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When we saw a long house sit for Scotland in autumn, we just couldn’t resist applying. Once chosen, this sit actually kicked off our plans for our multi-month European adventure. Our amazing five-week visit was the perfect intro to Europe. And we were so thankful for so much time to really see the best things to do in Inverness and the surrounding areas!

city and river views of inverness scotland from inverness castle

The beauty of this part of the UK is well known. And we couldn’t wait to see it for ourselves. While the weather was chilly and gloomy most days, it didn’t stop us from getting out to see as much of this wonderful area of the Scottish Highlands as we could. Plus, we had some sweet furry pals to accompany us on walks and keep us warm on the really cold days with their top-notch cuddles. And the lovely homeowners were sweet enough to let us use their car. So, we could explore to our hearts’ content.

P.S. Want to travel like us? Check out TrustedHousesitters.

walking three dogs we pet sat for through trusted housesitters in scotland

Best Things to Do in Inverness, Scotland

From wandering the city streets to strolling along trails and exploring castles, to going to the beach and taking beautiful highland drives.

Downtown Inverness Explorations

With our proximity to Downtown Inverness, many of our days were spent wandering the cobblestone streets and popping in and out of stores, pubs, and restaurants. There was live music many nights and lots of delicious options to choose from. Plus, some truly beautiful places to pop into – like the bookstore. There are plenty of things to do in Inverness’ bustling downtown.

inside a unique library in downtown inverness scotland

We loved how walkable the city is and put lots of miles on our shoes just wandering around, enjoying the fresh air, and people watching. Plus, it felt totally safe no matter what hour we were exploring! Parking can be a challenge, but we had good luck just using the garages or pay-to-park lots.

Here are our favorite downtown memories:

1. Wandering Around ‘The Islands’

One of the places the homeowners we were sitting for highly suggested was ‘The Islands.’ We would have probably never even found this gem of a place had they not told us! To get to this beautiful area of the city, you use a network of bridges (the ones that bounce when you walk).

bridge at the islands park in inverness scotland

Once on the other side, you are on a pretty tree-lined path and surrounded by water. At night, the trees have lights in them and the bridges light up, too!

walking a dog at the islands park in inverness scotland

2. Our Go-To Hangout: Black Isle Bar

Our time in Colorado made us brewery addicts. This is one of the first things we look up when we get to a new place because the atmosphere is usually fun (but not overwhelming, like a bar), the food is decent, and we like to try their unique beer creations.

couple tasting beers at black isle bar in inverness scotland

Not only did Black Isle have some of the best brick-oven pizzas we ever tasted, but they also had a huge beer selection AND a roof-top ‘secret garden.’ So, of course, we went here at least once a week. (If you are in need of lodging in Inverness, they even have rooms for rent).

tasting beers at black isle bar in inverness scotland

3. Inverness Botanic Garden

Another thing we always seek out is a local garden! And, while not in the main downtown area, the Inverness Botanic Garden is definitely worth a stop. It is one of the great free things to do in Inverness (donations welcome), and a beautiful place to spend an hour or two.

inverness scotland botanic garden greenhouse - top things to do in inverness
colorful flower at inverness botanic garden

And if it is a particularly cold day, the greenhouse is a great place to warm up and enjoy a huge variety of colorful flowers and other plants.

red fall leaves at inverness botanic garden
flowers at sunset at inverness botanic garden

Bonus: Making House Sitting Friends

Buddy really enjoys the Pokemon Go game, so this took us on some hilarious adventures as well. I only went to two outings, since standing around in a random place in the cold with a bunch of people tapping their phones wasn’t my jam. But, Buddy has a blast playing ‘PoGo’ and I love that it allowed him to make some fast friends.

Speaking of friends, we also got to meet up with another full-time house sitting couple and their three cute kiddos who were also in Scotland! What a treat to chat with them for a few hours over breakfast. Meeting people is one of the best parts of travel – especially people you know you’ll make a point to see again because of how awesome they are! (Check out @letsadventuresomemore on Instagram and read this CNBC story about them to learn more about their epic year-long trip).

house sitting friends group photo

Historic Locations & Castles Near Inverness

While history seems to be spilling out around every corner in most European cities, Inverness had a few places that stood out – and had some pretty gorgeous views, too.

1. Inverness Castle

Inverness Castle is hard to miss when checking out the other things to do in Inverness. Perched on top of a hill, it is a great place to walk up to for the surrounding views, even if you don’t go inside.

The site of the castle was established by King Malcolm III in 1057 as a stronghold, after destroying Macbeth’s Castle at Crown Hill. But, the current structure is from the 1830s and is used as the Inverness Sheriff’s Court today.

inverness castle on a blue sky day

2. Culloden Battlefield

The Battle of Culloden was the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745 where they were defeated by the Hanoverian forces. We had a lovely, albeit rainy, walk on the trails of the historic Culloden Battlefield. It was easy to feel the somber nature of the place and its importance to the locals as we passed memorials with flowers set on top.

inverness scotland culloden battlefield in the rain

3. Fort George

Another historic place with amazing views is Fort George – just a short drive from downtown. You could even spot dolphins, whales, and seals from the top of the fort while learning about its history.

fort george entry in inverness scotland
fort george view in inverness scotland

The fort was built after the Battle of Culloden as a secure base for King George II’s army. While it has remained in continuous use as a garrison, it has never been attacked.

views near fort george in inverness scotland

4. Cawdor Castle

Just outside the city, surrounded by rolling hills and farmlands, is a beautiful property complete with a walled garden, maze, and miles of forest trails. Cawdor Castle in Inverness was our first castle visit to Scotland, and it certainly made a grand impact.

cawdor castle with flowers in inverness scotland
selfie in garden tunnel at cawdor castle inverness scotland

After exploring a few castles in Ireland, we learned what to look for in future castle visits. 1. They had to have a garden – this was our favorite part! 2. If we were going to pay to see inside the castle, there had to be at least a dozen or so rooms to wander through. Cawdor checked both of these boxes. So, we waited for our first sun-shiney day and sped over to explore this beautiful historic home.

hedge garden maze at cawdor castle inverness scotland
sitting in the garden at cawdor castle inverness scotland

After an hour or so of admiring the exquisite gardens, we went inside to see what royal life in Scotland is like. The earliest documented date for the castle is 1454, and it has been owned by multiple families since its creation. In Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, there is a character who is made “Thane of Cawdor,” so many people think there is a connection. However, the castle was built many years after King Macbeth had died.

family crest at cawdor castle inverness scotland
inside cawdor castle inverness scotland

5. Dunrobin Castle

This French-inspired castle an hour north of Inverness is our favorite we’ve seen so far. It just has that fairy-tale vibe and its water-side location is luxuriously scenic. Plus, the manicured gardens and falconry demonstration really put it over the top. Read more about our visit here.

jumping for joy at dunrobin castle in inverness scotland
garden at dunrobin castle inverness scotland

Nearby Inverness Trails

Wanting some options of things to do in Inverness in the great outdoors? Scotland is a gorgeous place for a walk! Here are some of our favorite trails.

1. South Loch Ness Trail

The 58-km long South Loch Ness Trail meanders through this area, with great options to take in a portion for a shorter walk. We loved the area near Loch Tarff off B862 on our way back to Inverness from Loch Ness.

views from South Loch Ness Trail near inverness scotland
South Loch Ness Trail landscape

2. Daviot Woods Walk

Since we were close to this area, we spent a lot of time taking in the views and freshness of the forest air with the three dogs. You could spend hours wandering around this peaceful place.

dog in grass on inverness scotland trail
posing next to dog on wooded trail in inverness scotland
dog in water on  trail in inverness scotland

3. Trails to Waterfalls & Glens

A quick search on Google Maps will provide you with tons of great options for these types of scenic hikes. Our favorites were Rogie Falls, Falls of Foyers, Fairy Glen Falls, and Reelig Glen. All of these were detailed in this blog post.

rogie falls in invernesss scotland in autumn
reelig glen trail with lots of greenery in inverness

Exploring Loch Ness

Probably the most famous things to do in Inverness is a visit to Loch Ness – where the infamous monster supposedly lives. While there are boats that will take you through the water, a drive does the trick as well.

1. Look for Nessie

Our first impression of this giant lake is how surprisingly long it is. There could definitely be an enormous, long sea snake living in its deep waters. I won’t lie, my eyes were deadlocked on that water at all times, hoping to see a head pop up.

loch ness river views in inverness scotland

However, after our visit to the Loch Ness Centre, we learned its existence is unlikely – although, not completely ruled out. (We’ll still choose to believe!) While this exhibit wasn’t as interactive as ones we would normally attend, getting to watch the videos and hear about all of the ways they tried to find out what exactly is in the Loch was really interesting. And, their gift shop would be the perfect place to find a Nessie souvenir. They had dozens of versions!

stuffed nessie souvenirs at loch ness centre in inverness

2. Urquhart Castle

As much as we love a good fairy-tale castle, ruins are almost just as beautiful. Ideally, we would have gone on a day that wasn’t pouring rain, but we still enjoyed wandering the grounds. There is also a boat trip that takes you from Inverness to the castle for a pretty affordable price that we would love to try out next time!

Urquhart Castle was once one of Scotland’s largest, but it saw a lot of conflict during its 500 years as a medieval fortress. Control passed back and forth between the Scots and English during the Wars of Independence. In 1692, a portion of it was deliberately blown up, so it could never be used as a military stronghold again.

Urquhart Castle with loch ness in the background on a cloudy day in inverness
selfie in the rain at Urquhart Castle in inverness

Fun story: We actually dropped some hitchhikers off here on our way out of town, once we had finished our house sit. (Take a breath Mom, it’s normal to do in Europe. They even gave us a little thank-you gift.) This couple traveled all the way to Scotland from Ukraine and this was on their list! Kind of cool. Hope they enjoyed it as much as we did.

Urquhart Castle in inverness scotland on a gloomy day

3. The Epic Highlands Drive

While getting out to explore Loch Ness up close is great, the drive is stunning in itself. And there are lots of great options for detours if you want to explore further.

views from drive around loch ness of small town
cows in scottish highlands near loch ness in inverness, scotland
sheep in scottish highlands near loch ness in inverness, scotland

We really enjoyed taking the B862 back to Inverness for the epic mountain views and to pass by other lochs (some with great hikes, mentioned above). One day, we also stopped by Loch Ruthven (a great spot for bird watching) and passed tons of sheep and cows on the way. Such a great place to go for a drive!

road from loch ness to inverness in scottish highlands

Top Day Trips from Inverness

While you could technically get all the way over to Skye and back in one day, we did it and don’t recommend it (set aside a few days for that trip). However, there are tons of great places within an hour or two from the city worth the trip!

1. Cairngorms National Park

The Cairngorms are huge with multiple castles, trails, and other great stops. So, plan for a few days here, if you can. However, most of our time was spent on the west side. Since we didn’t want to leave the pups for too long, we limited our exploring.

foggy day with mountain views in Cairngorms National Park near inverness scotland
eating a sandwich next to some ducks in Cairngorms National Park

We drove down to Pattack Falls from Inverness – stopping along the way at lakes and lookouts. Then took the A86 west on our way back, which had some stunning landscapes. The perfect excuse to take the drone out! If time allows, a stop down to Fort William would be worth the detour for views of the Ben Nevis mountain range

waterfall in Cairngorms National Park near inverness scotland
drone view in Cairngorms National Park in inverness scotland

2. Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral remains from above near inverness scotland

We thought that this would just be a short stop, but ended up spending hours at what is left of this Medieval cathedral about an hour east of Inverness.

touring Elgin Cathedral near inverness scotland

While it doesn’t look like there is much to it, entry to the Elgin Cathedral also includes access to two towers filled with interesting artifacts. Plus, some amazing views from the top. Just be warned – it is a tight squeeze up those narrow and short tower stairs!

gargoyles at Elgin Cathedral near inverness scotland
inside church with glass windows in Elgin Cathedral near inverness scotland

This place – which dates back to the 13th century – was truly stunning. We really enjoyed getting to spend some time admiring the remaining architecture and intricate gravestones. Oddly enough, the destruction makes it even more unique and beautiful.

sun shining through open window area at Elgin Cathedral near inverness scotland

3. Lossiemouth Beach

About 15 minutes from Elgin Cathedral, there is a beautiful white sand beach. We had a fantastic day here with the dogs. It was one of only a handful during our stay that we actually had lots of sunshine!

running around with three dogs on Lossiemouth Beach near inverness Scotland
dog running around on Lossiemouth Beach near inverness Scotland

We’ll cherish this day as one of our best as pet sitters. Getting to see all of the pups so happy was definitely worth the mandatory bath time and car clean up when we returned. The old lady (she’s 16!) even got a little spring in her step. She seemed to really love it – which about melted me into a giant pile of emotional mush. What a special treat for all of us to have such a perfect beach day!

dogs running around on Lossiemouth Beach near inverness Scotland with small town in the background

One of the biggest benefits of house and pet sitting is the opportunity to get a look into what life would be like in another place. In Inverness, it looked like long walks through lush forests, meals with friends, and more beautiful places than you could ever see in one lifetime. Cheers, Inverness! I’m sure we’ll see you again someday.

Read our other articles about our Scotland explorations and other things to do in Inverness here! And to learn how we traveled in Europe for five months on a budget by house sitting, read this guide.

Special thanks to Visit Scotland, who provided us with complimentary entry to their ASVA visitor attractions. As always, all opinions are our own.

14 Fun Things to Do in Inverness, Scotland & Awesome Day Trips