Best things to do in Inverness
With so many things to do in Inverness, where do you start?
Thrilling wildlife cruises and pedal-powered adventures? Immersing yourself in culture and heritage? Unforgettable moments with the kids? Or simply enjoying the Highland capital’s finest hospitality? Well, whatever you’re looking for, we’ve got you sorted! Our local guides have handpicked some of the best things to do in Inverness and created four mini-itineraries, just for you. Or, mix and match to create your very own bespoke trip!
All our local businesses are adjusting to life after COVID, so please check opening days and times before you set out – and don’t forget to share your own favourites and top tips with us, @visitinvernesslochness.
On the trail of Inverness history and heritage
If you love to delve into history and heritage, with a side-helping of myth and legend, where else to start but at the site of the last hand-to-hand battle ever fought on British soil – the Battle of Culloden.
The Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre brings the story of the 1745-46 Jacobite Rising to life, culminating in a360-degree immersion theatre in the visitor centre museum. Here, you’ll find the battle noisily raging around you on all sides, in an incredibly powerful, unforgettable experience. Today the vast moorland of the battlefield is peaceful and bursting with wildlife. Tread in the soldiers’ footsteps as you walk the battle lines, then follow paths towards the centre of the battlefield. Here, the moor reveals simple stone clan markers, indicating the graves of fallen soldiers.
As you leave Culloden, take the B9006 road and follow signs for the historic Clava Cairns. As you wind your way downhill, look to the left to spot Culloden Viaduct. Opened in 1898, this is Scotland’s longest masonry viaduct – the 29 towering stone arches never fail to impress!
You’re now just a minute’s drive away your next stop, but you’re about to be transported back in time by an incredible 4000 years. The sacred burial cairns of Balnuaran of Clava, better known as the Clava Cairns are set amongst beautiful woodland. Here, you’ll discover three impressive circular stone cairn graves, two with passageways to their interior chambers. Though the roofs are long gone, let your imagination drift back through images of rites and rituals, standing stones silhouetted proudly as the last light of the winter solstice sunset shines directly along the passageway, right to your feet. Oh yes, and if you’re an Outlander fan, you might just feel you’ve been here before!
Taste of the sea
By now you’ll be in need of some good food, so head back into Inverness city centre to the River House Restaurant. While you enjoy some of the city’s finest seafood, take in the views over the river to Inverness Castle and some of Inverness’s oldest buildings. Opposite you, the Old High Church tower dates from the 1300s, and is the oldest built structure in the city.
Go wild and explore by boot and paddle power!
The Highland capital is the perfect size to enjoy under your own steam, so if you like to get outdoors and active then we reckon these are some of the best things to do in Inverness.
Start your day on the water, with Explore Highland. Join expert instructor Donald by canoe, kayak or paddleboard to discover the urban green corridor created by the calm waters of the Caledonian Canal or dial up the adventure and head out to sea, to explore the shorelines of the Inner Moray Firth.
Once back on dry land, cross over the Clachnaharry canal lock on to the east towpath and you’ll spot the stone marker at the entrance of Merkinch Local Nature Reserve. Use the handy map to plan a meandering circular route, with up to two miles’ walk along the shoreline and amongst the tidal pools, marshes, reed beds and scrubland. Watch for wading birds – cormorants, geese, a scattering of herons, tall and silent in the pools. The keen-eyed might spot a kingfisher, weasel or even roe deer moving silently through the woodland. As you return towards the canal past the Witch’s Coffin Pool, can you work out what the rectangular ‘Witch’s Coffin’ once was?
You’ll need to refuel, so call in to the family- and dog-friendly Jammy Piece tearoom, next to Muirtown Canal Bridge, for a light bite or scrumptious home baking.
Cycling in Inverness – explore on two wheels
Fancy some of the most scenic cycling in Inverness? Well, your two-wheeled adventure starts at Bellfield Park, with bike hire from Ticket to Ride. You’ll be fitted out with a top-quality Trek bike in a flash.
First, head south following the Great Glen Way route markers along the banks of the River Ness. You’ll soon cross over a pretty Victorian footbridge – the first of several – and on to the Ness Islands. As you follow the paths through the trees from one island to the next, you’ll see carved benches offering peaceful riverside sit-spots. Keep an eye out for one special fallen tree sculpture – or is it Nessie, emerging from the dark waters?
Leaving the islands, follow the Great Glen Way along Bught Road, through an underpass and then turn right on to the Caledonian Canal towpath. You’re heading west, bound for Dochgarroch Locks – around 3.5 miles along the towpath. Enjoy the views, first looking down over the River Ness and then to the wooded slopes of the Great Glen. There’s usually plenty of activity on the water here too, from holiday cruisers to fishing vessels, large hotel boats to paddlers.
Dining on the canal side
On reaching Dochgarroch, stop at one of the picnic benches to watch the lock keeper in action, letting boats pass to and from Loch Ness. Cross over the lock gates to find plenty of Highland hospitality here too. If the beautiful converted fishing boat Highland Lassie is in her berth, you can step aboard for a light lunch in her Oakwood Restaurant, or eat alfresco on the jetty. Or, call in to An Talla (Gaelic for ‘The Gathering Place’) to browse their shop, supporting local and luxury goods, then enjoy lunch or a freshly-baked cake in the café.
Now you’re ready for the return cycle to Inverness – stay on this side of the canal and follow the tarred road until it becomes a narrower path along the canal bank. When you reach Inverness, cross over one of the two canal bridges, and retrace your route back to Bellfield Park.
The best things to do in Inverness with kids
Well, we couldn’t leave out the wee folk, could we? With so much on offer, it’s not easy to choose the best things to do in Inverness with kids – but we think they’ll love some of our favourites!
Kick off your day with an unforgettable mini-voyage aboard the Dolphin Spirit – this fully-accessible cruise in the Inner Moray Firth will take you to the hotspots most popular with our local bottlenose dolphin pod. Keep your fingers crossed that these sleek and beautiful wild creatures will come out to play! Watch too, for seals, porpoise and otters, as well as gannets soaring high then plummeting to plunge-dive into the waves.
Next, head to Inverness Botanic Gardens. Here, you can travel from one climate-zone to another in the blink of an eye, from the main gardens and their hidden hideaways to the warm and humid Tropical House. Families love the waterfall and pool of Koi carp, surrounded by spectacular tropical rainforest plants. Next, find yourselves in the arid stony desert, as you step inside the Cactus House. Children will be in awe of the dramatic cacti, and they won’t want to leave the display of venus flytraps and other carnivorous succulents. Before you visit the coffee shop, be sure to explore right to the bottom of the gardens to find the ‘Jungle’ path and a twirly maze, just made for small feet.
The fun continues just along the road – the Whin Park has a great range of play equipment, a boating pond, and best of all – the miniature Ness Islands Railway. The tiny train takes passengers on a winding half-mile circular journey through beautiful woodland and across a long, narrow bridge – great fun for big kids too! Wee ones will love to spot the colourfully painted ‘wildlife’ dotted along the route.
For the perfect end to a family day out, head along the riverbank to Eden Court Theatre and Cinema. In fact, there are two cinemas and two theatres here, with lots of family-friendly entertainment on offer. The café/bar is well set up for children and you’ll enjoy the relaxed atmosphere as you sip a well-earned artisan coffee or try a local draught beer – safe in the knowledge that everyone will sleep well come bedtime!