Discovering the best things to do in Inverness
Our Tourism Manager, Alasdair, recently took a trip up to Inverness to explore for the weekend.
Often referred to as the Capital of the Highlands, the city is relatively flat and compact, making it easy to get around and the perfect destination for a weekend break. Here’s some of his top tips for making the most of the city.
Inverness is a great city to arrive into by train. Not only are the views spectacular but once you arrive, it’s a short walk to the town centre. It’s an easy city to walk about, relatively flat and compact with hotels, bars, restaurants, attractions and shops within easy walking distance of the train station.
The station itself dates from the 1850s (although the frontage is from the 1960s) and is the departure point for some of the most scenic and emotive railway journeys in the world. These include the Far North Line (to Thurso/ Wick, and ferry to Orkney), Kyle Line (for Skye), Highland Main Line (to Perth, Edinburgh and Glasgow) and the recently upgraded Inverness – Aberdeen Line.
The River Ness runs through the heart of the city and is a key feature. Head upstream from the city centre and within a few minutes you’ll discover the Ness Islands, a real treasure and hidden gem. This group of islands, in the middle of the River Ness, are connected by suspension bridges and pathways, built in Victorian times.
The walk takes about one hour (it’s roughly three miles), but can be shortened by cutting across one of the bridges. It’s well worth taking the time to have a leisurely stroll to enjoy the views. There are plenty of benches and picnic places along the way to stop and watch the world go by.
As you would expect given the tradition of Highland hospitality, Inverness isn’t short of a pub or two.
MacGregor’s specialises in locally sourced quality food and live music while The Black Isle offers a wide range of craft beers, whiskies and wood-fired pizzas. Many of the beers are from their own brewery and organic farm just over the water. As they say themselves, a taste of brewery life right in the heart of the city.
Inverness has enjoyed a well-documented transformation in its culinary reputation in the last decade or so. Many of the best restaurants are located close to the River and include such fantastic eateries as Rocpool, The Mustard Seed, The Kitchen and Café 1.
Of course, if your culinary tastes are more “roll and sausage, and a cup of tea” I would recommend one of the cafes in the appropriately-named Victorian Market, a covered shopping arcade right across the road from the train station.
Inverness Castle, an imposing red sandstone building and the most prominent landmark, is a few minutes’ walk from the station. Plans are afoot to turn the building into a major tourist attraction, but at present only the Castle Viewpoint is open. However, based in the Castle Tower, this is more than compensated by the stunning 360-degree views over the city and the surrounding scenery. To get to the top, stretch those legs as there’s 94 steps to climb to the top.
Culture-vultures are catered for on the other side of the River, and a few minutes upstream, at Eden Court – a theatre, arts and cinema complex partly housed in the gothic Bishop’s Palace.
Out of Town
An Talla. Dochgarroch Locks, IV3 8JG.
The Highland’s newest café and retail destination recently opened to rave reviews. Operated by Jacobite Loch Ness Cruises, the 90-seater café overlooks the Caledonian Canal and quayside where the sightseeing boats depart from.
Located around 5 miles from the train station, you can hire a bike in the city centre for the 30 min ride out to An Talla along the Caledonian Canal towpath which is off-road, flat and well paved. The route is easily accessible from the city, with lots of boats, wildlife and Highland scenery to enjoy along the way.
Fort George & The Highlanders Museum, IV2 7TD.
A bit further out of town (around 13 miles) but well worth the trip. You can catch the bus from Inverness to Ardersier, where it’s a 45-minute scenic walk to the Fort. Following the 1746 defeat at Culloden of Bonnie Prince Charlie, George II created the ultimate defence against further Jacobite unrest. The result, Fort George, is the mightiest artillery fortification in Britain, if not Europe.
Visit The Highlanders’ Museum, the largest regimental museum in Scotland outside Edinburgh, or stroll around the ramparts which enclose an area equivalent to 5 football pitches. If you’re lucky you may even get a chance to spot some dolphins in the bay.
Culloden Battlefield, Culloden Moor, IV2 5EU.
Site of the last pitched battle on British soil where, in 1746, the final Jacobite Rising came to a brutal and bloody end. Jacobite supporters, seeking to restore the Stuart monarchy to the British thrones, gathered to fight the Duke of Cumberland's government troops. In less than an hour, around 1,500 men were killed – most of them Jacobites.
Located around 5 miles east from Inverness and cared for by the National Trust for Scotland, ScotRail customer’s enjoy 2 for 1 admission when they show a rail ticket to the award-winning visitor centre and highly atmospheric battlefield dotted with Clan graves. Buses run regularly from the bus station next door to Inverness train station and take approximately 35 minutes.
Image credits: Visit Scotland / Kenny Lam