Written by Lynsey Oxton
Inverness is the capital city of the Highlands, with a fast-growing population and a reputation as one of the best places to live in Scotland. It’s name translates to ‘mouth of the River Ness’ and it is a bustling city set amongst the quiet mountains and riverside.
We decided to base ourselves slap bang in the centre of Inverness for seven of our twelve nights in Scotland. We did this knowing that it would be a good central location from which we could take day trips to explore the North.
Not only that but we had heard that Inverness was becoming something of an up and coming foodie favourite – so the city would give us plenty of choice for dining options after days out. Of course, it’s also nice to ‘park up’ and unpack properly when you spend a lot of time on the road.
So, what is there to do in Inverness?
The castle: For starters – and because you can’t miss it – there’s the prominent Inverness castle that sits perched up on a cliff looking down into the city and over the River Ness.
This red sandstone castle has been standing since 1836 (albeit there was an original on the site built in 1057) and is now home to the court. I think it looks in pretty good shape for its age! The castle would ordinarily be available for visitors, however the Covid pandemic has put stop to that for now! The red and yellow barriers around the parameter that you see in the photograph have been put up whilst access is not allowed. A no go zone.
Shopping: Aside from the mandatory souvenir shops, kilt makers and the obligatory ‘Edinburgh Woollen Mill’, Inverness has a decent enough shopping district and an indoor centre, with the usual high street names such as HMV, Primark, Boots, Debenhams, Next….
Unfortunately, if it’s designer clobber that you’re after, you will have to curb your enthusiasm, as you won’t find top labels in Inverness.
Here’s a tip and unfortunately one I didn’t get to do as it was shut on the one day I went: If you are a book lover – or for that matter, an Instagram fanatic – there’s a supposedly excellent second hand bookshop set in an old Gaelic church. It’s called Leakey’s and can be found right in the centre, on Church Street. The quirky, open layout with spiral staircases and open fires, makes this place not your average bookshop.
Riverside walks: There are numerous walks you can do from Inverness, but the one that came recommended to us took us along the River Ness (Ness Walk) and all the way to the village of Dochgarroch, via the Caledonian Canal. Autumn was definitely making its presence known along the river bank!
This particular venture took around 2-3 hours (round trip) and although it was perhaps a little dull after the first mile of walking the canal, Dochgarroch was a pleasant surprise at the end, complete with oldie-worldy cottages, canal tow paths and a thriving teashop/ cafe/ shopping complex, perfect for that mid-way coffee and cake. You can also jump aboard the Jacobite Cruise from here and head off to look for Nessie, should you wish.
Being amateur meteorologists, we managed to choose the best weather of the entire holiday to undertake the walk, baking in almost 20° heat. That’s hot for Scotland!
The Culloden Battlefield Tour: Now admittedly, this wasn’t my choice but rather that of my history-buff boyfriend! Nonetheless, it is certainly worthy of a mention – and at just ten minutes drive from the centre of Inverness, it is definitely worthy of a visit.
The tour begins indoors, taking you through the 1745 Jacobite Rising and the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the his army, before, during and after the Battle of Culloden against the English Army (or the ‘Government’ as they were referred). There are lots of interesting exhibits on display, including hand written letters, weapons and clothing. There’s also a 360° theatre with a gruesome a re-enactment of the battle itself.
You are then free to go outside and walk around the battlefield at your leisure. This was the site at which 1500 Jacobite and 50 Government men died during that bloody scene. There are clan markers to indicate where the soldiers fell and both red and blue flags to indicate where the front lines were for each army.
There’s also an intriguing thatched cottage right on the battlefield, made in part from the heather found on the moor. This used to be the old visitor centre before the new one was built and was once residential up until the early 1900’s.
If history hits your notes, the Culloden Battlefield experience is definitely for you. Make that visit!
Now the REALLY important bit: The Foodie’s Inverness
Since Inverness is on the East Coast, it goes without saying that the seafood is amongst some of the freshest out there – and in plentiful supply.
Bearing in mind that we had seven nights of dining out (hard life), we both agreed on one clear favourite – the River House. The food, surroundings and the service couldn’t be faulted. Without question, if you are fortunate to spend time in Inverness, get booked in here!
A little tip – get booked in early to save disappointment (especially during the Covid restrictions) because the restaurant is not that big, and social distancing measures mean less tables.
A close second came in the form of the oldest Tapas Bar in Scotland (I say old, yet it was opened in 2003) – La Tortilla. What a gem! It was only really by chance that we noticed this cosy little restaurant as we walked from our hotel into the centre each evening.
We chose two tapas each and shared a paella, which was cooked to order in 45 minutes. That was more than sufficiency! Oh and not forgetting, a jug of sangria to complete the experience!
Again, if you are lucky enough to dine in Inverness, I can’t recommenced La Tortilla more highly.
Whether you’re in Inverness for the day or the week, there’s plenty to keep you interested and occupied – and you’ll find the locals to be super-friendly and keen to recommend places to see.
Don’t forget to check out the day trips we made each day from Inverness, all of which feature on the main blog.