Loch Ness is one of Scotland’s most popular places to visit – no Scotland itinerary would be complete without it. But Nessie is not the only treasure hidden in the northern Highlands! This travel guide helps you plan a trip to Inverness Loch Ness that goes beyond the usual tourist attractions: Discover hidden gems, try fun activities in the hills and glens and build your own adventure with these 23 things to do in Loch Ness off the beaten path.
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Loch Ness, the home of the Loch Ness monster – or Nessie – needs no introduction. It is 100% bucket list-worthy and a must on any Scotland itinerary. Kids and families love the thrill of hunting for Nessie and the stunning ruins of Urquhart Castle are one of Scotland’s most-visited tourist attractions. Half a million visitors don’t lie – it’s amazing!
The castle and loch cruises are by far the most popular things to do on Loch Ness and the highlight of any day trip to Loch Ness from Edinburgh or Glasgow. After a few hours though, most people move on to other destinations around the Scottish Highlands – and miss out on a whole lot of goodness!
I was one of these people… until recently when I got to spend 5 days around Inverness Loch Ness, discovering the hidden gems of the area and exploring off the beaten track.
There is so much more to see and do at Loch Ness than the major attractions. You just need to spend some extra time in the area and veer off the busy main roads.
This Inverness Loch Ness travel guide suggests 23 great things to do near Loch Ness including:
- lots of hidden gems and secret places,
- fun outdoor activities for the whole family,
- great hikes and forest walks,
- historic sites and monuments,
- an overview of places to stay and vegan-friendly eateries,
- and tips for getting around Loch Ness.
Inverness & Loch Ness Travel Video
Inverness Loch Ness Map
Things to do around Loch Ness
Explore the Caledonian Canal
The Caledonian Canal runs some 60 miles across Scotland and connects the North Sea (Moray Forth) with the Atlantic on the west coast (Loch Linnhe). It cuts through the Scottish Highlands via the Great Glen, a geological feature that runs from Inverness to Fort William.
Only about 1/3 of the canal is made up of man-made waterways, the rest consists of navigable lochs – Loch Dochfour, Ness, Oich and Lochy.
A boating holiday from Inverness is a great way to experience the entire length of the canal, but if you’re short on time, I recommend a stop in Fort Augustus.
Here you can learn everything about the canal and its history at the Caledonian Canal Visitor Centre, watch boats clear a series of locks to travel up the canal and follow the trail alongside the canal for a refreshing walk.
Hire an e-bike at Ness E-Bikes
If you’re up for a little adventure, hire e-bikes from Ness E-Bikes at Girvan’s Hardware and choose from a variety of local cycle paths.
Climb steep trails in the woodlands above Fort Augustus to reach iconic views of Loch Ness. Or follow the gentle trail along the Caledonian Canal. After passing Kytra and Cullochy Locks and the swing bridge at Aberchalder, the trail follows the eastern shore of Loch Oich until you reach the old train station of Invergarry.
This round trip from Fort Augustus is approx. 24 miles and on an e-bike, it should take no longer than 3 hours.
Parking: You can park at Girvan’s Hardware while you are out on the bike, just give them your car registration when you fill out the form.
Admission: Hiring an e-bike costs £25 (half-day) or £38 for a full day. Regular mountain bikes are cheaper at £16 (half) or £25 (full).
A forest walk at Reelig Glen
Reelig Glen is home to some of Scotland’s tallest trees including Big Douglas, a Douglas Fir Tree that measures over 200 ft. It was Britain’s tallest tree in 2000!
The walk through the narrow glen takes approx. 1 hour and leads past many waterfalls and over charming bridges over the gorges. I definitely recommend wearing proper hiking boots as the ground gets muddy from the water in the glen.
Parking: Note that the car park can get quite busy on weekends. Luckily, Beauly is really close by, so you can just head there and try again later if you can’t find a spot.
Visit charming Beauly & Beauly Priory
Beauly takes its name from French “C’est un beau lieu”, which means “what a beautiful place” – exactly how Mary Queen of Scots (allegedly) reacted upon travelling to this beautiful village.
While you’re here, visit the ruins of Beauly Priory, which date back to the early 13th century. Note the ancient elm tree that guards the churchyard – doesn’t it look like an Ent tree from Lord of the Rings?
The village is also a great place to pick up locally made souvenirs and gifts from one of the independent shops around the town square – such as The Gift, The Old School or Campbell’s of Beauly.
Parking: There is free parking available at Braeview car park near the town centre.
Admission: It is free to visit Beauly Priory.
Try local delicacies at Corner on the Square
Located at the centre of the bustling town square, Corner on the Square is a local foodie favourite. The cafe serves delicious homemade food (inside & outside seating available). Local delicacies and a wide range of foods and drinks are available for takeaway from the deli counter.
The farm shop next door supplies the cafe with fresh fruit and vegetables and makes for a great place to pick up some packaging-free ingredients for your meals if you stay in self-catering accommodation.
I loved that the cafe had several vegan options, including dishes using locally made vegan cheese!
Drive down the B862 & B852 on Loch Ness’ south side
Most Scotland travellers stick to the well-trodden road on the northside of Loch Ness – the A82, which runs all the way from Glasgow to Inverness. It arguably leads through some of the most stunning Highland scenery you will encounter in Scotland – but at Loch Ness, it is well-worth to veer off the main road.
The B862 and B852 are two small roads (mostly single-track) that lead along the scenic south side of Loch Ness. There are many hidden gems to discover here – see also the next 5 things to do on this list.
But even if you’d stayed in the car and just stopped at one of the many laybys along the road (especially on the B852 north of Foyers), you’ll be convinced that the road is worth the detour. On this side of the loch, you get the shores of Loch Ness all to yourself!
Enjoy 360 views at Suidhe viewpoint
Soon after leaving Fort Augustus on the B862, the road starts climbing up up up – high above the banks of Loch Ness. Its highest point (1,200 ft), the Suidhe viewpoint makes for a great stop to enjoy 360-degree views of the surrounding areas. From up here, you can see the northern end of Loch Ness and the long glen it cuts into the hills.
But don’t just get out of the car and snap a picture. Walk through the gate, follow the well-maintained path for a while and you can say you’ve walked part of the South Loch Ness Trail, which forms part of the new Loch Ness 360° Trail – a very popular long-distance trail to experience Loch Ness to the fullest.
Hike to Knockie Boathouse
Knockie Boathouse is one of the remotest locations I’ve visited in the Inverness Loch Ness area. It can only be reached from the water (for example, if you canoe on Loch Ness) or on foot. The hike to Knockie Boathouse takes approx. 3 hours (return) including plenty of time for a picnic by the loch shore.
Park at a small parking area near the gate of Knockie Estate and follow the forestry track all the way to the end. While the trail starts out flat and surrounded by charming woodlands (keep an eye out for pheasants and colourful mushrooms), it soon starts descending towards the loch.
Eventually, you will turn a corner only to find views that will blow your mind! From here the track steadily descends the picturesque boathouse at Loch Ness.
Visit the Falls of Foyers
The Falls of Foyers is one of the most popular things do to on Loch Ness and definitely the busiest I saw any car park on the south side of the loch. I’m not surprised though – this waterfall is spectacular!
The main falls drop 140 feet down into a dramatic theatre-shaped gorge. The fine cascade of the water is likely why the waterfall’s name in Gaelic means “the smoking falls”.
There are two viewing areas for the main falls, one near the level of the top, one further down. The woodland trails continue to the Lower Falls and a bit further upstream, near Cameron’s Tearoom, you can also visit the Upper Falls.
Parking: There is a free car park on the opposite side of the main road.
Tea & Cake at Cameron’s Tearoom
At the top of the village, stop for lunch or tea and cake at the iconic Cameron’s Tearoom.
Owner Morag Cameron and her team provide a warm welcome alongside delicious food (including vegan options) and beautiful views.
From the tea room, you can see the farm’s Highland cows grazing on the field and there are also some pet deer nearby who are always up for a pat.
I highly recommend booking a table in advance as it’s a favourite among locals and visitors alike!
Viewpoint hunting at Farigaig Forest
Exploring the woodland trails at Farigaig is one of my favourite things to do near Loch Ness. Not only, is it a place to walk among tree giants and spot local wildlife like red squirrels, but every now and then, the trees open up to spectacular views of Loch Ness.
Park at the Forestry Commission car park and follow the red labelled Lochan Tòrr an Tuill Trail. Soon after the initial steep ascent through the woodland, you will reach the first viewpoint with an inviting bench for a rest. The trail then continues up and down through the magical woodland full of moss-covered rocks and lichen hanging from old trees.
After another steep ascent, veer off to the left of the trail to find yet another, even more impressive viewpoint. From here you can also spot the ruins of Dun Dearduil, an iron age fort on a rocky outcrop high above Loch Ness.
The trail takes approx. 1 to 1.5 hours to complete.
Canoeing at Aigas Gorge
You know how much I love trying different outdoor activities around Scotland! My experience of canoeing on the River Beauly with In Your Element was an absolute highlight while visiting Loch Ness.
We paddled near the Aigas Dam in an area called the Aigas Gorge. Here, the river is framed by beautiful golden beeches, craggy rockfaces and steep slopes. In the middle of the water lies a big (privately owned) island.
Thanks to the dam, the river is deep enough to make for very calm waters. Only at the sides of the island, the river gets shallower and the water flows faster. Paddle as hard as you can though, and you might make it all the way around it!
Floating back down the stream will be a welcome reward – as is spotting wildlife along the shore.
Admission: The 3-hour Sunrise Canoe Safari with In Your Element costs £65 per person (4 PAX minimum).
PS: In Your Element also offers 1- or 2.5-hour canoe session on Loch Ness (from Fort Augustus).
Hike in Glen Affric
Glen Affric is considered one of Scotland’s most beautiful glens. Located just west of Loch Ness, it lies at the end of a long and winding single-track road – but what awaits you at its end is well worth the effort!
Most people visit Glen Affric to hike. Choose from a variety of short and long trails, such as the 15-minute walk to a viewpoint above the River Affric car park, a 30-minute loop to the banks of River Affric or a 1.5-hour hike from the Dog Falls car park to Coire Loch.
If you are up for the challenge, you could also embark on the Loch Affric Circuit – an 11-mile loop around Loch Affric.
Rustic lunch at Bog Cotton Cafe
If you’re looking for a lovely lunch spot near Glen Affric, look no further than Bog Cotton Cafe!
The quirky cafe is tucked away among the trees at Cannich campsite. The food is down-to-earth but delicious and their soup is always vegan-friendly.
There is also a small shop inside the cafe with locally sourced gifts like soaps, scented candles, prints and more. A great place to pick up souvenirs and support small businesses.
Discover Plodda Falls
There is no shortage of adventurous things to do at Loch Ness and visiting Plodda Falls on a rainy day is certainly one of them!
The waterfall plunges 150 ft into a dramatic gorge which makes it the highest waterfall in the Inverness Loch Ness area. The water from the falls mixes with another arm of the river and together they tumble on and down the gorge.
Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe it.
An easy trail leads from the car park to a bird’s eye view platform above the waterfall and on to a second viewpoint closer to the base of the falls.
Note: The last 2 miles on the road to Plodda Falls are not paved, so drive slowly and carefully.
Visit Cawdor Castle & Gardens
According to legend, the Thane of Cawdor was looking for a good location to build his fortress. Unable to decide, he strapped a chest of gold to a donkey (poor wee thing) and sent him off into the wilderness of the Highlands.
The donkey eventually laid down to rest at a hawthorn tree and that is where the Thane built Cawdor Castle. Today, the remains of this petrified hawthorn tree can still be seen at the heart of the castle – could the legend be true?
Over the centuries, the family added various wings and sections to the original 14th-century tower at the centre of the castle. But few things have changed here since the 17th century – apart from the gardens, which are a highlight of any visit at Cawdor Castle.
Please note: The castle is only open from April to October.
Walk among giants at The Big Wood
Cawdor Castle is surrounded by a charming woodland crisscrossed by nature trails from 1 to 5 miles. The wood is home to many species of trees, some native (like Scots Pine and Rowan), others a bit more exotic. The non-native beeches support over 130 species of lichen, some rarely found anymore.
You can even find some of Britain’s first California Redwood trees here. They were planted with the second lot of seeds ever sent to the UK. They are, of course, tiny babies compared to the redwoods you can see in California – but among Scottish trees, they are true giants!
Please note: The Big Wood is only open from April to October.
Have your Outlander moment at Clava Cairns
Get your fill of Scottish standings stones at the Clava Cairns, a prehistoric burial site near Inverness and Culloden Battlefield.
There are multiple cairns at the site and each is surrounded by a circle of standing stones. Erected over 4,000 years ago, the cairns are assumed to have been the resting place of chiefs and leaders.
Take all the Outlander pictures to your heart’s content! Just try to avoid actually touching the stones to reduce the impact this has on the site.
Admission: It’s free to visit Clava Cairns.
Hidden Gems in Inverness
Visit the Inverness Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens in Inverness are a hidden gem tucked away between Ness Islands and Whin Park. They are the northernmost Botanic Gardens in the UK and consist of two glasshouses – one filled with cacti, the other with tropical plants – and a large outdoor area.
You will find fruit trees and vegetable patches next to calming ponds and hidden trails through green tunnels. The garden is planned in a way that there is always something to see, no matter the season.
Half of the garden is dedicated to G.R.O.W., a garden offering practical work experience, training and horticulture therapy for adults with learning disabilities.
Admission: It’s free to enter the Botanic Gardens in Inverness, but donations are welcome.
A walk on Ness Islands
Looking for a gentle walk in a beautiful woodland? Head to Ness Islands in Inverness!
The islands are located in the middle of the River Ness, just a short distance from the city centre. There are several trails on the islands which are connected by Victorian suspension bridges.
Walk along the river and through the woodland, enjoy views of Inverness Cathedral in the distance and take in the peaceful atmosphere.
Top tip: This trails on Ness Islands are level and suitable for all abilities, wheelchair users and buggies.
Treasure trove at Leakey’s Bookshop
Who doesn’t love the smell of books? Leakey’s Bookshop is the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland. Located in an old Gaelic Church it has over 100,000 books for sale as well as antique prints and maps.
It’s a pure joy browsing the shelves on three levels – I particularly recommend looking at the sections on Scottish history and mountaineering.
Vegan delicacies at The Alleycat Inverness
The Alleycat in Inverness is the only 100% vegan eatery in the Inverness Loch Ness area. But even if you are not vegan yourself, you’d love the food here!
Tucked away in a tiny alley called Mealmarket Close near the Victorian market, the cafe offers delicious homemade vegan meals, from Scottish classics like “Steak” & Ale Pie, haggis or Scotch Pie to hearty comfort foods like lasagna or Mac’n’cheese.
PS: I ordered takeaway for the train home and it was hands down, the best vegan Mac’n’cheese I’ve had it Scotland!
Climb up Inverness Castle
While the first castle was built in this spot in the mid 11th century, the current Inverness Castle dates from the 19th century. The castle was used as a court building but is currently converted into a visitor attraction.
The only area accessible to the public is the north tower of the castle – climb up and enjoy 360-degree views of the city and surroundings!
Admission: Tickets are £6 for adults, £4 for children and must be booked online in advance.
Loch Ness Travel Guide
Accommodation near Loch Ness
There is no shortage of accommodation options on Loch Ness – from traditional Highland hotels and comfortable boutique hotels to B&Bs, self-catering cabins and budget-friendly youth hostels.
I spent four nights at Achnagairn Estate, a beautiful castle hotel & wedding venue near Inverness – it has even been featured on the US-American version of The Bachelorette! Next to the castle, there are a number of self-catering lodges, perfect for families and group gatherings.
Each of these “Mini Manors” comes with 5-6 bedrooms, a lounge and a large kitchen-dining area. The kitchens are fully equipped with luxury appliances including a separate wine fridge, a Nespresso machine and a milk foamer – a lovely touch for latte drinkers!
There was a hamper waiting for me with breakfast supplies (non-vegan versions include locally sources eggs and smoked salmon) and plenty of coffee pods.
There is a restaurant on-site, Table Manors – although this is currently closed (2020).
Other wonderful places to stay on Loch Ness include Foyers Lodge, a boutique hotel on the south side of Loch Ness; Eagle Brae, luxury log cabins near Cannich and Glen Affric and Loch Ness Shores, a camping and caravanning site with glamping pods.
Vegan food around Loch Ness
You know how much I love discovering vegan food all over Scotland. No matter how remote I travel, it’s surprising how easy it is to travel Scotland as a vegan. The Inverness Loch Ness area is no exception.
Achnagairn Estate supplied several breakfast items for my stay, but I bought a few vegan extras at the local Co-op supermarket in Beauly.
Here are some of the vegan-friendly options to eat out in Loch Ness:
- The Boathouse Restaurant in Fort Augustus
- Cameron’s Tearoom in Foyers
- Bog Cotton Cafe in Cannich
- Cafe Eighty 2 in Drumnadrochit
- Corner on the Square in Beauly
There is also a fully vegan eatery in Inverness called The Alleycat. Their breakfast and lunch menus include Scottish classics, comfort food and light bites.
PS: Pick up some locally made vegan cheese by Left Coast Cultures from the deli in Beauly or The Health Shop in Inverness.
How to get around Inverness Loch Ness
It is possible to travel around the Inverness Loch Ness area by bus and there are many guided tours from Inverness to the major visitor attractions on Loch Ness. However, the best way to discover hidden gems is with a hire car!
I hired a car from Arnold Clark in Inverness which is just a short distance from the airport as well as the train station. They offer a shuttle running from/to either transport hub to their car hire centre, which makes this a very convenient option.
Note that there are many single-track roads in the Inverness Loch Ness area, so I recommend adding additional time to the estimates from your GPS or Google Maps.
Loch Ness might be one of Scotland’s most popular places to visit, but in order to experience it to the fullest, one must spend a little bit more time in the area.
I hope that this guide with 23 hidden gems and great things to do in Loch Ness will inspire you to plan a getaway to the northern Highlands.
Have you ever been to the Inverness Loch Ness area? Which hidden gems have you discovered?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.