We love traveling all over The Highlands of Scotland to find new and exciting places to blog about. However, the old saying is true. There really is no place like home! We are lucky enough to call Inverness our home and we appreciate every inch of the beautiful capital of the Highlands. We thought it was about time we write a wee blog focusing on things to do, places to eat, and bars to dram in, in beautiful Inverness.
Inverness is not only the capital of the Highlands, but also one of the fastest growing cities in Europe! Apparently, everyone wants to come and live here and it’s easy to see why.
A Gateway to the Highlands
The city is beautiful in and of itself, but also acts as a gateway to several attractions including the now famous NC500 route. Loch Ness is a stones throw away and history smacks you in the face at every turn. The infamous Culloden Battlefield lies 5 miles east of the city, Urquhart Castle sits proudly on the banks of Loch Ness to the south, and Fort George is less than 15 miles along the Moray Firth coastline.
However, this blog is going to focus predominately on everything that is great about Inverness itself. And trust us, there is plenty of it!
Compact and Accessible
One of the fantastic things about Inverness is the fact that the city is compact enough to explore on foot. There are many points of interest and historical sites to explore within a very small area. There is also an abundance of restaurants and bars to provide those all-important refreshments. And if you time it right some fantastic, traditional live music!
We have put together a short walking tour that you can easily achieve during your stay. We also have provided a short list of our favourite restaurants and bars!
A Walking Tour of Inverness
The castle sits on a small cliff overlooking the River Ness in Inverness City Centre. It’s a great place to start our walking tour. The actual site of the castle dates way back to the 11th century. Since then there have been a succession of castles and fortifications occupying the exact same spot.
Mary Queen of Scots was once denied entrance to the castle by a member of the Gordon Clan. She was avenged by the outraged Fraser and Munro clans who took Inverness castle for the queen during the 1562 Siege of Inverness. The queen later hanged the Captain who had refused her entry and displayed his head on the castle walls!
The current 19th century, red sandstone castle has recently been renovated to include a viewing platform that tourists can visit. The viewing platform is a great place to get panoramic views over the city of Inverness.
Over the years the present castle has served as a prison and most recently a courthouse. The courthouse has recently moved to a new building and Inverness Castle is currently undergoing a 35-million-pound renovation to make it a spectacular tourist destination! It will be an even greater addition to the city when completed. The new and improved castle is scheduled for reopening in 2024!
Ness Islands Walk
All locals know about, and love Ness Islands Walk; however, it could easily be missed if you are not aware of where to go. Finding the islands requires a short walk along the banks of River Ness away from the town centre. Follow the river on either side to reach the beginning of the Islands. If you are on the city centre side of the river continue walking until the path narrows between a row of houses and the river. Not long after that you will find yourself in amongst trees and nature- a sure sign you are at the beginning of the Islands walk.
If you choose to start your walk on the opposite side of the river continue walking along the river until you pass a large grass park on your right-hand side. You will soon come to a foot bridge on your left which will take you into the islands walk.
The walk is flat and accessible, and the islands are all connected with a series of bridges. You can see seals and a variety of birds on this route. The fresh air and beautiful scenery make it a peaceful way to spend an hour or two. The walk is only 2 miles from start to finish and it feels like you are in the countryside even though you are still within the city.
If you decide to do Ness Islands walk you will be lucky enough to pass Inverness Cathedral . The Cathedral is open each day from 7am to 8pm, it is free to enter, and visitors are welcome.
The Episcopal Cathedral holds a significant part in Scottish Church History. The building works were complete over 150 years ago.
Bishop Eden proposed in 1853 that there should be a Cathedral of the Highlands in Inverness. By 1866 the Archbishop of Canterbury was laying the foundation stone of the build. The building ran into trouble due to debt and while the Cathedral itself was finished in 1869 it couldn’t be consecrated until 1874 when the £8000 worth of debt was repaid.
Rumour has it that the Cathedral has no spire due to the debt that the building incurred leaving it incomplete!
Inverness’s beautiful sandstone Town House is a Victorian gothic building, constructed between 1878-1882. Built in the Flemish-Baronial style and sits on the corner of Castle Street and High Street in Inverness city centre. I would say it’s the most impressive building in the city of Inverness.
The Town House served as the base for Inverness Town Council until the 1960s. It still remains in use for meetings and civic functions. It has recently been carefully refurbished over 2 years at a cost of £3.9 million.
The carved burgh coat of arms, which can be seen on the west elevation of the new town house, was rescued when the old bridge that housed it was swept away.
Leakies bookstore is the largest second-hand bookstore in Scotland. It is a book lovers dream with a vast and eclectic mix of books to choose from. Leakies charm is compounded by its setting. A very charming old church building with beautiful layout and décor.
We especially love the spiral staircase leading to the gallery and the open woodburning fire that keeps the large building cosy.
The bookstore is open daily from 9am-5.30pm, however it closes on a Sunday. Fitting for a former place of worship! You will find this gem of a place at the end of Church Street, next to the Old High Church.
Abertaff house is the oldest house in Inverness. The 2½ storey town house is a fine example of domestic architecture of the 16th and 17th century. The house, built in 1593, has many unique features. Its most prominent being a projecting turnpike stairway.
This house has seen a lot over the years including the Jacobite rising. Clan Fraser purchased the home in 1793. The clansmen had fought on the Jacobite side at the Battle of Culloden.
The National Trust for Scotland took over the house in 1963, and the building was restored by the Trust in 1966. Before this it was owned by the commercial bank of Scotland for around 100 years and has been used for a variety of other things.
A small café has now opened within Abertaff House- a great location to escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre and enjoy a coffee and cake ( Open from 1st April to 31st October). Entry is free.
The Victorian Market is a covered market in a Victorian style building the heart of the City of Inverness. Its shops, cafes and services are independently owned and offer a variety of goods and services which quite often won’t be found on the high street. I remember my nana used to send me down to the market as a young child as it was the only place left in Inverness where she could buy her snuff (snorting tobacco). That shop is long gone, but the market has many original features remaining! A food court has recently opened up in the market which showcases all of the best food, drinks and produce from the Inverness area.
The Market Dog
The original market opened over 150 years ago on 25th May 1870. The initial market was tragically destroyed in a catastrophic fire on 23rd June 1889. A loyal market dog of Messrs A. & D butchers had been left in charge of the premises on the night of the fire. The faithful dog refused to leave his guard post on the evening of the fire. The local newspaper reported hearing the poor dog howling for its master as flames engulfed the building. Sadly, the dog perished in the fire. There is a plaque inside the market commemorating the butcher’s dog’s life.
Chapel Yard Cemetery
Chapel Yard Cemetery, in the centre of Inverness, is an ancient graveyard enclosed with high stone walls. There is a plethora of old and interesting graves peppered around the large site. One stone in particular has a fascinating and dark history. The grave of the tragic David Cumming
His grave reads ‘To The Memory Of David Cumming, House Carpenter Inverness. Aged 24 Years. Who Was Found Dead in Rose Street, Inverness. On the Morning of the 1st December, 1861. In circumstances to excite suspicion that death had been caused by violence’.
We were so intrigued by this story that we wrote a little blog. Read more about it here.
The oldest gravestone in this graveyard dates all the way back to 1604 – and marks the burial place of Hester Eliot, a descendant of Mary Queen of Scots.
There are also numerous highland clan members buried in the graveyard. Some of the gravestones have been damaged by Jacobite supporters in 1745 after the families chose not to join the Jacobite cause.
The graveyard is a fascinating place to visit if you have a spare hour or two! It seems to remain locked during the weekend, however you will usually find it open Monday to Friday during the day.
Old High Church and Burial Ground
The Old High Church dates back to the 1800s and is the oldest church in Inverness. The site however is far more ancient. Tradition says that St Columba preached from the small hill the church sits on in AD 565.
For centuries the church tower was the highest structure in Inverness (hence its name). Since 1703 a bell in the tower would ring at 5pm. This would indicate a nightly curfew as it was against the law to walk the streets after this time. This measure was put in place to prevent fire – as lanterns were used back then and buildings were mostly made of timber at the time so could very easily start a fire. These days the bell is automatically rung at 8pm. Thankfully, with no curfew in place!
A Bloody History
When the Jacobite’s were defeated at the Battle of Culloden, the leader of the Government troops The Duke of Cumberland led their wounded prisoners onto the church yard. They were then blindfolded and executed one by one. Horrifically, the wounded prisoners based at Balnain house across the river were able to see the executions take place. It’s difficult to imagine the terror they must have felt.
The church is a fine place to finish a walking tour of Inverness. Steeped in centuries of history and proudly overlooking Inverness’s much-loved river. From here it’s a short stroll back into the very centre of town and a plethora of fine food and drink purveyors!
Inverness by Night
Inverness is a city that looks particularly beautiful as night begins to fall. The illuminated castle, townhouse and bridges reflect off the river, highlighting the city’s best bits and lighting the way for a night of fun. The evening is a great time to wander around the various food and drink establishments to see what you fancy.
Exploring the Moray Firth
Dolphin Spirit offers two different types of nature boat tours leaving from Inverness Marina. We opted for the rib experience, however there is also a slower paced, larger vessel if you prefer.
From the minute we left the dock it was clear our skipper knew what he was talking about. He veered left to the Beauly firth as a pair of common dolphins had been spotted here recently. It didn’t take long for the bottlenose’s smaller cousins to make an appearance and put on a wee show for us.
We then sped out under the Kessock bridge and onwards into the Moray firth. Although further dolphin sightings weren’t forthcoming, we were lucky enough to see some grey seals popping their heads out every now and then.
The views of Chanonry point and Fort George were another highlight. Would highly recommended this experience to anyone.
Time for a refreshment
There are an abundance of reasonably priced restaurants and fantastic traditional pubs in Inverness. We have tried to whittle them down to our favourite three in each category, but it’s not been an easy choice! We even had to leave out the two Inverness bars my grandad owned during his lifetime: Lauders and the Fluke. In his younger years he would enjoy a dram from his own stock before taking off around Inverness in his horse and cart. It’s safe to say he was a well-known character in the city! Unfortunately, the two aforementioned bars don’t quite make our list, but we have some fantastic alternatives for you!
McGregor’s bar quickly cemented itself as an integral part of Inverness’s live music offering as soon as it arrived on the scene in 2017. It encapsulates everything that is truly wonderful about Scotland. Honest live music, Scottish food and craft beers and spirits. The fact that the small but beautifully formed space is owned by Blazing Fiddles founder Bruce Macgregor simply adds to its credibility and authenticity, however the true magic of this bar lies in the detail. (Dog Friendly)
From the pictures on the walls, to the furniture, to the local craft beers and the carefully selected menu. Everything about the experience screams Scotland. And not your tacky, touristy Scotland. This is the real deal. If you’re lucky enough to visit during a live music session (The Sunday Sessions are legendary) then just sit back and soak it all in. The familiarity and comfort of MacGregors makes you feel like you are in an old friend’s house. An old friend with an abundance of good food, fine drams, and magical music. We highly recommend you pay here a visit during your trip to Inverness.
Black Isle Bar
If you love beer like we love beer, then I highly recommend you visit Black Isle Bar during your time in Inverness. Owned by the brewery of the same name it serves 100% organic beers that are produced in an ethical, plant-conscious way.
The bar is spread over a generous space with large wooden tables perfect for sharing a few pints with friends. My favourite thing about Black Isle Bar (minus the beer of course) is its huge rooftop garden. It’s the perfect place to spend a sunny summers afternoon and even if the weather isn’t playing ball (it’s Scotland after all) the covered areas and heaters make it a great place to hang out all year round. The bar also serves great home-made pizzas- perfect to soak up all that lager! We definitely think you should enjoy an afternoon, or two, in here! (Dog Friendly)
If you’re looking for authentic, gritty, rough around the edges Scotland then please make a detour to Gellions Bar. Some claim it’s the oldest bar in Inverness, and it’s certainly one of the best known! Famed for its live music, lively clientele, and quality craic, this is the place you need to be if you’re looking for a fun memory to take back home. I don’t think I’ve ever left the Gellions without a story to tell!
There is a good selection of reasonably priced drinks, and the bar is always jam-packed on the weekend due to the quality live music provided every evening. If you want to enjoy the music close up, then we suggest getting there early so you can grab a good spot as the bar tends to fill up fast! If you want a fun night out with the locals, then we definitely suggest you make Gellions top of your list! That’s if you think you can handle it! (Dog Friendly)
Some Notable Mentions…
We found it really difficult to whittle down the bars in Inverness to only three options- so here are a few more notable mentions
- If you like a dram of whisky: The Malt Room
- Best for Craic: Johnny Foxes
- Best live music selection: Hootanannys
We suppose you’ll need some food to be soaking up all the drams you will be enjoying so we have added three of our favourite restaurants for you to consider.
The Mustard Seed: Beautiful food in a beautiful setting
The Mustard Seed is one of Invernesses’ favourite restaurants. The converted church building complete with double height ceilings and an open fire is the perfect setting for a highland dinner date. The Mustard Seed prides itself on simple, tasty meals made from locally sourced produce. The menu changes with the seasons, ensuring that things are regularly freshened up. The meals rarely disappoint. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a warm summer day, try and book the terrace overlooking River Ness for an unforgettable experience.
The lunch and pre-theatre menus offer exceptional value. With 2 courses only 14.95 and 17.95 respectfully it’s a great way to enjoy quality food at an affordable price. It’s one of our favourite restaurants and one we frequent regularly!
You can see a sample menu here.
Rocpool: Fine Dining with a River View
If you are looking for a place to enjoy a special meal, and don’t mind paying for the experience then Rocpool should be top of your list. With its tastefully selected modern European dishes, stylish interior and relaxed atmosphere, Rocpool ticks all the right boxes when it comes to fine dining without the faff in Inverness. The glass fronted restaurant provides amazing views of the castle and river, and the fresh local produce ensures an authentic Highland dining experience. The two AA rosettes signify the consistent quality that Rocpool serves up- from friendly staff with a smile on their face!
With a two-course lunch and pre-theatre menu for around £25 it’s possible to enjoy a fine dining experience here without breaking the bank. For a more extensive menu dive into the al a carte offering! You certainly won’t be disappointed.
You can see a sample menu here.
Café 1: A Local Favourite
Last but certainly not least is Café 1. If you ask any local what their favourite restaurant is in Inverness there is a very good chance they will come back with Café 1. Its classy interior, fresh produce, delicious courses and warm service make it a place you will want to return to time and time again. While not exactly cheap it provides good value for money as the quality makes the spend more than worth it.
Café 1 is a family run business that prides itself on sourcing local ingredients wherever possible. The owners also have their own farm on the Black Isle and close links with a variety of Highland producers. This leads to them sourcing the freshest, quality Highland produce for customers to enjoy.
If you are a steak fan both the Fillet and Rib Eye options are delicious. There is also a variety of seafood and vegetarian courses to choose from. It is sure to be a meal that you wont forget in a hurry!
XOCO Bakehouse and Coffee Bar is the place to stop for a delicious breakfast or sweet treat in Inverness. The café specialises in artisan breads, cakes, and pastries and serves some great coffee to go alongside the array of goodies on offer. Everything is made from scratch and the open plan bakery means that you can witness first hand the love and care that goes into everything they make. We stopped for breakfast which included a delicious bacon and cheese croissant, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on toasted sourdough and a fresh and tasty bruschetta. The meals came with a choice of their homemade ketchup or brown sauce – a lovely touch on a cracking breakfast!
No trip to Inverness should be completed without a visit to Miele’s Gelateria. This immensely popular ice cream parlour has a fantastic range of ice cream flavours and extras. The family owned business takes pride in the fact that all of the ice cream is made right there on site. You really can taste the difference with it. Conveniently located on church street we highly recommend grabbing an ice cream and heading down to the river on a nice day. Or if its raining….well……grab one anyway! The hot Nutella sauce is to die for!
Where to Stay
We would highly recommend staying close to the city centre in Inverness so you can really make the most of your time there exploring on foot. We have recently launched a fantastic and budget friendly rental apartment in Inverness that provides everything that a couple would need for a comfortable, modern, and enjoyable stay in Inverness!
Stag Head Studio is a 5 minute walk from the city centre and has private parking and all mod-cons including a Smart TV and wifi for those all important chill out hours. To find out more about the studio or to book your stay click here: STAG HEAD STUDIO
Walking Tour of Inverness
Please see the link for our custom made walking tour of Inverness on Google map’s – click on the map to open it.
Venturing Further afield
Our blog has included places within Inverness City Centre or just a short walk away. If you have a car or are able to take public transport there are so many fantastic places to see just a short drive from Inverness. We would recommend hiring a car as some places are a little off the public transport route and Highland buses are not always the most reliable! However some places of interest such as Nairn are easily reached by train or bus. Our top tips of places to visit within 30 minutes of Inverness are:
- The famous Loch Ness – we have a blog on the best things to do while visiting Loch Ness that you can access here.
- Culloden battlefield and Clava Cairns for that all important history fix! We have a blog about a beautiful Clava Cairn walk here.
- Nairn beach to soak up those famous Scottish rays
- Chanonry point to dolphin watch
- Fort George to see an impressive 18th century fortress.
- Dunlichity Graveyard to see the marks of the Jacobite soldiers.
- Magical waters of the Green Loch next to Aviemore
- Beauly Cathedral ruins
We hope you have enjoyed our blog on Inverness City Centre. We honestly love our home and hope that you can use this to get the most enjoyment possible when you visit! If you have any questions at all about the area then please send us a message. We would love to hear from you!
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