Move aside Edinburgh and Glasgow! With more international flights arriving from all over the world, Inverness is becoming an increasingly popular place to fly into Scotland and begin your journey. If you want to focus on the Scottish Highlands, consider basing yourself in the city and fill your itinerary with these day trips from Inverness!
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Inverness – the Capital of the Highlands – is booming. It is one of the fastest-growing cities in Europe and has a prospering economy. Slowly but surely, the city is competing with Edinburgh and Glasgow as a popular starting point for many Scotland adventures.
And I am not surprised! Inverness is a great home base for anyone looking to explore the Highlands and minimise time spent on the big roads of central Scotland. The Isle of Skye, the dramatic mountains of the north-west coast and the productive stills of the Speyside whisky region are just three world-renowned places in Scotland that are within easy reach from Inverness.
This post contains 10 suggestions for fun day trips from Inverness as well as some additional recommended guided tours from Inverness – some places are simply better visited with your feet up and eyes out on the scenery. Read on if you are interested in:
- Self-drive day trips from Inverness,
- Day trips with public transport, and
- Guided tours leaving from Inverness.
Day Trips from Inverness By Car & Public Transport
1) Essential Loch Ness Day Trip
Inverness and Loch Ness are almost inseparable and if you only have time for one day trip from Inverness, then fill it with the must-see sites on Loch Ness.
Loch Ness Must-Sees
First, make your way to Drumnadrochit to visit Urquhart Castle, a ruined castle on the banks of the loch. The castle was built during the 13th century, played a key role in many battles and was raided many times. It was destroyed in the 17th century to keep the Jacobites from using it and never restored. In Drumnadrochit, you can also visit Nessieland and the Loch Ness Centre to learn more about the famous creature in the loch.
Next up is a cruise on Loch Ness. Loch Ness by Jacobite runs a variety of cruises on the loch that last between one and four hours. Most leave from Clansman Harbour, a few miles north of Drumnadrochit.
As you make your way further south, stop in Invermoriston for a little wander along the River Moriston. Its name means ‘river of waterfalls’ and it tumbles down to the loch in a series of small waterfalls – the Invermoriston Falls. The circular walk from the village car park takes about 30 minutes.
Finally, head to Fort Augustus – the small town at the southernmost tip of Inverness. The views of the loch as it expands north for over 36 km (23 miles) are impressive! Fort Augustus would also make for a great home base if you wanted to spend a few more days at Loch Ness – check out what else to do here!
How to get to Loch Ness
The best way to visit Loch Ness is by car. You can also get a bus to Drumnadrochit or the Clansman Hotel for Urquhart Castle and a Loch Ness cruise. However, with a car, you are less dependent on bus schedules and more flexible to visit other locations such as Invermoriston Falls and Fort Augustus.
2) Active Loch Ness: Paddling and Canoeing
Loch Ness is a fantastic destination for water sports, especially paddling and canoeing – if you dare to explore the loch in such a small boat. Monster alert!
Activity providers on Loch Ness
Explore Highland offers family-friendly 4-hour paddling and canoeing trips on Loch Ness from its location on the Caledonian Canal near Inverness.
In Your Element offers shorter excursions from its location in Fort Augustus – they do 1-hour taster sessions as well as 2.5-hour tours.
Both also offer guiding and outfitting for multi-day adventures along the Great Glen Canoe Trail which spans the entire length of Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal towards Fort William.
How to get to Loch Ness
See above (Day Trip 1).
3) Discover history at Culloden Battlefield and Clava Cairns
Culloden Battlefield and Clava Cairns are two stunning, but very different historic sites at the outskirts of Inverness. If you share an interest in Scottish history and/or Outlander you have probably heard about both!
The battlefield of Culloden is where the Jacobite Uprising came to a tragic end in 1745. Many people lost their lives here. You can visit the battlefield and the visitor centre to pay tribute, or join a guided walk around the grounds to learn more (£11, FREE for National Trust for Scotland members. Join here!). I recommend having at least 3 hours to spend here.
Clava Cairns is a much older historic site near Culloden. The cairns are a series of round chambered tombs and standing stone circles dating back to at least 2,000 BC. Outlander fans will find delight in the tallest standing stone – but make sure you respect the site and resist from touching the stones.
Visiting both sites in a day is a perfect way to spend a short, but enjoyable day out of the city. If you want to add more sites to your route, consider looping round to Fort George in the north of the city (£9, FREE for Historic Environment Scotland members & Explorer Pass holders).
How to get to Culloden and Clava Cairns
The easiest option is to drive. However, public transport is also an option.
There is a regular bus service (no. 2) from Inverness to Culloden Battlefield. Clava Cairns is only half an hour walk from there (find walk info here, Stage 3-6).
4) Taking the Jacobite Steam Train
The Jacobite Steam Train (the IRL Hogwarts Express) is one of Scotland’s most scenic train journeys. Leaving from Fort William, which lies just 2 hours south of Inverness, it can easily be done on a day trip from the city. Whisk through beautiful Highland scenery, over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct and along picturesque lochs and mountains.
The train terminates in Mallaig on the west coast, a small seaside town with a bustling harbour and several cafes and shops to browse before heading back to Fort William.
There are two departure times from Fort William during peak season (fewer trains at the beginning and the end of the season, no trips in winter). The morning service departs from Fort William at 10.15 am and returns at 4 pm. The afternoon service departs at 2.30 pm but only returns at 8.30 pm. This might be a little late for the drive back to Inverness, so I recommend booking tickets for the morning service.
Tickets for the Jacobite Steam Train can sell out quickly and months in advance. They usually go on sale sometime in autumn for the following summer season. The train only runs from mid-April to the end of October. Check availability & book tickets here.
How to get to Fort William
While there is a direct bus from Inverness to Fort William, the bus schedule does not match up with the train schedule of the steam train. The morning bus does not get you to Fort William in time for the morning service and the last bus back leaves before the afternoon service returns. You would have to stay overnight in Fort William in order for this to work on public transport.
For a day trip from Inverness driving by car is the best option.
5) Road Trip: Moray Coast to Spey Bay
The Moray Coast is dotted with colourful seaside towns, dramatic coastal scenery, unexpected wildlife sightings (dolphins in Scotland?) and historic castles. All this makes it a popular getaway from Inverness and a perfect location for a relaxed day trip to the coast.
I recommend leaving the main road (A96) frequently to explore closer to the coast and stop in Nairn, Findhorn and Lossiemouth.
The tour operator North 58 offers wildlife boat tours from Findhorn and Lossiemouth. You would not believe it, but this area is famous for its local colonies of bottlenose dolphins!
If boat tours are not your jam, make your way to the Scottish Dolphin Centre in Spey Bay. The centre offers educational, but land-based wildlife walks and tours. If you are lucky you might spot some dolphins from the shoreline!
How to get to the Moray Coast
If you want to visit all the mentioned places in one day, I recommend driving. Including all the stops, the route is about 115 miles long and takes 3h+ driving time (plus time for stops).
However, there are good connections to Findhorn and Lossiemouth, so it’s possible to plan a slimmed-down version of this day trip on public transport. Download my free Scotland Travel Toolkit to find out how to look up the best bus connections.
6) Day Trip to Cullen
Cullen is a small coastal town about 60 miles east of Inverness, just a little further than Spey Bay which is included in Day Trip 5! It is also one of my favourite scenic towns in Scotland!
Foodies might also recognise the name as Cullen is the famous home of Cullen Skink, a traditional creamy fish soup you’ll find on menus all over Scotland (try this recipe at home).
Things to do in Cullen
Walking along the Old Railway Line and across the aside viaduct is one of the most unique experiences in Cullen. The views are fantastic and you might even spot some dolphins in the bay below.
The walk continues towards Portknockie, where the unique stone arch Bow Fiddle Rock and dramatic sea cliffs make for breathtaking photo material. The trail eventually leads back to Cullen, so you can choose between a short walk up the viaduct or a longer loop trail along the coast. This takes about 2 hours, but I recommend spending more time to stop for lunch and photo breaks. Find a trail description here.
Another popular trail leads from Cullen to the ruins of Findlater Castle. It sits high atop a cliff just a few miles east of Cullen. This walk takes about 3-4 hours leaving from and getting back to Cullen. Find a route description here.
If you like seafood, of course, you can’t leave Cullen without trying Cullen Skink. Rockpool Cafe is a lovely restaurant in the middle of town. If you’re a vegan like me, rest assured as they also have great vegan options!
How to get to Cullen
It is possible to travel from Inverness to Cullen by public transport, but the journey is not straight forward. For a day trip, it is best to drive by car.
7) Road Trip: The Black Isle
The Black Isle is a lush peninsula north of Inverness. It Is quite densely populated and a thriving farming region, but there is still plenty of wonderful scenery to explore. It is also one of Scotland’s best places to spot dolphins in the Moray Firth.
Things to do on the Black Isle
Many people visit the Black Isle for dolphin spotting. Companies like Ecoventures, which operates out of Cromarty Bay, offer wildlife cruises by boat, but if you’re lucky you might even spot the local dolphins from Chanonry Point near Fortrose.
If you are into craft beer, check out the Black Isle Brewery which offers daily tours of the brewery.
Finally, there are several RSPB nature reserves on the Black Isle, which are worth a visit, such as the Fairy Glen (don’t mistake this for the Fairy Glen on Skye) and Udale Bay. Both are prime locations for bird watching.
How to get to the Black Isle
There are fairly good public transport links from Inverness to the Black Isle. You can get the bus to Cromarty, Rosemarkie, Fortrose and Udale Bay, however, you might have to walk to places like Chanonry Point or specific trailheads. The brewery is a bit more tricky to reach on public transport.
Driving to the Black Isle by car might give you more flexibility as you won’t rely on bus schedules.
There are also organised guided tours from Inverness to the Black Isle, like this day tour with Rabbie’s which includes a brewery visit (tour ticket not included in price), stops in Cromarty and Rosemarkie and chance to go dolphin spotting on the Beauly Firth.
8) Dunrobin Castle & Golspie
Castle-lovers will not get around this day trip from Inverness. While you can easily visit the new viewing platform at Inverness Castle or take a trip out to Fort George, Dunrobin Castle near Golspie is the real deal (£12.50, April to October).
At 189 rooms, it is one of the largest castles in Scotland and looks like straight out of a fairytale. It overlooks the sea and has a delightful garden to explore. What more could you ask for?
In nearby Golspie, I highly recommend an easy hike to Big Burn Falls – a hidden gem and local favourite. The hike takes about 1.5 hours (trail description here).
How to get to Dunrobin Castle and Golspie
There is a train station near the castle (Dunrobin Castle Station), but the train only stops here on request and during the summer – make sure you let the conductor know that you’d like to alight at this stop. From there, it is a short walk to Dunrobin Castle.
Fun fact: Dunrobin Castle station was used in two Harry Potter films as Hogsmeade station.
Another option is to get off in nearby Golspie and walk 30 minutes along the A9 – it’s a busy road, but there is a sidewalk for pedestrians all the way to the southern gate of the castle grounds.
That said, driving by car is the easiest (and quickest) option to get from Inverness to Dunrobin Castle and Golspie.
9) Hiking in Glen Affric
Scotland has no shortage of breathtaking glens and valleys. One of the most beautiful glens in Scotland is said to be Glen Affric – and lucky for you, it’s an easy day trip from Inverness!
There are many easy walks in the area. From Dog Falls car park, follow the Dog Falls and Coire Loch trail. This excellent forest walk takes in Caledonian pine forests, a powerful waterfall and stunning views – it takes 1.5 to 2.5 hours (trail description here).
There are also two walks from the Loch Affric car park, further down the glen. River Affric and Am Meallan trail is a pleasant but short walk to some waterfalls and takes in the gorgeous surroundings – it takes only 45 minutes (trail description here).
The Loch Affric Circuit, on the other hand, is a bit more challenging – it’s 11 miles long and takes 4.5 to 6.5 hours. The trail is very rewarding and offers a much more diverse experience than the shorter walks (trail description here).
As you can see, you can either do a couple of short walks in a day, or the longer circuit walk around Loch Affric.
How to get to Glen Affric
A hire car is essential for a day trip to Glen Affric. There is no public transport to any trailheads in the area. The best way to get here is to drive south along Loch Ness and turn west in Drumnadrochit.
10) Road Trip: North Coast 500 (in sections)
Inverness lies at an arm’s length from the magnificent mountains and coastal scenery of the north-western Highlands. The famous North Coast 500 starts and finishes in Inverness, so it is easy to explore different sections of the route on day trips from Inverness.
Applecross + Shieldaig
Leave Inverness for Lochcarron on the west coast and make your way up the adventurous Bealach na Bà mountain road. The single-track road rises to a pass at 626 metres above sea level (2,054 ft) and can be as steep as 20% – not a road for beginner drivers or campervans! The views from the top are so worth the effort though!
Once across on the other side, stop for a bite to eat at the Applecross Inn and continue to drive along the coast towards the scenic village of Shieldaig.
From Shieldaig, head back to Inverness via Torridon and Kinlochewe. This loop is approximately 174 miles, 4.5h+ driving time).
Torridon and Kinlochewe
From Inverness drive straight west to Kinlochewe (51 miles). There are a few things to do in this area that could easily fill a day trip. Drive on to Torridon (11 miles south-west of Kinlochewe) for a challenging day on the local mountains.
Climb the ridge of Liathach or the peaks of Beinn Alligin, Beinn Dearg or Beinn Damh – the latter being the only intermediate hike among these (trail descriptions here).
The Torridon Hotel near the village also offers various outdoor activities such as sea kayaking, coasteering, guided cycling and hiking tours.
In Torridon, there is a lovely cafe at the general store where you can refuel and take in the scenery.
A few miles north-west of Kinlochewe lies Loch Maree, a stunning freshwater loch framed by spectacular mountain scenery.
Go for a hike at the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve – the short, but challenging Mountain Trail is a perfect intermediate option and offers fantastic views (3-4 hours, trail description here).
How to get to the North Coast 500 from Inverness
In order to properly experience the North Coast 500 you must drive by car – there is no public transport option that takes in all the mentioned destinations, and bus schedules are difficult to navigate for day trips. However, if you are not interested in hiking but just want to enjoy the scenery, you can book a guided day tour covering the road to Applecross with Highland Explorer Tours or Timberbush Tours.
Guided day trips from Inverness
So far, I focussed on day trips from Inverness that do not require an awful lot of driving (apart from the road trip to Applecross, which is a long day on the road). I bet you expected to hear about day trips to the Isle of Skye, the Speyside or the Cairngorms – all doable day trip destinations from Inverness! However, I think, these are locations where joining an organised tour makes for sense – for a variety of reasons!
11) Day trip to the Isle of Skye
Theoretically, the Isle of Skye is within reach on a day trip from Inverness, but it is A LOT of driving. To save you the tiring effort of driving yourself, I recommend you book a guided day tour to Skye from Inverness. That way you can put your feet up and enjoy the scenery from your seat instead of focussing on traffic and navigating small country roads.
Organised day trips also have the benefit that someone else is doing the timekeeping for you and you can usually squeeze more places into your day itinerary.
Rabbie’s offers a full-day tour from Inverness to Skye that also includes a stop at Eilean Donan Castle. The benefit of going with an experienced tour company is that they know how to avoid the crowds. Rabbie’s drivers usually adapt their route to the interests of the people in the group and put together a mix of well-known highlights and hidden gems.
12) Speyside Whisky Tour
Visiting the Speyside whisky region with a guided tour is a no-brainer. Visiting Speyside whisky distilleries is all about trying the local produce yourself after all! Choosing an organised day tour means you can actually enjoy a wee dram without worrying about driving.
There are many different tours leading to the Speyside, but I like this one by Rabbie’s which includes two distilleries.
13) Cairngorms National Park
If you’d like to combine a tour at a distillery with a walk in one of Scotland’s national parks, this tour combining the Speyside and the Cairngorms might be the right choice.
It includes a little walk in the national park as well as a visit to the world-famous Glenfiddich distillery.
Where to Stay in Inverness
There really is no shortage of accommodation in Inverness and something for every budget.
I recently stayed at the Inverness Youth Hostel, which is a brilliant option for budget-wary travellers, families and small or large groups. It lies about 15 minutes walk from the city centre in a beautiful and quiet area. It has private en-suite rooms, great common areas and it even offers catered breakfast. A large car park is an added bonus. The hostel is run by Hostelling Scotland and I’ve always enjoyed staying at their properties – they are no party hostels, but rather budget-friendly places to stay for mature travellers.
Many of my clients (did you know I can build your Scotland itinerary?) have told me about Heathmount Hotel, a lovely 3-star with a great restaurant. The hotel is just a 10-minutes walk from the city centre and has spacious comfortable rooms.
As you can see, there is really no shortage of things to do near Inverness. Basing yourself in the Highland capital gives you the opportunity to visit some of Scotland’s most beautiful and iconic landscapes and regions in a day – something you could never manage from Glasgow or Edinburgh.
Next time you visit Scotland, consider spending a few days in the city and explore northern Scotland on day trips from Inverness!
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