We have been visiting the quaint town of Dornoch since the late nineties and we absolutely love it! It always features on our ititneray when we visit our family in Lairg.
Where is Dornoch?
The Royal Burgh of Dornoch is a seaside town located in the northern Highlands approximately 1 hour north of Inverness, just off the A9, and is perfectly located between the Dornoch Firth and the Moray Firth. It’s an easy day trip from Inverness or a stopping place when doing the North Coast 500. You may also want to base yourself here as there’s so much to do in the area. Spend a couple of days discovering the town, the beach and the golf course and then head slightly further afield to discover what the area has to offer.
Best things to see and do in Dornoch
Dornoch has a really fascinating history, from the infamous witch trials to the christening of Madonna’s child in the town’s cathedral. Read on for some ideas of places to visit in Dornoch and its surrounding area.
Visit Dornoch Cathedral
Standing right in the centre of the town is the imposing gothic outline of Dornoch Cathedral that dates back from 1239. You can’t fail to be impressed by the exterior architecture with carved stone gargoyles and a pointed steeple that reaches for the clouds. This is probably why in 2000 Madonna and Guy Richie decided to have their son Rocco christened here amid a media frenzy as the world looked on. If you are hoping to take a peek inside, visitors are welcome and if you desire the full experience, think about attending a Sunday service.
Blow Away the Cobwebs at Dornoch Beach
No trip to Dornoch is complete without a visit to one of Scotland’s most stunning beaches. With its clean golden sand, extensive dunes and rock pools brimming with sea life, it’s ideal for kids. There is also a smart playpark close to the parking area, that will keep the little ones busy for a while.
Playpark at the Beach
If you have kids, they’ll love this wooden playpark located right before you reach the beach. A great place to burn off some energy before heading to the beach.
The Highland Larder
Check out this truly unique food truck located down at Dornoch beach. The Highland Larder is located on the first carpark on your left before the beach. There are a few picnic benches as well as a large covered seating area next to their shack. Sample their cullen skink, haddock wrap, smoked mackerel paté, breaded haddock & chips, langoustines and venison rolls – all locally sourced. Beware though, they sell out fast so make sure you get there early or order ahead!
Tee off at Dornoch Links Golf Course
In order to access the beach, you need to pass through the famous Royal Dornoch Links golf course , which was founded in 1877. Ranked 13th in the world, to many golfers this championship 18-hole creation is considered a bucket list worthy course, with its incredible sea view and challenging terrain.
Get spooked at The Witch’s Stone
It was in 1727 when Janet Horne was convicted of being a witch and as a result, was sentenced to death by burning. Today, you can see the Witch’s Stone that marks the spot where the last witch was executed in the British Isles – it’s in the garden of a cottage on the way to the beach. There is an interesting yet gruesome information plaque and the memorial stone itself can still be viewed from a short distance.
Have a dram at the Castle Hotel
Perhaps the second most imposing building in Dornoch is the Castle Hotel, situated opposite the cathedral. This is an amazing place to spend the night, grab a light lunch or banquet for dinner. Although if you have a fondness for whisky like myself, then a visit to the “best whisky bar in Highlands”, might just result in an unexpected but welcome overnight stay. The selection is both extensive and mouth-watering, and there is no better place to enjoy a dram or two, than next to the roaring open fire.
Do some shopping at the Old Dornoch Jail
For any shopaholic, Dornoch has a super little selection of quality independent gift shops that stock a range of local crafts. The old Dornoch Jail is our personal favourite, best thought of a mini department store with something for everyone under one roof, including jewellery, books and stoneware.
Whisky tasting at the Carnegie Whisky Cellars
If you are a whisky lover, then don’t miss out on a visit to the Carnegie Whisky Cellars which offers exclusive tastings in its fabulous Vaultroom. Located in the Carnegie Courthouse, this is the go-to place for all things whisky related.
Tucked away behind the main street, you’ll find the Historylinks Museum. A great place where you can find out about the history of Dornoch and its inhabitants plus it’s very child-friendly – make sure you pick up the kids’ quiz! Just be aware that it’s closed during the winter months.
Where to eat and drink in Dornoch
Despite its size, there’s a great food and drink scene in Dornoch! Here are some suggestions:
We’ve gone to Luigi’s in the High Street for years and have had some great meals there. You’ll find a lovely, relaxed atmosphere with great service. Try the mussels or the pizzas, you won’t be disappointed!
The Castle Hotel
You may have done some whisky tasting at the Castle Hotel, however, fear not, for a more civilised experience… I recommend the high tea with its delicate sandwiches, fine cakes and exotic pastries.
For fine dining at its best, head to Mara at the Link House Royal Dornoch. Their motto is “gifts from Scotland’s waters, fields, forests and skies, presented with minimal interruption”.
For something really special you must have a hot chocolate at Coco Mountain. Go for the ultra-deluxe version and be indulgent, it won’t disappoint. Although relatively new to Dornoch, Coco Mountain is something of an institution in the Northern highlands, famous for its extraordinary handmade chocolates that contain only the finest ingredients.
Milk and Honey
We recently discovered Milk and Honey located in the High Street. It’s a great spot for a simple lunch or a coffee, cake and scone!
Greens at The Courthouse Dornoch
Located in the centre of town in the former courtroom, this café/brasserie is a great place to head to if you’re peckish! You can have lunch, afternoon snacks or dinner as well as weekend brunches. They serve local, seasonal food, craft beers, cocktails and live music at week-ends. It closed to the public in May 2022 but was luckily taken over by Greens of Tain and reopened in 2023. Such great news!
Where to stay in Dornoch
We’ve stayed here a few times and loved it! Enjoy a wee dram in the bar or a tasty meal in their restaurant. The Castle Hotel is located right in the town centre, opposite the Cathedral.
Royal Golf Apartments
This is the perfect option if you’re travelling with kids and are looking for self-catering accommodation. The Royal Golf Apartments offer several two-bedroom apartments and are located close to the golf course (of course!), the beach and the town. You can also access the facilities of the nearby Royal Golf Hotel.
Heartseed House B&B
If you’re looking for a Bed & Breakfast experience, THIS is the place for you. Warm welcome, spacious rooms, superb breakfast, great views and wonderful hospitality are all rolled into one. Staying with Nigel and Dee is sure to be one of the highlight’s of your trip.
Best time to visit Dornoch
The best time to visit Dornoch is probably between April and October due to seasonal openings of certain businesses although we highly recommend experiencing a Highland Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve celebrations). Dornoch is famous for its Hogmanay street party – street food, a lone midnight piper, a street ceilidh and more. It’s a truly memorable night – we’ve been there a number of times and just love the atmosphere! There’s also the Highland show during the month of July which is worth putting in the calendar.
Things to do near Dornoch
You may be wondering if there’s much to do around Dornoch and the short answer is… yes! Dornoch is a great base for exploring the surrounding area. You can head north to Golspie and discover the beach, Big Burn Walk as well as the stunning Dunrobin Castle. Click here to check out our detailed guide to visiting Golspie or our guide to day trips from Dornoch. Alternatively, head south to the town of Tain and check out Tain, Anta pottery as well as the Mermaid of the North in Balintore.
How to get to Dornoch
Dornoch by car
You can easily get to Dornoch from Inverness. Join the A9 and head north – you will be find signposts for Dornoch after about 50 minutes’ drive at the town of Evelix. It’s a short drive off the A9 to reach the attractive coastal town. There’s plenty of parking in the town.
Dornoch by bus
If coming from the South of Scotland, catch the X25 from Inverness bus station. The journey will take around 1 hour and will take you to Cathedral Square in the town centre. From the north of Scotland, you’ll need to catch the X99.
Dornoch by train
There’s no train station in Dornoch which makes it tricky to reach by train. You can catch a train to Tain (coming from the south) or Brora (coming from the north). You will then need to catch a connecting bus that will take you to Dornoch.
Dornoch by air
The closest airport to Dornoch is Inverness. From there, you can either hire a car, catch a bus or a taxi to Inverness + bus north to Dornoch. Alternatively, you can fly into Edinburgh, Glasgow or Aberdeen and hire a car or use public transport to reach Dornoch.