Inverness is the administrative centre of the Highlands and home to a quarter of its population. Surrounded by glorious scenery and the natural starting point for a huge range of outdoor activities and adventures, the city is situated where the river Ness meets the Moray Firth at the end of the Great Glen.
More than any other Scottish city, Inverness is known for its family-friendly activities, with plenty of things to do with children and toddlers in the city itself and nearby. The myriad outdoor activity centres, beaches, waterfalls, walking trails and green spaces are complemented by inclusive exhibitions and museums exploring the city's rich culture and history. You'll be sure to find something for everyone in Inverness.
Once a Pictish stronghold, Inverness' past has been shaped by numerous famous battles, and the city played a key role in the Jacobite uprisings of 1689 and 1745. The history of Inverness and the surrounding area has inspired many a story and film - the TV series Outlander is just one recent example that has awakened additional interest in this truly fascinating part of Scotland.
As well as a range of options for easy and rewarding day trips, like visiting Loch Ness to look for its legendary monster and exploring the Great Glen and the Highlands, Inverness is a great place to start the popular North Coast 500 road trip, which takes in some of the most spectacular beaches and wild scenery in the world.
As if all that wasn't enough reason to visit, Inverness regularly tops the list of 'happiest places to live' in Scotland and the UK!
Culture & History
Inverness Castle is an impressive red sandstone building with views down to the River Ness, across the city and out to the Highlands. The first castle on this site was built by King Malcolm III of Scotland in 1057, although the current iteration is more recent, dating from the 1830s. Throughout its history, the castle has been the site of many a battle, and visitors can look forward to discovering more about the stories of its past.
If you love castles, why stop at just the one? The area is full of examples old and (relatively) new. Brodie Castle (40min drive from Inverness) is known for its turrets, impressive art collection and beautiful flower-filled gardens, and is best visited in spring when it's surrounded by a carpet of daffodils. 18th-century army base Fort George (30min drive from Inverness) is home to the Highlanders' Museum, while ruined Urquhart Castle (30min drive from Inverness) has spectacular views over Loch Ness. These are all well worth a visit and within easy reach of the city centre.
Another site steeped in history is Culloden battlefield, where the final confrontation of the 1745 Jacobite uprising took place. The excellent visitor centre paints an informative and sensitive picture of the events that unfolded here. Just 5 miles outside the city of Inverness, it's easily reachable by car and public transport.
In the city centre, Inverness Musem & Art Gallery is a treasure trove of artefacts and art from the local area's past and present. 19th century Inverness Cathedral overlooks the river, with its twin towers a prominent feature on the city skyline. It's open to visitors daily and has a cafe and gift shop on site. A wander around the old town is a lovely way to spend a morning, and the Victorian Market is a shopper's dream.
For traditional craft and tartan enthusiasts, a visit to the Scottish Kiltmaker visitor centre - Highland House of Fraser - provides the opportunity to see kilts being made and understand the traditions behind it.
The Highland Aviation Museum at Inverness airport, just outside the city, is also a popular family day out with lots to keep kids busy and interested. If you're flying into Inverness airport, you can easily visit at the start or end of your trip, but even if you're using another mode of transport, we recommend building it into your trip anyway.
For evening entertainment, see what's on the programme at Eden Court Theatre.
Inverness is also something of a hub for lovers and players of bagpipes, with the Northern Meeting Piping Competition taking place in the city each September. In summer, the Inverness Highland Games is a full weekend of games and activities which brings together locals and visitors and keeps everyone entertained.
Bookworms mustn't miss the incredible Leakey's bookshop, the largest second-hand bookstore in Scotland - it will keep you busy for hours on end!
Places to Eat & Drink
Inverness has plenty of options for eating and drinking to suit all tastes, ages and dietary needs.
The Mustard Seed, housed in a converted church building, and its more modern sister restaurant, The Kitchen, are both located on the banks of the River Ness. These excellent restaurants are very popular with the locals, and there's definitely room for both in this city!
More informal, lunch-friendly options include the quirky social enterprise Velocity Cafe & Bike Workshop, offering lovely vegetarian food in a relaxed atmosphere, with profits going towards improving the wellbeing of people in the local area. Other brilliant cafes in Inverness include pizza-specialists Cheese & Tomatin, The Grumpy Chef for sandwiches, salads, soups and cakes, and Jamaican-themed cafe Kool Runnings, which offers "a little bit of the Tropics in the Highlands".
For a pre or post-dinner beverage, try the Castle Tavern's real ale selection, pop into MacGregor's Bar, or perhaps The Anderson in Fortrose, Black Isle, if you'd like to head slightly further afield - this is particularly well-known for its great beer and whisky selection.
Tomatin distillery offers tours, tastings and an excellent shop, perfect for whisky enthusiasts wanting to sample a local dram.
Nature & Green Spaces
Inverness is surrounded by natural beauty, and it's not difficult to find green spaces and tranquil oases.
We recommend taking an easy walk along the riverside to the Ness Islands, or perhaps a stroll in Inverness Botanic Gardens, whose greenhouses offer sanctuary and the chance to enjoy a range of local and exotic plant species whatever the weather. Whin Park is also lovely, particularly for family days out - it has adventure play areas, a narrow-gauge railway and a boating pond. Merkinch Local Nature Reserve on the edge of Beauly Firth is another gem within walking distance of the city, teeming with wildlife including roe deer and wading birds, and with luck, osprey can be seen here.
Nearby Moray Firth is an excellent place to spot whales and dolphins - local firm Dolphin Spirit offers wildlife-spotting boat trips from the city.
Those willing and able to head further afield for their nature fix would do well to explore Fairy Glen in Rosemarkie (30min drive from Inverness). There are plenty of family-friendly walks to choose from, and Rosemarkie also has a very pretty beach.
Abriachan Forest, near the beautiful Loch Laide (30min drive from Inverness), combines nature with education, and there are also excellent bike trails to be found here.
For those on longer trips around Scotland, Inverness is the natural starting point for the NC500 and other Highland and outdoor adventures. Long-distance hikers will find themselves well-positioned for popular trails including the Great Glen Way, John o' Groats Trail and South Loch Ness Trail.
Inverness Castle viewpoint is one of the best places to see Inverness from above - there's a small fee to climb the tower, for which visitors are rewarded with breathtaking 360-degree views of the city and the Highlands beyond.
The ancient Craig Phadraig woods are another great place to enjoy views of the city. Just a few minutes' drive from Inverness, the 1.9km Hill Fort Trail offers the best outlook on a clear day.
If you're pushed for time but still want a view, Ness Bridge in the city centre will give you a new perspective on this attractive city.
Getting to Inverness
By road: Kessock bridge across the Moray Firth connects Inverness to the Black Isle. To access destinations further afield, Inverness is connected with the rest of Scotland via the A9 (reaching Thurso to the north and the Cairngorms and Perth to the south), the A82 (heading southwest to Fort William and joining up with the A85 to Oban, and also routes further west to the Isle of Skye) and A96 (heading east to Aberdeen) trunk roads.
Farraline Park bus station is well-served by local Stagecoach services and long-distance buses to/from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Perth (via Megabus), London (via National Express) and Fort William, Kirkwall, Portree and Thurso (via Stagecoach).
By rail:Scotrail services connect Inverness to other Scottish cities including Edinburgh, Glasgow and Perth, to Thurso and Wick in the far north and to Kyle of Lochalsh, from which the Isle of Skye can be accessed by road. There are two daily services to/from London - the Caledonian Sleeper overnight train and LNER's Highland Chieftain.
By air: Inverness has an international airport, which is located 8 miles to the northeast of the city, and well-served by flights to the Scottish isles, the rest of the UK (including Manchester, Belfast and London), and Europe.
By sea: The busy Port of Inverness at the mouth of the river is an important hub for trade between Scotland and the rest of the world.