The Scottish city of Inverness is known as many an exciting thing: the most northerly city in Britain, gateway to the Highlands, and (of course) jumping point of adventures for those who enjoy traveling centuries back in time via magical stones, straight into the arms of a kilt-clad Scotsman.
(If that last bit was utter non-sense to you, I’d recommend skipping #13 on this list, which includes suggestions for an Outlander day trip)
But okay, day trips and dreamy romances aside, what is there to actually do in Inverness?
As I learned on a recent trip to hurl myself on the Hogwarts Express, the answer is quite a lot! Inverness may be a small city that’s more often than not just a base for other sightseeing in the area, but there’s plenty of fun things to do here for a day, from free museums and tasty coffee shops to utterly magical bookshops and donuts.
So, read on for a roundup of the best things to do in Inverness, Scotland – a city that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for its charms.
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1. Visit the largest 2nd hand bookstore in Scotland
We’ll start with one of my personal favourite Inverness activities: sniffing around a magical bookshop.
When it comes to nerdy things to do in Inverness, there’s truly nothing better than a visit to Leakey’s Bookshop, the largest 2nd hand bookstore in Scotland!
Opened by Charles Leakey in the late 70s (and now co-run by his son), this shop has been a book lovers’ place of worship for over 40 years. Fitting since its present location is a centuries-old Gaelic church.
From the outside, it looks like any old church, but step in and you’re greeted with a cozy, bookish utopia. There’s thousands of books on every topic. A spiral staircase. Stained glass windows. And a wood-burning stove in the middle for an element of excitement and danger.
Be sure to stop by for a quick browse – you won’t regret it!
2. Stop by the Victorian Market
Whether to shop or just to ogle, the Victorian Market in Inverness is a pretty little gem, and a must-visit spot for anyone exploring this lovely Scottish city. It isn’t just a shopper’s paradise though; it’s also a piece of history and a visual delight.
This charming arcade dates back to the late 19th century, and its Victorian architecture is a testament to the city’s rich heritage. As you stroll through its ornate entrance, you’ll be greeted by intricate wrought-iron archways and decorative glasswork, all lovingly preserved from a bygone era.
Inside, the market’s interior retains much of its original character, with high ceilings, beautiful mosaics, and a timeless ambience that transports you to a different time. But what’s truly remarkable is how this historical gem seamlessly blends the past with the present. While preserving its Victorian charm, the market now houses an array of contemporary shops and eateries, creating a unique fusion of old-world elegance and modern vibrancy.
You can shop for everything from artisanal crafts and vintage treasures to mouthwatering local delicacies. And when you need a break from all that retail therapy, there are cosy cafes where you can savour a cuppa and just soak in the wonderful atmosphere.
3. Go for a stroll along the River Ness
On a sunny blue sky day, there’s truly no better thing to do in Inverness than go for a walk along the banks of the River Ness.
First off, the riverbanks offer some of the most picturesque views you’ll ever lay your eyes on. Strolling alongside the glistening waters, with lush greenery on one side and the stunning Inverness Castle perched on the other – it’s like a scene out of a fairy tale! Head for Ness Walk and continue down the riverside path to get to the Ness Islands, which are connected by bridges.
The riverside path is dotted with charming bridges, quirky sculptures (I particularly love the concrete hippos), and serene parks where you can chill out, have a picnic, or just soak up the Scottish sunshine – when it decides to make an appearance, that is! It’s the perfect spot to snap some Insta-worthy pics or simply take in the peaceful vibes of the city.
4. Visit Inverness Museum & Art Gallery
The Inverness Museum and Art Gallery is a free treasure trove of fascinating artefacts and artworks that’ll make your inner history or art geek jump for joy. From ancient Pictish stones to contemporary Scottish masterpieces, it’s a journey that spans centuries of creativity and heritage.
The exhibits are varied and interesting, tracing the timeline of Highands life from prehistoric eras right up to present day. This museum knows how to bring history and art to life as well. Interactive exhibits, hands-on activities, and immersive displays make learning an absolute blast… even with no kids in tow. For those in want of a little extra immersion, you can even don a kilt (so long as you figure out the wrapping) or try your hand at Highland games.
And if that’s not enough, the museum often hosts exciting events and temporary exhibitions, so there’s always something fresh and exciting to discover.
5. Marvel at Inverness Castle
Another key attraction to scope out while in Inverness is, of course, the city’s very own castle!
Inverness Castle has a rich and colourful past, dating back to the 11th century. It’s witnessed battles, royal visits, and even a complete reconstruction in the 19th century, giving it a unique blend of historic charm and Victorian architecture. You can feel the weight of centuries of Scottish history as you explore its walls.
Perched high on a hill, the castle offers some of the most breathtaking panoramic views of Inverness and the surrounding Scottish Highlands. The views alone are worth the trip… or so I’m told! Unfortunately, during my visit, the castle was undergoing some restoration work and therefore not open to the public… but it still made for a nice enough photo opp from the bridge!
The new Inverness Castle Experience is set to open in 2025 and looks like it will be very interesting, so make sure you go if you’re visiting once it’s done – and let me know what it’s like!
6. Admire the Inverness Town House
Walking around Inverness city centre for the first time, I didn’t feel like there were many standout pieces of architecture… that is until I set eyes on the Inverness Town House, probably the prettiest building in the city (and a time capsule of the city’s past).
This picturesque town house was built back in the 19th century and is a stunning example of neoclassical architecture. Grand columns, elegant facades, and intricate details abound!
This building has seen it all. It’s been a hub for civic affairs, hosting everything from town meetings to grand celebrations. It’s witnessed the changing face of Inverness, from its Victorian heyday to the modern era. The building itself is a work of art, and you can explore its beautiful interior and maybe even catch a glimpse of the council chambers by booking a guided tour on Thursdays.
If you’re visiting any other time it’s still worth stopping to see the wolf statues and read the information boards about them.
The Inverness Town House often hosts exhibitions, events, and performances that are open to the public. So, you might stumble upon an art show, a cultural festival, or even a concert while you’re there.
7. Visit the oldest house in Inverness
Operated by the National Trust of Scotland, the small Abertaff House is the oldest house in the city and a cool (albeit tiny) attraction to explore.
Originally constructed in 1593, the house has been used for many different purposes during its 400-year history but was first built as a townhouse for the Frasers of Lovat family. In the 19th century, it was acquired by the Commercial Bank of Scotland but eventually fell into disrepair, before being restored by the National Trust for Scotland.
Today, Abertaff House is home to a small (but free!) museum, that takes you on a journey back to the 16th century. It’s a beautifully preserved example of Scottish Renaissance architecture, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped right into a historical novel.
The house is nestled in Inverness’s historic Old Town, surrounded by charming streets and quaint shops. So, after you’ve explored the house and soaked in its rich history, you can take a leisurely stroll through the heart of Inverness, discovering even more hidden treasures.
8. Enjoy some excellent coffee and baked goods
For such a small city, Inverness really has a ton of choices when it comes to cosy, delicious coffee shops. So, make sure you enjoy a bit of the local cafe scene during your visit.
Some places I really enjoyed were:
- Perk Coffee + Doughnuts: For some of the most EXTRA doughnuts, which are also delicious, excellent coffee and yummy toasted sandwiches if you want something savoury. Plus they also do very unique cocktails at night!
- XOKO Bakehouse and Coffee Bar: Great for breakfast, brunch or lunch with a wide range of baked goods and sweet treats.
If you’re a Beatles fan, consider stopping by the Rendez Vous Cafe, where the Beatles once played in 1960. They even have the show’s set list on display:
9. Sample some craft beer/local whisky
Uile-bheist (which is Scottish Gaelic for monster and pronounced EWL-uh-vehst) is a really cool Distillery & Brewery located right in the heart of Inverness.
Scotland is already well known for its many, many whisky distilleries, but Uile-bheist is unique in that they make both whisky and beer on the premises – they even call it a brewstillery! Plus they have a lovely restaurant, so you don’t just need to be into whisky to really enjoy a visit. Make sure you check out their website because the incredible art that features on all their products is on full display.
And definitely head to the brewstillery for a guided tour and some tastings, or a proper meal in the riverside restaurant. For those particularly interested in supporting sustainable businesses, you’ll also be happy to know that Uile-bheist is one of the lowest carbon distilleries on the planet, using water and solar panels to power the brewstillery, restaurant and on-site hotel!
10. Enjoy some live music
Inverness boasts a vibrant and diverse music scene that covers a wide range of genres, from traditional Scottish music to contemporary rock, pop, and indie music, so if you’re looking for fun things to do in Inverness at night, then live music is always a great bet.
There are numerous talented local bands and musicians as well as visiting artists who perform in the city, as well as several music festivals throughout the year, including the Inverness Music Festival and the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival.
Some of the places I particularly enjoyed for live music were:
- Highlander: Touristy as it may be, Highlander Bar is one of the best places in INvernessto hear some traditional Scottish music, with live acts performing every night of the week and free entry! Of course, they also offer delicious whisky tastings and a great bar menu for food, like their Haggis Bon Bons – deep-fried and crumbed Haggis balls served with a whisky sauce.
- MacGregor’s Bar: MacGregor’s is a modern Scottish bar, but still serves plenty of cosy nights with singers, pianists and musicians of all genres, as well as some of the most famous traditional musicians in Scotland. And if you don’t believe me, the bar received the Best Bar in Scotland award for 2022/2023 from the Visit Scotland Thistle Awards!
11. Check out Inverness Cathedral
Inverness Cathedral, formally known as the Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew, is a prominent religious and architectural landmark of the city.
The cathedral was designed by the renowned Scottish architect Alexander Ross and built in the mid-19th century, with construction beginning in 1866 and the consecration taking place in 1869. It was constructed in the Gothic Revival architectural style, characterized by pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and elaborate stone carvings.
Of course, it’s not just about the outside! The interior of Inverness Cathedral is equally impressive, with beautiful stained glass windows, intricate woodwork, and a sense of grandeur befitting a cathedral. Visitors are welcome to explore the cathedral during open hours, and it is often open for prayer and meditation as well, so don’t miss it.
12. Do some shopping
I’ve already mentioned two great places to do some shopping in Inverness (the Victorian Market and Leakey’s Bookshop) but there are actually quite a few more nice spots to get some retail therapy in while exploring!
Inverness’s High Street is lined with a mix of well-known brands, department stores, and local shops. The historic Old Town area of Inverness offers charming streets filled with boutique shops, antique stores, and art galleries, making it a great place to browse for unique, artisanal items and cheesy souvenirs alike.
If you’re looking for fresh produce, local food, and artisanal products, don’t miss the Eastgate Farmers Market, which takes place regularly in the Eastgate Shopping Centre. It’s a great opportunity to sample local flavours and find unique food items. And, of course, Eastgate Shopping Centre is the city’s main shopping destination, with a wide range of shops, including major retail chains, fashion boutiques, electronics stores, and more.
13. Enjoy a cool day trip
Lastly, it has to be said that Inverness also serves as the perfect jumping-off point for day trips to explore more of Scotland’s beauty.
Whether you’re yearning to delve into the mysteries of Loch Ness, wander through picturesque glens, or discover ancient castles, Inverness has got you covered.
Here are some ideas for day trips you can easily do from Inverness in order to enjoy more of the Scottish Highlands!
- Jacobite Steam Train and Highlands Tour: Any Harry Potter fan will obviously jump at the chance to ride on THE Hogwarts Express AKA The Jacobite Steam Train! This is the tour I planned my trip around and I loved every second.
- Loch Ness Cruise and Urquhart Castle: Head out for a cruise on Loch Ness and see if you can spot the legendary monster plus you’ll get to explore the ruins of beautiful Urquhart Castle.
- Isle of Skye and Eilean Donan Castle: This day trip will take you out to explore the stunning Isle of Skye, including stops at Portree and Lealt Falls, as well as a visit to nearby Eilean Donan Castle.
- Glen Affric, Culloden and Clava Cairns Tour: History and Outlander fans will enjoy this day trip which visits Clava Cairns, the Bronze Age ‘graveyard’ which is thought to have inspired the stones of Craigh na Dun in the Outlander series. You’ll also get to visit the Culloden battlefield and ramble through gorgeous Glen Affric.
- John O’Groats and the Far North Tour: This tour will take you to the most northerly point of the British mainland, John O’Groats, along with stops at the enchanting Dunrobin Castle and Loch Fleet.
Did I miss any of your favourite things to do in Inverness?
Let me know in the comments so I can add more unique Inverness must-dos to the list! Safe and happy travels 🙂