the mysterious aquatic monster.
A village on the shores of Loch Ness, Fort Augustus is a popular destination in the Scottish Highlands. Once a garrison in the 18th century, the scenic village today attracts cyclists, hikers, and travelers in search of the Loch Ness monster. It’s also a gateway to the Great Glen Way, a 73-mile trail that runs from Inverness to Fort William.
Scotland's largest island, the Isle of Skye is a pocket of wilderness jutting off the coast of the West Highlands. The area is a treat for nature lovers, with its dramatic sea cliffs, windswept valleys, and glittering lochs.
The Culloden Battlefield was the site of one of the last battles to take place on British soil. On April 16, 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie and his army of 5,000 Jacobite Highlanders faced off against the Duke of Cumberland and 9,000 Hanoverian government troops. Though the Jacobites fought valiantly, they were ultimately defeated, resulting in the elimination of the Scottish clan system and the suppression of Highland culture. Today, the Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre retells the events of that fateful day through interactive exhibits that put travelers in the thick of the action.
Set on the shore of Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle (Caisteal na Sròine) attracts many visitors that come here in hopes of glimpsing Nessie, the loch’s fabled aquatic monster. The ruined medieval fortress, which was destroyed in 1762 to prevent it from becoming a Jacobite stronghold, now houses a visitor center that exhibits objects found amid the ruins.
Perched atop a hill by the River Ness, this Victorian-era red sandstone castle—built to replace the medieval fortress blown up by the Jacobites in 1746—is one of Inverness’ most prominent historic structures. Access to the castle, now occupied by government offices and law courts, is restricted but the grounds are open to the public.
Pleasure boats float along Caledonian Canal, a scenic 60-mile (97-kilometer) waterway that runs through Scotland's Great Glen, connecting Fort William in the southwest to Inverness in the northeast. The canal, which links Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Dochfour, and Loch Ness, is popular with walkers and cyclists, who follow towpath trails.
The Clava Cairns—or the Prehistoric Burial Cairns of Balnuaran of Clava—are all that remains of what was once a much larger Bronze Age burial complex. Dating back 4,000 years, the evocative cemetery site retains original features, including passage graves, standing stones, and ring cairns (stone circles).
With its imposing pink sandstone turrets presiding over the River Ness, Inverness Cathedral (St. Andrew's Cathedral or, less commonly, the Cathedral Church of St. Andrew) is one of the most striking of the city’s many churches. The 19th-century Gothic-style structure is conspicuously spire-free. Though architect Alexander Ross put them in his original design, they had to be scrapped due to lack of funds.
Founded in 1838, Glen Ord Distillery is one of the oldest in Scotland. Here, at the only remaining malt whisky distillery on the remote Black Isle, it’s possible to go on a behind-the-scenes tour to see and understand the process of making a single malt from start to finish. You’ll get to check out the barley maltings as well as the fermentation and distillation methods, wandering among the barrels and huge copper stills as you go.
As is tradition, at the end of the hour-long tour you’ll get to enjoy a single malt tasting or two. As you sip, you’ll learn how to compare and identify the flavors in whisky. And be sure to make the most of your swig; you won’t be able to buy and enjoy Glen Ord whisky anywhere else in the country, as outside the distillery’s whisky store, the single malt is only sold in Asia.
More Things to Do in Inverness
Immortalized at the fictional home of the Thane of Cawdor in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Cawdor Castle is one of Scotland’s most famous castles. Despite its literary notoriety, Cawdor Castle and Gardens actually have little in common with their fictional counterpart. The castle wasn’t built until the 14th-century - years after both the real and fictional King Macbeth existed. Today, the castle is still home to the descendants of the Clan Campbell of Cawdor and the grade-A listed building remains remarkably preserved, surrounded by immaculate gardens, the Cawdor Big Wood and a 9-hole golf course. Highlights for visitors include the sumptuous Drawing Room, with its fascinating family portraits; the Dining Room, with its grand stone fireplace; the 17th-century-style Tapestry Bedroom; and the Old Kitchen, as well as the fabled Thorn Tree around which the historic castle was built.
Dating back to 1897, Old High Church (or Old High St. Stephen’s) is the oldest church and congregation in the Scottish Highlands capital of Inverness. The church is noteworthy for its Arts and Crafts/Gothic-style architecture, Ballantine stained glass, 1902 organ, and adjacent cemetery overlooking the Ness river.
Perched on a promontory over the North Sea, Inverness' Fort George is surprisingly little-known outside Scotland, but is in fact the largest military stronghold in the UK. Built to protect the royal troops of King George II, the 18th-century fort is encircled by giant stone ramparts over a half-mile (1 km) in length, and by moat (now dry). Sloping battlements, stone-built Georgian barracks, and a chapel awash with regimental colors lend to the site's rich history. Visitors can step inside the barracks to see recreated scenes from the life of an 18th-century soldier, or visit the nearby dog cemetery, where the regimental mascots are buried. Another highlight of a visit is the Grand Magazine, where hundreds of ancient rifles line the walls.
While at the fort, be sure to take in the spectacular views over the Moray Firth, and don't miss the Highlanders Museum in the former Lieutenant Governors’ House—it's the largest military museum outside Edinburgh and is crammed with historic cannons, weaponry, and ammunition, as well as uniforms and medals. History-buffs can round off a tour of Scottish military history with a stop at nearby Culloden battlefield, which is free to enter with the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass.
Ever wanted to see wild Atlantic salmon at their most spectacular, leaping up a waterfall? On the road from Inverness to Ullapool, just head to Rogie Falls in the Scottish Highlands for its parade of leaping salmon through August and September. To catch the salmon at their best, try to come in the early morning or evening when they’re at their most active.
A great spot to visit throughout the year, in spring you’ll be treated to a woodland carpet of Scottish bluebells and brilliant birdsong as you take the footpath to Rogie Falls.
From the carpark, there are several well-marked trails you can follow. The "red path" is a short walkway to the waterfall. Once you get to the cascade, keep a lookout for otters playing on the far right bank. The "green path" is a little longer and will take you on a forest walk to “View Rock,” where between two big rocks you’ll get your picture-perfect views of the Scottish Highlands and its forest, hills and loch. This trail is about a two-hour round trip from Rogie Falls car park.
Sure, the River Ness (Abhainn Nis) might not be as famous as the nearby Loch with its monster, but that doesn't mean it's not worth wandering. In fact, the vast majority of Inverness' top attractions are situated along its shores, including Inverness Castle, Whin Park, Eden Court Theater and St. Andrews Cathedral. And of course, it culminates in Loch Ness. River Ness also houses the Ness Islands, which are extremely popular nature retreats for Inverness locals.
Though famous, the River Ness is no Nile. It stretches only about 12 miles (20 km) from where it begins at Loch Ness to where it empties into Beauly Firth. Little known fact: it's actually in the river, not the giant loch, that the first ever sighting of the Loch Ness Monster was reported.
A modern gem of a theater, Eden Court houses a range of performing arts performances involving music, theater, opera, ballet and dance as well as film. To accommodate all these large scale performances as well as studios for art classes, a new building to house them all was built in 1976 right next to the River Ness. With its sharp angles and metal and glass encasing, the theater now sports a somewhat retro futuristic look. This provides a sharp contrast to the Gothic mansion right next door, the official residence of the Bishops of Moray. But the small palace from an entirely different century has been successfully incorporated into the modern Eden Court Theatre and Cinema and now houses the dressing rooms, offices and a small cinema.
After extensive renovations and refurbishments, Eden Court is now the largest combined arts center in Scotland and has two big auditoriums. The bigger one, Empire Theatre, can seat over 800 people and the other, One Touch, follows suit with about 270 spaces. The two new cinemas, apart from regular showings, also host the annual Inverness Film Festival, where visitors can enjoy niche films and Scottish premieres.
Created by glacial meltwater, the tree-lined Corrieshalloch Gorge is punctuated by a series of waterfalls. From an observation deck and swaying suspension bridge, you can look down upon the rushing River Droma, which courses through the ravine and drops over the 150-foot (46-meter) Falls of Measach.
Opened by Prince Edward in 1993, the Inverness Botanic Gardens—previously known as Floral Hall—are a tranquil escape from the bustle of the city center. In addition to outdoor gardens with seasonal floral displays, fish ponds, and the Scottish Highlands’ largest succulent display, the grounds house a café, visitor center, and two greenhouses.
Merkinch Local Nature Reserve is a bit of a hidden treasure, located only about a mile (2 km) outside of Inverness along the shore of Beauly Firth. As the only nature reserve in the highlands, it is the perfect area to observe the diverse wildlife of this sparsely populated region and enjoy a day outdoors. There is a visitor center, once used as a ferry ticket office, where you can delve into small exhibitions and also pick up maps or hire a guide for a walk around the area. Animal spotters will also find a logbook detailing the latest wildlife sightings and can then set out to spot the highlands' biodiversity themselves.
Looking over the Beauly Firth shoreline, you can watch steel blue barn swallows catching insects, buzzards sitting tall atop tree branches, pheasants with bright gold and brown plumage, shy curlews probing the waters for crabs with their extremely long curved beaks and the big grey herons stalking their prey. If you're lucky, you can even see bottlenose dolphins coming up for air, common seals and the more active European otters. They all live in and around tidal pools and both salt and freshwater marshes, some of which are partially connected to the sea.
Using projections and special effects, this immersive exhibition focuses on the ecology of Loch Ness and the mysterious monster that supposedly swims its waters. Curious visitors find out about the lake habitat and the likelihood of a monster surviving here, as well as learning about previous monster hunts, research missions, and hoaxes.
Ever wanted to see bottlenose dolphins feed and play in the wild? Chanonry Point is just the spot. A narrow peninsula in Scotland’s Moray Firth, dolphins can be spotted here throughout the year. In summer though, you’ll often see dolphins come right up to the shore as they chase the salmon that come and go in the rivers Ness and Beauly.
The best spot for dolphin spotting at Chanonry Point is on the pebble beach behind the lighthouse, or at the path near the car park entrance. Try to come around incoming tide, which is an hour or two after low tide. Why? This is when the dolphins love to fish and play in the strong currents. While you’re here, keep a look out for porpoises and grey seals too. And between May and October, you may even see Minke whales.
You can also take boat trips out on the water from Cromarty and Avoch, just along the coast. In nearby North Kessock, between June and September, the Dolphin and Seal Centre is another great place to look out for dolphins.
If you are in Inverness and want to spend a day out with the family, you will find a beautiful recreational area for just this purpose in Whin Park. Popular among tourists as well as locals, the site is especially great for kids due to the miniature Ness Islands Railway, a large play area and a boating pond.
The train is usually made of a diesel locomotive with long lines of benches attached behind it. If you are lucky though, a tiny steam engine will be in use to take you on the bell-shaped ride through the thick forested areas of the park. It was originally built in 1983, though the current track was finished a few years later to allow it to cross an old iron bridge in the park that was built in 1837.
For those looking for a nice walk, the park's loop trail circles the boating pond and should take about 30 minutes to complete. The pond itself is fit with rowing boats that can be rented out if you fancy paddling around a bit. And of course, there are few better places in Inverness to take an afternoon picnic than Whin Park.
Hugh Miller was a well-known geologist and writer who lived from 1802 to 1856 in northern Scotland. The thatched fisherman's cottage he was born in was built in the late 1600s by his great grandfather. The cottage and the Georgian house on the property both stand as a museum honoring Hugh Miller's life, formally the Hugh Miller's Birthplace Cottage & Museum. Hugh Miller's cottage is furnished and shows what it might have looked like when he lived there. The house contains an exhibition and video about his life and work. There is also a reading room which gives visitors the chance to browse through Miller's works. Artwork, tapestries, and sculptures are also on display.
Behind the cottage and museum is the Yard Garden of Wonders, which is a peaceful garden with native Scottish plants, fossils and other artifacts. It was designed to reflect Miller's love of nature. There is also a traditional cobbled courtyard that was a 19th-century work space.
Inverewe Garden & Estate is one of Scotland's most popular botanical gardens. It sits on a peninsula on the edge of Loch Ewe among the rugged landscape of the Wester Ross area of the Scottish Highlands. Inverewe garden was set up as a sub-tropical style oasis with exotic plants from all over the world. Some of the species found here include the most northerly planting of rare Wollemi pines, Himalayan blue poppies, olearia from New Zealand, Tasmanian eucalyptus, and rhododendrons from China, Nepal and the Indian subcontinent.
Despite being so far north, plants thrive at Inverewe due to the warm currents of the Gulf Stream and the foresight of Osgood Mackenzie who created the garden in 1862. At the time, he planted over 100 acres of woodland to shelter the garden. The garden is also part of a larger estate managed for conservation. The estate covers an area of 2,000 acres and is home to many species of mammals and birds. Trails give visitors the opportunity to be closer to nature and the wildlife.
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