5 days in Inverness Travel Itinerary
Inverness is the largest and only city in the Highlands of Scotland, making it an ideal base for your adventures in North Scotland. Not only can you access all Inverness has to offer, but you are near fantastic activities and locations in literally every direction!
To the north, you have the beginning of the North Coast 500 (NC500), one of the finest road trips in Scotland. To the east, you have Moray, with its beautiful beaches, whisky distilleries, castles and fishing villages. The south includes Loch Ness and parts of the Cairngorms National Park. The west has Glen Affric, one of the most beautiful areas of Scotland. You are spoiled for choice in Inverness.
Inverness has a great vibe; I think it feels like a very open, positive place to be, due to the River Ness, the lush greenery, and the modern feel of buildings like Eden Court Theatre.
This itinerary will cover five days in Inverness and the surrounding area. I will pack as much as possible into this guide, but please pick and choose what works best for you. I have visited Inverness many times in my life and live quite locally; I feel well-placed to write this itinerary.
Where is Inverness?
Inverness is a city in the Scottish Highlands in the northeast part of Scotland. It is the administrative centre of the Highland Council area and is often considered the "Capital of the Highlands." The city is located near the mouth of the River Ness, which flows into the Moray Firth, an inlet of the North Sea.
How to Get to Inverness?
Getting to Inverness can be done in various ways, depending on your starting location and preferred mode of travel. Here are some of the most common options:
By Air - Inverness Airport (INV)
Located about 9 miles (around 14 km) northeast of the city centre.
Direct flights are available from several UK cities and a few international locations.
Airport facilities include car rentals, taxis, and public transport links to the city.
By Train - Inverness Railway Station
It is situated in the city centre and offers good links to other parts of Scotland and the UK.
Direct services are available from cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London.
The Caledonian Sleeper offers overnight services from London.
By Bus - Inverness Bus Station
National bus services like Megabus and Citylink offer routes to Inverness from various parts of Scotland and the UK.
The bus station is located in the city centre.
Inverness is well connected by road. The A9 is the main road connecting Inverness to the south, through Perth and onwards to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
If you're coming from the west, you'll likely take the A82, which runs along Loch Ness.
The A96 takes you to Inverness from Moray.
By Ferry (Seasonal)
Some people arrive in the Highlands via cruise ships that dock at the port in Invergordon, 25 miles North of Inverness.
While not directly arriving in Inverness, this can be a luxurious way to get to the Inverness area.
Day 1 - Inverness City
So we're in Inverness! Let's take a break from travelling and explore what Scotland's most northerly city has to offer. We will walk to all of the locations on day one, but it's possible to visit via taxi or bus if you prefer.
Inverness Castle is a great place to start this travel itinerary; it's also the official start and end of the NC500 route. The castle is closed to visitors until 2025 when a new visitor centre will open, but the views from the castle grounds are stunning. It's possible to see many of the places we will visit in this itinerary, including the River Ness, Ness Islands and Inverness Cathedral.
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
Just a short walk (60 seconds) from Castle Hill, you can find Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. This brilliant museum offers a wealth of information on the geology of the Scottish Highlands and Highland life, from the earliest inhabitants to the Picts and the Jacobites.
My favourite area here is the Pictish Stones section in the central area of the ground floor.
The museum is free to visit; you could spend 1 to 2 hours here.
Inverness High Street
The High Street is the pulsing artery of Inverness, full of life and energy. The cobblestone streets are flanked by a blend of historic architecture and modern buildings, giving it a unique character.
This is a haven for shoppers with an array of local boutiques, high-street shops, and souvenir stores. If you're looking for Scottish tartans, locally made crafts, or the latest fashions, you'll find it here. One interesting place to visit is the Victorian Market.
Another must-visit is Leakey's Bookshop on Church Street.
My favourite places to eat on Inverness High Street are:
A short walk eastward will take you to the River Ness. We won't be crossing the river now, so please follow the path southwards down Castle Road.
Keep walking along the riverside path; you will see the Faith, Hope, and Charity Statues and the Inverness War Memorial on your left as you walk. This riverside walk is exceptional in fine weather; enjoy the views of Inverness on both sides of the river.
Eventually, you will arrive at the start of the Ness Islands Walk. This route takes you across a Victorian bridge and onto a series of small islands in the middle of the River Ness. It's an exceptional walk amongst the trees with the sound of rushing water nearby. Having this walk in the centre of a large city is fantastic, and it's a very relaxing experience after the bustle of the high street.
The walk ends at the west side of the River Ness and leads to our next location, Inverness Botanic Gardens.
Inverness Botanic Gardens
Located in the Bught area of the city, Inverness Botanic Gardens offers visitors a peaceful retreat away from the bustling city centre. The gardens are generally open year-round, and free entry makes it a budget-friendly stop on your Highland adventure.
One of the standout features is the Tropical House, where you can walk through a lush collection of exotic plants, complete with a small waterfall and koi pond. This temperature-controlled haven starkly contrasts the Scottish weather outside and offers a unique, almost otherworldly, experience. If you prefer the flora of drier climates, the Cactus House displays an intriguing assortment of succulents and spiky plants, each with its own distinct character.
My wife loves these gardens, and we visit them a couple of times each year. The site also includes toilets and a nice cafe. Entry is completely free.
The final leg of our walking trip around Inverness is returning north towards the city centre and taking in Inverness Cathedral. You can walk back via Ness Islands or walk through the city. The west River Ness bank walk isn't as nice as the east, but it still offers excellent city views.
Inverness Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral Church of St. Andrew, is a noteworthy landmark that graces the banks of the River Ness in Inverness. Built between 1866 and 1869, the cathedral is a fine example of Gothic Revival architecture. Although it may not have the ancient lineage of some other Scottish cathedrals, what it lacks in age, it makes up for in beauty and tranquillity. The pink sandstone's exterior is striking and provides a warm, welcoming ambience.
Upon entering, visitors are greeted by a serene atmosphere enhanced by stunning stained glass windows and intricate woodwork. While the cathedral is an active place of worship, it also welcomes tourists and offers a quiet space for reflection. Its location near the river provides a scenic setting perfect for photographs.
Other options for central Inverness:
Aquadome Swimming Pool
You might be a little tired after all the walking, but if you still have energy, the Aquadome swimming pool is located directly next door to Inverness Botanic Gardens. This pool has a leisure pool with water slides, a wave pool and jacuzzi, and a full-size Olympic pool for "proper" swimming. It's a great option if you have kids with you.
Inverness Ice Centre
Found next to Aquadome and the botanic gardens, Inverness Ice Rink offers ice skating, and if you fancy something new - Curling - an Olympic sport that originated in Scotland.
Following on from swimming, the botanic gardens, or Ness Islands Walk, you can continue your journey to Craig Phadrig, the large round forested hill on the western side of Inverness. At the summit of this hill is an Iron Age hill fort, which would go on to become the Pictish fortress of King Bridei.
There isn't much left of the fort, but the views over Inverness and out to the Beauly Firth are spectacular. Walking the 2 miles to the top will take about an hour.
Merkinch Local Nature Reserve
If you want to complete your epic walking loop of Inverness and have god-like stamina, Merkinch Nature Reserve on the city's north side would be the next natural stop. The nature trail offers walks across wooden boardwalks and views of the Kessock Bridge.
You're looking at least another hour's walk from Craig Phadrig to Merkinch.
Eden Court Theatre
Why not finish your day in Inverness with a show at Eden Court Theatre? Various events are usually on offer, including plays, music and movies. See what's on here. I saw Of Mice and Men here as a child; it was a fantastic experience.
Day 2 - East of Inverness
Let's explore east of Inverness today; most of these locations can be accessed by leaving Inverness on the A96... by car or bus; this time, it's a bit far to walk!
Culloden Battlefield & Visitor Centre
The Culloden Battlefield is one of Scotland's most significant historical sites, about 5 miles east of Inverness. It was here, on April 16, 1746, that the final confrontation of the Jacobite Rising took place.
The battle pitted the Jacobite forces, who supported the claim of Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) to the British throne, against the government troops led by the Duke of Cumberland. The battle was brief but brutal, lasting less than an hour, and resulted in a devastating defeat for the Jacobites. This loss effectively ended the Jacobite cause and profoundly impacted Highland culture, leading to the oppressive policies known as the Highland Clearances.
Today, the site is managed by the National Trust for Scotland. It features an excellent visitor centre that provides a comprehensive understanding of the events leading up to the battle, the battle itself, and its aftermath. The centre uses interactive exhibits, artefacts, and audiovisual displays to bring this pivotal moment in Scottish history to life.
The battlefield is preserved, and markers indicate significant locations, such as where the battle lines were formed and where key figures fell. As you walk the grounds, it's hard not to feel the weight of history that hangs over the moor. It's a sombre but educational experience, offering deep insights into the complexities of British and Scottish history.
It's possible to visit the grave markers of mass graves from many Scottish clans. The Clan Fraser stone has been made famous by the Outlander TV series. It's also possible to see some friendly Highland cows nearby to lighten the mood a little!
If you don't want to pay for the visitor centre, the battlefield is free to visit and has educational information boards around the site.
Clava Cairns is an intriguing prehistoric site situated just a few miles southeast of Inverness and not far from Culloden Battlefield. This well-preserved Bronze Age burial complex dates back approximately 4,000 years and is a compelling destination for those interested in ancient history and archaeology. The site consists of three well-preserved cairns, or burial mounds, each surrounded by a circle of standing stones.
Each cairn features a central chamber you can enter, accessed by a narrow passageway. The cairns and their surrounding stones are arranged in a line, and it has been observed that the cairns are astronomically aligned, designed to capture the winter solstice sunset—a fact that adds an extra layer of mystique to the site.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Clava Cairns is how little is definitively known about its original purpose and the people who constructed it. Interpretations suggest it may have been used for ritualistic or astrological purposes, in addition to its role as a burial site.
The peaceful setting and the aura of ancient mystery make Clava Cairns a captivating place to visit. As you walk around and perhaps venture inside the cairns, you'll likely feel transported back in time, pondering the complexities and ingenuity of a civilisation long past.
Walking to Clava Cairns from Culloden Battlefield is possible, but it will take around 30 minutes. It should only take 5 minutes by car, and there's a good-sized car park. There is no charge to visit.
If you're interested in bridges and viaducts, Culloden Viaduct is a 5 minute walk away from Clava Cairns, offering some great photo opportunities.
Our final destination today is Cawdor Castle, around 20 minutes northeast of Clava Cairns via the B9090.
Cawdor Castle is a captivating blend of history, legend, and architectural beauty. This 14th-century fortress is famously linked to William Shakespeare's "Macbeth," even though the actual historical events based on the play predate the castle's construction. Despite the literary connections, the castle is rich in its own authentic history and offers visitors much more than a simple stage setting.
The castle is still privately owned by the Cawdor family. Upon entering, visitors are greeted by a selection of art, tapestries, and period furnishings that tell the story of the castle and its occupants over the centuries. The Drawing Room, with its intricate plasterwork ceiling, and the Dining Room, laden with family portraits, provide a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Scottish aristocracy.
One of the most intriguing features is the tree trunk around which the castle is said to have been built. This ancient tree, found on the castle's lowest level, adds a touch of mystique and folklore to the visit.
Outside, the meticulously maintained gardens are an attraction in their own right. Divided into several sections, including a walled garden, a flower garden, and a wild garden, they offer a stunning array of flora, idyllic pathways, and hidden nooks. The estate also offers woodland walks for those keen to explore the lush highland setting.
The castle has two brilliant gift shops and a great cafe.
The castle is only open from April to October, so you won't be able to visit in Autumn or Winter. Admission fees at the time of writing were £14.50 for adults and £8.00 for kids. Family tickets for £36.50.
Other options east of Inverness:
Fort George is a fantastic option if you have a bit more time to spend east of Inverness.
Located on a promontory jutting into the Moray Firth, just northeast of Inverness, Fort George stands as one of Europe's most impressive artillery fortifications. Built-in the wake of the Battle of Culloden in the 18th century, the fort was intended to secure the British mainland against further Jacobite uprisings.
The fort is truly enormous and is a marvel of military engineering, even more so when you realise these vast walls and ditches were built by hand in the 1700s! A fantastic museum on-site includes some of Hitler's personal items from his bunker in World War 2.
It's also possible to see dolphins from the walls in the Moray Firth and the Chanonry Point lighthouse.
If you're not interested in Clava Cairns and Cawdor Castle, I highly recommend Fort George after visiting Culloden Battlefield as an alternate option.
Venturing into West Moray, Brodie Castle is one of the finest castles in the northeast of Scotland. The grounds are immaculate, and there's a fantastic playground for small children called "The Playful Garden". There is a lovely wee cafe at the gardens too.
The castle itself is impressive and painted a rose pink colour. The guided tour is one of the best I've been to in Scotland; viewing the amazing dining room ceiling alone is worth the price of the tour. The library also contains a letter from Robert the Bruce dating from the 1300s!
A trip to Brodie Castle would work well after visiting Fort George or Culloden Battlefield; just make sure you have enough time left in the day to give it justice.
Admission at the time of writing was:
Adult - £16.00
Family - £42.50
One adult family - £32.50
Day 3 - North of Inverness
Let's head north from Inverness today and travel over the impressive Kessock Bridge to our first destination.
Redcastle is one of the lesser-known castles in the Inverness area; some locals even don't know of its existence! The castle is very ruinous, unmaintained and fenced off from visitors, but it's still possible to get great views of the castle, and there is a lovely short walk to reach the castle. The tiny hamlet of Redcastle is also charming, and the parking area looking out to the Beauly Firth is stunning.
Fairy Glen Falls
Backtracking to the Tore roundabout northeast of Redcastle, let's head to Rosemarkie and explore the lovely Fairy Glen Falls.
The gorgeous setting of RSPB Fairy Glen is truly magical. Walking through the forested gorge is a relaxing experience. An easy walking trail will take you to two stunning waterfalls. The Fairy Glen is a hub of activity for small birds and some rare forms of plant life.
While we are at Fairy Glen Falls, it would be criminal not to stop nearby at Chanonry Point, well known as one of the best places in Scotland to spot dolphins in the Moray Firth.
Chanonry Point is a peninsula of land that juts out into the Moray Firth; it has a picturesque lighthouse and a lovely beach arcing around to Rosemarkie.
Time your visit for just after low tide for the best chance of seeing the dolphins feeding. Even if you don't see the dolphins, walking along the beach or having a picnic at the lighthouse is lovely. You can also spot Fort George directly across the water.
Other options north of Inverness:
Instead of going to Fairy Glen Falls, an alternative option is to head northwest on the A835 to Rogie Falls, an impressive waterfall with a suspension bridge spanning the gorge. Lovely for walks and gorgeous views.
The Fyrish Monument
Fancy a short hike? Then the Fyrish Monument just outside Alness, north of Inverness, could be the walk for you. This stone archway was built as a folly to help keep local tradesmen in work during hard times. The arch is an interesting subject, but the real draw to this location is the epic views of the Cromarty Firth, usually home to oil rigs and machinery for the renewable energy industry.
Walking to the monument and back will take about two hours.
Day 4 - West of Inverness
Again, we will be crossing the Kessock Bridge to the north but heading west, passing Redcastle and on to Beauly Priory in the lovely town of Beauly.
Beauly is an excellent destination; there are plenty of parking spaces in the town square, and the shops, bakers and restaurants here are top-class.
For me, the biggest draw to the town is the ruined priory, built by monks of the Valliscaulian order in 1230. Although weatherworn, the remaining walls are in great condition, and some of the original sandstone window frames still exist, giving an idea of how this impressive structure once looked.
Don't forget to look through the window at the impressive tomb of Sir Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail; the stonework is exquisite.
Heading south from Beauly on the A862, let's head to Drumnadrochit!
Situated on the western shore of the famed Loch Ness, Drumnadrochit is a charming village that serves as a gateway to some of Scotland's most iconic legends and landscapes. Just a short drive from Inverness, it is a must-visit for anyone hoping to explore the myths and majesty surrounding Loch Ness and its most notorious resident, the Loch Ness Monster.
Upon arrival, you'll find that Drumnadrochit is a bustling hub for "Nessie" enthusiasts. The village is home to two main attractions that delve into the lore of Loch Ness: the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition and Nessieland. Both offer multimedia presentations, exhibits, and expert commentary that examine the scientific investigations and alleged sightings of the monster. These centres provide an engaging deep dive into one of Scotland's most enduring mysteries.
Arguably one of the world's most famous bodies of water, Loch Ness, stretches approximately 23 miles southwest of Inverness through the Scottish Highlands. Known for its stunning natural beauty, the loch is enveloped by lush hills, woodland, and moorland, providing a feast for the eyes and countless outdoor opportunities. But beyond its undeniable aesthetic appeal, Loch Ness is most famous for its enduring myth—the legend of the Loch Ness Monster, affectionately known as "Nessie."
The loch is one of the deepest in Scotland, with depths reaching up to 745 feet, and contains more freshwater than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. Its dark and murky waters result from high peat content in the surrounding soil, creating the perfect setting for tales of mysterious creatures lurking beneath the surface.
It's possible to cruise Loch Ness with Jacobite Cruises by catching it at Dochgarroch Locks; it's also an option to be dropped off at Urquhart Castle, which has its own dock. It is an ideal way to see Loch Ness and explore Urquhart Castle.
Loch Ness is also part of the Caledonian Canal, which starts in Inverness and ends in Fort William on the west coast.
Overlooking the dark, enigmatic waters of Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle stands as one of the most iconic and atmospheric ruins in Scotland. Located near the village of Drumnadrochit, just a short drive from Inverness, the castle's strategic position offers commanding views of the loch and the surrounding Highlands, making it a must-see historical site for anyone visiting the area.
The castle is one of the busiest tourist attractions in Scotland, so it's worth purchasing tickets in advance during the high season. As mentioned above, you can combine your visit with a boat trip along Loch Ness, which is a great way to reach the castle and get back to Inverness on the return trip.
Costs when I last visited were:
£13 for adults.
£8 for children.
Family tickets are available, ranging from £25.50 - £44.50.
Other options west of Inverness:
In the hills near Drumnadrochit, Divach Falls is great for a quick visit as it only takes about 10 minutes to walk to this impressive waterfall from the car park. The views looking back towards Loch Ness are also fantastic.
Corrimony Chambered Cairn
Fifteen minutes west of Drumnadrochit, you can find Corrimony Chambered Cairn. This Stone Age site is very similar in construction to the cairns at Clava Cairns mentioned above on Day 2. A small car park is a short distance away, and the cairn is contained within a small square plot. There are standing stones that surround the cairn. This cairn has tunnel entrances you can crawl through to access the internal area.
It is a small but interesting site and worth a visit if you're interested in Scotland's early history.
Plodda Falls is an absolutely amazing place for a walk. Not only will you walk through a densely forested area with unique Douglas Fir trees, there are two stunning waterfalls.
The main waterfall has a viewing platform that protrudes from the top of the waterfall, giving a unique perspective. This walk's circular path is breathtaking and worth the journey to this slightly remote rural location.
Not far from Plodda Falls, you can take a short detour to Guisachan House, the ancestral home of the golden retriever dog breed. The property is entirely ruinous today and inaccessible, but you can get a good view from the perimeter fence. The estate grounds are beautiful if a little wild now, a worthwhile place to visit while in the area. Ideal if you have a drone.
Day 5 - South of Inverness
Now, on the final day of this itinerary, let's head southeast to Aviemore, which will take about 40 minutes via the A9 motorway.
The village of Aviemore is one of my favourite places in Scotland. This community is surrounded by mountains and is geared up for outdoor activities, everything from snowsports, watersports, forest walks, castles, zoos and many lochs.
For one day in Aviemore, here are my top places to visit:
Lunch at the Cairngorm Hotel.
A visit to Loch Morlich east of Aviemore, with its sandy beach and excellent walks.
Visit the deer at Cairngorm Reindeer Herd.
FAQs on the Inverness Travel Itinerary
Here are a few frequently asked questions on the Inverness travel itinerary.
How many days should you spend in Inverness?
I've recommended five days in this itinerary; I feel that's enough time to comprehensively see Inverness and the surrounding area.
Is two days enough in Inverness?
If you're only staying in Inverness, two days will be enough to see the city's main sights. If you plan to explore the area around Inverness, I recommend more than two days.
Is Inverness worth visiting?
Yes, Inverness is definitely worth visiting. The city is so lovely and modern, and I would say the people are nicer than in other Scottish cities... but Scots are nice everywhere!
Can I use Uber in Inverness?
It's possible, but the availability of drivers will be much less than in the larger cities of the central belt. A regular taxi can be called on:
01463 222222 - Inverness Taxis.
01463 808080 - Capital Taxis Inverness.
01463 807060 - A2B Taxis Inverness.
Where to Stay in Inverness?
If you're a proactive planner, mainstream hotels like Travelodge and Premier Inn offer budget-friendly rates that can be surprisingly affordable. Securing a room for as low as £39 per night is possible if you book well ahead of your travel dates. However, remember that these wallet-friendly prices can spike based on seasonal demand or last-minute bookings.
For a more personalised touch during your stay, consider these local hotels and bed-and-breakfasts that offer exceptional value and service:
Key Information on the Inverness Itinerary
Inverness is the most northerly city in Scotland and is a great base to explore north Scotland.
Inverness city centre has many shops, museums, historical buildings and fantastic riverside walks.
Leaving the city's boundaries, there are many sites, including battlegrounds, castles, forts, waterfalls and lochs.
Inverness is an ideal base to visit many of the best sights in northern Scotland.
Inverness is a vibrant modern city worthy of your time to visit. I hope this travel itinerary has given you some good ideas for your trip to north Scotland. Most tourists stick to the Edinburgh area; but why not consider Inverness? There is so much on offer within the city, and in every direction, there are fantastic locations waiting to be discovered.
This itinerary could be combined as part of a Moray or North Coast 500 tour if you are planning more than a week in Scotland. Enjoy your trip!
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