Inverness is worthy of its moniker ‘the Capital of the Highlands’. Its proximity to the Scottish Highlands, Loch Ness and the Speyside whisky region makes it the perfect base for exploring some of Scotland’s most popular destinations, even if you are relying on public transport.
Discover epic places to visit with these best day trips from Inverness without a car. Whether you want to connect with the past, enjoy some of the most majestic landscapes in the world or hunt for Nessie, I have you covered.
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Best Day Trips from Inverness Without a Car
Some of Scotland’s finest treasures are an easy day trip from Inverness.
- Clava Cairns
- Beauly Priory & Village
- Glen Affric
- Loch Ness & Fort Augustus
- Scenic rail journey to the Kyle of Lochalsh
- Elgin Cathedral
- Glen Moray Distillery
Having a car will make reaching many of these places a piece of cake. But I travelled in Scotland without a car and managed just fine using buses, trains and day tours. If you are in a similar position, I’ll share how I travelled to each of these day-trip destinations.
During my visit to Inverness, I took two day trips with the local Rabbie’s Tours. The first day trip visited Culloden, Clava Cairns, Beauly and Glen Affric; the second excursion focused on the Loch Ness area.
I visited the other destinations recommended in this article by train.
Visiting the windswept moorland where the Jacobites made their ill-fated final stand is an essential day trip from Inverness.
Start at the superb Culloden Visitor Centre, where the tragic story of the 1745 uprising is sensitively told through a collection of artefacts and multimedia. Particularly effective is the 360-degree immersion theatre, which places you right in the heart of the battle.
Make your way to the Culloden battlefield, the site of the last major battle on British soil. Gravestones mark the final resting places of some of the 1,500 Jacobite and 50 Government soldiers who died here in 1746, and flags represent the front lines of both armies.
As Culloden is not exactly a well-kept secret, advance booking is highly recommended. In 2023, an adult ticket costs £14 (a reduction may be available if you visit with Rabbie’s Tours).
Close to Culloden battlefield is the Bronze Age cemetery complex of Clava Cairns. Dating back 4,000 years, these well-preserved cairns were originally built to house the dead.
Clava Cairns is open year-round and is free to visit.
Clava Cairns was a filming location for the Outlander series. Remember the standing stones where Claire was first brought back in time? That was filmed at Clava Cairns.
Beauly Priory & Village
Picturesque Beauly is the perfect pit stop for lunch or coffee if you are in the area (Corner on the Square is excellent). The village is also home to the remains of the 13th Century Beauly Priory and its 800-year-old elm tree.
Close to the small settlement of Cannich, Glen Affric is prime climbing and hiking territory. This magical combination of ancient Caledonian pinewoods, moorland and lochs has been described as the most beautiful glen in Scotland.
I visited Culloden, Clava Cairns, Beauly and Glen Affric on a day trip with Rabbie’s Tours, which I highly recommend, particularly if you are visiting Scotland without a car.
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Loch Ness & Fort Augustus
Loch Ness is unfathomably dark and deep.
Although it is “only” the second largest loch in Scotland by surface area – Loch Lomond gets that gong – it is the deepest by volume in Great Britain. Its deepest point is almost 800 feet; for context, the water in all of the lakes in England and Wales would fill its cavernous depths with space to spare.
Avoid the weaving motorhomes and take the old road around the loch’s scenic eastern shore, which skirts one of General Wade’s military highways, and make your first stop at Dores Beach at the northern tip of Loch Ness.
30 years ago, Steve Feltham set up home here in his camper van in an attempt to spot the loch’s most famous supposed occupant. Although he once saw something that looked like the Loch Ness Monster, he feels that “Nessie” is likely to be a giant catfish.
Continue to the Falls of Foyers and take the short woodland walk to view this 140-foot cascade set in a dramatic gorge.
The next stop is the busy village of Fort Augustus, situated alongside the Caledonian Canal, connecting Inverness to Fort William.
In addition to Fort William and Fort George, the original Fort Gus, as it’s fondly known, was one of the three forts built to ward off the rebelling Jacobites. Only the one at Fort George is intact.
Today’s Fort Augustus is a charming place to stop for lunch, has a handful of good shops and offers one of the best views over Loch Ness.
Avoiding Nessieland Monster Centre, make your way back to Inverness along the western shore at Loch Ness, stopping at Ivermoriston Falls. A short walk through woodland brings you to the falls and an old summer house.
Although I didn’t visit Urqhart Castle, I was treated to a fine view of it on a Loch Ness river cruise. This 13th Century ruined castle was blown to smithereens in 1692 to prevent it from falling to the Jacobites.
I visited these attractions around Loch Ness on a day trip with Rabbie’s Tours, which I highly recommend. If you are in Scotland without a car and are at the mercy of local bus schedules, it would be tricky to shoehorn all of these places into one day.
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Scenic Rail Journey from Inverness to the Kyle of Lochalsh
A friend recommended this scenic railway journey to me. And, boy oh boy, I’m glad she did. This is easily the best day trip from Inverness by train.
For the most part, a single-track railway, the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh line, also known as The Skye Line, is one of the most spectacular railway journeys in Scotland, if not Europe. Moreover, as the one-way journey time is a touch over 2h 30m, it’s easy to complete a return journey in one day.
It has the lot: soaring mountains, shimmering lochs, majestic pine and spruce forests and wildflowers aplenty. The only UK railway lines that I’ve been on that are its equal are The Jacobite between Fort William and Mallaig and the Settle to Carlisle Railway.
Time your journey to include a lunch stop in Plockton, one of the most picture-postcard-perfect spots on the west coast. Famous for being the setting of the television series Hamish Macbeth, Plockton is idyllic.
A row of neatly painted cottages hugs the shoreline and the curve of its small harbour. Palm trees line its main drag and the peaks of the mountains of Wester Ross rise in the distance. It’s little wonder that the village attracts artists in their droves.
Plockton village is an easy 20-minute walk from its railway station.
As of February 2023, there are up to four trains per day in each direction Monday−Saturday. On Sundays, the frequency drops to one train per day each way, though the frequency increases during the summer months.
For the cheapest fares, book well in advance to take advantage of an Advance ticket.
However, if you wish to stop at Plockton, buy an Anytime Return ticket. Although this is more expensive than other ticket types, it allows you to break your journey at no extra charge.
Straddling the River Lossie on the south coast of the Moray Firth is the market town of Elgin, which is one of the easiest day trips from Inverness by train. It is home to the lovely ruins of Elgin Cathedral, once rivalling St. Andrew’s as Scotland’s most important cathedral.
Dating from the 13th Century, Elgin Cathedral is now merely a shell, but what a glorious shell it is. Don’t miss visiting the chapter house with its extraordinary octagonal ceiling.
Elgin Cathedral is on King Street, an easy walk from the train station.
I recommend paying to visit the cathedral. Although it’s tempting just to admire it from the outside, you’d miss the Chapter House, the opportunity to examine the site’s intricate carvings and its unusual Pictish cross slab.
It is open daily, 10 am until 4 pm
Glen Moray Distillery
Visiting a whisky distillery is an essential addition to your Scotland itinerary (my favourite is the Oban Distillery).
Whilst you are in Elgin, visit Glen Moray on the outskirts of town. Take a guided tour of this attractive distillery to learn more about the production of this amber nectar which finishes with a tasting of two whiskies.
Glen Moray Distillery is located on Bruceland Road, which is around a 30-minute walk from Elgin Cathedral.
It is open from 9 am to 5 pm, year-round. Between May and September, it is closed on Sundays. From October to April, it is not open on Saturday and Sunday. The Visitor Centre closes for two weeks over the Christmas and New Year period.
Tours take place four times a day and cost £10 (2023 price)
Why not break your return journey to Inverness at the seaside town of Nairn?
Located on the Moray Firth, Nairn has the reputation for being one of the sunniest and driest places in Scotland. Sadly, not on the day I visited.
Nonetheless, it has a broad sandy beach and a pleasant harbour and is just 16 miles from Inverness.
Up to 14 trains per day travel between Inverness and Elgin. The average journey time is 40 minutes. Nairn is just 16 minutes from Inverness on the same line.
If you want to combine the two towns on the same day trip, buy an Anytime Return ticket, which will allow you to break your journey at no extra charge.
Although I ended up staying here overnight on my way to Perth, Aviemore is another easy day trip from Inverness, just over 30 minutes by direct train.
However, I confess I found the town a little soulless and certainly no match for its majestic surroundings. So ignore the town and its kitsch shops and make your way to beautiful Loch an Eilein a freshwater loch in the Rothiemurchus Forest, about 5 km south of the town centre.
Can You Visit the Isle of Skye and Eilean Donan Castle from Inverness?
You can visit the Isle of Skye and Eilean Donan from Inverness but this is a long day trip.
It’s a two-hour drive from Inverness to Eilean Donan and a further half an hour to the Skye Bridge. And that’s before you’ve had a chance to take a look at the attractions on Skye.
I met other travellers who had taken a day trip to Skye and Eilean Donan Castle. Although they gave the excursion glowing reviews, they said that it was very tiring.
How Many Days Should You Spend in Inverness, Scotland?
As a bare minimum, spend three days in Inverness. This will allow enough time to see the sights of Inverness and take a few day trips.
What is the Best Month to Visit Inverness?
Visit Inverness between June and August for warmer temperatures and longer daylight hours. These are also the busiest months of the year in the city.
To avoid the crowds, visit in autumn (September to November) or spring March to May). Temperatures should be mild and you’ll be able to enjoy the fall foliage or spring flowers.
READ THIS NEXT: A Perfect 3 Days in Inverness: Itinerary for First-Time Visitors
How to Get to Inverness
Inverness has an airport, a 20-minute drive from its city centre from where there are regular flights to hubs in the UK as well as Dublin and Amsterdam.
For a more carbon footprint-friendly option, take the train. It’s a 3 ½ hour journey from either Edinburgh or Glasgow and Inverness is a stop on the Caledonian Sleeper from London.
Megabus, CityLink and National Express all operate services out of Inverness bus station. I caught the bus from Fort William which took just over two hours.
Where to Stay in Inverness
As a major tourist hub in Scotland, accommodation in Inverness can be pricey, particularly if you are travelling alone. If you plan on taking day trips from Inverness by train or bus, base yourself in Inverness city centre. It is also where you will find many of the city’s best pubs and restaurants.
Travelodge Inverness City Centre
Compared with other accommodation choices in town, the Inverness Travelodge was a bargain when I booked my stay. I was slightly nervous about what to expect and, whilst there were zero frills, it was clean, functional and very central. And did I mention that it was a bargain?
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READ THIS NEXT: Is the Travelodge Inverness City Centre the Best Cheap Hotel in Inverness, Scotland?
Premier Inn Inverness Centre (River Ness)
In all honesty, this is my preferred budget hotel chain but was more expensive than the Travelodge when I booked. This Premier Inn has a riverside setting – some of its rooms overlook the river and Inverness Castle – and has garnered great reviews.
>>>CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK A ROOM
Black Isle Hostel
If you are travelling on a tight budget, take a look at this hostel which was recommended to me by someone who had a long-term stay there. Whilst the Black Isle Hostel isn’t much to look at from the outside, it’s reportedly clean and comfortable and in a central location.
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Another centrally located accommodation choice, Bluebell House has attracted stellar reviews for its service, cleanliness and breakfasts.
>>>CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK A ROOM
How to Do Day Trips from Inverness Without a Car
For maximum flexibility, you can’t beat having your own set of wheels in Scotland. But not everyone has a driver’s licence and even if you do, you may prefer not to get behind the wheel.
Driving in some parts of Scotland can take a bit of getting used to. In the Highlands and islands, roads are often only single lanes punctuated with passing places that you can pull into if necessary.
Thanks to an extensive public transport system and day tours, it’s straightforward to explore Scotland without a car.
By public transport
Scotland has an extensive public transport network.
ScotRail operates the majority of Scotland’s rail services, for the most part, linking towns and cities.
Outside of the main towns and cities in Scotland, bus services are more useful. These are operated by a mix of private companies and local councils.
A one-stop-shop for planning day trips from Inverness by train or bus is the excellent Traveline Scotland.
By joining a day tour
For those occasions when bus or train timetables don’t work for you or when you want to cram as much into your day as possible, organised day tours are a Godsend.
Not only is this a stress-free way of exploring Scotland but they are also relatively inexpensive. And if you are travelling alone, a day tour can be an excellent way to meet other travellers.
My small group tour operator of choice in Scotland is Rabbie’s. Group sizes are small and the knowledge and humour of their drivers/guides are first-rate. A fun day out is pretty much guaranteed.