Inverness is colloquially referred to as the “Capital of the Highlands” and, while its population is fairly diminutive, it has become a popular base for travellers looking to explore the wilds of Northern Scotland. Inverness itself is a lovely city, but it can be almost entirely explored in one day. There are, however, a number of great day trips from Inverness you can take in order to explore more of what the Scottish Highlands have to offer.
If you only have a limited amount of time to spend in the Scottish Highlands, then establishing a base in Inverness is by far the easiest way to see as much as possible without having to move cities or towns every other night. As some of the absolute best attractions in Scotland lie within a 90-minute to 2-hour drive from the city, going on a few Inverness day trips can turn an average Scotland Itinerary into a great one!
How to Take Inverness Day Trips
Before I talk about the best Inverness day trips and places to stay, let’s talk about how you plan to get around while you’re visiting the Scottish highlands. The highlands become incredibly rural and rugged almost as soon as you’re outside of the city limits which can make relying on public transport, especially if you want to get a bit off the beaten path.
By far the easiest and most efficient way to go on a few day trips from Inverness is to hire a car. Scotland is a sparsely populated and wild place and, though it definitely exists, public transport can be hard to depend upon. If you’re travelling independently, which we would generally recommend over an organised tour, then having a car will allow you to not be at the mercy of erratic bus timetables. Also, Scotland is one of the best places to go on a road trip in the world.
We recommend using Rentalcars.com to find the best deal on hire cars in Inverness. Furthermore, to keep costs down even further, make sure you buy a policy from ICarHireInsurance who offer full excess coverage at a fraction that car rental companies charge. That means if you get into an accident you won’t have to pay a cent!
If you don’t want to (or can’t) rent a car then there a number of day tours that you can book from Inverness to see some of these great attractions.
The Best Day Trips from Inverness
While there are a few obvious stops on this list, it is also incredibly possible to get off the beaten path and not stray more than a 90-minute drive from the city. The best kind of Inverness day trip has you seeing both the beautiful countryside and some significant historical sites.
1. Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle
This is the most obvious Inverness day trip on the list and while Loch Ness is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Scotland, this does not diminish this grand lake’s absolute beauty. Loch Ness is the second-largest and second-deepest loch in Scotland and is considered to be the largest body of water in the UK based on volume.
The loch is 37 kilometres long but is only about 1.5 kilometres wide at its broadest point. A part of the Great Glen, a geological rift that reaches from Inverness to Fort William (nearly 100 km away), it is truly magnificent to visit despite its popularity.
There are many things to do around Loch Ness including many wonderful hiking opportunities and a handful of museums to explore. There are a number of boat tour companies that will take you around the loch, stop at the ruined Urquhart Castle, and maybe spot the elusive Nessie! While certainly not off the beaten path, a visit to Loch Ness makes a great day trip from Inverness nonetheless!
How to Get from Inverness to Loch Ness
The easiest way to get from Inverness to Loch Ness is by driving, especially since it’s only about a 30-minute drive from the city to the visitor’s centre.
If you want to take the bus, the number 16 leaves from the Inverness bus station to Loch Ness approximately every two hours, however, make sure to check the timetable before you intend to travel to account for any delays or changes in service.
If you would rather take away the stress of planning your day trip on your own, there are numerous organised tours to Loch Ness from Inverness. You can either opt for a half-day tour of Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle or you can embark on a full-day tour that will take you to the lake and also to some more far-flung highland destinations.
2. Culloden Battlefield
Only about a fifteen-minute drive from Inverness lies the infamous Culloden Battlefield making it a great destination for an Inverness day trip. The site of the final battle of the Jacobite Uprising of 1745, the battle of Culloden saw an absolutely devastating defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite troops.
Somewhere between 1,500-2,000 Scots were killed at the battle and the field remains a gravesite to those who fought and lost their lives fighting to preserve the Scottish culture and way of life.
There is a fantastic exhibit within the visitor centre which gives an in-depth look from both sides at the entire Jacobite uprising and a film re-enacting the Battle of Culloden. There is also an option to take a tour of the battlefield included in the £11 admission price and I strongly suggest taking advantage of this. You can pre-book tickets by clicking here.
The tour puts some perspective on how horribly devastating the battle was not only for the lives lost but for how it’s aftermath affected the future of Scotland as a whole. A visit to the Culloden Battlefield, while definitely a solemn experience, is one of the best day trips from Inverness you could take.
How to Get from Inverness to Culloden
Culloden is one of the easiest-to-reach day trips from Inverness as it is only about a 15-minute drive from the city centre. If you are visiting in the high season, it can be a good idea to get here early to ensure that there is a place to park as it just continues to grow in popularity.
It is also possible to take the bus from Inverness to Culloden Battlefield. Bus 3 leaves fairly frequently, just make sure to consult the timetables when you plan to travel to ensure your journey goes smoothly.
There are numerous day tours from Inverness that also include stops at nearby Loch Ness, Clava Cairns, and even a whisky tasting! If you’re interested in going via organised tour, this one dedicated to fans of the show Outlander is a great option (even if you aren’t a fan of the TV series!).
3. Cawdor Castle
While Scotland is certainly known for its abundance of stunning castles, one that doesn’t seem to get much attention from tourists is Cawdor Castle. Located only about a 30-minute drive east from Inverness, Cawdor is a fantastic lesser-known castle to explore and makes a great and easy Inverness day trip. Although originally inhabited by the Calder family, Cawdor castle has been home to the Campbell family since the 16th century and the Dowager Countess of Cawdor still lives in the castle today.
Although it’s surrounded by lush wilderness, rambling hiking trails, and pristine gardens, Cawdor Castle is perhaps most famous for being associated with William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The title character is made the “Thane of Cawdor” in the story, however, the castle was built some hundreds of years after the actual 11th-century King Macbeth died, so the idea that this is “Macbeth’s castle” is highly fictional. This doesn’t mean that the castle isn’t worth visit and it is indeed one of the best day trips from Inverness.
How to Get from Inverness to Cawdor Castle
Located only a few miles east from Culloden, Cawdor is easiest to reach by car. It is also only about a 25-minute drive from the Inverness city centre.
You can also reach Cawdor Castle from the city by taking bus 113 from the Inverness Bus Station, however, they don’t leave very frequently each day. Make sure to double-check the timetables if you plan to travel by bus.
Cawdor is a more “off the beaten path” day trip from Inverness so you won’t find many organised tours to this lovely castle. This really only adds to its charm, however, this private tour from Inverness might be a good idea if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of travelling there independently.
4. Speyside Whisky Tasting
What trip to Scotland would be complete without at least one or two tours of their famous Scotch whisky distilleries? Inverness happens to be situated just north of the River Spey and this area is world-renowned for its phenomenal whiskies. Some of the best whisky distilleries in the world — including Macallan, Glenfarclas, Dalmore, Aberlour, and countless others — are all within a 90-minute drive from Inverness making this a brilliant Inverness day trip idea.
A word to the wise, however, is that Scotland has very strict drinking-and-driving laws, so if you plan on drinking your fair share of whiskey (and ALL tours include at least one sizeable dram), please don’t get behind the wheel of a car! If you want to go whiskey tasting as a day trip from Inverness, I would highly recommend either designating a sober driver or splashing out some cash to go on a bus tour.
It is the more responsible and safer option. There are a number of tour operators to choose from for all budgets — just do a quick google search to find on that suits your needs!
How to Get from Inverness to Speyside
As mentioned above, unless you have a designated driver, it really isn’t recommended to go whisky tasting in Speyside independently. If you want to find a tour, this one tour takes you both to a distillery and to the beautiful Cairngorms National Park.
If you want to visit a few different distilleries in the Speyside region, this one takes you to two different distilleries and this one offers a small-group tour of four distilleries.
Tain, for some reason, does not seem to be on the radar of most tourists unless they happen to be visiting the Glenmorangie Distillery. This is a complete shame because Tain, located just 70 kilometres north of the Highland capital, is an absolute gem of a historic town and makes one of the best day trips from Inverness! The architecture alone is enough to make one fall in love with this lovely town, which is reminiscent of Edinburgh but with a fraction of the crowds.
Tain is the oldest of the royal burghs — a Scottish town that has received a charter from the Crown — having received its royal charter in 1066. There is a great museum called Tain Through Time which gives a comprehensive history of this important town from the reception of its charter through the present day.
Besides that, a stroll through its beautiful city streets comes highly recommended as well as a visit to the Queen Elizabeth Rose Garden, put in place by the Queen Mother in 1966 to celebrate the town’s 900th birthday.
How to Get from Inverness to Tain
You can reach Tain from Inverness via car in about 45-50 minutes from the city centre. There are also a few trains per day connecting the cities and the journey takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. You can book the tickets online and it often can be cheaper to book in advance.
If you would rather save some money and take the bus instead of the train, line 25X runs a few times per day and takes about 1.5 hours to get there. Make sure to check the timetables to ensure you catch the right bus.
Where to Stay in Inverness
If you’re planning on going on any of these great day trips from Inverness, you’re going to need to find a place to stay for the night. Here are some of our top picks for those on a small to mid-range budget:
Best Budget Option: Black Isle Hostel
This hostel is in a great location and is one of the best-rated hostels in Inverness. Aside from having multiple dorms of different, they also have private rooms, a welcoming and friendly staff, and a bar serving over 20 different kinds of local craft beers. This would be a great place to stay, especially if you’re travelling solo and want to meet like-minded travellers. Click here to see the latest prices for Black Isle Hostel!
Best Mid-Range Option: Torridon Guest House
This quaint guesthouse is one of the best places to stay in Inverness if your budget allows for a little bit more than a hostel. It is located within a short walking distance of the city centre, has great ratings, comfortable rooms, breakfast included, and free parking. Click here to see the latest prices for Torridon Guest House!
A great alternative option to traditional hostels, hotels, and guest houses is Airbnb. You can get a private room or apartment on Airbnb for about £35/night and there are plenty to choose from such as this great apartment in the city centre. If you’re new to Airbnb, you can click here to get up to $40 off of your first stay!
Not what you’re looking for? Then click here to browse the best available deals on hotels in Inverness!
As the “Gateway to the Highlands,” Inverness is the perfect place to base yourself in order to explore everything this incredible region has to offer. There are a number of fantastic day trips from Inverness to take, but these five certainly won’t disappoint!
Before setting off on your trip to Inverness, make sure you have a valid travel insurance policy. We personally used World Nomads however it’s important to read the policy details to ensure it’s right for you. Click here to get a quote from World Nomads!
Are you planning on visiting the Scottish Highlands? Have any questions about Inverness day trips? Let us know in the comments!