Loch Ness Visitor Guide

By Craig Neil
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Table of Contents


Summary

Loch Ness is one of the most famous, most visited, and most photographed tourist attractions in Scotland.

It is best known for the mysterious monster that’s rumoured to live in the loch’s 230-metre depths but it is also a popular tourist destination with visitors who come to sail along it on pleasure cruises.

loch ness

The highlights

1: Loch Ness is a beautiful place to explore and a boat trip across it is an unforgettable experience.

2: Urquhart Castle is well worth a visit and so is Culloden Battlefield which is located 17 miles north of the loch.

3: Fort Augustus has lots of restaurants and cafés. Inverness at the opposite end of the loch is much bigger and has a number of great attractions including a botanic garden, museum, and a cathedral.

Loch Ness

Visiting tips

1: It gets incredibly busy at Fort Augustus so I’d personally give it a miss during peak tourist season (June to August).

2: Visit the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition to learn about the story of this famous body of water and its legendary monster.

3: There are nice walks along the side of the loch, but I recommend a mini road trip along the A82 which hugs the shoreline on the loch’s western side.

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Overview

Loch Ness is without a doubt one of the most famous, most visited, and most photographed tourist attractions in Scotland.

Not only is there an abundance of wildlife living both in the loch and along its banks but there’s a rich history to be discovered thanks to famous nearby attractions like Urquhart Castle and the city of Inverness.

There are lots of pretty villages dotted along its 23-mile length including Fort Augustus on the southern edge (which is a favourite stopping-off point with tourists looking to explore the loch) and many sight-seers try to spot the elusive Loch Ness monster as they stand on the shoreline.

But the best way to enjoy Loch Ness is to take one of the many cruise boats that sail up and down the loch each day while soaking up the atmosphere of this picturesque body of water.

Discover more Scottish lochs with: The Best lochs in Scotland – Ultimate Visitor Guide.

urquhart castle

Tourist information

Although Ness isn’t the largest loch by surface area (that crown goes to Loch Lomond), thanks to its 230m depths it is the largest by volume, a fact that has supported reports that a monster is able to evade capture by hiding deep at the bottom of freshwater crevices.

In fact, Loch Ness is so large that it contains more fresh water than all the lakes of England and Wales combined.

Tourists wishing to explore the loch can take advantage of frequent cruise boats which ferry passengers up and down the loch while walkers can enjoy the many popular trails that run along the water’s edge, such as the lovely Fort Augustus Heritage Trail.

History fans will enjoy stopping off at the 13th-century Urquhart Castle (learn more about it with my Guide to Urquhart Castle) on the western edge of the loch, where fantastic views across the water can be enjoyed while exploring the ruins of one of the largest medieval fortifications in Scotland.

loch ness

Moving further north you’ll come across Inverness – often referred to as the capital of the Highlands – where visitors will find the beautiful River Ness that eventually feeds into the dark, peaty waters of the loch.

The many rivers that flow into and out of the loch are an integral and much-enjoyed part of the Ness experience with the Rivers Ness and Oich being particularly popular with tourists.

One of the most popular sailing routes in Scotland can be found in these rivers with sailors frequently passing through Loch Ness as they tour along the Caledonian Canal, the 60-mile waterway that runs from Beauly Firth on the north-east coast of Scotland to Loch Linnhe on the west coast.

Loch Ness

Fisherman keen to catch some of Scotland’s largest fish will find several species living in the water of Loch Ness, with the famed Scottish Atlantic Salmon living alongside Brown and Sea Trout, Perch, Roach and Char, while golfers will find the nine-hole course at Fort Augustus to be one of the most challenging in Scotland.

A top tip I have for you is to take a visit to the five-star rated Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition at Drumnadrochit where you can learn all about the loch, the history of the surrounding area and the legend of the fabled monster.

Discover the attraction in detail with my Complete Guide to The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition.

Discover more places to visit in the Scottish Highlands with: The Best Places to Visit in the Highlands – Ultimate Visitor Guide.


Tourist map of Scotland

Loch Ness extends for 23 miles south of Inverness and there are plenty of locations from which to explore it. Perhaps the most frequently visited entry point is Fort Augustus at the southernmost end.

Fort Augustus can be found on the A82, at the head of Loch Ness in the heart of the Highlands. It is 33 miles from Fort William and 34 miles from Inverness.

  • From Glasgow take the A82 via Crianlarich and Fort William to Fort Augustus – 132 miles.
  • From Edinburgh take the M90 to Perth, the A9 to Dalwhinnie, the A86 to Spean Bridge and the A82 to Fort Augustus – 157 miles.
  • From Aberdeen take the A96 via Nairn to Inverness, then the A82 to Fort Augustus – 141 miles.
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Explore this area with a detailed paper map from Ordnance Survey:

Inverness, Loch Ness & Culloden – 416 Explorer.

Inverness & Loch Ness – 26 Landranger.

OS Explorer Maps: Best for walking, mountain biking, and finding footpaths. 1:25,000 scale (4cm = 1km in real world). Buy OS Explorer maps direct from Ordnance Survey.

OS Landranger Maps: Best for road cycling, touring by car, and finding attractions. 1:50 000 scale (2 cm = 1 km in real world). Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.


Things to do nearby

Urquhart Castle. Drumnadrochit, Inverness IV63 6XJ. Iconic 16th-century castle situated on the western bank of Loch Ness. The castle was inhabited by both English and Scottish over the course of hundreds of years till it was partially destroyed in 1692.

The Historic Environment Scotland visitor centre houses a permanent exhibition about the loch and the castle as well as a restaurant with outside seating and a gift shop.

Urquhart Bay Wood. A82, Inverness IV63 6XN. An alder woodland located on the shore of Loch Ness with footpaths throughout it. This is one of the few remaining wet woodlands in Scotland where the entire woodland becomes flooded after a rainfall.

The Garden on Loch Ness. Kilianan, Loch Ness Side, Inverness, Highlands and Islands IV3 8LA. A plant nursery and woodland garden that has an array of native and exotic plants.

Craig Monie. Inverness IV63 6XD. A hill to the south of Drumnadrochit that provides uninterrupted views across Loch Ness. Note that the hill is open to the public but it is covered in managed fir trees which are forested at any time and there is no clearly marked path to the top.

Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition. Drumnadrochit, Inverness IV63 6TU. A museum and exhibition centre that aims to educate and entertain visitors with displays and exhibitions about Loch Ness, the monster and the surrounding landscape.

There is a café on-site and loch cruises can be booked from the centre.


Frequently asked questions

Does Loch Ness freeze in winter?

Loch Ness does not freeze in winter due to its extreme depth which causes the water at the surface to constantly cycle with the water underneath. The loch, therefore, has a near-constant temperature of 5 °C.

The only places on Loch Ness where it occasionally freezes is the shallowest edges near the shoreline.

Can you swim in Loch Ness?

It is possible to swim in Loch Ness, but it is not recommended.
Due to its depth (745 feet at its deepest point) the water of Loch Ness stays cold throughout the year with an average of just 5 °C – even in the height of summer – and entering the water can induce hypothermia in untrained swimmers.

Is Loch Ness the deepest lake in Scotland?

At a maximum depth of 745 feet, Loch Ness is not the deepest loch in Scotland. The deepest loch is Loch Morar at 1,017 feet (310 metres).

Loch Ness is the largest body of water by volume in Scotland. In fact, there is more freshwater in Loch Ness than all the lakes of England and Wales combined.

What is the difference between a loch and a lake?

There is no physical difference between a lake and a loch. Both are bodies of water. The only difference is the ‘word’ loch is the Scottish terminology and ‘lake’ is the English terminology.