Nestled in the Scottish Highlands, between mountain and sea, Inverness is a small city that offers far more than its size would suggest. Here are 12 reasons to visit, and no matter what draws the visitor, a warm Highland welcome is guaranteed.
Inverness is full of history; both events that shaped the future of the United Kingdom and the world, like at the nearby battlefield of Culloden, or a more personal past. Many people come looking for their own roots, travelling from far away to trace ancestors, or to find the houses their relations lived in before they left Scotland. For the Scottish Highland diaspora, Inverness is the place to stay, with the Highland Archive Centre often providing tantalising and revelatory clues. Such a visit can trigger powerful emotions.
Culloden | © Nymeria/Flickr
With a wonderful array of fresh local ingredients, talented chefs and excellent venues, the secret of the delicious food available in Inverness is definitely out. Whether you want to visit a top class restaurant like the original Rocpool, Chez Roux, or Contrast Brasserie, or perhaps something less formal but still bursting with flavours, like Velocity Café, or the organic and vegetarian café, Nourish, there really is something for every taste and every budget.
Salmon and Whisky | © Jeff Wilcox/Flickr
Although visitors almost always know that the area is renowned for its famous whiskies, they may not know of the huge variety of Scottish gins now available, or the remarkable craft ales and organic ciders brewed locally. Traditionally Scottish beers were not exactly drinks to write home about, but this has all changed now. Try one of the Orkney Brewery beers, whether Skull Splitter (named after Thorfinn Einarsson, the 7th Viking Earl of Orkney), or Puffin Ale. The local Black Isle Brewery is very special indeed, as they have their own farm, growing organic barley for their beer production. A visit to their own bar is time well spent.
Scottish Beers | © Christer Edvartsen/Flickr
Inverness itself is a wonderful wee city, but one of the things that makes it so special is also its location. Central to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, home to breathtaking landscapes and ancient sites of interest, the city is the ideal place to explore the wider region. Whether on foot, by bike, car, or on the train, staying in Inverness opens up a wealth of possible adventures. Likewise, the transport links into the city from The South (as the locals call it), include trains that run directly to Edinburgh and even London, an airport that has links across Europe, and the A9 road through the mountains.
It does not matter what time of the year you visit Inverness, the backdrop of the Highlands will provide you with wonderful views and colours. In spring everything is bursting with new life, green and vibrant, by summer the hills are turning purple as the heather comes into flower, autumn brings the gold and red of the leaves, and winter is the time when the mountains are covered in pristine snow. The light in the middle of the year lasts well into the night; in the Highlands this is called ‘The Gloaming’ — a twilight that continues long into the night. In winter the colder weather brings the perfect excuse to sit near a roaring fire, a dram of whisky in hand. The seasons are especially important for visitors who love to take photographs, as the light is constantly altering.
Inverness Castle in the Snow | © Dave Conner/Flickr
The wildlife, the trees, the plants, and everything from fungi to shellfish — these things add to the overall whole of the Highlands, and Inverness is perfectly positioned for the visitor to see them all. The variety of different natural landscapes and seascapes is astonishing and accessible. You do not even need to leave the city to see things, with Merkinch Local Nature Reserve on the banks of the Beauly Firth, or the hill of Craig Phadrig rising about the houses below. The River Ness and the Caledonian canal add further nature viewing options, and it is possible to walk or ride a bike just a little way out of the city and feel you are in the middle of nowhere.
Inverness is a friendly and fun place to go out in the evening, with a lively pub scene, flourishing local music, theatres, places to dance, and more. And that is just on a normal night of the year. One of the best places to enjoy local music and local drinks is Hootananny, especially when they clear the tables to allow dancing. Inverness is also sometimes lucky enough to play host to a very different sort of nightlife — the northern lights, the aurora borealis. The best months to see this incredible phenomenon are in winter, with February being a good option. There is, of course, no guarantee there will be any auroral activity, but if there is, you will be in for a treat.
Inverness is an excellent place for the visitor to enjoy a huge range of different sports, whether participating or just watching. This part of Scotland has long been associated with golf, and there are many different courses within easy distance of the city. There is a football (soccer) team, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and, if you want to watch a sport you may not have seen before, there is also a shinty team, Inverness Shinty Club. Other sports and activities that are available in the area include caneoing, kayaking, skiing, road and mountain biking, boating, walking, climbing, fishing, and others. If you are after an active visit, then Inverness is perfect for you.
As one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, Inverness is a very forward-looking place, but it is important to mention that this does not come at the expense of the past, and traditions that have often survived for centuries, or even longer, are a key feature. For example, the local place names are predominantly Gaelic, reflecting the fact that this language was the most widely spoken until the 19th century. Inverness itself is from ‘Inbhir Nis,’ meaning ‘The Mouth of the River Ness.’ Every year, many thousands of people enjoy watching or taking part in the local Highland Games, an ancient tradition that is well worth visiting. Add to this bagpipes, tartan, whisky, the Clan culture, haggis and the wild dancing of the ceilidh, and it is clear many old traditions are alive and well.
Massed Pipe Bands | © Dave Conner/Flickr
No matter where your interests lie, you are bound to find something to intrigue, to fascinate, and to educate. Inverness Museum and Art Gallery is a must-see, but it is not alone. There is also the Highland Aviation Museum, the Highlanders Museum, the Loch Ness Centre, the Highland Museum of Childhood, and others, all within a short distance of the city. When you take into account potential day trips, including the Highland Wildlife Park, a part of the Royal Zoological Society for Scotland and only an hour away, or a tour of local castles, for example, you know you will never get bored or run out of things to see or do.
Although it is only a wee city, Inverness definitely has more than its fair share of shops. This is partly due to the fact people travel from all over the north of Scotland to shop here, whether for their weekly groceries, or for special occasions. With so many visitors to the region, there are also many shops that might otherwise struggle to do business, including the famous Leakey’s Second Hand Bookshop, and several shops selling traditional Highland wear. This mixture of shops makes walking around the city a pleasure, as there are constant surprises to be found, with a range of businesses often found in a much larger city.
Inverness Victorian Market | © Iain Cameron/Flickr
People enjoy living in Inverness. The city has been voted the happiest place to live in Scotland on more than one occasion, and this shows. Locals are proud of their home, and proud to accept strangers, viewing them as friends they have yet to meet — a Highland tradition of welcome that stretches back into the mists of time. It does not take long for visitors to understand why this small city is so happy — and with the number of people who return for another visit, then another, it is clear that Inverness must be doing something right.