Inverness | A Complete Guide to the Capital of the Highlands

Inverness | A Complete Guide to the Capital of the Highlands

Complete guide to the Capital of the Highlands

When I visited Inverness, autumn was beginning to dress herself for the season. Though the first leaves tumbled to the soil, most remain green, glowing with new hues. The subtle golden and earthy hues took a sweet turn all along the River Ness. The freshly calm air, soothing sounds of the waters and the sight of a salmon fisherman in the River were moments of serenity – moments that awaits every visitor.

Though a small city in Scotland‘s northeast coast. Inverness offers a wealth of discovery, so much more than a base to visit the infamous Loch Ness, or the surrounding attractions. From fine food, historic architecture, green spaces and Highland tales, Inverness is perfect for short getaways. Plan your itinerary to Inverness with this Complete Guide to the Capital of the Highlands so that you do not miss the highlights of the city and things to do around the cultural city of the Highlands.

Here’s what is instore for you:

Inverness | Complete Guide to the Capital of the Highlands show

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A brief history of Inverness | Complete Guide to the Capital City of the Highlands

Inverness |
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Inverness, Scotland | ©mytimelessfootsteps, georgina_daniel

Inverness, means the mouth of River Ness as it is located at the best crossing place of the River Ness where it meets Moray Firth. It flows from River Ness at the east end of Glen Mor, commanding the route system of northern Scotland. This small city is also known as the Capital of the Highlands. Once an ancient settlement, Inverness had played key roles in Scottish history. One of the historic events was the visit of St Columbo in 565 AD when he converted the King of the Picts to Christianity. Then, in 843, the Kingdom of the Scots and the Picts were united to create the Kingdom of Alba which has developed into Scotland as we know today. In 1040, Macbeth is said to have murdered King Duncan at his castle in Inverness.

The real story though, Macbeth killed King Duncan I in August 1040 in a battle near Elgin, Morayshire.

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Learn more about “Macbeth” – one of Shakespeare’s most important works that also reflects the tensions, battles and destruction that took place during this era.

Buy Macbeth: by William Shakespeare on Amazon

The early Modern Ages sees tension escalating between the Highlands and the Scottish Crown, heightened when Mary Queen of Scots was refused entry to the castle in 1562 by the Highlands governor, who was later executed.

Learn more about the Highlands battles between the ninth and fourteenth centuries as well as the confused and turbulent period which led to a more settled history of the region in The Highland Battles: Warfare on Scotland’s Northern Frontier in the Early Middle Ages by Chris Peers (Hardcover – 30 Oct. 2020)



Quick facts about Inverness | Complete Guide to the Capital City of the Highlands

Population

The city of Inverness covers a small surface area totaling 21 square kilometers (8 square miles) and is home to a population of over 46,000 residents.

Climate

Inverness lies 7 metres above sea level and the climate is warm and temperate. Rainfall is significant with precipitation even during the driest months.

The average temperature is 8.0 °C | 46.4 °F. Precipitation here is about 740 mm | 29.1 inch per year.

Culture

Inverness is the cultural centre for a number of events in the Scottish Highlands. Every September the city of Inverness hosts the Northern Meeting, for bagpipe players and lovers. Another major event is the annual City of Inverness Highland Games that can be traced back to 1822. Two summer music festivals are held each year, the Rockness and the Tartan Heart Festival, that bring a variety of music to the city.

Language

Although official language of the Highlands is the English Language, Inverness still has a solid Scottish Gaelic speaking community and a relatively lively Gaelic scene. About 4.8% of Invernessians above the age of 3 speak Gaelic compared to 1.1% nationally.

Long-distance Walking hub

Inverness is connected to three long-distance walking paths:

i | The Great Glen Way – Connects to Fort William along the Great Glen | 127 km (79 miles) | 5-6 days

ii| The John O’Groat’s Trail – connects to John O’Groats along the coast;

iii| The South Loch Ness Trail – Connects to Fort Augustus along the southeast side of Loch Ness.

Geographical location

Inverness is located in the northeast coast of Scotland, at the mouth of River Ness. It lies on the Great Glen Fault. There are minor earthquakes and the last one to affect Inverness was in 1934.

The City of Inverness is located at:

Latitude: 57° 28′ 44.69″ N | Longitude: -4° 13′ 26.33″ W

Click on the image to view a larger scale | Google data

Highlights and Things to do Around Inverness | Complete Guide to the Capital City of the Highlands

Here is an outline of the things to do in and around Inverness which could be included in your itinerary.

1 | River Ness Walk

River Ness Walk | Inverness A Complete Guide to the Capital City of the Highlands
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River Ness Walk, Inverness

A great way to explore the cultural city of the Highlands is to stroll along River Ness. The beauty of this walk along the banks of the River is that one minute you are in the busy streets of the city, and the very next you are in the “countryside”. If you are lucky, you may spot some seals bobbing up and down between the two road bridges in the centre of Inverness.

Bridge.Inverness| A Complete Guide to the Capital of the Highlands
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Greig Street Suspension Bridge, Inverness was built in 1880-1881 for £1400.00 and credited to C.R. Manners and the local Rose Street Foundry.

The Ness Walk route starts from the castle and follow the riverside path along the Great Glen Way. There are a number of footbridges along the length of River Ness allowing you to cross from one side of the river to the other.

Salmon fisherman standing in the river.Inverness - Complete Guide to the City of the Highlands
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Salmon fisherman standing in the River Ness, Inverness, Scotland

Along the route, look out for some iconic landmarks such as the Inverness Cathedral and the Inverness War Memorial. You might also see a salmon fisherman standing in the river – apparently, and the story goes that around here years ago, a fisherman caught a massive salmon weighing 29kg (64lbs) but returned it to the waters after having it photographed

Georgina suggests: Walk upstream alongside one side of the River Ness to Ness Island and returning down the other bank. This allows you to have two different experiences of some magnificent views.


2 | Inverness Cathedral

Inverness Cathedral | Complete Guide to the Capital City of the Highlands
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Inverness Cathedral, Highland, Scotland
Inverness Cathedral | Complete Guide to the Capital of the Highlands
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Inverness Cathedral is a cathedral dedicated to St Andrews and is not a large cathedral. It is built of pink freestone from Conon Quarry near Dingwall. Dressed in warm cream coloured stone from Covesea Quarry near Lossiemouth, in Moray. It’s roof is green Westmorland slates and has a pine ceiling. Spend a moment or two here while on your walk along River Ness.

Address: Ardross St, Inverness IV3 5NN | Opening hours: Generally from 10 am.


3 | Ness Island

Walking upstream, you will reach Ness Island. Ness Islands is a collection of small islands in the middle of the River Ness. These small islands are connected to one another by a series of suspension foot bridges that gives a Victorian feel, sturdy and well built.


4 | Inverness War Memorial

A walk along River Ness on the east bank as it heads towards the southern outskirts of Inverness is the Inverness War Memorial. The memorial is dedicated to the men who fought in the Burma Campaign during World War II.


5 | Inverness Botanic Gardens and Nursery

A little beyond Ness Islands, is an oasis of calm and beauty. The Inverness Botanic Gardens and Nursery was formerly known as the Floral Hall is an explosion of colour, texture, impressive glass houses and subtropical horticultural gem.

Tea & cakes in the Cafe is highly recommended.

Entry: FREE | Hours: 7 days a week – 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

Address: Bught Lane, Inverness, IV3 5SS | Inverness Botanic Gardens


With the Ness Walk, allow yourself up to 2-3 hours for a complete circular walk. You can make this walk as long or as short as you like as there are a number of bridges that allows you to shorten your walk if necessary, so you could return to your starting point. Alternatively, you could extend your walk along the Great Glen Way.



6 | Cameron Highlanders Memorial

Complete Guide to the Capital of the City
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Cameron Highlanders Memorial

An impressive statue and monument dedicated to the Cameron Highlanders who lost their lives during the war. Erected in 1893, the monument stands testament to the 142 soldiers from Inverness who lost their lives in the Egypt and the Sudan conflict (1882-1889). Names of the soldiers and references to the many campaigns are also engraved thereon. This memorial is situated immediately outside of the Inverness Railway station. The Station Square was purposefully chosen as the statue’s location to ensure maximum exposure and reverence from visitors to the Capital of the Highlands.


7 | Inverness Castle | Complete Guide to the Capital of the Highlands

Complete Guide to the Capital City of the Highlands
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Inverness Castle, Highlands, Scotland | ©mytimelessfootsteps, georgina_daniel

The beautiful Inverness Castle is made of red sandstone building and sits on a hill overlooking the River Ness. A castle had been on this site since 1057 but it had been destroyed and rebuilt many times. The present castle dates back to 1836, designed by architect William Burn.

Today, most of the Inverness Castle is closed to the public except for the Castle Viewpoint in the north tower. The Castle is home to the Inverness Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court. However, the Court is due to move to another location soon. There are plans to open up more of the castle for public viewing.

The Inverness Castle Viewpoint gives 360° view of Inverness and the Scottish Highlands. At time of writing (October 2020), it costs £6.00 for 25 minutes timeslot which needs to be pre-booked.


8 | The Victorian Market | Complete Guide to the Capital of the Highlands

Victorian Market,Invrness | Complete Guide to the Capital of the Highlands
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Victorian Market, Inverness, Scotland
Victorian Market.Inverness.
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Spend a few minutes at the Victorian Market, Inverness.

The original market was built in 1870 but was destroyed by fire in 1889. The only life lost was a faithful dog which refused to leave a shop it guarded. The market was rebuilt in 1890-1891. This picturesque market is home to a fish market (accessed from Church Street) as well as a wide selection of cool craft shops and independent boutiques which are great for unique souvenirs. There are a number of eateries as well for some freshly baked pies and cream cakes.


9 | Leakey’s Bookshop, Inverness

Leakey's Bookstore.Inverness
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Leakey’s Bookstore, Inverness

When in Inverness, the one place not to be missed and even more so if you are a literary lover is Leakey’s Bookstore on Church Street. Leakey’s is the largest secondhand bookstore in Scotland and is independently owned. Sprawling with 100,000 books or so from ceiling to floor, organised into sections albeit not in any great order. Leakey’s Bookstore is a paradise for both young and old alike. As it covers all genres, as well as antique prints and maps, any one of the books can easily leap off the shelves and find it’s way into your purchase basket.

Located in a former 17th century Gaelic church, the bookstore retains most of the Church’s features. The only exception being an iron spiral staircase connecting the two floors that was added after it opened in 1979. Complete with wood burning fire that heats the shop, visitors to Leakey’s will have an amazing experience, for sure 🙂

Address: Church St, Inverness IV1 1EY

Opening hours: 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM | Monday – Saturday


10 | Meet the unusual greeter at Inverness’ Town House

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Town House Inverness
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Wolves at the door

The unusual greeters, wolves once roamed the Highlands and many places still bear their Gaelic name, madadh-allaidh. They greet visitors to the Town House to remind us of the wild landscapes that the Highlands is known for.

The wolves join an Inverness bestiary along with the camel and elephant on the city’s coat of arms, unicorn, falcon and gargoyles that you may see around the city.


11 | Walk around town…

Complete guide to the Capital City of the Highlands
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Take a walk around the city centre and see where the old courthouse was. Learn about one of the most notorious times in the history of the Highlands associated with the infamous Patrick Sellar



While all of the above can easily be accomplished in one day, you may also wish to explore the surrounding areas of Inverness. The following are some suggestions for you which can easily be done as part of a day or as a day trip.


Things to do around Inverness | Complete Guide to the Capital of the Highlands

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Dolphin Tour

I did a boat trip with Dolphin Spirit Inverness, that offers trips into the Moray Firth in search of dolphins, sea seals and a variety of sea birds. Each trip lasts about an hour fifteen minutes and run four times a day. I did not see any dolphins, but I guess such is luck 🙂

Complete Guide to the Capital City of the Highlands
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Loch Ness, Fort Augustus

Loch Ness needs little introduction. It is the most famous loch in the world, home to Nessie, the Loch Ness monster. Located just a short distance from Inverness, you could either drive, cycle or the South Loch Ness Trail, connecting to Fort Augustus along the southeast side of Loch Ness.

Urquhart Castle
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Urquhart Castle

This beautiful castle ruins stands on the banks of Loch Ness, and apparently it is one of the best places to spot Nessie. There are boat tours and visitor centre here as well.

Culloden Battlefield.Complete Guide to the Capital of the City
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Culloden Battlefield

Visit the moorland where it all happened that changed the course of world history – The Battle of Culloden ended the Jacobite cause. There is a visitor centre and audio guides.

Go a little further and experience the amazing scenery of Scottish Highlands

Isle of Skye.Complete Guide to the Capital of the City
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Isle of Skye

Experience the amazing scenery of this beautiful isle in a day – especially the spectacular rock formations of the Quiraing and Trotternish Ridge. It is breathtakingly beautiful.

Glenfinnan Viaduct | Scotland at a Glance
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Jacobite Steam Train Ride | Hogwarts Express

Ride one of the greatest train journeys in the world – onboard the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig and marvel at the scenic beauty of Scotland.


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Go on a multi-day trip and discover the Scottish Highlands, the magical Isle of Skye and ride the Jacobite Steam Train while learning all about the Viking history along with ancient myths and legends: 3-day Highland Tour from Edinburgh


While in Inverness, give yourself plenty of time also to explore the bars and the many restaurants for a Scottish culinary delight.

Places to eat and drink in Inverness | Complete Guide to the Capital of the Highlands

Inverness pub.
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Inverness | by georgina_daniel

Scotland is renowned for its unique delicacies and dishes. These include haggis and black pudding to porridge with a wee drum and shortbread. The Scottish Highlands is a great source for prime steak, organic vegetables, freshly caught kippers, salmon and mussels. It’s a gastronomical heaven. Inverness offers a great selection but the one “dish” I have heard a lot of is the Mac n cheese pie – apparently you will either love it or hate it! I haven’t tried, so I can’t comment.

Here are some suggestions of restaurants and bars for you to try:

CASTLE TAVERN | Scottish | Vegetarian & Vegan Friendly

Good service, good quality food and apparently serves the best haggis in town! (I did not try the haggis).

1 View Place, Inverness IV2 4SA Scotland

MUSTARD SEED RESTAURANT | European Cuisines | Dine in only

Nice and cosy restaurant in a former church with wood burner.

16 Fraser St, Inverness IV1 1DW

CAFE ONE | European & Scottish dishes from locally sourced produce | Dine-in and Take-away available.

 75 Castle St, Inverness IV2 3EA

RIVER HOUSE | Sleek and upscale dining experience with beautiful river views | Seasonal, sustainable local seafood.

1 Greig St, Inverness IV3 5PT

THE BOTANIC HOUSE | Excellent Cocktails!

9-11 Castle St, Inverness IV2 3DX


Places to stay in Inverness | Complete Guide to the Capital of the Highlands

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BEST WESTERN INVERNESS PALACE HOTEL & SPA | An upscale accommodation with beautiful views of the river, castle and more.

THE ROYAL HIGHLAND HOTEL | Located just steps away from Inverness Train Station. Has a glorious staircase that inspired the staircase in the movie “Titanic”

MERCURE INVERNESS HOTEL | Located 200 yards from the Inverness Train Station offers views over River Ness.

Search more accommodations in Inverness


My thoughts on Inverness

Inverness is a small and bustling city that is steeped in history, surrounded by landscapes untouched by time where monster myths and ancient mysteries are waiting to be discovered. With misty lochs, wildlife and fabulous traditions as well as warm hearty food, Inverness is a delight from the moment you arrive. I sincerely hope this guide has given you an inspiration to visit (if you haven’t already) what has famously become known as the Capital City of the Highlands. If you have visited Inverness, do share your experiences – I would love to learn more. Do return to this page as I will continue to add more places to visit and experiences to enjoy as I shall be returning to Inverness to explore further.

Have a splendid time in Inverness. As always, please get in touch on ggdaniel166@gmail.com if I could help plan your itinerary.

Georgina xx
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By Georgina

Georgina is a Travel Blogger, Travel Writer, history buff, wine (red) enthusiast and a lover of all cultures. She gave up the corporate race to embrace a more meaningful lifestyle to travel more, to write and to share the very best of her adventures. Georgina has lived in three continents, and now, based at a stone's throw of London, which is her home. She has a special interest to bring the best of Britain to her audiences worldwide. Becoming newer from each travel, Georgina enjoys sharing her travel stories, drawing her readers into her world of boomer adventures while immersing them in the history, culture and food of a region. Together with her own informative, in-depth writing style, practical tips and suggestions on her blog, My Timeless Footsteps, Georgina make travel dreams a reality. She is happiest waking up to the chirpy sounds of the birds or sipping wine over sand in between her toes, while watching the rolling clouds melt into darkness.

18 comments

  1. Thank you so very much, Ben. I am so happy that you enjoyed Inverness through my lens. There is definitely something romantic about the Highlands – an unexplainable pull that keeps you wanting to go back! The bookshop, Leakey’s is a hidden gem and a charm on its own. I so wish you would visit when possible. Many thanks for your visit, and I look forward to further inspire you through my articles on Scottish Highlands.

  2. I love this post. It is an ambition of mine to visit Scotland, as there is something about the highlands that I find very romantic. That bookshop makes me really want to give Inverness a try!

  3. Sticky toffee pudding!!! Yes! but I did not try that in Inverness. Perhaps I shall on my next visit. Visiting any part of the Highlands is like walking on history – so so much to experience.

  4. I was very fortunate with the weather, little rain and overcast but mostly was sunny. As you, the rain did not slow me down either and it was rather fun. I am glad Inverness has earned a spot in your list of places to visit. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and I look forward to reading your stories on Inverness.

  5. Thank you so very much1 I am glad my post has proven you right about your views of Scotland. I look forward to seeing your adventures of the Highlands and I am certain you will not be disappointed at all.

  6. I know what you mean about loving your trip to Scotland so much! I loved mine that I have an itinerary planned for next spring! Fingers crossed I will get there.

  7. Thank you so much – glad you enjoyed reading the article on Inverness and that it brought back happy memories for. I would love to see Loch Ness on a snowy day, I think it is quite special.

  8. Ah, I love Inverness and Loch Ness! Scotland is such a beautiful place. Your post brought back memories from many years ago when we were here on a snowy day. I remember the Victorian market and the Inverness castle. Lovely blog with tons of information and great pictures! 🙂

  9. Great guide! I was in Scotland in the summer but missed Inverness. I loved my trip so much I will definitely be going back & Inverness will be on my itinerary. I’ll make sure I come back & review this post then. Thank you for sharing.

  10. What an informative – and inspiring! – post. I’ve been planning on visiting Scotland forever and when I finally go, the Highlands will be on my itinerary for sure. To me, it’s the epitome of Scotland and your post showing these lush sceneries and the castle prove me right 😉

  11. We visited Scotland for the first time last year. It took just a short time to know we wanted to go back and explore more. The one thing that has always stopped me in the past was the high rainfall that many areas like Inverness get. However when we visited Edinburgh in the rain, it really did not slow us down! But I would love a nice sunny day to enjoy tea and cakes in the Inversess Botanical Garden. I do love when I can see the inside of a castle. So good to set that expectation that we would only get up in the Castle Viewpoint. This guide has certainly added Inverness to the list of places we want to visit. Good to know it can be used as a base for some day trips.

  12. Oh what fun! When we were in Scotland we took a day trip to Inverness and visited Urquhart Castle and Culloden Battlefield. We even saw a hairy cow. Sadly, we didn’t have time to do anything in the town itself. Just one more reason to head back to Scotland. BTW, my favorite treat in Scotland was sticky toffee pudding. Mmmm!

  13. Years ago I had an interview in Inverness. Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand the guy’s accent at all who was interviewing me so interview was cut short, but I had a lovely day exploring the city and walking alongside River Ness. Would love to return and spend a little longer next time.

  14. Yes, Leakey’s Book store is rather special. Inverness is an unexplored gem and it is worth spending some time here for sure.

  15. 25 years ago sounds pretty long time ago…The Victorian Market is good place to browse and stop for a cuppa. Inverness as you know is lovely and a great city to getaway to. Thank you so much for your visit and sincerely hope you will visit Inverness soon.

  16. Loved the Inverness post. I was there around 25 years ago and the pics brought it all back – I have a great memory! – Never got to the Victorian Market which sounds really interesting, maybe next time.

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