Planning a trip to Inverness, Scotland, gateway to the Scottish Highlands

Although Inverness is one of the oldest settlements in Scotland—the ancient seat of the Pictish kings who once ruled northern Scotland—repeated burnings and wholesale destruction over the ages have left much of the city looking relatively modern—which it is, having largely been rebuilt over the last 150 years or so. So although the Castle is impressive enough, it only dates from 1834 to 1847.

A smidge to the east of it, on Auld Castlehill of the Craig Phadrig, is the most ancient spot in town. This spot was the original site of the city castle, one of several Scottish contenders for the title of the infamous spot where Macbeth murdered King Duncan in 1040. (Shakespeare lifted many of his best plots straight from history.)

Next to the modern castle sits the free Inverness Museum and Art Gallery (tel. 01463/237-114), which gives you the lowdown on the life, history, and culture of the Highlands. To reach it, jog up Castle Wynd from Bridge Street. You can also learn about Gaelic language and culture from the Highlands Association, headquartered in the 16th-century Abertaff House on Church Street.

Across the river are the Victorian St. Andrews Cathedral on Ardoss Street (check out the Russian icons inside) and, at 40 Huntly Street, the excellent Balnain House (tel. 0463/715-757), whose exhibition of Highland music displays include instruments you can play and a great CD and gift shop. They also sponsor fantastic jam sessions Thursday nights year-round (plus Tuesdays in summer).

The Loch Ness Show, (tel. 01463/222-781) just across Ness Bridge on Huntly Street, offers a basic introduction to the Loch, its monster lore, and—what the heck—kilt-making. Farther west rises Tomnahurich, the “hill of the fairies,” with a cemetery and panoramic views.

Where to stay and dine in Inverness

One of the nicest inexpensive places to stay in Inverness is the Glen Mhor Hotel (tel. 01463/234-308;; Full Story), on the River Ness at 8–15 Ness Bank, with great views for £47 to £87 ($73 to $165)—or from £47 ($73) online— per smallish double and excellent Scottish cuisine in its restaurants.

Cheaper fare (steaks, seafood, or pizza) can be had at the modern, laid-back Irish mosic pub Johnny Foxes (tel. 01463/236-577), on Bank Street at Bridge Street.

Can I do Inverness and Loch Ness in one day?

Truth be told, the Highlands hold more beautiful and rewarding spots, but no one can deny the draw of Loch Ness and its creature. It’s tough to do the Loch in a single day from Edinburgh, but it can be done.

Take the early train to Inverness, do Loch Ness in the late morning and early afternoon, then bus back to Inverness to spend an afternoon seeing a few sights and grabbing an early dinner before jumping a late train back to Edinburgh or the overnight train to London.

How to get to Inverness

There are seven trains daily connecting the two cities and the trip is 3[1/2] hours long.

Inverness’s tourist office (tel. 01463/234-353, fax 01463/710-609), at Castle Wynd off Bridge Street, is more than used to teaching visitors the basics of Nessie-stalking and other Loch Ness activities from lake cruises to monster-seeking trips below the surface in teensy yellow mini-subs (a rather obsessive £100/$165 splurge).

Tours Under $995 G Adventures

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in December 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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