Home > Barge holidays > Day trips from Inverness: Iconic Scottish locations on the Spirit of Scotland

Day trips from Inverness: Iconic Scottish locations on the Spirit of Scotland

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Cruising the Caledonian Canal

While the Spirit of Scotland wraps its arms around you in such a way that makes it incredibly difficult to leave, the history of the lands surrounding the Caledonian Canal is a strong calling card. 

Each day aboard this luxury vessel is a journey, an often over-used word, but nonetheless a true one.  As the barge cruises from Banavie northwards towards Inverness, we venture through some of the most incredible Scottish landscapes. 

From the striking peak of Ben Nevis to the mountains of Glencoe and the rolling green hills in between, there is never a day that doesn’t serve up a display of natural beauty.   Then there’s the culinary journey.  With local cheese, five-star cuisine and matching wines, it’s a veritable foodie’s delight.  

All of these activities can be done as day trips from Inverness, so even if you aren’t on a barge, they are all possible by road or by taking a Loch Ness cruise. 

cawdor castle side day trips from Inverness

Day trips from Inverness and on the Spirit of Scotland

Every day, an off-barge experience creates a highlight for the day and is a good opportunity to get some exercise and move away from the lure of the food and the open bar.  The itinerary is carefully planned to provide a level of interest and interaction without being overly onerous.   

All of these activities can be done as day trips from Inverness, so even if you aren’t on a barge, they are all possible by road or by taking a Loch Ness cruise. 

More reading >> Read our the gourmet dining experiences onboard the Spirit of Scotland


Drive around Scotland for only a few wee minutes and you will come across the word “glen”. Often used in the name of a town or a brand of whisky, the Gaelic term glen means deep valley; many of these are found in Scotland.  A 30-40 minute drive from our first mooring point of Banavie lies the small Scottish town of Glencoe.  

Our visit to Glencoe combined with a day of excellent weather, making the hills and valleys of the Glencoe area seem even more dominant than they otherwise might.   As we drive to our final destination, the full beauty of the Scottish Highlands is clearly on show. 

Rivers and streams are in abundance, meandering through the rich green hills, whilst hikers use their sticks to guide their way along the many paths. The entire area is a haven for bushwalking and hiking and in the winter months, skiing.  

The Visitor’s Centre in Glencoe is a great place to start.  From here you can literally stare into the enormous valleys and look sky-high to the towering mountains of the Glencoe ranges.  The deep ravines between the mountains were created during the Ice Age when melting glaciers sent their water down below.

Glencoe mountains

It is also the site of one of Scotland’s bloodiest massacres. In 1692, the Campbell clan, linked to the government killed 38 members of the MacDonald clan.  It is quite a complex story, but essentially it involved what the Scots call “murder under trust”. 

The Campbells were enjoying the hospitality of the Macdonald clan, staying in their homes, and yet in the early hours of the morning on 13 February 1692, they took them by surprise and initiated an attack.  It is now a part of Scottish folklore.  

There are plenty of activities to do in this area if you are travelling independently as well.  If you aren’t up to large hikes, several walking tracks are available in the vicinity immediately outside the Glencoe Visitor’s Centre.

Lots of spots to stop and view the Glencoe Valley day trips from Inverness
Lots of spots to stop and view the Glencoe Valley

Where: Glencoe Visitor’s Centre

Address: Visitor Centre, Glencoe, Ballachulish PH49 4HX, Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle

It was a reasonable drive from our mooring location to the Eilean Donan Castle, but it was definitely worth the visit.  Before visiting, I thought the name Eilean Donan was that of the castle.  Eilean however, is the Gaelic name for island.   As an island, the natural sea defences were well utilised and forts and castles have existed on this island, in some form, since the 13th century.

eilean donan

It is said that the medieval castle was most likely the largest of all fortifications built on the island.  Improvements and additions were made in the years that followed until the 18th century when much of the castle was destroyed during battle.

The castle lay dormant and neglected for around 200 years until the island was eventually purchased by a private individual in 1911.  The castle was rebuilt during the subsequent 20 years, and the island was restored.  A bridge was also built for the first time, connecting the island to the mainland.

The castle remains in private hands and is a “lived-in” castle. Eilean Donan Castle is the most photographed castle in Scotland.

eilean donan castle

Where: Eilean Donan Castle

Address: Dornie by Kyle of Lochalsh,  IV40 8DX, Scotland

Birds of prey demonstration

Stirling American bald eagles
American bald eagle

With spectacular landscapes in Scotland, it seems only too fitting that their wildlife would be equally so.  I was keen to see this for myself as I sat on the lawn in front of the former Benedictine Abbey in Fort Augustus. 

Over the course of the next hour, we were allowed to interact with some of the most fearsome birds of prey found in Scotland.  Simultaneously, we were educated on each and every one of them so that we understood a little more about how they live, eat and behave.

douglas the owl day trips from Inverness
Douglas, hand raised from a baby

Before anyone gets upset about animal shows or animals in captivity, I will clearly state that these birds live in exceptional conditions and are most likely being rehabilitated. 

Some of these birds are rescued as chicks, left to themselves when born in ferocious Scottish winters.  Without intervention, they would not survive.  Even before us, many of these birds flew freely around us and up into the trees, coming back to a mere whistle.  

Fort Augustus Abbey

Also known as Benedict Abbey, this beautiful building in the Scottish Highlands has had a long and sometimes chequered past.  It was built on the site of an old fort, and after its days as a monastery were over, various attempts were made to re-purpose the building.

fort augustus monastery day trips from Inverness

Today, it is known as the Highland Club and is owned by a consortium.  Whilst every attempt has been made to preserve the history of the building, it has been converted into prestigious apartments.

inside fort augustus

Where: Highland Club (Fort Augustus Abbey)

Address:  St.Benedict’s Abbey, Fort Augustus PH32 4BJ, Scotland

Fort Augustus

We were lucky enough to be on the canal and therefore pass through the “Flight of Locks” at Fort Augustus, but even if you are not on the water, a stop by this cute town is a must. 

The locks are quite an event to watch, even from the land, with boats taking about an hour to get from the top to the bottom (or vice versa).  If you don’t understand how locks affect the flow of water, there’s nothing better than to see it all unfold right in front of your eyes.

fort augustus locks

Urquhart Castle

urqhart castle
Urquhart Castle ruins

Cruising on the Caledonian Canal means that there is an endless supply of great landscapes and things to see along the way.  Some, like Urquhart Castle, are more substantial than others. 

Sitting on the end of a peninsula on the famous Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle is one of the most visited in Scotland.  It is believed the first castle presented somewhere around the year 1230, 

Like many of the castles in Scotland, Urquhart has seen its share of uprisings and has been a constant pawn in the battles between the Crown, government and religious groups.  While in ruins, visiting here is a chance to learn more about its fiery past and get some exceptional views across Loch Ness.

Where: Urquhart Castle

Address: Drumnadrochit, Inverness IV63 6XJ, Scotland

Cawdor Castle

Visiting any castle or chateau is great in my opinion, but it’s even better when you realise they aren’t just a part of history, but a real-life lived-in castle. 

This happened when we visited Cawdor Castle, a 20-minute drive from Inverness. 

cawdor castle

As we assembled outside, the lady of the house, Lady Cawdor arrived in her British racing green Range Rover.  Parking it quite literally in the middle of nowhere, she exited the vehicle and went into the garden to check on the bird feeder.  It was our glimpse of castle royalty, and we were keen to make the most of it.

Owned and built by the Thanes of Cawdor in the 14th century, it remains one of the best-kept castles in Scotland.   The castle was built over and around a tree, the remains of which exist today and is visible from the dungeon prison.  In the 1500s through an act of treachery, the castle’s possession changed from that of the Cawdor clan to the Campbells.

Lady Cawdors favourite room
Lady Cawdor’s favourite room

Inside, the castle is like a fairytale with opulent decor, tapestries, vintage pieces and antique furniture.  From the drawing room to the bedrooms and the impressive kitchen, it’s fit for a king or queen.  The garden, only a part of the massive amount of land on which the castle sits is equally impressive.

gardens cawdor day trips from Inverness

Like its history, there is plenty of drama still being played out in current times with Lady Cawdor and her husband’s family at odds over who should have the rights to the castle.

Related reading: Read our article on two of the lesser-known French chateaux

Where: Cawdor Castle

Address: B9090, Cawdor, Nairn IV12 5RD, Scotland

Culloden Moor

If there was a theme to the majority of the excursions we took whilst travelling the canals of Scotland on the Spirit of Scotland, it was the fierce battles that occurred.  Many of the best places to see in Scotland have a link to their dark and bloody past.  Culloden Moor is front and centre of these battles.


The Battle of Culloden in 1746 occurred on a moor in the Scottish Highlands, not far from Inverness.  The story is complex, but the goal was one thing, the royal rule of Britain. 

As each side (British vs Scottish) waged their war against each other and secured various territories, both believed they could win.  However, on 16 April 1746, the battle was at its peak and in the dark of night, the Scottish Highland defenders were defeated on a bloody battlefield. 

Today Culloden Moor is a war grave and a visitor centre has been established to commemorate and educate people about the battles that occurred here.

Where: Culloden Visitor Centre

Address: Culloden Moor, Inverness IV2 5EU, Scotland

Glen Ord Distillery

No visit to Scotland is complete without a tour of a whisky distillery.  Even if you don’t like whisky (like me), it’s still a great thing to do.  Whisky making is an essential part of Scottish culture, and it’s fascinating to learn how it is made.  It’s also very interesting to learn the difference between single malt and blends and whether it is ok to call it Scotch.

We took a tour of the Glen Ord Distillery, one of the oldest in Scotland and maker of many “peaty” whiskies, which are an acquired taste.

glen ord whiskey tasting

Where: Glen Ord Distillery Visitor Centre

Address: A832, Muir of Ord IV6 7UJ, Scotland

**Note – the specific whisky distillery visited during the Spirit of Scotland barge cruise is subject to change.

Should you do the day trips?

As guests onboard the Spirit of Scotland are on holiday, nothing is mandatory.  If a particular tour or activity is not to your liking, or you feel like taking some more time out, it’s easy to continue to hang out onboard. 

There’s nothing like getting the crew’s attention all to yourself!  Most guests, however,  relish the opportunity to stretch their legs and engage in an excellent spot of holiday learning and adventure. 

The tour directors onboard the European Waterways barges are well-versed in all activities and are there to ensure that everyone has a great time when off the boat. 

Doing the day trips add to the overall experience of life on the canals, and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

All guests are transported on each day trip via the airconditioned vans and taken directly to each point of interest.  A good time allocation is provided for each event, meaning you don’t just breeze in for a few minutes and have to leave.  All entrance tickets are included.  

If you are considering a canal cruise in Scotland, you can check out all details on the Barge Lady Cruises and European Waterways website.

More reading on barge cruises in Europe

We are experienced barge travellers, having completed five luxury barge cruises since 20019. We’ve been privileged to have seen many different crew from different countries. We’ve stayed in different-sized cabins, eaten meals cooked by onboard chefs, and dined at many local restaurants.

We’ve done ALL the onshore activities. And we’ve made our way to the pickup points (starting in Australia) to all parts of France and Scotland via plane, train and automobile.

Needless to say, there’s not much we don’t know about the wonderful luxury barge cruising experience. If you need to know more, please read our comprehensive guides below, or ask us a question in the comments below.

Enchante – Canal du Midi France

Renaissance – Loire Valley France

Savannah – Canal du Midi France (different part of the canal to the Enchante barge cruise)

Savoir Vivre – Burgundy France

And if you missed our links above, read about the Spirit of Scotland and the amazing food aboard the Spirit of Scotland for an idea of what this Caledonian Canal cruise is really like.


Book your flight: Flights are an important part of travel and we’re always looking for the best deals. If you can travel mid-week and be flexible, you’ll often find great deals on flights. We also use Skyscanner and Expedia for flight bookings. Dollar Flight Club is a great resource for getting special advance offers and even error fares directly to your inbox.

Book your accommodation: We all love to stay in different places, from the comfort of a self-contained apartment or house to a resort or luxury hotel. Sometimes we need something quick, easy and comfortable for an overnight stay. 

We use all of the following online booking portals depending on where we want to stay and the type of accommodation we are looking for.

  • VRBO and Stayz (in Australia) – great for holiday rentals of more than seven days and often have discounts for longer periods.
  • Booking.com and Expedia – two of our favourites due to their cancellation and refund policies.
  • Trip Advisor – perfect for getting reviews, checking availability and pricing comparisons all in one place.

Book your rental car or motorhome: We always use Discover Rental Cars anywhere in the world for car hire. Anywhere Campers is our preferred motorhome hiring company in Europe, especially if you want to be able to pickup and drop off at different locations (even countries) in Europe. If you’d like to buy your own motorhome in France, we use and recommend France Motorhome Sales. Use our code FMS1022 or tell John we sent you!

Book a tour:  We travel independently, but when we do book we book them with reputable companies who have a great cancellation and refund policy. If you are looking for advance tickets to an attraction, group or private tours, we use and recommend Get Your Guide and Viator. Both have a great range of tours and flexible cancellation policies. If you are looking to do a food tour in Europe, we also recommend Eating Europe Tours.

Be covered: We always travel with travel insurance. We did it before the pandemic and it’s even more important for us to do so now. We use Cover-More in Australia. SafetyWing has great rates for travellers who are away from home for extended periods. 

Be ready: Make sure you pack a few essentials: universal adaptorpower bank and noise-cancelling headphones

day trips from inverness scotland

Beer and Croissants was a guest of Barge Lady Cruises.  As always, all editorial, images and opinions are entirely our own.

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