Free things to do in Inverness

Written by Chris Thornton | 6th of December 2023
Free things to do in Inverness

Inverness is the largest and only city in the Highlands of Scotland. For me, Inverness has always had an air of positivity about it, with its bustling high street and River Ness flowing through the centre. The city is much greener and alive than, say, Aberdeen on the east coast.

When visiting Inverness and its surrounding area, there's no need to break the bank to have a memorable time. From exploring the stunning Highland landscape to immersing yourself in history and culture, there are plenty of free activities and attractions to enjoy, including castles, museums and waterfalls.

Here are my top free things to do in Inverness and the surrounding area:

Free attractions in Inverness

All the places listed below are within walking distance of the centre of Inverness, so you won't have to pay any transport costs.

Inverness Botanic Gardens

My wife and I first visited Inverness Botanic Gardens this year for a Highlands anniversary tour. The gardens have much to offer, including two large greenhouses filled with unique plants. The tropical house contains many rare plant varieties, a koi pond with a waterfall, and multi-level views of the greenhouse.

The cactus house next door is home to many cacti, some twice my height! There is a great deal to see within the other areas of the gardens, particularly in Spring and Summer.

Inverness Botanic Gardens is completely free to visit and also offers a coffee shop and toilet facilities.

Inverness Botanic Gardens on Google Maps

Inverness Botanical Garden
The main greenhouse at Inverness Botanical Gardens.

Whin Park

Whin Park offers four adventure playgrounds with climbing structures and slides, perfect for a family outing. Enjoy a picnic by the lake and make the most of the free entertainment for kids.

Whin Park on Google Maps

Whin Park Pond
Whin Park.

Highland Archive Centre

Book an appointment at the Highland Archive Centre and delve into the history of the Highlands. Explore archives dating back to the 14th century and trace your Highland family tree.

Highland Archive Centre

Highland Archive Centre
Highland Archive and Registration Centre.

Ness Islands

Following on from a visit to the botanic gardens or Whin Park, Ness Islands Walk is a short distance away and a great way to reach the city centre.

A series of Victorian-era bridges take you to Ness Islands, a series of small islands in the middle of the River Ness. These islands are covered in mature woodland, and the route includes art installations and a small amphitheatre.

This walk is a truly lovely escape to nature in the middle of the biggest highlands city. Keep your eyes open for the Faith, Hope, and Charity Statues and Inverness War Memorial en route to the city centre.

Ness Islands on Google Maps

Ness Islands
Beginning of the Ness Islands Walk from the west side.

Inverness Museum & Art Gallery

The slightly hidden and unassuming Inverness Museum and Art Gallery can be found a short distance from Inverness Castle and the main High Street in Inverness. This museum is entirely free to visit and contains a great deal of information and artefacts on the history and geology of the Scottish Highlands.

The ground floor offers information on Scotland's geology, showing different rock types and how Scotland was formed. There is also a considerable collection of Pictish stones.

Upstairs has more modern history, taking in the Jacobites, Highland life and present history. There is also an art gallery, which is also free to visit.

Inverness Museum is a cheap way to spend a few hours in Inverness and see the area's rich history. Toilets and a cafe are also available.

Inverness Museum on Google Maps

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery Pictish Stones.
The Pictish Stones at Inverness Museum.

Explore Inverness City Centre

Wander through Inverness city centre and discover a mix of historic buildings and modern additions. Visit St Stephen's Church, Inverness Castle, the Victorian Market, and Inverness Town House, among other landmarks.


Inverness Castle

Marvel at the exterior of Inverness Castle and enjoy panoramic views over the River Ness and the city. While the castle is closed for restoration, climb Castle Hill for a fantastic vantage point and excellent views of Inverness Cathedral.

Inverness Castle on Google Maps

Inverness Castle. Hootenanny's on Church Street.
Inverness Castle.

Inverness Cathedral

Found on the banks of the River Ness, Inverness Cathedral is an impressive building you can visit in the city centre. While not strictly free to enter, you can see much of the interior from the initial entranceway before you pay at the reception desk.

It only costs a couple of pounds each actually to explore the cathedral properly, and it is worth paying for the upkeep of this amazing building.

Inverness Cathedral on Google Maps

Inverness Cathedrals on the River Ness.
Inverness Cathedral.

Victorian Market

Explore the historic Victorian Market, home to independent shops and cafes. Immerse yourself in a unique shopping experience and discover a variety of quality products. A visit to the Victorian Market Inverness need not be expensive; just walking through this amazing retail area is a fun, free activity.

The Victorian Market on Google Maps

Victorian Market Inverness
The Victorian Market.

Leakey's Bookshop

Lose yourself in Leakey's Bookshop, Scotland's largest second-hand bookshop. Browse the 100,000 selected volumes in this converted church and enjoy a book lover's paradise. The interior of this shop is amazing and feels like something that would appear in a Harry Potter movie.

Leakey's on Google Maps

Leakey's Bookshop - Image: Seth Golub.
Leakey's Bookshop - Image: Seth Golub.

Craig Phadrig

Explore the forested hill of Craig Phadrig on the western side of Inverness. Follow the recommended routes for a scenic walk and be rewarded with breathtaking views across the Beauly Firth and the city.

Craig Phadrig is also home to an ancient Iron Age hill fort, which has stood guard over Inverness for 2000 years. Later, it would become the main headquarters of Pictish king Bridei.

A lovely hike in West Inverness with panoramic reviews as your reward.

Craig Phadrig on Google Maps

Kessock Bridge and Kessock Bridge Viewpoint

A walk over Kessock Bridge gives fantastic views over the Beauly and Moray Firth bodies of water and excellent views of Inverness. Further to the northeast, you can reach Kessock Bridge Viewpoint, one of the best vantage points to see the bridge and Inverness.

It is definitely one to try if you are an avid hiker looking for a good walk from Inverness Centre to an amazing viewpoint.

Kessock Bridge Viewpoint on Google Maps

Kessock Bridge.
The Kessock Bridge as seen from the Kessock Bridge Viewpoint.

Free attractions near Inverness

Here are free attractions a short distance from Inverness, which will require travel by bus or car.

Dolphin Spotting at Chanonry Point

Visit Chanonry Point on the Black Isle, renowned for its dolphin-watching opportunities; it is considered one of the best places in Scotland to see these fantastic animals. Enjoy the beautiful views, spot dolphins, and relax by the seaside. The historic Fort George can be seen across the Moray Firth directly opposite.

Visiting at low tide is your best opportunity to see the dolphins, so check local tide times and plan your visit accordingly.

Chanonry Point on Google Maps

Chanonry Point.
Chanonry Point is considered one of the best places to see dolphins in Scotland.

Fairy Glen Falls Walk

Not far from Chanonry Point, you can find the Fairy Glen Falls walk in Rosemarkie. This is a lovely gorge walk through a magical forest in a beautiful glen, taking in two stunning waterfalls. A must-visit free attraction on the Black Isle.

Fairy Glen on Google Maps

Fairy Glen Falls
One of the Fairy Glen Falls waterfalls.


Redcastle is one of my favourite castle ruins in Scotland and is located on a stunning location on the north shore of the Beauly Firth. It's pretty easy to get to via car, and the grounds are well-maintained around the castle, ideal for a picnic.

I dream of winning the Euromillions and returning this castle to its former glory.

Redcastle on Google Maps

Redcastle on the Beauly Firth.
The ruin of Redcastle.

Beauly Priory

The lovely town of Beauly, west of Inverness, has a great deal to offer, with lovely bakeries and shops in the centre, but for me, the main attraction is the extensive ruin of Beauly Priory. This church, built in 1230 by the Valliscaulian Order of monastic monks, is one of three in this locality; Pluscarden Abbey near Elgin is still inhabited by monks today.

Beauly Priory is a fantastic ruin to explore and still has a locked crypt, the tomb of Sir Kenneth Mackenzie. His amazing tomb can be seen through the window next to the locked door. Entry to the priory is completely free.

Beauly Priory on Google Maps

Beauly Priory.
The ruin of Beauly Priory.

Clava Cairns

Visit the ancient Bronze Age monument of Clava Cairns, consisting of cairns, standing stones, and rock circles. The stones here are 4,000 years old and give off a palpable sense of magic in this large and impressive site.

Clava Cairns on Google Maps

Clava Cairns
Clava Cairns, burial mounds and standing stones.

Culloden Viaduct

A short walk from Clava Cairns will take you to Culloden Viaduct (sometimes called Nairn Viaduct). This Victorian railway viaduct is the longest in Scotland at 549m. A perfect subject for photography or to walk to after visiting Culloden Battlefield.

Culloden Viaduct on Google Maps

Culloden Viaduct.
Culloden Viaduct.

Culloden Woodland and Battlefield Trail

Culloden Battlefield was the site of the last battle on British soil when the Jacobites were finally defeated in 1746. The battlefield now has a grand and expensive visitor centre, but it can be visited at no cost. You can take advantage of the visitor centre by following the path to its roof viewpoint for a more panoramic view of the battle site.

The walk here consists of the circular 4.5 km trail that connects Culloden Wood, Culloden Battlefield, and the Cumberland Stone.

Culloden Battlefield on Google Maps

Culloden Battlefield.
Culloden Battlefield.

Caledonian Canal

This impressive feat of human engineering stretched from the northeast coast of Scotland at Inverness to the southwest in Fort William, cutting a line down through the Great Glen Fault Line.

While there are no free trips along the canal, a walk or drive alongside this waterway is lovely.

Caledonian Canal on Google Maps

The Caledonian Canal.
The Caledonian Canal.

Loch Ness

Take a leisurely stroll along the shoreline of the legendary Loch Ness, known for its mythical monster legend. Will you be the first to photograph the elusive Loch Ness Monster? Known for its natural beauty, Loch Ness is a must-visit while visiting central Scotland.

Loch Ness on Google Maps

Loch Ness
Loch Ness, as seen from Urquhart Castle (not free).

Abriachan Forest

Embark on a walk through Abriachan Trails, a longer but rewarding hike. Discover a children's play fort, a reconstructed Bronze Age hut, and a picturesque dragonfly pond amongst the broadleaved woodland. Located on the west shore of Loch Ness, this walk has many spectacular views over Scotland's most famous Loch.

The longer walk here is 5.5 miles long, but shortcuts can be taken to shorten the route. Toilets and picnic areas are available near the start of the walk.

Abrichan Woods hut
Abrichan Woods hut. Image: Scottish Rural Network.

Merkinch Nature Reserve

A short drive from Inverness, this hidden wildlife gem teems with roe deer, owls, herons, and various bird species. Keep an eye out for bottlenose dolphins and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. The Kessock Bridge can be seen to the east and makes for a good photograph.

Merkinch Nature Reserve on Google Maps

Merkinch Nature Reserve
Merkinch Nature Reserve. Image: Sergei Gussev.

Waterfalls near Inverness

Who doesn't love a beautiful waterfall? Inverness has a few worthy of visiting within its locality; here are my favourites:

Rogie Falls
Rogie Falls.

FAQs on free things to do in Inverness

Here are a few frequently asked questions on free activities in Inverness:

Where is the cheapest place to eat in Inverness?

The supermarkets are the cheapest place to eat in Inverness; in particular, ALDI and Lidl offer the most affordable prices. Eating at restaurants and fast food outlets will be significantly more expensive.

Where is the cheapest place to stay in Inverness?

If you book far enough in advance, the chain hotels can be a cheap option, the Travelodge and Premier Inn. Prices can be as cheap as £39 per night but can increase significantly depending on the time of year or if you don't book in advance.

Here are some local hotels and B&Bs worth your consideration:

What are the top free attractions in Inverness?

The top free attractions are the Botanical Gardens and Inverness Museum.

What is the cheapest way to get to Inverness?

Train and bus will be the cheapest way to get to Inverness. A Megabus from Edinburgh to Inverness only costs £14.40 per person. London to Inverness can be as cheap as £43.

Is two days enough for Inverness?

It depends on what you would like to do, but if you want to explore the Inverness City Centre, two days is more than enough. If you want to explore all that the Inverness area offers, then 4-5 days is recommended.

Inverness bridges
Inverness is a vibrant city, perfect for exploring on foot.


Inverness offers many free activities and attractions, allowing you to experience the best of the city and its stunning surroundings without breaking the bank. Grab yourself a cheap hotel or B&B, travel to Inverness on a Megabus, and you have the makings of a very cheap holiday to the Highlands.

If you're looking for a more comprehensive guide to Inverness and the surrounding area, please consider my 5 day Inverness Travel Itinerary.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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