You absolutely should visit the Inverness area if you are: a) an Outlander fan b) a history buff or c) both.
I hadn’t heard of the city of Inverness until I read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. (If you haven’t read it, or seen the tv adaptation, Inverness is where the main character’s time-traveling journey begins, when she “falls” through an ancient stone circle.)
Of course, I had heard about Loch Ness and the famed creature swimming in its depths! Like most places in Scotland, the Inverness area is the perfect setting for legends, be they real or mystical.
Inverness means “Mouth of the River Ness”, and it is considered the capital of the Scottish Highlands.
The Inverness region is steeped in history dating back to the Picts, an ancient Celtic-speaking people of the Early Middle Ages. Mary, Queen of Scots tried to visit in 1562 but was denied access to Inverness Castle by the governor…so she ultimately had him hanged.
And, of course, Inverness played a role in the first Jacobite uprising, with the second uprising coming to an end at nearby Culloden Moor.
“What were the Jacobite uprisings?” you may ask. If you are visiting the Scottish Highlands, it is best to know a bit about them, so here’s a quick history lesson:
Simply put, during the 17th-18th century, Jacobites (a term drawn from the Latin version of James) wanted to restore the House of Stuart to the British throne. When Catholic King James II and IV was exiled, he was supplanted by his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange.
Jacobites sought to put James’s grandson, aka Bonnie Prince Charlie, back on the throne. The result of the unsuccessful rebellion had huge impacts on Highland life and clan culture.
Chances are you will be traveling from/through Scotland’s two main cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
- From Edinburgh, take ScotRail or LNER from Edinburgh Waverley Station toward Inverness (about 3-4 hours)
- From Glasgow, take ScotRail or LNER from Glasgow Queen Street toward Inverness (about 3.25 hours)
- Be sure to check the train schedules and book your train tickets in advance to save money!
- From Edinburgh, the drive to Inverness takes about 3.75 hours via A9
- From Glasgow, the drive to Inverness takes about 3.5 hours via A9
- From Edinburgh, take the M90 Scottish Citylink bus toward Inverness (about 4 hours)
- From Glasgow, take the M10 (or M9 to M90) Scottish Citylink bus toward Inverness (about 3.75 hours)
Having a car in the Scottish Highlands is really the best way to get around. Driving around Inverness is a great thing to do in itself, as the Highland countryside is beautiful!
You can rent a car out of Edinburgh or Glasgow, or from Inverness.
If you’d prefer public transportation, the Inverness Bus Station has bus routes to several nearby villages. Use the Traveline Scotland Journey Planner to navigate all sorts of public transportation.
Where to Stay
There are many options for accommodations in, and around, Inverness, depending on your budget. Lodgings include hotels, B&Bs, or campsites. Stay either in the city of Inverness itself or in a nearby village, such as Drumnadrochit or Culloden.
Things to Do Around Inverness, Scotland
The following things to do around Inverness can be fit into one day, and together they provide an excellent introduction to the Scottish Highlands.
Visit Urquhart Castle
Hours: 9:30 am-5 pm (warmer months), 10 am-4 pm (colder months)
Price: £9.60 (~$13) per adult ticket
Time to spend: 1 hour minimum
About 13 miles southwest of Inverness sit the ruins of Urquhart Castle, on the banks of Loch Ness. Visiting Urquhart Castle is one of the best things to do around Inverness.
The ruins date back to the 13th century, but the castle was partially destroyed in the 17th century to hinder its being used by Jacobite forces. Now open to the public, you can explore the remains of the castle, climb the tower, and take in the beauty of the surrounding nature.
I highly recommend listening to one of the castle guides for an in-depth description of what you’re looking at and for interesting stories about the people who have held the castle throughout the years.
(My mom said it was her very favorite stop on our UK trip!)
Search for Nessie at Loch Ness
Perhaps the most famous legend around Inverness is that of the Loch Ness Monster.
Loch Ness is Scotland’s second-largest loch (lake) and it stretches for over 20 miles, so there’s plenty of water in which the famous “monster” could be hiding. Modern belief in Nessie, as she’s affectionately known, began in the 1930s, with disputed photos and anecdotes of a creature with a long neck protruding from the water.
However, legends of a water beast in River Ness date back to the 6th century. Scientists of the 20th and 21st centuries have used sonar and DNA tests, but Nessie remains elusive.
Still, with all the magic in the Scottish Highlands, one can hope she’s out there somewhere.
Climbing Grant Tower at Urquhart Castle provides an excellent view of the loch! However, if you really want to go searching, there are a number of cruise options that will get you out on the water, like the Loch Ness: Urquhart Castle Round-Trip Cruise and Cruise Loch Ness.
Learn about the Battle of Culloden
Hours: Visitor’s Center 10 am-4 pm (May-February), Battlefield is open year-round
Price: £11.00 (~$16) per adult ticket
Time to spend: 2-3 hours
Remember that quick history lesson?
Despite their earlier success attempting to put Bonnie Prince Charlie on the throne, by 1746 the Jacobite army was exhausted and hungry.
On a rainy day in April the Jacobites met government troops in battle on Culloden Moor, and in less than an hour of gunfire more than 1,300-1,500 men lost their lives- most of which were Jacobites.
The aftermath of the battle was brutal: people were executed if they were suspected of supporting Bonnie Prince Charlie. Scottish land was seized and burned. Meanwhile, the wearing of traditional Highland dress, especially kilts, was outlawed, as was speaking Gaelic in public.
It was the end of clan life, and many Scots emigrated rather than be repressed.
The Visitor Center does an excellent job of laying out the series of events that led to the Battle of Culloden, on both the Jacobite and government sides. You can take a guided tour of the Visitor Center and Battlefield, or walk through both at your leisure.
On the field, stones mark the clans of fallen soldiers. (Yes, Outlander fans, there is a Fraser stone.)
Visiting Culloden is a somber experience, but incredibly important.
Time Travel at the Clava Cairns
Time to spend: 0.5-1 hour
One of the best things to do near Inverness, especially for Outlander fans, is to visit Clava Cairns.
There’s no denying that standing stone circles are impressive. Outlander and Disney’s Brave aside, there is something almost magical in the fact that humans thousands of years ago were able to stand up giant pieces of stones without modern technology.
There are quite a few stone circles in Scotland, and Clava Cairns is just a five-minute drive away from Culloden.
A “cairn” is a pile of stones built as a landmark of some kind. The Clava Cairns are a group of Bronze Age funeral cairns surrounded by an outer stone circle. On the winter solstice, the sun lines up perfectly with the “passage” into the rocky chambers.
Although touching the stone circles won’t transport you back to the 18th century (sorry fellow Outlander fans, I tried) just being there certainly makes you feel connected to generations past.
The Scottish Highlands are full of so much history and legend. I can’t wait to return one day to do more things around Inverness and learn even more.
I would also like to explore the actual city of Inverness, which is full of its own rich history.
Maybe on my next trip to the Inverness area, I’ll even take a successful trip through the stone circle…
Pin this post for a future trip around Inverness, Scotland!
Have you been to the Inverness area? (Have you seen Nessie?) Let me know in the comments below!