Capital of the Highlands, Inverness was designated a city in the millennium year 2000. However, settlements in the area date back several thousand years and can be seen at sites such as Clava Cairns a few miles from Inverness and Craig Phadrig, an Iron Age hill fort with woodland walks from which there are splendid views of Inverness.
Thought to be the Pictish capital in the 6th century, Inverness became a trade centre for fish, wool and furs. There have been finds of Pictish artefacts and jewellery in the area around Inverness and some carved stones featuring animal designs. Visit Inverness Museum and Art Gallery to view some of these.
You might be interested in this leaflet (PDF) explaining the history behind the place names of Inverness.
With its pink sandstone and statue of Flora Macdonald, Inverness Castle dominates the riverside. Inverness was made a royal burgh in 1050. The first castle in Inverness, on the site of the present Victorian castle, was in the 12th century and over the centuries was replaced by newer versions. Since 2020 Inverness Castle has been undergoing works so that it can be turned into a major tourist attraction which is due to open in 2025. Once finished, from here you will have panoramic views of the city, River Ness and surrounding hills stretch all the way north to Ben Wyvis (3,400 ft).
The oldest secular building in Inverness is Abertarff House which was built in 1593. Free admission. Open daily in 2024 from 29 March to 31 October (from 10am to 4pm). Small cafe. Guided walks start here on certain days in the summer to explore the history of Inverness city centre.
At the end of the street on the same side is the Old Gaelic Church, built in 1649 and then rebuilt in 1792 when it became Greyfriars Free Church (it now houses a second hand bookshop called Leakeys where you can browse for hours). Nearby is the Old High Church (now closed).
On the other side of Church Street is Dunbar’s Hospital, built in 1668 as a hospital for the poor before becoming the Grammar School until 1792.
The opulent Town House in the High Street was recently refurbished.
You can learn more about the history of Inverness on a guided walk - click here for details.
The cathedral is open daily. Free admission. Donations welcome. This Gothic inspired cathedral was finished in 1866 and originally intended to have spires but these were never added. At the top of the arched window on the river side is a carved horse, added to commemorate the horse which was used to operate the pulley raising stones to the top during building. Unfortunately the rope broke, dropping a stone which killed the horse, now remembered by the carving!
The old schoolhouse adjacent to the Cathedral is open daily from 10am to 4pm (light snacks, homemade cakes, drinks, gifts).
Inverness has a wide choice of restaurants and eateries featuring Scottish produce, Italian cuisine, Spanish, Chinese, Indian, Mediterranean, etc. There are also many pubs where you can sample real ales from local breweries, not to mention tasting wee drams from distilleries in the area. Some of the pubs can also keep you entertained with live music.
While the Eastgate shopping centre houses many well known brands and stores, the older part of the town around Church Street and the Victorian Market is where the smaller, individually owned shops are to be found.
Historical walking tours of Inverness with a guide operate in the summer months. You can also get guided bicycle tours around the city. See our what's open page for details of places to visit including the Botanic Gardens and Inverness Museum and Art Gallery.
Wild About Inverness City Centre Outdoor Trail by Ablekids Press is suitable for children and grown ups of all ages! Explore the historic heart of Inverness and discover wild, mythical and domestic creatures on the city centre's buildings and monuments. Covering less than a kilometre, it takes around 45-60 minutes to complete the trail. Starting at the Millennium Circle at the foot of the Market Brae Steps, you will finish on Castle Hill. The trail is suitable for those on foot, pushchairs, wheelchairs and mobility scooters. A map/guide is available as a free PDF download and you can buy a Sticker Activity Book of the trail from Ablekids Press on Market Brae Steps.
Check out our Sightseeing suggestions to see what else you can see and do in and around Inverness.