Inverness is the Capital of the Scottish Highlands and often used as a gateway to popular destinations like the NC500 or the Isle of Skye. But the city of Inverness itself is also worth a visit. Plan to spend at least a day here at the beginning or end of your trip. This travel guide includes everything you need to know to spend one day in Inverness and experience the city to the fullest. From the best viewpoints and top attractions to the most delicious eateries and atmospheric pubs – let’s plan your day in Inverness!
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Inverness undoubtedly owes its high visitor number to its strategic position in the northern Highlands and popular nearby destinations such as Loch Ness, the Speyside whisky region or the North Coast 500 road trip, the city itself is a fantastic place to visit too.
Less than 50,000 people call Inverness their home (it’s no. 6 out of Scotland’s 7 cities – only Stirling is smaller). Yet Inverness is among the most-visited cities in the UK – nearly 300,000 people stop for a wander through Inverness’ streets each year. Let me convince you that you should be one of them!
I have visited Inverness on multiple occasions and even though it is a fairly compact city, easily explored in a couple of days, I discover something new every time.
In this article about the best way to spend one day in Inverness, I distil my experiences of the city into an easy-to-follow, 24-hour itinerary for the city.
Read on for:
- the top attractions to see in Inverness,
- tips for quirky souvenir shopping,
- recommended eateries for lunch and dinner (incl. vegan-friendly options),
- great parks and natural areas within the city,
- ideas for tours and guided activities,
- suggested places to stay,
- and lots of practical tips for Inverness.
Inverness is a must-stop on several of my ready-made Scotland itineraries – check them out in my shop!
Table of Contents
One Day in Inverness – Map
A morning visiting Inverness’ attractions
Inverness is a small city, but there is still plenty to do and see.
Take your breakfast to go down to the riverside and take in magnificent views of the historic buildings along the River Ness. Walk across Greig Street Bridge, a picturesque suspension bridge, and follow the river up Huntly Street. The views of Inverness Castle are excellent from this side of the river.
By the time you reach Inverness Cathedral, your coffee and doughnut should be history and you’re all ready to enter the beautiful Protestant church. Built in the 19th century, it is the northernmost cathedral in the UK.
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Return to the city centre across Ness Bridge and make your way up to Inverness Castle. While there has been a castle on this hill for centuries, the building you can see there today, was actually never a real castle. It was built in the 19th century to house the Inverness Sheriff Court and did so until 2020.
The castle is currently under redevelopment to turn it into a visitor attraction.
Even though the castle is not open to the public (yet), a small part of it has been converted to welcome visitors. The Castle Viewpoint contains a small gallery telling the history of the castle and a viewpoint at the top of the castle’s northern tower. From the top, you get a 360° view of the city and surrounding areas.
Entrance fee: £6 (£4 children aged 12 & under)
Top tip: Pay a visit to the Flora Macdonald statue outside the castle. She helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from Scotland after the Jacobites were defeated in the Battle of Culloden.
If art is your thing, pay a visit to the Inverness Museum & Art Gallery. Their collections celebrate Highland life and heritage with many contemporary and historic artworks and artefacts.
Before lunch, it’s time to browse Inverness’ shops and boutiques. First, enter the Victorian Market, a covered 19th-century market in the heart of Inverness where you can find everything from handmade bagpipes to artisan chocolate.
Next up, a stop at Scotland’s biggest second-hand book shop: Leakey’s Bookshop. The shop is an iconic Inverness institution and no trip to the city would be complete without a visit.
More shops to check out for locally sourced souvenirs:
- The Whisky Shop, 17 Bridge St, Inverness IV1 1HD
- Judith Glue, 15 Bridge St, Inverness IV1 1HG
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Lunch in Inverness
One of my favourite places for lunch in Inverness is the food court at the Victorian Market. There are various stalls offering different kinds of cuisines prepared with locally sourced produce. There is even a fully vegan food stall!
Another great place for lunch (or breakfast/brunch) is Velocity Cafe. Velocity is a social enterprise with a bicycle workshop and a vegetarian cafe. They also support a range of projects to promoting health, wellbeing and sustainability in the city.
If you’re looking for a riverside restaurant with Scottish cuisine, look no further than The Mustard Seed. Located in a converted church building on the scenic riverside, it is one of Inverness’ most popular restaurants.
The chefs work with locally sourced ingredients as much as possible and offer a mix of traditional Scottish dishes and favourites from around the world.
Top tip: Drop off your shopping haul at your accommodation before continuing to explore in Inverness in the afternoon.
An afternoon of Inverness activities
Option 1) A historical deep-dive at Culloden Battlefield and Clava Cairns
If you are interested in Scottish history, you mustn’t leave Inverness without visiting Culloden Battlefield and Clava Cairns.
Just a 15-minute drive from Inverness, Culloden Battlefield is the historic site of the Battle of Culloden, where the Jacobite Rebellion came to a tragic end in 1746. Learn about the battle, what lead to it and its consequences at the visitor centre and visit the battlefield itself.
Entrance fee: £11 (£9 concession), Public transport: Bus no. 2 (Stagecoach North)
While you are in the area, don’t miss nearby Clava Cairns, a prehistoric burial site. This ancient cemetery was built over 4,000 years ago and contains 3 chambered cairns. Each is surrounded by a stone circle, with some of the standing stones up to 3m (10ft) tall.
This is also one for Outlander fans!
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Option 2) Spend time in nature at Ness Islands and the Botanic Gardens
Nature-lovers will be pleasantly surprised to hear that you do not have to leave Inverness to immerse yourself in nature!
Follow the River Ness upstream until you reach the Victorian footbridges connecting the city with Ness Islands. These islands in the middle of the river are covered in charming woodlands and connected by suspension bridges. The trails on Ness Islands are part of the Great Glen Way and make for short and gentle walks near the city.
Just a stone’s throw from Ness Islands, it would be a shame to overlook Inverness Botanic Gardens. They are the northernmost botanic gardens in the UK and are a local favourite. Two glasshouses showcase different species of cacti and tropical plants, while the large outdoor area offers many charming sitting areas in peaceful surroundings.
There is a serene pond, a beautiful Japanese maple tree that turns bright red in autumn (fall) and a community garden that is looked after by participants of a special horticulture therapy programme for adults with learning disabilities.
Other things to do in Inverness
Pick and choose from a few more options for your day in Inverness:
Tucked away, but still, in the heart of the bustling city centre, Abertarff House is the oldest house in Inverness. It was built in 1593 and briefly inhabited by clansmen who fought in the Battle of Culloden.
Renovated by the National Trust for Scotland, the house is home to The Gaelic Association, a shop and a small exhibition.
Did you know there were dolphins in Scotland? Head out on a wildlife cruise with Dolphin Spirit Inverness to spot the local bottlenose dolphins who roam the waters of the Moray Firth, north of Inverness.
And a little further afield
- Fort George near Ardersier – a fortification built after the Battle of Culloden.
- Reelig Glen near Beauly – a charming woodland with some of the tallest trees Scotland’s.
- Cawdor Castle & Gardens near Nairn – a beautiful castle surrounded by lush woodlands (open April-October).
- A tour of Loch Ness attractions such as Urquhart Castle, Falls of Foyers and more.
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Dinner at The Castle Tavern or Black Isle Bar
Back in the city for the evening, there are endless options for dinner in Inverness.
For traditional Scottish food with iconic views of Inverness Castle, head to The Castle Tavern. The popular pub & restaurant is located in a historic building opposite the city’s castle and offers only the best from Scotland’s larder.
Order a flight of ales with your food order to get a taste of Scotland’s diverse breweries. On a nice day, sit outside in the beer garden!
If you are looking for an alternative with vegan-friendly options, make your way to Black Isle Bar near the Victorian Market. Choose from their menu of wood-fired pizzas and pair it with carefully poured and locally brewed craft beers.
Other popular places to eat are:
- Tiger on the Wall, 4 Ardross Terrace, Inverness IV3 5NQ
- Mangrove, 78 Academy St, Inverness IV1 1LU
- The Mustard Seed, 16 Fraser St, Inverness IV1 1DW
- Rocpool, 1 Ness Walk, Inverness IV3 5NE
- Fig & Thistle, 4-6 Stephen’s Brae, Inverness IV2 3JN
- Urquhart’s Restaurant, 2 Young St, Inverness IV3 5BL
- River House, 1 Greig St, Inverness IV3 5PT
- Kool Runnings, 14 Church St, Inverness IV1 1EA
Things to do in Inverness at night
If you need a little walk before turning in, return to the riverside and walk along the River Ness. The castle, churches and bridges are lit up at night, making for an atmospheric evening walk.
Cinema, Theatre & Performances
Eden Court is Inverness’ independent arts & culture venue. It offers a cinema, theatre, gallery and venue for all kinds of performances. Find out what’s on.
Inverness Travel Guide
How to get around Inverness
Inverness is a very walkable city. It is easy to explore Inverness on foot – just wear comfortable shoes and bring waterproofs or a strong umbrella. there is no need to wrap your head around local buses or taxi services.
In order to reach some of the alternative things to do in Inverness, you may want to hire a car. Culloden Battlefield is accessible by bus, but to visit Clava Cairns, Reelig Glen or Cawdor Castle requires you to drive.
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Where to stay in Inverness
Of course, there is a lot more to see and do in and around Inverness. Spend a few days exploring the Loch Ness area, discover the Black Isle peninsula, enjoy a day trip along the Moray Coast or visit one or two (or three) whisky distilleries in the nearby Speyside whisky region.
Now it’s up to you – plan your Scotland itinerary and make sure you put at least one day aside to see the best of Inverness in a day.
Have you ever visited the capital of the Highlands? What else would you add to my itinerary for one day in Inverness?
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