The battle of Culloden was the last pitched battle to be fought on British soil, which saw the Jacobite uprising came to a final bloody end in 1746. The battlefield is open to visitors and features a large museum and restaurant.
Review of Culloden battlefield
The 1746 Battle of Culloden is famous not only for being the last pitched battle to be fought on British soil but also for being the final decisive defeat of the Jacobite forces which ended their claim to the British throne by the Stuart monarchy.
The events that lead up to Culloden began in earnest in 1745 when Charles Edward Stuart called the clans of Scotland together during a momentous rally that took place in Glenfinnan in the Highlands, and it was here that Charles – otherwise known as the ‘Young Pretender’ – began his challenge to reclaim the British throne for the House of Stuart.
You can read about the memorial to this Jacobite gathering in my Guide to The Glenfinnan Monument.
The Jacobite campaign is one of the most significant events in the history of Scotland and I think anyone with even a vague interest in the country’s past really owes it to themselves to visit this famous battle site.
Admittedly it doesn’t seem that impressive at first glance, but delve a little deeper and you’ll discover a fascinating account of the battle unfolding before you.
The site is managed by The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) who have done a great job of showing where the battle lines were drawn and where the events played out, with flags that indicate where each army stood and stone plinths that describe what happened in each area.
The NTS has also built a first-class visitor centre on the site which displays lots of exhibits from the Jacobite time and they’ve included a very good café which is a little bit pricey but is good quality nonetheless.
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Things to do at Culloden battlefield
While the Jacobite rebellion faded away over time, their sacrifice on the battlefield is memorialised with a 20-foot memorial cairn that was erected in 1871.
Today, visitors to the battlefield can follow paths that lead around the main areas of the battle where information tablets have been installed so that you can identify where the British and Jacobite forces stood.
The memorial cairn itself is an impressive structure and it’s usually covered with fresh flowers from people that have clan ties, while nearby there are a number of memorial stones which depict each of the clans that fell during that fateful day on 16 April 1746.
As you enter the battlefield you’ll see the Old Leanach cottage which served as a field hospital for the government troops, while the huge National Trust for Scotland visitor centre lies just behind it.
Although the visitor centre has an additional fee to enter you can walk up to the viewing platform on top to get a great view of the entire site and a café and restaurant inside allow for a quiet place to relax after walking around the moor.
One word of caution when visiting the battlefield is that it’s as much a memorial as it is an attraction, so please be respectful while you’re visiting it.
There will undoubtedly be clan members who are there to pay their respects so you might want to give it the same consideration as you’d give to visiting a graveyard.
The history of Culloden battlefield
While the Jacobites had some success against the army of King George I, most notably by capturing Edinburgh and their win at the Battle of Prestonpans, they were unable to move any further into England than Derby and were eventually pushed back across the Scottish border by the much larger government forces.
As the Jacobites moved north and made camp in Inverness the English Duke of Cumberland drove his army to meet them for the final confrontation at Culloden, where around 8,000 government troops fought against 6,000 members of the Stuart army.
The military training of the British forces quickly overpowered the less-trained Jacobite’s and within an hour of the battle starting it was over, with 1,500 Jacobite’s lying dead on the moor compared to only 300 government troops.
The defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden signalled the end of the clan way of life as the British government enacted laws to integrate Scotland with the rest of Britain, with the powers of the clan lords taken away from them and acts of parliament made to ban the wearing of clan tartan colours.
If you want to find more historic attractions read my Historic Places to Visit articles.
- It’s a haunting site and a must-see attraction for anyone interested in Scottish history. Plus, the main visitor centre is superb (if a little expensive).
- There are lots of information boards so you can understand how the battle unfolded.
- Entry to the battlefield is free.
- Tickets for the nearby visitor centre are a bit pricey but you get free entry with a National Trust Scotland membership. You can get an annual NTS membership by clicking the advert below.
- It can get busy at peak times so get there early. The car park gets jammed with coaches as well due to the fact Culloden seems to be in every single Scottish coach tour’s itinerary.
- Fort George – the British fortification built in response to the Jacobite uprising – is around 7 miles north of Culloden and is definitely worth visiting.
Culloden is 5 miles east of Inverness off the A9/B9006. Follow the brown tourist direction signs leading to the battlefield.
Photo gallery and video
Things to do near Culloden battlefield
- Clava Cairns. Inverness IV2 5EU. 5-minute drive. One of the oldest historic sites in Britain. Clava Cairns is a prehistoric burial cairn that is estimated to be 4,000 years old. There are a number of standing stones and the remains of an ancient cemetery.
- Fort George. Ardersier, Inverness IV2 7TD. 21-minute drive. Large, 18th-century fortified military garrison that overlooks Rosemarkie Bay in the Moray Firth. Fort George is an active military base but many of the historic areas are open to the public including the old munitions store, the chapel and the barracks (now a Highlander’s museum).
- Inverness Castle. Inverness IV2 3EG. 14-minute drive. A red sandstone castle that overlooks the River Ness in the city centre. The castle is not open to the public but the grounds can be visited for photo opportunities of Inverness from the elevated hilltop position.
- Inverness Botanic Garden. Bught Ln, Inverness IV3 5SS. 21-minute drive. Free-to-enter gardens in the centre of Inverness that includes a cactus house, a tropical house complete with a waterfall and a koi carp pond, extensive outdoor gardens and a café and gift shop.
- Inverness Museum. Castle Wynd, Inverness IV2 3EB. 16-minute drive. A modern museum located a few minutes walk from Inverness Castle. The museum showcases exhibits of the Highlands and Highland way of life with displays of geology, art, natural history and archaeology.
More places to visit in The Highlands
- Ben Ledi – Stirlingshire: Complete Visitor GuideBen Ledi is an 879-metre high mountain in the lower Scottish Highlands. It can be found 5 miles north-west of the popular country village of Callander in the Trossachs National Park. The Trossachs are famous not just for their mountain ranges but also for their lochs which include the mighty Loch Lomond – one of the most scenic bodies of water in the United Kingdom.
- Muir of Dinnet – Aberdeenshire: Complete Visitor GuideThe Muir of Dinnet is a national nature reserve located on the eastern border of the Cairngorms national park in the Scottish Highlands. The reserve features a wealth of different habitats including heath, woodland and wetland, but it’s perhaps best known for ‘the vat’, a natural gorge formed by glaciers over 10,000 years ago.
- Glen Etive – Inverness: Complete Visitor GuideWhat if I told you there’s a 12-mile stretch of road where you can see those mountains, rivers and forests in a single relatively small area, where gob-smackingly beautiful vistas open up around every corner on a secluded, frequently tourist-free single-track road?
- Faraid Head – Sutherland: Complete Visitor GuideWhile Scotland’s west coast islands usually take first prize for the number of amazing beaches you’ll find (hello Isle of Tiree) you shouldn’t be too quick to discount Scotland’s mainland either, especially in the far north where it’s relatively tourist-free compared to the rest of the country.