Inverness, Culloden, and Nessie : A quick trip to the Scottish Highlands, without a car
Today we're discussing everything you need to know about visiting the incredible Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands and home to Loch Ness, from a home base in Edinburgh!
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Hoping to visit the Scottish Highlands,
If, like us, you're hoping to just pop by the Highlands as part of a broader tour of Scotland, based in the lowlands, a few nights is enough to see what you came to see, depending on how many spots you want to visit. Basing yourself in Inverness gives you access to the most transit and hotel options.
Be sure to avoid my top 10 Tourist Mistakes in Scotland.
How much of the Highlands
can I see in 2 days?
- Day 1 in the Highlands
- Take an early train out of Edinburgh.
- Get to the hotel and check-in, drop off bags, etc.
- Search for Nessie boat tour.
- Come back to Inverness for dinner (and drinks - let’s be real).
- Day 2 in the Highlands
- Get up reasonably early the next morning.
- Take the bus to Culloden Battlefield.
- Lunch in Inverness.
- Hang around and do a bit of souvenir shopping back in Inverness.
- Take the afternoon train back to Edinburgh.
Wondering what to pack? Check out What to Wear in Scotland.
How to get to Inverness from Edinburgh
Each time the train turned a 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 absolutely charming group of 70-something retired Scottish teachers reminded everyone on the train, drinking is absolutely acceptable after 10 AM. And certainly 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.
For more on train travel in Europe and train travel in the UK, check out my handy guides.
Where to stay in Inverness, Scotland
Located snuggly off of the River Ness, it’s situated on the same side of the river as downtown Inverness, within easy walking distance of everything you'll want to see. The location additionally worked well for us, as we did not have a car and were completely reliant on walking and/or public transit.
If you do have a car, I would recommend Culloden House. It's a bit outside of town (we drove by it on our way to Culloden Moor), but it looked an absolute treat, and, for my fellow history buffs, it's where Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed for the three nights before the Battle of Culloden.
For more on selecting hotels in Europe, check out the full post!
What to See in Inverness
That said, Inverness is certainly the place to buy your Scottish souvenirs, and, as you can see below, they even have kilt makers, should it strike your fancy!
You'll love Scotland. Read the top 5 reasons why.
Visiting Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle from Inverness
That said...Do it. I honestly highly recommend it. Take the Nessie tour. It’s so much fun. The boats are actually quite nice and the tour guides are genuinely amusing. And, it's more than just jokes about Nessie. It's a wonderful way to see the stunning Loch Ness, which was truly one of the most beautiful places I've explored in the U.K.
With that in mind, unless you have a bunch of kiddos with you, I would also strongly recommend selecting a tour that is less heavy on Nessie and focuses more on the historical aspects. There are quite a few options when you're looking at the tours.
Urquhart Castle itself is a ruin, but the rugged beauty of Scotland can be captured in snaps taken from any angle. The castle has a fascinating Medieval history, including a role in the wars of Scottish Independence. Destruction came in 1692, to prevent it falling into the hands of the Jacobites - more on Jacobites, later in this post. Today, it is one of the most popular castles in Scotland, and with good reason!
We selected the Jacobite Freedom Tour - which, to me, was the best of all possible worlds. In total, our journey was about 2 hours, comprised of 1 hour on the boat and 1 hour to see Urquhart Castle (which was, for this history major, not quite enough, but there was Scotch to be had back in town). They actually have a bar on the boat, so we opted for some delicious hot chocolate with booze in it! And yes, since inquiring minds like mine want/need to know: there's a bathroom on the boat and a bathroom in the Urquhart visitor's centre.
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! When did this cruise, we were able to catch a bus from Inverness, so it might be worth asking.
Visiting Culloden Moor, Inverness
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.
A brief history of Culloden
This was not the first "Jacobite" uprising, but it would be the last of any significance. For lots more on Jacobites, check out my post on Holyrood House in Edinburgh.
After their victory at Culloden, the British Army went on to attempt to eradicate Highland culture, including 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.
Practicalities of exploring Culloden from Inverness
Start your visit by going through the extremely well-done, and relatively new, visitors center. Once you've had your fill of the museum aspect, take a stroll through the now-peaceful moor.
There is also a gift shop with tasteful items - the ultimate praise from me- and a nice cafe and restroom.
Thanks for stopping by!
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My middle and son and I have always loved England and Scotland,especially. Those are the 2 places we both have wanted to go to. I can't get enough of the pictures and post of both. We are very interested in going to both places, once the children are out of the house. Which will be in a couple more years. But, we really love the country. Thank you so very much for the post, it will probably be only way I'll ever see it. Again, thank you.
Thank you so much for the lovely comment, Belinda. I hope you're able to get over there soon - I'm sure you'll love it :)
I visited Culloden in 2017. It is moving and heartbreaking. The English attempted, and still do to some extent, to deny the Scots their separate culture. I will return. After leaving Scotland, to fly back to the States, I had a merchant roll his eyes at me as I gave him Scottish bills to pay for my purchase. Amazing.
haha what a great story! I have a bunch of Scottish bills in my dresser drawer - looks like I'll have to go back as well! :) Thanks for stopping by!
I am fortunate enough to live in Inverness and agree with your recommendations for what to see and do on a short visit to this area. So glad you enjoyed it.
Thanks so much for stopping by! It's a lovely area and I look forward to being able to return!!
Schotland is geweldig, prachtig land, zou daar graag willen wonen.
I'm planning another trip to Scotland and will be spending about 5 days in Edinburgh and a few days to see the Highlands. I don't want to have to drive but I'm not sure about luggage restrictions for trains. I had planned on one large luggage. Do the trains accommodate this?
Hi Cheryl - for us, it wasn't a problem at all (since we went "up the highlands" over night, we brought an airplane sized carry-on and it was fine). But, depending on which company you're traveling and the type of ticket you have, there may be a charge for a large bag, so you may want to confirm/ check your ticket to be sure. Have a great trip!
I am planning à trip to Scotland next year. I Read your post and I found it very interesting. Driving in Scotland make us quitte perplexed ( we are French!!!) I am glad to see that a train trip si a good and easy option. I will review my plan!
According to you what is the best season to visit Scotland? We can’t leave our home in summer.
Bonjour!! I'm so happy for you - I'm sure you'll have a marvelous trip! I would recommend Fall - September/October has great weather, and the later you go in the year, the better the crowds will be. The trip I was writing about in this post was really perfect as far as both crowds and weather go - and not too much rain (though no guarantees on that front!) Bon voyage! xx
Thanks for such a detailed explanation.....and the suggestions! Hubbie and I have wanted to visit Scotland for awhile and, after seeing Outlander, may be a trip in the NEAR future. Sounds like you covered all of the spots we were hoping to see.
THANK YOU for being the first blog I came across mentioning HOW to do Inverness from Edinburgh, and you didn't;t make it sound like it was a pain to do so. We only have the one day. My question is this...HOW and WHERE do you look for a bus to Culloden once we get to Inverness? And it is easy to catch one back so that we do not miss our train? This would be the day before we fly back home, so missing the train is NOT an option. :)
Thanks for stopping by!
So, once in Inverness, we took just the public bus to get out to Culloden (depending on where you'll be getting on, just head to one of the public bus stops corresponding with that line). It is a ***lengthy*** bus ride out to Culloden, with a number of stops. I've just made a map and Google Maps is saying over 40 minutes on the bus each way out there from the center of town, which tracks with that we experienced.
If you're wanting to be sure to visit Culloden while you're in Inverness, I'd give the battlefield a call to confirm that the buses will come frequently enough to get you back to your train. A cab might be another option, but Inverness isn't very large, so I'd image you'd have to have them call a cab for you to get back and it could be quite expensive! Hope that helps! x
I hope you have a great trip!
If you don't mind walking you can hike out to the Clava cairns from Culloden. It is said to be Diana gabaldon's inspiration for the stone circle of outlander :)
Lovely! Thank you for the tip!! xx
We visited Scotland by campervan in Sept-Oct 2017. Definitely second Belinda's recommendations. We bought our membership for the Scottish National Trust at Culloden. Well worth it if you intend visiting castles, estate houses etc. run by the trust- free parking was included at the time. Secondly, Bognar Bridge, about an hour north of Inverness by road, hosts the final Highland Games of the season during mid September. Athletes from all over, local culture, produce,craft, and we even met a skipper of one of the Loch Ness tour boats with some humorous tales of tourists comments on the loch. Highly recommended for a traditional flavoured snap shot of present day Scottish community. Our visit was off-peak season and we travelled all over. No problem obtaining overnight stop overs without booking ahead and not a lot of traffic. This is not always the case during holiday seasons. Depending on your needs, time of travel and means of transport some forward planning and booking should be considered. This said, we would visit Scotland again and again without hesitation. We enjoyed all it offered. Cheers, Gary
Sounds like you had a lovely time! Thanks so much for stopping by!! xx
As a fellow history major/buff and Outlander fan, this is the post I’ve been searching for for weeks! My husband and I are taking a delayed honeymoon to Ireland/Scotland this November! I have been SO conflicted with our time in Scotland. For a while we were settled on just staying in Edinburgh but just the thought of us not visiting Inverness and Culloden was heartbreaking! Our ancestors are from the clan Rose who served an interesting role in the battle of 45. While they sided with the English, they actually housed the Bonnie Prince 3 days before the battle in their Kilravock Castle! You post solidified that we could do the highlands without a car and have a great experience! Thank you!
Hi Claire - thanks so much for stopping by!! How interesting! I'd definitely recommend visiting - it's a gorgeous area and you'll love seeing it! (We took our honeymoon to England!) Hope you enjoy! xx
Thank you so much for of Scotland tour. I am a big fan of Outlander and was coming to Scotland this May,but tne covid 19 put a stlp to that.We will try for 2021 anc wlii definetly try to see a lot by train.
We took a 3 week trip to England, Wales and Scotland with a 4 day extended tour in the Highlands of Scotland in June of 2019 with Grand Circle Tours. It was a fantastic trip..especially the Scotland portion which totaled 7 or so days including the extension. The transportation problem and luggage was solved as they were completely and excellently handled by the tour company. We got to stay in Inverness and traveled to the Isle of Skye, Culloden Battlefield, the Trossachs, Loch Lomond, Edinburgh and Glasgow. We bought an Outlander filming sites tour separately. You might recommend this to your clientele as a very efficient and worthwhile way to tour Scotland without the hassles of driving on the wrong side of the road and navigating roads and points of interest.
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