History and Heritage Itinerary

Explore the History of Inverness and Loch Ness

Explore our top recommendations for places to explore of historical interest near Inverness and Loch Ness with our 4-day History and Heritage Itinerary. Our itinerary takes the hassle out of holiday planning. Just follow this guide for 4 days of fascinating history and Loch Ness and Inverness sightseeing. If you have brought your own car, you can get right on your way. If not, you can hire a car from Inverness Airport. Then, you’re ready to start your journey into Scottish Highlands history!

Inverness Castle, Scotland

Inverness Castle in the City of Inverness

Day 1: Battlefields, Crofts, Forts, Viaducts and Burial Cairns

For the first two days of this Scottish History Itinerary, we send you on an extended version of our wonderful East Heritage Trail. Explore the Jacobean uprising as well as some wonderful unspoilt sites such as our historic burial chambers at Clava and our spectacular brick viaduct!

Clava Cairns

First up, we take you to explore the rather special Clava Cairns. These bronze age burial cairns, still remain mostly intact. Enormous structures, of which you can walk into the centre chambers set in a beautiful Highland meadow. These burial stones were the inspiration behind the Outlander series’ famous standing stones. The stones are around 4,000 years old and are one of the most ancient and well-preserved sites in Scotland. The burial grounds were built around 2000 BC, initially with a row of large cairns, all of which remain. After many years of use, the cairns were abandoned and 1 thousand years later the cemetery was then reused and new burials were placed in some of the existing cairns. At this time, three smaller monuments were built including a ‘kerb cairn’.

Ancient Scottish standing stones

Clava Cairns Ancient Burial Grounds

Clava Viaduct

Once you have explored the Cairns, turn left out of the carpark, then right at the end of the road, to another spectacle. Just a two-minute walk from the ancient standing stones and cairns you will find the momentous Culloden Viaduct. Also known as the Clava or Nairn Viaduct. This railway viaduct, still in use to this day, was opened in 1898 as part of the Inverness and Aviemore Direct Railway. It spans 29 enormous pillars to cross the wide valley of the River Nairn. At 1800 ft (549 m) in length, the Culloden Viaduct is the longest masonry viaduct in Scotland. In times past, “Culloden Moor” railway station was situated at the northern end of the viaduct. The station was closed in the 1960s. Contact WOW Scotland Tours for walking tours of the area including the viaduct.

Culloden Viaduct

The Culloden, Clava or Nairn Viaduct

Culloden Battlefield and Croft

Once you have completed walking these wonderful sites, jump back in the car and take the short drive to Culloden Battlefield. Here you can enjoy a wonderful historical experience and Here marks the tragic end to the 1745 Jacobite Rising. Here the final bloody battle between the Jacobites (the Scots) and the English was fought and lost. This battle was the last attempt by the Scots to become independent from England. The tragic Battle of Culloden changed communities and the infrastructure of the Highlands forever. Here you can stand on the famous battleground and travel back in time to the Battle of Culloden with the Visitor Centre’s immersive cinema experience. Walk the battlefields and stand on the front lines, where the Scots and English stood hundreds of years ago. As you walk the fields, you will find burial stones. Markers of those laid to rest, separated into their respective clans.

On the grounds of Culloden Battlefield lies Leanach cottage, as pictured below. This beautiful thatched cottage is one of the last survivors of a once common local structure. Today the building stands isolated, but in the past, this area was well populated and the land divided into smallholdings. Historical maps show a number of farmsteads in the close vicinity with small pockets of individually cultivated land. Leanach is now one of the only surviving examples of this landscape in Scotland.

The cottage itself was likely constructed in the early 18th century, probably as part of wider improvements on Culloden estate and originally would have been a T-shaped structure. During the Battle of Culloden, Leanach Cottage was situated in between the Government lines and it is likely the building would have been used as a field hospital for the government men.

Culloden Battlefield Croft

Culloden Battlefield Croft

Fort George & The Highlanders Museum

After a lovely lunch at the Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre Restaurant, it’s time to head North East to  Fort George. This enormous defence structure was built after the Battle of Culloden in response to the Scots, to ensure another uprising never happened again. Fort George offers a superb experience. A mighty fort, surrounded by the Morry Firth, with plenty of history and heritage from the time of the uprising to WWII.  Explore the barracks, walk the walls and see the ammunitions store before moving on to the nearby Highlanders’ Museum. Here you can learn all about the history of the Highlanders. The museum covers three floors of the fort’s former Lieutenant Governors’ House.

Fort George

Fort George

Day 2: A Castle & Whiskey Experience

Day two, and it’s time to head east again. Tomorrow we will explore the famous Loch Ness. But for today, we start at the wonderful Cawdor Castle and Gardens. Still the residential home of Lady Cawdor, this Scottish Castle was made famous by Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Today you can explore the spectacular gardens and walk the expansive grounds as well as the interiors of the castle. See how one would have lived in times past, with exquisite tapestries, antiques and lavish furnishings.

Cawdor Castle, Grounds and Gardens

Cawdor Castle, Grounds and Gardens

After a wonderful morning of stepping into the past, it’s time for lunch. Today we take you to the Cawdor Tavern to enjoy some modern Scottish food in the beautiful village of Cawdor. Within this Scottish tavern, you will be surrounded by oak panelled walls, a roaring fire and jacobean chandeliers for a true feeling of times gone by.

Tomatin Whisky Distillery

After lunch, it’s time for a “wee dram”. But don’t worry if you’re the designated driver, on the tour, you will be given your very own “drivers dram” to enjoy later.

Whether you’re an aged whisky lover or not, a whisky tour really is enjoyable for all. Learn about the historic routes of our Scotch whisky, “The Water of Life”.  You will enjoy a full tour of the whisky production at Tomatin Distillery, which hasn’t changed much in the hundreds of years since mass production began.  Tour the distillery and taste the whisky at the various stages of production to completion. You can even bottle your own whisky to take away as a special souvenir!

Tomatin Whisky Distillery, Copper Stills

Tomatin Whisky Distillery Stills

Day 3

It’s day three of our historical Highland tour and today we head north-west, then down to the wonders of Loch Ness. First today, we make our way to a true place of historical interest Beauly Priory. This is a beautiful ruined abbey church in the village of Beauly and another of the Outlander Series inspirations. Walk within the ruins of the priory which is one of three priories founded in Scotland in about 1230 for monks of the Valliscaulian order. The only part of the priory in anything like complete form today is that of the north transept. This was rebuilt by architect Alexander Ross in 1901 to serve as a mausoleum for the Mackenzie family.

Beauly was referred to in the 1230s as Prioratus de Bello Loco: Latin for “Priory of the Lovely Spot”. This suggests that the name Beauly, from the French beau lieu or “beautiful place” dates back far beyond popular belief. It is said that the villages name was based on a comment made by Mary Queen of Scots during her visit in the summer of 1564.

Beauly Priory

The Highland village of Beauly itself is a wonderful place to visit. Highland villages are scattered around Loch Ness. We have very few towns in the area as Loch Ness is sparsely populated. As such we have small communities and villages with plenty of history for you to explore, shop and eat within. Whilst in Beauly be sure to stop by the charming Campbells of Beauly tweed shop, which still has original fixtures and fittings from the 1800s.

Then enjoy a Scottish feast at the Lovat Arms Hotel before taking a scenic drive up the glen to the Corrimony Chambered Cairn. Here you’ll discover an ancient passage grave and standing stones in peaceful surroundings.

Urquhart Castle on the Banks of Loch Ness

Next, visit the magnificent Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness, a medieval fortress with a rich and interesting past.

Urquhart Castle on the Banks of Loch Ness

Urquhart Castle on the Banks of Loch Ness

And in the evening, it’s time to take in some traditional Scottish music at Hootananny. You’re in for a vibrant night of live music in the heart of Inverness city.

Day 4: The History of the Capital, Inverness

Day four, the last of our tour! Time for us to explore the Capital of the Highlands, Inverness, a walking tour of the city. Did you know that Inverness is one of the oldest towns in Scotland? It’s history dates back to 6th century AD. In this time St Columba was said to have visited “King Brude” a Pictish King.

The city is full of historical points of interest. Not least Inverness Castle with it’s 360° Viewing Platform. The castle itself isn’t currently a visitor attraction, but the viewing platform is well worth a visit. Built in 1836 on the site of an 11th-century defensive structure – there has been a castle at this site for many centuries. Find out more of the History of Inverness Castle, and it’s predecessors. During the summer months, you will also often find a pipe band here, practising for the evening.

Inverness Castle and the River Ness

Inverness Castle and the River Ness

Now it’s time to pop just down the road to the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Here you can find out more about our local Scottish history as well as enjoying both permanent and temporary exhibitions. You can also explore works from local artists and crafters in our local Highland communities, and relax with tea, coffee and cake.

From here, head across to the remarkable Town House.  This stunning, ornate ‘Flemish-Baronial’ building sits in the heart of the Highland Capital. In 2018 the building was refurbished and now during the summer months weekly guided tours are available to enjoy.

Now from one intriguing building to another, Abertarff House. Inverness’s oldest house.  Built for the Frasers of Lovat in 1593. The house, with protruding turnpike staircase, remained in the family for 200 years. Now owned by the National Trust Scotland, limited open door days allow access to the house.

Abertarff House

Abertarff House is the oldest building in Inverness (dates from 1593)

Not far from Abertarff House you will find the impressive Riverside Cathedral. Open daily, this beautiful building is as impressive inside as it is out. The Cathedral sits on the banks of the River Ness and was opened in 1869. The building is Gothic in style and well known for running out of funds. Thus never being completed, missing it’s planned 30m spires.

Inverness Cathedral on the Banks of River Ness

Inverness Cathedral on the Banks of River Ness

More recent, but still an important part of the history of Inverness is our Victorian Market. Built between 1876 70 on Academy Street, which used to be the town’s main shopping street. This was strategically located almost opposite Station Square.

Inverness Victorian Market

Inverness Victorian Market

Then, just across the road, before you leave, you must visit the grand Royal Highland Hotel. It’s the oldest hotel in the city! With over 160 years of history of its own. Here you can enjoy a lovely lunch or dinner, or simply relax in the lounge with a coffee. The perfect way to end your tour of places of historical interest near Inverness and Loch Ness.

 Royal Highland Hotel Staircase

Now, if all this exploring has whet your appetite, you must read on for our Highland Exploration of Food and Drink.