Urquhart Castle sits along Loch Ness, a freshwater loch in the Scottish Highlands. The lake runs for 23 miles and is home to the fabled Loch Ness Monster, Nessie (and yes, I believe!). It is one of the largest bodies of water in the United Kingdom. Visiting Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle was on our bucket list of things to do before we left Scotland and it didn’t disappoint.
Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness
In the 14th century, Urquhart Castle was a medieval fortification that saw the Wars of Scottish Independence. It was used initially as a royal castle and later granted to the Clan Grant in the early 1500s. After a series of raids, the castle was fortified and continued being used throughout the years. In the mid 17th century, however, Urquhart Castle was abandoned and partially destroyed. In the 20th century, it was opened to the public with the state as overseer. Today Urquhart Castle is the most popular castle travel destination in Scotland. The Scottish Highlands is an ideal vacation destination that allows visitors to immerse themselves in Scottish history and culture.
History of Urquhart Castle
There are several ways to experience Loch Ness and the castle. Take in the view of the loch from the top of Grant Tower and look out over the Great Glen hills. Visitors can step back in time and imagine how the Wars of Independence played out. Experience medieval life and chronicle the events of the Scottish Wars of Independence as the Scottish and English fought for control. Robert the Bruce, King of Scots took over the royal Urquhart Castle at one point.
The site also goes down in history as the only Highland Castle able to come out victorious against the English during the Second War of Scottish Independence. Thirty years later, Urquhart was made a garrison as Jacobites worked hard to attack. Soldiers ultimately abandoned the castle and destroyed it to ensure Jacobites would not be able to take over. The ruins of the castle now remain, the property of the state, which took control of it in the 20th century. The site offers glimpses into medieval life and times.
Things to See at the Castle
Visitors to Urquhart Castle can climb the remains of Grant Tower and take in the views of the sweeping highlands. Fans of medieval life will enjoy perusing the Great Hall. History buffs will delight in walking through the Great Hall where banquets and feasts would have occurred during the Middle Ages. The castle also houses medieval artifacts displayed as a timeline of its residents through the centuries. One such artifact is the Urquhart Ewer. The ornamental jug was used for bathing and is on display at the castle. Finally, visitors young and old will appreciate the full-sized trebuchet located on the castle grounds. The catapult was used to protect the fortification. It serves as a reminder of the ingenuity and resourcefulness humans can achieve in the face of adversity. And, if you’re not into the history side of things, Urquhart has a lot of fun nooks and crannies for the kids.
Ways to Explore Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle
A relaxing and luxurious 2-hour Jacobite Freedom Cruise takes visitors through Loch Ness. It includes an hour-long visit to Urquhart Castle. Visitors can board the boats at Clansman Harbour. If you’re looking for an affordable, and fun way to visit the area, this may be a good option. Views of the castle from the water are unparalleled. This coupled with the presentation at the Visitor Center and narration by the captain make a cruise a smart choice for busy travelers.
Helicopter Tour Over Scotland
An aerial view of the Highlands offers a stunning perspective that is sure to delight Loch Ness visitors. A popular area helicopter tour begins in Edinburgh and takes guests over the Highlands of Loch Ness. This four-day tour is the ultimate way to explore Scotland. In addition to visiting historic castles and sites, the tour includes a traditional British Tea and dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant. This birds-eye vantage point over Inverness may help visitors spot the Loch Ness Monster as they fly over Urquhart Castle.
Camping and Accommodations at Loch Ness
Setting up camp in the wide, open spaces at Loch Ness is a great way to explore the region in depth. Getting up close and personal on an overnight trip allows visitors the time, space and freedom to take in the expansive beauty of Scotland. Go off the beaten path and discover remote parts of Scotland. Camping here can be a one-of-a kind-experience thanks to a land reform law that allows visitors to camp on any unenclosed land. For visitors wanting to experience an increasingly popular world of van life, there are countless options for renting a campervan or recreational vehicle. Travelers seeking a rustic camping experience will enjoy the Inver Coille Campsite at the Southern end of Loch Ness. For a bit more pampering, consider Aslaich Bed & Breakfast in Lewiston. Visitors traveling with pets will appreciate the dog-friendly luxury cottage The Old Police House.
A Variety of Activities at Loch Ness
Year-round, there are a variety of activities in Loch Ness to keep guests busy. In Winter, snowshoeing and skiing are popular options. Families traveling to Loch Ness may enjoy getting up close with wildlife and feeding reindeer. Summer visitors look to horseback riding, golfing, sailing and fishing. Getting out on the water is another great way to explore. Whether paragliding over the loch or paddle boarding or kayaking across it, you won’t be able to beat the perspective. You truly can’t go wrong with any of these options with the Scottish Highlands as the backdrop to your Loch Ness vacation. Visitors looking for a more educationally-immersive experience can visit the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition. This attraction features exhibits that cover the geology of Loch Ness. It also chronicles its legendary creatures’ story. Nessieland is another local attraction that educates guests on the lakes’ natural and mythological history.
Urquhart Castle at Loch Ness is an ideal spot to visit in the United Kingdom. Legendary monster aside, the history, culture and stunning views make Loch Ness a destination that should be on every world-traveler’s bucket list.
Want more Scottish castles? Check out Aberdour Castle.
Want more activities in the Scottish Highlands? How about feeding reindeer!