My brother and I recently popped up to Scotland for a couple of days away from London and discovered some excellent things to do in Inverness, capital of the Scottish Highlands.
While I am absolutely a seeker of Nessie (the Loch Ness Monster) and all good things that are the Highlands, like exquisite landscapes and interesting history, it hadn’t even occurred to me we could get to Inverness so easily.
Yet, just one hour’s flight from London (we made our way from Luton on EasyJet) you can find yourself amongst the fresh air and friendly people of Inverness.
Things to do in Inverness
The city of Inverness is quite small and easy to get around on foot.
There’s plenty of things to do and see in Inverness, and we started with a walk through town to get our bearings. Inverness is well signed, so you can easily find your way around from its older areas and Victorian market, down to the shopping pedestrian high street area and the helpful visitor information centre.
From Inverness’ shopping strip, you can wander up to Inverness Castle, and then down the hill toward the Ness River; explore beautiful churches, Inverness castle and take photos from the pretty bridges that link both sides of the city.
Exploring the area
Inverness is a tour hub, of sorts, with numerous tours on offer that you can pre-book or sort when you’re there – head as far out as Skye or back down to Edinburgh or Glasgow.
While in the city we stayed on foot which was fine.
Our two day itinerary was carefully considered so that we could take in a taste of Inverness without exerting ourselves.
Urquhart Castle ruins and Loch Ness
A visit to a castle is a must, and the ruins of Urquhart Castle area easily accessible by car or coach.
For about £10 you can take a coach from Inverness’ bus station (the transport centre is near/behind the train station, but is signed), half an hour along the shores of Loch Ness, to Urquhart Castle.
This medieval castle’s ruins date from the 13th to the 16th centuries, and set on the shores of the loch, it’s a fabulous experience.
You can also reach and view the castle by taking a cruise on Loch Ness, which again, you can arrange when you’re in Inverness.
En-route to Urquhart you pass the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition which will fulfil all your Nessie needs – find out more about the story behind the folklore and buy souvenirs here.
You can also wander underneath the store and the road to the banks of the loch for more beautiful photo opportunities.
We did this trip in an afternoon and I’d highly recommend the experience as part of your ‘things to do in Inverness’ list. Just be organised with when the coach is due to return because they only run every hour or so.
Culloden and Clava Cairns
For a true slice of Scottish history as well as some unbeatable landscape view, get out of the town about half an hour to the Culloden Battlefield and visitor centre.
Culloden Battlefield is the site of the 1746 Jacobite Rising that came to a brutal head in one of the most harrowing battles in the history of this region.
There is an immersive cinema experience as well as café and rest spot, and of course you can respectfully visit the site yourself.
When we were heading out this way we got to chatting to a local on the bus, and she told us about an incredible ancient site called Clava Cairns.
As a fan of the series Outlander, I was actually aware of the site and to discover it was so accessible (with a little adventure along the way), we decided to go and explore.
Read about our adventure to Clava Cairns
Bus no. 5 gets you to Culloden Battlefield’s visitor centre, from where you can walk to Clava Cairns. The return trip was about £5.
Be mindful not to get other buses that say they are going to Culloden, as they are going to the residential area, not the destination intended if you’re seeking the experience outlined above.
This experience is well worth it. The weather can change though so be prepared. It’s the best part of a day trip from Inverness, but still close to town which is very handy.
Eat and drink in Inverness
I’d recommend trying a Scottish whiskey at a pub around town – there’s plenty to choose from.
Our favourite pub is The Castle Tavern, which is positioned just above Inverness Castle, and has a delicious menu, nice drinks including local options, and a cool view across the city.
We found transport in Inverness easy and reliable. While you do need to be prepared ahead of time and know when your bus to the airport is due, for example, we found it all ran efficiently to time.
Buses to and from the airport run every half an hour or an hour at quieter times, at just over £4 each way (2018).
There’s plenty of other ferry and bus or coach options that will help you discover things to do in Inverness and on the town’s outskirts. You can find out more by dropping into the train station, bus station or the visitor information centre in the middle of the mall in town.
You’ll also find many tours that will take you around the region and up to Skye, ranging from periods of one day to three or four – these can be booked in advance online, or ask for more information in the tourist information centre.
And if you’re an Outlander fan like me, there are indeed a number of tours that will show you around famous filming sites.
August is my favourite time of year to visit Edinburgh, and I’d love to share with you my favourite Edinburgh tours and other essential information for your trip.
Edinburgh tours and activities in summer
Not only is it summertime and the perfect time for a tour to and around Edinburgh, but the city has a serious case of ‘festival fever’ with the Fringe Festival, International Festival, Book and Art Festival, Mela Festival and Military Tattoo all running over the month.
However, it doesn’t matter what time of the year you visit – the Scottish capital always boasts a vibrant atmosphere, rich culture, bloody history and never-ending list of attractions, events and sights.
Edinburgh is a small city and easy to walk around and explore on foot. There is a City Sightseeing tour that you can take to get an overview though.
Also, Edinburgh is a base for tours all over the region, for a day or a few including to Inverness and Loch Ness, the Isle of Skye and even film and television set locations.
Here are my top things to experience in Edinburgh:
With the Edinburgh Castle as its backdrop the Military Tattoo is an amazing and patriotic experience. Each year 220,000 people attend this spectacular event, which features over 1,000 performers from across the globe.
This includes Massed Pipers and Drummers, the Bands of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines and cultural troupes. What is great about the Military Tattoo is its crowd – they really get into it – all clapping and cheering along to the marching performers. The most moving performance is always the Lone Piper, a real heart-tugger.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo runs from 1-23 August 2014.
Welcome to the largest arts and entertainment festival in the world, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Over three weeks (1-25 August 2014), the city is host to more than 42,000 performances and 2,600 shows ranging from stand-up comedy, cabaret, dance, music and theatre.
The Fringe will leave you dizzy with amount of entertainment available – its no wonder the guidebook is over 200 pages. It’s also a great opportunity to check out the city’s venues and performance spaces. Even if you don’t catch a show – the street vibe is electric with demonstrations and busking happening all over.
Tip: Head to the Virgin Money Half Price Hut located at the Mound Precinct on Princess Street for some great deals.
The Real Mary Kings Close
Without a doubt one of the best all-year-round attractions in Edinburgh! At the Real Mary Kings Close you are taken beneath Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, where you’ll see a maze of hidden streets and buildings that have remained frozen and preserved since the 17th century.
See how people lived back then and hear eerie tales of murder, plague-caused deaths and hauntings.
To this day – visitors have been known to hear scratching coming from inside a chimney where a child perished, sounds of a crowded tavern and a mysterious man has been seen roaming.
My favourite tale is of ‘little Annie’, an upset ghost searching for her missing doll. She now has a constant shrine full of toys left by visitors from all over the world. It’s truly an entertaining and fascinating attraction, giving you a unique glimpse into Edinburgh’s past.
Ghost Walking Tour
No visit is complete without jumping on a ghost-walking tour. Renowned for its dark and bloody history, Edinburgh has endless tales of murder, grave robbing, torture, plague, treason and witch executions.
Explore every nook and cranny of the city and see where harrowing events occurred such as where serial killers, Burke and Hare trawled for their next victims. If you dare join a tour – then be prepared to visit such sights as Greyfries Graveyard at night, be cursed by the South Bridge Vaults and go searching for the terrifying Mackenzie Poltergeist (all available via the ‘City of the Dead’ tours).
Various operators offer ghost walking tours all-year-round.
Have you visited Edinburgh? Let us know your essential things to do – drop us a line in the comments below.
About the writer
Danielle Muller (@stuffitgotravel) is a Sydney-based travel blogger and communications professional. Follow her travel adventures, stories and recommendations at stuffitgotravelling.com.
What a wonderful adventure it is fro Edinburgh to Isle of Skye in Scotland.
Here’s a two-minute snapshot of life in the Scottish Highlands for a bunch of travellers on board Haggis Tours….
Edinburgh to Isle of Skye
“Do you trust your Uncle Chris?” Our amusing guide’s dulcet tones broke the silence, rousing us all from a coach-induced delirium. “Yes,” we smiled and nodded, wondering what was coming next.
“Right then, close your eyes. Close them tight, and don’t open them until I say. I’m going to tell you a story…”
A mild objection rose from the group, because at that point we were cruising throughout 360-degrees of picturesque landscapes: vast lochs, dense green terrain stretching skywards, mysterious clouds looming across the cliff-tops, the stuff of films and television − how could we look away?
“When I was little,” he continued, “My Uncle Harry brought us along this route on a family outing; he requested the same of us, and as we trusted him, we kept our eyes closed… I see you all trust me, well, except for you two in the front seat. Don’t think I can’t see you.” We giggled but kept our eyes shut (well I did anyway), as Chris proceeded with one of his wonderful tales of adventure and revelry.
Just as I was pondering how much of Mother Nature’s spectacular show I was actually missing despite being thoroughly immersed in Chris’ story, his tone notably edged towards a climax, as the coach simultaneously stopped. “And then my Uncle told us to turn our heads to the right, and open our eyes NOW.”
As forty odd heads shifted to the right, and our eyes snapped open in anticipation, we all gasped at the surreal scene, for in front of us, perched in the middle of a large loch, surrounded by peaceful lapping water, a crisp breeze and dreamy mountainous landscape, was the most gorgeous Mediaeval castle most of us had ever seen − in real life, at least. It was a scene we had envisaged when choosing this Haggis Tours Skye High expedition, and there it was for the taking.
Eilean Donan Castle, originally built in the 13th Century, but lovingly restored over the years, familiar to a few as it has been featured in various films and photo-shoots.
This wasn’t the last castle or set of romantic ruins we would come into contact with on our journey further into the Highlands of Scotland, and even though the landscape varied from lochs and mountains, to desolate, craggy regions featuring jaw-dropping sheer cliffs dipping into the icy ocean, it was all magical − everything I’d hoped.
The Isle of Skye itself is all dramatic landscapes surrounded by sea and boasts Scotland’s oldest and youngest mountains. A geologist’s dream, with something different to discover on each and every journey.
Faeries, folklore and Skye high adventure
I was more interested in the folklore of the place − and yes, stories of faeries, princesses, monsters, romance, battles and betrayal run rampant in these parts.
Fortunately for us, Chris is the very best, most passionate story-teller I’ve ever met, and his enthusiastic accounts − of history and mythology − had us enthralled for hours. His accent didn’t hurt either (notably the Scottish accent usually ranks within the top three sexiest in the world… according to Google (and a little of my own research)).
As we edged up a steep hill, ocean and windswept cliffs drew further behind us and fields of green with odd-shaped mounds emerged in front (as pictured above). Chris explained we were about to discover a sublime little place called Faerie Glen. As I happy-danced gleefully in my mind (anywhere called ‘Faerie Glen’ had to be amazing, right?), he recounted a ‘faerie-tale’ about a young prince of this world, and a faerie princess who fell in love many moons ago.
Of course, they could never be together, but the faerie king granted them a wedding plus one year and a day together. Sadly, that year passed all too quickly, and as they parted ways, broken-hearted, the faerie princess handed her true love a special faerie flag blessed with protective powers. This flag is said to have been used by Scots in the past, and indeed it has protected them.
Allegedly, some Scottish soldiers even took the flag with them into the Great War and were the only men in their group to return. While we didn’t actually get to see this charmed flag, we were privy to the home of the faeries.
Faerie Glen is a marvellous green, hilly landscape with hidden surprises − like waterfalls pouring from cliff-tops − emerging around any given corner! It’s said, if you need help with anything important here in the human realm, if you close your eyes and walk around one of these ‘faerie mounds’ seven times, a portal of light will open up in the heather and take you into the faerie underworld.
But, beware, for time passes quickly in Faerie Glen’s underworld, so if ever you are to meet a faerie here, or seek help below, your notion of fifteen minutes could indeed be seventy years ‘up here’.
This trip was more than just sensational scenery (which would have been enough); we also learned about Scotland − history, conflicts, tumultuous relationships with neighbouring England as well as between clans.
In fact, if you’re a Campbell you’re not welcome in some of these parts to this day! We of course gained knowledge of other intriguing lore… and a little background in something very important to the Scots, whisky. There are indeed many wondrous, historical and interesting elements which come together to colour contemporary Scotland.
Evidently Scotland is home to numerous renowned features, but none more famous than Loch Ness and its notorious monster. This particular destination has been on my bucket-list since childhood. My brother, Josh, and I were both fascinated by this legend when we were young, and he managed to visit ten or more years before I made it to Loch Ness.
I’d always treasured a little Nessie figurine which Josh had bought for me, and was particularly excited to finally dip my toes into the choppy waves of this spectacular body of water.
Loch Ness is massive. It contains more than twice the water England has within all of its lakes and catchments. It’s also dark under the waves, in fact, it’s pitch black at 10 metres below.
Unexplored lava caves and tubes lead off the loch, and sonar navigation systems have detected unnaturally large shapes swimming in the depths. Basically, there is a lot of space and much scope for a monster − or monsters − to hide.
Many do believe in these monsters, and if we can appreciate anything from history, it would be that while someone may seem mad for their beliefs, it does not mean they are incorrect. Did you know that scientists understand more about the surface of the moon than about the depths of these waters? Which is why believers insist yes, the monster is possible.
While the earliest report of a monster sighting associated with this area dates back to the 7th Century, modern documented sightings started in the 1930s, with the most famous picture, known as ‘the Surgeon’s Photograph’, snapped in 1934. A hysteria built around the story which continued into the 1950s, and while that has calmed, even to this day there is a policeman in Inverness (a city not too far up the road) who is tasked with the job of recording sightings.
Nobody knows whether Nessie is real or not, and that’s part of the mystique and allure of this story. There are things in Loch Ness; there are dangerous things − this is a fact. But it is the monster that makes it legendary.
From the captivating cliffs of Cuith Raing, sheer drops and waterfalls crashing into the ocean around Kilt Rock, to magical bodies of agua promising eternal youth, and the character of one of the world’s most delightful cities, Edinburgh: this Scotland and Isle of Skye journey is certainly one that leaves a happy traveller wanting more.
I discovered a blog by ‘Rachel in London’ who experienced this trip in 2009, and I feel she captures my feelings with these words. “Jane Austen’s book Northanger Abbey sums up perfectly my whirlwind of a weekend touring Scotland and the Isle of Skye:
‘If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad’.”
Go seek your adventure, and if I can impart any advice, seek it in Scotland.