3 Days in Inverness: Itinerary for First-Time Visitors

Are you looking for an Inverness 3-day itinerary? Then you’ve come to the right place.

I used the so-called Capital of the Highlands as a base for exploring some of Scotland’s most popular destinations, including Loch Ness and the Highlands. Moreover, with its attractive riverside setting, rich history and friendly people, Inverness is also a rewarding destination in its own right.

Make the most of your weekend in Inverness. Whether you want to explore Scotland’s rich history, enjoy its majestic landscapes or go Nessie hunting, this Inverness itinerary has you covered, particularly if you don’t have a car.

close up of a brown highland cow

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How I Spent 3 Days in Inverness

Inverness has something for everyone. Although the elusive Nessie attracts many visitors to the city, it is so much more than this.

Not only is this friendly, attractive and compact city packed with charm, but it’s also one of the best places in Scotland to become better acquainted with the country’s turbulent history. Epic Highland landscapes are within easy reach, even if you don’t have a car.

The city itself is small enough to explore in a day. However, to make the most of the attractions on the its doorstep, I spent three days in Inverness as a solo traveller.

As this was a car-free vacation, I took affordable excursions operated by the excellent Rabbie’s Tours to maximise my time.

My 3-day Inverness itinerary is based on this visit in the summer of 2021. All information in this article is updated on an annual basis to ensure that it remains current.

I used the Travelodge Inverness City Centre as my base for the visit.

Day 1: Explore Inverness

Get to know your home base on the first day of your Inverness itinerary.

This is a small but perfectly formed city and you should be able to cover its highlights one day. Here are the places to see in Inverness that you should not miss.

Inverness Castle

Inverness’s pink crenellated 19th-century castle, perched above the River Ness, is the city’s major landmark.

castle made from pink stone on hill seen during 3 days in inverness

Castles have occupied this clifftop setting since 1057. Famous – and infamous – protagonists associated with Inverness Castle include Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots, Oliver Crowell and Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Although you are not able to enter the castle, you can walk up to the plaza overlooking the river and city. Don’t miss the statue of Flora MacDonald who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from Scotland after the Jacobites’ defeat at the Battle of Culloden.

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

exterior of museum and art gallery in inverness scotland

If you want to learn more about the history of Inverness and the Scottish Highlands, explore the collection of artefacts at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Entry is free and you can check the opening hours here.

Leakey’s Bookshop

exteriors of leakys book shop one of the places to see in inverness itinerary

If you are the sort of person who can spend hours mooching around a dusty bookstore, then you’re in luck. Inverness is home to Scotland’s biggest second-hand bookshop, Leakey’s Bookshop. It also sells rare and old prints, classic volumes and old maps.

Leakey’s is at Greyfriars Hall, Church Street, Inverness, IV1 1EY

High Point Church

Next to Leaky’s Bookshop is the historic Old High Church.

church building with graveyard in inverness scotland

Keeping watch over the city from its lofty position on St. Michael’s Mount, this is where the Jacobites who survived the massacre at Culloden were imprisoned prior to their execution in the cemetery. Marks made by musket balls in the wall of the church’s tower are a grim reminder of these dark days.

Victorian Arcade

interior of arcaded victorian shopping arcade with red iron struts

I’m not an enthusiastic shopper but if you are in the mood for a spot of retail therapy vintage style, head to the Victorian Arcade. This covered market close to Inverness train station is home to an eclectic selection of independent shops and cafes.

You’ll find the Victorian Arcade on Academy Street, Inverness, IV1 1JN

Ness Islands Walk

There are few better things to do in Inverness than to take an evening walk along the riverside to the Ness Islands.

Follow the River Ness upstream until you reach this cluster of natural islands that are connected to the river banks by Victorian footbridges. Cross the river via the islands’ woodlands to get your nature fix without leaving the city.

path through woodland in ness islands which is one of the best things to do in inverness scotland

Time permitting, visit the nearby Inverness Botanic Gardens. Entry is free and the gardens are home to the Secret Garden, or the G.R.O.W. Project, run by adults with special needs.

The Botanic Gardens are on Bught Lane, Inverness, IV3 5SS

Day 2: Culloden, Clava Cairns, Beauly and Glen Affric

As lovely as Inverness is, the real treasures of this part of Scotland lie beyond the city’s boundaries. To squeeze as much as possible into my Inverness itinerary, I took a day tour that included the historic battlefield at Culloden, Clava Cairns, Beauly and Glen Affric.

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Culloden Battlefield

simple tombstone in grassy filed at culloden scotland
Culloden Battlefield

This windswept moorland where the Jacobites made their ill-fated final stand is an essential part of any Scotland itinerary.

Learn more about the 1745-6 uprising at the superb Culloden Visitor Centre before making your way to the Culloden battlefield. This is the site of the last major battle on British soil and was where 1,500 Jacobite and 50 Government soldiers met their maker. Gravestones mark their final resting places and flags represent the front lines of both armies.

Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns is a Bronze Age cemetery complex close to the Culloden battlefield. 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.

woman peering from between 2 standing stones

Beauly Priory & village

Picturesque Beauly was the next stop on this day trip from Inverness.

There is a good choice of places for lunch or coffee if you are in the area (I recommend the excellent Corner on the Square). The village is also home to the remains of the 13th Century Beauly Priory and its 800-year-old elm tree.

tombstone in the middle of a ruined chapel of beauly priory Scotland
Beauly Priory

Glen Affric

Glen Affric has been described as the most beautiful glen in Scotland. This magical combination of ancient Caledonian pinewoods, moorland and lochs is near the small settlement of Cannich and is popular with climbers and hikers.

water cascading over rocks down a fast flowing river at glen affric scotland

Day 3: Loch Ness & Fort Augustus

This day trip to Loch Ness and Fort Augustus included a scenic circuit of the lake. Again, I visited these attractions around Loch Ness on a day trip from Inverness with Rabbie’s Tours.

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If you are driving, visiting these places in a day shouldn’t pose a problem. However, it’s a different story if you are at the mercy of local bus schedules.

Bus 919 links Inverness with Fort Augustus via Urquhart Castle and Ivermoriston Falls. But due to the infrequency of this service, it is tricky to shoehorn all of these places into one day and you won’t be able to see the scenic eastern shore of Loch Ness. You can check the timetable here.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness is the stuff of legends.

It is unfathomably dark and deep, reaching a maximum depth of 800 feet. To put this into context, the water in all of the lakes in England and Wales would fill its cavernous depths with space to spare.

larke lake of loch ness with a line of wooden posts in foreground

But it is the legendary Nessie that pulls the crowds.

There have been many sightings of the Loch Ness Monster and many theories on what it could be. Steve Feltham, the most famous Nessie-spotter, believes that Nessie is likely to be a giant catfish.

We took the old road around the loch’s scenic eastern shore, which skirts one of General Wade’s military highways, and stopped at Dores Beach at the northern tip of Loch Ness before continuing to the Falls of Foyers. A short woodland walk takes you to this 140-foot cascade set in a dramatic gorge.

Fort Augustus

calm river lined with trees on either side at fort augustus scotland

Fort Gus, as it’s fondly known, is located on the Caledonian Canal, which connects Inverness to Fort William. Along with Fort William and Fort George, Fort Augustus was one of the three forts built as a defence against the rebelling Jacobites.

Today, Fort Augustus is a busy small town with a lot of charm. It’s a good place to stop for lunch, has great gift shops and offers one of the best views over Loch Ness.

Making our way back to Inverness along the western shore at Loch Ness, we stopped at Ivermoriston Falls.

water cascading over rocks down a fast flowing river with stone bridge in background at ivermoriston scotland

A Loch Ness river cruise provided a fine view of the historic Urquhart Castle. Built in the 13th Century, it was blown to smithereens in 1692 to prevent it from falling to the Jacobites.

ruins of old castle by lake

When to Visit Inverness, Scotland

Thanks to warmer temperatures and longer daylight hours, summer (June to August) is the best time to visit Inverness. 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.

Getting There & Getting Around

Inverness has an airport, which is a 20-minute drive from its city centre. From here, 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. Inverness is also a stop on the Caledonian Sleeper from London.

Megabus, CityLink and National Express operate services out of Inverness bus station. I caught the bus from Fort William which took just over two hours.

If you are driving, Inverness is linked to Glasgow and Edinburgh by the A9, to Fort William by the A82 and to Aberdeen by the A96.

As a small city, Inverness is very walkable. Local bus services are an alternative and accept contactless payment.

Where to Stay

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 the city centre. It is also where you will find many of the city’s best pubs and restaurants.

MID-RANGE

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 but whilst there were zero frills, it was clean, functional and very central.

hotel bedroom with bed chair and desk
breakfast room in hotel with table and chairs and self service area

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK A ROOM

Premier Inn Inverness Centre (River Ness)

In all honesty, this is my preferred budget hotel chain but it 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.

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BUDGET

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. Although 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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SPLURGE

Bluebell House

Another centrally located accommodation choice, Bluebell House has attracted stellar reviews for its service, cleanliness and breakfasts.

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Recommended Places to Eat

Here are the restaurants and cafes that I tried and loved.

For breakfast

The Red Pepper (92 Academy St.)

Very friendly café next door to the Travelodge that serves tasty breakfast rolls or a Full Scottish washed down with a great mug of coffee.

The Rendezvous Café (14A Church St.)

As a film buff, I had to try out this café, the walls of which are decorated with a frieze of a film reel of the Hollywood greats. Try their Scottish smoked salmon and poached egg on toast served with super-strong coffee.

Arrive before 9 a.m. to grab a table

For dinner

Fig & Thistle (4 Stephens Brae)

Bistro with friendly service and an encouragingly small menu plus a small selection of specials. Their pan-fried sea bass with crab, chilli and tomato risotto was a delicately balanced marvel. And don’t get me started on the crème brûlée.

La Tortilla (99 Castle St.)

Head to the oldest Spanish restaurant in Scotland for first-class service and authentic Spanish cuisine.  The fresh-off-the-boat calamari practically melted in my mouth.

Number 27 (27 Castle St.)

A few doors down from La Tortilla, this is a great choice for a bistro that won’t break the bank. Choose their Highland Chicken, which is wrapped in Parma ham, stuffed with haggis and served on a bed of black pudding mash. Only the local gin was more divine.

Black Isle Bar (68 Church St.)

Inexpensive casual eating for a wide selection of organic beers from the local Black Isle Brewery and top-rate pizza.

clam water of lake with stones in foreground
Loch Ness

Solo Travel in Scotland

Scotland is not only one of Europe’s best places to travel alone but is also one of the best solo travel destinations in the world.

From its lush rolling hills and mirror-like lakes to its blindingly white beaches, Scotland is home to some of the most striking and diverse landscapes to be found anywhere. It’s a walker’s and photographer’s paradise.

Scotland is relatively safe, the locals are very friendly and speak English. There is a wide variety of accommodation, from a thriving hostel scene and cosy bed & breakfasts to boutique and castle hotels.

It’s easy to get around. Whilst driving is the easiest way to explore Scotland, this is not for the faint-hearted. Some roads in the Highlands and Islands are single lanes punctuated with passing places that you can pull into if necessary.

I travelled in Scotland without a car and managed just fine using buses, trains and day tours.

Scotland’s major towns and cities are linked by train and bus (Scottish Citylink runs long-distance express coach services).

I also joined day trips with the local Rabbie’s Tours who were excellent. Group sizes are small and the knowledge and humour of their drivers/guides are first-rate.


Thank you for reading my guide to spending a weekend in Inverness

I hope that the sun shines and you have a wonderful time. If you are lingering longer or fancy a different experience, take a look at my pick of the best day trips from Inverness without a car.

For travels further afield, take a look at more of my Scotland articles:

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About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.