Urquhart Castle: why visit, how to get there and what to see

Grant Tower, built in the 1500s, makes up some of Urquhart Castle's stunning architecture. (Image: Getty Images)
Grant Tower, built in the 1500s, makes up some of Urquhart Castle's stunning architecture. (Image: Getty Images)

Urquhart Castle, situated on the banks of the iconic Loch Ness, is one of Scotland’s most visited attractions.

With dramatic ruins steeped in more than 1,000 years of history and plenty to do in the surrounding areas, Urquhart Castle is a must-see destination for visitors and locals alike.

This prison cell is where criminals would have awaited their trials (Image: Getty Images)

This prison cell is where criminals would have awaited their trials (Image: Getty Images)

What’s the history of Urquhart Castle?

One of the largest castles in Scotland by area with ruins dating back to the 13th-16th centuries, Urquhart Castle is soaked in history.

The backdrop of some of Scotland’s most dramatic historic chapters, it offers visitors an insight into the medieval life and events that took place on its grounds.

The castle bore witness to the Scottish Wars of Independence, when the Scottish and English armies battled for control of the castle.

Urquhart Castle dates back to the 13th Century (Image: Getty Images)

Urquhart Castle dates back to the 13th Century (Image: Getty Images)

In 1306, Robert the Bruce took charge of Urquhart Castle after becoming King of Scots, and it was held as a royal castle even after his death.

In fact, Urquhart was the only Highland castle to hold out against the English in 1332 during The Second War of Scottish Independence.

But its turbulent history did not stop there. It was raided time and time again by MacDonald Earls of Ross, in their quest for power.

It was granted to the Clan Grant in 1509 but conflict with the MacDonalds continued.

Urquhart Castle is situated on the banks of Loch Ness, one of Scotland's most iconic locations (Image: Getty Images)

Urquhart Castle is situated on the banks of Loch Ness, one of Scotland's most iconic locations (Image: Getty Images)

In 1545, the MacDonalds conducted their last raid, which ultimately proved to be the worst: they were able to get away with 2,000 livestock, three great boats and 20 guns.

Later, Urquhart became a garrison for government forces as they battled against the Jacobites. In 1692, when the soldiers vacated the castle, they blew it up in order to stop the castle being reoccupied by the Jacobites and it fell into disrepair.

Urquhart became regarded as a romantic ruin and in 1913 the responsibility for the castle’s upkeep was placed into state care.

What’s there to see?

With views over Loch Ness, eagle eyed visitors might be able to catch a glimpse of the ever elusive Nessie from the castle.

Even if you don’t manage to see the unofficial mascot of Scotland, the atmosphere of the setting is reward enough.

You can take in the views of what remains of Grant Tower, built in the 1500s, or see where grand banquets were staged in the Great Hall.

Alternatively, for a darker glimpse of history, gaze into the prison cell, a windowless chamber that held prisoners as they awaited their trials.

See the Urquhart Ewer, an ornamental jug discovered during excavations of the castle, which would have been a prestigious item used for hand-washing.

Other medieval artefacts left behind by the ever-changing castle residents can also be seen.

View the full-sized trebuchet (catapult) situated on the grounds, which will truly take you back to the conflict and battles Urquhart Castle witnessed.

How much does it cost to enter?

Admission prices are: £12 for adults, £9.60 for concessions and £7.20 for children.

There is an on-site gift shop where you can buy souvenirs and refreshments are available in the castle’s cafe.

When is the best time to go?

You can visit Urquhart Castle all year-round, although bear in mind that Scotland’s weather is temperamental and hours of light vary greatly from winter to summer. In the winter, hours of daylight are between 8am and 4pm on average, while in the summer it stays light from 3am to 11pm.

On average, there are 143 days of rainfall per year, with January the rainiest month and April and May the driest. July is the warmest month, with temperatures averaging around 14 degrees celsius.

Opening hours for Urquhart Castle vary throughout the year:

April to May: 9:30am - 6pm.

June to August: 9:30am - 8pm.

September: 9:30am - 6pm.

October: 9:30am - 5pm.

November to March: 9:30am - 4:30pm.

The castle is closed 25th to 26th December, but remains open on New Year’s Day for the shortened hours of 11am - 4:30pm

How do I get there?

Driving from Edinburgh or Glasgow takes just under four hours and the best route is along the A9. Urquhart Castle has on-site parking available, including nine accessible bays.

Alternatively, take the bus or train from Edinburgh or Glasgow to Inverness, which takes about three-and-a-half hours. From Inverness, several buses go to the castle, including the 513 and 919.

What else is there to do around the area?

Why not jump aboard a Jacobite Cruise and explore both Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness?

The cruise and tour combination will take you through the famous waters of Loch Ness, allowing you to step aboard dry land to investigate the castle more closely.

Check out the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition. With a top-of-the-range multimedia presentation, the centre will guide you through seven themed areas and 500 million years of history.

Natural mystery and legend combine to present the unique environment that makes Loch Ness - and of course, the famous Loch Ness Monster.

Sample the national drink of Scotland with Highland Taste, whose varied itineraries have something for everyone.

Guided tours of production areas, tutored nosing and tasting of choice malt whiskies are all on offer - and if whisky doesn’t strike your fancy, then Highland gins and craft beers are available too.

For the more adventurous, In Your Element Scotland offers canoeing, archery, ariel courses and even more to get your blood pumping.

A quiet visit to a historic castle in the morning and a rip roaring adventure in the afternoon might just be what the doctor ordered.

Worked up an appetite travelling back in history, soaking up the culture and getting the adrenaline going? Check out some of the best places for food and drink in the area.