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It remains a popular tourist spot and jumping-off point for those looking to explore the Highlands and Islands
Home to the Capital of the Highlands, Inverness-shire is a historic county that is home not just to one of Scotland’s nine cities, but to perhaps its most iconic body of water – Loch Ness. Scotland’s largest county by land mass, but housing less than 2% of its overall population, Inverness-shire covers much of the beautiful Highlands and Islands, including the Hebrides, where hundreds of uninhabited islands still stand, tranquil and calm, and occasionally only visible via the mainland or a dedicated boat tour.
The central hub of the region is the city of Inverness, which was granted city status in the 2000 Golden Jubilee Honours by Queen Elizabeth II following the Millennium, which made it the first Scottish city to be named in more than a century. It remains a popular tourist spot and jumping-off point for those looking to explore the Highlands and Islands, with scenic train journeys and ferry services available to take visitors to every far-flung corner of the region. Inverness was twice voted the ‘Happiest Place in Scotland’ and it’s easy to see even beyond the boundaries of the city. Authentic Highland hospitality awaits you, wherever you decide to travel.
The region is perhaps best known to film and TV buffs for its frequent appearances in some of the biggest movies and TV shows of the last few decades. From the Glenfinnan Viaduct, where the Hogwarts Express carried witches and wizards in Harry Potter to Jacobite relics filling in for sets on TV’s ‘Outlander’, Inverness-shire has a variety of tours and guides that can take you to some of Hollywood’s most iconic locations, right in the heart of the Highlands. Outside of the movies, Inverness-shire’s biggest tourist hotspot is, of course, Loch Ness.
One of the hundreds of freshwater lochs in the region, Ness has gained international notoriety not just for its beauty, but for the legendary monster who is rumoured to live within its waters. The first photographs of ‘Nessie’ appeared in 1933 and ever since, people from all over the world have flocked to the tranquil shores of the loch to see if they can catch a glimpse of the elusive beast. More likely, you’ll find campers or cyclists.
A historic county covering a significant portion of the Highlands and Islands, Inverness-shire – or simply Inverness – has gone through many iterations. Both a historic county and lieutenancy area, some definitions allow it to cover the Outer Hebrides and even as far as Bute & Argyll, while others narrow it down to just a handful of districts. The second-largest county in the UK, after Yorkshire, the region began life as a series of alternating forts and villages, most notable being Inverness and Fort William. Inverness had been named a royal burgh in the 12th century and Fort William had been used as a means of controlling the Highlanders by the government.
The county, as it’s known today, came to be in 1889, when a local law pulled together the disjointed towns and villages into one overarching county. By this point, the population had begun to dwindle following mass emigration to the United States, Canada and England, so the joining together of the towns made it easier to invest in industry and tourism. Today, they remain their biggest exports, with oil production in the North Sea and the development of public transport to help tourists gain access to the beautiful natural landscapes of the region.
Inverness-shire is serviced by Stagecoach buses direct out of Inverness and into the surrounding towns and villages. Train services are provided as part of the Highland Main Line and West Highland Line. Ferry services connect the mainland to the Hebrides, as does the Skye Bridge, which is accessible by car.
Getting to Inverness-shire
The region has one major airport, Inverness, and two smaller airports, Benbecula and Barra, which operate in and around the UK and some of Europe. Train services are available to Inverness from all major Scottish cities or the Caledonian Sleeper from London. There is also ample motorway access.
When to go
Between June and August are the warmest months in Inverness-shire, so if you can’t stand the cold, this would be the best time to visit. The Highlands are particularly magical during the winter, so between September and February are best visited if you’re searching for snow.
Where to stay
The region’s largest city is Inverness, the Highland Capital, which offers a variety of accommodation options and is easily accessible from across Scotland. But the region really sparkles in the towns and villages of the Highlands, including Fort William, Loch Ness, the islands of Skye, Lewis and Harris and Dunvegan.
Eating & drinking
The Highlands is best known for its ‘natural larder’, which influences many a menu. From seafood to locally reared meats and game, venison and langoustines cannot be missed here. You’ll also want to sample a couple of whisky drams – the Highlands is famously a whisky-producing region and Inverness-shire is no different.
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