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Best 3 Days in Inverness Itinerary for Your Scotland Trip

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Most people know that Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland. But the Scottish Lowlands may as well be a different country entirely from the Scottish Highlands – which is perhaps why the city of Inverness is often regarded as the capital of the Highlands.

Inverness, located on Scotland’s northeast coast where the River Ness meets the Moray Firth, has a long history. It dates back centuries and was once one of the chief strongholds of the ancient Pict people of the Iron Age. Today, Inverness is most often visited as a jumping-off point for tours of the famous Loch Ness, which sits just south of the city.

But many tourists simply take their Nessie-spotting boat tour and then move on to other parts of the Highlands or Isles. This is unfortunate, though, because Inverness and its surrounding attractions are well worth at least a couple days of your time!

Inverness
Amanda at a standing stone at Clava Cairns
Amanda at Clava Cairns

I’ve traveled to Inverness half a dozen times on various trips to Scotland, and I honestly feel like it’s a must-visit! The city itself is quite small, but it’s perfectly positioned to visit so many incredible spots in the Highlands, from Loch Ness to Culloden to the Speyside distilleries to the North Coast 500.

You can tick off most of the Inverness highlights in a couple days. And since I’ve done it all on more than one occasion, here’s my perfect Inverness itinerary for 2 or 3 days:

How to spend 2 days in Inverness

NOTE: This itinerary is written assuming you’re planning a Scotland road trip and will have a rental car at your disposal. (Need to book one? I use Auto Europe in Scotland.) But I’ll also include some suggestions for anyone who won’t have a car, just in case! (You can also easily take a train to Inverness; direct trains from Edinburgh take about 3.5 hours – check train options on Trainline.)

Day 1: Inverness and Loch Ness

Inverness itself is a fairly typical Scottish city. You’ll find beautiful stone buildings and churches, narrow streets, and of course plenty of pubs. Inverness also has a gorgeous setting, with the hills of the Highlands rising up all around it and the nearby Moray Firth.

View from Inverness Castle
View from Inverness Castle

Morning: Explore Inverness

On your first full day, I recommend exploring the highlights of Inverness for a couple hours in the morning. These include:

  • Inverness Castle – The castle overlooking the city is actually relatively “new” as far as castles go. It was built in the mid-1800s to replace a medieval castle that was destroyed by the Jacobites. The new castle was used by the courts up until the 2020s, and is currently being renovated into more of a visitor attraction and museum experience (set to open in 2025).
  • Leakey’s Bookshop – For any booklovers, Leakey’s is a must-visit. It’s a large, atmospheric secondhand bookshop, complete with spiral staircase at its center.
  • Old High Church – Old High St. Stephen’s is the oldest church in Inverness, and people have been worshipping at its site overlooking the River Ness since Celtic times.
  • The Victorian Market – This 19th century shopping arcade has shops and cafes, and is definitely worth some browsing time.
  • River Ness – Be sure to allow some time to walk along the River Ness and cross the Greig Street Bridge for some nice photos.
Inside Leakey's Bookshop in Inverness
Inside Leakey’s Bookshop
Victorian Market with fairy lights in Inverness
Victorian Market

Lunchtime: Drumnadrochit

All the major highlights in Inverness are within short walks from one another, so by late morning you can hit the road and drive south along the famous Loch Ness.

I recommend making for the village of Drumnadrochit (about a 30 minute drive from Inverness), which is home to the Loch Ness Centre, as well as some cafes and galleries.

Have lunch first, at a spot like Fiddlers Highland Restaurant. Or, if you plan ahead you could have afternoon tea at Drumbuie Farm B & B and Quila Cridhe Tearoom, which also offers an adorable “Hairy Coo Meet & Greet” for just £5. (More info here.)

If you have time afterwards I would check out the Loch Ness Centre, and perhaps stop in for a gin tasting at the Great Glen Distillery, which is the smallest craft distillery in Scotland! (And their gin is excellent.)

Gin tasting at Great Glen Distillery
Gin tasting at Great Glen Distillery

Late afternoon: Loch Ness cruise

And of course no visit to Loch Ness would be complete without taking a cruise on the lake to look for Nessie herself!

There are a few different cruises to choose from, but I personally would choose the “Freedom” cruise with Jacobite Loch Ness Cruises. This 2-hour cruise leaves from Clansman Harbour (just a few minutes’ drive from Drumnadrochit), and includes a 1-hour cruise on the lake, plus an additional hour to explore Urquhart Castle, which is an iconic structure on Loch Ness.

Even without the Nessie legend to entertain you, Loch Ness is a pretty interesting and special place. It’s one of the largest lakes in Scotland – and in fact contains the largest volume of freshwater in Great Britain!

Urquhart Castle ruins on Loch Ness
Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness
Nessie window decal at Loch Ness
Nessie, is that you?! (It is not; it’s just a window decal!)

The Freedom cruise sails at both 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., with additional sailings at 3 p.m. on certain days in the summer.

Afterwards, you can head back to Inverness for the rest of the evening.

Don’t have a car? There’s also this Loch Ness tour that includes the same cruise as above, plus bus transport from central Inverness.

Evening: Dinner and music

Grab dinner in Inverness tonight. I highly recommend drinks at The Malt Room, and dinner at either The Mustard Seed (delicious local food in a former church) or River House (amazing seafood spot) – both of which I recommend making reservations for!

Fish dish at River House restaurant in Inverness
This meal at River House was SO GOOD

And afterwards you can head out to a pub for some live music – Hootananny is great for live Scottish music any day of the week.

Day 2: Culloden and castles

Today is your chance to explore some of the history in the immediate area around Inverness. Have breakfast in at or near your hotel, and then get ready for day that will cover a huge range of Scottish history.

Morning: Culloden Battlefield

Start out with a visit to Culloden Battlefield, just a short 15 minute drive from Inverness. This battlefield is where Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart) and his Jacobite army (people who supported the exiled King James’ claims to the throne of Scotland) faced off against British government and loyalist troops on April 16, 1746.

The brief and bloody fight was the last hand-to-hand battle to be fought on British soil – and the utter defeat of the Jacobite army marked the end of traditional Highland culture in Scotland. It’s a hugely important spot in Scottish history.

(If you’re an “Outlander” fan, this is the battle Claire thinks Jamie dies in in both the books and TV show.)

Path at Culloden Battlefield marked with blue flags
Walking the Jacobite battle line at Culloden
Culloden Battlefield vegetation
They’re trying to allow the battlefield to revert back to its natural state (but don’t worry, you don’t have to walk through this boggy bit)

The battlefield is now managed by the National Trust for Scotland, and has an excellent visitor center with museum exhibits that explain not only the battle, but the history that led up to it. Allow at least an hour in the museum, and then you can explore the battlefield to walk the frontlines for both the Jacobite and Loyalist armies, and visit the memorials erected to the men who died here.

You can either explore the battlefield on your own, or join a guided battlefield tour. The guided tour costs just a couple pounds extra on top of the museum entry, and can really add context to your visit. (You *can* pre-book your tickets and a tour, but in my experience you can also just buy a ticket when you arrive as it’s usually not super busy in the morning.)

Culloden Battlefield memorial
Culloden memorial
Clan stone marking a mass grave at Culloden
Clan stone marking a mass grave

NOTE: Please just remember that, while Outlander is an excellent story that weaves fiction into actual historical events, the Jamie Fraser from that story was not a real person. The “Clan Fraser” memorial stone on the battlefield is not a cutesy Outlander nod; it’s a stone to mark a mass grave of real men who died on here in 1746, so please treat it with proper respect, aye?

The Culloden visitor center has a lovely little cafe inside, so you might want to grab a coffee or snack before you leave.

Late morning: Clava Cairns

A very short drive from Culloden, you can “travel” even further back in time at Clava Cairns, a Bronze Age burial site. This incredible site in the forest dates back roughly 4,000 years and includes partially intact burial chambers and standing stones.

There are a few info boards around the site, but you don’t need to know much more than the fact that this is basically an ancient cemetery.

Amanda at a standing stone with a burial chamber behind it
Standing stone with a burial chamber behind it

For the “Outlander” fans, the Clava Cairns may have partially inspired Craigh Na Dun in Diana Gabaldon’s books because of how close they are to Inverness. (So don’t be surprised to see people taking photos with the standing stones…)

Afternoon: Cawdor Castle

It’ll be afternoon by now, and you’ll probably be just about ready for lunch. The Cawdor Tavern in the village of Cawdor is an excellent option if you want a cozy, traditional Scottish pub lunch. Or you can continue on to Cawdor Castle and eat something light at the Courtyard Café, which has views out over one of the castle’s gardens.

Either way, your next stop will be at Cawdor Castle. This 17th-century castle was built around a 15th-century tower house, and today is home to the Dowager Countess Cawdor.

Cawdor Castle exterior
Cawdor Castle

The castle has survived through so many tumultuous periods of Scottish history, but is a lived-in castle today, which I find fascinating! You can take a tour of the interior of the castle (it’s open from late April through early October each year), and also explore the three landscaped gardens or perhaps go for a walk through the Big Wood of ancient oaks.

I really like this castle because it’s not as well-known or popular as some other castles in Scotland, meaning you can have a nice, relaxed visit.

Room inside Cawdor Castle
Inside Cawdor Castle

Don’t have a car? There’s also this half-day tour from central Inverness that includes all the above destinations!

Evening: Uilebheist Distillery & Brewery

Head back to Inverness after visiting the castle (it’ll be about an hour back to Inverness). And if you want to do something else unique this evening, stop in at Uilebheist Distillery & Brewery to try some local craft beer. (This spot is new, so they won’t have any whisky ready for another couple years!)

Enjoy dinner in Inverness, and that wraps up your two days here!

From Inverness, you could continue on to the Malt Whiskey Trail in Speyside, or perhaps on to one of the isles like the Isle of Skye.

Have 3 days in Inverness?

If your trip to Scotland is going to include a third day in Inverness, I would suggest exploring a bit of the Moray Coast and dipping into the famous Highland whisky region of Speyside. This is an incredibly pretty part of Scotland, and it’s all about 1.5 hours from Inverness.

Day 3: Moray Coast + Speyside

Vintage truck at Glenfiddich whisky distillery in Speyside
The Speyside whisky region is so close to Inverness!

Morning: Elgin Cathedral

Start your morning with a drive (about an hour) to the town of Elgin, which is famous for its cathedral. Elgin Cathedral dates back to the 1200s, and even though it’s in ruins now, they are very well-preserved ruins. It does carry an entry fee, but I think it’s worth it!

Late morning: Bow Fiddle Rock

Continue on along the Moray Coast to the village of Portnockie, where you can visit cliffs with a coastal path that offer up views of the extremely picturesque Bow Fiddle Rock. One of the trails leads down to a rocky beach for even better views; this is such a pretty spot!

Bow Fiddle Rock on the Moray Coast
Bow Fiddle Rock on the Moray Coast

Lunch: Cullen

From Portnockie, it’s a quick drive to Cullen, a seaside village home to only 1300 people. There’s a beach here (and a beachfront golf course!) that’s nice for a walk, plus the village itself is adorable.

I highly recommend trying Cullen Skink, a creamy fish soup that this village is famous for. The Rockpool Cafe in the center of town serves up a good one.

Afternoon: Speyside distillery tour(s)

Speyside is one of Scotland’s most famous whisky-producing regions; there are roughly 50 distilleries in Scotland’s Moray Speyside region alone (a region focused around the River Spey). Several are along the official Malt Whisky Trail, which was the first trail of its kind in the world when it was established in the 1950s.

Even if you don’t love whisky (hi, it’s me!), I would still highly recommend at least one Speyside distillery tour. Scotland’s whisky distilleries have such interesting stories, and the tours here are all really interesting.

Copper stills at Glenfiddich Distillery
Copper stills at Glenfiddich Distillery
Visitor center at The Macallan
Visitor center at The Macallan

A couple I personally recommend that make sense from an itinerary perspective for today include:

  • Glenfiddich – Glenfiddich is home to the world’s most-awarded single malt whisky, is still family-run by the Grant family, and was the first Speyside distillery to offer tours in the 1960s. This is a good tour if you’ve never been to a distillery before.
  • The Macallan – Sometimes referred to as “Malt Disney” by locals, The Macallan has a flashy, state-of-the-art visitor experience that opened in 2018. It’s unlike the more “traditional” distillery tours you can find in this part of Scotland, which makes it fun.
  • Strathisla – Strathisla is the oldest operating distillery in the Scottish Highlands, dating back to 1786. It is, in my opinion, the prettiest distillery we visited and had the coziest tasting room. The whisky produced here mostly goes into Chivas Regal blends.

You do want to pre-book tours whenever possible! Most last 60-90 minutes, and include whisky tastings.

Strathisla Distillery tasting room
Strathisla tasting room

NOTE: Scotland has very strict drink-driving rules (even stricter than in other parts of the UK). The legal blood alcohol content (BAC) in Scotland is 50mg/100ml blood or 0.05% – but the limit for breath is 0.022%. For many people, one dram of strong whisky could put you over that limit. Mention that you’re driving at any distillery, and they will likely offer to give you your tastings in “driver’s drams” so you can take them with you to drink later.

Afternoon: Ballindalloch Castle and Gardens

If you only do one distillery tour (or if you opt to skip the distilleries altogether), another spot worth visiting in Speyside is Ballindalloch Castle and Gardens. Ballindalloch Castle is owned by the Macpherson-Grants, who have called the castle home since 1546.

This is another lived-in castle, which in my opinion makes it much more interesting to visit than a historic castle with lots of antique furniture that no one’s used for hundreds of years. The castle tour is self-guided, and there are also acres of gardens and grounds you can explore, too.

Amanda twirling in a red skirt outside Ballindalloch Castle
Having a princess moment outside Ballindalloch Castle

Note that the castle is only open Sunday-Thursday for visitors (Easter through the end of September), and you don’t need to pre-book tickets.

Don’t have a car? There’s a tour for that! This full-day Moray Speyside tour includes lots of the things I recommended for today, including Bow Fiddle Rock, Cullen, and a distillery tour.

Evening: Back to Inverness

You’ll have a little over an hour to drive back to Inverness. If you haven’t made it to Hootenanny for live music, this is your last chance!

Where to stay in Inverness

Inverness, Scotland
Inverness

Inverness isn’t a huge city (its population is less than 50,000), but because it *is* visited by tourists every year, there are plenty of great places to stay. My top picks include:

  • Ness Walk for 5-star luxury; it’s the top-rated hotel in Inverness.
  • Best Western Inverness Palace Hotel & Spa for a central, mid-range option. This hotel is right on the River Ness and some rooms have views of the castle.
  • Kingsmills Hotel for another more luxurious option.
  • Culloden House Hotel for a historic stay. This luxury property slightly outside the city is where Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed the night before the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

More Scotland itineraries you might like:


Who’s ready to plan a trip to Inverness?

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