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I came for the Outlander, and I stayed for the history. (Inverness is where the main character is hurdled back in time into years of adventures with 18th-century, tartan-clad hunk, Jamie Fraser. Though, unfortunately, the actual town of Inverness didn’t make it into the screen adaptation).
On long (10+) night vacations, I like to include a short overnight to another region/country, to hugely expand what we can see without a car. When we booked our trip to Scotland, I knew I wanted to see The Highlands, but with a home base in Edinburgh and hoping to rely only on public transit, a day trip up there was a bit beyond our reach.
Our schedule, which ended up being absolutely perfect, in my humble opinion, was early train out of Edinburgh, get to the hotel and check-in, search for Nessie boat tour (described below), come back to Inverness for dinner (and drinks - let’s be real), then get up reasonably early the next morning, head to Culloden Battlefield, and then hang around and do a bit of souvenir shopping back in Inverness until the train back to Edinburgh.
Without any exaggeration, this was the most stunning train trip of my life. I would gladly take the train ride for the pure enjoyment of it, without even seeing any sights at either end. Each time we went around the corner, I was hitting my husband on the shoulder, announcing that this was the most beautiful scenery yet. It is definitely on the lengthy side - a solid three hours with quite a few stops, but as the nice group of 70-something retired Scottish teachers reminded everyone, drinking is absolutely acceptable after 10 AM (and before, in their case). As they succinctly put it to the attendant - “Who’s actually going to take away our champagne?” I certainly wouldn’t.
We stayed at Glenmoriston Townhouse Hotel - it was safe, clean, conveniently located, and comfortable. Breakfast was included in our rate, which was always nice. Glen Morriston Townhouse. Located snuggly off of the River Ness, it’s situated on the same side of the river as the downtown. Spend a portion of your evening touring the town after hours - we did a quick bar hop, ending at the lovely Castle Tavern, where we actually drank pints under a painting of The Bonnie Prince.
Do it. Take the Nessie tour. It’s so much fun. The boats are nice and the tour guides are genuinely amusing.
That said, I would select a tour that is less heavy on Nessie and heavier on historical aspects. We opted for the craggy beauty of Urquhart Castle - which I would HIGHLY recommend. (The Castle can also be visited without the cruise aspect, but without a car, is a bit of a drive from Inverness). The Castle itself is a ruin, but the rugged beauty of Scotland can be captured in images from every angle. We opted for the Jacobite Freedom Tour - which, to me, was the perfect combination: 2 hours (WC on board an in the museum center of Urquhart), comprised of 1 hour on the boat (they serve alcohol, for a fee) and 1 hour to see Urquhart (which was, for this history major, not quite enough, but there was Scotch to be had back in town). NOTE: Both of these departure points are a distance from Inverness and you will have to take some form of transportation to get to the departure point. The Dochgarroch Lock is only a 3-mile walk, if you’re hearty! (I have to say, for the sake of transparency, that when we did this cruise, we were able to catch a bus from Inverness).
If you’re doing an overnight in Inverness, I would recommend doing the cruise on the first day you’re in town and doing Culloden the second day before you journey back to Edinburgh.
I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for “last” battlefields and the culmination of the Rising of 1745 is no exception; I’ll also say that Culloden is exceptionally well-done. Take time to appreciate the feel of the place and don’t expect a super sensory show, as is put on at some American battlefields. It was here that Jacobites (a term used to describe those supporting the bloodline of James II, by this time held by Bonnie Prince Charlie, as compared to his daughter, Mary, and her husband William, who had taken his throne in the Glorious Revolution of 1688) finally fell to the British Army in spectacular fashion. From there, the British Army went on to attempt to eradicate Highland culture (banning the wearing of tartans is the most well-known example). The passion of a lost cause runs through this place like a pulse. Fans of Outlander will enjoy seeing the Clan Fraser monument (and genealogy fans will enjoy finding the monuments to their ancestors). Go through the extremely well-done visitors center (relatively new, nice cafe and, of course WC), and then take a peaceful stroll through the now-peaceful moor. The public bus conveniently runs to Culloden Battlefield. It takes a bit of time, but it’s nice. There is also a gift shop with tasteful items - the ultimate praise from me.