Right at the mouth of the River Ness is the UK northernmost city: Inverness, capital of the Highlands and the best base to discover all the treasures of North Scotland. In addition to hosting one of Scotland’s national treasures, the loch Ness, it is considered the western European city with the biggest growth in recent years with a vibrant life and with many sides to enjoy. Here you have our Inverness Travel Guide to enjoy all this wonder city has to offer.
Especially in summer, Inverness welcomes many visitors from all around the world. The main reason is the fact that the most famous lake in Scotland – Loch Ness- is located nearby just 20 Km far away. Nevertheless, the proximity to Loch Ness is not the only reason why a large amount of visitors come every year. In a radius of 100 kilometres you have dozens of impressive castles, many famous whiskey distilleries and astonishing sceneries that appear in many stories and movies. The Inbhir Nis – Inverness- in Scottish Gaelic means ‘the mouth of the River Ness’. Due to its strategic location at the acces point of Moray Firth the city has become a strategic point in almost all wars in Scotland.
Inverness has a really interesting and violent history. Ones of the first settlers were the Picts, who settled in the 6th century on the banks of the River Ness. They received the visit of Saint Columba from Ireland to Christianise the King Brude and all his people. Later, in the 12th century King David granted the name of burgh and Inverness started to have more importance in the political event of Scotland. During the Middle Ages, clan disputes between the lords of the Isles against the lords of Inverness and the kings of Scotland, were constant. James I celebrates a meeting trying to pacify the area in the fifteenth century. But the MacDonald clan attacked the meeting. And even the famous Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, had to experience the humiliations at the walls of Inverness when the governor of the city prohibited her from coming into the Inverness castle. Moreover, he did not recognise her as the legitimate Queen of Scotland. However, almost immediately, the Fraser clan and the Munro clan took back the castle and the city for her.
During the Jacobite wars of the 18th century, Inverness became the main spot in the United Kingdom history. The Battle of Culloden – the last of the Jacobite battles and the last one in British soil – was a relevant event which left its mark on the city.
The Jacobites wars were a conflict among supporters of the Stuart House (the Jacobites) and those who wanted the crown to stay in the Hannover House. The English defeated the Jacobites and after the battle a period of prohibitions began for the inhabitants of the Highlands. As the most notable prohibitions: playing bagpipes, speaking Gaelic and wearing the kilt -typical clothing Scottish-. These prohibitions were in place for quite a long period of time.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, the city became an important tourist center. In 1921 it was the first city outside London where a council of ministers was host to study the treaty between Ireland and the United Kingdom. This treaty built the current framework of relations between the two countries.
Currently, the economic activity is based in its port and the service sector. The University of the Highlands and the importance of sport are remarkable activities, too. There are three teams of soccer, one of rugby and the other of hockey. Of course, he also has a Shinty team and grand finals of national and international tournaments are held there.
Cultural activity focuses on the numerous festivals celebrated mainly during the summer and the Eden Theater Court or some bars and pubs with live music all year round. Karen Gillan is the city’s ambassador for the art. The actress was born in Inverness and known for her play in Doctor Who or for her role as Nebula in the saga The Guardians of the Galaxy.
Nowadays in Inverness you can still hear Scottish Gaelic -the classic language of the Highlands and Islands-.
What to see, what to do
A castle -that never had a king- is the most remarkable town silhouette. Originally it was set up as a prison and nowadays its main function is to hold the municipal courts. The current building was built in 1847, but before many fortresses and castles had been built in the town. With no doubt, the most legendary one was built in the 11th century by Mac Bethad mac Findlaích, better known as MacBeth. Yes, William Shakespeare was inspired by it for writing his play!
Another devastated Inverness castle was the one built by Robert the Bruce It would not be the last siege of the castle. In the 16th century faithful supporters of Mary Queen of Scotland will recover for her, after the governor of the castle does not allowed her to enter. as we said before The last great attack happened in the Jacobite rebellions in 1746.
The River Ness and its Isles
South of Inverness Castle, you can see the islands of the Ness. It is typical to take a walk through the banks of the river Ness. Cross one of the famous Victorian bridges over the riverbed and return on the opposite bank. The islands have their own promenade between them and it has served as a recreational space since 1840. The samewalk that you can take these days was the quite the same as is was taken by Queen Victoria in the nineteen century.
Old High Church
It is the Parish church of Inverness, built in 1772 by George Fraser of Edinburgh. It occupies the space of the first church that was built in the city in the 6th century, during the Celtic era. Let us remember that Saint Columba came here to transmit the Christianity to the pagans. Its tower is from medieval times and makes it the oldest building in Inverness. It is also the oldest congregation dedicated to Saint Mary.
Belonging to the Scottish Episcopal Church and consecrated to Saint Andrew. It was built in the late 19th century in red stone. Consists of five naves; the main altar and the altarpiece are made of stone. In the altarpiece you can see The prayer in the Garden: the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Its eleven bells are also a remarkable element of its architecture.
Events, parties and festivals
Every summer, in July the famous Highlands games are held here. A great and fun opportunity to enjoy a festive atmosphere, bagpipe songs, Scottish dances and of course, enjoying races and many other Highland-style sports like if you were 300 year ago.
Another worthy event is The Northern Meeting Piping Competitions. This is an international competition of the best pipers in the world. Every year pipers of different nationalities participate: Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the entire United Kingdom, Ireland, among other countries. Something not to miss.
The last event -although it is the least known- is the one taking place on the Saturday closest to August 15th. The Medieval Festival in honor of the Virgin Mary and Mary Stuart, the last Queen of Scotland. Almost every night you can enjoy the typical music of the Highlands and their dances, in many of the concerts that are organized in the pubs of the city.
Inverness also celebrates the so-called Inverness Whisky Festival. It has been gaining notoriety in the whisky world and all malt whisky lovers. In this event the heart of the party is of course whisky, but also food, chocolate, fashion and music.
If you want to know more about what the Scots called ‘water of life’ visit our Guide to Whiskey in Scotland. If you prefer, you have the opportunity to taste it joining us in our one day tours where we visit a distillery.
A massive artillery fortification and one of the best examples of military engineering of the century XVIII. Fort George was built over 20 years after the Battle of Culloden. It was designed as the main fort in the Scottish Highlands and it is still active nowadays .
Fort George is the only property in Scotland that still maintains its original purpose since it was built. Inside this mayestic building two field battalions and officers of the army (about 2,000 men) and an impressive armament of more than 80 weapons of fire. Fort George is surrounded by a vast wall. If you want to surround it, you should walk around 1.4 km. Anyway, its coastal location will convert the long walk into a very enjoyable one
Just 20 km away from Inverness is Cawdor Castle. This fairy tale castle is from the late 14th century and it has become one of the most beautiful and best preserved castles from the Highlands. It is related to William Shakespeare’s Macbeth Castle and play an important role in the play, but originally was built as a private fortress for the Barons of Cawdor. William I -know as the lion- found it in 1179. Its location on the Nairn river near the sea, helps to controllate the coastal route between Inverness and Elgin
Cawdor Castle is a truly extraordinary place with a very classical look of a medieval castle with a drawbridge, large gardens that surround it and a typical fairytale entrance. If you want to know this castle, just book one of our tours that will take you there.