Loch Ness Visitor Guide

By Craig Neil. This post includes affiliate links.

Loch Ness is a large, deep, freshwater loch in the Scottish Highlands extending for approximately 23 miles southwest of Inverness. It’s known for its depth, reaching over 230 meters, making it the second-deepest loch in Scotland.

Loch Ness is famously associated with the legendary Loch Ness Monster, also known as ‘Nessie’, a creature reported to inhabit the loch, although its existence remains unproven. The loch is also a popular destination for tourists with activities like boat trips, castle tours, and nature walks.

loch ness



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

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.

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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Loch Ness

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.

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.

loch ness

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.

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.

Loch Ness

Things to do

Loch Ness Monster Hunt: A trip to Loch Ness is incomplete without joining the pursuit of its most famous resident, the mythical Loch Ness Monster. Embark on a boat tour equipped with sonar equipment and underwater imaging to try to spot Nessie yourself.

Urquhart Castle Exploration: Perched on the banks of Loch Ness, the ruins of Urquhart Castle offer a deep dive into Scotland’s past. While exploring the castle grounds you’ll learn about its fascinating history, its role in the Wars of Scottish Independence, and tales of the various clans that held it over centuries.

The Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition: This award-winning visitor centre provides an in-depth understanding of the Loch’s geological formation, its folklore, and the ongoing research surrounding the famed Loch Ness Monster. With a combination of multimedia presentations and exhibits, this is a fun and educational attraction that’s suitable for the whole family.

Cruise Loch Ness: Enjoy the breathtaking beauty of Loch Ness and the Great Glen on a leisurely cruise. Loch Ness by Jacobite offers a variety of options from short 50-minute trips to 3-hour excursions, each providing a unique perspective on the loch, its history, and its legends.

Hiking & Wildlife Spotting: The area surrounding Loch Ness is a hiker’s paradise, with trails that cater to all fitness levels. The South Loch Ness Trail, for example, is a 37-mile path offering stunning views of the loch and plenty of opportunities to spot local wildlife like red deer and golden eagles.

Urquhart Castle


Mysterious Depths: Loch Ness is the second largest Scottish loch by surface area, but due to its great depth, it’s the largest by volume. It’s 230 meters deep at its deepest point, which makes it deeper than the North Sea.

Vast Size: The volume of water in Loch Ness is a staggering 7.45 cubic kilometres. This amount is more than all the lakes in England and Wales combined.

Visibility Challenges: Loch Ness contains a significant amount of peat particles in suspension which makes visibility in the water extremely poor. This has added to the mystery and legend of the Loch Ness Monster.

Ancient Legends: The tale of the Loch Ness Monster, affectionately known as ‘Nessie’, dates back to the 6th Century when it was first documented by Irish monk Saint Columba.

The Surgeon’s Photograph: The most famous photo of Nessie, known as the ‘Surgeon’s Photograph’, was published in 1934. However, it was later revealed to be a hoax.

Impact on the Economy: The mystery of Nessie and the beauty of Loch Ness draws more than 400,000 visitors each year, contributing significantly to the local economy.

New Home: Loch Ness is so vast that it could, in theory, accommodate the entire population of Earth – all 7.9 billion of us (as of 2021).

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 castle

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.

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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.