The beautiful Eilean Donan Castle dates from the 13th century and is located on an island where three lochs meet in the Kintail National Scenic Area.
The castle is a popular stopping-off point for tourists on their way to the Isle of Skye which lies just 10 miles to the west. Discover everything you need to know about Eilean Donan Castle in this guide which includes an overview and useful visiting tips.
by Kyle of Lochalsh,
|Opening Hours:||Sun to Mon 10.00 am – 6.00 pm|
|Admission Price:||Adults £10.00|
Concessions (Seniors Aged 60+) £9.00
Family (2 Adults + 3 Children Age 5-15) £29.00
Children over 5 £6.00
Under 5s Free
|Parking:||Free on-site car park|
|Facilities:||Gift shop, toilets, cafe, partial disabled access|
The castle is located on a small tidal island at the point where three sea lochs meet and it offers one of the loveliest views in Scotland that’s instantly recognisable from a thousand shortbread tins and travel websites.
The lochs of Duich, Long and Alsh provide the stunning foreground to a panorama where the easternmost tip of the Isle of Skye fills the horizon while the hills of the Kintail National Scenic Area surround it in all directions.
It’s a truly beautiful sight and one that has to be seen by every visitor to this country.
But there’s more to Eilean Donan castle than picture-perfect photos, and its long and turbulent history is worth investigating just as much as the gorgeous lochs and Highland landscape that surround it.
There’s an array of historic artefacts to view during your visit showcased in rooms that look like they’ve come straight from an Outlander novel and I can pretty much guarantee you’ll end your day having learned more about the history of Scotland than you were expecting.
Eilean Donan is one of Scotland’s most-visited historic attractions and it’s popular with tourists from all over the world who come not only to admire the views but also to explore the battlements, secret spy holes and maze of rooms that make the castle such an extraordinary ancestral home.
To my mind, it’s an iconic castle that you absolutely have to put at the top of your Scotland sightseeing itinerary.
1: The view across the meeting point of the three lochs is stunning. For the best view, head to the elevated lookout point on the road to Dornie.
2: Eilean Donan Castle is a fascinating place. There’s a lot to see inside and while the self-guided tour is short, it’s well worth the entry fee.
3: I loved the on-site café – great food at a reasonable price. The home-baked cakes are amazing.
1: Take a walk along the shores of Loch Duich and Loch Long to see more gorgeous scenery. There are dozens more walking trails in the area so I recommend subscribing to OS Maps which has downloadable routes on the OS Maps app.
2: If you’re on a sightseeing tour in the area you might like to visit Ullapool which is a quaint wee village located in one of the most picturesque regions of Scotland.
3: This castle seems to be on the itinerary of every coach tour in Scotland. Get there early or prepare to be swarmed by crowds. September to April are the best months for a quiet visit.
As you walk through each room you can’t fail to be impressed by the traces of clan history dotted about in every nook and cranny, and it’s easy to forget that these buildings were only reconstructed from a pile of ruins a hundred years ago.
You’re free to wander around the castle at your own pace (there’s no obligatory tour, thankfully) and while it’s not exactly the biggest attraction in Scotland I’d plan at least two to three hours for your visit.
There’s a sensation you get in every room that you’re experiencing something special, and it’s a sensation that becomes overwhelming once you step outside and see the three lochs merging into each other against the spectacular Highlands scenery.
If you have the time during your visit you should wait until dusk and watch the colours of the setting sun bounce off the loch as it fades into the landscape. It’s spine-tingling stuff.
Tourists are well catered for during their visit with a bright and modern visitor centre on the far side of the entrance bridge which also houses an excellent restaurant along with a gift shop that sells Clan MacRae souvenirs.
If you really fall in love with Eilean Donan then you can even hold your wedding there for the ultimate romantic day, and there are self-catering apartments just a couple of minutes away if you fancy staying nearby for a relaxing break.
All in all, Eilean Donan Castle encapsulates everything that’s great about Scottish historic attractions and I’ve no doubt you’ll enjoy your visit, whatever your age or interests.
Discover more castles to visit in Scotland with: The Best Castles in Scotland – Ultimate Visitor Guide.
The first known inhabitants on the island were a Christian order who dedicated a church to the 7th-century Saint Donnan of Eigg, but it wasn’t until the 13th century that the island changed from a site of religious worship to a fortified castle.
Around this time Scotland was under frequent attacks from Norse expeditions that were moving in from the Western Isles, so the Scots ruler Alexander II decreed that a castle was necessary at the point where the three great lochs meet in order to defend his realm.
Shortly thereafter the first incarnation of Eilean Donan Castle was created, a huge fortification of seven towers connected by massive curtain walls that ran around the entire perimeter of the island.
Over the years Eilean Donan Castle was used primarily by clans Mackenzie and MacRae as a stronghold, but it was the early 18th-century Jacobite uprising which eventually led to its downfall.
At this time the castle was inhabited by several Jacobite commanders accompanied by a garrison of sympathetic Spanish soldiers, and it was rumoured that an enormous stockpile of gunpowder was secreted away inside the castle walls.
On hearing this the British government sent three Royal Navy frigates to bring the Jacobites under control, and through a combination of cannon bombardments and ground-based attacks the Jacobites and Spanish were forced to retreat.
As the English troops moved in a search was ordered to discover if the supposed stockpile of gunpowder actually existed – which it did – and more than 300 barrels of the explosive were uncovered.
The commanding officer of the British forces gave the order to blow the castle up (which was achieved with devastating effect) and the fortification was completely destroyed in the process.
It was to be nearly two hundred years before Eilean Donan Castle was resurrected into the structure that we see today, thanks to the efforts of Lt Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap (a descendant of the MacRae clan) who had the buildings completely rebuilt as a family home using the stones from the original fortification.
As the castle was rebuilt the iconic bridge was also added and a central keep was constructed to serve as the MacRae clan family home, all of which you can explore during your visit.
Discover more places to visit in the Scottish Highlands with: The Best Places to Visit in the Highlands – Ultimate Visitor Guide.
Things to do
Castle Exploration: Eilean Donan Castle is the quintessential Scottish fortress. Immerse yourself in its history from the grandeur of the Banqueting Hall to the stunning views over Loch Duich from the courtyard.
Photography: The castle’s unique location on an island overlooking the three lochs provides stunning panoramic views. Whether you’re an amateur or a professional photographer, a visit to Eilean Donan Castle offers a perfect opportunity for unforgettable photos.
Walking Routes: Surrounding the castle are a number of trails that are perfect for a quiet walk such as Carr Brae Road (the next road inland from the A87) which is the location of a fantastic viewpoint overlooking the castle. Exploring the area on foot is the perfect way to appreciate the Scottish Highlands’ natural beauty.
Guided Tours: There are several guided bus tours that take tourists around the Highlands, and almost all of them make a stop at Eilean Donan Castle. If you’d like to visit this historic attraction on a tour led by an expert, take a look at the Get Your Guide website to make a booking.
Visitor Centre: Don’t leave without visiting the gift shop where you’ll find a wide variety of Scottish souvenirs, from clan memorabilia to traditional crafts. There’s also a very good restaurant in the centre which serves big portions of hearty traditional Scottish dishes.
Historical Origins: Eilean Donan Castle’s history stretches back to the 13th century when the site had a fortress that was built as a defensive measure against Viking invasions.
Strategic Location: The castle is situated on a small island where three sea lochs meet – Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh. This strategic location made it a key fortification in the region, controlling the boat traffic passing through these lochs.
Jacobite Rebellion Connection: The castle played a significant role in the Jacobite rebellions during the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1719, it was used as a base by Spanish soldiers supporting the Jacobite cause, but was subsequently destroyed by British naval forces.
Architectural Resurrection: After lying in ruins for almost 200 years, the castle was bought by Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap in 1911. He spent 20 years and a substantial amount of money to meticulously restore the castle, bringing it back to its former glory.
Iconic Bridge: One of the most iconic architectural features of Eilean Donan Castle is the stone bridge connecting it to the mainland. The bridge was a part of the restoration project and adds to the castle’s fairy-tale-like appearance.
Clan MacRae Headquarters: The castle has been the stronghold of Clan MacRae for centuries. Even today, it is owned by the MacRae family and serves as the clan’s headquarters.
Things to do nearby
Loch Duich Viewpoint. Kyle IV40 8HA. 6-minute drive.
An elevated single-track road that overlooks Eilean Donan Castle and Loch Duich. The road runs alongside the A87 for several miles and offers some of the best views in the region. Suitable for walking as there are grass verges to avoid passing cars.
Balmacara Estate. Kyle IV40 8DN. 9-minute drive.
A Highland crofting estate with over 17 miles of walking trails. The estate is rich with moorland, heather-covered hills, lochs and woodland. Balmacara village has a selection of local shops and a café.
Kyle of Lochalsh. 12-minute drive.
A historic village on the Lochalsh Peninsula close to the Skye Bridge that joins the mainland to the Isle of Skye. The village is easily accessed via the A87. It is also the starting point for the Kyle Line which is one of the highest-rated railway journeys in the world.
Loch Long. 2-minute walk.
A sheltered and relatively shallow sea loch that extends from the village of Dornie into the heart of the Highlands. A popular way to explore the loch is by following a single-track road that runs alongside it. The road is accessed from the A87 a few miles west of Eilean Donan.
Loch Duich. 2-minute walk.
Loch Duich is a Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area that extends east from Eilean Donan. The loch is easily visited from several points off the A87 on its northern side while the southern side has a much quieter single-track road that closely follows the shoreline its entire length. Look for the Old Military Road where the A87 crosses the River Shiel at the far eastern edge of the loch.
Frequently asked questions
Is Eilean Donan Castle worth visiting?
Eilean Donan Castle is definitely worth visiting as it offers visitors the chance to experience many of the highlights of a trip to Scotland – a historic castle, picturesque lochs, and dramatic mountain scenery.
Eilean Donan is also located close to Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye Bridge, so a visit to the castle is a must-do for anyone on their way to Skye.
What is Eilean Donan Castle famous for?
Eilean Donan Castle is famous for its stunning location at the meeting point of lochs Long, Alsh and Duich. The castle is widely acknowledged as being one of the most picturesque and most-photographed places in Scotland
What has been filmed at Eilean Donan Castle?
Highlander (1986), The World is Not Enough (1999), The Princess Switch 3 (2021), Entrapment (1999), Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), Rob Roy (1995), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Mio in the Land of Faraway (1987), The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), Loch Ness (1996).
Who owns Eilean Donan Castle?
Eilean Donan Castle is owned and managed by the Conchra Charitable Trust which aims to maintain and preserve the castle to allow continued public access.