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.
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 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 it most broad part. 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!
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 grave site 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 £10.50 admission price and I strongly suggest taking advantage of this. 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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Are you planning on visiting the Scottish Highlands? Have any questions about Inverness day trips? Let us know in the comments!