How to spend a weekend in Inverness, Scotland: Discover the best things to see, do, eat and drink in the capital of the Highlands in a two-day itinerary featuring battlefields, bookshops, castles and more.
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As the capital of the Scottish Highlands, Inverness is a compact city that’s punches above its weight with places to stay, eat and shop. It’s a jumping off point for exploring the Highlands or driving the North Coast 500, but it’s also well worth exploring in its own right.
Inverness’ streets might not be packed with beautiful historic buildings like some other Scottish cities, but it has got bags of character, a gorgeous setting, plenty of interesting history and a warm Highland welcome. So here’s my 2-day Inverness itinerary to help you plan a great weekend in Inverness, with what to see, where to eat, drink and stay.
How to spend a weekend in Inverness
Check into your accommodation then start your weekend in Inverness with dinner at Mustard Seed. This restaurant in a converted church has a roaring log fire in winter and rooftop terrace overlooking the River Ness in summer. They serve seasonal Highland produce with a twist, like marinated venison or Thai salmon spring rolls.
Mustard Seed also do a good-value two-course early evening menu for £19.50 if you get there before 6.45pm. But it’s a popular place, so book a table in advance.
Then head to The Malt Room on Church Street for after-dinner drinks. This cosy bar is the first dedicated whisky bar in Inverness with knowledgeable bar staff serving whiskies from Scotland and beyond, making it a great place to try something new.
Start the day with breakfast at Cafe Artysans. Fill up on a full Scottish breakfast – with Stornoway black pudding and locally cured bacon – or go for something lighter like porridge with honey. The café is part of a trust which works with young people in the Highlands to help them become independent, so you’ll be doing good too.
Then visit the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery at the foot of Castle Hill. Entry is free and the museum is a great introduction to Highland life, featuring exhibits on everything from the area’s geology and wildlife to Gaelic language and culture.
It also includes the stories of the Picts, Vikings, Jacobites and more who’ve lived in the region over its long history – including the chance to try on an 18th-century-style kilt (which is harder than it looks!). And there are exhibits of local arts and crafts.
Next-door Inverness Castle is a practically a new-build by Scottish standards, only dating back to the mid-1800s. The red sandstone building sits on top of a hill of the site of an 11th century fort. It was used as a courthouse until recently but is now being redeveloped into a new museum and visitor attraction that’s due to open in 2025.
You can wander around the grounds though and see the statue of Flora MacDonald, the woman who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden. There are also great views down to the River Ness and out across the city.
Next take a walk along the river to Leakey’s bookshop. This second-hand bookshop in a converted church is the largest in Scotland. It’s been in business since 1979 and stocks everything from contemporary paperbacks to vintage prints, books and maps.
It’s a real book-lovers’ paradise, with books piled high everywhere you look and woodburner in winter, original stained-glass windows and lots of comfy nooks.
Then if you’re feeling hungry, make a stop off at Perk Café on Church Street for one (or more) of their signature doughnuts. They come in quirky flavours like rhubarb and custard or Twix and chocolate mousse, and they also do good coffee.
Loch Ness is Scotland’s most famous lake, not just for the fact it has the largest volume of freshwater of any lake in the UK, but also because of what you might find hiding in the depths. Go in search of Scotland’s most famous monster on a Nessie-spotting boat trip – the loch is just eight miles south of Inverness so you can easily combine the two.
Jacobite Cruises run loch cruises from Clansman Harbour, just north of Drumnadrochit. Or if you don’t have a car you can join their three-hour ‘Temptation’ tour, which leaves Inverness bus station at 2.15pm and also includes a stop at Urquhart Castle.
The lake is 22.5 miles long, a mile wide, 240 metres deep, and contains as much water as all lakes in England and Wales combined. So your chances of spotting Nessie aren’t brilliant, but a whisky-spiked hot chocolate on board the boat might help.
There have been over 1000 sightings, going all the way back to Saint Columba in 565AD. Is it a giant eel, a swimming elephant, a tree trunk or a trick of the light – or just a clever marketing trick? Who knows, but a million visitors a year come to find out.
Monster or no monster, Loch Ness is a beautiful place for a boat trip, passing historic houses, forests and castles along the banks. The tour stops off at Urquhart Castle where you have around an hour to explore, otherwise its a 12-minute drive from the harbour.
This 13th-century castle was built on the site of a much earlier fort, and ruined in the 17th-century to stop the Jacobites using it as a military base. You can climb the Grant Tower, walk along the ramparts and visit the eerie prison cell. And if you time your visit just before sunset, you can see some beautiful colours reflected in the loch.
Back in Inverness, head to Rocpool for dinner. This waterside brasserie mixes Scottish ingredients and Mediterranean influences in a bright, contemporary setting with river and castle views. It’s best-known for its seafood, with Skye crab and peat-smoked salmon on the menu. Then finish the night at Hootananny, a buzzing pub and live music venue.
Start your Sunday with a stroll along the river to the Ness Islands, a 20-minute walk south of the castle. This group of islands in the middle of the River Ness are connected by a network of elegant Victorian footbridges so you can walk from one to another.
Surrounded by pine, fir and sycamore trees, it’s easy to forget you’re still in the city. Look out for fishermen catching salmon and sea trout, and you might even spot a seal or two. Or if the weather isn’t so good, the Inverness Botanic Gardens are just a few minutes’ walk from the islands and have indoor tropical and cactus gardens to warm up in.
Then walk back into the city along the north side of the river and you’ll pass the red-brick St Andrew’s Cathedral. It was built in 1866 and is the most northerly Anglican Cathedral in the UK, with stone and wood carvings and beautiful stained-glass windows.
Call in to Inverness’ Victorian Market, which has been running since in 1891 – you can still see the marks where fishmongers used to sharpen their knives on the sandstone archway from Church Street. Now you’ll find a mix of local independent businesses under the red iron arches, and can browse its 40 food, jewellery, music and gift shops.
Next head to MacGregor’s for Sunday lunch, a gastro pub with a traditional Highland atmosphere. You can choose from roast beef, lamb or chicken – either as individual portions or on a giant sharing board. They also serve local beers and spirits.
Then finish your weekend in Inverness at the site of one Scotland’s most famous and bloodiest battles. Culloden Battlefield is a windswept moor five miles outside of Inverness. But on 17 April 1746 it was where Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite army faced the British government forces led by the Duke of Northumberland.
It was the last hand-to-hand battle on British soil, and was a dark and brutal one. The Jacobites were outnumbered and in less than an hour, over 1500 of their soldiers were killed. It marked the end of their traditional way of life. Bagpipes, tartan and Gaelic were all banned and it took centuries for Highland culture to be recognised again.
Culloden has a visitors’ centre to take you through the history of the battle and you can walk through the battlefield, a bleak and atmospheric place where you can feel the sadness. Flags mark the Jacobite and Hanoverian front lines and stones acts as war graves, marked with clan names to pay tribute to lives lost in this pivotal moment in Scottish history.
Map of things to do in Inverness
How to get to Inverness
Inverness is 3.5 hours by train* from both Glasgow and Edinburgh, or 8 hours from London. You can also catch the Caledonian Sleeper overnight train from London, which leaves Euston around 9pm and arrives in Inverness at 8.45am the next morning.
It’s awkward to get from Fort William to Inverness by train (you have to go via Glasgow) but you can take the Citylink 919 bus between the two, which takes around 2 hours. And the 917 Citylink bus connects Inverness to the Isle of Skye in just over 3 hours.
If you’re driving, Inverness is 157 miles from Edinburgh, 170 miles from Glasgow, 66 miles from Fort William and 80 miles to the Isle of Skye. There’s overnight car parking in Inverness at the Old Town Rose Street Car Park (IV1 1NQ).
Inverness Airport is 10 miles north of Inverness and is connected to the city centre by the Stagecoach 11 bus, which takes around 35 minutes.
Getting around Inverness
Central Inverness is fairly compact and easy to get around on foot. Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle are 30 minutes’ drive away, or you can get there on the Citylink 919 bus or Jacobite Cruises’ Temptation tour, which costs £37 adults (£33.50 seniors, £27.50 children 5–15). Culloden Battlefield is 15 minutes east of the city by car or Stagecoach 2 bus.
Where to stay in Inverness
The five-star Rocpool Reserve* is a Georgian house turned lavish boutique hotel a 10-minute walk from the city centre. Its luxurious rooms come with Egyptian cotton bedding and emperor-size beds – and some have a balcony or terrace with hot tub and sauna. There’s also a dramatically decorated red and gold lounge and a Chez Roux restaurant.
The Heathmount Hotel* is a family-run hotel with eight smartly decorated bedrooms, which are split into four-poster, classic and cosy categories. Some rooms are dog-friendly too. There’s a restaurant, two bars and a heated outdoor terrace so it can get busy, especially at weekends, but there’s a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.
Or if you prefer self-catering, the Highland Apartments* are a stylish, centrally located option. They have 20 one- and two-bedroom apartments, most with balconies or terraces looking out over the river or city, and there’s secure underground parking.