Updated: Aug 15
After our three-day visit to Edinburgh, Elyssa and I couldn't make a trip to Scotland without visiting the Scottish Highlands! So we popped into Marks & Spencer's for some essentials (I couldn't travel without my hoisin veggie wrap) and hopped on the train to explore the Scottish Highlands and Inverness!
Getting to Inverness from Edinburgh
Surprisingly, the price of the train wasn't outrageous, even though we bought our tickets the day before. We booked our tickets on the ScotRail website and paid £75 return (~82€) for the equivalent of the TGV in France for a 3.5-hour journey. We had to change trains on the way back, but the wait was only 15 minutes. There are daily trains to Inverness, we opted for an afternoon train to spend an extra morning in Edinburgh at our favourite café!
The trains were on time and comfortable. There are no USB ports to charge devices, so take an adapter for the sockets or you'll end up having to ask a stranger as I did. I think Elyssa and I agree that the train trip to Inverness is a must in itself when visiting Scotland because the scenery is stunning!
The bus is a cheaper alternative to travelling to Inverness but the journey takes a little longer and you may not enjoy the same beautiful scenery.
Where we stayed in Inverness
Inverness is very, if not ridiculously, expensive. I mean, the nature is breathtaking, but the city itself is, let's face it, not that great and we were shocked at the average price for an Airbnb (and I'm talking about a basic room).
Since we didn't have a car, Finella's Airbnb was the cheapest and most convenient accommodation we found. It's only a 10-minute walk from the train and bus station and has all the amenities of the city nearby. The room was small but comfortable. The bathroom was shared with the hosts, who were very friendly and helpful. Although it was nothing luxurious, it was a good base to explore the Scottish Highlands and Inverness!
Exploring the Scottish Highlands and Inverness
Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle
You can't visit Inverness without seeing Loch Ness. Originally we wanted to do one of the many walks around the loch, but unfortunately, it didn't come to that. Without a car, it's quite difficult to get around the Highlands, so we had to rely on the buses which weren't very frequent and quite expensive. We wanted to take the StageCoach bus to Foyers, but the last one had already left (bear in mind that it was 1 pm on a Sunday), so the lady at the ticket office suggested we walk near Urquhart Castle.
As I really wanted to see this medieval castle, we bought two bus tickets (£10 return!) and the woman told us to get off at Drumnadrochit. The driver, on the other hand, told us to get off at Urquhart Castle, which is just after Drumnadrochit (which makes sense, as that's where we wanted to go). Thinking nothing of it, we did as she said and got off at Urquhart Castle, only to find out that there were no footpaths at all and that the only option was to pay £13 to visit the castle.
To many, this may not seem excessive, but we were on a tight budget and this whole day became unexpectedly expensive. We had no choice but to visit Uruquart Castle as the next bus back to Inverness wasn't for another three hours and there were no walking trails. This may sound like a rant, but it's not, I swear. 😂
Urquhart Castle is situated in a beautiful setting with a magnificent view of Loch Ness. We took it upon ourselves to laugh at the whole situation and enjoy our time, after all, we were standing in front of the fabled Loch Ness! There were quite a few tourists, but the weather was nice and the castle's history was fascinating. Being a big fan of medieval history, I really enjoyed the visit.
On the way back, however, we had another little problem. I'll be perfectly honest: The bus service in Inverness was bad. I've never experienced such rude bus drivers, and I live in France! When we showed our return ticket when boarding the bus, the driver said we'd have to pay an extra £2 because we were boarding at Urquhart Castle and not Drumnadrochit.
After trying to understand why we had to pay extra for one stop and explaining that the woman selling the tickets had told us to do so, the driver quickly lost patience and started making rude remarks. We had no choice but to pay as we had no other option to get back, but I was angry, not so much because of the extra money, but because of the encounter we had just had. Anyway, all I want to say is: RENT A CAR IN THE HIGHLANDS.
Culloden Battlefield & Woods
Now that we were familiar with Inverness' bus system, Elyssa and I had planned to visit Culloden Battlefield and its woods. We took the 1A public bus which is much cheaper than the StageCoach buses, from the city centre (the stop is located opposite Marks and Spencer's) towards Balloch which dropped us off at the Culloden Battlefield terminus. From there it was a 20-minute walk to the battlefield.
It was cold and windy, but the site was very moving. If you've watched the series Outlander, you may know a little about the history of this place. It was very moving to see the gravestones of all the clans and people laying, to this day, flowers in their honour. There was even a young man who walked from grave to grave all dressed in traditional clothing (kilt and all) to pay his respects.
Next to the battlefield, there is a museum and a cafe. We went there to warm up a bit and have a coffee and scone before venturing out into the cold again. The Culloden Woods trail can be found on Alltrails, my go-to app for hiking.
We were lucky to have the entire trail to ourselves, but depending on the time of day it may get a little busy. Being alone made this hike very eerie and mystical. The trail is relatively flat and has information signs that tell you about the history of the forest and we even got to see some lovely highland cows! The woods were beautiful, almost fairytale-like and were definitely a highlight of our exploration of the Scottish Highlands.
Merkinch Local Nature Reserve and Carnac Point
On our last day, we decided to do a bit of walking around Inverness and its nature reserve. The Merkinch Local Nature and Carnac Point trail is an easy way to walk near the city and see the canal and coastal landscapes.
It's a pleasant little walk, great for those who like birdwatching! The nature reserve consists of tidal pools, marshes, reed beds and scrubland and has a variety of wildlife. I particularly liked the wooden path across the water. We stumbled across a cute little pub where we had a cup of tea and sat in front of the fireplace. It was so cold that day, the wind was blowing hard so the warmth of the fire was very much appreciated! I wouldn't recommend this walk as a must-do in Inverness but it's a good option if you have some time to spare and want to get out in the fresh air!