As the Highlands’ only city, Inverness is a busy and prosperous hub. Its location at the head of the Great Glen and on the shores of the Moray Firth have made it popular with tourists, who flock here in their droves during the summer months to hunt for the elusive Nessie. The town makes a pleasant base to explore the region and has one of the best spots to watch dolphins frolic in the Moray Firth. The city also offers picturesque walks along the banks of the River Ness, which runs through the heart of the city, linking Loch Ness with the Moray Firth.
Follow in the footsteps of Bonnie Prince Charlie, whose Jacobite army was defeated here in 1746 in one of Scotland's most infamous and bloody battles. A brand new interactive visitor centre has films, exhibitions and galleries to bring the battlefield to life, giving background to the story in an entertaining and appealing way. There is also a café if you need a hot drink after the gruelling battlefield experience.
On B9006, five miles east of Inverness, 01463 790 607, www.nts.org.uk, visitor centre open 10am-6pm.
For a taste of nature without leaving the city head to the Ness Islands. These natural islands, shaped by the course of the river, were once used by farmers taking their cattle to market. Ness Bank connects with Ladies’Walk, a route that passes beautiful Victorian houses and onto the islands.You can also reach the islands from Island Bank Road, a few hundred metres beyond smart Bellfield Park, with its tennis courts, pretty gardens and bandstand.
A visit to Inverness would be incomplete without a voyage out onto magnificent Loch Ness, the home of the elusive monster. One way to see it is aboard a huge cruise boat but why not grasp the opportunity to see a different side of the loch by hiring a canoe for the day and doing it yourself in an altogether more environmentally-friendly way. Boots‘n’Paddles will collect you from a previously arranged point, take you down to the loch with a canoe and all necessary equipment, and then leave you free to go exploring.The company has a range of year-round suggestions for water activities in the area although some may not be suitable for novices.
Boots’n’Paddles, 4 Cabrich, Kirkhill, by Inverness, 0845 612 5567, www.boots-n-paddles.co.uk
An American-style bar and diner serving cheap and cheerful food, with a heavy emphasis on locally caught fish,The Room is a backpackers' delight right in the heart of the city. Cheap drinks add to the appeal of the place, as does the live music on Friday and Saturday nights. Special tribute nights and local bands feature strongly at The Room, where music, atmosphere and good times are a given.
73 Queensgate (C3), 01463 233 077, www.theroomandno27.co.uk, open daily 11am-late.
BARS AND CLUBS
Having won the traditional-music venue award for Scotland two years in a row, Hootananny is one of the most popular and lively places in Inverness.It serves the best Thai food this side of South East Asia (or at least above the border) and boutique beers from the local Black Isle Brewery.With live music every night, there’s always a good crowd and the atmosphere spreads infectiously over its three floors. An impressive line-up of classic and contemporary bands take to the stage year-round and there is a monthly comedy gig and weekly film club for chucklers and film buffs.
67 Church Street (C3), 01463 233 651, www.hootenanny.com, Mon-Fri noon-1am, Sat noon-12.30am, Sun 7pm-midnight.
A real institution in Inverness, Blackfriars makes an excellent start to any pub-crawl.This traditional pub welcomes a diverse crowd, with students, tourists and faithful regulars in the mix. Behind several feet of polished mahogany you'll find friendly staff, happy to take you through their draft real ales.With regular live music, ceilidhs twice a week (with full instruction), plenty of space to dance and fantastic local music your feet will be tapping in no time.
93-95 Academy Street (C3), 01463 233 688, www.blackfriarshighlandpub.co.uk, Sun-Mon 11am-11pm, open Fri-Sat 11am-midnight.
The Ironworks is a purpose built live music venue in the heart of Inverness boasting a hefty soundsystem and a committed staff of music lovers who are dedicated to showcasing the best live bands. Acts scheduled to appear over the autumn months include the Charlatans, Stiff Little Fingers, Feeder, and a rare onstage appearance from Thin Lizzy. It also plays host to many local bands and a diverse range of club nights.
122b Academy Street (C3), 0871 789 4173, www.ironworksvenue.com, opening times vary.
Rent a bike and cycle to Dores Bay to meet Steve Feltham, local Nessie hunter extraordinaire (featured on page 26). Always willing to have a chat in his converted library van, he's got many stories to tell of his years spent looking for Scotland's elusive monster. Join him in his search and he'll show you what to look for, and no doubt, try to peddle you one of his Nessie models.