3 Days in Inverness: An itinerary for first-time visitors (including a day-trip to Loch Ness)

Inverness is nicknamed as the capital of the Scottish Highlands. In close proximity to all the major Scottish Highlands attractions, it is an ideal base for a short excursion in the area. Nevertheless, as Inverness is a city on its own, in fact, it is the northernmost city in Scotland, it has many things to do there. Below, you will find a short itinerary on how to spend 3 days in Inverness including spending a day in Loch Ness. Note that this itinerary assumes the absence of a car.

3 Days in Inverness: Itinerary Overview

This itinerary is based on my own visit to Inverness in May 2019 with my boyfriend, Christos. Our visit to the city was part of a lengthier trip in the Scottish Highlands. We departed from Edinburgh and then, we went for three days in Aviemore before arriving in Inverness. You can find my itinerary for our stay in Aviemore here. Overall, I suggest following this itinerary during the summer to take advantage of the long Scottish days. Besides, the weather will most probably be nicer then than visiting during the winter months. Lastly, to follow this itinerary, a fair amount of physical exercise is required as it includes some hiking trails.

How to get there?

It is easy to reach Inverness from many parts of the UK both by train and plane. It is a mere three and a half hours away from both Edinburgh and Glasgow and about eight hours away from London by train. If you prefer, you can also use the Caledonian Sleeper train to get there from London. By plane, Inverness is about an hour away from the British capital.

3 Days in Inverness Itinerary
View of Inverness from Ness Bridge

How to move around?

Inverness is quite compact and most of the places included below are reachable on foot and only some use of public transport is needed. To follow the day trip to Loch Ness you can also use public transport, but if you want to reach the less popular stops around the loch, then you may want to consider renting a car.

Where to stay?

Any place in the city centre will most probably be a good place to follow this itinerary. When we visited the city we stayed in the Premier Inn Inverness Centre (River Ness) Hotel [AD], a basic hotel at a good location with everything we needed.

Useful websites:

Day 0 – Arriving in Inverness

Unlike most of my itineraries, I have included a day zero to arrive at the destination in your leisure. If you get there before it gets dark, you can walk around the city centre. You can visit the VisitScotland Inverness iCentre or you can do some shopping at the Eastgate shopping centre. Alternatively, you can arrive early in the morning of Day 1.

Day 1 – Exploring Inverness

This day is dedicated to exploring Inverness. All the major sights of the city are included in a long walking route starting from the Ness Bridge and finishing in the city centre.

Inverness Botanic Gardens
The Cactus House at Inverness Botanic Gardens

09:00 Inverness Cathedral

Your first stop of the day is the Inverness Cathedral dedicated to St. Andrews. It is one of the northernmost cathedrals in the UK. It is free to enter the Cathedral and have a look at its 19th-century architecture.

Find out more about the Inverness Catlhedral here.

10:00 Inverness Botanic Gardens

Continue walking along the Ness Walk until you reach Inverness Botanic Gardens. Its houses (Tropical House and Cactus House) and gardens offer an ideal place to relax and learn more about nature. Before leaving, don’t forget to check out the Secret Garden, part of the G.R.O.W. project, which is maintained by adults with special needs. Entry to the Gardens is free and donations are welcomed.

Find out more about the Inverness Botanic Gardens here.

12:30 Ness Islands

Ness Islands are a small complex of islands in the middle of the River Ness. They provide an oasis of green a bit outside the city. Use the different suspension bridges and paths between the islands to get to the opposite side of the River Ness and continue your walk.

Find out more about the Ness Islands here.

13:00 Lunch break

Have a quick stop at the city centre for a snack or a proper lunch. We tried doughnuts from Perk and they were delicious! They have a small constantly changing selection of gourmet doughnuts (sometimes savoury as well) and coffee options.

13:30 Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

Once you are back to the city centre, make your way towards the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. A small museum about the history of the city from the pre-historic times to today. The Art Gallery features various temporary exhibitions. Overall the museum aims to promote the Highland heritage and way of life.

Find out more about the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery here.

Inverness Castle Viewpoint
The Inverness Castle Viewpoint provides a panoramic view of Inverness.

15:30 Inverness Castle Viewpoint

Inverness Castle cannot be missed due to its strategic position on a hill. Its story dates back to the 11th century, but today’s building only goes back to the 19th century. Visitors to the castle are only limited to a small section of the structure, the Castle Viewpoint as the rest is used for administrative purposes. From the top of the castle, you can enjoy great views of the city and the River Ness. There is a small fee to enter (£5 per person) and the visit includes a short film about Inverness. Before leaving the castle, don’t forget to go to its front facade and have a look at the Flora Macdonald statue.

Find out more about the Inverness Castle here.

17:30 The Victorian Market

The last sight of the day is the Victorian Market, a covered market dating to the Victorian times. Inside the market, you can find all sorts of shops, cafes and small business. It is worth a look inside for its Victorian architecture and the small details in the archways of the storefronts. Although the market usually closes at 18:30 (18:00 on Saturdays and 16:00 on Sundays) some shops may close earlier.

Find out more about the Victorian Market here.

Directions:

Day 2 – Loch Ness

Today the day is dedicated to Loch Ness! Although the place is best explored by car, some of the most popular spots around the lake are reachable by bus. Make sure to arrive at the bus stop on time and signal the driver when you want to get off. Alternatively, you can take an organised tour around the loch. Many companies, including Viator [AD] and GetYourGuide [AD], offer various types of tours (and some may include a short cruise) that cover different parts of the loch.

Urquhart Castle
Approaching Urquhart Castle

10:00 Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition

The first stop in Loch Ness is the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition. There you can find more information about the history of the lake and the famous monster.

Find out more about the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibiton here.

How to get there?

Take bus 919 at 9 am from Inverness bus station towards Fort William. Get off about half an hour later at Drumnadrochit. The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition is 10-15 minutes walk away.

11:30 Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle is a historic site on the shore of Loch Ness. The name is a bit misleading as you will not find a castle there, but its ruins. The castle is a popular stop for many visitors (both independent and those that are part of large groups) and thus, it can feel very busy. Nevertheless, this should not stop you from enjoying the views over the loch and learning more about the castle.

Find out more about Urquhart Castle here.

How to get there?

As buses are not very frequent, the most straightforward way is to walk, but it can take up to one hour. Alternatively, you can wait for the 11:45 919 bus towards Fort William that departs from Drumnadrochit (opposite the post office) and get off at Urquhart Castle car park five minutes later.

14:00 Invermoriston Falls and Bridge

The Invermoriston Bridge is a picturesque spot in the Invermoriston village. The bridge was built in 1813 and from there you can enjoy the view of the Invermoriston Falls that lie in the River Moriston. While you wait for the next bus, have a look around the village and find a place to have lunch.

How to get there?

Take bus 919 from Urquhart Castle cast park at 13:35 towards Fort William and get off about 20 minutes later at Invermoriston Public Hall.

Fort Augustus
Enjoying the view of Loch Ness from its northernmost part!

16:00 Fort Augustus

Fort Augustus is a great place to spend the rest of the day. It has a variety of restaurants and other tourist amenities, so it is great for taking a short break. In Fort Augustus, you can find the only sign with Loch Ness written on it next to a great vantage point for views across the loch. The village is divided by the Caledonia Canal, which provides a link between Loch Ness and (eventually) Fort Williams. You can learn more about the canal at the Caledonian Canal Centre. There, you can also find a lovely shop and cafe.

Find out more about the Caledonian Canal Centre here.

How to get there?

Take bus 919 at 15:54 from Invermoriston Public Hall towards Fort William and get off at Fort Augustus bus stance about 15 minute minutes later.

20:00 Inverness City Centre

Return to Inverness to spend a relaxing evening in the city centre.

Alternative: If you follow the above itinerary with a car, you may wish to return to Inverness by following the other side of the loch, hence completing a full loop. Two interesting points along that way are the Falls of Foyers and the Loch Ness Beach at Dores village.

How to get there?

Take bus 919 at 18:24 from Fort Augusuts bus stance towards Inverenss and an 1 hour and 20 minutes later you will arrive at Inverness bus station.

Day 3 – The Viewpoints

Get ready for lots of walking today. The day starts with a cruise at the Moray Firth and then continues with lots of walking to check out some viewpoints around Inverness.

Tomnahurich Cemetery Hill
View of Inverness from the top of the Tomnahurich Cemetery Hill (north side)

10:00 Moray Firth Cruise

Start your day with a cruise at the Moray Firth and keep looking for some dolphins! The area often reports sightings of dolphins, as there is plenty of salmon for them to eat. There are a couple of companies that offer those cruises, but none of them guarantees any wildlife sightings. When choosing a company, ensure that they are eco friendly and are protective of the dolphins. When we visited, we chose the Dolphin Spirit cruises. Although we saw no dolphins that day, we found their minibus services from Inverness City Centre to Inverness Marina very convenient.

How to get there?

Depending from where in Inverness you are it may be easier to walk there (about 30 minutes from the city centre) as there are not any buses going to the Marina.

12:00 Tomnahurich Cemetery Hill

Even though it sounds to be an unusual sight, the Tomnahurich Cemetery offers great views of the City and the Moray Firth. A tranquil place to have a stroll and have a look at some old graves. The further up the hill you go, the oldest they are.

How to get there?

To get there from the Marina, it is best to take a taxi or an Uber, as there is no direct connection by public transport and it takes about an hour on foot. If you went on a Dolphin Spirit Cruise you can take their shuttle service back to the the city centre, and then take a private transfer from there.

14:00 Craig Phadrig

Craig Phadrig is another hill a bit outside the centre of Inverness. From there you can enjoy views of a different site of the area. As this trip is coming to an end, grab this opportunity to spend some final moments in nature before returning to the hustle of the city. There are two trails that take you to the top. I suggest you follow either part of this loop to get up the hill and then return by following one of the other trails towards the northeast side of the hill (this will make it easier to reach the next stop of the itinerary).

Find out more about Craig Phadrig here.

How to get there?

Again the most straightforward way is to take a taxi or an Uber, as currently no buses service these two locations and it is a big distance to cover on foot.

Craig Phadrig
View from the top of Craig Phadrig (south side)

16:00 Merkinch Local Nature Reserve

Merkinch is a local nature reserve area close to the shore. There are different types of wildlife frequent there and it is a nice place for a lovely walk. Follow the canal and then head into the reserve walkway next to Beauly Firth towards South Kessock.

How to get there?

Follow the walking route directions below that take you from Craig Phadrig to Merkinch Local Nature Reserve and then back to the city centre through Carnac Point and the Creig Street Bridge.

17:00 Carnac Point

Last stop on the way back to the city centre is the Carnac Point, right next to Merkinch Local Nature Reserve. It features a small light tower. From there, you can have excellent views of the Kessock Bridge and the River Ness that empties into the Beauly Moray Firths.

17:00 Greig Street Bridge

To get back to the city centre, you can easily walk along the River Ness. On the way, you will come across the Greig Street Bridge. A pedestrian suspension bridge that links the two sides of the River Ness.

Directions:

Have a nice trip!

P.S. Inverness can be a good starting point for excursions further up in Scotland that are difficult to reach from other cities.

All photos were taken using the Sony ILCE-5100 [AD] mirrorless camera.

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Elina Michaelidou

Elina is a computer science graduate and a traveller enthusiastic. Read everything about her travel experiences here.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. travelingness

    Great post! After reading this I realize I need to go back to Inverness as I hardly saw anything when I was there. I saw Loch Ness, the castle and then went out to Culloden. I would love to see the many viewpoints, the Ness Islands and the Botanic Garden!

  2. Arabela

    I’ve been dreaming of visiting Loch Ness since I was little. This guide will definitely be very helpful for me when I realize that dream. Thanks for all the information!

  3. Anita

    I love this detailed itinerary of this awesome place. By the way do you know if Loch Ness monster rally exist 😉 ? Thanks for sharing!

  4. Madhu

    Wow that’s a really useful guide and make me wanna visit Scotland.thanks for sharing

  5. Caroline

    My partner and I have been thinking of potentially spending the holidays in Scotland (maybe doing the NC 500) so this would give us plenty of ideas to explore Inverness! We both love walking so thanks for including the walking routes for days 1 and 3. Ideal for us 🙂

  6. Katy Kuhlwilm

    Nice guide. The islands are nice to still around and Urquhart castle has an amazing view for Nessie spotting 😆

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