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Edinburgh To Inverness Drive: 15 Things To Do (+ Lunch Recommendations)

Edinburgh To Inverness Drive: 15 Things To Do (+ Lunch Recommendations)

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Driving from Edinburgh to Inverness (or vice versa) is a popular route that many locals and tourists take when visiting Scotland.

There is plenty to see and do on the Edinburgh to Inverness drive, which follows the A9 north, and so I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite things to do along the route. I’ve also included my favourite lunch recommendations!

You won’t be able to stop and experience all of my recommendations in just one day, and so I suggest choosing 2-3 things (max) from this list, plus a lunch stop. Some of the activities will take longer than others, so I’ve included suggestions for how long you should spend at each destination.

I’ve also included some tips for driving this route; whether you are driving from Edinburgh to Inverness, or the other way around, you’ll find this blog post immensely helpful with your planning!

Scotland Travel Tip

If you’re the type of person who likes to see as much as possible, you can quickly stop and see some of the castles and palaces I’ve mentioned from the outside. You don’t necessarily have to go inside, as many castles look their best from the outside anyway!

edinburgh castle and the grassmarket
Edinburgh to Inverness drive

Drive from Edinburgh to Inverness Commonly Asked Questions

How long does it take to drive from Edinburgh to Inverness (and vice versa?)

The drive itself is just over 3 hours, however, if you are stopping to see and do things and have a lunch stop, I would allow 6-8 hours for the drive to fit everything in.

Can you drive from Edinburgh to Inverness in one day?

Yes! I have done this trip in both directions many times. If you allow yourself the entire day to make this journey you can fit in a few stops along the way as well.

If you prefer slow travel (which I always recommend) you can choose a location in between the two cities to overnight. I always recommend Pitlochry as a good place to stop overnight; it’s a beautiful mountain town with lots of fun pubs, restaurants and full facilities. If you want to stay somewhere a little more off the beaten path, Aberfeldy is a delightful village with full facilities.

You can also book a self-catering accommodation or hotel somewhere remote in this area if you want to be away from the hustle and bustle. As long as you have a car, you can stay pretty much anywhere! We do this all the time, as we enjoy our quiet nature getaways.

What is the best driving route from Edinburgh to Inverness?

The best route is also the quickest route, which goes via Perth, Pitlochry and Aviemore. This takes roughly 3 hours and 15 minutes. The activities and attractions listed in this blog post are all very close to this route, but may require a short detour (no more than 15 minutes).

Here’s a map of this route:

Important note

You will drive along the A9 road when driving between Edinburgh and Inverness. Because the A9 is such a popular road, I recommend reading this guide to driving in Scotland for first-timers to be aware of some of the dangers on this road. It’s long, and easy to lose focus when merging lanes- so do take care when driving this route!

Edinburgh to Inverness Drive: 15 Things To See & Do

The Forth Bridges

The Forth Rail Bridge

Just before you head out of Edinburgh, be sure to drive to South Queensferry to see the Forth Bridges up close!

The three bridges are: the Forth Rail Bridge, the Forth Road Bridge and the Queensferry Crossing.

The most famous of the three is the Forth Rail Bridge (pictured). It is a cantilever railway bridge, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was the first major structure to be made of steel in Britain, and out of the 4,600-strong workforce, research suggests that 73 died while working on the bridge.

You will drive across the Queensferry Crossing to Fife on the way to Inverness; from a distance, this grand bridge appears to have large white sails.

The Forth Road Bridge was once the longest suspension bridge in the world outside the United States when it opened in 1964. It is closed to traffic and used as a public transport corridor- but cyclists and walkers can use this bridge too.

South Queensferry is such a delightful town filled with cute ice cream parlours, colourful shops, and excellent seafood restaurants. We ate at the Hawkes Inn, a country pub with views over the Firth of Forth.

This pub there, The Hawkes Inn, has a connection with Robert Louis Stevenson, who was born in Edinburgh. It is said that he stayed here and wrote part of the famous novel Kidnapped in one of the rooms. In fact, a passage from Kidnapped mentions The Hawkes Inn!

Suggested time: Allow at least 30 minutes to explore the main street in South Queensferry and to take a photo of the bridges.

Dunfermline Abbey

dunfermline abbey in scotland
Dunfermline Abbey

Cost: Free

Dunfermline Abbey is quite a marvel- and you can see why King Robert the Bruce chose it for the resting place of his body.

It was built by David I (who was attributed with building many of the beautiful medieval abbeys across Scotland). He also built a nunnery next to the abbey for his mother, St Margaret of Scotland.

Fun fact: Robert the Bruce’s heart is buried in Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders, another spectacular abbey I recommend visiting if you are visiting the south!

Suggested time: Allow at least 1 hour here to explore.

Lochleven Castle

lochleven castle on loch leven where mary queen of scots was imprisioned
Lochleven Castle

Lochleven Castle is a hidden gem along this route; it’s easy to miss this castle that stands on a small islet in the middle of a loch.

The island is known as ”the prison island” because Mary Queen of Scots was once imprisoned in the castle for almost a year in 1567. During her imprisonment, she sadly miscarried twins, and was forced to abdicate her throne. She managed to escape, but this was the last time she saw Scotland.

There is currently no visitor access to the castle while the masonry is being inspected, but you can marvel at it through a pair of binoculars from the Kirkgate Car Park.

Suggested time: Allow 30 minutes for the detour to see Lochleven Castle. If the castle is open, allow 1.5 hours minimum to catch the boat across and explore the castle.

Perth

things to do in Perth Scotland
The city of Perth in Scotland

I have written an in-depth travel guide for things to do in Perth, so do check that out.

Just quickly, some of my favourite things to do in Perth include going for a walk up Kinnoull Hill (which is especially beautiful in spring or autumn), independent shopping, and the Black Watch Museum.

It’s also a good stop for lunch- see my recommendations for places to stop for lunch between Edinburgh and Inverness further on in this article.

Suggested time: You can allow as little or as much time to explore Perth- I suggest at least 2-3 hours if you’re going to have lunch, do a spot of shopping, or explore some of the historic attractions in the city. The walk up Kinnoull Hill takes at least 2 hours, so if you’re planning to drive from Edinburgh to Inverness in one day, I would make this your main activity.

Scone Palace

Scone Palace in Perth, Scotland
Scone Palace

Cost: Adult £16.50, Child £12, Family £50

Open: 1st April – 31st October

Scone Palace (pronounced ‘Scoon’) is located a short drive from Perth and was the site where the Kings of Scotland (including Robert the Bruce) were crowned up until the late 1400s.

Scone Palace is the original home of the Stone of Destiny (also known as the ‘Stone of Scone’) which was used during the coronation ceremony. It’s believed to have been brought here by Kenneth MacAlpin, the first King of the Scots (810-858 AD).

In 906, King Constantine held the first recorded council here, and Scone became the religious and political centre of the Scottish realm.

Today, the Palace is home to the Earls of Mansfield. There is a fun maze to explore, beautiful woodlands filled with heritage trees to wander, and there is, of course, the palace itself.

Suggested time: There is an incredible amount of history to take in here, and I recommend spending a minimum of 3 hours exploring the Palace, church and gardens. If visiting Scone Palace, make this your main activity of the day.

Dunkeld and Birnam

Birnam, a village in Perthshire, Scotland

Dunkeld and Birnam are two villages separated by the River Tay.

Dunkeld is a tranquil village to go for a wander; it’s home to the famous Aran Bakery, which is owned by Flora Shedden, who was a contestant on the Great British Bake-Off. Be sure to grab some sweet treats for the journey!

Children’s author Beatrix Potter spent time in these villages during her childhood summer holidays. It’s easy to see how this area inspired her writing! There is a small garden dedicated to her in the centre of Birnam. Look out for Peter Rabbit!

Birnam is home to the Birnam Oak and its neighbour the Birnam Sycamore, which are thought to be the only surviving trees of the great forest celebrated in Shakespeare’s Macbeth as the famous Birnam Wood.

Suggested time: Allow at least 1 hour to explore these villages; 15 minutes for the Beatrix Potter Garden, 15 minutes to see the Birnam Oak; 30 minutes to stroll the streets of Dunkeld.

The Hermitage

The Hermitage: St Ossian’s Hall overlooking the River Braan

Parking: There is a small charge of £3 for parking.

The Hermitage is a popular woodland glen walk located near Dunkeld. It is especially popular during mid-September to mid-October when the autumn foliage is at its best in Scotland.

The circular walk around the Hermitage takes around 2 hours, however, you can simply park your car and walk for as long as you like, and return via the same path. There are lots of little paths that sprout away from each other, making this an excellent walk for kids to explore.

Highlights include the folly Ossian’s Hall, heavy flowing waterfalls, and Rumbling Bridge, an old stone bridge set high above a dramatic gorge.

Suggested time: Allow 45 minutes for a quick stroll, or 2 hours for the circular walk.

Pitlochry

pitlochry

Pitlochry is perfectly placed between the Edinburgh to Inverness drive, which makes this wee town an excellent place to stop to break up the route, or even spend a few nights to soak up all that Perthshire and the Cairngorms National Park has to offer!

Popular with both locals and tourists, Pitlochry has a large range of accommodation, shops, pubs and restaurants for its size.

Some of my favourite things to do in Pitlochry include:

  • Shopping on the High Street. There are tons of independent shops on the main street selling homeware, clothing, traditional Scottish gifts, jewellery, skincare and more.
  • Heathergems. A jewellery factory where they make beautiful pieces using Scottish heather! If you’re looking for a unique gift for yourself or someone else, pay a visit here.
  • Pitlochry Fish Ladder. There is a viewing platform which is sometimes open to the public, where you can see the fish swimming around. There are also lovely views across Loch Faskally and the River Tummel.
  • Faskally Loch. There are some beautiful woodland walks around the loch; so beautiful that scenes from Season 5 of Outlander were filmed here! I actually stumbled across them filming series 5 while I was out walking these trails. My personal favourite is the Bealach Path (which is the area they were filming).
  • Getting ice cream from Scotch Corner. They sell lots of fun flavours, including Scottish Tablet- yum!

Afternoon Tea at Fonab Castle

Cost: Afternoon Tea £32.50 per person; Champagne Afternoon Tea from £52.45 per person.

Fonab Castle is an utterly gorgeous 19th-century castle that sits on the banks of Loch Faskally and Faskally Forest in Pitlochry.

The castle is a popular luxury hotel, so it’s not open for tours, but the best way to get a taste of this castle is by booking a table for Afternoon Tea!

The Haggis and I did just this on our babymoon and it was exquisite- possibly one of my favourite Afternoon Tea experiences in Scotland! Our table looked out onto views of Loch Faskally, which were absolutely stunning in mid-October.

Fonab Castle is the epitome of a luxury castle stay; treat yourself to a night or two if you want to live like royalty. The Haggis and I will certainly be back for a romantic staycation at some point!

Suggested time: Allow 1.5 hours for lunch and a stroll around the castle grounds.

Blair Castle

Cost: £16 per adult

Open: April to October

I may be slightly biased as I have ancestral ties to Blair Castle, but I am confident no one would argue that this castle is utterly fascinating!

Home to the Dukes of Atholl and the seat of Clan Murray, Blair Castle is a unique Scots Baronial-style castle standing bright and white against the backdrop of the Perthshire hills.

It experienced turbulent times during the Jacobite Risings of the 17th and 18th centuries, which pitted brother against brother, and father against son. It has also played host to famous figures including Queen Victoria and Bonnie Prince Charlie.

The Walled Garden is stunning, and there are many woodland walks around the estate to explore. A busy river flows directly in front of the castle, and an old stone bridge gives you spectacular views of the water making its way downstream from the hills of the vast estate.

Suggested time: I recommend spending at least 2-3 hours here to take everything in, so make it your main stop if you’re driving from Edinburgh to Inverness in one day. The castle is huge, with many rooms to explore that walk you through the history of the Dukes of Atholl.

The House of Bruar Shopping Centre

The House of Bruar Shopping Centre is quite literally plonked in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the hills of the Cairngorms National Park.

I will say this- shopping here is expensive, but there’s a large variety of gorgeous homeware, furniture, children’s toys, art, clothing, outdoor wear, and artisan foods.

For affordable shopping, there is a fantastic outlet shop I usually browse to find a bargain, which is located around the back of the centre.

Eating here is also expensive so I’d advise picking somewhere to eat based on my recommendations further down in this blog post. If you’re staying in self-catering accommodation, I recommend buying some artisan foods for snacks or dinner- there is a huge variety of locally-made Scottish produce in the shop!

Suggested time: It’s easy to get lost shopping here, so allow 1-2 hours to have a relaxed shopping experience.

Ruthven Barracks

ruthven barracks near kingussie in the cairngorms national park
Ruthven Barracks near Kingussie

Cost: Free

Ruthven Barracks is one of my favourite hidden gems in Scotland.

The Ruthven Barracks was once used by the English to control the Scottish Highlands. It was located on General Wade’s Military Road, a road built to monitor the highlands during the Jacobite Rebellions.

Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army successfully took control of Ruthven Barracks during the 1746 Jacobite Rebellion, however, the soldiers were told to flee and save themselves after their defeat at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746.

Today, Ruthven Barracks is a beautiful ruin located near the town of Kingussie. The best view of the Barracks is looking towards Kingussie, with the shadow of Creag Bheag looming behind.

Suggested time: Allow 30 minutes to 1 hour for the detour and to explore the barracks.

Aviemore

loch morlich a perfect dog-friendly destination
Loch Morlich in summer

Aviemore is a small mountain town known for being the adventure base in the Cairngorms National Park. There are tons of outdoor activities to do here including hiking, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, and skiing and snowboarding in the winter.

It’s also a good place to stop for some quick shopping (I love the Waterstones bookshop and the art gallery that sits next to it) or a bite to eat.

A few of my recommended activities include:

  • Hiking. There are so many amazing hikes in this area for all levels- check out the Loch Morlich Circuit or the Loch an Eilein hike to see the castle in the middle of the loch.
  • Driving to Loch Morlich to see the UK’s highest beach
  • Visit the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd

You could also easily spend a few days here, which I encourage if you’re into your outdoor adventures. The best place to base yourself would be Glenmore, a 10-minute drive from Aviemore into the Cairngorms, where many of the hikes and watersports are located. There is also an amazing campground here called the Glenmore Campsite, and the Cairngorm Lodge Youth Hostel which is dog-friendly.

You can read my dog-friendly guide to Aviemore if you’re travelling with your pooch!

Suggested time: There are so many things to do in Aviemore that it makes it tricky to suggest a length of time to spend here, however, if you’re passing through allow at least one hour to have a browse of the main street and grab an ice cream. If you’re wanting to do some hiking or outdoor activities, I would suggest Aviemore as your main stop for the day, or opt to spend a few nights here.

Clava Cairns

clava cairns inverness
Clava Cairns

To the east of Inverness, you will find the Clava Cairns.

The Clava Cairns are a collection of ancient monuments, including three burial cairns and standing stones. They are thought to be around 4,000 years old.

Outlander fans or anyone interested in prehistoric Scotland will be enchanted by these bizarre yet beautiful tombs. Located near Clava Cairns is the Culloden Viaduct– just wander across the road to admire this mighty bridge.

Suggested time: Allow at least 30 minutes to take in the layers of incredible history at this sacred site.

Culloden Battlefield

The Culloden Battlefield just a short five-minute drive from Clava Cairns.

This is the site where the fateful 1745 Jacobite Rising came to a tragic end at the Battle of Culloden.

It is free to visit the Culloden Battlefield, however, there is a fantastic interactive display at the visitor centre which costs a small fee. Be sure to visit the touching memorial cairn which is surrounded by the clan graves of 1,500 fallen Jacobite soldiers.

Suggested time: Allow at least one hour to wander around Culloden Moor; longer if you wish to see the interactive display.

Places to stop for lunch on the drive from Edinburgh to Inverness

the old bridge inn dog friendly restaurant aviemore
The Old Bridge Inn pub and restaurant

I suggest checking the opening hours for the following recommendations, and booking a table if possible as many of these places are popular. If you’re travelling in the shoulder or off-season (October-April) some of these restaurants will either close for lunch or operate on reduced hours.

Hetties Tea Rooms, Pitlochry – one of my favourite places to stop for lunch! I always get a hazelnut latte and a sandwich- there is also a delicious selection of teas and sweet treats available. I also get some cheesecake to take away with me – the Crunchie cheesecake is incredible!

Fonab Castle, Pitlochry – I mentioned having Afternoon Tea here further up, however, they also do lunch and dinner if you’re looking for a luxurious meal.

The Old Mill Inn, Pitlochry – The Old Mill is a tourist favourite, but it lives up to the hype. The food is delicious, the decor is traditional and cosy, and there’s plenty of outdoor seating. It does get busy- prepare to have another choice up your sleeve.

Effies Tea Rooms, Perth – another great place for Afternoon Tea in a traditional setting. Having Afternoon Tea here is like sitting down with your Scottish granny (in a cool way) – or taking a step back in time to the 20th century. When we ate here in 2022 they were cash only.

The Old Bridge Inn, Aviemore – for a traditional pub meal (and a dram or two for the non-drivers) The Old Bridge Inn is a great spot. If the weather is nice you can enjoy a drink out on ‘the beach’- a big lawn with picnic tables and views of the River Spey. Let the kids run riot with the dog while you soak up the views!

The Winking Owl, Aviemore – another fun traditional restaurant and pub in Aviemore- with mountain views! The Bothy Bar is also super cool.

When you reach Inverness

inverness castle scotland
Inverness Castle

I’ve written a detailed guide to spending two days in Inverness, so be sure to read that. If you don’t have two full days in Inverness, I recommend choosing the attractions that appeal to you most from my itinerary (I cover all the must-sees).

If you are planning on driving the North Coast 500, I have a detailed guide on that too!

Do you have a question about driving this route? Leave a comment and I will do my best to answer.

Warm wishes from Scotland! Yvette xx

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Marcelo

Saturday 18th of November 2023

Hello,

Firstly, congratulations on your explanation about this route. It is very complete and exact information that tourists need to understand the attractions along the way better.

Now that I have all these information, I would appreciate your support. I´ll travel to Scotland from Dec.10 till Dec.16 and I understood that some attractions will be closed in this season. I´ll stay two entire days in Edinburgh, one night in Inverness, another one in Portree, and the last one in Oban before taking the flight from Edinburg on Dec. 16th. Are there any special recommendations or must-see in this rote?

Many thanks from Brazil

Andrea

Monday 30th of October 2023

Can i do some of the things if i am doing Inverness-edimburgh?

Yvette Webster

Friday 3rd of November 2023

Definitely!

Jenny

Monday 7th of November 2022

Is it possible to stop off at one of these places if I'm taking the train? Like stop and have lunch and shop in Pitlochry for a few hours then get on the next train? Thanks