When we saw a long house sit in Scotland for 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 of Inverness and the surrounding areas!
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.
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.
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:
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).
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!
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.
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).
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 free (donations welcome), and a beautiful place to spend an hour or two.
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.
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).
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.
This castle is hard to miss when wandering around 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Castle Day Trips
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.
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.
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.
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.
Exploring Loch Ness
Probably the most famous place near Inverness is Loch Ness – where the infamous monster supposedly lives. 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.
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!
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.
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.
The Epic 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.
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!
Best Day Trips
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!
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.