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The Gateway: Bron’s Guide to Inverness and the Highlands

Posted on 26 Feb 2024

There are certain places around the world that have a little something extra... and so much of it is in the name alone. Something about just hearing the place mentioned sends a little thrill pulsing about the chest. The Dolomites. The Amalfi Coast. The Western Steppes of Mongolia. The Red Sea. The Scottish Highlands

See what we did there? There also seems to be something about using the as part of the title too... *takes down note*. 

I always find it strange when people come to visit Edinburgh but haven’t put time aside to explore the Highlands as well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s rare that this is the case. Most people can’t resist the allure of such a place. It’s like the wardrobe leading to Narnia... once you pass through those doors, you’re lost in a world that surely must be fake. 

Sometimes even I’m not sure it’s real. There was a moment just the other day when I was on a Rabbie’s tour, and we were passing through Glen Shiel. Glen simply means valley here in Scotland, the way loch means lake. But there is nothing simple about Glen Shiel. A low-hanging cloud sat halfway up the mountain range, like a mountaineer mesmerised by the view halfway up. The tips of the mountains hidden from view, but all of them reflected in the still loch waters below. 

If I’d been braver, I’d have asked someone to slap me just to make sure. But, in the end, I decided it must be real and that somehow exploring this beautiful country is part of my job. 

Any time I get to say, “I’m off to the Highlands this week” is like saying “Be right back, just popping off to Middle Earth for a bit”.  

And some of it is like Middle Earth. Some are like the Undying Lands. Others like Narnia. Even a bit of Fantasia thrown in there for good measure.  

Given the choice, I’d choose the Scottish Highlands again and again. In fact, I have. I’ve explored quite a bit of it in my two years living in Scotland. It’s kind of exciting (and daunting) to know that I’ve only just scratched the surface. I doubt I’ll discover every one of its secrets. I kind of don’t want to. There’s something about a little mystery, after all... 

And when I found myself in the Highlands just the other week, it got me thinking about where I would recommend if I had to narrow it down. It’s kind of like asking me to pick a favourite song... not quite fair. But I’ll do my best.  

Of course, all of this started in Inverness, the ‘capital of the Highlands’. This wee city was the perfect hub from which to explore the Highlands for the week, meaning I even had the opportunity to explore the famous Isle of Skye in a single day. So many people come to Edinburgh, hoping to see Skye in a day. Sadly, that isn’t possible. 

But it is possible from Inverness. 

Places to Eat in Inverness 

I admit, one of the first things I like to do when I arrive somewhere new is to figure out the food scene. I haven’t sampled as many places as I’d like, but I got a few lovely meals under my belt during this trip that I wanted to share with you. 

The Victorian Market 

Right in the centre of Inverness' wee but bustling hub, you’ll find the Market Hall. This refurbished 19th-century shopping arcade is just what you imagine – twinkly lights overhead, shops lining either side of you, and plenty of temptation. And located in the heart of it is the food court.  

As I arrived in town, I dropped my bag at the hotel and headed straight for the Victorian Market. And I’m so glad I did! It’s got a great little selection of cuisines in a relaxed yet pretty food-court setting. I landed on treating myself to a delicious haggis and venison sausage roll from the Bad Girl Bakery & Cafe, which was as Scottish as it could get – but I admit the man next to me was eating some pulled pork extravaganza and I was a tad jealous.  

victorian market


This is a perfect spot for anyone on tour wanting a fun, delicious meal at the end of an adventurous day. Zizzi has a great vibe and even greater pizzas. I devoured mine a little too quickly – since the fresh base and zingy pepperoni were a perfect combination.  

Shapla Restaurant 

This quiet little place is hidden upstairs with a beautiful view of the river. I’m a huge fan of Indian food and both times I’ve stayed in Inverness, I’ve had dinner at Shapla Restaurant. The meals are fresh and light, and this time around the server brought me an extra poppadom when I ordered a second batch – they’ve won me over for life. 

Thai Dining 

Thai Dining is a wee restaurant that I happened to stumble across and – while I do recommend you book – I got lucky when I just stumbled in and asked for a table. There were people on dates, families and friends about, families, even solo travellers like myself. So, it really is ideal for any type of night.  

And it was one of the nicest Thai meals I’ve had in Scotland since I moved here!  

As I was getting ready to leave, one of the Rabbie’s drivers stumbled in looking for a table, so we swapped places. It just goes to show that this is the place to be. 

Hou Hou Mei 

On my last night in town, I met up with one of my colleagues Emily. As a local of Inverness, she’d recommended Hou Hou Mei as the only place you could get good bao buns in the Highlands. It’s a popular place, recently established, and we were lucky enough to get a table after simply walking in. I would recommend booking in advance though!  

This is the kind of place where I’d describe the menu as ‘dangerous’. We didn’t even end up getting mains – instead treating ourselves to a range of amazing starter plates. It has a beautiful ambience inside too, so would make for a great date night – or a fancy night out, if that’s what you’re after. We definitely overordered but Emily took the leftovers home, so who’s complaining?  

Things to Do in Inverness 

The Ness Islands 

This is such a lovely little walk just outside of the main city centre. I popped in my headphones and went for a jaunt – about 20 minutes along the river – until I reached the Ness Islands. Crossing over the first bridge, I was really grateful that there was somewhere within this small city’s limits where people like myself could go to escape into nature for a bit. 

People jogged past. Others walked their dogs. Families pushed prams. Old friends strolled on by. And then there was me snapping photos of this peaceful and beautiful collection of trees. I can highly recommend a visit here if you’ve got a spare hour or so while in Inverness. 

ness islands

Leakey’s Bookshop 

Danger. Danger, Will Robinson! The first thing I noticed when I entered Leakey’s Bookshop was the haphazard way the books were laid out. This isn’t some modern and clean bookshop. No, no, this is a wild cave of treasures, demanding your attention and testing your patience... in the best way possible.  

Honestly, if you’re a huge book fan, you need to give yourself some decent time in Leakey’s. This family-run bookshop is bursting with second-hand treasures, antiquarian books, old maps and prints... everything that is beautiful about a second-hand bookshop can be found at Leakey’s. 

The next thing I noticed was the fireplace in the centre of the shop. While it was surrounded by a metal fence, I was still flabbergasted that someone thought it a good idea to have fire near books. But okay... 

I was mostly just in there to wander. However, I do have this thing about collecting editions of Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory. Given the size of the place, I knew I had to ask the man at the counter. Sadly, he was certain they didn’t have a copy. But, in the end, I stumbled across this wee old book with the most beautiful cover ever and, while I don’t quite know what the book is about yet, I knew I had to buy it.  

Inverness Cathedral 

Now, I hate to admit I missed out on visiting the inside of this cathedral this time around – however, it is on my list. It’s a stunning landmark for the city of Inverness and just happens to be where our Inverness tours depart from (at the bus stop just outside). So, it might be worth popping in one early evening after your tour finishes... because I heard the inside is absolutely stunning with intricate craftsmanship, detailed carvings, and epic stained-glass windows. 

leakeys bookshop

Culloden Battlefield 

This one is just outside Inverness’ centre and not too hard to get to. We can even take you there on tour if you’d prefer, but if you want to make your own way there, it’s only about 15 minutes via bus or taxi. 

Culloden is a quiet place. Given its painful and poignant history, it’s no wonder I felt a hush settle over me as I arrived. Outlander fans will probably already know a bit about Culloden and the horrible battle that took place here. For those of you who haven’t heard of it before, visiting Culloden Battlefield and learning all about it is the equivalent of visiting Ann Frank’s House in Amsterdam. So much of this history has shaped the country as it is today. So much changed for the Scottish people after this battle.  

I’d recommend starting in the visitor centre and reading up about the battle before heading onto the fields themselves. The layout is intriguing – on one side of the room, you get the Scottish perspective, and on the other side of the room is the English story. And by the time you reach the end, you walk out onto the battlefield for what is a lovely little stroll... but surrounded with history and armed with knowledge. 

Clava Cairns 

Just a stone’s throw from Culloden is the amazing site of Clava Cairns. This place is old. We’re talking about 4,000 years old... she’s an ancient site and the cairns were built to house the dead. We arrived on tour in the morning during winter and, given the sun and the morning mist, it couldn’t have been more beautifully eerie if it had tried. 

This is one of Scotland’s most popular prehistoric sites. Many will head to the Balnuaran of Clava first, which is the site of two passage graves, ring cairns and standing stones. Outlander fans may recognise the largest stone on site, which is said to have been the inspiration for the standing stone in the show that sends Claire back in time. But if you take the time to also head just a short distance south-west, you’ll find Milton of Clava where the remains of a medieval chapel and cairn sit quietly waiting to be admired. 

Day Trips from Inverness 

Isle of Skye 

On my final full day up in Inverness, I woke early for quite the adventure... the Isle of Skye. What’s so wonderful about Inverness is it’s known as the “gateway to the Highlands” and from Inverness, you can actually reach Skye and back in a day. Now, it is a long day – I admit that, about 12 hours on tour to see a bunch of beautiful spots on Skye. But it is so worth it!  

I love going on tours for many reasons, one being that I meet some of my colleagues I might never have met. James was such a lovely man, sweetly spoken, very considerate, and took great care of us during our adventure into Skye. He read the weather, worked around it, and made sure to adapt the tour so we would get the best experience possible.  

If you’re heading there yourself, there’s so much to see on Skye, and it’s up to you where you’d like to go. The Fairy Pools, the Quiraing, hike up the Old Man of Storr, search for Highland Coos, or hunt for dinosaur footprints at An Corran Beach. 

I think my favourite part of the day was driving through Glen Shiel on the way to Skye, funnily enough. Any landscape that looks like it’s on the way to Mordor is fine by me.  


North Coast 500 

This is on my list. Preferably for 2024... but considering how much travel I’ve already planned, it will most likely be next year. For those of you who don’t know, the North Coast 500 is Scotland’s ‘Route 66’. It’s a rollercoaster of ruined castles, pristine beaches, dramatic cliffs, and charming villages.  

Besides, who doesn’t love a road trip? Obviously, we’d happily take you there ourselves on tour. But if you’re a fan of driving, this really is one part of Scotland you’ll be glad you focused on. When people come to Scotland, so many think of two things: Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye. And, hey, I’m not saying those aren’t amazing... but the North Coast 500 is an utter delight, a place where you get to witness the majesty of Corrieshalloch Gorge and gaze upon the spectacular Torridon Hills. Just saying.  

Fort George 

Now here’s a quirky little place! I took myself on a self-drive while in Inverness, and I’d heard about Fort George and was curious what it was about. We don’t head there on tour sadly, but if you’re interested in military history, I’d highly recommend it. 

The fort itself is a juggernaut. I was stunned when I arrived – the sheer size of the battlements alone was almost confusing. Supposedly, Fort George is bigger than any castle in the entire British Isles and now that I’ve wandered its quiet streets, I believe it. 

The fort was built by King George II following the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden in 1746. Today, it is an active army base as well as a tourist attraction.  

There’s a little gift shop where you go to purchase your tickets and I recommend the audio guide... you’re going to need it! But simply wandering the grounds is amazing. The view of the fort and the sea from the battlements alone is breathtaking. And for the history buffs out there, make sure you head into the museum (at no extra charge), which is home to an incredible collection of historical military artefacts and a gob-smacking medal display. 

fort george

Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness 

On my self-drive day, I also thought it prudent to stop in at Urquhart Castle. Why? Because I adore castles perched in dramatic locations, alright? I can’t help myself. I’m obsessed with castles. I hate that I don’t live in one.  

Sitting pretty on the shores of Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle has been witness to some of Scotland’s most dramatic historical moments. During the Wars of Independence, this medieval fortress ping-ponged between the Scots and the English, until it was blown up during the Jacobite Rising by the government troops when they left.  

And, of course, then there’s Loch Ness. I know you already know about this most famous of lakes. Not to mention the creature that supposedly lives beneath its black, murky waters. There is something a little bit eerie about Loch Ness... perhaps it’s all those darned stories of Nessie. 

urquhart castle loch ness

Glen Affric 

I feel very blessed to have been treated to an afternoon in Glen Affric while technically able to call it ‘work’. Ancient pines swallowed us whole as we entered this stunning Scottish valley. Some even say it’s Scotland’s most beautiful glen. Now that I’ve wandered by its rivers and seen its mountains... I’m somewhat inclined to agree.  

Most of you will have heard of Glen Coe... and that glen is a stunner for sure. But Glen Affric could give Glen Coe a run for its money. There’s something far quieter about it. Something secret, almost. Like a true Narnia, discovered by accident one afternoon as you were on your way somewhere wonderful... you didn’t expect the journey to be quite this singular.  

glen affric

I could go on forever about the things you can see and do from Inverness. There’s a reason we chose it as one of our departure points. The team that work out of Inverness are passionate about showing you the best of the Highlands, taking you to their favourite places and sharing their most beloved stories. Sitting alongside our driver-guides really is the best way to explore a place like Scotland. How can you possibly be expected to know all the secrets and hear all the stories? Even with us, you won’t see it all – but we’ll do our best.