Inverness, capital of the Scottish Highlands, home to a cute little airport, is unfortunately, not known as one of the prettier Scottish cities. It doesn’t have the romantic vibes of Edinburgh, nor the cuteness of some of the smaller port towns.
For the record, we did drive through some pretty parts of Inverness, so it’s not all bleak. I would definitely recommend spending at least an afternoon exploring the town. However, Inverness’ claim to fame is it’s prime location as a jumping off point to exploring the Scottish Highlands.
Here, I list the top things you could do near Inverness. We based ourselves in Tomatin, at Tomatin House, which is about 20 miles from Inverness. If you have a large party, I highly recommend this charming, old fashioned, rambling house! The house itself is fun, but the gardens and the bubbling river behind it were the icing on the cake. It is the perfect countryside retreat, and decently convenient to explore the Inverness area. If this sounds amazing to you, check out my post with detailed information on Tomatin House.
If you are traveling with a much smaller group, I’d recommend checking out some of the cute B&Bs in the area.
I. Picnic by and walk along the River Ness
One of the first things we did after we reached Inverness and picked up our car was to grab some food from the supermarket and head to River Ness for a picnic lunch. There are plenty of spots to picnic in Inverness, in fact, you could also picnic near Urquhart Castle, but this one is still my favorite. It was so peaceful, no tourists at all (except us!) and not too far from the supermarkets in case you are really hungry (like we were!). If you want to picnic here, map to Inverness Skate Park. We parked near there, then walked down to the river and followed the path north a little bit. This is between Bught Park and Whin Park.
One thing I’d like to mention, especially to American travelers, is that fruits in the UK are SO much better!! Especially berries – so load up on these for your picnic!
II. Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle
The #1 reason tourists fly into Inverness is to see if they can sight the infamous Loch Ness Monster. Nessie, as she is fondly called, supposedly lives in Loch Ness (loch is the Scottish word for lake), and is rather shy.
Unfortunately, we did not catch a glimpse of Nessie, but we did have a lot of fun exploring the ruins of Urquhart Castle on the banks of the Loch Ness. I recommend actually visiting the castle versus just looking at it from a distance, the entry fee for adults is £9 but it’s well worth it. Get there later in the day, summer days in Scotland are very long (I think we got there around 6 pm but the website says the last entry in April – July or Sept is 5:15 pm). This way you get to enjoy the castle in relative peace.
You get to watch a video about Urquhart Castle’s origin and demise, and then get to see this stunning sight. Yes, we audibly gasped as the screen went up after the video ended, the black curtains drew back, and we saw the real life version of what remained after the Grant Highlanders blew up their own castle.
Next, we went to the ruins of the castle and wandered around – taking in the lovely views of Loch Ness, climbing up narrow spiral staircases, looking through windows of long lost bedrooms, imagining what life must have been here hundreds of years ago.
Urquhart Castle has it’s own private beach on the banks of Loch Ness, and we were lucky enough to get it to ourselves! We spent such a pleasurable half hour testing the water (my mom), building a rock castle inspired by Urquhart (my cousin), sitting by the rocks trying not to feel cold (my husband), taking pictures and videos (me).
III. Dolphins and Lighthouse at Chanonry Point
Chanonry Point, at the shores of Moray Firth, is world famous as a bottlenose dolphin watching spot. The best time to see the dolphins is when the tide starts coming in right after low tide. The tide brings with it salmon heading to Loch Ness, which the dolphins like to eat. You can reference the tide times to get the best idea of when to go.
We missed the optimal time, but we still loved it because we got the beach all to ourselves! Also the car park had plenty of spots open, so it was very hassle free.
I loved the peacefulness here, the white and yellow light house against the blue sky, the sound of the waves lapping against the rocky shore, and the delicious anticipation of spotting a beautiful dolphin in the distance.
IV. Cairngorms National Park
The Cairngorms National Park, UK’s largest national park is about 30 miles from Inverness. You should definitely spend a day or two exploring here, there are so many planned or unplanned activities you could partake in! Check out the Cairngorms website to plan walks or hikes.
We drove around without a plan, and stopped when we saw pretty places. One such fun place was a river we scrambled down some rocks to get to. The banks were lined with rocks and hardy flowers, while the river was shallow enough to wade across. The views were stunning, and all round fun was had by all!
We also loved sighting the Laggan Dam at Golden Hour. My mom and I spent a happy 15 mins breathing in the fresh, cool air and photographing the dam.
Of course, we couldn’t leave the park without making friends with some curious sheep. This one specifically wanted a spot on my blog, happy to oblige, Mr. Ram.
Cairngorms is also home to Britain’s only free-ranging population of reindeer. You could go visit them like some of my family did. Learn more through the Cairngorm Reindeer website.
V. Beauly Priory and Robertsons Larder
Beauly is a small town near Inverness, home to the ruins of Beauly Priory. Beauly Priory was probably founded around 1230. The ruins are still present, and are lovely for a short visit. We found a sense of peace walking through the erstwhile Priory, even though there was some construction going on close by. Beauly Priory is free to visit, and you can find parking in the lot next door. Read more about the Beauly Priory on the Undiscovered Scotland page.
On the drive to Beauly, we passed by so many fields with hay bales! It was a pretty sight. Fun fact, the farmers cover the bales when it rains! I can’t imagine how much work it must be, going to each bale and covering it up.
If you visit Beauly, you must stop by Roberston’s The Larder. This is a small farm store selling fresh strawberries, cheeses and jams. It is the perfect picnic supply store!
However, my favorite part is that they have a couple of cute Highland Coos (cows) up front, so you can take your time enjoying watching them play. We did see Highland Cows elsewhere in the Scottish Highlands, but the only good picture I got of one was at Robertson’s Larder!
VI. Black Isle Brewery
I found out about Black Isle Brewery through a blog, so we decided to stop by since we were in the area. If you head to Beauly or Chanonry Point and you like beer, then you must visit Black Isle Brewery. They grow their own organic barley in the fields next door, import hops from the US and New Zealand and produce some delicious organic beers (Note : I don’t even like beer, but I liked the lighter ones here!). Their staff is amazing, the girl helping us with the tasting was so knowledgable! They also have a bar in Inverness if you want to stop by there!
This is a lovely place to stop by before Chanonry Point, pick up some beers and head on to watch the dolphins!
VII. The North Coast 500
The North Coast 500 is a dramatic road-trip around the Scottish Highlands, starting at Inverness and following the coast in a semi circle. I highly recommend scheduling at least 3-5 days for this! Read more about it in my post about the North Coast 500 roadtrip!
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It would be amiss of me not to mention the wonderful distilleries around Inverness. I personally don’t drink Scotch or whiskey, but if you do (or even if you don’t mind it), you must visit at least one distillery in the Scottish Highlands!
So which of the activities I mentioned above would you pick first? Tell me in the comments below! Or else, just pin this article to peruse later.