Outlander fans cruising to Scotland will want to see some of the sites made famous by the books and the TV show. I did an amazing DIY Outlander shore excursion from Invergordon (Inverness)—and here’s how you can, too.
On our 12-day British Isles cruise on Royal Caribbean, I was so excited to visit the Inverness area in the heart of the Scottish Highlands!
As huge Outlander fans, Mr. SBC and I knew that our visit to Inverness (from the nearby port of Invergordon) needed to include as many sites from Diana Gabaldon’s books and the TV series as we could fit into our day in port.
The only other thing I wanted to see from the port of Invergordon was Loch Ness, but I was willing to give up a potential Nessie sighting for the chance to see ancient standing stones and visit Culloden Battlefield.
Booking our DIY Outlander shore excursion
Royal Caribbean didn’t offer an Outlander shore excursion, so I decided to look for a local company that offered a group tour. But despite hours of digging online, all I could find were multi-day Outlander tours or nine-plus hour day trips that weren’t geared to cruise ship visitors.
I knew I could hire a private car and driver for the day, but that would be an expensive proposition for just the two of us.
Our original DIY Outlander tour idea
I finally decided on a completely DIY Outlander tour—we’d take an Uber from Invergordon cruise port to Clava Cairns (one of the inspirations for Craigh na Dun), which would be about a 40-minute drive. Then we’d either walk or take the bus for a mile and a half to Culloden Battlefield.
We’d next take a 15-minute Uber to Inverness to explore the city for a few hours, then head back to the ship—about a 30-minute drive.
But when we disembarked at Invergordon, Uber initially quoted us over £80 for just the first leg of our trip. Then my phone immediately said “no drivers available”. Drat.
We hurried past the two tour company kiosks at the port to the taxi stand. I flagged down the guy who looked to be in charge of the taxi operation and asked how much for a taxi to Clava Cairns.
“Aye, there are nae taxis available,” he said. “Unless you want a private taxi for the day. That’ll run ye about £45 an hour.”
I must have looked dejected (I’ll admit I have the worst poker face), so he directed us back to the tour company booths, explaining that we still had time to book a group shore excursion if we hurried.
Shore excursion options at Invergordon cruise port
Invergordon is a small port, so you won’t find lots of last-minute tour options like you often find at larger ports.
Invergordon Bus Tours looked to be the less expensive option of the two, with several group coach tour options in the £25-35 range per person.
They actually offer a tour that features several of the stops we wanted to see (and more), but one of the guides let me know it had already left—full of cruisers who had pre-booked.
I then chatted with the representative at Scotland Taxi Tours. They offer both set private tours and DIY options, but the cheapest rate is £45 per hour for a four-seater taxi with a tour guide.
Once we knew what our options were, we decided to have a quick “pros and cons” discussion about choosing between a very affordable (but not Outlander-centric) group coach tour, or splurging on a pricey private taxi for the day.
We find more frustrated Outlander fans
As we chatted (and Mr. SBC made it clear that my frugal but Outlander-loving self was going to have to make the final decision), I overheard another couple who seemed to be in a very similar situation.
I struck up a conversation and learned that they wanted to see many of the same Outlander sites that we did, and had actually spent several hundred dollars booking a day-long coach tour. But their tour company sent them a last-minute email while they were on the ship (without WiFi access) changing the tour’s start time.
They missed their Outlander tour, and the tour company (which wasn’t one of those at the port) refused to refund their money.
I asked if they’d like to split a private tour through Scotland Taxi Tours, which would cut our price in half—much more affordable! Our new friends enthusiastically said yes, and we all piled into a comfy VW minivan to start our jaunt around the Inverness area.
Meeting our driver for the day
Our friendly driver had a quick chat with us to find out which stops we’d most like to see, and he came up with an itinerary that he estimated would take between six and seven hours.
He mentioned that we could stop wherever we wanted along the route for photo ops (or bathroom breaks), and we were soon on our way!
What sites did we visit on our Outlander tour from Invergordon?
- The Singleton Distillery
- Beauly Priory (location from Outlander novels)
- Urquhart Castle / Loch Ness (location from Outlander novels)
- Inverness (location from Outlander novels)
- Culloden Battlefield (location from Outlander novels)
- Clava Cairns (inspiration for the stones at Craigh na Dun)
- Cawdor Castle (example of a clan castle like those referenced in the novels)
- Invergordon High Street (back to the port)
Interactive map of our Outlander shore excursion
The Singleton Distillery
Our first stop on the tour had nothing to do with Outlander. But our guide asked if we were interested in picking up some very nice local whisky at a historic distillery.
Mr. SBC gave an enthusiastic yes, and our new friends had promised to bring back a bottle for a coworker, so we decided a short stop at the distillery was in order.
The Singleton of Glen Ord is the last single malt distillery in the Black Isle—the peninsula that includes Invergordon and Inverness.
Tip: If you’re planning on bringing back some whisky from Scotland, check how much alcohol you’re allowed to carry back into your home country tax-free. For visitors from the US, it’s one liter per person. For Canadians it’s 1.14 litres, and for Australians, it’s 2.25 litres per person.
We spent about 20 minutes at the distillery—not enough time for a full tour (you can pre-book a tour if you want to spend more time learning about their offerings). We had a full tour coming up at Glengoyne Distillery near Glasgow later in the cruise, so a quick visit was all we needed.
Our stop gave us enough time for Mr. SBC to sample some whisky and choose a bottle that isn’t available back home in the US.
Our next stop on the Outlander trail was to the gorgeous ruin of Beauly Priory, featured in Dragonfly in Amber (the second novel in the series) and also commonly touted as a filming location for season two of the TV series.
As we explored the ruins, we were all trying to remember which scene in the series was filmed at Beauly Priory. It’d been a few years since we’d watched season two!
In Dragonfly in Amber, Beauly Priory is where Claire meets Maisri (Lord Lovat’s seer) and they discuss Maisri’s visions about the Frasers.
Once I returned home, I rewatched the scene in the TV series (it’s season 2 episode 8) to find that Beauly isn’t the filming location for this scene—it was filmed in a chapel that definitely had an intact roof.
In another Outlander connection, the real-life Hugh Fraser, 3rd Lord Lovat, was buried at Beauly Priory after he was killed at the Battle of the Shirts in 1544. Since Jamie’s grandfather in the series was the 11th Lord Lovat, Hugh Fraser would have been his 6th great-grandfather.
The thirteenth-century priory and its grounds are open to the public and free to enter. If you’re a fan of visiting old cemeteries, plan for a little extra time to wander in the walled burial yard outside of the priory—as well as the graves inside to see the final resting places of generations of Frasers and MacKenzies.
Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness
Next we headed south, for a scenic drive along Loch Ness. Most famous for the legendary Nessie, picturesque Loch Ness is the second-largest lake in Scotland.
Near the village of Drumnadrochit sits the ruins of Urquhart Castle, overlooking the lake’s mysterious waters.
Although the scene didn’t make it into the TV show, fans of the Outlander novels might remember that Claire and Frank visited Urquhart Castle on a day trip.
We didn’t spot a water horse like Claire did, but we were able to enjoy a stunning view of the 13th-century castle ruins perched on the lake’s edge.
Urquhart Castle is open for tours, but when we visited it was so busy that the parking lot was full. With its long history it’s one of the most-visited castles in Scotland, so consider pre-buying tickets before your trip.
Castle admission is £12 for adults, £9.50 for seniors, £7 for kids, and under-5s are free.
In order to see all of the Outlander sites in the Inverness area, our driver let us know we’d only have time for a short driving tour through the city of Inverness.
I was a little disappointed, especially as walking around Inverness was part of my original plan for the day. I pictured the quaint Inverness street in the first episode of the series, where Claire and Frank stayed at Mrs. Baird’s B&B for their second honeymoon.
But once we started driving through Inverness, one of Europe’s fastest-growing cities, it was clear that my romantic 1940s vision of the place didn’t quite line up with today’s reality.
Midcentury-style buildings now stand side-by-side with charming stone structures from bygone eras. Today’s Inverness is far more bustling than the sleepy town you might have in mind!
The actual filming location for season one’s Inverness scenes was the village of Falkland, about an hour north of Edinburgh.
The third Outlander book, Voyager, and season three of the TV series both feature the Battle of Culloden, the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745.
I won’t include any spoilers for anyone who hasn’t made it this far in the novels or the show, but the historic battle left between 1500 and 2000 Jacobite casualties. Many of the dead were buried in mass graves on the moor.
As Culloden Moor is considered a war grave, filming for the series actually occurred in a field at Greengairs, near Cumbernauld (about 315 miles / 507 km to the south).
We had about an hour to visit the battlefield, so we focused on finding the stone clan markers that serve as memorials to the dead. But looking out over the moor from the Visitors Centre, we spotted a tiny thatched-roof cottage we needed to check out first.
It was Leanach Cottage, the last remaining farmstead on the moor. The single-story structure dates to the early 18th century, and may have been used as a field hospital for government troops during the battle.
The rustic cottage was a private home until 1912, and after its restoration served as the battlefield’s first visitor center.
Following the footpaths to the next visible landmark on the sweeping moor, we made our way to the Memorial Cairn, a 16-foot high (5 m) beehive-shaped monument. Erected in 1881, the stone and mortar structure is dedicated to the Highlanders who died in the battle.
Nearby are many of the clan markers we were looking for (which were also added to the field the same year).
We spotted dozens of these markers, each inscribed with a clan name. Passing stones for clans MacIntosh, Cameron, Stewart, and several others, we finally found Clan Fraser—the only stone decorated with flowers due to the popularity of the Outlander series.
Heading back to the Visitor Centre, we realized we wouldn’t have time to tour the museum housed inside. But our driver had mentioned that the café on site was good, so we stopped for a quick cafeteria-style meal of hearty soup and fresh bread.
Oddly, although it was only 1:30 PM, the restaurant looked to be about to close with only a few food options left. So if you’re planning to eat here on your Outlander shore excursion, I’d suggest timing it to have an early lunch!
Culloden Battlefield is open to the public daily and is free to enter. If you’d like to also visit the museum, tickets are £14 for adults, £11 for students and seniors, and under-5s are free.
Not far from Culloden Battlefield are the Clava Cairns at Balnuaran of Clava, a Bronze Age burial site and ancient set of standing stones that may have inspired Diana Gabaldon’s fictional Craigh na Dun.
The filming location for the Craigh na Dun scenes is on private property in Kinloch Rannoch in Perthshire, and they used painted styrofoam to create the stones, so you won’t find an Outlander tour that takes you there!
Rumor has it that the appearance of Craigh na Dun was based on the Callanish Stones, which are located on the Isle of Lewis. But the closest ancient standing stones to the fictional location are at Clava Cairns.
Although we had come to see the standing stones and of course (maybe only half-jokingly) attempt to pass through them à la Claire, we were also drawn to the large ring cairns on the site.
These chamber tombs may have once held the remains of chieftains or other notable people who died 4000 years ago, although those remains have since been removed.
Archaeologists have discovered that about a thousand years later, there were new burials interred and additional monuments erected, possibly reusing some of the original stone material.
Two of the ring cairns have an opening, letting us walk right into the central burial chambers, perhaps just as Neolithic people once did to honor their dead.
At Clava Cairns, the standing stones and ring cairns all align precisely with the midwinter sunset. But the actual purpose of the standing stones is a mystery that might never be solved.
The Clava Cairns site is free to visit, and is open year-round.
If you’re as intrigued with Scottish clan life as I am, don’t miss a chance to tour the lovely Cawdor Castle and its breathtaking gardens.
I thoroughly enjoyed the scenes in the TV series in Castle Leoch (well, at least the ones without Laoghaire lurking about). Filming for the fictional seat of Clan MacKenzie was at Doune Castle, about a 2.5-hour drive south of Inverness—too long of a hike from Invergordon for our Outlander tour.
But Cawdor Castle, with the oldest portion dating to about 1380, has been owned by the Campbell family since the 16th century.
Plus, Sam Heughan (Jamie Fraser) and Graham McTavish (Dougal McKenzie) visited the castle for their road trip book Clanlands, so we felt like we were still walking in Jamie’s footsteps!
We had about 90 minutes to tour the castle and grounds, although I wish we’d had more time to discover all of its treasures without rushing.
Cawdor Castle is still lived in to this day by the dowager countess Lady Angelika Cawdor, widow of the sixth Earl of Cawdor, and has been open to the public since 1976. The castle closes between October and May each year, when Lady Cawdor is in residence.
Since the property is still a private home, its furnishings don’t just reflect one specific time period in its history. I spotted pieces dating from throughout its 600+ year history (and even earlier!)—ranging from ancient artifacts to 17th-century Flemish tapestries to a collection of modern art.
It might sound like a hodgepodge, but somehow it all works. I imagined what the fictional Castle Leoch might look like today if a slightly-eccentric Lady Leoch lived there, and I think Cawdor Castle is it.
Moving out to the gardens, I expected a quick jaunt through some typical plantings. Although I love a garden, I’ve seen my fair share of them on tours of historic homes and castles.
But once we started exploring the grounds and the three separate garden spaces, I wished we had more time.
We discovered neatly manicured formal gardens, an exceptionally well-tended cottage garden (I could just imagine Claire sourcing medicinals for her remedies here), and even a labyrinth with a bronze minotaur at its center!
Dotted throughout are contemporary sculptures and tranquil nooks for visitors to sit and enjoy the peaceful views.
Cawdor Castle and Gardens is open daily from the beginning of May until the beginning of October, from 10 AM to 5:30 PM.
Admission to the castle and grounds is £13.50 for adults, £12.50 for seniors, and £7.50 for kids 15 and under. Under 5s are free.
Invergordon High Street
Approaching the cruise port again, we were able to enjoy a short drive-by of the town of Invergordon and its High Street.
If we hadn’t booked a tour, Invergordon High Street would’ve been the only place within walking distance of the cruise port for us to visit.
The high street didn’t look all that exciting—just a few shops and an art gallery, along with some casual restaurants and cafés.
But what really impressed me were the beautiful murals painted on the sides of many of the buildings. If you’re a fan of street art, consider taking a stroll in Invergordon. The half-mile-long “Mural Trail” tells the story of this small town, depicting historical events and showcasing local scenery and wildlife.
Back to the ship at Invergordon
Our seven-hour whirlwind Outlander tour didn’t leave much time for souvenir shopping! Although the gift shop at Cawdor Castle was very nice, we wanted to maximize our sightseeing time.
So we were pleasantly surprised that there was also a nice gift shop right at the port when we returned, and we had just enough time to browse for some Scottish souvenirs before we had to reboard the ship.
Final thoughts on our DIY Outlander shore excursion from Invergordon
As a die-hard do-it-yourself shore excursion fan, I generally enjoy doing my own research about where I want to go in port. Then I’ll walk to a location, hop on a local bus, or use a rideshare service to explore the area on my own schedule.
But when foot travel or public transportation don’t make sense with the distance you need to cover or the time constraints of cruise travel, sometimes a group coach tour really is your best option.
Without either option available to us at Invergordon, putting together a DIY Outlander shore excursion using a private driver was the best way to see everything without feeling too rushed.
I loved that we could choose exactly how long we wanted to hire our van and driver for, and we didn’t have to make pointless stops at tacky souvenir shops (one of my least favorite parts of many coach tours).
Our driver offered helpful suggestions on places we could go and how long we should spend at each location, but the decisions were ultimately up to us.
However, (unlike on many group tours) buying admission tickets and lunch were on us. Thankfully many of the sites we visited were free!
Our driver was very knowledgeable about the area and its history, and kept the commentary going as we drove from place to place.
But, we were on our own once we reached each site. I prefer exploring on my own, but if you enjoy having a guide walk you through historic locations, a coach tour might be a better fit.
Cruise pro tip: Looking to share the costs of a private van tour on your next cruise? Join a roll call for your sailing (you can find them on Facebook and Cruise Critic) and ask if anyone’s interested in your planned itinerary.
Have you done an Outlander shore excursion from Invergordon or Inverness, Scotland? Or are you planning an Outlander tour? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
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