Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness

Written by Chris Thornton | 28th of September 2022
Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle is located in the Great Glen, on the shore of Loch Ness within the Glen Urquhart Bay in the Highlands of Scotland. I had only been to Urquhart Castle once in the past, as a child, maybe as long ago as the late 1980s or early 1990s... and as far as I remember, there was just a wooden gate to access the site.

Today was a different story! The castle is now one of the most visited castles in Scotland and is now massively geared up for tourists. There is now a car park, visitor centre, ferry dock, gift shop and cafe! I was pretty shocked at how much it had changed since my first visit all those years ago.

This was the final stop on our visit to central Scotland as part of my 40th birthday holiday.

Urquhart Castle Car Park

We pulled off the A82 into the car park for the castle. It was very busy, so busy that staff guided cars in and directed them to available spaces. This set the tone for our entire visit; it was just mobbed with tourists. We were lucky enough to grab one of the last spaces near the entrance to the visitor centre; there was no fee for parking.

Urquart Castle welcome board.
Information board at the car park showing ticket prices.

Urquhart Castle Visitor Centre

The visitor centre is a lovely modern building. We paid for our tickets and descended into what felt like a subway station down into the hillside. Note: It's worth purchasing tickets in advance to guarantee entry (and for the small discount); we just chanced our luck by arriving without booking.

Queuing to access the visitor centre.
Walking through the entrance of the busy visitor centre.

As you enter the lower area of the visitor centre, there are toilets on your left. You first arrive at the gift shop and cafe, but there are also exhibits here, including:

  • A video presentation all about the castle, periodically shown in the small theatre.

  • Many wall plaques are full of information on the castle and medieval life.

  • A remarkable collection of artefacts that were discovered in archaeological digs around the castle, including the Urquhart Ewer.

  • A full-size model of how the castle looked hundreds of years ago.

We decided to check these out later and just passed through the gift shop and out the glass doors to the veranda that gives a great view of the castle and grounds.

The path curves past the docks and to the castle, but a full-size trebuchet caught my eye!

Castle grounds, boat dock and trebuchet.
Castle grounds with trebuchet and dock.
A castle of distinctly Highland heritage.
Looking over to the castle from the visitor centre.
The Urquhart Castle visitor centre.
The visitor centre.

Approaching the Urquhart Castle

The grounds at Urquhart Castle are immaculate; a large grass field is between the visitor centre and the castle itself. The dock can be seen to the left of the path, allowing visitors to go for a cruise along Loch Ness if they wish.

The long arcing path takes you past the trebuchet and over a small bridge to enter the castle via the arched gatehouse.

The Trebuchet

While not a real trebuchet, this film prop looks the part on the grounds of Urquhart Castle. It's amazing to think these siege weapons were once used to attack castles; see the picture below for the size of the balls hurled at castle walls.

A working trebuchet siege engine
The Trebuchet.
Trebuchet ammo.
Ammo for the trebuchet!

The design of Urquhart Castle

The castle is an odd design. Most castles in Scotland have a central tower with a curtain wall surrounding it, but Urquhart Castle is longer and built directly along the coast. The hilly prominences at either side of the side were used for the towers and then joined by walls to the central gatehouse. The Grant Tower to the north east and another keep to the south west. Building the castle on the loch grants access via ship, perfect if the castle was under prolonged siege and was in need of supplies.

A romantic ruin.
Castle view from the entrance path.

This model within the visitor centre illustrates the design perfectly.

Model of Urquhart Castle.
A model of what Urquhart Castle once looked like.

Much of the ruin seen today dates from the 13th to 16th centuries.

The Gatehouse

Although somewhat intact, with the stone archway still allowing access to the castle, the upper part of the gatehouse is ruinous. The gatehouse was destroyed in 1692 to prevent it from being used in Jacobite rebellions. A large piece of masonry lies to the right of the entrance, blown apart by the explosion.

Approaching the gatehouse.

Passing through the archway, you can see where the iron portcullis would have once existed. Murder holes overhead show where arrows or rocks could have been fired at invaders.

Gatehouse arch.
Intact gatehouse arch.
Destroyed masonry from gatehouse.
Part of the gatehouse was blown up by the castle's final occupants.
Gatehouse.  Our nation's history at Urquhart, including the miserable prison cell.
The gatehouse as seen from the castle interior.

Grant Tower

The north tower is the largest and most impressive part of the castle and the main part that can be seen while cruising past via Loch Ness.

Iconic ruins.
View of the Grant Tower from the Jacobite Cruise.

A lot of the tower remains, but the south side is partially missing but gives an interesting cross-section of the interior, showing the thickness of the walls and the fine vaulted ceilings.

Grant Tower. Urquhart Castle was witness to some of the most dramatic chapters in Scottish history.
Grant Tower with exposed side.
Grant Tower, west elevation.
Grant Tower, looking up at the intact west face.

Gantries have been built, giving access to the tower and to multiple levels within the tower. It's fascinating to walk around the tower and peer out of the many original windows. The top level gives a great view of the rest of the castle ruins and back towards the visitor centre.

Stairway to the upper bailey.
The stair within Grant Tower.
The view from Grant Tower
Window looking out to Loch Ness.
The view of the ruin from Grant Tower.
View of the castle from Grant Tower.
Grant tower detail.
Looking up to the upper floors of the tower.

Great Hall and other buildings

Not much of the Great Hall remains, but one remaining wall facing the loch is impressively thick. Although ruinous now, I can imagine all the splendid banquets staged here hundreds of years ago. The Great Hall was used to entertain guests and show off the lord's wealth, but it was also used by the local government such as passing judgement on criminals.

Other buildings within the castle walls include:

  • Kitchens.

  • A chapel.

  • A smithy.

  • Dovecote.

  • Other buildings of an unknown purpose.

The Great Hall
Remnants of the cellars below the Great Hall.

Touring the castle

There are many nooks and crannies of this expansive castle to find and information boards for each area. There was a kilted man walking around, talking to tourists and answering questions.

Greatest castle in the Highlands of Scotland.
Another view of the Grant Tower.
Urquhart's stories, how many could it tell?
Part of the south wall and Loch Ness.
Reading the information panel.
Janette reading one of the many information boards.
Enjoy stunning views
Old walls and Loch Ness.

Loch Ness

The castle gives a variety of stunning views on the iconic Loch Ness from its many rises and battlements, the beauty of this body of water cannot be understated and is itself a reason to visit this stunning castle.

View of Loch Ness.
Loch Ness, directly next to the castle.

One area takes you down to the shore of Loch Ness, where the water gate would have once existed. This is a good spot for a photograph or a selfie.

Loch Ness Monster

Some of the most famous pictures of the Loch Ness monster have been taken from the castle, including photos by Peter Macnab in 1955 and Anthony Shiels in 1977. Maybe you will catch a glimpse of the elusive monster when you visit!

Loch Ness.
Loch Ness.

A short history of Urquhart Castle

Here is a very brief chronological outline of the turbulent history at Urquhart Castle.

2500 BC - The site of Urquhart Castle reaches back to the very earliest history of Scotland. There is evidence of an iron age settlement existing here long before the castle was built.

550 - A Pictish nobleman - Emchath - was said to have been visited by St Columba, who worked miracles on the site of the castle. A Pictish brooch discovered here at least gives credence to the fact The Picts inhabited the location. The new castle was likely built on the site of an existing Pictish fort.

1230 - King Alexander II grants the castle to his son-in-law Alan Durward, who then converts it to a stone castle.

Central ruin.
Exploring the central part of the ruin.

1275 - John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch and Lochaber, gains Lordship of Urquart.

1296 - Edward I of England captures the castle and appoints Sir William Fitzwarine as its keeper.

1297 - Andrew Moray attacks the castle but fails to capture it.

1303 - The castle is taken by King Robert the Bruce, who annihilates the Comyn family.

Ruin overview.
Overview of the ruin.

1342 - Royalty visits the castle. King David II is the only king known to have stayed here.

1346 - The Earl of Moray dies, and the castle reverts to the Scottish Crown. The castle becomes a key strategic point in the battles against Clan MacDonald.

1509 - The Grants were made lords of Urquart by the Crown and ordered to fortify the castle and police the area.

1545 - The Macdonald Clan - Lords of the Isles - attacked the castle, and it passed between them and the Crown multiple times. 1545 was their last raid on the castle scoring them boats and guns.

The south prominence.
A keep would have once stood on this hill to the south side of the ruin.

1650 - The castle saw some use in the Civil Wars of the 17th century.

1689 - Urquart was garrisoned for the final time. Captain James Grant held the castle with 300 men against the Jacobites. The damage from this final battle was never repaired, and the castle was abandoned.

1715 - Part of the Grant Tower collapses during a storm.

1913 - Urquart finally passes into state care and receives repairs needed to maintain it for future generations.

Visitor centre as seen from the castle.
Visitor centre from the castle.

Urquhart Castle Gift Shop

We are a sucker for buying a souvenir on our trips around Scotland, we always buy a fridge magnet, but this time I decided to purchase two! This heraldic shield spoke to me and now takes pride of place on the fridge collection at home.

There is an excellent selection of other products to purchase:

  • T-shirts

  • Scarves

  • Shetland Reel Gin

  • Whisky

  • Shortbread

  • Heathergems

Fridge magnets.
My fridge magnets!
Gift shop.
The gift shop.
T-shirt selection.
Some cool goblets!
Gin selection.
Shetland Reel Gin.

Historic Environment Scotland

The castle was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland and is currently cared for by Scottish charity, Historic Scotland, which is responsible for the modernisation of the site. They have done a fantastic job. HES is the lead public body established to care for and promote Scotland's historic environment.

Why was Urquhart Castle destroyed?

Urquhart Castle was damaged in 1692, taking part in its final battle with the Jacobites. Damage was sustained from the battle itself, but it was also blown up by the castle defenders to stop it from falling into the hands of their enemies after they left.

How do you pronounce Urquhart?

It's a very Scottish-sounding word and does not sound quite like the spelling. "Urc kurt" is more like the correct pronunciation.

The shores of Loch ness near the castle.
Near the shores of Loch Ness.

Is Urquhart Castle worth visiting?

Yes, but it is very busy in the high tourist season. I would limit your visits to weekdays when it might be a little quieter. The visitor centre, grounds and castle are all fantastic.

Are there toilets and a cafe at Urquhart Castle?

Yes, the visitor centre has both toilets and a cafe for refreshments. Outdoor seating is available too! The facilities are only accessible after buying a ticket.

Lochview Cafe.
The Lochview Cafe.
Outdoor seating at the visitor centre.
The outdoor seating area.

Urquhart Castle Ticket Prices

When we visited, the admission charge was £13 for adults and £8 for children; a small discount is available if purchasing tickets online. Family tickets are available, ranging from £25.50 - £44.50. It is fairly expensive compared to other castles I've visited, but there is a lot to see, and the money goes to maintaining many of Scotland's historic places.

Can you visit Urquhart Castle without paying?

The site of the castle is only accessible via the visitor centre. So it's not possible to just get a quick selfie at the castle walls without actually going into it. Buying a ticket is the only way to get close to the castle.

You can get a more distant photograph from the road if that's all you would like. There is no charge for the use of the car park.

Loch Ness battlements view. Promote Scotland's historic environment.
Looking out to Loch Ness from the battlements.

Is it possible to go to Urquhart Castle via the Loch Ness cruise?

Yes, the Jacobite Cruise has a stop at Urquhart Castle as one of its available options. There is a dock built into the site, right next to the castle. Check out their available tours here. The cruise can be taken from Inverness further north or from the Castle itself. Costs are £27 for adults and £16.50 for children (under 5's are free).

Jacobite Cruise leaving the castle dock.
One of the Jacobite Cruise boats leaving the castle dock.

How to get to Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle is located directly on the A82, near Drumnadrochit. The castle is about 17 miles south of Inverness, a 34-minute drive along the west side of Loch Ness.

From Fort William, you are looking at a 48-mile drive taking about 1 hour and 15 minutes, again on the A82 road.

Visiting from Glasgow or Edinburgh is a long drive, 3 hours 52 minutes (156 miles) from Glasgow and 3 hours 44 minutes (175 miles) from Edinburgh. It will take much longer via bus, especially if using public transport instead of private hire.

Grid Reference: NH 529285
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One of Scotland's iconic historic attractions.
A fantastic tourist attraction in the Scottish Highlands.


Urquhart Castle is one of the great ruined castles to visit whilst in Scotland, but maybe a victim of its own success, it is BUSY. The success of Urquhart Castle no doubt contributes greatly to the funds of Historic Environment Scotland, allowing them to maintain the other castles around Scotland... so I will forgive the mass crowds, but it did spoil our visit a little bit.

If you can plan your visit off-season, or at least on a weekday, I think you will have a fantastic time - the castle and facilities are awesome and in such a beautiful setting on the shore of Loch Ness.

Urquhart Castle location map

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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