This is our gay guide to Inverness and the Scottish Highlands including the best places to stay, the gay scene, things to do and more.
“Stefan your crotch is completely showing under your kilt – be careful!”
Oh crap! Well, you try squatting down trying to position the tripod camera correctly, clad in a Scottish kilt worn “authentically”…!
The Scottish Highlands are the stereotypical image of Scotland you imagine, with rolling hills, mountains towering over large glittering lochs and lots of thick lush green woodland. This is the place where the Scottish kilt originated from, haggis is a local speciality and, of course, a famous monster is rumoured to reside down in the deep dark waters of Loch Ness.
We did a road trip to Inverness and the Scottish Highlands surrounding the city. It's utter bliss. Whether it's the (sexy!) heavy thick Scottish accent or the lush rolling hills of the Highlands, we guarantee you'll love it as much as we did.
Where exactly are the Scottish Highlands?
The main regions of Scotland are usually referred to as the Highlands and the lowlands. The exact boundaries between the two are not clearly defined, but generally, if you're heading north of Edinburgh and Glasgow or west from Aberdeen, then you're going to the Highlands. This is also a very scenic part of Scotland, with lots of tall mountains, deep glens, waterfalls and beautiful forests.
Inverness is the main big city in the Highlands, generally considered to be the capital of the region. It's also a major transport hub with the main international airport for the area, receiving flights from within the UK as well as from other parts of Europe. There are bus and rail connections to other parts of Scotland too, so it's a great spot to base yourself for further exploration.
Is Scotland safe for gay travellers?
Absolutely! As a part of the UK, Scotland has long been embracing diversity and LGBTQ rights for years. In some respects, Scotland is one of the more gay friendly parts of the UK and was recently recognised as one of the most gay friendly countries in Europe. Gay marriage was legalised in 2014, while a full range of anti-discrimination laws have been in place since 2010, which include hate crime laws against homosexuality and gender identity.
As gay travellers in Scotland, we felt extremely welcome and never had any issues anywhere. Getting a double bed was never a problem in the places we stayed and we didn't feel like we were being treated any different to straight travellers. However, as with all places in the world, there are always going to be pockets of homophobia prevalent in the more rural areas, so just be aware of this if venturing out into the wilderness.
For gay travellers to Inverness and the Scottish Highlands, be sure to check out the Proud Ness events, which includes a Pride event in July.
Gay hotels in Inverness
Whilst there are no outright gay or male-only hotels in Inverness, there are many charming lodges in and around the city, which make for a really romantic trip. Hotels in the area are more than accustomed to dealing with LGBTQ travellers, so you won't have any issues here!
These are some of the best gay friendly hotels we found in and around Inverness, which we particularly loved:
Why we love it
- Beautiful log cabins with grass roofs
- Idyllic stay surrounded by nature
- Romantic packages available
- Snuggle up with your lover in front of the fireplace
The Scottish Highlands are synonymous with epic landscapes, the sort you can imagine Gandalf and Frodo trailing through. The country is so famous for its landscapes that it was voted as the world's best cinematic destination in an online poll for USA Today.
As such, we wanted to really immerse ourselves within this glorious setting, so we stayed at the luxurious Eagle Brae, located right in the heart of the Scottish Highlands. It is around 35km/22m (45 minutes drive) from Inverness.
Eagle Brae's log cabins are built around an old Highland broch on an elevated ridge overlooking Strathglass. Here, you're completely surrounded by nature, with curious deer greeting you in the morning and grass growing on the roof of the cabins. If you book a romantic package you'll be treated to an intimate dinner, bottle of wine, a rose-petal turndown and a luxurious highland hamper to enjoy.
We love the rustic feel of Eagle Brae. Inside, however, the cabins are absolutely delicious, with full kitchen, hand-carved wooden panels giving it a cosy feel. Our favourite feature: the fireplace. There is nothing more romantic than snuggling up together in a log cabin by the fireplace, right in the heart of the Scottish highlands.
Why we love it
- Luxury 5-star hotel
- Great central location
- Delicious on-site restaurant and a garden bistro
- Impeccable and warm service
Beside the Ness River in beautiful Inverness is Ness Walk – a gorgeous five star luxury hotel surrounded by gardens. The rooms and suites in Ness Walk are named for the many stately trees surrounding the property. Choose from cedar, laurel or oak rooms, or the Wellingtonia and Rowan Suites for an extra touch of opulence!
All rooms and suites feature lavish furnishings, creating a space that’s elegant yet contemporary. We loved our spacious suite and the stunning views over the grounds, but even the ‘regular’ rooms have either lovely views or cute private terraces.
Ness Walk also houses the Torrish restaurant, where you can enjoy breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner alongside a view over the Ness River. There’s also a heated bistro and bar in the garden for fabulous cocktails with small plates. It looks particularly magical at night with lights strung from the trees. And if you want to try fine dining out in Inverness, it’s just a short walk down the road until you’re in the city center.
From the moment we arrived and were greeted warmly by the staff we felt totally at home at Ness Walk. The concierge service made us feel like celebrities as they bring your luggage in when you arrive and take it to your car when you leave. If you’re not driving yourself you can also take advantage of Ness Walk’s fleet of luxury cars to visit nearby attractions.
Bunchrew House Hotel
Why we love it
- Historic Scottish mansion that looks like a castle
- Every room is luxurious and unique
- Have a Highland high tea in the beautiful gardens
- See local wildlife in the surrounding woodland
If you want to feel like a princess prancing around a castle, then you'll definitely want to stay at the Bunchrew House Hotel! This 17th-century Scottish mansion just outside of Inverness overlooks the picturesque Beauly Firth.
Parts of the house date back to 1505, so it's rich in historical charm. Each room is individually decorated and named after local places or Scottish clans associated with the house.
Each room is opulent and cosy, with little touches of hospitality like fresh milk delivered daily to your room. Some of the rooms have four-poster beds while one has a private spa bath and another its own private conservatory! The hotel is surrounded by beautiful landscaped gardens and woodland, so you'll get to see plenty of wildlife including squirrels, pine marten, deer and ospreys.
It's especially charming to have a Highland high tea in the gardens, or even better, a few cheeky Highland G+Ts afternoon tea – no really it's a thing. They even have many different types of gin to choose from for it. You can also dine on seasonal dishes in the wood-panelled restaurant and try some of the finest malt whiskies in the cocktail bar. Our favourite thing is the two log fireplaces in the elegant drawing-room, which is super romantic to snuggle up by in the evening when temperatures drop to freezing.
Why we love it
- Cute bed and breakfast with tartan touches
- Great location in the heart of Inverness
- Warm and welcoming hosts
- Delicious continental breakfast included in rates
This is one of the best gay friendly hotels to stay if you want to be located in the centre of Inverness. Tanera Guesthouse is a lovely bed and breakfast located in a charming Victorian-era villa just minutes walking distance to Inverness train station.
Surrounded by a pretty little rose garden, which is a great spot to sit and relax, this is a cosy medium budget choice. It only has four guest rooms, which makes it very homely, made even more so by the charming hosts: Naomi and Al.
A continental breakfast of toast, pastries, cereals, fruit, tea and coffee is included in the room rate, but you can also order cooked items at a small extra cost. We loved the touches of tartan in our room, and the bed was incredibly comfy, providing a perfect night's sleep.
This is a wonderful place if you want to explore the great cafes and restaurants in the area, while the hosts are also happy to make recommendations for nearby attractions. They also own an adorable dachshund who we totally wanted to smuggle home with us!
Shenval Bed & Breakfast
Why we love it
- Very affordable choice
- Eco-friendly bed and breakfast
- Great location for hiking and relaxing in nature
- Full organic Scottish breakfast included in rates
Shenval Bed and Breakfast is beautiful and idyllic. It is located in a rural setting, surrounded by an organic fruit and vegetable garden.
It's about 40 minutes drive from this cute cottage to Inverness, so you're ideally situated for hiking, spotting wildlife and generally exploring the area of Glen Affric. Husband and wife team Pierre and Christiane give you a very warm welcome, as well as sharing plenty of local knowledge.
Shenval promotes green tourism, with organic food, low energy equipment, eco-friendly cleaning products, recycling and composting. They cater for all sorts of dietary requirements and include a yummy cooked Scottish breakfast with the room rate. They can also help you organise dinner or picnic baskets during your stay as well.
The building with the rooms is a former forestry house, which was in turn built on the site of a prehistoric hut. This is the perfect spot if you are looking to go hiking in the Highlands, as the B&B is located right on the long-distance Affric-Kintail Way walking trail, and close to numerous other hiking trails.
Gay bars and clubs in Inverness
If you're coming to the Scottish Highlands looking for gay parties, you're going to be disappointed. Save that for Glasgow and Edinburgh, which both have large queer scenes. Inverness is the main city for the Scottish Highlands and whilst it doesn't have any official gay bars or clubs, these are the few gay friendly hangouts we rate:
Bar One is the place in Inverness to go for cocktails. Since 2009, Bar One has been pioneering the cocktail scene in Inverness, with amazing creations like the Bubblegum Daquiri, the Aurora Borealis (which looks like the Northern Lights in a glass) or the Pennywise, served with an atomised chocolate helium-filled balloon! Bar One is open daily until around 1am and can be found at 1 Academy Street, close to the Inverness train station.
We adooore Hootananny because it's one of the best pubs to come in Inverness to watch live Gaelic folk music. Every evening, a live band performs, complete with bagpipes, fiddle, accordion and sometimes a clàrsach (Scottish harp). Also, look out for the monthly comedy nights upstairs. Hootenanny is open daily until around 1am (3am on weekends) and is located at 67 Church Street.
Gay events in Inverness
The main gay event in Inverness is Pride, which is organised by Proud Ness. There are also a few other fabulous annual events in Inverness to look out for:
Pride with Proud Ness (July)
Pride with Proud Ness began in October 2018 and was the first gay event in the Highlands, attracting huge crowds. The event dates change each year, but it usually in the summer in July. It includes a march through the streets of Inverness, which finishes in Bught Park. Here there are speeches, live music, stalls, food, drink, a funfair for kids, parties and even a “Ruff Ness Dog Show”!
The Coming Back Out Ball (May)
This gay event is a series of social dance club events specifically created for the older LGBTQ crowd to meet new people and celebrate a shared identity. Originally pioneered in Australia by arts company All The Queens Men, spring 2020 will be the first time the project is delivered outside of Australia. There will be events held in Glasgow and Inverness, so make sure you keep an eye on their website for more details closer to the dates!
Festival Fortnight – Scotland’s LGBTI Sports Festival (June):
Taking place all around Scotland in June, LEAP's Sports Festival Fortnight aims to increase the visibility and participation of LGBTI people in Scottish sport. As well as sporting events, this festival includes a range of interesting cultural, social, academic and recreational events. There are a LOT of things to see and do, so check their website for the latest programme.
Inverness Music Festival (March)
For something a little different, you might like to attend the Inverness Music Festival. This is a competitive event that allows people of all ages and abilities to display their skills in singing or musical instruments. You can purchase tickets to watch the performances ahead of time, which we recommend because they sell out pretty fast.
Burns Night Celebrations (January)
Burns Night, sometimes also called Burns Supper, Robert Burns Day, Robbie Burns Day or Rabbie Burns Day, is an event that takes place everywhere in Scotland on the 25th January to celebrate the life and poetry of Scottish poet Robert Burns. Widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland, Robert Burns was born on the 25th January and became the most well-known poet in the world for writing in the Scots dialect. Auld Lange Syne, the song sung at midnight on New Year's Eve, is probably his most famous. On Burns Night, many Scots hold a dinner complete with bagpipes, speeches, toasts, traditional Scottish foods like haggis and recite (or sing) his most famous poems.
Best gay friendly restaurants in and around Inverness
Since Inverness is the capital of the Highlands there are a lot of great restaurants, cafes and places to eat. You can choose from cosy pubs, romantic restaurants and taste cuisine from the Highlands or around the world. These were our favourite gay friendly spots where we had some great meals:
The Mustard Seed
Located in what used to be a church, The Mustard Seed is a very romantic spot right next to the River Ness. With split-level areas and a cosy wood-fire in winter, you'll be able to enjoy stunning views towards Inverness Castle while dining on modern Scottish cuisine. This place is very popular so you will definitely need to reserve a table ahead of time. We loved the perfectly cooked steak, incredible homemade cheesecake for dessert and extensive wine list. In summer, try to get a table on the outside balcony for the most romantic view.
Culloden House Hotel
If you're looking for somewhere really romantic and fancy, perhaps for a special occasion, you can't go past the restaurant at the Culloden House Hotel. This is the historic house where Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed for the nights before the ill-fated battle of Culloden. Now you can stay in the gracious rooms or just visit to enjoy the superb local produce served in the restaurant. The dress code is ‘smart casual', so no trainers, hats or collarless shirts. The meals are fantastic, with dishes like Loch Fyne salmon, sweet Orkney crab and Scotch beef fillet from the Highlands. They also have an extensive whisky menu, so make sure you sample some!
Another beautiful restaurant with gorgeous views of Inverness Castle is Rocpool. With a focus on local, fresh produce, Rocpool is also the place to come for some of the best seafood dishes in Inverness. The restaurant is constructed from glass on two sides, all the better to enjoy the views outside. The service is impeccable, as is the food. We really enjoyed the chanterelle mushrooms sautéed in garlic and parsley butter with soft fried duck egg, black pudding & shaved parmesan. Rocpool also has affordable set menus for lunch or early evening dining, in case you want to eat before catching a show.
If you're looking for excellent vegan cuisine in Inverness, look no further than the wonderful Alleycat restaurant. The Alleycat is Inverness' first fully vegan restaurant, serving meat-free versions of haggis as well as chicken, bacon and hot dogs. The baked treats and desserts are especially mouthwatering – make sure you try a “mallownut”, which is a vegan version of a doughnut! They also have a wonderful ‘pay-it-forward' initiative, where you can leave a donation for someone in need to use later. The decor is also really groovy, with lots of 1980s memorabilia and a boom box.
On the banks of Loch Ness, a little way out of Inverness is the prettiest little inn you'll probably ever see! Dores Inn is a traditional family-run inn surrounded by spectacular scenery. In summer you can sit in the beer garden and look out over the Loch, while in winter you can cosy up inside next to the wood-fire. You'll be guaranteed a warm welcome no matter when you go, but make sure you book ahead as the inn is popular with locals and visitors alike. They have a large selection of malt whiskies, local gins, real ales and fine wines to sample. The inn is also open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Best things to do in Inverness and the Highlands
Most will come here to learn more about the Loch Ness Monster myth, but there are also many other things to do, least of all soaking up the gorgeous scenery of the Scottish Highlands.
Search for Nessie the Loch Ness Monster
This mythical aquatic long-necked dragon-like creature, which supposedly inhabits the dark, gloomy deep waters of the Loch Ness, has caused a lot of excitement in the Scottish highlands. Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, is serious business here, with over 1,000 official sightings to date, spurring a huge debate and research amongst scientists as to whether or not she truly is real. You can learn more about the different Loch Ness Monster theories at the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition museum and reach your own conclusion as to whether or not Nessie really exists (or is more of a very savvy myth that beautifully helps drive tourism to the area!)
Visit a haunted castle on the Loch Ness
We went on a guided cruise along Loch Ness which also included entrance to Urquhart Castle. We loved it because the guides don't take themselves too seriously, giving a fun detailed history of the area, along with a full explanation of the Loch Ness monster myth. Loch Ness has pretty impressive scenery including the gorgeous haunted Urquhart Castle, which is clouded with its own mysteries. According to legend, there are 2 secret chambers beneath the castle, one containing gold, the other the plague. No one has ever dared search for the treasure for fear they may open the wrong chamber!
Rent a kilt and parade around Inverness Castle
Scottish kilts actually originated right here in the highlands near Inverness back in the 1500s. Back then they were traditionally worn in battle by the Scottish Highlanders. Today kilts are the official national dress of Scotland, worn mainly at state functions, also at weddings, funerals, festivals and, of course, by curious tourists like us! For anyone wondering, yes, of course, we wore them “traditionally” (ie commando)…it would simply be rude not to eh? You can rent kilts for the day from many shops in central Inverness like Chisholms, then parade around the beautiful Inverness Castle for the ultimate photo.
See Glen Affric for inspiring and magical scenery
A “glen” is the Scottish word for a deep valley in the highlands. Glen Affric is located around 24km/15m west of Loch Ness and is named after the River Affric, which runs through it. It has over 30 miles of ancient pinewoods, which we loved trekking through. Glen Affric is a definite highlight of the Scottish Highlands and was one of the most scenic things we experienced during our road trip around Inverness. It's often named as one of the most beautiful glens in Scotland, which is why it is often used as the location for many films, like the Judi Dench Victoria & Abdul and also Valhalla Rising. There's also plenty of wildlife to look out for in Glen Affric, especially woodland birds, ospreys, otters, red deer stags and red/black-throated divers.
Watch the ships sail into Fort Augustus
Fort Augustus is a small but bustling picturesque hamlet located at the southwestern end of Loch Ness. It is worth checking out to see the boats crossing through the famous Caledonian Canal, which cuts through the centre of the village. It reminded us of a smaller version of the Panama Canal. We loved coming here to sit outside one of the cafes or restaurants watching the boats passing through the series of locks on the canal. Fort Augustus is also home to a very interesting museum called The Clansman Centre – where you can learn all about what life was like in the Highlands during the 17th-century.
Learn about the battle of Culloden
Inverness is very close to the famous battlefield of Culloden, where the Jacobite forces led by Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”) were defeated by the British in 1746. After the rebellion was squashed, the British enacted a number of laws which saw many Highlander traditions banned, including the wearing of tartan. Today there is an interactive visitor centre at Culloden, where you can learn more about the sobering history and then walk among the headstones erected to remember the many fallen clans. Although it's quite a sobering experience, it's nonetheless extremely fascinating and therefore a must-do for visitors to the Highlands.
Taste some Scottish whisky
Scotland is renowned for its tasty whisky, many varieties of which are produced right here in the Highlands. Trying whisky in a bar is all well and good, but for a really interesting experience, we recommend taking a tour of a whisky distillery. Getting to learn about the ancient process of making whisky, as well as a wee dram for yourself, is not a bad way to spend a day! If you're travelling by car then it's also easy to visit some of the most famous distilleries in the area, such as the Glenfiddich distillery, located next to the Balvenie Castle ruins.
Take a day trip to the Isle of Skye
One of the most beautiful and popular destinations in the Scottish Highlands is the picturesque Isle of Skye. If you don't have your own car you can organise a tour from Inverness to Skye to see spots like the colourful harbour town of Portree, Kilt Rock and the Old Man of Storr. The scenery of Skye is incredible and it's filled with wildlife like deer, eagles and puffins. Make sure you also make a pit stop to Eilean Donan Castle, one of Scotland's most iconic, which has featured in multiple films like The World is Not Enough, Highlander, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Made of Honor!
Try some Haggis
Haggis is the local speciality in Scotland and the country's national dish. It is a savoury pudding containing sheep's heart, liver and lungs, which is minced with onions, oatmeal and spices. It's certainly an acquired taste if you're not used to it. Most restaurants here will serve up this local delicacy. Locals told us that the Castle Tavern in Inverness is the place to come for the best haggis in all of Scotland! Whilst it has an interesting nutty flavour, we struggled with it largely because of the thought of what it contains. But don't let that put you off. Haggis is served throughout the year, especially during Burns Night, and usually accompanied with mashed ‘neeps (turnips) and ‘tatties (potatoes).
Feel like a princess at the Cawdor and Dunrobin Castles
Scotland is home to some stunning castles, perfect for enacting all those Elsa fantasies! There are three gorgeous castles you can easily visit from Inverness, like Urquhart (which we've mentioned) Dunrobin and Cawdor. Dunrobin (pictured) is such a picturesque castle (look at those turrets!), surrounded by very pretty gardens. Cawdor Castle is a must-see for fans of Shakespeare, as this is where Macbeth (aka the “Thane of Cawdor”), started off in the famous play. Cawdor Castle has more of a fortress feel than Dunrobin but the gardens are just as quaint.
Tips to prepare your trip
We've put together some handy hints and tips to help you plan your own trip to Inverness. Read on to find out everything the gay traveller should know before they go.
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Visa requirements: If you are a member of the EU or the European Economic Area then you don't need a visa to enter the United Kingdom (unless of course, Brexit goes through!) but all other nationalities will need to apply for an entrance visa. You can easily check your visa requirements and apply for a visa here.
Power Plugs: In the United Kingdom power plug and socket type G is used. If you are travelling from anywhere outside of the UK then you will need to bring a travel adaptor with you.
Travel insurance: We never travel without using travel insurance because you just never know when something might go wrong which has you forking out a lot of cash. We definitely recommend WorldNomads travel insurance because their cover is very comprehensive and it's easy to make a claim online if you have to.
Vaccinations: The CDC recommends that all travellers to the United Kingdom should be up to date with routine vaccinations like measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox etc. You may also need vaccinations for Hepatitis A, B and rabies, so check online based on where you are coming from.
Currency: The currency used in Scotland (and the rest of the United Kingdom) is pound sterling, also called the British pound, and abbreviated to GBP. £1 converts to about €1.12 or $1.23 US.
Tipping culture: While Scotland doesn't have as much of a tipping culture as, say, the United States, you should probably still tip around 10% for good service in restaurants or hotels. In cabs, you would generally round up to the nearest note amount.
Internet access: Scotland has excellent internet services, so you should be able to access fast and reliable wifi in hostels, hotels, cafes etc. You can also usually pay to use computers at internet cafes or for free at local libraries.
Online privacy: Since Scotland is, in general, a very gay friendly place you shouldn't have any problems using gay dating apps like Grindr or Scruff. But if you prefer to keep your internet use private we suggest using a reliable VPN like those provided by ExpressVPN.
Accommodation: For more accommodation options in Inverness, we always like to use Booking.com to see what's available. They have lots of excellent choices, many of which come with free cancellation if needed, and their online customer support is also outstanding.
Sightseeing and adventure: There are plenty more fun things to do in and around Inverness than the ones we've mentioned here. We love using GetYourGuide to find the best tours and activities. The online booking system is easy to use and they also offer 24/7 online support.
When to visit: Even summer in Scotland can get fairly cold, but if you want to avoid the crowds then the best time to visit is during spring or autumn. You can also brave the cold of winter if you want to see snow and snuggle up by a romantic log fire.
Gay map of Inverness
Make sure you use this handy map of all the places we've mentioned in this article to plan your own fabulous trip to Inverness and the area nearby.
For more inspiration:
- If you're travelling in the UK then you should check out the gay scene in Manchester
- You should definitely see these gay musicals and theatre shows in London
- As well as the best drag clubs in London where you'll have a fabulous time!
- Read about why we love celebrating Pride in London
- These are the most gay friendly cities in Europe for you to visit
- While you might be surprised by these gay friendly cities in East Europe
- And don't miss out on staying in one of these awesome gay hostels in Europe during your travels
- These are the best gay beaches in Europe if you're looking to catch some rays