Unspoiled and uncrowded, Scotland’s 790+ islands are steeped in tradition, with many containing remnants of ancient cultures and civilizations. Thanks to the country’s compact size, it’s possible to reach more than one archipelago from Inverness. Here are the top Scottish islands tour options.
Things to do in Inverness
Welcome to Inverness
Nestled on the banks of the River Ness in northern Scotland, Inverness is the last city stop on the way up to the remote Shetland Islands. Slightly more subdued than major Scottish cities such as Edinburgh or Glasgow, Inverness lies within reach of top attractions including the Great Glen and Loch Ness—attracting year-round travelers eager to admire the spectacular scenery and rugged landscapes for which Scotland is famous. Within the city itself, visitors can take hop-on hop-off bus tours to sites of interest including Abertarff House, the Caledonian Canal, Inverness Castle, and the Merkinch Local Nature Reserve—and gain insight from tour guides into centuries of Scottish history. Looking farther afield, you’ll find whisky-tasting tours to the Highland and Speyside regions, home to famous distilleries including Glenfiddich and Glenlivet; early-morning canoe trips through the mighty Aigas Gorge; full-day tours to Loch Ness and Glen Affric; and day trips to diverse destinations including Applecross, Eilean Donan, and Torridon, where life ticks by at a wonderfully relaxing pace. And if time isn’t pressing, two- to five-day adventures take in far-flung corners of the Scottish shoreline such as the Isle of Skye, Orkney Islands, and Hebrides, where the natural beauty of Scotland’s rugged Atlantic Coast reveals itself in full.
Top 10 attractions in Inverness
With an illustrious history dating back to the 11th century, Inverness Castle is best known for its role in the legendary Shakespeare tragedy ‘Macbeth’, featuring in the play as the location of Duncan’s murder. Looming over the city center, the castle is one of Inverness’ most prominent landmarks, set on a hilltop overlooking the River Ness. The castle’s present day structure dates back to 1836, an imposing Neo-Norman red stone fortress designed by architect William Burn and still surrounded by part of its original bastion wall. Today, the castle houses the Inverness Sheriff Courthouse and County Hall, and although the offices are not open to the public, exploring the castle grounds is a popular activity for both locals and tourists, affording expansive views over the city sights and along the River Ness....
With its imposing Gothic facade presiding over the west bank of the Ness River, St Andrew’s Cathedral is one of the most striking of Inverness’ many churches. Constructed in the 19th-century to a design by local architect Alexander Toss, the cathedral, often simply referred to as Inverness Cathedral, is the seat of the Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness and remains one of the city’s principal places of worship, with regular Sunday services held. The cathedral’s design, characterized by its eye-catching pink sandstone and dominated by a pair of square Gothic towers flanking the entrance, has polarized public opinion, with many noting its lack of spires – omitted from the original design due to lack of funds - as its downfall. Despite this, the cathedral boasts a number of notable features including an exquisite series of stained glass windows and a magnificent choir fashioned from Austrian oak....
Looking down on the city from St Michael’s Mount on the banks of the River Ness, the historic Old High Church is the oldest church in Inverness and famed as the seat of the first congregation in Inverness, with roots dating back to Celtic times. Legend has it that St Columba of Iona, the Irish monk who introduced Christianity to Inverness, once preached from the hilltop on the very spot where the church stands today. Despite its Celtic roots, the present church building mostly dates back to the 18th century, although parts of the Bell tower from the 14th century remain, and is notable for its restored Willis Organ and Iona marble chancel. Along with its long history of worship, the church was also used as a prison and execution ground after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Regular Sunday services are held in the Church year round....
A modern gem of a theater, Eden Court houses a range of performing arts performances involving music, theater, opera, ballet and dance as well as film. To accommodate all these large scale performances as well as studios for art classes, a new building to house them all was built in 1976 right next to the River Ness. With its sharp angles and metal and glass encasing, the theater now sports a somewhat retro futuristic look. This provides a sharp contrast to the Gothic mansion right next door, the official residence of the Bishops of Moray. But the small palace from an entirely different century has been successfully incorporated into the modern Eden Court Theatre and now houses the dressing rooms, offices and a small cinema....
The Caledonian Canal is a waterway that runs for 60 miles through Scotland's Great Glen connecting Fort William in the southwest to Inverness in the northeast. The waterway connects several lakes, or lochs, and 22 miles of the Caledonian Canal are manmade to link Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Dochfour, and the famous Loch Ness. It first opened in 1822 as a way for commercial ships to avoid the more dangerous west coast. However, by the time it opened, the boats the canal was designed for were replaced by steam ships that were too big to use the canal. Today the canal is a popular recreation area. Pleasure boats and scenic cruises sail up and down the canal and through the lochs. Visitors can also go to a viewpoint to see some of the 29 locks that get the boats from one section to the next. There are also opportunities to go fishing and swimming. For visitors who prefer dry land, there are hiking and cycling trails, including the 73 miles of the Great Glen Way....
Perched on a promontory over the North Sea, Inverness' Fort George is surprisingly little-known outside Scotland, but is in fact the largest military stronghold in the UK. Built to protect the royal troops of King George II, the 18th-century fort is encircled by giant stone ramparts over a half-mile (1 km) in length, and by moat (now dry). Sloping battlements, stone-built Georgian barracks, and a chapel awash with regimental colors lend to the site's rich history. Visitors can step inside the barracks to see recreated scenes from the life of an 18th-century soldier, or visit the nearby dog cemetery, where the regimental mascots are buried. Another highlight of a visit is the Grand Magazine, where hundreds of ancient rifles line the walls....
Sure, the River Ness might not be as famous as the nearby Loch with its monster, but that doesn't mean it's not worth wandering. In fact, the vast majority of Inverness' top attractions are situated along its shores, including Inverness Castle, Whin Park, Eden Court Theater and St. Andrews Cathedral. And of course, it culminates in Loch Ness. River Ness also houses the Ness Islands, which are extremely popular nature retreats for Inverness locals. Though famous, the River Ness is no Nile. It stretches only about 12 miles (20 km) from where it begins at Loch Ness to where it empties into Beauly Firth. Little known fact: it's actually in the river, not the giant loch, that the first ever sighting of the Loch Ness Monster was reported....
Merkinch Local Nature Reserve is a bit of a hidden treasure, located only about a mile (2 km) outside of Inverness along the shore of Beauly Firth. As the only nature reserve in the highlands, it is the perfect area to observe the diverse wildlife of this sparsely populated region and enjoy a day outdoors. There is a visitor center, once used as a ferry ticket office, where you can delve into small exhibitions and also pick up maps or hire a guide for a walk around the area. Animal spotters will also find a logbook detailing the latest wildlife sightings and can then set out to spot the highlands' biodiversity themselves. Looking over the Beauly Firth shoreline, you can watch steel blue barn swallows catching insects, buzzards sitting tall atop tree branches, pheasants with bright gold and brown plumage, shy curlews probing the waters for crabs with their extremely long curved beaks and the big grey herons stalking their prey....
Coffee breaks don’t come with a more scenic backdrop than Inverness’ Floral Hall, one of the city’s most unique attractions. Opened by Prince Edward in 1993, the Floral Hall includes a series of ornamental gardens, sub-tropical greenhouses, creative water features and ponds filled with tropical fish, set around a popular café. The Cacti House, home to the Highlands’ largest collection of succulents, is a highlight of the gardens, housing an award winning collection, and the dramatic seasonal floral arrangements on display are legendary among local gardeners. The centerpiece of the stone walled gardens is the newly opened Memory Garden, home to the Tree of Tranquility, a poignant sculpture created by the SiMBA charity in support of women who have miscarried or lost a baby – each leaf is personally engraved by the bereaved....
If you are in Inverness and want to spend a day out with the family, you will find a beautiful recreational area for just this purpose in Whin Park. Popular among tourists as well as locals, the site is especially great for kids due to the miniature Ness Islands Railway, a large play area and a boating pond. The train is usually made of a diesel locomotive with long lines of benches attached behind it. If you are lucky though, a tiny steam engine will be in use to take you on the bell-shaped ride through the thick forested areas of the park. It was originally built in 1983, though the current track was finished a few years later to allow it to cross an old iron bridge in the park that was built in 1837....
Top activities in Inverness
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Discover the top things to do in Inverness.
- Isle of Skye Day Trip from Inverness
- Orkney Islands Day Trip from Inverness
- 1 Day Tour from Inverness - Isle of Skye, Fairy Pools, and Eilean Donan Castle
- Isle of Skye Full Day 8-Seater Bus Tour from Inverness
- Skye and Eilean Donan Castle Small-Group Day Tour from Inverness
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Things to do near Inverness
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