First things first: I love Inverness. My Mum grew up there, my brother lives there, and I’m even getting married there. It’s a long way, both figuratively and literally, from cosmopolitan Edinburgh, but as the northernmost city in the UK, and the capital of the Highlands, Inverness has a special, romantic charm. There are legends of freedom fighters as well as spirits and soothsayers. Inverness was subject to prophecies by the Brahan Seer, and as the character Grace in one of Alexander McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie novels says: “they’re all a bit fey up there”.
I’m always boring my colleagues by telling them to go to Inverness and endlessly listing the attractions – and I’ve finally decided to write them down. So, here are my top 10 things to do in Nessie’s hometown:
1. Visit Loch Ness! It’s the most obvious thing to do in town, and there are a number of options depending on how you want to do it. Car hire is one option, and guided tours are another. Keen walkers also hike there. Personally, I like the boat best. You can get on one of Jacobite Tours‘ vessels at Tomnahurich Bridge (just outside of the city centre) and sit back with a whisky -there’s a bar downstairs!- and also enjoy the free wifi so you can ‘gram your shots of Urquhart Castle while scanning the loch for Nessie.
2. Go to Leakey’s. Are you a book fan? Despite its small size, Inverness boasts Scotland’s largest secondhand bookshop, in a converted church building. There’s everything from old maps to books on economics and biographies of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Things are loosely organised by topic, but it’s largely disorganised. I love it and have picked up some real gems there.
3. Listen to some Scottish folk music at Hootananny. There’s honestly nothing not to like about Hootananny. Every night sees live performers of traditional Scottish music at this bar, while the menu has everything from classic Scottish cullen skink to vegetarian haggis. It’s also a great place for local beer and single malt whisky – there’s even a cocktail bar upstairs.
4. Taste some whisky. There are numerous distilleries nearby, and if you’re a fan of Scotland’s most famous export, then these are most definitely worth a trip. If you plan on staying in town though, the local branch of the Whisky Shop does evening tasting sessions (warning: the measures of whisky served are very generous in size and you get to try about 5 of them – I recommend eating something first!)
5. Take advantage of the local culinary scene. Inverness is actually something of a foodie haven, with a number of really good restaurants. Rocpool is the local star (it has a celebrity chef and was ranked as one of the best restaurants in Britain in 2015). I also really like Mustard Seed – another Inverness business in a converted church. Make sure to reserve ahead for both.
6. Check out the statue of Flora MacDonald, rescuer of local hero Bonnie Prince Charlie. Sometimes to be seen sporting an Inverness Caledonian Thistle scarf, she stands outside Inverness Castle, scanning the waters of the River Ness with her pet dog.
7. Get some culture at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. As well as explaining the geographical, political, and social history of Inverness and the Highlands, this wee museum is also home to a very good cafe and gift shop.
8. Take a walk around the Islands. You barely have to leave Inverness city centre to be in the middle of nature. The Islands form a park in the river, and are linked by picturesque white bridges. They’re popular with dog-walkers and local families as well as visitors.
9. Visit a typical Scottish pub. My personal favourite is The Castle Tavern (I once saw the new year in here, and the kindly landlord handed round free whiskies at midnight – don’t let it be said that the Scots aren’t generous).
10. Take the open-top bus. A tourist trap? Maybe, but I still like it. A few years ago I took my bored little brother on this in an effort to entertain him for the afternoon, and it worked a treat. The bus efficiently shows you the town, takes you out to the Botanic Gardens and Tomnahurich bridge, and explains local legends and history in the pre-recorded commentary. The tickets are valid for 24 hours, which is nice if you want to hop off for a bit of exploring on your own.
Have you ever been to Inverness? What did you like about the city?