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Nightlife in Inverness, Loch Ness and Nairn

The legendary Highland hospitality is never more apparent than when sharing some food or drink – so you’re likely to find yourself enjoying a dram and some good craic with the locals wherever you go. A night out in this area is more cosy pubs, live music venues and relaxed bars than nightclubs and DJs – though there are a number of those on offer in both Inverness and Nairn.

Something for everyone

Whether your style is more cocktails in a contemporary bar, a pint in a sunny beer garden or a warming glass of red or whisky around a roaring fire, you’ll find what you’re looking for here. And you may even be surprised at the quality of the local drinks on offer in this fairly remote part of Scotland. But the north has happily been keeping pace with the booming artisan drinks market, with a raft of local craft breweries and distillers cropping up in recent years.

It’s not uncommon for bars and hotels to serve a huge range of Scottish and local gins and beers to enjoy along with an impressive range of cocktails. Craft gins are being produced locally by distillers like the new community-owned GlenWyvis Distillery.

Whisky Inverness and Loch Ness nightlife

Treat yourself to locally-distilled Scottish whiskies

Craft beers, too, are on the up, with a raft of fantastic local craft breweries like the Black Isle Brewery and the Cromarty Brewing Company. And we can’t forget the whisky. A huge variety of Scotland’s national drink lines the shelves of most bars and restaurants. Visitors shouldn’t forget to check out what’s on at Eden Court, the biggest theatre for miles around, which has an excellent programme of live events including plays, musicals, ballets and operas, as well as a cinema.

Village halls, churches and Inverness Cathedral all sometimes host live events such as chamber orchestras and choir performances, so it’s worth asking at a Tourist Information to see what’s going on locally.

Whether your style is more cocktails in a contemporary bar, a pint in a sunny beer garden or a warming glass of red or whisky around a roaring fire, you’ll find what you’re looking for here

The traditional scene

With many visitors to the area keen to immerse themselves in the local culture, the music scene doesn’t disappoint. From regular ceilidhs to casual traditional music sessions, the Highlands’ long history of music is still very much in existence.

The summer months in particular will see traditional Scottish evenings and ceilidhs from many of the local venues and hotels in the area. People gather to dance popular dances like the Gay Gordons, Strip the Willow and Dashing White Sergeant. If you’ve never done it before – don’t worry. Getting it wrong is half the fun! And there’s usually a ‘caller’ who talks you through the steps before each dance.

Violinists

Settle into the Hootanany pub for a night of traditional music

For example, Nairn Ceilidh Group runs regular ceilidhs from June to August in Nairn Community & Arts Centre. These have been enjoyed from visitors far and near over three decades, and have raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity.

One of the best places to drink in the traditions of the Highlands is Hootannany, a three-floor venue in the heart of Inverness that serves up excellent food and plenty of live music. With regular ceilidhs and traditional bands, you really can’t miss this popular night spot if you want to experience a true Highland fling. The 1,000-capacity Ironworks is the biggest live music venue in town, hosting a wide range of international and local bands as well as nurturing local talent.

The summer months in particular will see traditional Scottish evenings and ceilidhs from many of the local venues and hotels in the area

Live music and craft beers

For traditional music on a smaller scale, visit MacGregor’s Bar, where you can enjoy some lively music in a relaxed and friendly environment. The bar’s founder, Bruce MacGregor, is one of Scotland’s finest musicians, and he and other Scottish greats are often to be found playing tunes in the bar, both at the Sunday afternoon sessions and whenever the mood takes.

Visit on a Sunday afternoon and take in the regular music session while trying their beer tasting menus for a taste of some of the best Scottish beers around. You’ll never be far from a dram or two in this area, but there are a couple of places for real connoisseurs to try.

Beer flight

Sample a range of Scottish Ales

The Malt Room is Inverness’ first whisky bar, a cosy and welcoming place with an extensive whisky menu. Check out their tasting nights to learn more about Scotland’s national drink from knowledgeable staff.

The Anderson in Fortrose just a few miles north of Inverness is another place that whisky – and beer – buffs will love. This local institution has been welcoming locals and tourists for years. They run regular traditional music sessions, too, where you can bring your own fiddle, banjo or voice, or just come along and enjoy the craic.

For traditional music on a smaller scale, visit MacGregor’s Bar, where you can enjoy some lively music in a relaxed and friendly environment

A relaxed vibe

There are plenty of great bars and pubs in and around the region, where you can savour some good food and drinks with friends or family. Take your pick from country-style inns with roaring log fires, smart, sleek bars and down-to-earth pubs.

For a wide selection of craft beers, organic wine and whiskies, Black Isle Bar and Rooms is deservedly popular with locals and tourists alike for food or just a few drinks. Dogs are welcome, too, as are children until 11pm – and there’s even a secret beer garden out the back, with heaters for those chilly Highland evenings. Encore is a bright contemporary bar serving up great food and a friendly atmosphere along with a regular weekend programme of live music.

In Nairn, One One Two is a great place to stop for an innovative cocktail or a glass of wine from their extensive wine list. The Classroom bistro is a great place to gather for food earlier on in the evening, with a relaxed but vibrant atmosphere later on. The Castle Tavern just opposite Inverness Castle is an Inverness institution and a great place for a real ale or a bite to eat in the cosy bar.

On sunny days the tavern is extra special, with amazing views over the river and castle from the beer garden. Especially good for dog-lovers, the Clachnaharry Inn is a brilliant local inn where you’re likely to get swept up into the good-natured banter by the friendly locals and staff. Cold winter evening? Huddle up beside the roaring log fire and sample a few local ales or drams.Sun splitting the sky? Head out the back to the large beer garden with gorgeous views overlooking the Moray Firth to the Black Isle.

If you’re staying in or around Fort Augustus, there’s plenty of choice there, too. Try the Bothy, a traditional stone Scottish bar and restaurant on the canal. Watch the locks open and close while enjoying a real ale or a malt whisky.

Savour some good food and drinks with friends or family. Take your pick from country-style inns with roaring log fires, smart, sleek bars and down-to-earth pubs

Something more lively

Like your nights out to be a bit more buzzing? There’s plenty for you too, especially if you’re staying near Inverness or Nairn. The summer months see the streets thronging with both locals and visitors from all over the world, so it’s not unusual to find yourself chatting to someone from the opposite side of the globe beside a generations-back local.

Johnny Foxes is something of an Inverness institution, and is one of the most popular spots in town. This bar sits right on the river, and a sunny day will see its beer garden overflowing. It’s busy with both locals and visitors keen to enjoy the fresh food and good atmosphere. With live music seven nights a week, it’s the place to go if you want somewhere that’s open late. Weekends are especially packed, and there might even be queues to get in later on.

Friends in bar Inverness and Loch Ness nightlife

Inverness is home to a range of sports and karaoke bars, grab a drink and enjoy the atmosphere

The Den is part of the same company, accessed by an internal walkway. This contemporary wine and cocktail bar offers premium spirits, beers, hand-picked cocktails and a great selection of wines.

R&B’s is the home of karaoke in Inverness – and it makes for a fantastic night out. This family-run bar is slap bang in the centre, offering up one of the friendliest atmospheres in town.

The Playhouse in Nairn is a premium sports bar, which also offers a vibrant nightlife with a mix of live music and DJs. The Gellions is said to be the oldest pub in the Highlands’ capital, and by day it’s a good place for a wee dram and a natter. This traditional Scottish pub gets lively in the evenings, particularly at the weekends, and there’s often live music playing.


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Image credits: ©Andrew Pickett/VisitBritain; Black Isle Brewing Co; Dylan de Jonge/Elevate/Unsplash; Pyzata/Adobe Stock

Featured nightlife venues

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