Spending one day in Inverness isn’t necessarily at the top of every visitor’s list when they find themselves in this highland Scottish city. Often referred to as the ‘Gateway to the Highlands’, Inverness typically serves as a launching off point for people wanting to explore Scotland’s rugged north or simply as a base for day trips in the surrounding area.
This means that many travellers don’t take the opportunity to explore the city itself, which is a shame given the city has a very pleasant vibe and a number of attractions that are worth exploring. Rather than simply beelining straight to Loch Ness, I would suggest planning at least a one day in Inverness itinerary and enjoying the sites that the city has to offer!
How Many Days in Inverness?
Before I get into all of the lovely things to do in Inverness, you are likely wondering how long you should spend in the city in order to get the most out of it. And while it is one of the largest cities in the region, you really don’t need more than one day in Inverness to see the majority of what the town has to offer.
The reason you will see Inverness included on so many Scotland itineraries is that it is ideally located to explore a lot of what the highlands have to offer, making it the ideal place to base yourself when exploring the beautiful north of the country.
Inverness is within a stone’s throw of places like the iconic Loch Ness, Culloden Battlefield, countless historic castles, Clava Cairns, and even within easy reach of the Speyside whisky region and Cairngorms National Park.
With those things in mind, plan to spend 1 full day exploring Inverness proper and then another few days exploring the highlights around the region. Some of the absolute most beautiful and interesting places in the country lie within an hour or two of Inverness and it is so worth planning to spend 2 to 3 days in Inverness is the best idea to get the most out of the area.
Getting To & Around Inverness
Now that you’ve figured out how many days in Inverness is best for you and your own Scotland route, we do need to discuss how to get to and around the city and the surrounding area.
If you’re just planning a trip around the Highlands and have no plans to visit areas further south like the capital of Edinburgh, the charms of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, the edgy vibes of Glasgow or the majestic nature of Glencoe, then you can arrive directly to Inverness.
There are multiple ways to do this. There is a night train that leaves from London Euston station called the Caledonian Sleeper which is one of only two night trains that run in the United Kingdom (the other goes from London to Cornwall).
You can also take a day train from London (or elsewhere en route) that is incredibly scenic but keep in mind that it will take about 8 hours all in – it’s best to book this train in advance here as prices increase closer to the day of travel.
Inverness is also home to its own international airport, however, it is quite small and doesn’t cover a lot of destinations, but it is a viable option if you’re interested in flying into Inverness. Another option is to fly into the much larger Aberdeen airport which is located about 100 miles southeast of Inverness, or about a 2-hour drive through the gorgeous Cairngorms National Park and the Speyside whisky region.
Another excellent option if you have a bit more time and you want to see as much of Scotland as possible en route to Inverness is to begin your journey in the capital city of Edinburgh and drive up to the gateway to the Highlands. There are countless things to see and do on the Edinburgh to Inverness drive and it is an excellent way to experience the country.
One thing that you’re going to find you’ll need in Inverness (and the entirety of Scotland, for that matter) if you want to travel independently is a car. We recommend booking your car hire through RentalCars.com in order to find a great deal as they aggregate prices across many companies.
It can also be worth taking out a third-party excess insurance policy with iCarHireInsurance in order not to save some money and give yourself peace of mind while driving your rental car.
One Day in Inverness Itinerary
So without further ado, here is what you should do when spending one day on Inverness. Though there aren’t as many classical sights or things to see and do, this one day in Inverness itinerary is sure to give you an affection and knowledge of the city that you wouldn’t otherwise have if you simply used it as a base for further exploration of the Scottish highlands.
All of these sights are able to be visited independently on a self-guided day, however, if you want some historical context while in the care of a qualified local guide, then consider taking this 1.5-hour walking tour of Inverness. It will take you by all of the main attractions with an informative guide.
Arguably Inverness’ most famous attraction, the Inverness Castle is the first stop on this one day in Inverness itinerary. Whilst the original castle that was built in the 12th century was destroyed by the Jacobites after the Battle of Culloden (a must-visit as a day trip from Inverness!), it was later rebuilt in the 19th century.
You can explore the grounds surrounding the castle and also climb to the top of the North Tower for a view of the city, however, the only way to enter the castle itself is by committing a crime as it currently serves as the Inverness Sherrif Court!
Inverness Museum & Art Gallery
If you want to delve further into the history and art of Inverness, then next to the castle you can visit the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Entry to the small museum is free and you can view a number of historical artefacts and paintings in the art gallery. The museum has interactive displays as well, making this a good option if travelling with children.
Set over two floors, the ground floor is home to geological and archaeological artefacts found around the capital of the highlands including some Pictish stones and other Neolithic findings. On the first floor, you can find things with historical value including a bagpipe, remnants of the Jacobite uprising and much more.
Plan to spend about an hour or two at the museum, learning all there is to know about Inverness and its history. This is another great stop for those wondering what to do in Inverness for a day.
If you are a bookworm or simply enjoy browsing independent booksellers on your travels (I know I do!), then you’re sure to find a lot to love at Leakey’s Bookshop. This is Scotland’s largest secondhand bookshop and it is packed to the brim with over 100,000 different titles.
Warmed by a cosy wood-burning fireplace, this is the absolute perfect place to browse if you’re looking for a unique souvenir for your trip or if you’re just looking for a great place to dry off or wait out an inevitable rainstorm.
If you’re still looking for the ideal souvenir to remember your trip to Inverness or if you’re just a keen shopper (or need another place to seek refuge from the Scottish rain!), then you’re sure to love the Victorian Market!
Located just a stone’s throw from Leakey’s Bookshop, this Victorian-era shopping arcade is packed to the brim with every kind of shop imaginable and even has a number of eateries to grab a bite at, as well.
This is the ideal place to grab a unique keepsake from your Scottish adventure or just to browse some shop and support local shopkeepers and businesses.
River Ness & Ness Islands
After browsing through the Victorian Market, it’s time to wander over to the River Ness and explore some of the more beautiful natural areas that Inverness boasts by taking the one-mile walk along the River Ness to the Ness Islands. If you stay on the side of the Inverness Castle you will also pass war memorials and impressive flower arrangements during the warmer months.
The Ness Islands will make you feel as if you’ve left the city completely as you cross the suspension bridges from the banks of the River Ness. You can try and spot a variety of animals around here including seals and birds, watch the fishermen trying to catch salmon or simply enjoy the calm serenity of the area. Even though Inverness isn’t an extremely bustling city, the Ness Islands can still provide a lovely oasis away from city life.
Make sure to walk along the opposite bank of the River Ness on your way back to the city so you can stop to visit the Inverness Cathedral as well as enjoy some fantastic views of Inverness Castle!
Inverness Botanic Gardens
If you haven’t had enough of local flora on your walk to the Ness Islands, then make sure to mosy a bit further and enjoy the absolutely lovely Inverness Botanic Gardens. These gardens boast a number of different greenhouses, a carp pond and some beautiful grounds that are perfect for the nature-lover.
The Inverness Botanic Gardens are home to a tropical house, a cactus house and even some lovely walking paths where you can stroll through the gardens and feel at peace in the lovely surroundings.
Enjoy the Nightlife
Inverness isn’t necessarily a hard-partying town, however, there are a number of great places to head out to if you’re looking for a good time after spending a day in Inverness sightseeing. If you’re looking for a proper Scottish experience, these are some of our top suggestions.
If you want a hearty dinner in a great location and maybe a pint or two, then head to The Castle Tavern, a cosy pub just opposite the Inverness Castle and an excellent watering hole. If you’re interested in whiling away the evening while listening to some traditional Scottish music, then you absolutely need to head to Hootananny. Here there are live music shows most nights of the week and it comes with a great, convivial atmosphere.
Alternatively, if you are fortunate enough to visit Inverness on one of its few sunny days and are looking for a way to cool off then head to Miele’s Gelateria which makes fantastic ice cream including traditional favourites and Scottish inspired flavours like Irn-Bru gelato!
Have More Time?
As I mentioned in the “how many days” section of this article, we recommend spending a few days in Inverness in order to take advantage of using the city as a base to explore the highlights of the region. There are countless options available to you when it comes to spending more than one day in Inverness, but these are some of our favourites:
If you have 2 days in Inverness, then you cannot miss what is arguably the most famous attraction close to the city — the majestic Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle. Located only about a 20-minute drive from the Inverness city centre, visitors can easily spend a full day exploring this incredible area and even take a boat tour on the famed loch.
You can take a guided tour with transport if you don’t have your own car.
Another amazing day trip from Inverness that is ideal if you have 3 days in Inverness or more is to the historic and heartbreaking Culloden Battlefield and some other nearby attractions. Culloden is home to the last and most bloody battle of the Jacobite Uprising in 1746.
The visitors centre here offers incredible insight into both sides of this conflict and a tour of the battlefield is chilling and eye-opening. Made famous from the book and TV series Outlander, this is worth a visit even if you’re not familiar with this particular media. You can book a guided tour here.
Nearby to Culloden lies Clava Cairns — a series of neolithic standing stones — and the beautiful Cawdor Castle, which is both interesting and has some lovely grounds in which to hike and explore. Visiting these three places can easily occupy an entire day.
You also could take a day to go into the incredible Cairngorms National Park and go on one of the lovely hikes in the region. You could also opt to bounce from distillery to distillery in the Speyside region and sample some of the country’s most famous single-malt Scotches. If you can’t choose between these two options, you can take this guided tour that combines both!
All in all, there is a lot to do in and around Inverness and it is worth spending a number of days in the city in order to get the most out of it.
Where to Stay in Inverness
Now that you know what to do during your one day in Inverness and where to go if you’re planning on spending 2 or 3 days in Inverness, you’re likely going to be wondering where you should stay while in the city. There are lots of accommodation options in Inverness to choose from, but if you want a quick answer, these are some of our top choices:
Torridon Guest House – If you’re travelling on a mid-range budget and are looking a quaint bed and breakfast that is within a short walking distance of the city centre, then this is a great option. They have a number of clean and comfortable rooms available and a hearty breakfast is included in the nightly rate. Click here to check their availability
Heathmount Hotel – If you’re after a bit of luxury during your stay in Inverness, then this is the hotel for you. Centrally located in the heart of the city, they have a range of plush rooms available to suit all kinds of visitors and have a great breakfast included in the price. Click here to check their availability
Private Rental — This is an excellent option if you want a bit of privacy such as this charming riverside cottage. Click here to browse other private rentals in Inverness
Black Isle Hostel – If you’re travelling solo or on a tight budget, then this hostel is a great option for you. They have both dorm and private rooms available and a popular bar serving their own craft beer on site to meet other, like-minded travellers. Click here to check their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Inverness!
Spending one day in Inverness is the ideal way to get to know the Gateway to the Highlands before taking off and exploring this historic city’s surroundings. Inverness has a lot to offer visitors, you just need to take the time to find it.
Are you planning on spending any time in Inverness? Have you visited the city before? Let us know in the comments!