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The best things to do in Inverness, Loch Ness and Nairn

No matter what you and your family likes doing, there are plenty of options when it comes to things to do in Inverness, Loch Ness and Nairn. There are many fun and sporty activities and opportunities to learn more about the history of this fascinating region. So there’s certainly no excuse for being bored!

Step back in time

This area is steeped in history and reminders are everywhere, with fairytale castles and evocative ruins looming out of the mist wherever you are. If you’re eager to learn more about the history of the area and get a sense of times gone by, you won’t be disappointed, with several excellent museums and visitor centres within easy driving distance. Many castles and ruins are open to the public, and lots have visitor centres, gift shops and cafes.

Boy at lake things to do in Inverness, Lochness and Nairn

Try and spot Nessie at Loch Ness

The course of history was changed at Culloden Battlefield in 1746, when the Jacobite army fought to reclaim the throne of Britain, ending in major losses. The site of the battle, on Culloden Moor just outside Inverness, is now a moving memorial site and one of the most popular historical centres in the Highlands. You can walk the front lines where the Jacobites made their final stand against government troops, experience the Battle of Culloden in the immersion cinema, travel back in time by taking part in a Living History presentation or admire the extensive collection of Jacobite artefacts.

Not far away are the Clava Cairns – three Bronze Age burial cairns in a beautiful setting. This well-preserved cemetery complex dates back around 4,000 years and is an excellent example of the distant history of the Highlands of Scotland. History buffs and castle enthusiasts are truly spoilt for choice, with some of the most dramatic and evocative structures and ruins to be found in this region.

This area is steeped in history and reminders are everywhere, with fairytale castles and evocative ruins looming out of the mist wherever you are

Castles

You can’t visit Loch Ness without a trip to the majestic Urquhart Castle, one of Scotland’s most iconic and dramatic ruins. Climb to the top of Grant Tower with breathtaking loch views, peer into a prison cell, and check out the great hall. There’s an excellent visitor centre and cafe, too. Head east towards Nairn and you’ll come across Cawdor Castle, which was built as a private fortress by the Thanes of Cawdor in the late 14th century.

The Cawdor Tavern is a nice place to stop for a light lunch or home baking by the fireside. Dogs are also welcome in the bar area. Keep driving past Nairn to Brodie Castle near Forres, a 16th-century castle that has been sensitively restored to show everyday life of one of Scotland’s most ancient clans. It’s set in peaceful parkland with landscaped gardens, pond, woodland walk and adventure playground, so it’s a nice place to spend an afternoon.

Cawdor Castle

Explore Cawdor Castle

Duffus Castle, a motte-and-bailey castle that was in use from around 1140 to 1705, is another great place for a visit. It’s a lovely peaceful spot for a wander around the remarkably well-preserved ruin. While you’re in the area, you might want to pay a visit to Nairn Museum, which provides an interesting look at the life and times of the town and surrounding area over the centuries. There are many permanent displays featuring various aspects of Nairn’s history, with a large collection of archive material available.

Just near Inverness airport is the Highland Aviation Museum, great for any flying enthusiasts. There are a number of aircraft, many with open cockpits that you can climb inside. Inside you can find a host of exhibits, including an ejection seat and single-seat survival dinghy.

Head east towards Nairn and you’ll come across Cawdor Castle, which was built as a private fortress by the Thanes of Cawdor in the late 14th century

Legends and whisky

There’s plenty of fun to be had in the area, whether you’re visiting as a single person, a couple or with a family. Beach-lovers may want to stick to the east around Nairn, where there are endless sandy beaches to picnic, build sandcastles and paddle – or even swim, for the braver members of your party!

Whin Park in Inverness is great for younger children, with a boating pond with 27 rowing and paddle boats for hire and a mini railway. There’s also a brilliant playpark with slides, swings, rope climbs and a children’s assault course. Plenty of picnic areas and an ice cream and coffee shop.

One of the most iconic things to do is, of course, a boat trip on Loch Ness, where you may even be lucky enough to spot the region’s most famous – and most elusive – resident. There are plenty of local companies available to take you on to the water, like Loch Ness by Jacobite or Cruise Loch Ness, all of which will give you a fascinating insight into the region’s history. There are generally drinks and snacks available on board. Keep your eyes peeled for Nessie and enjoy the breathtaking scenery as you cruise the famous loch.

Boat on Loch Ness

Try and spot the Loch Ness Monster whilst you enjoy a scenic cruise around the loch

The Highlands is home to some of the very best whiskies in the world, with a large number of distilleries open to the public for tours and tastings. Try the famous Glenmorangie some 35 miles north of Inverness, or Benromach or Glen Moray over to the east to learn more about this ancient industry – and sample a wee dram or two, of course!

If you do want to try the country’s national drink, there are plenty of local taxi and tour companies who will take you on a tour of all the best distilleries in the region – so you can enjoy a drink without getting on the wrong side of Scotland’s very strict drink driving laws. You could also follow the signposted Malt Whisky Trail, which takes in nine locations in the Speyside whisky region, in the north east of Scotland. All sites on the trail offer guided tours, giving you the chance to learn new insights into the ‘water of life’.

One of the most iconic things to do is, of course, a boat trip on Loch Ness, where you may even be lucky enough to spot the region’s most famous – and most elusive – resident

Get sporty

There’s just so much to do here for those who like to be active, with loads of choice for fun and healthy days out, while making the most of the amazing natural environment. Take in a round of golf on one of the many great courses. Hire a bike and take to the banks of the pretty Caledonian Canal. Or try your hand at angling on rivers, lochs or the sea. If you’re inexperienced, you can hire a ghillie to teach you the ropes and give you a better chance of hooking yourself a mighty salmon, nicknamed the king of fish.

If you want to get out onto the water, you can rent a canoe or a kayak for a paddle on Loch Ness, down the canal or into the Moray Firth. Novices are best to take a guide, and there are plenty around, such as In Your Element, who’ll keep you safe. They also offer visitors the chance to try water zorbing, it’s great fun for all ages from four years and above.

Zorbing on lake

Feeling adventurous? Why not give zorbing a go?

Keen walkers will be in their element here. Serious hikers can tackle mighty munros like Ben Wyvis, and there’s plenty of choice for those who prefer something a little less challenging, with an abundance of walks of every difficulty and length to choose from. Young families would probably enjoy a stroll along the Caledonian Canal or Nairn Beach. If it’s rainy, head over to Inverness Leisure Centre, where keen climbers can take to the large indoor climbing wall.

The centre also has a large wave pool, river and three flumes, making for a great fun day out. The more competitive among us have plenty of choice, too, with the Loch Ness Marathon held every year in early October.

Cycling enthusiasts should check out Etape – a closed-road bike race 67 miles round the stunning shores of Loch Ness that runs each year in April. For those who like a challenge, the mighty Beast Race is certainly that. It’s an epic 10K obstacle course race over tough terrain around the banks, beaches and forest trails of Loch Ness – ending with a leap into the icy loch.


Everything you need to know about Inverness, Loch Ness and Nairn

Where to eat in Inverness, Lochness and Nairn

The best shopping in Inverness, Lochness and Nairn

The best nightlife in Inverness, Lochness and Nairn

Your guide to arts and culture in Inverness, Lochness and Nairn

Image credits: ©Fernando Venzano/Unsplash; Andrew Pickett/VisitBritain; Kenny Lam/Paul Tomkins/VisitScotland; Shutterstock.com

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