Visiting Inverness: A Geek’s Guide to Scotland’s Highland Heart

Emma on Loch Ness

Inverness is one of the must-visit destinations in the Scottish Highlands. The city serves as the capital of the Highlands and is one of Scotland’s eight major cities. It’s well-known for being Scotland’s cultural capital, with no shortage of famous references in film, television, and literature. And it also has a thriving geek culture. 

Having visited Inverness a number of times personally, I wanted to share with you all some of the city’s most beautiful historical attractions, scenic views, and folklore, including one world-famous cryptid!

So let’s dive into some of Inverness’ must-visit spots, highlighting the historical hotspots first.

Must-Visit Historical Hotspots of Inverness Scotland

Inverness Castle
Inverness Castle / Photo Credit: Emma Loggins

Inverness Castle

The Inverness Castle is one you can’t miss, almost literally, since it’s on top of a cliff that overlooks the River Ness. The castle we see today is said to have been built by Malcolm III.

The first Inverness Castle was partially destroyed in 1307 by King Robert I. Mary, Queen of Scots also occupied Inverness Castle by the 1560s. The castle’s previous versions have been under siege throughout the centuries, all the way up to the 19th century.

The main block was completed in 1836, and the north block was completed in 1848. However, Inverness Castle has been closed to the public since 2020 for extensive remodeling and renovations. But even if you can’t visit the castle itself, you can likely snap a photo or two of its exterior. It’s an absolutely beautiful structure. 

The last time I was in Inverness, we stayed at the Strathness House, a stunning Victorian townhouse (dating back to the 1870s) that is situated at the heart of the city, just across the River Ness from Inverness Castle. They have a delightful restaurant, and if you stay there, you can request a river-view room with a castle view.

Culloden Battlefield

Another historical site to visit is the Culloden Battlefield. This is the site where the Battle of Culloden took place in 1746 and where the graves were situated. The battle marked the end of the Jacobite rising of 1745-1746, which, if you’re not familiar with it from history books and documentaries, this battle was also prominently featured in Starz’s hit series Outlander (as seen below).

The Culloden Battlefield also has artifacts on display, along with a 360-degree battlefield immersion theater. It’s a must-visit location for any history buff. You can get more information on the site here.

Additional Spots Worth Visiting

Nearby Culloden is Clava Cairns, a prehistoric site that makes up four cairns and three stone formations. Some of the monuments on the site date as far back as 4000 years to the Bronze Age. However, not all of these monuments were made during the same period, as discovered by the Neolithic fragments found that suggest an older settlement was in the area.

Another wonderful historic site to stop by is the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. The original museum was opened in 1881, and today, it still has an incredible Highland and Jacobite collection. Among its prized displays are historic Stuart portraits.


Literary Landmarks That Have Inspired Masterpieces

Inverness and literature mix beautifully, with the city’s history inspiring countless stories throughout the centuries. One such example is William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. Macbeth is loosely based on the Gaelic king Mac Bethad Mac Findlaich, who killed King Duncan in the 11th Century. The Gaelic ruler held a castle in the city where he ruled as Moraer of Moray and Ross.

Another example is Diana Gabaldon’s hugely popular Outlander book series, which has grown into a massively successful television series, spurring several spinoffs. While the show wasn’t filmed in Inverness, the city itself is rich in Jacobite history that inspired Gabaldon’s books. The time-traveling romance was inspired by the time in Inverness that was ruled over by the Stuart Monarchy, then the Jacobites, Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Battle of Culloden, and the Highland Clearances.

Leakeys Bookshop
Leakey’s Bookshop in Inverness, Scotland / Photo Credit: Emma Loggins

Leakey’s Bookshop

One landmark literary geeks and nerds alike shouldn’t miss while in Inverness is Leakey’s Bookshop. What makes this bookshop special isn’t just the books they have. It’s the fact that the bookshop is in a church. It’s actually hailed as the most beautiful bookshop in Scotland, if not, the entire United Kingdom.

Leakey’s dates back to 1982, when the stock of books was split into two shops in Inverness. By 1994, they started to convert an abandoned Gaelic church into a bookshop. Some changes have been made to the interiors to accommodate all the books, but the outside still looks like an ordinary church with stained glass windows.

Vintage Art Print from Leakey’s Bookshop in Inverness
Vintage Art Print from Leakey’s Bookshop in Inverness / Photo Credit: Emma Loggins

Every time I visit Inverness, I make a stop by Leakey’s. Going inside this bookshop is a book lover’s dream, with second-hand books, maps, and prints available. It’s easy to lose hours in the shop sorting through all the old books and art prints, and I always come home with a sizable haul of both. You can get some wonderful deals on the antique art prints that you can bring home with you and frame. It makes for a charming memento from your trip, and lovely addition to your home! (I still have a number to frame myself as you can see above)

The Fantasy and Folklore of Inverness, Scotland

Emma on Loch Ness
Me on Loch Ness Searching for Nessie / Photo Credit: FanBolt

The Loch Ness Monster, Better Known as Nessie

Much like many places in Scotland, Inverness also has its own stories and folklore. Perhaps one of the most famous legends is all about the Loch Ness Monster, also known as Nessie. Nessie is believed to inhabit Loch Ness, the largest lake by volume in the UK, and is described as a large, long-necked creature known as a plesiosaur. 

The legend of Nessie stems from the belief that shape-shifting spirits usually inhabited the bodies of water in Scotland. These spirits usually took the form of horses. One of the earliest references to the creature was in “The Life of St. Columba” by Adomnan in the seventh century. An Irish monk, Saint Columba, was staying in the land of the Picts when he came across the locals burying a man by the River Ness. The man was said to be swimming in the river when he was attacked by a water creature.

If you’re curious about taking a deeper dive, pun intended, into Loch Ness, The Loch Ness Centre in Inverness offers tours for visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the belief behind the mythical being.

The Wardlaw Mausoleum
The Wardlaw Mausoleum in Inverness, Scotland

The Wardlaw Mausoleum

Aside from the fantastical, Inverness also has the eerie. One such example is surrounding the Wardlaw Mausoleum. The mausoleum was built in 1634 to serve as the burial place for the Lovat Frasers. Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat, also known as “The Old Fox,” is the most famous figure from that clan. Fraser’s remains were believed to be placed in a coffin in the mausoleum.

However, a forensic investigation found that the bones inside belonged to five people, none of whom was Simon Fraser. This has since become a mystery regarding the devious figure’s final resting place.

The Sci-Fi and Gaming Scene of Inverness, Scotland

Last but not least, it’s also important to note that Inverness has quite the scene for sci-fi lovers and gamers. There are a number of shops that also host clubs or organizations that play games. Many of them are within the same area, so you’re sure to find a shop nearby if you’re visiting in town.

The city has its share of themed cafes, like the Inverness TableTop Gamers. Perhaps the place to be for those who love war games, role-playing games, or even board games. There is also the Unlucky Roll Cafe, which also caters to the board or tabletop game aficionado. Additionally, Ellerium Games is one of the top-rated places for tabletop and trading card gamers.

A Few Additional Notes on Inverness, Scotland

As someone with Scottish heritage, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time in Scotland and, specifically, Inverness over the years. It’s a wonderful city to spend some time in before you start your Highlands tour.

After visiting Inverness for a few days and taking an afternoon cruise on Loch Ness (and visiting Urquhart Castle). My friend and I headed out the next morning from Inverness to Eilean Donan Castle to the Isle of Skye, all in one day, and it was a wonderful drive! We probably would have needed a little more time for the drive had Eilean Donan been open, but unfortunately, it was closed the day we visited.

The second time we visited, we spent a few days in Inverness before heading to the airport there and flying up to Orkney, my favorite spot in all of Scotland. But I’ll save that for another post coming very soon!

Have questions about visiting Inverness or Scotland? Leave them in the comment section below and I’ll do my best to help!


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