Urquhart Castle with its idyllic Loch Ness backdrop


When it comes to location, Urquhart Castle ticks the boxes for both strategic and scenic. Dominating a rocky promontory on the iconic Loch Ness, the castle takes in the whole of the Loch and the surrounding countryside. Situated just south of Inverness, it also makes a prime spot on the route to the Highlands.

Its proud remains and stunning location mean that Urquhart Castle ranks among the most popular tourist attractions in Scotland. Visitors flock here for panoramic views of the Loch as well as the best opportunities to spot Nessie. A trip to Urquhart also provides a unique insight into Scottish history and the role played by castles in it.

A bit of Urquhart Castle history

Like so many Scottish castles, Urquhart comes steeped in a very colourful history. The castle’s strategic location caught the eye of the Picts and St Colomba who worked some of his miracles on the shores of Loch Ness in the 6th century.

But it wasn’t until 1230 when the Durward family arrived that construction started at Urquhart. By its completion, it had become one of the most important castles to stay in Scotland en route to the Highlands. The medieval fortress changed hands several times during the Wars of Independence until 1308 when Robert the Bruce finally claimed it back for his country. 

Royal ownership of Urquhart continued under the Grant Clan and the castle often marked the frontier in the clan wars. One of the battles between the Grants and MacDonalds left Urquhart stripped of everything of value after the MacDonald raid of 1545.

Urquart’s decline continued during the 17th century as military defences moved up the Loch to Fort William. The final demise came in 1692 when British government forces blew it up so that Jacobite rebels couldn’t use the castle as a stronghold. Today, the ruins are visited by thousands every year.

Urquhart Castle fast fact:

Despite being a Royal residence, only one monarch stayed in this Scottish castle: King David II in 1342. 

Highlights at Urquhart Castle

Not a great deal remains of Urquhart’s past glory, but a visit gives you an excellent insight into the workings of a Scottish castle. When you go, don’t miss the following must-sees: 

  • The views – those of Loch Ness and the Great Glen from the Grant Tower battlements are second to none.
  • The visitor centre – explore the excellent exhibition, scale model of the original castle and video before visiting the café with stunning views.
  • The ruins of the great hall – imagine the grandeur here and next door in the great chamber, the very best castle accommodation in Scotland for nobles in the 14th century.
  • The prison cell – the legendary Gaelic bard Domhnall Donn is said to have been held captive here.
  • The full-sized replica of a trebuchet – admire the might of the wooden catapult used during medieval sieges. 
  • Summer events – several take place enacting the castle’s dramatic past.
  • The seasons – don’t miss the castle surrounded by autumn colours in October or covered in snow in the winter.

Urquhart Castle fast fact:

The Great Raid on the castle is aptly named: the MacDonald clan seized 2,000 livestock, 3 large boats and 20 guns when they stormed Urquhart in 1545.

Why visit Urquhart Castle

Perhaps more than anything else, Urquhart is about its location. Few Scottish castles can compete with the magnificence of this setting. Loch Ness lies hidden by trees around most of its perimeter so climbing up Grant Tower offers the opportunity to get a really good look at Scotland’s second largest and deepest loch. Picture perfect any time of year, Urquhart is at its finest during the autumnal colours and winter snows. Seeing the castle in the swirling mists over Loch Ness has a very special charm too.

Urquhart Castle also brings Scottish history alive. You can almost hear the bloody cries of battle against the English and rival clans from within its walls, scarred even today. And of course, visiting this Scottish castle gives you the chance to possibly catch a glimpse of Nessie, just one of the many things to do when you’re in this part of the country.

Urquhart Castle fast fact:

Urquhart stood tall in the Wars of Independence as the only Highland castle to hold out against the English after Robert the Bruce’s death in 1332. 

Visitor information

The castle opens daily all year round from 9.30am. Closing times vary from 4.30pm between November and March to 8pm during the summer months. See the website for full details. There’s also a visitor centre, café and large car park. 

Urquhart Castle fast fact:

Despite its picture-perfect location, Urquhart has only featured in one film. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, directed by Billy Wilder in 1970, showcased the castle in all the Scottish scenes. 

Stay in a castle near Urquhart Castle

If your visit to Urquhart has given you a taste for castle stays in Scotland, why not rent your very own royal residence? This magnificent 13th-century castle comes with plenty of historic touches plus all the mod cons you need to lord it while on holiday. From the L-shaped tower and spiral staircase to four-poster beds and hot tub, you’ll be truly living like kings.

With room aplenty for all 20 of you, this castle accommodation in Scotland sits on a private sporting estate with 12,000 acres to roam regally. Inverness is just down the road while Loch Ness with the iconic Urquhart Castle and legendary monster lie a short drive away. Take a look and then book your perfect stay in a castle!

Read more in our castles in Scotland series including:

1. Stirling Castle
2. Eilean Donan Castle
3. 7 reasons to visit Stirling
4. Castles in Scotland – all you need to know
5. 14 Scottish castles with Royal connections
6. Fascinating facts about royal castles

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Urquhart Castle with its Loch Ness backdrop is one of Scotland's most iconic castles.