9 Best Day Trips from Inverness

Last Updated on

by Maggie Turansky


Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. That means if you click a link and make a purchase, we may make a small commission. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. For more information, see our privacy policy.


As an excellent base when exploring the north of Scotland, there are countless amazing day trips from Inverness to help you get a good feel for the area. Colloquially referred to as the “Capital of the Highlands,” Inverness 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 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 couple of hours from the city, going on a few Inverness day trips can turn an average Scotland Itinerary into a great one!

Planning Inverness Day Trips

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 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, 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 compare prices on hire cars in Inverness. Furthermore, to keep costs down even further, taking out a policy from iCarHireInsurance will allow you to have full excess coverage at a fraction of what car rental companies typically charge.

If you don’t want to (or can’t) rent a car then there are day tours that you can book from Inverness to see some of these great attractions.

Inverness skyline
Inverness skyline

9 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 if you’re after a unique day trip. The best kind of Inverness day trip has you seeing both the beautiful countryside and some significant historical sites.

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle

This is the most obvious trip on the list (it can also be visited if driving from Edinburgh to Inverness) 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.

No trip to the Scottish Highlands is complete if you don’t visit Loch Ness and doing it from Inverness is certainly the easiest jumping-off point.

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 Loch Ness Monster!

You could also spend some time in the town of Fort Augustus and the Caledonian Canals at the southern end of the lake. While certainly not off the beaten path, a visit to Loch Ness makes a great day trip 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, there are routes available but it can be hard to organise and transfers can be few and far between.

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 this full-day tour of Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, some whisky distilleries and some Outlander sites 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.

 Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness
Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness

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.

The tour puts some perspective on how horribly devastating the battle was not only for the lives lost but for how its 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 you could take.

How to Get from Inverness to Culloden

If you decide to visit Culloden, you’ll find it to be one of the easiest-to-reach day trips 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. Buses 1 and 3 leave 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 full-day tour dedicated to fans of the show Outlander is a great option (even if you aren’t a fan of the TV series!) or this tour that takes you to Culloden, Clava Cairns and Glen Affric.

Culloden Battlefield
Culloden Battlefield

Isle of Skye

Though it’s quite a ways from Inverness, one of the most popular day trips from the Highland capital is to the incredible Isle of Skye. You could easily spend a few days on Skye, however, it is also possible to see the highlights of this incredibly beautiful Scottish island within the span of one day.

With one day on Skye, you can take in a number of the incredible sites that this island has to offer. Take the time to visit the Old Man of Storr, some of the beautiful waterfalls, the iconic Fairy Glen, Dunvegan Castle, explore the lovely town of Portree and you can even visit Skye’s own whisky distillery.

If you want to make the most out of a day trip to Skye, then you’re going to need to get an early start as it’s a bit of a drive and you’re going to want to maximise your time on the island once you’re there.

How to Get from Inverness to the Isle of Skye

The easiest way to do an independent day trip to Skye is by car. It takes about 2.5 hours to reach Portree from Inverness so make sure to get an early start.

You can reach the Isle of Skye via public transport, but it’s going to be far too long of a journey to treat it as a day trip.

If you’re not keen to rent a car, then consider going on an organised tour to the island. This full-day tour or this full-day tour includes all of the highlights on Skye along with popping in a few stops along the way.

The town of Portree
The town of Portree on Skye

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, this 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 though!

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.

Unfortunately, there aren’t easy bus or public transport routes to the castle from Inverness so it’s best to go by your own car or on a tour.

Cawdor is a more “off the beaten path” option so you won’t find many organised tours to this lovely castle. This really only adds to its charm, however, this full day tour from Inverness might be a good idea if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of travelling there independently.

Cawdor Castle
Cawdor Castle

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, Aberlour, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and countless others — are all within a 90-minute drive from Inverness making this an excellent 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.

How to Get from Inverness to Speyside

As mentioned above, unless you have a designated driver, it isn’t recommended to go on a whisky tour in Speyside independently.

If you want to visit a few different distilleries in the Speyside region, this group tour takes you to two different distilleries or opt for a private tour if you want a more custom experience.

Whisky stills
Whisky stills

Cairngorms National Park

If you’re looking for a natural escape during your trip to Inverness, then consider visiting the beautiful and picturesque Cairngorms National Park as a day trip. This natural area is home to some of the UK’s highest mountain peaks and is home to a wealth of hiking opportunities to enjoy and wildlife spotting.

Along with the natural wonders to explore, the main town in the Cairngorms, Aviemore, is absolutely charming and filled with outfitters if you’re looking for a more active day out while exploring the national park.

Cairngorms National Park is also well-situated to exploring the Speyside whisky region and you can easily visit both in a single day trip.

How to Get from Inverness to Cairngorms National Park

You can easily reach Cairngorms National Park from Inverness in about 40 minutes depending where in the park you intend to visit. It is certainly easiest to have your own transport, however, there are buses that run from Inverness to Aviemore should you choose to take them.

A great option is also an organised tour. For example, this full-day tour includes transport to and from Inverness, some time exploring the national park and a stop at a Speyside whisky distillery before taking you back to the city.

Cairngorms
Cairngorms National Park

Fort William

Another popular day trip option from Inverness is to the town of Fort William. This is the beginning point of the famed West Highland Way and is also a great jumping-off point for exploring the incredible and historic Glencoe.

Fort William is considered to be the largest town in the Highlands and there is a fair amount to see and do here. It’s also the place to go if you’re interested in hopping on the scenic Jacobite Steam Train – often colloquially referred to as the Hogwarts Express – which runs from Fort William to Mallaig.

If you’re not interested in the train, take the time to explore the town itself before heading to Glencoe and learning about this historic and heartbreaking place.

How to Get to from Inverness to Fort William

It’s easiest to do this day trip by car and it will take about 1.5 hours to reach the town of Fort William when departing from Inverness.

You will also be able to pass by the entirety of Loch Ness on the way and can even stop and explore the town of Fort Augustus, should you like. You can also opt to take public transport from Inverness and the bus to Fort William will take around 2 hours.

There are also plenty of organised tour options. For example, this full-day tour leaves from the Highland capital before bringing you to Fort William. There you can hop on the Jacobite Steam Train before being picked up in Mallaig and enjoying a few more stops on the way back.

Steam Train from Fort William
Steam Train from Fort William

Highland Villages of Torridon & Applecross

If you want to get out of the city and explore some smaller villages, beautiful scenery and historic sites, then heading to the villages and surrounding area of Applecross and Torridon is always a great idea.

Located about 60 miles west of Inverness, these villages are ideal to visit if you’re using Inverness as a base but still want to have a holistic view of the Highlands.

Situated on the west coast of Scotland, both of these villages will show you a different side of the country to any of the other day trips listed here.

Another amazing stop between these villages is the beautiful Eilean Donan Castle. This castle is situated on a small tidal island at the confluence of three sea lochs — Loch Long, Loch Alsh and Loch Duich — and it is absolutely stunningly gorgeous.

How to Get from Inverness to Torridon & Applecross

These villages being the size that they are are most easily reached by your own personal vehicle if you’re planning on travelling independently. The drive will take about 1.5 to 2 hours depending on your route and you can also plan to make a few stops along the way, as well.

If you’re not keen on driving, there are also a number of day tours that will take you to these beautiful places from Inverness. This full-day tour will take you to Applecross, Torridon and the jaw-dropping Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve and this full-day tour will shuttle you from Torridon to Applecross to the Eilean Donan Castle.

Beautiful Scenery in Torridon
Beautiful Scenery in Torridon

Tain

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! 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

Torridon Guest House – A lovely guesthouse a short walk from the centre of Inverness that has ensuite rooms suitable for couples or families. A great breakfast is available each morning.

Black Isle Hostel – This hostel is a great option to stay in Inverness if you’re on a budget. They have both dorms and private rooms along with a bar on site that severe local craft beers. It’s a great place to meet fellow travellers.

Private Rental – If you prefer to have access to your own kitchen facilities then consider self-catering accommodation like this charming riverside cottage.

Not what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Inverness hotels!

Inverness Castle from the Riverbank
Inverness Castle from the Riverbank

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? Let us know in the comments!

Like It? Pin It!
Avatar photo

Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie

Comments

  1. G’day Maggie, thank you for revisiting some memories of our Sept.-Oct 2017 campervan travels in Scotland. We also tend towards the lesser known destinations and meeting locals to gain a feel of the real way of Scots life.
    While at Culloden we purchased a Scottish National Trust membership which gained us free entry to many, but not all, castles and estates with free parking. The cost was saved after about 4 visits for the 2 of us- 2017 pension rate prices. Definitely worthwhile for those on an extended visit.
    We emailed ahead to arrange to volunteer at the Invercharron Highland games in mid Sept. at Bognar Bridge. A true Scottish cultural awareness experience.
    Speaking to locals in some areas we discovered that peak season tourist traffic congestion is a serious problem when accessing some places, and would add to travel time, parking availability/costs and admission costs to some attractions compared to shoulder season costs. For those possibly driving an unfamiliar vehicle on narrow roads these factors may be avoided if scheduling permits.
    We found these to be sensible planning considerations from a self-drive perspective. Forward e-mailing to relevant information centres is, from our experience, likely to be appreciated by all concerned. Cheers, Gary

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment, Gary. I think it’s definitely worth getting the National Trust membership if you plan to visit a few of their attractions — the savings are worth it. Thanks for sharing the tip and all your others as well 🙂

      Reply
  2. Dear Maggie,
    As Brodie castle is very close to the Culloden Battlefield you might include this as part of the above article. It is a fantastic non ruin structure that was recently turned over to the Scottish Trust and is surrounded by a very user friendly garden and grounds. Just a suggestion but I hope you incorporate it.
    W. Stephen Brodie

    Reply

Leave a Comment