The stunning Isle of Skye has numerous attractions that prospective travellers to the Outer Hebrides can look forward to on their journey, but none more so than the ancient and stunning Dunvegan Castle. Dunvegan Castle sits overlooking Loch Dunvegan. The Castle holds the title of being the oldest continuously inhabited castle, wrestling the title from other long-lived structures like Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle.
Come and see the ancient home of Clan MacLeod, with legendary stories, artefacts, and beautiful scenery. We’ll be covering the in-depth history of this historic Scottish castle, how to get there, details to know, and the major attractions you can look forward to while you’re there.
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History of Dunvegan Castle
The ancestral home of Clan MacLeod had humble beginnings when it was created, starting off as a promontory that was enclosed by a curtain wall during the 13th century. This modest promontory became a a four-storey tower house in the 14th century, and a veritable fortress for the MacLeods of Skye.
Joining the ever-expanding Dunvegan Castle was the Fairy Tower, where the infamous Fairy Flag that brought luck and victory to the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod. Joing the Fairy Tower would be the Piper’s Gallery, where the MacLeods popularised the Highland art of Piping. During the 18th century, Dunvegan Castle was built upon even more, homogenising the various towers and curtain walls to create a full and mighty castle.
Sir Walter Scott approved the structure of the castle, complimenting John Norman (the 24th chief) on the outstanding work her did to medievalise the castle space. Along with a castle’s structure, the 18th century also brought the pampering of 5 acres of formal gardens, with a hidden oasis featuring woodland glades, an eclectic mix of flowers, and shimmering pools.
Today, Dunvegan Castle is one of the best attractions to see while on the Isle of Skye and should be on the list of every traveller to the Hebrides.
How to Get There & Details to Know
Interested in visiting Dunvegan Castle? Here are some details to know and how to get there:
Dunvegan Castle is open from 1 April – 15 October, between the day 10:00 – 17:30. Seal trips are also available to enjoy, tours operate from 1 April – 30 September and takes 25 minutes.
How to Get There by Car
From the Kyle of Lochalsh to Dunvegan travel via the Skye Bridge 45 miles and admire the magnificent scenery along the way, then head North West across the island until you reach Dunvegan Castle.
How to Get There by Boat Trip
There are a number of ferries that you can use to reach Portree and the Isle of Skye, but the most popular options are Glenelg and Mallaig.
Attractions at Dunvegan Castle
As you reach Dunvegan Castle, you’ll see the mighty castle dominate Skye’s landscape amongst a Highland estate steeped in Scottish tradition – there’s truly no better warm Highland welcome. Here are the major attractions that you can see while exploring Dunvegan Castle.
Spot the Fairy Flag
Atop the Fairy Tower once stood the Fairy Flag, one of the castle’s great treasures. During the times of the mighty Clan MacLeod, the Fairy Flag was used as a symbol of the clan’s victory – a profound artefact that shook the confidence of any enemy who saw it unfurled during battle.
The Flag is said to be a powerful magic item, gifted to Clan MacLeod by a fairy princess. You can see it alongside the many fine oil paintings when you visit Dunvegan Castle.
Explore the Dunvegan Castle Gardens
The exterior of Dunvegan Castle is just as, if not more, stunning than the historic interior. Dunvegan Castle’s five acres hold a prestigious historic houses garden with plenty of nooks and crannies you can hide away and relax the afternoon away. The garden museum holds an intimate and detailed history of the formal gardens, with other special sights you can see including a glass house filled with the castle’s vegetable garden.
Another fantastic sight to see is the Dunvegan Water Garden – with its ornate bridges, and semi-formal round garden featuring elegant surroundings. On a hot, summer’s day, there’s nothing better quite like walking past shimmering pools fed by waterfalls.
Dunvegan Castle’s walled garden’s original function was to provide a stable source of fresh food for the chefs of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod. Today, you can savour the fresh tastes at the Dunvegan Castle Garden Cafe. These formal gardens began life in the 18th century, and are one of the finest parts of the castle you can see today.
See Dunvegan’s Historic Collection
Dunvegan’s historic collection is a point of pride for Clan Macleod, containing many famous items from fine oil paintings and clan treasures. Your tour through Dunvegan Castle will take you through the collection, but here are some of the items that you should keep an eye out for as well as their historic significance.
The aforementioned Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle is the most famous historic item in this collection. The flag is said to have been blessed and given to the clan by a fairy and granted victory in whatever battle it was unfurled for.
The Dunvegan Cup is also one of the castle’s greatest treasures, which dates back to the Middle Ages. The unique ‘mazer’ was originally gifted by the O’Neils of Ulster to Clan Macleod as a token of thanks to Sir Rory Mor for aiding their cause against the potent forces of Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1595.
Aside from these two famous relics, you can also look forward to perusing a collection of items from Bonnie Prince Charlie (his waistcoat), the Jacobite Rising, and a MacDonald corset and pin cushion.
Stop by Dunvegan Castle Restaurant
If you’re craving a snack and something to wash it down with, then Dunvegan Castle’s car park has just the thing. The Macleod Tables Cafe has a great range of freshly made food for you to indulge in, which comes from the traditional raised vegetable beds within the walled garden of Dunvegan Castle.
For nothing less than a warm Highland welcome, come and enjoy a great bean-to-cup coffee and a bite to eat at the Macleod Tables Cafe.
Take a Boat Trip to the Loch Dunvegan Seal Colony
Loch Dunvegan sits overlooking Loch Dunvegan, a large expanse of water that instils a sense of serenity to those who look out over it. In fact, there’s a thriving sea colony you can visit via boat trip!
This attraction is perfect for both children and adults alike, and it’s easy to book one of the many traditional clinker boats to the seal colony. If you’re keen to see the diverse range of wildlife that exists in Scotland, this castle location is the perfect place to do so.
Live your Fantasy in Charming Victorian Holiday Cottages
It’s easy to fall in love with Dunvegan Castle, and if you want to savour the award-winning castle a little longer then make sure to book a place at the holiday cottages for a few nights! There are a number of quaint and cosy cottages that are connected to Dunvegan Castle and gardens, which offer the best morning views you’ve ever seen.
Although Bonnie Prince Charlie had to leave Skye in quite a hurry, you can enjoy the semi-formal gardens, castles, and the memorial gazebo for as long as you want to when you stay at Dunvegan Castle.