Are you planning to visit the famous Urquhart Castle located on the banks of Loch Ness? Read on to find out everything you need to know before visiting this popular tourist attraction:
Where is Urquhart Castle?
Urquhart Castle – sometimes referred to as Loch Ness Castle – is located in the Scottish Highlands, near the village of Drumnadrochit, which is about 16 miles (26 kms) southwest of Inverness (30 minute drive). It sits on the shores of Loch Ness, the famous freshwater loch that is home to the legendary Loch Ness Monster. It makes for a great day trip from Inverness.
Is it worth visiting Urquhart Castle?
As locals, we have been several times and would 100% recommend visiting Urquhart Castle. The castle’s setting on the banks of Loch Ness is stunning and we particularly enjoy wandering around the ruins of the castle. The visitor centre offers a great short 8-minute film about the history of the castle and there are also some interesting displays including a model replica of what the castle would have looked like originally.
Brief history of Urquhart Castle
The castle dates back to the 13th century and over the years passed through the hands of various other Scottish clans, including the Grants, the Macdonalds, the Macleans, and the Grants, each of whom made their own contributions to the castle’s design and history.
How much time do you need at Urquhart Castle?
The amount of time needed to visit Urquhart Castle will very much depend on individual interests, but we would recommend allowing around one to two hours to explore the castle, the grounds and the visitor centre. Here are some things to consider when planning your visit:
- Start with the audio-visual show: The visitor centre has an audio-visual show that tells the story of Urquhart Castle. The show lasts around 8 minutes, and it’s worth watching to get an overview of the castle’s history and significance before heading out to visit the ruins of the castle.
- Explore the castle ruins: allow 30 minutes to an hour to explore the castle ruins, depending on your pace and how much of the site you want to see. You can walk along the walls, climb the towers, and explore the exhibition rooms to get a sense of the castle’s history and layout.
- Take in the stunning surroundings: Urquhart Castle or Loch Ness Castle is located on the shores of Loch Ness, and the views are simply gorgeous. You can take a leisurely stroll around the castle grounds or enjoy a snack at the café while taking in the scenery.
Highlights of Urquhart Castle
Grant Tower is a prominent feature of Urquhart Castle and is the largest and most impressive surviving structure within the castle, standing at over 40 feet tall and containing 5 storeys. It was built in the 1500s by the Grant family. As the castle fell into decay, the tower partly collapsed in 1715 due to a violent storm. Today, visitors can climb partway up the tower and enjoy stunning views of the ruins, Loch Ness and the surrounding countryside or head down into the storeroom.
The full sized trebuchet
Visitors can witness a full-sized trebuchet in the grounds of Urquhart Castle. This is a mediaeval siege weapon that was used to hurl large stones at enemy fortifications. This replica trebuchet was built here in 1998 for a television recording at Caerlaverock Castle and was then brought back to Urquhart Castle after the filming. This impressive display is sure to be a hit with visitors of all ages.
Views towards Loch Ness & Nessie Spotting
The views towards Loch Ness are a highlight in their own right, offering a breathtaking glimpse of the dark and mysterious waters of one of Scotland’s most famous lochs. And of course, it’s the perfect spot to do some Loch Ness Monster spotting.
Film in the visitor centre
We highly recommend watching the film in the visitor centre. It only lasts 8 minutes but gives you a great insight into the castle’s history. The film is available with subtitles in various languages as well as in English. We particularly love the end of the film when the curtains open up to display a stunning panoramic view of the castle and grounds outside (see photo above).
Cafe and gift shop in Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle has a café and a gift shop within the visitor centre area. The café offers a variety of food and drink options including soup, sandwiches, or snacks, as well as a selection of cakes and baked goods. The café has both an indoor and outdoor seating area. If the sun is shining, we strongly recommend grabbing a table outside so that you can enjoy your meal/drink/coffee with a view of the castle and Loch Ness.
The gift shop offers a wide range of souvenirs, including Scottish crafts, jewellery, clothing, books, and other gifts. It’s a great place to pick up a memento of your visit to Urquhart Castle.
Both the café and gift shop are open during the castle’s opening hours, which vary depending on the season.
How to get to Urquhart Castle
Getting to Urquhart Castle by car
You can easily get from Inverness to Urquhart Castle. It’s located about 16 miles from Inverness and can be reached by car. Visitors can take the A82 road from Inverness and follow the signs for Urquhart Castle. There is ample parking available at the castle for those arriving by car – although we recommend arriving early in the day if visiting during school holidays or peak season. Once the car park is full, you will need to drive to Drumnadrochit, park there (in the Hub car park) and walk 30 minutes to reach the castle.
It’s also an easy drive if coming from the south – simply follow the A82 northbound along the shores of Loch Ness.
Getting to Urquhart Castle by bus
If you’re travelling from Inverness, catch the Scottish Citylink bus number 919 from Inverness bus station. The journey takes 35 minutes and you’ll be dropped off at the carpark stop at the castle. Check bus timetable here.
Alternatively, you can catch the Stagecoach bus number 17 from Inverness bus station to Drumnadrochit and walk about 30-40 minutes south to the castle. Check bus timetable here.
If you’re travelling from Fort William, catch the Scottish Citylink bus number 919 from Fort William bus station – it makes a number of stops on route including Spean Bridge, Invergarry, Fort Augustus and Invermoriston. Check times and full route here.
Getting to Urquhart Castle with a tour operator or by boat
Visitors can also reach the castle on a guided tour which includes transportation to and from Inverness, a live tour guide on the coach, admission to Urquhart Castle as well as a 30-minute Loch Ness boat cruise. This is a great option if you’re based in Inverness as all the transportation is arranged for you and you get to enjoy both a boat cruise and a visit to the castle. No driving involved!
Another option would be to go on a boat tour and get a view of the castle from Loch Ness. You wouldn’t get a chance to walk around the ruins but it could be a good option if you’re squeezed for time.
Here are two great options:
- A 50 minute Urquhart Castle round-trip cruise on Loch Ness (leaves from the Clansman Harbour)
- A 2 hour Jacobite cruise that departs from Dochgarroch Lock, a short 15 minute drive south of Inverness – click here to book.
Do you need to book in advance to visit Urquhart Castle?
Urquhart castle welcomes over half a million visitors a year and can get very busy during peak season. Although it’s not necessary to book in advance, the lady at the welcome desk strongly recommended that visitors book ahead from April to October and especially if planning to visit during peak tourist season or school holidays. You can choose to book ahead online (and make a small saving) or take your chance and buy your ticket on the day at the castle. Booking ahead will also help you make the most of your visit and avoid any potential queues or delays.
Can you see Urquhart Castle without paying?
There is an admission fee to visit Urquhart Castle although you can get a great view of the castle from the loch if you go on a Jacobite Loch Ness cruise. Check out this instagram post where you’ll get to see what we mean. Also, if you walk from Drumnadrochit up to the castle, you’ll get a glimpse of the ruins through the foliage just before you reach the castle. You can’t actually see very much if you head to the castle’s car park as there is a large wall blocking the view of the ruins. You can get a view of the castle from the other side of Loch Ness at Change House walk, albeit a distant view – check out our post on things to do around Loch Ness to find out about where to stop on the south side of Loch Ness.
What was filmed at Urquhart Castle?
Surprisingly, not that many movies were filmed at Urquhart Castle despite its scenic location and atmospheric ruins. Here are a couple of films you might want to check out before your visit:
How to pronounce Urquhart
You might be wondering how to pronounce the word “Urquhart” and if so, we invite you to check out this youtube video which will have you talking like a local and you’ll even learn some Scottish history in the process!
Tips to avoid queues at Urquhart Castle
As mentioned previously, Urquhart Castle is a popular tourist attraction, and during peak season, it can get busy with long queues at the entrance. Here are some tips to avoid queues at Urquhart Castle:
- Arrive early: The castle opens at 9:30 am, and arriving early can help you avoid the crowds. This is especially the case during peak season.
- Buy tickets in advance: Buying tickets online in advance can save you time waiting in line at the ticket counter. You can also book a space at the castle car park at the same time. This is definitely worth doing as the car park fills up quickly during peak season and you will not be able to simply turn up on the day if you haven’t booked your space ahead.
- You might also want to buy an explorer pass if you’re planning on visiting several Historic Scotland sites – Fort George, Stirling Castle, Edinburgh Castle, etc. The pass gives you access to all Historic Scotland sites over a period of 7 days. This is worthwile if you’re touring round Scotland.
- TIP: if you’re a Scottish resident and have a Young Scot Card, you can book your ticket online for just £1!
- Visit during off-peak hours: If you can’t visit early in the morning, try to visit during off-peak hours, such as late afternoon. The castle is usually less crowded during these times.
- Visit during the off-season: The castle is open all year round, but it’s less crowded during the off-season, which is from November to March.
Visiting Urquhart Castle with kids
Urquhart Castle is a great place to bring kids! Who doesn’t like to pretend they’re a knight, a prince or princess? Your kids can choose between the explorer quiz (available in several languages) or they can take part in the “castle of wolves” challenge. This involves finding plaques with blue wolves dotted around the grounds of the castle. The little ones will report the number of wolves they’ve spotted to the reception desk and will be rewarded with a certificate of achievement + a sticker. And of course, they can do some Nessie spotting!
Here are some extra tips for visiting Urquhart Castle with kids:
- Bring snacks and water: Exploring the castle can be tiring, so we recommend packing some snacks and water to keep them fueled.
- Wear comfortable shoes: The castle ruins can be uneven and slippery, so wear comfortable and sturdy shoes that provide good grip.
- Pick up an explorer quiz: your kids will be completely engaged and interested in their visit.
- Visit the visitor centre: Watch the 8 minute film and check out the various exhibits. It’s a great way to introduce kids to the history of the castle before exploring the ruins.
- Take in the views: The castle is located on the shores of Loch Ness, and the views are breathtaking. Take the time to enjoy the scenery with your kids and point out any wildlife you spot.
- Participate in special events: Depending when you go, you might come across Mike the Knight who’ll be happy to answer any of your questions or a Jacobite soldier. Urquhart Castle offers a variety of special events throughout the year, including historical reenactments and workshops. Check the calendar of events to see if there’s something that your kids might enjoy.
Can you take dogs to Urquhart Castle?
Unfortunately your furry friend cannot visit Urquhart Castle – only assistance dogs can (they must be on a lead at all times).
Check out the posts below for some further inspiration if you’re planning a visit to the Highlands 👇👇👇
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