Inverness is a relatively small city but thought of as the Capital of the Scottish Highlands. It is perhaps not on everyone’s ‘must see’ list when in the country. But that doesn’t mean it should be neglected. Inverness is it a lovely city in its own right. It also makes a great base from which to visit other, smaller towns. These five easy day trips from Inverness are really just the beginning of what you could see using Inverness as a base. And, all are accessible using public transit – no car needed.
I loved walking the riverside paths in Inverness, from the suburbs where I was staying into the city centre. Traveling to the Highlands in May and June means the sun stays high in the sky until late in the day. Walking back home at 9pm in a fully light sky was a lovely benefit as a solo female traveler.
The train station in Inverness is right downtown, and very manageable. Tickets can be bought from a live person, which is often helpful, as they know the tricks to saving money. Kiosk machines are also available for those who feel confident!
The bus depot is quite near to the public library, also right downtown in Inverness. Both can be accessed on foot from various areas of the city.
Beauly is only 15 minutes from Inverness on a direct train on ScotRail, or 20 minutes by car. The name comes from the French ‘beau lieu’ meaning ‘beautiful place’. The small village sits on the river, and is home to the Beauly Priory, the former home of monks. Only the ruins of the abbey remain today, but it is free to visit.
Beauly is certainly not a large town, but it is a pleasant place to spend the day. There are some cute shops – including a traditional spot for all your tweed needs! I had lunch at Cafe Biagiotti. This chic and modern cafe serves traditional Italian food and coffee right on the main street.
Fortrose is also an easy jaunt from Inverness. Only 10 kilometers away, the 40 minute bus ride is direct and straightforward. Purchase your ticket onboard, and enjoy pastoral scenes of Scottish countryside.
The heart of the town is Cathedral Square, where you can visit the remnants of the old cathedral.
Fortrose has several cute bakeries and a lovely bistro, IV10 that is worth a visit.
The town sits on the Moray Firth. A walk down to the water is a must while touring the town. At the point of land – Chanonry Point – is a lighthouse. It’s a well known spot for catching sign of dolphins in the firth. The lighthouse was, when constructed, manned, but has now been automated.
The beach is beautiful, and an easy walk to Chanonry Point, and then around to Rosemarkie, if you wish to carry on in one day. Sadly, the day I visited was rather dreary and damp – though perhaps atmospheric, I’m sure it would be lovely in the sunshine.
From Fortrose, it’s an easy walk to carry on to Rosemarkie, a village just northeast of Fortrose. Alternatively, there is enough to see and do in both Fortrose and Rosemarkie that you could make a two-day trip of it. Neither is very far from Inverness, or you could choose to stay in Fortrose and spend one day in the village, and the next in Rosemarkie.
The highlights in tiny Rosemarkie are the Groam House Museum, and the Fairy Glen walking trail and waterfall. The museum has had some temporary closures during COVID, so check before visiting so you won’t be disappointed. I really enjoyed my visit – it’s a museum focusing on Celtic and Pictish art, and small enough to be taken in completely in one visit.
Regardless of the weather when you visit Rosemarkie, you must take time to walk the trail to Fairy Glen. Don’t forget to greet the fairies when you arrive, as per tradition. The walk is relatively easy – though the rocks can be slippery when damp. I did it by myself and felt perfectly safe. There were lots of young families and folks with friendly dogs on the trail. It was clearly a popular spot with locals.
This is the moment when I’d like to recognize the fantastic website that is Walk Highlands. This site has so much detail, and lists so many little walks and hikes that you could spend weeks in Scotland just tracking them all down. I found myself in Rosemarkie rather by chance. I didn’t know there was a little walk until I saw the signs for the path to Fairy Glen. When I googled it, I got to Walk Highlands which allowed me to find and navigate the trail, all from my phone. Truly I can’t say enough good about Walk Highlands and the people who put it together.
Cromarty is about an hour by bus from Inverness, or you can do as I did and carry on from Rosemarkie to Cromarty, breaking up the journey. I did not get to spend much time in Cromarty – I really only arrived in time for supper at the funky Sutor Creek restaurant. Sutor Creek serves a funky mix of wood fired pizza and… Scottish seafood. But it all works, and it’s a very popular place with locals in the area, so you might consider a reservation.
The real highlight of the town is the tiny winding streets that lead through the independent shops and down to the harbour and the beach. The houses and businesses have been so well preserved, that it feels a bit like stepping back in time. I arrived too late in the day to visit the Cromarty Courthouse, but apparently this is the place to get a sense of the town’s interesting history. You can also take a nice walk along the water to get excellent views out to the firth.
Accommodations in Cromarty are a bit limited however, so staying in Inverness and taking the bus there for the day is my recommendation.
Back to the train station for a 35 minute trip to Dingwall. Highlights here include the Dingwall Museum and the castle doocot – a funny name for the tower, which is the only remaining piece in Dingwall from the former castle and fort. It is free to visit, but as the critics on TripAdvisor will tell you – you can’t go inside and yes that really is all it is. Downtown, there are plenty of little shops and eateries to visit and you can certainly spend the whole day here.
Nonetheless, Dingwall is a cute little town, with a lovely public library located within the Dingwall Academy elementary school (as you know, I have a small obsession with libraries).
The Dingwall Museum was also a hit – I particularly enjoyed the mannequins sitting around as though at a town council meeting. The museum covers the history of the town and area, and of the local government.
How Long to Stay
Each of these four easy day trips from Inverness could, on its own, make a perfect day out. I would plan a minimum of 6 days in Inverness, to get a really good sense of the city and to take advantage of all the little villages and the easy public transit routes. I am always impressed in the UK by how straightforward it is to travel to small communities (particularly compared to Canada), and there is so much to see.