Planning a Scotland adventure? Inverness should be on your Scotland bucket list.
This guide to the top things to do in Inverness will have you Nessie-hunting at Loch Ness and conquering a castle or two. (Inverness has epic castles). Fancy a hike? Pack your hiking boots (and a raincoat!) for a stroll through the Scottish countryside, or while away a quiet afternoon in Leakey’s Bookshop.
I started falling in love with the Highlands on the train from Glasgow to Inverness.
Watching the dramatic countryside falling away through the window, it occurred to me that this was what I thought Scotland would be like. Rolling hills, Highland coos, mountains still topped with snow and endless greenery… it actually reminded me a lot of New Zealand.
There’s much to love about the Highlands, so dive straight into this guide to discover the 10 free (and cheap!) things to do in Inverness.
GETTING AROUND INVERNESS
The best way to get around Inverness and the Scottish Highlands is by car. Visiting the main sites by public transport is doable, but can take a bit of time and careful planning. I caught the train from Glasgow and all the places I mention in this guide are reachable by bus, train or boat.
For more information on hiring a car in Scotland check out my post on planning a 7-day Scotland road trip.
INVERNESS ON A BUDGET
Like much of Western Europe, Scotland can be an expensive country, and Inverness is no exception. Your daily budget will depend on your travel style, but if you’re travelling on a backpacker’s budget you could expect to spend roughly £60-£80 per day.
A dorm bed in an Inverness hostel could cost you around £20-£25 per night. Food can be expensive. To give you an idea, a cheap pub meal might cost around £8-£10, or a meal at a nicer restaurant with a drink could cost around £20-£30. Activities in Scotland vary. Many museums and art galleries are free, while a visit to a castle could cost you around £10.
With the exception of my Loch Ness by Jacobite cruise around Loch Ness, all the activities in this guide are under £15. See, it’s not impossible to travel Inverness on a budget!
Cheap & Fun Things To Do In Inverness: 10 Things You Can Do For Under £15
1. Visit Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle
Did you even go to Inverness if you didn’t visit Loch Ness to see if you could spot Scotland’s legendary monster?
The cheapest way to visit Loch Ness is by car. If you’re driving around Scotland you’re able to stop off at any point around the Loch, and it’s free!
If (like me when I first went to Inverness) you’re not planning on renting a car, a great option is to do a cruise with Lochness by Jacobite. On the cruise you’ll learn about the loch’s history and enjoy spectacular scenic views. When I went Loch Ness was shrouded in mist so I didn’t spot the elusive Nessie (but it wasn’t hard to believe she could be lurking in the depths).
I did the Rebellion tour for £35. Ok, it’s a little over £15. But like I said, you could do it for cheaper if you have your own transport.
During the cruise you’ll get the chance to disembark and explore Urquhart Castle. Dating back to the 13th-16th centuries, Urquhart Castle is a fascinating ruin and its position on the loch makes it very picturesque. Make sure to snap a pic or two, ok?
2. Discover Scottish History at Culloden Battlefield
Another of the top (cheap!) things to do in Inverness is visit Culloden Battlefield.
Ok, ok, I know Culloden plays an important role in Scotland’s history. But if you’re an Outlander nerd, the battle of Culloden is also one of the most heartbreaking plot points in the series. (Spoiler alert; it’s when Jamie ‘dies’ and Claire is forced to return through the stones to her own time).
In real life, the Battle of Culloden took place in 1746 and was the final confrontation in the Jacobite rising. In less than an hour over 1500 men were killed, most of them Jacobite rebels.
While at Culloden Battlefield make sure to check out the excellent Visitor Centre. You’ll get to learn a little more of the history behind the battle and see the story told from both the government and Jacobite points of view. One of the highlights of the exhibition comes at the end, when you step into a room and a 360-degree video surrounds you with sights and sounds of the battle.
Tickets to the visitor centre are £11.
3. Get Transported Back in Time at Clava Cairns
If you love pondering ancient mysteries then Clava Cairns should be on your Inverness bucket list. Or you know, if you’re just into cool stone circles, Clava Cairns is worth a visit.
Clava Cairns is believed to be 4000 years old, and, as you may have guessed from the name, is a burial site made up of cairns and standing stones. As someone who’s not super spiritual I could feel the energy of the stones, and it was easy to believe the theory that Clava Cairns was the inspiration for the fictitious Craig na Dun in Outlander.
I was defs tempted to touch the stones and go back in time to find my true love, Jamie Fraser. (Except I actually found him in my gym in Glasgow. Go figure).
Clava Cairns is close to Culloden Battlefield (about a 30 minute walk/5 minute drive) so it’s easy to combine a visit to the two sites.
4. Feel Like Royalty at Cawdor Castle
Ok, Cawdor Castle isn’t the easiest place to get to via public transport. But if you can tackle the infrequent buses the castle is sure to be a highlight of your visit to Inverness. If you’ve followed my advice and hired a car to get around, there’s no excuse for you to miss it.
You may have heard of the Thane of Cawdor. You know, from Shakespeare’s Macbeth? Well, Cawdor Castle’s main claim to fame is it’s association to Shakespeare’s famous play, even though the castle was actually built in the 14th century (several hundred years after King Duncan’s reign).
Today the castle is occupied by the Dowager Countess Cawdor, and you’re able to pay to enter and check out the beautifully adorned bedrooms, sitting rooms, dining room and kitchens. While there you should make sure to investigate the hawthorn tree growing underneath the castle. (It comes with a story almost as epic as Shakespeare’s tragedy.)
Tickets to the castle are £12.50.
5. Nairn to Cawdor Riverside Walk
Keen to get out and explore the best of the what the Scottish countryside has to offer? Well, a stroll from Nairn to Cawdor should be right up your alley. Bonus; it’s free!
As I was already at Cawdor Castle I chose to walk from Cawdor to Nairn, though you can choose to walk it either direction. The path is easy to find and well-trodden, and it’s a lovely walk through the forest with the river gurgling away at your side. If you go in spring bluebells blanketing the ground make the walk even more enchanting. For real, Scotland is magical.
The walk is mostly flat, and at 5 miles (9 kms) is suitable for most people with moderate fitness.
6. Explore Beauly Priory
Are you a fan of all things history and cool ruins? Another thing you could do in Inverness is head to Beauly to explore a ruined church, once home to a little-known order of monks.
Beauly is home to one of three priories founded in Scotland in the 13th century for monks of the Valliscaulian order. The Valliscaulians originated from the ‘Valley of the Cabbages’ in France and adhered to strict principles of obedience, poverty and chastity. Hmm, not my cup of tea.
Today you can check out the ruined church and take a peek at some of the funerary monuments. Outlander fans rejoice; Beauly Priory is where Claire meets the seer Maisri and learns of Lord Lovat’s future fate. It’s also where the Frasers of Lovat were traditionally buried.
Entry to Beauly Priory is free.
7. Have a Dram at Glen Ord Distillery
Would your epic Scotland trip be complete without tasting a wee dram or two?
For an in-depth and interesting look into the making of Scotch Whiskey head to Glen Ord Distillery. I did the Glen Ord Tour (£8) and had a blast learning about this important part of Scotland’s culture. Plus, the complementary tasting of their 12-year-old Singleton of Glen Ord was great too. Sláinte!
Glen Ord Distillery and Beauly Priory are in close proximity so it’s easy to combine a visit to the two. If you’re without a car both are reachable by public transport. (Which, if you’re doing a whiskey tasting, might be a good idea anyway).
Bonus Tip: While in Muir of Ord you should soak up that alcohol with lunch at Bad Girl Bakery, a cosy cafe serving delicious food. Make sure to grab a sweet treat for the road; their cupcakes were amazing!
8. Head Up Inverness Castle For a Great Viewpoint
You all know I love a good viewpoint, and in Inverness the best view of the city is from Inverness Castle.
As you make your way up the tower you can stop to learn more about the myths and legends of Inverness, including stories about Nessie and the Brahan Seer. When you make it to the top the panoramic view of the city is spectacular. Take a moment to soak it in; from the viewpoint you’ll see Inverness Cathedral, the River Ness, and the surrounding Highlands and distant mountains.
Admission to the castle viewpoint is £5.
9. Take a Stroll to Ness Islands
Looking for something a little more low-key and a little closer to Inverness? Why not take a pleasant stroll along the Ness River to Ness Islands?
About a half hour walk from the town centre, Ness Islands feels a million miles away from the city. The islands are connected by old-style bridges and transport you across to a scenic walk through the trees. Look out for fisherman – the area is rich with salmon – and if it gets dark, don’t worry; the path is lit with strings of fairy lights.
10. Cosy Up in Leakey’s Bookshop
On a rainy day in Inverness there’s nothing better to do than curl up in Leakey’s Bookshop with a good book. Leakey’s Bookshop is housed inside an old church, and when you step inside you’ll feel like you’ve walked into a set of Harry Potter. With it’s beautiful stained glass windows, comfortable chairs, loft area and fireplace, this is one of the best bookshops I’ve been to (and I love a good bookshop). Even if you’re not a bookworm you should go for the selection of antique maps and prints and the great photo opportunities the bookshop offers.
Inverness and the Highlands should be included in any visit to Scotland. Make it up north and you’ll be rewarded with incredible scenery, beautiful old castles, the chance to spot a local legend and an area rich in history. Inverness really is the heart of the Scottish Highlands, and I have a feeling you’re going to love it.
Eat: Inverness has some great places to eat. For a taste of the British national dish grab dinner at Mcleod’s Fish & Chips and eat it by the River Ness. For lunch on the go stop off at Lettuce Eat Sandwich Shop for delicious freshly made sandwiches and rolls. Little Italy by Eastgate Shopping Centre offers great Italian food and friendly service; make sure to try their homemade tiramisu.