Inverness City Guide
Commonly referred to as ‘the capital of the Highlands’, Inverness is a beautiful little city located in the north of Scotland. It has a population of less than 50,000 and was built around the River Ness, which flows right through the centre of the city.
Inverness was originally a base for the Picts, a tribal people who lived in Scotland during the Iron Age and the Early Medieval period and there’s evidence that they were living in the area we now call the city around the year 565 AD. In subsequent periods, Inverness experienced a lot of conflict due to being strategically located. Moving on to the 1500s, Mary, Queen of Scots was infamously denied entry to Inverness Castle and responded by executing the unfortunate Governor who was responsible for this decision. A couple of hundred years later, in 1746, the Battle of Culloden took place and ended the Jacobite rising, which aimed to put James II of England and VII of Scotland and his descendents back on the British throne after they had been deposed.
Getting around Inverness is really straightforward, as the centre is very compact and therefore walkable. There were obviously a lot of hire cars on the roads, so watch out for drivers who aren’t used to driving on the left, even if you’re a pedestrian! We didn’t hire a car for the two days we spent in Inverness and managed on foot. The airport is located quite a way out of the city so we took a taxi to the centre, which took about 20 minutes. There is also a bus from the airport to the city centre if you’re looking for a cheaper option. As this part of Scotland has become such a tourist trap, there are also a lot of public transport options for sightseeing outside of Inverness. We took a bus to Loch Ness and back on our second day and you can also use the train to get between Inverness and other towns and cities in Scotland.
I had initially hoped to find a lovely, boutique hotel for a reasonable (not necessarily cheap) price for our stay. We pretty much exclusively stay in AirBnB accommodation these days as I find hotels can be really overpriced, but I’ll admit that sometimes I do like hotel luxuries. However, a quick search revealed that there’s no such thing as a reasonably-priced hotel in Inverness. I decided not to compromise by staying in an extremely-expensive-but-distinctly-average B&B, and instead reverted to my old favourite.
We ended up in a beautiful cottage tucked away next to the river, which was less than 5 minutes’ walk from the city centre. It was the perfect location and a great base for us to wander down the river banks and explore the area. There was also a Tesco located about 30 seconds’ walk from the house, so it was ideal for getting in a few bits and pieces for breakfast. Our hosts had also left us a bottle of wine and snacks, which was a lovely touch!
I know that a lot of people have some fairly strong preconceptions about the food in Scotland (namely haggis and deep-fried Mars Bars). OK, so there was quite a lot of haggis around on the menus, but don’t forget about Scottish salmon, seafood and game that’s also on offer! Our whole holiday was packed with incredible food, not only in Inverness but on the whole NC500 route.
Inverness itself has some incredible restaurants on offer. I’d researched where I wanted to go beforehand and identified some great value set menus (my boyfriend assures me this is the way to take all the fun out of a holiday, but I disagree). As it happened, we were able to spend the money we saved on food on cocktails instead – bonus.
The day we arrived, we went to the Mustard Seed Bistro for their set menu lunch (£9.95 for a starter and a main). I had salmon mousse to start, followed by jerk chicken. The salmon was delicious and the chicken was good with some nice Caribbean flavourings, although it wasn’t particularly spicy. We then added on desserts and mojitos, making this a lovely lunch stop.
I’d decided to go for another set menu option for our second evening in Inverness. We made our way slightly out of the city centre to find ourselves at home in Contrast Brasserie, which is the restaurant for Glenmoriston Town House hotel on the riverbank. I was immediately impressed with the gorgeous location and modern but cosy decor inside. It was very quiet when we arrived at around 6pm but things got a lot busier after 7pm.
The pre-theatre set menu is available Monday to Friday from 5pm-6:30pm and you can get 3 courses for £16.95. I had Seabass Ceviche to start, followed by Crab & Smoked Salmon Papardelle with peach and cassis sorbets to finish. It was all beautifully presented and so tasty. We thoroughly enjoyed our meals, even more so because they were washed down with happy hour cocktails! Finally, the drinks continued flowing as we retired to the bar next door as we made sure to get a good taste of the extensive cocktail menu.
Things to do
If you’re in Inverness, you can’t help but be close to the river. The River Ness flows from Loch Ness through the city and all the way into the Beauly Firth. The name Inverness comes from the Scottish Gaelic Inbhir Nis, which translates to ‘mouth of the Ness’. The River Ness is fairly wide and has roads and paths either side so you can stroll along taking in the river and the backdrop of the castle and the historic buildings. Although most people are happy to enjoy the river from the banks, we did see one guy actually in the river, complete with his waders and fishing rod!
If you do fancy a walk down the river, you’ll eventually come to Ness Islands. They’re a couple of tree-covered islands in the middle of the river and they make for beautiful parks. You can explore the footpaths with locals and tourists alike who are enjoying the outdoors without leaving the city.
Again, this isn’t something you’re going to miss if you’re in Inverness! The castle is strategically situated on top of a cliff overlooking the city centre on one side and the River Ness on the other. It’s also definitely pink… which is the natural colour of the sandstone it was built with in 1836 on the site of the original castle. It’s not currently open to the public as it actually houses a court, but it’s definitely worth going to see it up close. From where the castle sits there are stunning views over Inverness and the river; and you get this all for free!
Loch Ness/Urquhart Castle
I grew up hearing the legends of the Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie as we like to call him/her! So the Nessie legend is so big, that even tucked away in the rural Midlands in England, I knew the stories from Scotland’s second deepest loch. It’s quite spectacular as it’s about 23 miles/37 km long and surrounded by rolling hills. However, be warned: this really is tourist central, especially in the summer.
We took the bus from Inverness bus station to Urquhart Castle, which seemed to be a logical stop by the side of the loch. Fortunately, we arrived fairly early so probably missed the worst of the tourist traffic. I would say Urquhart Castle is worth a visit as it’s got great views over Loch Ness. It’s also very informative, with lots of placards detailing some of the history of the castle, which I found really interesting. Entry to Urquhart Castle is £9 for an adult. Although I’m glad we went to see Loch Ness, I probably wouldn’t rush back to that area. If I were to go back, I would want to hire a car and drive down the other side to get away from the tourists.
Have you visited Inverness? What’s your favourite thing about the city? Let me know in the comments below!