Inverness, the Scottish Highland capital, is mainly famous for Loch Ness and its monster Nessie. But lately, it’s become a more popular travel destination thanks to Outlander, the blockbuster book written by Diana Gabaldon, and its TV series adaptation.
Whatever your reason is to visit Inverness, the scope of things to see and do (and eat) will surely delight you.
One of Inverness’ headline activity is cruise down Loch Ness and try to spot Nessie.
Jacobite Loch Ness cruises provide a wide range of tours that also include live sonar, Castle tours and a journey across the Loch. Kids will love these activities! And even as an adult, I enjoyed exploring Loch Ness as growing up Nessie was all over the news and it climbed up on top of my ever-growing bucket list to see it for myself.
Nessie’s appearance dates back to the 565 CE when it was seen by St. Columba. If you ask locals they will tell she still lurks around in the dark waters (the lake is 240m deep so there’s plenty of space for a monster).
Drumnadrochit is the main tourist spot where you’ll find an information center and Nessieland.
Once you’re done with your tour around the lake, spend a sunny day walking around River Ness and the Ness islands. It’s a little less famous but just as beautiful with the surrounding parks like Whin Park. Be sure to take a ride on the Miniature Railway. The islands are linked with charming Victorian suspension bridges and lead you through a splendid natural park and the best salmon pools. Take your binoculars, camera, sketchbook and pencils, or bird and bug books to enhance your experience. If you’re up to hiking, this area provides with challenging walking routes and you’ll even forget that you are in the middle of a city!
If you want to learn more about the history of the Highlands and not just about the myths, visit the battlefield of Culloden, a prominent location of the Jacobite rising in 1746 where the Scottish lost their battle against Britain and more than 1,500 men lost their lives. You can feel like you’re part of battle action in the 360° immersion theatre experience in the Battle of Culloden Visitor Center.
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery also has a fascinating range (more than 100,000 pieces) of artefacts and collections to showcase Highland life and heritage. You can spend a good few hours strolling around the exhibition. You can even dress up in 18th-century style Highland kilt and learn a few words in Gaelic.
The museum is located at the feet of Inverness Castle which provides you with panoramic viewpoints from atop, overlooking the River Ness and the city as far as your eyes can see.
Just right on the opposite side of the castle, stands the glorious St. Andrew’s Cathedral, the UK’s earliest post-reformal cathedral. The building itself is not considered very old by Scottish standards, but the striking architecture makes it stand out. I really loved that there’s a cafe in the churchyard, in an old parish-house-like building. You can sit on benches and picnic tables behind the cathedral and enjoy your warm coffee and cake, overlooking the River Ness from this peaceful shelter.
There are churches all over the city, mainly at the river bank. It’s worth taking a stroll just to explore them. If you visit Old High St. Stephens Church you’ll find yourself in one of the oldest cemeteries of Inverness, with some interesting history if you read the signs. It’s most atmospheric on a rainy day, when the historic link feels more real.
A great place to hide on a rainy day is Leakey’s Bookshop, Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop located in a former 18th-century Gaelic church. Not only is it a home of every genre of books but exhibits local arts, maps and prints under the pulpit and stained glass windows.
If you can’t ever get enough of the smell of old books, pay your next visit to the Victorian market in the heart of Old Town, which has been offering a unique shopping experience since 1890. I was really excited for the market, and the building itself is wonderful with the white walls, red steel arches, lanterns and the old clock. There’s dozens of unique gift shops, cute coffee shops, lovely florist, tea room and even a prank shop.
It became one of a habit for me to visit botanic gardens wherever I go, so I can’t miss this from the list. And Inverness Botanic Gardens did not disappoint! I found peace after the busy city centre here among the exotic plants and trees. My favorite (of course) was the cactus house.
After the long day of exploring the city there’s nothing better than sitting down with a delicious meal. If you have the chance, head out to Dores Inn, 10 miles from Inverness. It’s a beloved spot to enjoy the sunset over Loch Ness. If you’d rather stay in the city, Castle Tavern and River House Restaurant are scenic locations. Both Dores Inn and Castle Tavern offers gluten-free menu and vegan options upon request.
For a unique experience I recommend you visit Velocity Café & Bicycle Workshop. If you’re looking for vegan places The Alleycat and Café Paulo offers Scottish dishes made vegan such as Scottish breakfast or haggis.
The Mustard Seed Restaurant, Black Isle Bar and Simpsons has great gluten-free menu.
Also by Imola: A Guide to Bilbao, a Gem of the Basque Country
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Photo: Imola Toth