Visiting the heart of the Scottish islands? Here’s how to make the most of your Inverness weekend break
Planning your Inverness weekend break? Here’s a walkthrough of what to explore in this Scottish city.
I grew up in the central belt of Scotland so, to me, a city like Inverness is properly ‘up north.’ It’s probably why it’s taken me until my mid-thirties to actually visit for the first time – because it does feel far away. However, it’s definitely worth the trip!
Nestled in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, Inverness might be a little bit further afield, but it has a lot going for it. Loch Ness and all the mythology surrounding it is a mere stone’s throw away. Then there’s Culloden Battlefield, the mysterious Clava Cairns, and an amazing city centre café serving up delicious doughnuts that you do-nut want to miss.
Here’s a rundown of my Inverness weekend break.
Is Inverness worth visiting?
Absolutely. Set on the banks of the River Ness, Inverness is beautiful. There’s a lot of Scottish history to soak up… and when I say a lot mean a LOT. There are battlefields, burial grounds, and the most famous of all the Scottish legends, the Loch Ness monster.
Inverness combines all of that historic Highland charm with contemporary cafes, cute local pubs, and lovely river walks that make regular stroll feel a lot more special. Dinnae miss it!
How do you get to Inverness?
You can travel to Inverness either by public transport or by driving. We drove from Stirling and it took around two and a half hours. However, it’s perfectly accessible by train if you don’t have a ton of dog paraphernalia to bring with you, like I always do!
Inverness by train
The train from Inverness to Edinburgh takes just under four hours. Make sure you get one via Perth, otherwise you’ll end up going via the east coast and it’ll take a LOT longer. The Glasgow to Inverness train is a little shorter – it takes three hours 20 minutes.
Inverness by bus
The Megabus to Inverness from Edinburgh takes three hours and 55 minutes, with a change at Perth. It’s the same for the Megabus to Inverness from Glasgow, which takes just over three and a half hours. It’s not direct so you have to change at Perth.
How many days do you need in Inverness?
Inverness is a fairly compact city so it makes it ideal for a weekend break. However, there’s definitely lots to do and while I saw a lot of the big-ticket items there was plenty we missed. If you want to make it a long weekend in Inverness that would be ideal.
Alternatively, you could spend a couple of days in the city soaking up the sights before heading to a more rural Lochside location to see if you can spy Nessie!
How can I spend two days in Inverness?
I would spend a day in the city centre seeing the sights. There is the river and surrounding scenery, cute cafes and restaurants, and characterful spots that you don’t want to skip. Leakey’s Bookshop is one place I didn’t get to and I’m still gutted about it.
Here are some of the highlights in Inverness city centre:
- Inverness Castle
- Inverness Castle Viewpoint – catch some of the best views from here!
- Greig Street Bridge – the famous footbridge across the River Ness
- Inverness Museum & Art Gallery
- Inverness Cathedral
- Ness Islands – a beautiful scenic walk in the heart of the city
Out of town, it’s all about the Scottish myths, legends, and history. You won’t be short of things to do in Inverness, that’s a definite.
Let me walk you through my itinerary for Inverness
The Battle of Culloden marked the end of the Jacobite Rising in 1746. Prince Charles Edward Stuart, known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, was attempting to reclaim the throne. However, on the 16th of April 1746 the Jacobite army was defeated at the Battle of Culloden.
The Culloden Battlefield & Visitor Centre is open all year around. The good news is that it’s free if you don’t want to pay an entry fee. It costs £14 to be able to enter the visitor centre, which includes a 360-degree immersive experience of the battle. That sounds pretty cool, right? There are also letters written shortly after the battle by Bonnie Prince Charlie.
However, if you’re trying to save money or you don’t have too much time you can wander around the battlefield without paying an entry fee. We didn’t have too much time to play with so just decided to skip the museum this time around, which I was fine with.
I enjoyed simply wandering around the field. There are stones dotted around which mark where the graves of various Scottish clans, and even English soldiers, are buried. The fact that the graves are marked with flowers makes it a rather emotive experience.
There’s also a traditional thatched cottage and a highland cow to see, if you’re lucky!
The Clava Cairns, also known as the burial cairns of Balnuaran of Clava, are well worth visiting on a trip to Inverness. If you’re a history buff, then you may know that these cairns offer a glimpse into the Bronze Age. If you’re a fan of the TV series Outlander then you may recognise the Clava Cairns from the show. I am neither, so this was all news to me.
You can wander around three well-preserved pre-historic cairns on the site here. But you might be wondering what a cairn is, right? Not just me then. A cairn just means a man-made pile of stones. You often see them on top of hills or munros to signify that you’re finally at the top, but they can also be used as a memorial. The cairns here are believed to have housed the dead – yup, the Clava Cairns are the remains of a 4000-year-old cemetery.
I enjoyed simply wandering around the various cairns and getting a feel for the place. It wasn’t actually very spooky. We visited Clava Cairns on the way back from the Culloden battlefield. They’re a little bit out of town, so they’re easiest to visit with a car. The good news is that there’s plenty of parking and the Clava Cairns are entirely free to enter.
We spent around forty minutes here wandering around the different cairns. And hopefully this isn’t oversharing but just as an FYI there aren’t any toilet facilities here.
Fancy a nice walk into town? Try Ness Islands. When I first heard about Ness Islands I was imagining a deserted island in the middle of nowhere where the Loch Ness monster aka Nessie had once been spotted creeping through the wilderness. Or something like that!
Ness Islands are really none of those things. The islands themselves are a stone’s throw from the centre of town and they’re separated from the ‘main land’ by a couple of short bridges. But that’s not to say the walk isn’t lovely. It made for a very pleasant amble on a Saturday afternoon as we worked up an appetite for the next thing on the list – Perk!
There’s nature, woodland, and lots of beautiful river scenery to soak up. You might even spot a fisherman on the river. It really doesn’t feel like you’re only a short walk away from the city centre of Inverness and I certainly enjoyed the sense of peace and tranquillity.
Perk Coffee & Doughnuts
Like coffee and doughnuts? Then you’ll want to visit Perk Coffee & Doughnuts in Inverness. I’d read about Perk before we headed up to the city and I knew I wanted to go. I’d heard about it due to its vegan doughnuts but it does all kinds – vegan doughnuts, regular doughnuts, and lots of other delicious things too. But first of all, let’s give some attention to the doughnuts.
How does a biscoff crumb doughnut with dark chocolate drizzle do for you? Or how about the Inver-Mess – a Scottish take on Eton Mess? It comes filled with blueberry and raspberry cheesecake and topped with berry glaze, meringue, and fresh berries. YUM!
Unfortunately, the doughnuts at Perk are so popular that there were none left when we arrived in the middle/late afternoon on a Saturday. So I guess my top tip is to go early! We decided to order toasties instead which were lovely, just not what I’d had in mind exactly.
However, we got a seat outside in the sunshine and Kasper got a fuss and a bowl of water so it was a nice experience. I just have a mental note to go earlier next time.
The Clachnaharry Inn
I liked this place so much we ended up going twice during our Inverness weekend break! That’s a pretty decent vote on a two-day trip to Inverness. This cosy little pub was located just a minute’s walk away from where we were staying and this meant it was the perfect place to eat after a long day of sightseeing. Not sure what the excuse was on the Friday… just because it was Friday?
The Clachnaharry Inn in Inverness is described as an institution in the local area and I can see why. With a large open fire, thick stone walls, and a charming selection of oddities dotted around the place – the taxidermy bird of prey being one – it’s a place packed with character. It’s homely and full of heart. Exactly what you want from a local pub, right?
Of course, on a chilly weekend in April I was all about the hearty pub food. On the first night I ordered a lasagne with garlic bread and salad and a delicious baked vanilla cheesecake with strawberry coulis on the side. It was epic! And then the next time I couldn’t swerve the steak pie twice with chips and veggies. It’s not fancy food here, but it’s really good!
Want to feel like a local for the night? Head to the Clachnaharry Inn!
Watch the sunset
Our accommodation in Inverness was located next to the Clachnaharry Lock on the Caledonian Canal in Inverness. The Caledonian Canal stretches all the way between Fort William and Inverness, which is 60 miles in total. It was opened in 1822 by famed Scottish engineer Thomas Telford and numerous lochs – including Loch Ness – feed into it.
There is plenty of the canal to be enjoyed in Inverness. There’s a circular route that starts at the Tomnahurich Swing Bridge and head out to Clachnaharry, which is around five miles in total. It’s ideal if you want to go for a run, cycle, or simply stretch your legs.
But, for me, this spot at the Clachnaharry Lock was a lovely spot to go for a wander with the dog and on one of the evenings during our trip. We’d come back from the pub and it was still light outside and I noticed the sky was looking all lovely and orangey-red.
I went for a wander down the canal lock and just ended up sitting for ages taking photographs and admiring the view, which isn’t something I normally do!
Where to stay in Inverness
We stayed at the charmingly named Otter Cottage during our Inverness weekend break. It’s a one-bedroom self-catering accommodation with a cosy wood burner, roll top bath, tartan blankets, and lots of other lovely features – including some otter prints in the bathroom. Oh, and it’s also dog friendly so if you want to bring your furry companion with you then you can.
If you’re looking for a snug little hideaway in Highlands then this might suit you. It’s not in the middle of nowhere and you’re surrounded by houses on all sides, but it doesn’t feel crowded – just homey and cosy. It also has a little bit of outside space with a picnic bench so you can eat outside if the weather is good, which we were lucky enough to do!
One other great thing about Otter Cottage is that it’s facing onto the Caledonian Canal. This was the perfect spot for walking the dog in the morning and for watching the sunset in the evening. Who knew Inverness had such beautiful sunsets? It was stunning!
Otter Cottage at a glance
- Wood burner
- Clean and cosy
- Luxury roll-top bath
- Breakfast tray
Not sure what to bring? Check out my Airbnb packing essentials guide right here.