Dunstaffnage Castle Visitor Guide

By Craig Neil. This post includes affiliate links.

Dunstaffnage Castle is perched on top of a rock overlooking the Firth of Lorn. It is located close to Oban and makes an ideal stopping-off point for visitors waiting for a ferry to the west coast islands.

Although Historic Environment Scotland now oversees the castle, the MacDougall clan built it in 1240 AD as a stronghold. Discover Dunstaffnage Castle with this article which features an overview and good-to-know visiting advice.

Dunstaffnage Castle
PA37 1PZ
Opening Hours:1 April to 30 September:
Daily, 9.30 am to 5.30 pm
Last entry 5 pm

1 October to 31 March:
Daily, 10 am to 4 pm, except for Thursday and Friday
Last entry 3.30 pm
Admission Price:Adult (16-64yrs) £7.00
Concession (65yrs+ and unemployed) £5.50
Child (5-15yrs) £4.00
Family (1 adult, 2 children) £14.00
Family (2 adults, 2 children) £20.00
Family (2 adults, 3 children) £24.00
Parking:Free car park on-site
Contact:01631 562 465
Facilities:Shop, toilets, drinks machine, visitor centre
Photos:Virtual Tour
YouTube Video


Virtual tour


Dunstaffnage Castle is located just a few miles north of Oban on a promontory that looks out across Ardmucknish Bay and the Inner Hebrides.

It was here that the King of the Isles, Duncan MacDougall, built his formidable stronghold in the early 1200s as a defence against invading Norwegian armies who were looking to take control of the Hebrides.

The castle consists of a curtain wall that protects the residential buildings (now mostly in ruin), with two projecting round towers and a gatehouse.

Surrounding the castle is a beautiful woodland with several paths leading both through it and down towards the bay, and the remains of a medieval chapel can be found hidden away nearby.

This truly is one historic site that’s worth visiting not just for its history, but also for its beautiful location.

Dunstaffnage Castle

The highlights

1: Dunstaffnage Castle is only 4 miles from Oban which makes it perfect for killing time before catching a ferry to the western isles.

2: The views across the Firth of Lorn are lovely. There’s no better vantage point than the one you’ll find at the top of the curtain walls at Dunstaffnage Castle.

3: This is an impressive castle with a fascinating history so thankfully Historic Environment Scotland has installed lots of information panels. There is also an expert guide in the ticket office that will answer any questions you might have.

Visiting tips

1: It won’t take you long to see everything as it’s fairly small but you can maximize your visit by exploring the surrounding woods.

2: If you’re after food try the café on the entrance road which is reasonably priced.

3: You’ll find another interesting historic attraction at McCaig’s Tower in Oban while Bonawe Historic Iron Furnace is located a few miles further east.

Dunstaffnage Castle

Tourist information

As usual with Scottish castles, there’s a surprising amount of history to discover at Dunstaffnage and you’ll probably learn a few new facts about Scotland’s history during your visit.

I was personally fascinated by the story of Flora MacDonald and her involvement with the Jacobite cause after the Battle of Culloden, but there are lots of other information panels that explain what life was like in the castle.

There are also several displays that depict the history of the MacDougall clan and the part the castle played in the history of Scotland’s Western Isles. It’s genuinely interesting stuff, even if you’re not particularly interested in history.

Although it was built in the 1220s, Dunstaffnage Castle is relatively intact and it’s still an impressive structure thanks to its enormous curtain walls.

Dunstaffnage Castle

Walking up the steep steps into the main entrance leads visitors through the fortified buildings and into the main courtyard where there are enough ruined walls, cellars and hidey-holes to keep children entertained for a good hour.

Leaving the castle you can head out into the grounds where there are lots of paths leading into the surrounding woodland where you’ll find the remains of the 13th-century Dunstaffnage Chapel, which although small offers an interesting collection of ruins to explore.

The woods themselves aren’t much to write home about but the local wildlife obviously loves them because Dunstaffnage is one of the few places in Scotland where pipistrelle bats roost.

But for me, the highlight of a visit is sitting in the sun in the grounds outside the castle walls and looking out across the bay with its flotilla of wee sailing yachts bobbing about.

If you’re looking for somewhere to grab lunch during your visit you can always head to the café on the exit road, and as Oban is only a 10-minute drive away you can easily combine a visit to Dunstaffnage Castle with the pretty Gateway to the Isles and McCaig’s Tower.

Dunstaffnage Castle


The beginning of Dunstaffnage Castle starts with the conflict between two great nations – the Scots and the Norwegians – who were constantly battling for ownership of the Hebrides in Medieval times.

As a location to defend both the heart of Scotland and the seaward passage to the Western Isles, the site on which the castle sits would have been incredibly important for Scotland.

The Isle of Mull is a short distance away to the west and the Isle of Jura and Isle of Islay lie not much further south.

Dunstaffnage Castle was built under the orders of Duncan MacDougall in the early 1200s and he made good use of the raised promontory looking out over Ardmucknish Bay by constructing an enormous stone curtain wall on top of a rock pinnacle that offers uninterrupted views towards the Western Isles.

Dunstaffnage Castle

Duncan’s son, Ewen, later improved on the defences of the castle by adding three almost impenetrable round towers, with one of the towers being later converted into the imposing tower house that you can still see today.

The Scots eventually won control of the Hebrides in 1266 but that didn’t mean the conflicts were over for this formidable castle as it was successfully besieged by King Robert the Bruce in the early 1300s after his victory over the MacDougalls at the Pass of Brander.

Dunstaffnage Castle remained a royal stronghold for the next 150 years until it passed into the ownership of the Campbell Earls of Argyll, at which time it sealed its place in Scotland’s history with the story of Flora MacDonald.

In 1746, after the Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden, Flora MacDonald was imprisoned at Dunstaffnage Castle for the role she played in helping Bonnie Prince Charlie evade capture by the victorious English forces.

Dunstaffnage Castle

While visiting her brother on the Isle of Uist, Flora met the young prince who was fleeing from the English and agreed to help him on his journey to safety in France.

By disguising the prince as her serving girl, Flora transported the defeated royal across the sea to the Isle of Skye from where he made his eventual escape, although she was later captured herself by a pursuing company of English Redcoats.

After her incarceration at Dunstaffnage, Flora was eventually moved to the Tower of London, although she was later released and returned to Scotland.

The story of the fleeing prince was eventually immortalized in the 1892 poem by Robert Louis Stevenson – Sing Me a Song of a Lad That Is Gone, perhaps better known in recent times as the theme tune to the cult hit TV show, Outlander.

Discover more castles to visit in Scotland with: The Best Castles in Scotland – Ultimate Visitor Guide.

Dunstaffnage Castle

Things to do

Historical Exploration: Delve into the rich history of Dunstaffnage Castle, one of Scotland’s oldest stone fortresses. Built around 1220, the castle boasts a storied past filled with tales of Viking invasions, royal entanglements, and clan feuds. Take a self-guided tour at your own pace and learn about the castle’s architecture and its past inhabitants.

Chapel Visit: Don’t miss out on visiting the atmospheric Dunstaffnage Chapel, hidden away within the castle grounds. This 13th-century chapel is an interesting example of ecclesiastical architecture, though it’s now roofless and in ruin.

Nature Walks: The castle grounds are worth exploring as they feature picturesque views of the sea and Ardmucknish Bay. Take a leisurely stroll, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy a picnic overlooking Dunstaffnage Marina.

Photography: For photography enthusiasts, Dunstaffnage Castle presents a wealth of opportunities. Its imposing stone façade and dramatic location make it a great place for photographers to practice their skills.

Wildlife Spotting: From seabirds of various species to marine animals, nature lovers will find a lot to appreciate at Dunstaffnage Castle. Take a pair of binoculars (link to binocular reviews) and enjoy looking for wildlife as part of your visit.

Dunstaffnage Castle


Historical Significance: Dunstaffnage Castle, located in Argyll, Scotland, is one of the oldest stone castles in the country. It was built around 1220 by Duncan MacDougall, the son of Dubhgall, who was the grandson of Somerled, the first Lord of the Isles.

Mighty Powerhouse: In its heyday, Dunstaffnage was an essential administrative and military hub. It was a stronghold of the MacDougalls until the Battle of Largs in 1263 when they lost to the forces of Alexander III, King of Scots.

Royal Connection: The castle has a royal connection – Robert the Bruce laid siege to it in the year 1308, and after capturing it, he handed it over to the Campbells, his loyal supporters.

Chapel of Intrigue: The Dunstaffnage Chapel, located within the castle grounds, is a well-preserved 13th-century chapel. Its ruins are believed to be the burial place of several generations of MacDougalls.

Architectural Marvel: The castle’s curtain wall, which is nearly 20 feet thick and 60 feet high, encloses an area of about a third of an acre, making it one of the largest of its kind in Scotland.

Ancient Office: One person, known as the Hereditary Captain of Dunstaffnage, has traditionally had the position of being in charge of the castle’s defences. The position still exists, however, it’s mostly ceremonial and has little to no practical military value for its holder, who must spend at least three nights a year in the castle to keep the title.

Flora MacDonald’s Imprisonment: The castle served as a short-term prison for the famous Scottish heroine, Flora MacDonald, in 1746. She was imprisoned there before her trial in London for assisting Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape after the Battle of Culloden.

Siege Scars: The castle bears the scars of a failed siege by the Jacobites in the late 17th century. Cannonball marks are still visible on the outer walls of the castle.

Ghostly Tales: Like many ancient Scottish castles, Dunstaffnage is said to be haunted. The most famous ghost is the ‘Ell-maid of Dunstaffnage’, a spectral woman who is said to appear whenever the chieftain of Clan Campbell is about to die.

Things to do nearby

McCaig’s Tower. Duncraggan Rd, Oban PA34 5DP. 10-minute drive.
The tower is a 19th-century open stone tower dedicated to the powerful McCaig family. From its elevated hilltop position it offers superb views across Oban Bay and the Sound of Mull.

Mccaigs Tower

Oban. Oban PA34 5QD. 9-minute drive.
Oban is a historic coastal town that grew around its fishing industry which is still thriving today. The town is the largest in the area and there is a selection of pubs, restaurants and gift shops in the high street along with the west coast island’s main ferry terminal.

Dunollie Museum & Castle. Dunollie House, Oban PA34 5TT. 10-minute drive.
A ruined tower house that is the ancestral home of clan MacDougall. The attraction features a heritage museum, woodland walks, ornamental gardens, a café and a gift shop. Dunollie Point is a short walk away which has scenic views over Oban Bay.

Ganavan Bay. Oban PA34 5TB. 13-minute drive.
A scenic point north of Oban that has a wide, golden-sand beach and a large car parking area. The surrounding fields are a popular site for holiday caravans. Rough tracks follow the coastline all the way to Connel.

Falls of Lora. Ardmucknish Bay PA37 1SJ. 8-minute drive.
A natural spectacle where rushing seawater creates a tidal surge between the narrows of Loch Etive where it exits the sea at Connel. A good viewing platform can be found on the Connel Bridge which crosses the water south of Oban airport.

Frequently asked questions

How do I get to Dunstaffnage Castle?

Address: Dunbeg, By Oban, Argyll, PA37 1PZ

Directions map: Google Maps

Who owns Dunstaffnage Castle?

Dunstaffnage Castle is owned and managed by Historic Environment Scotland who keep it open to the public for self-guided tours. Visit the HES tickets page for the latest entry prices.

Who built Dunstaffnage Castle?

Dunstaffnage Castle was built by Duncan MacDougall, son of the Lord of Lorn, around AD 1240.

Is Dunstaffnage Castle dog friendly?

Visitors are allowed to take dogs around Dunstaffnage Castle and grounds as long as they are kept on a lead at all times. Dogs are not permitted on the roof terrace.

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By Craig Neil

Craig Neil is a travel writer from Edinburgh with a passion for visiting Scotland's tourist attractions. Over the last 15 years he has explored Scotland from the Shetland Islands to the Scottish Borders, and he shares his travel experiences in Out About Scotland.