An Introduction to Inverness

Inverness Castle on the River Ness, Scotland.

Inverness Castle on the River Ness, Scotland.

by David Wheater

Inverness is a very popular city in the Scottish Highlands and an important commercial and retail centre for the whole Highland region. It’s the UK’s northernmost city since 2001 and is often referred to as the “Capital of the Highlands”.

It is Scotland’s second smallest city, with a population of around 71,000, but is growing fast due to increasing inward investment and its reputation as a wonderful place to live.

Its popularity grows every year with more and more businesses and people relocating there to enjoy an improved quality of life and the beautiful surrounding countryside.

The city is located at the mouth of the River Ness, which flows through the city centre from Loch Ness and into the Moray Firth. The River Ness is a wonderful feature of the city and there are even some lovely islands in the river to escape to for some peaceful picnics and quiet contemplation.

On first impressions, it may seem that Inverness doesn’t have a great many things going on – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a lot going on all year round – particularly in the traditional Gaelic live music scene, which is as vibrant here as anywhere else in Scotland.

If you want to enjoy some lively traditional Scottish music a trip to Hootananny in Church Street is an absolute must. Other notable events in the city’s calendar include the Inverness Music Festival in March, the Whisky & Gin Festival in April, the Inverness Highland Games in July, the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival in August and the Blas Traditional Music Festival in September.

To really appreciate Inverness and its top attractions it’s essential to have a local, experienced tour guide. A tour of Inverness will typically include a visit to all the following highlights in and around the city: Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, the Ness Islands Park, Culloden Battlefield, the Clava Cairns burial tombs, the Caledonian Canal, Fort George and Cawdor Castle. You may even want to go Nessie hunting at Loch Ness and spot a few Bottlenose Dolphins in the Moray Firth.

A little further afield are The Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig (about 47 min’s drive from Inverness) and Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness (around 1/2 hr drive south), both highly recommended. It’s also worth noting that the wonderful Cairngorms National Park is only a short drive south of Inverness which is a paradise for walkers, mountain bikers and anyone wanting to get away from it all amongst some outstandingly beautiful scenery.

The River Ness is very much the central feature of the city, a walk along which is one of the loveliest in Scotland. Inverness has a busy town centre with an interesting history and a rich heritage. Every year thousands visit the city and the Highlands to enjoy dramatic scenery, absorb fascinating history and enjoy the very best that Scotland has to offer.

Every August the city hosts the “Northern Meeting” which is the highest regarded solo bag-piping competition in the world. The annual Inverness Highland Games in July is also attended every year by people from all over the world.

Notable buildings in the city include Inverness Castle which is now home to the law courts and council offices and the gothic Inverness Cathedral. Although the castle is not open to the public, the views over the river Ness and the rest of the city make it worth the small climb. The Cathedral is open every day to visitors and well worth a look if you’re walking along the river.

One of the city’s most loved places is the Eden Court Theatre, which houses two theatres, two cinemas, a bar, restaurant, exhibition and gallery spaces which attract thousands of people every year from all across the Highlands.

In 2007, the Centre for Health Science opened in the City which now attracts investment in the medical field and has forged strong links with Inverness College. Another big employer in the area is Scottish Natural Heritage which moved from Edinburgh in 2004.

The city is the home of Inverness College which is the largest member of the University of the Highlands and Islands. The college moved to a new state-of-the-art campus in 2015 which has contributed significantly to the city’s economy and attracted thousands more students to the city.

Inverness has a busy railway station and airport, with regular flights to most other UK destinations, including London, Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham and Belfast (please check). The airport is located at Dalcross, 7 miles east of the city centre, and serves some European destinations too including Dublin and Amsterdam.

Inverness, despite being a small city, has some excellent shopping and amenities. The Victorian Market in the Old Town is worth a visit, particularly for the chocolates from Story’s which are hand-made. Other shops worth a visit are Leakey’s Second-hand Bookshop, Highland House of Fraser, Judith Glue, The Isle of Sky Candle Company, The Whisky Shop and the award winning The Cheese Pantry at Connage, a short journey away in Ardesier.

Inverness is very much a city on the up and is likely to expand quickly over the coming years. If you’re heading for the Highlands it makes a great place to stay, or to while away a few hours exploring its many attractions and shops. If you can coincide a visit with one of its many wonderful festivals then even better.

This article is one of a series on Inverness by David. For more articles on Inverness, please click on the ‘Inverness’ tab below.