Prior to August 2019, I’d never heard of Inveraray. I would have struggled to spell it, let alone point to it on a map of Scotland. It was just the name of a place that I vaguely associated with a castle.
Happily, a friend I was meeting there had a better knowledge of Scotland than I and chose well. A place of which I had zero expectations, became one of the highlights of my trip to Scotland, which started in Oban and ended in Glasgow.
Inveraray is a set piece of Georgian architecture in a remarkable setting. This charming county town of Argyll, with its characteristic black and white terraces, sits on the shore of Loch Fyne, Scotland’s largest sea loch and is framed by mountains. Rich in history, Inveraray was built in 1770 by the Duke of Argyll, the chief of Clan Campbell, who have ruled this area since the 13th Century.
Although it is deservedly popular with day-trippers, there are enough things to do in Inveraray and the surrounding area to warrant a two-night stay. These were enough for me to fall in love with the place. Perhaps it will cast its spell on you too.
What to do in Inveraray in two days
Here is my pick of things to do if you are spending two days in Inveraray.
1. Visit Inveraray Castle
Let’s start by visiting the town’s showstopper, Inveraray Castle. The ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll, visitor numbers to this fairy-tale castle have soared following its appearance in the Christmas 2012 episode of Downton Abbey. In case you missed this episode, stills are proudly displayed in the castle’s rooms.
If you have visited the Loire valley, Inveraray Castle will be instantly recognisable. Built in 1746, it’s a pleasing blend of architectural styles; Baroque meets Gothic and they both shake hands with Palladio. Family photographs of past and present Dukes of Argyll on display remind us that this remains a family home.
Whilst it’s fair to say that Inveraray Castle is more striking on the outside than the inside, its Armoury hall is impressive. Soaring to a height of 21 meters, it is said to be the highest room of any Scottish castle. Its cabinets house an impressive array of items associated with Clan Campbell and Highland history, including a small collection on Rob Roy.
Make sure that you leave enough time to walk in the castle’s grounds, which include manicured gardens and woodlands. If you are very lucky, you’ll spot a rare red squirrel.
Inveraray Castle opening hours and admission cost
- Inveraray Castle is open daily from April to the end of October, from 10 am to 5.45 pm.
- An adult ticket costs £12.50 (2019).
2. Climb to Dun na Chuaiche
Turn your gaze upwards from Inveraray Castle, and you’ll spot an 18th Century watchtower on the top of the hill.
Are you feeling fit? If so, take the 1.5-mile steep walking route from the castle’s car park through woodland to the summit. Allow at least an hour to make the return journey.
Passing lime and conifer trees and the remains of a lime kiln, you’ll reach Dun na Chuaiche – literally meaning ‘the hill of the cup, bowl or quaiche’ – at an elevation of 248 meters. The climb is well worth it for the sweeping views across Inveraray Castle and the town to Loch Fyne and the glens beyond.
3. Visit Inveraray Jail
Strange as it may sound, visiting the old jail is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Inveraray.
When Inveraray Jail welcomed its first guests in 1820, prisoners thanked their lucky stars that they had not been committed 100 years earlier. In the 17th Century, punishment was quick, painful and often final. A lack of prisons meant that custodial sentences were not feasible.
Armed with an excellent audio guide, you first learn about some of the area’s most notorious crimes. Then witness the re-enactment of a trial, staged in the original courthouse, first used around 170 years ago. The Circuit Court visited Inveraray twice a year to hear the most serious cases and the last hearings were in the 1930s.
More interesting still is visiting the old and new prison blocks. Inveraray Jail was no picnic for its first inmates. Cells were cold and damp. There was no heating of any description, no washroom, no toilet and up to 28 prisoners – men, women and children, the sane and insane – lived cheek-to-jowl in eight overcrowded cells.
The prisoners’ lot became better with the opening of the new prison in 1849. Considered to be a model prison in its day, its four floors boasted individual cells, a toilet on every floor and hot water.
Inveraray Jail opening hours and admission cost
- Inveraray Jail is open daily year-round except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. April to October, 9,30 am to 5 pm; November to March 10 am to 4 pm.
- An adult ticket costs £12.25 (2019). Discount available if you show your ticket to Inveraray Castle.
4. Drive Argyll’s Secret Coast to Tighnabruaich
Are you looking for a scenic drive? If so, take the high road from Inveraray to Tighnabruaich.
Sandwiched between Kintyre to the west and Bute to the east, Argyll’s Secret Coast is stuffed full of options for walking and exploration. We took a fabulous drive from Inveraray, via Dunoon – where the US nuclear subs were parked up back in the day – to the conservation village of Tighnabruaich on the shore of the Kyles of Bute.
If you have time, stop en route at Benmore Botanic Garden, famous for its 300 species of rhododendrons and its avenue of 150-year-old giant redwoods.
5. Visit Luss and Loch Lomond
By virtue of its legendary beauty, I had great expectations of Loch Lomond and I’m pleased to report that the bonnie, bonnie banks of the UK’s largest inland stretch of water did not disappoint me. Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park boast lush forest parks, crystalline lochs and 22 mountains (or munros as they are called in Scotland). It’s easy to understand why Loch Lomond is a popular day trip from Glasgow.
I spent one night in Ardlui, a popular stop for those hiking the West Highland Way, before meeting up with friends. But if you have to pick one place to visit on Loch Lomond, I would plump for the conservation village of Luss, which you can easily visit from Inveraray.
The village’s postcard-perfect cottages, festooned with elaborate displays of flowers, were built in the 18th and 19th centuries to house those working in the nearby slate quarries. Luss’s location on the shores of Loch Lomond is the icing on the cake. From the pier, you can take a scenic cruise on the loch and the village also has its own beach.
Getting to Luss from Inveraray
If you don’t have a car, take bus 926 or 976. The journey takes around 50 minutes. The journey time from Inveraray to Luss by car is just over half an hour. Luss also makes an excellent stop between Inveraray and Glasgow.
6. Rest and Be Thankful
Between Luss and Inveraray is Rest And Be Thankful. This famous mountain pass between Glen Kinglass and Glen Croe is in the heart of Argyll Forest Park, which boasts rugged munros, tranquil lochs and lush vegetation.
But what about that name? Rest And Be Thankful were the words inscribed on a stone who built by soldiers who built a military road here in the 1740s.
How to get from Inveraray to Rest And Be Thankful
- Rest And Be Thankful is 20 minutes by car from Inveraray via the A82 and A83.
- Bus numbers 976, 926 and 302 ply this route also. The journey time from Inveraray is 25 minutes.
7. Eat excellent seafood
We feasted like kings and queens in Inveraray! Here are my recommended places to eat.
The Oyster Catcher, Otter Ferry
Locally sourced food in a wonderful location on the east bank of Loch Fyne.
The Creggans Inn, Strachur
Excellent service and a seasonal menu in a place with an interesting history.
In 1957, Sir Fitzroy MacLean and Lady Veronica MacLean bought Strachur Estate, including The Creggans Inn. Fitzroy MacLean was like a character lifted from the pages of Boys’ Own; an original member of the SAS and also Winston Churchill’s personal representative in German-occupied Yugoslavia. So much so, that it is said that his exploits in the war inspired his friend Ian Fleming to create the character of James Bond.
Loch Fyne Oyster Bar, Inveraray
Not to be confused with the chain of seafood eateries, this restaurant, ten minutes down the road from Inveraray and overlooking Loch Fyne, serves the freshest oysters and sublime seafood. It also has an excellent deli.
Loch Fyne Oyster Bar is not open for dinner.
Where to stay in Inveraray
We stayed at Thistle House Guest House in St Catherine’s, on the other side of Loch Fyne. Highly recommended for the hospitality of the hosts, Jennifer and Alistair, the wonderful Scottish breakfasts and beautiful property. It costs from around £90 per night per room.
How to get to Inveraray
- This is an area where it pays to have a car. However, you can reach Inveraray by public transport.
- From Glasgow, take the 926 or 976 bus from Buchanan Bus Station. The journey takes approximately 1 hour 45 minutes.
- The nearest train station is Dalmally, 15 miles away. From the railway station, the 976 bus will bring you to Inveraray in just under 30 minutes.
- Plan your bus journey on Scottish Citylink