A check-list for the Highland Capital. Discover what to see in 48 hours plus explore Loch Ness too (if you really, really feel you should). This is a tried and tested itinerary that will work for you. You’ll find that Inverness is a bustling small city with lots to see but not much that’s ‘quaint’.
So, you hope to see Inverness in two days as part of your Scottish vacation. OK, you will find the itinerary here is all you need. Why? Because it’s tried and tested and Johanna wrote it for clients.
In other words, this is not any old ‘just passing through’ blogger’s first impressions, but a practical, call it like it is, series of suggestions and advice. (In any case, we live less than an hour’s drive away. To us it’s our nearest cultural centre.)
of the Scottish Highlands
We mention Inverness at several places on this site as it features in many Scottish tours. (The links are further down the page.)
Often called the Capital of the Highlands, this small city of c. 60,000 inhabitants (and growing fast) services all of the Northern Highlands and has plans for further expansion.
One day its road system will catch up as well.
As we say elsewhere, don’t come for your 48 hours in Inverness expecting quaint or excessively picturesque. (Although even ‘quaint’ is a relative term. Depends where you live.)
Truth to tell, Inverness doesn’t have many really ancient buildings in the way that, say, Edinburgh does.
The reason is that the warring Highlanders of old were fond of knocking the place about a bit. (Or so they say. Maybe it was just on Saturday nights.)
Instead of couthy wee Highland crofts like Brigadoon, you’ll find it’s a quite handsome, practical, well-resourced kind of place, with all the ‘High Street’ stores of any other town/city in Scotland, as well as retail businesses servicing the high number of visitors.
“If you like high-season holiday bustle, you’ll like this small city with a river running through it“
Inverness – a busy little city, heavily promoted
Because it is very much on the tourist map, it also has a great choice of accommodation, restaurants and things to do.
And it also simply feels busy, no matter when you visit. Cosmopolitan would not be too strong a word to use here.
Inverness and the Loch Ness area are also heavily publicized by tourism promoters at both national and local level.
Much of it capitalises on the decades of interest there has been in the Loch Ness monster phenomenon.
So, I expect you’ll want to go to Inverness. These itinerary suggestions should not be treated as an endorsement as such. Scotland has many other beautiful and rewarding places to visit.
f you like high-season holiday bustle, you’ll like this small city with a river running through it.
If you like off-the-beaten-track, or cute/quaint little Highland villages or just rural tranquillity, then two days in Inverness will be more than enough!
Anyway, here’s the Inverness itinerary or checklist.
This is how she suggests you spend your time in the Highland capital.
Really, this should be ‘48 hours in Inverness’ as the format is: day 1 – get there with time to see something of the city; day 2 – all day touring; day 3 – a morning excursion, then depart. There are also some options. Got all that?
Inverness in two days
- what to see and do
Everything mentioned here is accessible by foot or public transport if you don’t have a car. We assume you have never been to this Highland city before.
Day 1 – arriving in Inverness
Head north – you could drive on the main A9 highway in around 4 hours – or take an early train or bus to Inverness – It takes just under 4 hours from Glasgow and 3.5 hours from Edinburgh by public transport. It is a lovely journey through the centre of the Highlands.
In the afternoon…
A city sightseeing bus tour as a good introduction and overview to Inverness. See the historic buildings, the shopping area and the River Ness as well as the Caledonian Canal locks and visit Holm Mills shopping village.
Tours operate from March to September, daily. You can get on or off at any stop along the route.
For a summer evening…
Walk along to the Ness Islands – a group of small islands in the middle of the River Ness connected by attractive Victorian suspension bridges.
A perfect spot for a gentle walk. Paths level and suitable for all-abilities.
Alternatively, walk up to Castle Hill to see the statue of Flora MacDonald, erected in 1896. This famous Jacobite lady helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape after the Battle of Culloden.
You will visit this battle location tomorrow and hear more about the Jacobites. The large building behind the statue is Inverness Castle, built in 1836.There has been a fortification on this site for many centuries. It is floodlit at night.
Enjoy great views over the city and down the Great Glen. Only the castle grounds are open to the public but the building does have a new Castle Viewpoint – but there is a charge and you are advised to book. Further development plans are imminent.
The Mustard Seed at 16 Fraser Street. In a former church on the bank of the River Ness, with a double-height ceiling and magnificent open log fire. Try Scottish black pudding, apple and walnut salad and a local 21 day aged rib-eye steak.
Cafe One on Castle Street would be another really good choice. Friendly, informal, busy and serving wide-ranging European cuisine. (We loved the posh fish and chips on a recent visit!)
Later in the evening
Enjoy live folk music at Hootannany – a friendly and award winning pub and music venue at 67 Church St.
Day 2 – a whole day in and around Inverness
In the morning, take a guided tour and loch cruise with Jacobite Cruises – perhaps try “Sensation – The Loch, The Castle, The Legend”
This tour leaves from Inverness Bus Station and lasts 3.5 hrs. Learn about the Loch Ness Monster myth. Enjoy a guided coach tour of the area as well as a cruise on Loch Ness.
Your guide will tell you all about the fascinating history and legends plus you get one hour at the famous Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness (pictured here) as well as a trip to the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre. Other tour combinations are available.
Alternatively, visit Culloden Battlefield, the atmospheric site of the last battle fought on Scottish soil, in 1746, between the rebel forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Hanoverian Government of Britain.
Neither a petty clan skirmish nor a Scotland v England confrontation, the Jacobite movement had European implications – and even further afield in the New World.
The National Trust for Scotland’s visitor centre is both impressive and informative.
(We are huge fans of this as a must-see visitor attraction for anyone with an interest in Scotland’s story.)
An afternoon in Inverness
Discover the Victorian Market
Situated in the heart of the Inverness Old Town shopping area, this roofed indoor market dates from 1876 and has a wide range of small independent shops and cafes.
Have a look at the sandstone entrance archway in Church Street to see where fish sellers used to sharpen their knives!
Leakey’s Book Shop. Enjoy browsing in Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop housed in a former church dating from 1792. Open Mon-Sat 10:00 – 17:30 Church St, Inverness, IV1 1EY
The Old High Church of Inverness.
This is the oldest church in Inverness dating from the 12th century. Overlooking the River Ness, it is built on an ancient hill known as St Michael’s Mount. Jacobite prisoners were executed here after the Battle of Culloden. Explore the historic graveyard (which some say is haunted!)
Church open Monday to Friday in summer. Church Street, Inverness IV1 1EY
Visit Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
Experience the art, history and heritage of the Highlands through unique artefacts. Modern displays and interpretation help you discover Gaelic culture and language, geology, wildlife and much more. Learn how to say some Gaelic words and even try on an 18th century style highland kilt! Free entry.
There is a nice café in here too called Cobbs Tea House (if you missed lunch!) as well as small gift shop selling stylish Scottish gifts and cards.
Open All Year but closed Sunday & Monday. summer opening hours are Tuesday – Saturday 10am -5pm – Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, Castle Wynd, Inverness IV2 3EB
Riva Restaurant – 4-6 Ness Walk , Inverness IV3 5NE.
Classic Italian dishes and pizzas in modern setting overlooking the River Ness.
Eden Court Theatre – there may be a play or film to interest you. Eden Court is Scotland’s largest combined arts venue, showcasing theatre, cinema, arts and education performances for the Highlands & Islands. Eden Court, Bishops Road, Inverness IV3 5SA.
Inverness (kind of) must sees
- Culloden Battlefield
- Jacobite Cruises on Loch Ness
- Fort George (not in the city)
- View from Inverness Courthouse
- Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
Day 3 – departure day from Inverness
This is decision time. We said 48 hours in Inverness, so that means you depart at some point in the afternoon.
Aside from the shopping choice this morning, there is one other excursion worth the effort: a visit to Fort George.
This place, on the coast to the east of the city, is the best example of a surviving and complete 18th-century military fortification anywhere in Europe.
(Check out the Stagecoach Highlands No. 15 bus service if you are not travelling by car.)
Basically, this huge military base defends a headland sticking out into the Moray Firth (good for dolphin-spotting). It was the Hanoverian government’s response to the last Jacobite uprising that you learned about on the Culloden visit.
Never again would the Highlands of Scotland be a potential hotbed of rebellion. The fort has never fired a shot in anger. It still has a military presence.
It’s a whole morning’s visit, by the time you walk the ramparts, take in the regimental museums, the cafe and so on…then it’s time to leave the Inverness area.
Or you could go dolphin-spotting. There are some good places to see dolphins near Inverness.
You could carry on eastwards from Fort George into Moray: sometimes an overlooked area but full of charm and interest. (And not just because that’s where we live!)