If Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee has inspired you to visit Great Britain but you’d like to add something different to your itinerary apart from London, Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh or Glasgow, why don’t you think of Inverness?
Located on Scotland’s northern coast, where the River Ness meets the Moray Firth, Inverness is not only the cultural capital and largest city of the Scottish Highlands but also a great starting point for a road trip along Scotland’s scenic North Coast 500 Route. Only over a 3-hour-drive from Glasgow and Edinburgh, it offers a great weekend break both for nature lovers, history buffs and _ needless to mention_ for those interested in the Loch Ness Monster!. Sounds tempting, right? At Bonzahwe couldn’t agree more! So much so that we’ve compiled a list of the attractions and activities that will make a highlight of your Inverness trip.
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Arguably Inverness’s most famous attraction, Inverness Castle dates from the XI century; it was rebuilt into an XVIII century citadel following the first Jacobite rebellion and one hundred years later it was turned into a neo-Norman architectural icon. Perched over a cliff overlooking River Ness, it’s an iconic landmark in the city. In addition, Inverness Castle is thought to be the place where the real-life Macbeth killed King Duncan. Nowadays, it’s used as a Sheriff’s Court and, unfortunately, it’s not open fully to the public.
Inverness Castle and its magnificent red-sandstone structure are worth a trip for its stunning views over the city. Visitors can admire panoramic views of the river and city centre from outside the main buildings and there’s also a special Castle Viewpoint in its North Tower that offers 360-degree views of the city. Look out for famous landmarks and historic buildings and see beyond to the rolling countryside. Besides, as you climb up the tower you’ll learn some intriguing myths and legends associated with the city. Interested in learning a fun fact about it? You can also see the Inverness Castle on the Scottish 50-pound note.
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery is a great place where to learn about the different historical periods of the Scottish Highlands. Located right next to Inverness Castle and the River Ness, it exquisitely blends geology, fine art and archaeology and it’s devoted to preserving Highland life and heritage. Amongst the pieces you’ll find stand out Highland gold and silver, Pictish carved stones and impressive artworks from the region.
The museum has interactive displays as well, which makes it attractive for travellers of all ages. Set over two floors, the ground floor is home to geological and archaeological artefacts found around Inverness including Pictish stones and other Neolitichal findings. On the first floor, you’ll have the chance to admire items with historical value including a bagpipe, remnants of the Jacobite uprising and much more.
The Inverness Museum’s vibrant art gallery is not to be missed as it is home to more than100 thousand modern and ancient pieces. From portraits of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Stuart Dynasty through to a collection of fearsome clan weapons and a puma, there’s plenty to enjoy here.
The museum is also home to the Highland Photographic Archive. It’s a delightful collection of photographs and negatives dating back to the 1800s. It includes the Joseph Cook collection, the David Whyte collection and the Jimmy Nairn collection _ each depicting a slice of life of everyday Highlanders in the past.
There’s a very nice café here too, which is great to enjoy a delicious treat after so much seeing around, and an interesting souvenir shop!
Visit St Andrew’s Cathedral
St Andrew’s Cathedral is a Scottish Episcopal Church located on the banks of the River Ness. It’s the northernmost cathedral in mainland Britain and it was the first new Protestant cathedral to be erected in Great Britain since the Reformation. It’s the seat of the Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness and the Mother Church of the Diocese of Moray, Ross and Caithness.
Located just across Inverness Castle, it’s a sight to behold.
The Archbishop of Canterbury laid its foundation stone in 1866 and the construction was completed by 1869. St Andrew’s Cathedral is exquisitely remarkable with plenty of stained-glass windows, beautiful sculptures, an Austrian-oak choir and magnificent arches over mosaic flooring. A leaflet at the entrance points out the interior’s main features and it’s a great guide while you walk around.
This beautiful church strikes with its Gothic facade overlooking the West Bank of Ness River. Built in eye-catching pink sandstone and with beautiful square Gothic towers, it’s a notable building.
The cathedral has a ring of ten change-ringing church bells, and also an eleventh that is only used for chiming.
There are always exhibitions held here and there’s also a café inside that helps to fund the Cathedral.
Stroll along River Ness and Explore Ness Islands
After exploring so many historically rich sites you’ll probably need a refreshing walk in a scenic background, right? River Ness and the Ness islands are one of the most walked family attractions in Inverness and offer interesting natural scenery.
River Ness is about 12 miles long and flows from the north of Loch Ness to the northeast in Loch Dochfour. You can take a mile walk along it to the Ness Islands or ride any of the boat tours.
The Ness Islands will make you feel as if you’ve left the city as you cross the suspension bridges from the banks of the River Ness. They are a beautiful nature park made of a group of small islands located in the middle of the River Ness. Get ready to spot Scots pine, fir, sycamore and beech trees. The Ness Islands are connected by suspension bridges that were originally built in Victorian times in the late 1820s. Completing the entire loop will take you around an hour but you can easily cut across one of the Ness Island bridges to shorten the trip. The loop is a popular running trail amongst locals and you’re invited to try it if you are interested in an energizing morning run.
Reaching the islands is easy. Two bridges take you across to them: one that runs from the B862 to the east of the islands and one opposite Bught Drive to the west. With excellent hiking or running pathways and lots of nature to admire, the Ness Islands are idyllic and worth a visit all year round.
Culloden Battlefield is a must-visit attraction for history buffs. Located a short drive east of Inverness, it’s one of Scotland’s most important historical sites. It’s a moving and powerful attraction that marks that exact spot of the final Jacobite Rising, the last battle fought over British soil. It was a shot but exceptionally bloody battle in which the Jacobite army was swiftly defeated and around 1300 men were killed in less than an hour.
Visitors can step back in time by exploring its interesting interactive visitors centre, viewing ancient artefacts from both sides of the conflict, and experience the battle first-hand during an immersive cinema experience. Ancient headstones are marking the graves of Scottish clansmen who died for the Jacobite cause.
History buffs will love learning all about the events that led to the 1745 Jacobite Raising which came to a tragic end on the surrounding moor on 16th April 1746. You can see artefacts, stand in a 360-degree battlefield immersion theatre and take a guided audio tour of the battlefield itself. Remember that thousands of people died here and that the area needs to be respected.
Other remarkable landmarks include Old Leanach Cottage and the Cumberland Stone commemorating the spot where the Duke of Cumberland issued orders to his troops and the Keppoch Stone.
Admire Clava Cairns
Only a short drive from Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns is another one of the most visited historical attractions in the Highlands. Clava Cairns date back to 4000 years ago and they were originally built to house the dead. It remained a sacred place in the region for millennia and provides fascinating clues to the belief system of society in the Bronze Age.
Around 50 ring and kerb cairns have been found in the area surrounding Inverness and what remains today of Clava Cairns is only a small part of what is thought to have been a larger religious complex. There are three Bronze Age cairns featured here.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this archaeological site is that it’s exceptionally well preserved. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of farming before any of these monuments were built.
Clava Cairns are three rings of stones that are still in place from the time they were laid out in the Neolithic period as a burial site. The central cairn is called a Ring Cairn, an enclosed ring-shaped stone structure with an inner chamber. The two outer cairns are known as Passage Graves.
It is said that this site inspired Diana Gabaldon’s Outlanderseries.
The Scottish Kiltmaker Visitor Centre
It’s a safe bet to say that whenever you think about Scotland kilts and tartan patterns immediately come to your mind. If that’s so, you can’t miss visiting the Scottish Kiltmaker Visitor Centre: a petite museum that celebrates everything tartan.
Step inside and admire an extensive collection of Scottish fashions crafted by the award-winning Highland House of Fraser. The second floor is home to a kilt museum where you can enjoy a comprehensive overview of the Scottish kilt-making tradition. You can also stroll through mannequins dressed in gorgeous tartans representing popular Highland clans.
The Scottish Kiltmaker Visitor Centre offers an interesting insight into the tradition, culture and history of the kilt right from its origin until today.
No trip to Scotland and the Highlands will be complete without a visit to at least one of its famous whiskey distilleries. A short drive south of Inverness you’ll find the town of Tomatin, which is home to one of the best distilleries in the country.
Tomatin Distillery is open for daily tours and tastings. The tours showcase Tomatin’s unique history, ancient stills, and barrel rooms and finish _, of course,_ with a Scotch tasting. Home to the finest Highland Malt Whisky, the distillery dates back to 1897. The visitor centre also has a gift shop, where you can browse a range of Tomatin whiskies and merchandise.
Historic Fort George and the Highlanders Museum
Fort George is located at the edge of Moray Firth and it faces the harsh North Sea winds. Although it’s well established for tourists, it maintains a strong sense of authenticity as it is currently used as a British Army barracks. It’s an impressive landmark that overflows with historical charm and fascinating facts.
Fort George is the largest artillery fortification in Britain and it’s a fascinating location for children and adults alike. It was built in the XVIII century and it’s an impressive complex of fortified walls and garrison buildings. Inside there’s an interesting collection of weaponry from the period such as cannons. There’s plenty to see here: regimental museums, recreated XVII century barracks, a regimental chapel and defensive platforms armed to the teeth on the lookout for invading armies.
Believe it or not, it’s also a nice place for nature lovers. Fort George offers lovely wildlife spotting opportunities as you can see the dolphins swimming past on their way to Chanonry Point and Ardesier. That said, don’t forget your binoculars and camera if you are at the site on a clear day!
Within Fort George, don’t miss the Highlanders Museum, dedicated to the history of the Highland regiment accounting for the time from the Batte of Culloden to the present. Home to more than 20000 artefacts, it also includes the pieces from allied regiments in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Day Trip to Loch Ness… To See Nessie, Perhaps?
Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of Loch Ness? It’s the deepest loch in Scotland that contains more freshwater than all the lakes of England and Wales combined and it’s also the home to Nessie, a prehistoric sea creature that has been allegedly spotted now and then although there isn’t enough proof of that at present.
Loch Ness is a major attraction in the Highlands region and, if you want to enjoy the very best bits of Scotland during your trip, you definitely can’t miss it.
There are 3 popular points for exploring Loch Ness: Fort Augustus, Castle Urquart and Inverness. The first one is on its southern end and from here you can board a cruise boat The second one is in the middle of the loch’s western shore and here you can admire the views of one of the country’s most iconic castles. The third one allows you to explore Loch Ness from its northern-most corner, where it joins the River Ness. Whichever you choose, you can rest assured that all of them offer splendid opportunities to explore Loch Ness.
Those interested in Nessie should spend some time at the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition devoted both to the loch and its monster that is designed both to entertain and educate. You’ll learn about the geology of the area, the incredible vastness of the loch and the supposed underground waterways that are said to connect Loch Ness with Moray Firth and the North Sea. You can also see scientific equipment that has been used over the years to hunt the always-elusive Nessie.
A day trip to Loch Ness can be the perfect brooch for your trip to the Scottish Highlands.