Urquhart Castle, Scotland: Visitor’s Guide To Loch Ness’s Ancient Fortress

Urquhart Castle, Scotland‘s third most visited castle, after Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle, is an imposing ruin set on the banks of the iconic Loch Ness, deep in the heart of the romantic yet unforgiving Scottish Highlands.


Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle With Loch Ness In Background

Urquhart Castle History

Sitting on the shore of Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle’s history goes back some 800 years. It was originally intended as a fortification to stave off military attacks and prevent piracy. Although now a large ruin, the castle is still a fascinating place to visit.

Boasting a distinctly Highland heritage, the castle and wider location has borne witness to some of the most eventful chapters in Scotland’s history.

The noted Irish monk, St Columba, is said to have visited Urquhart Castle in the 6th century and performed miracles. Legend even states that he came face to face with a mysterious monster on the banks of Loch Ness.

In the 1300s, King Edward I of England controlled the castle, but the Scots gained control in 1332, and subsequently, it held the honor of having suffered no attacks from the English. In fact, Urquhart is the only castle in the Scottish Highlands to have successfully held out against the English.

Robert the Bruce controlled the castle during the 14th century. It’s said that he was inspired to continue his fight against the English when, in the castle one day, he saw a spider spinning a web.

Although the English were no match for the castle, the MacDonalds, known as the Lords of the Isles, would, over the years, routinely make their way through the Great Glen in a bid to seize more control and power.

Their very last raid of Urquhart in 1545 saw the MacDonalds come away with a huge hoard, which included 20 guns and three boats, from one of the largest castles in Scotland.


Features

Grant Tower

Sadly, much of the castle’s architecture was destroyed in the 17th century when the Jacobites and Williamites were at war. Following an explosion, there was much damage to the castle’s walls and interior.

A fierce storm blew down much of the south-west side of the Tower House and, in the 18th century, the spot where St Columba performed his miracles.

Although today it sits as a ruin, it is possible to still view the Great Hall, where you can imagine the splendid banquets staged here during medieval times. As well as this, you can glimpse the miserable prison cell where many an unfortunate soul was kept throughout the castle’s darkest periods.

The upper bailey commands stunning views from the romantic ruin overlooking Loch Ness, Glen Urquhart, and beyond, and a climb of the Grant Tower is also highly recommended.

There is also a remarkable collection of artifacts and historic replicas to be seen in the visitor center run by Historic Environment Scotland, including the ominous sight of a working trebuchet siege engine.


Visitor Info

With over half a million visitors each year, Urquhart Castle is one of the most visited castles in all of Scotland.

In order to guarantee entry, it’s advised that you book online in advance.

Opening hours

2022-2023 opening times

1st April 2022 – 31st March 2023

April, May, and September daily, 9.30 am to 6 pm

June to August daily, 9.30 am to 8 pm

October daily, 9.30 am to 5 pm

November to March daily, 9.30 am to 4.30 pm

Please note: the above opening times should be used as a guide only. Times are subject to change.

Admission fees

Adult: £12 per ticket

Child: £7 per ticket

Concession: £9.50 per ticket

Family Ticket (1 Adult + 2 Children): £23.50 

Family Ticket (2 Adults + 2 Children): £34.50

Family Ticket (2 Adults + 3 Children): £41

Please note: these prices are a guide and subject to change.


Additional Information

Unforeseen closures

Due to the changeable nature of the weather in the Scottish Highlands, there may be times when the castle is forced to close to visitors at short notice. Therefore, it’s recommended that you check ahead before setting off on your journey to Urquhart Castle.

Contact Historic Scotland before traveling in case of unexpected closures.

Parking

There is a car park located beside the castle, but it must be booked in advance.

Face coverings

Following Scottish Government guidelines, it is strongly recommended that you wear a face covering in interior spaces within the castle, gift shop, and cafe.

Bag restrictions

In the interest of staff and visitor safety, as well as ease of movement, visitors carrying large rucksacks will not be permitted entry.

Dogs

Assistance dogs are permitted at the castle and visitor center.


FAQs

What is Urquhart Castle famous for?

Urquhart Castle holds a prominent spot in the bloody history of the Scots’ tumultuous struggle for independence from the English. Some after he became King of Scots in 1306, none other than Robert the Bruce took hold of the castle.

What are the main attractions at Urquhart Castle?

The Grant Tower and Great Hall are both well worth seeing, as they give a fascinating insight into medieval life as well as the Scottish nation’s history. There is also a visitor centre that offers a throng of information on its history, including a detailed retelling of how the castle held out, somewhat miraculously, against the English.


Final Thoughts

Urquhart Castle, situated on the shore of Loch Ness, truly has a charm quite like no other castle in Scotland, and is notable for surviving some of the most dramatic chapters in history.

The iconic ruins have a whimsical appeal and tragic history that has solidified their place as one of the most popular historic destinations in the Highlands.

REFERENCES

Urquhart Castle, Inverness – Castles | VisitScotland

Urquhart Castle | History & visiting facts | Scotts Castle Holidays (scottscastles.com)

Urquhart Castle – Wikipedia

Urquhart Castle: Access | Historic Environment Scotland | HES