My brother and I recently popped up to Scotland for a couple of days away from London. On this trip, we discovered some excellent things to do in Inverness, the 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. Especially exquisite landscapes and interesting history. It hadn’t even occurred to me that we could get to Inverness so easily.
Yet, just one hour’s flight from London, 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. We started with a walk through town to get our bearings. Inverness is well signed, so you can easily find your way around. We explored the older areas and Victorian market, down to the shopping pedestrian high street area. The visitor information centre staff are friendly and helpful.
From Inverness’ shopping strip, you can wander up to Inverness Castle, and then down the hill toward the Ness River. We stopped to 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 tourist hub with numerous tours on offer that you can pre-book or sort when you’re there. I’d suggest you 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). It’s 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. It’s set on the shores of the loch and 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. Keen to 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. 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. 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.
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.
We inadvertently stumbled across these 7 great reasons to visit Rugby in England! Actually, we got marooned in the West Midlands and stumbled across the town of Rugby when searching for things to do in Warwickshire. Have a look around in our vlog, and some itinerary highlights below.
Travel to Rugby in England: video guide
From the church to the pub
Not necessarily as dodgy as it sounds!
Yesterday morning as we looked at our options for upcoming days out in Warwickshire, we considered the reasons why we wanted to find out more about Rugby.
As we were driving by our favourite new watering hole, The Bull Inn, we enthusiastically started a conversation with our cabbie. He happily obliged and started a yarn about how he’d lived at that very pub growing up.
At that time (about 50 years ago), he said the place – Rugby and Warwickshire was – was very different.
His family lived above; the pub didn’t serve food, but was designed as a labyrinth of little spaces that were nick-named ‘snugs’, so you could snuggle up to others when it was chilly.
He told us of a secret tunnel that runs underground from the pub to St Mary’s Church across the road. It’s an old tunnel, now closed off but once used by the priests for safe passage. Often in England you’ll find (or would have before churches were burned down or dismantled) churches and pubs right next door to each other. Apparently this was so the church labourers had somewhere to go at the end of a long day.
I’m having a hard time verifying this, so if you have more detail on the history of this set-up in villages across England, please let me know in the comments.
He also shared that apparently soccer (football) started in these parts, as a game which could go on for days and with the aim of being the first team to get the ball from one church to another. Then they’d go to the pub.
Seems that everything begins at church and ends at the pub – in the most respectful and affectionate of ways, of course.
Best laid plans…
That sets the tone of our time in Rugby, a place that’s full of stories and story-tellers, proving that sometimes the best-laid plans aren’t what’s best for you.
It was from our base in Rugby that we had planned to hire a car and set off for a few days out in Warwickshire. We would also do the few-hour round trip to visit Cotswold hotspots including Broadway, Chipping Campden, Bibury and Moreton-in-Marsh.
All was going along just fine. We checked into our utterly gorgeous little Airbnb country escape overlooking the countryside, complete with excellent pub and quaint main street just on our doorstep.
But when Saturday arrived, it seemed we were not meant to get to the Cotswolds. Between several transport mix-ups, the illusive location of the car hire company, a lengthy wait to secure a pre-booked vehicle when we finally found the car hire place.
Then we realised mid key hand-over that there was no way to return it until after the long weekend – we ended up with no choice other than to explore present surroundings. Our days out in Warwickshire turned into a focus on one little town, but we would make the best of it.
What’s Rugby like then?
Rugby is a market town on the river Avon, positioned in the middle of the country on a train line between London Euston and Birmingham.
It’s quite big with all the amenities you want on a trip away including plenty to do, see, eat and buy (‘fun shopping’, I call it).
Under normal circumstances when you have access to a car, Rugby is a great base to explore from. It’s central to a range of wonderful cities and villages across Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire including the Cotswolds, enchanting National Trustsites, and even top attractions like Blenheim Palace, Oxford University and ‘Shakespeare’s land’ around Stratford upon Avon.
Why did it turn out to be just fine to be marooned in the West Midlands though?
7 reasons why you should visit Rugby in England
What’s in a name?
You can’t help but be impressed by the grounds at the Rugby school.
One of the region’s most significant events was the founding of the school in 1567 thanks to Lawrence Sheriff, a grocer who upon his death left money to set up an educational institution for local boys.
Lawrence’s significant legacy in these parts and his name is all over streets, pubs and other memorials.
Of course, everyone associates this place with Sir William Web Ellis, who in 1823 picked up the ball and ran with it!
Legend has it, this was the beginning of the game of rugby as we know it. Indeed, during the World Cup tournament, teams play to take home the trophy that bears his name.
Most of the year, you can stand on the spectacular field where this all happened, and where lucky young students have the chance to be educated in one of the most well respected schools in the country.
Informative tours are usually available too, and there are excellent museums all over town where you can learn about how this place has influenced not just the game of rugby, but most other ball games we know and enjoy today.
A friendly cab driver pointed out this most eclectic place: part vegetarian café, part homewares store and quirky gift shop – described to us as, ‘a place you just have to visit’, we totally agree!
Cooper even vouches for the yummy vegetarian fare on offer and we recommend it for a hearty, good-value lunch.
Summersault is located in the centre of town, off the main mall or street opposite the Rugby school.
Rugby proves to be a neat, pretty town, sprinkled with interesting architecture dating from medieval times through to the past hundred or so years.
The Rugby school owns a large amount of land where stately buildings stand and school staff reside.
A number of other colleges plus many old churches steeped in history are all over the city.
We found that no matter what the religion, if the house was open, we were welcomed in to enjoy a respectful wander around.
Particularly interesting (with a particularly lovely community) was Saint Marie’s where we met Fr David Tobin who enthusiastically shared stories about the rich history of the establishment and its founding family, the Hibberts.
Market town charm
There’s plenty to see and do here, and the charm is magnified when you realise actually how much the town has contributed to contemporary life as we know it.
Last year, 21-year-old Jordan Lea Hart, embarked on a once-in-her-young-lifetime trip abroad. While she’d enjoyed a holiday or two closer to home and with family, this was her first significant trip overseas – just she and her best friend, Rachael. We’d spoken to the girls a few times about travel and life abroad, and were very excited to hear when they took the massive step to book and confirm it all.
Jordan Lea and Rachael enjoyed the same tour of Europe with Expat Explore that we did in 2011 (on just the second 26-day itinerary since the group launched it), and I was keen to find out more about the experience, their tips and stories of travel and friendship. Most importantly, I was keen for insights into why they too, advocate taking the chance to travel, live and learn!
When did you travel to Europe?
In July and August 2015, European summer time.
This was your first major overseas trip – how did the decision come about to do it?
Throughout high school, my best friend and I always talked about travelling to Europe, specifically London, because we love historical buildings and English boys! Once we finally had enough coin we booked it.
When did you decide what type of travel option to pursue?
I wanted to do a coach tour as it just seemed like the most cost-effective way to get a taste of each country. Originally the plan was to go on a month tour, then rent a car and road trip around Ireland, Scotland and Wales, however that didn’t end up on the agenda due to work and study commitments.
We decided on Expat Explore’s 26 Day Ultimate Europe Tour because it is great value for money (even considering the conversion from Aussie dollars).
One of the first things our tour guide, Will, said was, “You guys are travellers, not tourists, we are not going to hold your hand everywhere you go, it’s up to you. YOU create your journey, we just guide.”
It was awesome because that’s exactly what he did – told us the way to our hotel, how to get home, and what time we would be leaving for the next trip. We never considered a party-type tour, we really wanted to make the most of our travels, not spend the time in bars 24/7 and hung-over every day! Not to say we didn’t have a few cheeky drinks.
Was there anything you were worried about prior to taking this big trip so far away from home?
I was worried about missing home too much; I was in a brand new relationship so this trip was a massive test on us. I missed him terribly but we survived it, thank God for Viber.
Do you think you were well prepared for the trip, or did you learn along the way?
Prior to us leaving I quit my job! I was treating this trip as a fresh start for me, to get perspective on what I really want. I had to be very careful with my money, budgeted a lot, made trips to the local supermarkets to get fresh fruit and snacks for the long coach journeys.
Clothing was something I was not prepared for. I was under the impression Europe would have cold days, and I would only need so many shoes or pairs of socks. The little things ran out fast, and I packed about 10 jumpers and no summer clothes. That was a massive wake-up and I spent a lot of money buying summer basics (most of Europe is hot in summer!). But I learned little tricks after a few weeks, like washing delicates in the sink then rolling them up in the bathroom mat so they dried a lot faster.
I also thought this would be a great best friend trip, just myself and Rachael the whole time! But we met some lifelong friends, we created ‘the squad’ after two days on tour – myself, Rachael and three rowdy British girls – we were inseparable.
What were three highlights of Europe?
The whole trip was a highlight but I do recall a few special moments.
Our first stop was Amsterdam, and Expat scheduled an optional activity for day one on the road. Everyone else on the bus went except Rachael and I; We ditched it. Woke up late, caught the train into the city centre, wandered around just taking it all in for six hours. We walked away from all the tourist areas and went local. We found all these amazing hidden cafes and lunch hot-spots. It was beautiful and so peaceful to just wander and soak up all the culture. Once we got back to tourist-central, we naturally tested the devil’s lettuce from the local coffee shop (not to be confused with cafe) and ended up having the wildest night of our lives.
Sneaking into random hotels, running along the canals and eating the best yogurt and fruit anyone could ever have – our first day was done right.
The second highlight for me was meeting the squad, Alice, Anya and Sara. Here are five girls with completely different backgrounds and we clicked instantly as if we were long-lost soul-mates. We had one night in the Rhine Valley where we all had too much wine, ended up smashing karaoke with a Spice Girls comeback, and we were almost as good as the real thing. So many nights were unforgettable with these girls!
Barcelona was an absolute highlight for me personally; the culture of that place blows my mind! Oh and the sangria!
The last highlight, even though bitter-sweet, was our final night of the tour in France, sitting under the Eiffel Tower and its 9pm light show, drinking mini bottles of wine, with our cheese dips and chocolate.
Some England highlights?
The UK was a short but sweet stay, four days in total, but so full of life. We went to the markets, Harry Potter studio tour and stayed walking-distance from Oxford Street. Also spent a night drinking cocktails with some of my favourite people. It was the perfect end to our trip.
What did you learn about yourself through this experience?
That if I set a goal to do something it will be achieved. And, that I can successfully catch public transport in any country! It helped me also appreciate how lucky I am to have had the chance to do this at 21. Most people don’t get that chance, even couples on our tour said this was their first holiday overseas and they were well over 50.
How has such a significant travel experience shaped the way you are now planning for your future?
It only makes me want to plan for more! I have the thirst for travel, the way it opens your eyes is something else. The world is a fascinating place.
What’s your advice for anyone planning to travel or tour Europe in the summer?
You need a reliable water bottle, sunscreen and good walking shoes.
Be warned of the crowds in Italy, it will have you feeling like you’re suffocating, so go see all the major sights in the afternoon, because in summer the sun doesn’t set until 9pm so it’s nowhere near as hot then.
Learn the underground in European cities. Local trains usually work like clockwork and will take you anywhere you need to go. It all works in colour lines so don’t worry about not knowing the language if you need to get around.
In France, buy souvenirs from the salespeople on the street, not stalls; the sellers are lovely and you get the same thing but for half the price!
What are your essential travel planning websites and apps?
In Europe, always search for the city metro map and have a screen copy on your phone for reference. In London, download the app Kabbie. I would have been lost without this – it’s like Uber but cheap. Another helpful tip is to buy your food and alcohol for your trip. This saves you so much money; the supermarkets have everything you could ever need! Don’t get stuck buying supplies at expensive bars or corner stores.
Would you recommend a tour and why?
Yes! Especially if you have never travelled to that country before, it helps you get your bearings and you have a whole coach support system; a tour guide who you can bother with a thousand questions as they know all the good spots, and you meet amazing people. Once you have done a tour, you can go back the places you enjoyed and you’ll already have knowledge to get around like (nearly) a local!
What does travel mean to you now?
A world of opportunities! I have found what I want to do: work, save, travel.
If you’re a foodie eating in London, you’d be mistaken to think there’s only over-cooked food and fish and chips. Far from your typical pub fare, London offers so much for the discerning foodie, especially when you know where to look.
Best spots for eating in London
Located in London’s Victoria and serving some of the city’s finest Italian fare, diners at TOZI will find something so much more than the expected. TOZI specialises in Venetian cicchetti, or smaller sized plates designed to share as well as a selection of wood fired pizzas. Dishes at TOZI are inspired by the casual dining of the Veneto regions with a strong emphasis on seasonal and quality ingredients, sourced where possible from the best Italian producers.
Italian born, head chef Maurillo has years of experience running Italian restaurants in some of the city’s most exclusive private member clubs including Shoreditch House, and the menu reflects exactly the fine dining calibre you’d expect.
Paired with an Italian wine list and a sophisticated classic Italian (of course) cocktail menu, don’t be surprised if you find yourself already planning your return. And if you’re the type to get a bit of ‘menu paralysis’ whereby you’re unable to order when there’s just too amazing choices, you can leave the ordering in the very capable hands of the wait staff at TOZI and you won’t be disappointed.
Meals are generously portioned, deliciously fresh and cooked to perfection. And while the meals are certainly a win, it’s the friendly service that adds so much more to the experience.
The bar menu includes a signature Spritz, home-made barrel-aged Negroni and Amaro TOZI, served straight from the barrel.
Casual dining/street food
Truly one of the most fun places for eating in London – street food at the Brick Lane Food markets!
Located a short walk from East Aldgate and Shoreditch stations, you’ll find absolutely every cuisine you could possibly imagine (and many you didn’t even know existed!) here.
Just walking into the food market area, your senses will certainly be overcome with the buzzing atmosphere of authentic cuisines served up with pride. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon. Just make sure to arrive hungry!
And if street food isn’t your thing, while you’re in the Brick Lane market area, you can visit boutique food shops, bars, restaurants, cafes as well as a cereal bar called Cereal Killer (yes they serve boxed cereal only and yes people queue to eat it). There’s truly something for everyone here.
While you walk off those calories, enjoy the art, craft and second-hand markets that spill out over several streets and include hundreds stalls selling clothing, artwork, handmade items, vintage items and antiques, collectibles, you name it. It’s essentially more shopping than you’d likely be able to do in a day.
It’s the quintessential London experience to enjoy an afternoon or high tea and Scoff & Banter, located just below The Radisson Blu Edwardian, Bloomsbury Street Hotel in Covent Garden is just the place to do it.
Located a short stroll from many of the city’s theatres such as the popular Cambridge Theatre, it’s a great spot to enjoy a matinee and high-tea experience. Scoff & Banter offers afternoon tea experiences that are often themed to accompany the performance taking place at the theatre.
The afternoon experience offers a menu both adults and children will adore with the traditional tea sandwiches, scones, jam and cream and decadent sweets.
After tea, enjoy a bit of retail therapy in the popular Seven Dials shopping district loaded with a heavy mixture of international brands as well as smaller boutiques.
No matter your preference in dining styles, spending just a few days in London will still allow you to experience a whole world of delicious dining experiences.
About the author
Gwen O’Toole is an accomplished writer focussing on travel, events management and food and wine. She also published a fiction novel while spending the past eight years as a magazine editor and travelling the globe before launching The Ideas Library, a creative services and event management company. She is regularly featured in a variety of travel and leisure publications and blogs.
Bath is the epitome of Georgian elegance and is a wonderful place to visit at any time of the year. It’s a pleasurable day trip from London (take Great Western Rail from Paddington); or stay a night or two and truly indulge in all the romantic things to do in Bath!
Personally, I love Bath because it’s easy to get around but has all the perks of a city like shopping, coffee, plenty to see and do. Bath is rich in history – the buildings tell many lifetimes worth of tales, dating back to the Romans right through to Jane Austen, and even the birth of Royal Mail. And, aside from anything else, the city is strikingly beautiful.
It’s one for the romantics, for sure – a very special place, like York (which you also must visit). Here are seven of our sweetest ideas for you to explore…
7 romantic things to do in Bath, England
Bath Abbey Tower Tour
Bath Abbey is the divine structure that makes for a perfect meeting spot in the town centre. It is an utterly surprising find as you’re wandering the old streets, and you’ll have your phone in hand snapping pictures before you even realise what you’re doing!
Indulge in some people watching in the square, and when you’ve gathered your breath, climb to the top for a bird’s eye view of the area.
If this idea takes your fancy, you can book exclusive personalised tours which take place out of hours. Watch the sun set over this uniquely lovely place, away from the tourist crowds. More at bathabbey.org/towertours.
Stroll along the Gravel Walk
This is fine for all, but Austen fans will especially rejoice because it is the setting of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth’s proposal in Persuasion.
Continue your wander through to Royal Victoria Park for a picnic, and wind up your exploration in the lovely woodland of the Botanical Gardens.
Be mindful after dark though, for although it might seem pretty at dusk it is said that a number of Bath’s former residents often also wander here. Particularly notable is a white haired man who will appear before you on the Gravel Walk, only to vanish back into the night. Spooky, although perhaps a romantic pursuit for the ghost-hunters (like me) among you…
Take to nature – canal ride, row boat or horse drawn carriage ride
As you step off the train into the city of Bath, you’ll spot signs for visitor information centres. Drop in and enquire about one of the unique opportunities to interact with nature.
Back in town, we suggest skipping the cab line and instead take a horse drawn carriage ride around the city, just like in Austen’s romantic age. Be enchanted as you pass by grand spaces like the Royal Crescent, Royal Victoria Park and The Circus. Courtyard Carriages will make it happen.
Stay overnight in a romantic hotel!
Bath is brimming with excellent accommodation options for all budgets. If you’re willing to splash out for a special occasion and take full advantage of this city’s status as a centre for romance, this one looks nice – the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa. It’s centrally located with sublime views of the city! We’ve not stayed here, but sure would like to. Seems so very Austen-esque.
Another decadent property I spotted on our travels was Bath Spa Hotel, a five star stay overlooking the breathtaking Bath landscape.
Jane Austen festival in September
Yes, yes and yes!
Indulge in regal splendour – performances, balls, workshops, promenades, fairs, lunches, breakfasts (and the odd Mr Darcy sprinkled around town for good measure)…
There are even short tours of the surrounding area on offer so you can get your entire literary and adventure fix with the least amount of effort. If you’re a fan of the author, don’t miss visiting in September. More at janeaustenfestivalbath.co.uk.
Note: there’s a plethora of Austen experiences open all year round too if you can’t make it in spring.
Thermae Bath Spa
Bath is of course famed for its ancient baths and healing waters, and now thanks to Thermae, we can all take a dip.
After you’ve explored the interesting old ruins, step it up to contemporary times in an utterly indulgent and romantic manner. Thermae now boasts a sensational rooftop pool with sweeping city views. There’s plenty of other treatments you can enjoy too – the best of modern pleasures and old world lush blended into a sublime chance to unwind and feel the love.
Country walks and quaint villages
When we visited Bath recently, we actually took the Hop on Hop off bus tour, which features two routes through Bath. One travels around the city and explains the local history, and the other highlights the outskirts upon the hilltops overlooking the city’s skyline. This is an excellent way to get your bearings in the city. Helpful too, because Bath is very hilly so it’s easy to get tired making your way around. An option like this makes it simpler to identify the places you might like to go back to, and the skyline journey in particular showcases some lovely walks.
Suggested places to visit include the ‘prettiest village in England’, Castle Combe (accessible from Bath), Kennet and Avon canals which are some of the loveliest waterways working their way through England. The tour guide also pointed out walks you can try nearby to stops on the tour’s itinerary such as around Middle Hill Lodge.
Words can’t describe how lovely it is here, although many writers have attempted to do so throughout history. Why not visit and see for yourself? You may find the Visit Bath website useful, and book your train tickets in advance for the best deal, Trainline.
If you’ve found this helpful or have a tip to add, please let us know in the comments.
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