Fort William and Inverness are excellent for day trips away from Edinburgh.
Scotland is a vast country with majestic hills, stunning islands, gorgeous coastline, plenty of hiking trails and ancient cities. With so much to explore, it is no wonder that more and more tourists venture beyond Edinburgh.
Although Edinburgh will always be one of the most popular places to visit in Scotland. Adventure seekers and history lovers, embrace yourselves: there are so many other places worth visiting all over the country!
Without a doubt, some of these places are Fort William and Inverness. While Fort William is a historical site, Inverness is widely known for the Lock Ness monster legend. Next, we will be looking at how to make the best of your day trip to Fort William and Inverness and what can you visit in both places.
Fort William is located on the west side of Scotland and is the final stop of the West Highland Trail. The West Highland Trail is a 154 km hiking trail that starts in Milngavie and finishes in Fort William.
Historically a defence building to guard the Highlands against invaders, nowadays Fort William is popular among nature lovers and history enthusiasts. One of the main attractions in Fort William is, without doubt, Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK. The Glen Nevis valley is perfect for hiking and another reason people stop in Fort William.
Inverness is the unofficial capital of the Highlands and the biggest city in the north of Scotland. The region is famous for the River Ness, which brought to life the legendary Loch Ness monster. Unfortunately, the water monster-Nessi, as it is fondly referred to, is simply a myth. Nevertheless, the never to be spotted Nessi attracts large crowds every year. People from all over the world come to visit the river, hoping that they might spot Nessi-the still shy water monster.
Travel to and between Fort William and Inverness
Travelling to Fort William and Inverness from most of the biggest cities in Scotland is straightforward. There are good train links between Fort William and Inverness and the biggest Scottish cities like Edinburgh or Glasgow.
You can reach Fort William from Edinburgh in approximately 5h. However, the same journey takes less than 4h if you travel from Glasgow.
You can reach Inverness from either Edinburgh or Glasgow in 4h30. The train operator is ScotRail.
It is slightly different if you want to travel between Fort William and Inverness. The train would not be an option because it can take up to 10h to travel between the two places. You are better taking a bus which can take you from one place to the other in approximately 2h. The bus operator is CityLink.
Fort William is a town located on the shores of Loch Linnhe. Fort William is the final stop on The West Highland Trail. That’s how most hikers who complete the trail eventually end up in Fort William. Fort William is also a good location if you are heading to the Isle of Skye afterwards. If you want to know more about Skye, you may be interested in the blog post below:
Next, let’s have a look at what you can visit in Fort William and why is this place perfect for a day trip.
- Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis is the highest peak in the UK and one of the most famous places for hiking in the UK. At over 1,345 metres high, Ben Nevis cannot compete with the European mountains as they are taller. However, the beauty of the region and the landscape makes Ben Nevis one of the most popular places for nature lovers from both the UK, Europe and beyond.
If you decide to visit Ben Nevis, you have two possibilities. You can either hike, which could take several hours depending on your fitness level. Or you can take the cable car (or gondola). However, the gondola only reaches heights of 650m. Still, when you arrive, you can complete 2 hikes. One hike takes approximately 1h, and the second one is approximately 45 minutes. On a clear day, the view must be even better than the day we were there. Therefore, try to plan your visit to Ben Nevis on a sunny day, although I have to admit that the fog gives Ben Nevis that Scottish wilderness vibe we would all expect to encounter there.
To get to Ben Nevis, you must take the bus from Fort William. One thing we found strange was that sometimes 2 places in Scotland had the same name. For example, you might have 2 visitor centres with identical names which are located in opposite directions. Therefore, make sure you are heading to the right visitor centre. Sometimes the same thing happened to buses. You would have the same bus with the same number going opposite directions. The best is to ask the driver to make sure you are taking the right bus. One thing that I noticed about Scottish people is that they are very helpful, so don’t be afraid to ask.
- Fort William town centre
The town centre in Fort William is not big at all. However, you cannot leave Fort William without a stroll on the high street. You may choose to rest in the park near the church or continue with some window shopping. The high street is quite diverse and has quite a few local shops too. Supermarkets, restaurants, souvenir shops, museums are all within reach. Something I found useful in Fort William is the train station, which is literally in the middle of the town. This is very convenient when you need to catch a very early train. There are plenty of walks you can do in Fort William too.
You may follow the Great Glen Way Trail to the Old Inverlochy Castle. It’s a lovely walk by River Locky, which takes you out of Fort William.
For a more panoramic view of the fort, I suggest walking to Cow Hill Viewpoint. It starts in Fort William and goes up until you reach the hill.
Whatever you decide to explore in Fort William, I believe there is something for everyone. The town centre is something you should not miss if you pass through Fort William.
- Glen Nevis
For those more experienced hikers or simply those who want to hike longer distances, Glen Nevis is just a stone’s throw from Fort William. Town buses run between Glen Nevis and Wort William regularly.
This is the most comprehensive list of hikes you can do in Glen Nevis and Fort William. As you will see, there are plenty of options as you can choose between really small walks to several hours hikes. It is in Glen Nevis, where the hiking trail to Ben Nevis starts. If you need more information, there is a visitor centre where you can ask your questions about particular routes.
Another very popular trail is the one leading to the rope bridge and Steall Waterfall. The Steall Waterfall is the second-highest waterfall in the country. This trail is the 7th on the list provided above.
Glen Nevis is praised for being the most beautiful valley in Scotland. You should not miss it and attempt to complete maybe, shorter hikes if you don’t feel ready to summit Ben Nevis.
- The Jacobite Steam Train
Steam trains are extremely popular in the UK. From the Norfolk coast in England to Fort William in Scotland, there are plenty of steam train trips you can experience. This one in Fort William is particularly famous for its link to the Harry Potter saga. But also to the Jacobite movement.
Described as the best steam train journey in the world, the journey starts in Fort William and finishes in Mallaig. The train company only sells return tickets which are perfect for spending a day away in Mallaig. It is very hard to purchase train tickets. So, if you plan to make this journey, ensure you have booked your tickets well in advance.
Famously called the Outdoor Capital for all types of outdoor activities, Fort William surely lives up to its nickname. Whether you prefer short walks, longer hiking activities or fancy jumping on a train to Mallaig, Fort William is the perfect location for an unforgettable day trip.
Inverness is the unofficial capital of the Highlands and one of the biggest cities in the north of Scotland.
An interesting fact about Inverness.
The first university in the region, the University of the Highlands and Islands, was established in 2011. That’s because most of the youth would go study in bigger cities like Edinburgh or Glasgow and never return. Thus, the university was established to cover the demand.
To international tourists, Inverness is known thanks to the Loch Ness monster. However, what else can you visit in Inverness, apart from the infamous Nessi? Let’s have a look at the main areas of interest if you are in Inverness for a day trip.
Inverness is quite a small city. However, there are some areas in the city you should not miss out on.
Head to the riverside for some beautiful city architecture. If you continue walking along the river, you will be able to spot some of the most emblematic buildings in Inverness, such as the castle, the cathedral and much more. Furthermore, you will be amazed by the beautiful architecture of the bridges which connect the two parts of the city. The Ness Bridge (takes its name from the river) is particularly beautiful. River Ness is the river traversing the city of Inverness.
For all literature fans, Inverness is home to Leakey’s Bookshop, Scotland’s second-largest second-hand bookstore. If you usually visit bookstores in your travels, you should visit Leakey’s Bookshop.
For some shopping head to the high street, there are plenty of choices to satisfy even the fussiest buyer.
You can escape the city by visiting the Ness Islands. They are only 20 minutes away from the city centre and are an excellent alternative to a walk in nature. The entire walk to the Islands is pure joy, especially on a sunny day.
Half-Day trips from Inverness
- Trip to Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle is only 30 minutes away from Inverness. There are direct buses which take you there. You pick the bus from the train station in Inverness. The bus stop back is at the Urquhart Castle car park.
I recommend visiting Urquhart Castle not only for the view of Loch Ness but also for the history one learns throughout the tour. The Urquhart
Castle tells the story of its owners, how people lived back then and their different roles in coordinating the Castle. There are audio tours available throughout Urquhart Castle. You can download them to your phone and listen to them while visiting Urquhart Castle.
- Visit Culloden Battlefield
For any history aficionado or Outlander fan for that matter, visiting Culloden Battlefield is a must. You can get a bus to the battlefield and spend a few hours there. The battle of Culloden is of historical significance as it marked the defeat of the Jacobite movement. It was also the last battle given on British soil. It can be an interesting visit with plenty of learning for both adults and children.
Inverness is a beautiful place to visit. It has a rich history and built its international fame on a myth. It is, after all, the birthplace of the most sought water monsters in history.
We kept mentioning several nouns throughout this blog post that do not sound that English. And that’s because they are not. They are Scottish words that have a meaning of their own. While touring Scotland, I picked up some words which I would like to share with the rest of you. In case you didn’t know it. Apart from speaking English, Scotland has its language (the Gaelic language). The same way Wales and Ireland have. So ben in Ben Nevis means peak. Glen in Glen Nevis means valley, and loch in loch ness or any other loch for that matter means river. Therefore, next time you say, Loch Ness, remember that it means River Ness in Gaelic.
With so much to visit and explore in Fort William and Inverness, it is easy to understand why these two places are excellent options for day trips beyond Edinburgh. What do you say? Would you visit either Fort William or Inverness or maybe both on your next trip to Scotland?