GET YOUR BEARINGS
Inverness lies at the north end of the Great Glen, where the Ness flows into the Moray Firth, and has been the nerve centre of the Highlands for most of the past 2000 years. Main roads from Aberdeen, Perth and Fort William all meet here, while the Kessock Bridge across the Beauly Firth forms the gateway to the far north and the north-west. The city has a vibrant centre, where you’ll find a relentless sprawl of pubs and markets for shopping, but the Ness still boasts the main tourists traps, like the castle, the cathedral and the Eden Court Theatre, together with a swag of the city’s best restaurants and hostels.
HITTING THE HARD STUFF
Walk out onto an Inverness street at night and kick a pebble in any random direction. Odds are you’ve just hit a bustling pub. Saying that, the best places for a pint will be found east of the river around the junctions of Church, Academy and Castle streets. Head to Mr G’s on Castle Street for a classy drinking ambience, with a bit of live music to add spirit, then kick on next door at the rather laidback but chatty Number 27. Great drinks deals can usually be found at the King’s Highway on Church Street (a JD Wetherspoon pub), but a great local dive is Barbazza on Young Street, where most young Inverness lads and lasses like to engage in a bit of beer-fuelled courtship.
WORTH A LOOK
The original castle was built on the banks of the Ness by Macbeth, but was destroyed in 1057. The site now features a red stone fortress built in 1835 that sprawls like a ghostly apparition along a low cliff on the east bank overlooking the river. The Drum Tower of Inverness Castle houses an exhibition on the castle’s story and is open daily during the summer season (free admission, call 01463-710 637).
The Loch Ness Monster Museum
Sure, this joint might be a cheap spider’s web to trap your tourist dollars, but let’s live a little. Head up the A82 from Inverness for 14 miles to find the loch. The museum does a good job of making you feel submerged in the eerie loch, while movie and laser productions explain the flora and fauna as well as the movement of the plates of the Earth. High tech exhibits explain (ironically) the various hoaxes and how they were done, and a few cases that can’t be explained. For tacky fun, call 01456-450 342.
Hallowed ground where the Jacobite army was finally crushed on April 16, 1746. Features include the Graves of the Clans, the Well of the Dead and the huge Cumberland Stone, from which the victorious ‘butcher’ Cumberland is said to have reviewed the scene where the prince’s army lost some 1200 men while the king’s army lost 300. Entry is £8, call 01463-790 607.
One of the most loved hostels (and guests often stay for months) is Ho Ho Hostel on High Street (01463-221 225). A great team and clean, cheap rooms should make this place your head contender. Also check out the Inverness Youth Hostel (0871-330 8529) on Victoria Drive for rooms at around £20, and Bazpackers (01463-717 663) on Culduthel Road for a more homely feel.
Bonus points for: Being an atmospheric party playground
Loses marks for: Getting a bit rough after about 1am
– SEAN MAHER