Nestled on the banks of the black waters of Loch Ness, the 17th-century Urquhart Castle is one of the finest sightseeing destinations in Scotland. You might even catch sight of a monster swimming by.
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Review of Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle is one of those Scottish tourist attractions that seemingly everyone in the world has seen photos of. Nestled on the western shore of Loch Ness, the castle is the perfect location to whip out your camera and really capture the spirit of Scotland.
Although it’s a popular tourist destination today thanks to its beautiful and peaceful setting, in another life the castle played a pivotal role as a defensive position for both the Scots and the English, where bloody battles eventually led to its partial demolition during the Wars of Independence.
In fact, its age is far greater than the current ruins would have you believe and it’s known that a fortification of some sort existed on the site as far back as the 6th century.
These days you’re more likely to see bus loads of invading tourists than invading armies descending on Urquhart Castle but it’s well worth visiting, especially if you’ve got an interest in history.
The views across Loch Ness from the castle walls are superb so if you visit this attraction make sure you’ve got your camera handy. Oh, and don’t forget to grab a coffee and cake in the café – they do seriously good food in there and the view from the terrace is fantastic.
Things to do at Urquhart Castle
Due to the close proximity of both Inverness and Fort William, Urquhart Castle is easily accessible from either town and provides the perfect stopping-off point for visitors who want to experience Loch Ness in all its glory from both the northern and southern ends.
Once at the site you’ll find a sizeable car park with accessible footpaths leading through the visitor centre and out into the grounds surrounding the castle ruins, while the castle itself can be explored in nearly all areas, with the gloomy prison cell and the imposing tower being particular highlights.
The castle is now a ruined shadow of its former glory, partly due to weather erosion and partly due to the English army garrison that was stationed there in the 17th-century.
At the time, the castle had been conquered by the Scots and the English several times, but when the English troops finally left in 1692 they decided to prevent the fortress being subsequently used by Jacobite forces by demolishing most of the castle walls with explosives.
However, a large part of the structure remains intact and there’s plenty to see and do at the site, and the maze-like warren of walls and corridors that extend off from the original great hall are a great place for families to explore together.
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Mums and dads will love the view stretching across Loch Ness from the battlements of Grant Tower and the kids will be fascinated by one of the few working stone-throwing trebuchets in Scotland.
Perhaps the best way to see Urquhart Castle is from Loch Ness, and if you take one of the many loch cruises from Fort Augustus you’ll be able to see the castle from an entirely different perspective as the tour boat sails past the ruins.
The castle’s popularity with tourists means that it’s been re-designed to be accessible for all ages and easy-access paths run throughout the site so that even those with limited ability will be able to enjoy the attraction.
The visitor centre is also one of the best attached to any castle in Scotland, with an extensive gift shop, exhibitions explaining the castle’s history, and a restaurant serving food and drink both inside the centre and outside on a terrace overlooking the loch.
If you’re intending to spend any time at Loch Ness then a visit to Urquhart Castle has to be at the top of your list of attractions to visit.
Top-Tip – keep a lookout on the water as Urquhart Castle has been the location of many sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. If you’d like to know more about the story of Nessie, the loch, and the surrounding area I recommend visiting the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition.
- There are really nice views looking out across Loch Ness but one of the best ways to see Urquhart Castle is by taking a boat trip.
- The castle ruins are fun to explore but it’s the view that’s the main draw. Kids will love the ruins. Adults will love gazing out across the loch.
- The visitor centre is first class and the café is really, really good.
- If you want to sit in the café veranda you’ll have to get there before the crowds start massing at midday. Forget it if you arrive at the weekend in summer.
- The cheapest way to explore Loch Ness from dry land is to drive or cycle the A82 which follows the loch its entire length on its western side. There are a couple of lay-bys where you can get off the road and down to the water’s edge.
- Like most busy tourist attractions run by Historic Environment Scotland, the entrance price is a bit expensive if you’re not a HES member but you can save money with a Historic Environment Scotland Explorer Pass from Viator.
Urquhart castle is approximately mid-way between Fort Augustus and Inverness, on the west side of Loch Ness, near Drumnadrochit village.
Approaching from Inverness at the northern end of the loch, follow the A82 for approximately 17 miles
Approaching from Fort Augustus at the southern end of the loch, follow the A82 for approximately 17 miles.
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Things to do near Urquhart Castle
- Loch Ness. 1-minute walk. The largest freshwater body of water in Britain that is famous for the sightings of a mysterious monster. The loch is fed by the River Ness to the north, beyond which is the city of Inverness. To the south is the tourist village of Fort Augustus which operates daily cruises up and down the loch.
- Urquhart Bay Wood. A82, Inverness IV63 6XN. 3-minute drive. 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. 14-minute drive. A plant nursery and woodland garden that has an array of native and exotic plants.
- Craig Monie. Inverness IV63 6XD. 4-minute drive plus a 30-minute walk. 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 can be forested at any time.
- Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition. Drumnadrochit, Inverness IV63 6TU. 6-minute drive. 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.
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.