Around Inverness (& Loch Ness), Scotland
Inverness and the surrounding area is full of attractions. It is a tourist hub and therefore crowded in the afternoons as the buses stop here mostly for afternoon and evening adventures. Staying in the area though gave us plenty of time to enjoy Loch Ness without the crowds.
When we booked a hotel we had a hard time finding something that was available in the area, but ended up in a family room at the Loch Ness Clansman Hotel.
The hotel, although the hub of all things touristy until about 5pm, turned out to be perfect for us. Even if you’re not staying here you will want to stop by for a picture with Nessie.
The family room was spacious and even included bunkbeds for the boys. Breakfast was included in our room rate, and the spread plus cooked-to-order food was delicious and quite filling.
The hotel has views of Loch Ness, which was just beautiful in late July. The mist sat over the loch in the morning and evening, enhancing the legend of Nessie for the boys. The hotel backs into the woods which has quite a few running and hiking trails that Jeff explored on two separate evening runs. The trails were a wet mess, so he returned with wet socks both nights.
We were a bit pigeonholed into eating at the hotel restaurant in the evening because there is nothing else nearby. In high season, you need to make a booking. However the food was delicious and a good value compared to the restaurants in the surrounding area.
The Loch Ness by Jacobite cruise actually leaves right from the dock at the hotel. We caught the last “Inspiration Cruise” of the evening which was a perfect way to wind down for the day. The boys loved looking for Nessie. (We purchased the Nessie the Loch Ness Monster book to fill the kids in on this fun legend.)
The cruise also gives you great views of Urquhart Castle, sitting on Loch Ness’s shore.
Our priority reason for staying near Inverness was the Strathspey Railway. You can make advanced reservations and they are advised, but we were able to walk up to the first train of the day (10:30). The railroad passes through several small towns, fields of sheep and cattle and provides stunning views of the Cairngorms National Park.
As soon as we got our tickets we found seats, dropped our things, and went to visit the engineer in the locomotive. The engineer was happy to take pictures and even let H wear his cap.
It is a real steam train that makes a stop to fill its water tank once each trip. We popped out of the train at each stop just to check it out, but since the train does not stay long it’s important to not stray too far.
H used the provided map to check off each of the towns and special sights we passed through. O spent most of his time eating and looking out the window.
H was having such a great time so the conductor asked him if he would like to help flag the engine at the end of the line. When the engine moved from one end of the train to the other, H got to hold the flag out the window to let the engineer know he was connected to the cars. H was thrilled!
While big brother was helping up front, O enjoyed looking at all the sheep and cows out the window.
The train stops at Broomhill for a few moments and it is worth hopping out to enjoy the views of the mountains.
The rain was pouring down when our railroad journey came to an end so we ducked into Mambo’s Cafe Bar on the main street. They had a variety of options including some delicious pulled pork nachos. We missed the ball though on ordering a smoothie, which were being delivered to every other table. The meal was leisurely, so this is not the place to go if you are in a rush.
The afternoon posed a wide variety of options. There are dolphin cruises out of Avoch, the Loch Ness Center which tells the story of the lake and the legend of Nessie, the Highland Wild Animal Park or you can enjoy some beach time on the shores of Loch Morlich. We made a stop at the beach, only to find everyone racing back to their cars as the rain resumed in torrential sheets.
We ended up on my favorite experience of the trip, sort of on a whim, the Cairngorm Reindeer Center. This reindeer heard, 150 strong, lives in the Cairngorm mountains. There are daily guided visits to see the reindeer that are on the protected reservation. (The males and females alternate who is around depending on the season.)
We decided to go rain or shine, so suited up, including our Wellies and joined the guided hike to the reservation. The hike is steep and muddy but even H was able to do the hike on his own (0.5 mi).
As we entered the enclosure the reindeer literally joined us in line on the boardwalk. They walked with us to the area where we were going to feed them. They were so gentle and used to human presence.
H instantly picked a favorite, this little white and grey one.
The guides put a bunch of feed out on the ground and then we were given feed to hand feed the reindeer.
The reindeer were incredibly gentle. H needed a bit of coaching on feeding them. Reindeer actually do not have top teeth, so they won’t bite you.
H gained confidence quickly and was soon hand feeding the reindeer on his own.
The naturalists loved helping H hand out food, perhaps because he was just so excited. Toward the end he had the last of the food and the reindeer were swarming him.
O was not interested in feeding the deer, but he loved petting them. As long as we avoided their antlers, which are quite sensitive, they were happy to have a nice rub down.
We spent over an hour with the reindeer before we made the hike back down to our car. You leave the enclosure when you are ready and make the hike back down on your own.
The paddocks of the reindeer center are also open for viewing if you don’t want to (or can’t) make the hike to the reindeer herd. If you don’t have reindeer boots you can rent them from the center for 50 cents.
We could have easily spent another day exploring this area, but with so much more of the Highlands to see we said goodbye to Loch Ness and Inverness the next morning.
If you are looking for more ideas for Inverness, check out The Wanderlust Crew’s list of What To Do In Inverness.
We just wanted to make sure you knew that VisitScotland provided us with an ASVA attractions pass during our visit. All opinions are our own.
This post is linked up with: