The Complete Guide to Visiting Eilean Donan Castle in the Highlands

Last updated on September 25th, 2020


Eilean Donan Castle in the Highlands

The beautiful Eilean Donan castle dates from the 13th century and is located on an island where 3 lochs meet in the Kintail National Scenic Area.

Category: Castle, Historic building, Loch

Suitable for ages: 5 to 10 years, 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years

Ideal for: Couples, Families, Groups, Solo travellers

I rate it: 9 out of 10

Craig Smith

About Eilean Donan Castle

As picturesque as Dunrobin Castle, Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most photographed tourist attractions in Scotland. Located on a small tidal island at the point where three sea lochs meet, the castle offers one of the loveliest views in Scotland, 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 eastern-most tip of the Isle of Skye fills the horizon while the hills of the Kintail National Scenic Area surround the castle in all directions.

It’s a truly beautiful sight and one that has to be seen by any visitor to Scotland.

Eilean Donan

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 a whole heap of historical artefacts to view during your visit showcased in rooms that look like they’ve come straight of 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.

RELATED POST:  The Complete Guide to Visiting Edinburgh Castle

To my mind, it’s an iconic castle that you absolutely have to put at the top of your Scotland sightseeing itinerary.

Eilean Donan

Things to do at Eilean Donan Castle

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 bridge which also houses a really good restaurant (the yummy home-made shortbread is recommended), and there’s a well-stocked gift shop where you can pick up some decent souvenirs and MacRae clan memorabilia.

If you really fall in love with Eilean Donan then you can even have your wedding held 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.

Eilean Donan

The history of Eilean Donan Castle

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.

RELATED POST:  The Complete Guide to Visiting John Knox House in Edinburgh

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.

Eilean Donan

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.

RELATED POST:  The Complete Guide to Visiting Dunnottar Castle in Grampian

Discover more Scottish fortifications in my Guide to the Best Castles to Visit in Scotland.

The highlights

  • The view across the meeting point of the three lochs is beautiful.
  • The castle is fascinating to explore. There’s plenty to see inside and the guides are very helpful if you’ve got any questions.
  • I loved the cafe – great food at a reasonable price (check out the home-baked cakes before you leave).

Visiting tips

  • Take a walk along the shores of Loch Duich and Loch Long to see gorgeous scenery.
  • 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.
  • This castle seems to be on the itinerary of every coach tour in Scotland. Get there early or be swarmed by crowds.

Photos and video

Photo Gallery
Click image to view photo gallery
Eilean Donan Castle Scotland | Scottish Castles

Streetview

Scotland 360 Photo Tour
Click image to view 360 photos

Address and map

Dornie,
Kyle of Lochalsh,
IV40 8DX

Click map for directionsGoogle Map of eilean donan castle


Tickets and opening times

Pre-book your Eilean Donan Castle tour tickets here.

The Castle and Exhibitions Opening Times

Opens at 9.00am during July & August, and 9.30am in September.

  • Every day 1st Feb – 24th March: 10.00am – 4.00pm (Last Admission 3.00pm)
  • 25th March – 27th Oct: 10.00am – 6.00pm (Last Admission 5.00pm)
  • 28th Oct – 30th Dec (Closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day & Boxing Day): 10.00am – 4.00pm (Last Admission 3.00pm)

Contact details


Facilities

Getting there: Car park on-site

Getting around: Easy-access paths, Disabled access, Pushchair access

On-site conveniences: Gift shop, Hot drinks, Picnic area, Restaurant, Snacks, Toilets