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!
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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