Explore Inverness in 24 Hours

What is there to see in Inverness, Scotland? Loch Ness is the obvious answer, and though it was the main reason we went, I enjoyed every other moment spent exploring Inverness arguably even more than I enjoyed the Loch.

red brick castle above a bridge and river
Inverness castle

Day 1 in Inverness

Victorian Market

After getting off the train in Inverness and getting your bearings, pop by the Victorian Market, just a few steps from the station. You can stop by Milk Bar for some ice cream, look for Scottish tartans, or shop for a quaich. I picked up a Christmas ornament that was handmade by a family in the Highlands. If you have any tourist shopping to do (like picking up a rubber ducky in the shape of Nessie), this is a fun place to browse. It won’t take long, and soon you’ll be on your way into downtown Inverness.

You could easily spend an afternoon walking through downtown Inverness, or the city center, stepping into mom & pop shops that catch your eye, looking up at Inverness castle while you cross bridges back and forth across the river. (Inverness castle isn’t a traditional castle—it’s new, for a castle, and is actually in use now so you can’t tour the inside.) Take yourself outside the main city, though, and start walking.

Explore Inverness along the river

Out of all the things to do in Inverness, walking along the River Ness might be my favorite. The weather was crisp and cool with an ever-present chance of rain, the wind blowing, the red and orange autumn leaves falling down on the grass along the river bank. I would move here just to spend my days strolling up and down the river. We should all do more of that. It’s good for the soul.

Ness Islands

If you walk far enough (which we did), the river will eventually take you to Ness Islands, a shaded alcove of trees that feels like a miniature forest. You’ll see small, rickety bridges connecting the river bank to the ‘islands’ and hopefully a dog or two running across them. Take a lap around Ness Islands and walk back up along the other side of the river. It looks far on the map, but won’t actually take that long.

Leakey’s Bookshop

Leakey’s Bookshop

No visit to Inverness is complete without a stop at Leakey’s Bookshop. A haven for enthusiasts of books, antiquity, and random odds & ends, the shop has a quiet, reverent, almost museum-esque feel when you step in. People speak in hushed tones—if they speak at all—and wander from section to section with a sense of purpose that might seem intimidating. If you find the sheer volume of books to be overwhelming, try the cases of prints at the base of the spiral staircase. There are some interesting ones and you might find an old print from an 18th- or 19th-century play.

Dinner at Hootenanny

There are several good restaurants in Inverness (like The Mustard Seed and Rocpool), but if you’re only here for one night, stop by the award-winning Hootenanny for a cozy pub night. While the sticky toffee pudding wasn’t sticky enough for my taste, the fish & chips are solid, the beer is decent, and it’s a good mix of tourists and locals. On Friday nights, they have live ceilidh music and it gets busy, so get there early to snag a table.

We stayed at Naomi’s bed & breakfast, Tanera, just a 10-minute walk from downtown Inverness. I can’t recommend Naomi’s place enough. The room was comfortable, with complimentary biscuits provided for our tea. Naomi was very sweet and helpful and the breakfast, which included freshly baked pastries, was more than even we could have eaten. I’d stay again in a heartbeat.

Day 2 in Inverness

Search for Nessie at Loch Ness

One of the top things to do in Inverness. Fill up on a hearty breakfast at your B&B and head out for some Nessie spotting. Although the city is a tourist destination specifically because of Loch Ness, the loch is surprisingly difficult to get to from downtown Inverness. You can take a bus, but be sure to check the time—you may be stuck there a couple hours early. No Uber/rideshare options. We ended up calling a taxi, which was a bit pricey but at least reliable.

On Loch Ness, looking for Nessie

We took the Jacobite tour of Loch Ness. The level of indulgence in conspiratorial murmurs about Nessie you get depends on your captain for the day. There is an optional stop at Urquart Castle, but to be honest, I think you can see most or all of it from the boat. No need to stop for an extra hour to look at some ruins. Chances are, you’ve seen castle ruins before.

If you’re feeling peckish while at or near Loch Ness, stop for a bite at the Dores Inn, which supposedly has the best food in that area.

Because we had time before we needed to catch our train back to Edinburgh, we decided to wait for the bus rather than take a taxi from the lake to Inverness. The bus schedule is unpredictable. Make sure you have a usable smartphone with you, because you can’t rely on the bus timetable posted in the gift shop. We were told the bus might stop or break down on its way, so we don’t know if it would even arrive as scheduled. There wasn’t an official stop at Loch Ness, but we were told if we stood on the side of the road and waved, the bus driver would see us and know to pull over for us. This ain’t the big city, folks. We nibbled on snacks while standing outside in the cold, waving at every bus that drove by, hoping that it was the right one. We felt a bit foolish but, in the end, found the right bus. It does take time, though, so if you’re in a hurry, have a backup plan (such as a taxi) ready to go.

Top things to do in Inverness

Admittedly, this guide is more like 28 or 30 hours’ worth of things to do in Inverness. I’d suggest leaving yourself the first day to explore downtown Inverness, staying in town for the night, and heading out to Loch Ness the next day. If you’re staying for a couple more days, you might venture out to Culloden Battlefield if you’re a history buff, or Clava Cairns if Outlander is your guilty pleasure.

More culinary travel in Scotland:

Noto Edinburgh

Is it “American” food? New York American, or comfort food American? Is the cuisine Asian, or “Asian-inspired”? And what about that fried chicken?

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