Loch Leven Castle, more often referred to as Lochleven Castle is a castle held in infamy thanks to several events in Scotland’s history. Loch Leven Castle is tucked away on Castle Island in Leven, Scotland, and is a special place to visit while exploring Scotland’s numerous historical attractions.
If you want to know how this mighty Tower House held captive Mary, Queen of Scots, housed Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn, and was a state prison of the powerful Douglas family, then you’ve come to the right place! Lochleven Castle has been a tourist attraction ever since the 1700s, so take advantage of one of the most beautiful and fascinating castles in Scotland.
We’ll be covering everything you need to know during your visit to Loch Leven Castle, from its fascinating history, how to get there and the attractions you need to look out for during your stay.
In This Post
History of Loch Leven Castle
Before being a prison to Mary, Queen of Scots and home of the Douglas family, Lochleven Castle started as a castle built for King Alexander III of Scotland. The castle was built on an island in a loch, isolating it from the surrounding landscape by a vast expanse of water. The young king was brought to the castle island forcibly by their regent.
War of Scottish Independence
Loch Leven Castle was a place of strategic importance as it is located between Perth, Stirling, and Edinburgh. It’s unsurprising that during the War of Scottish Independence in 1296 – 1328, the castle exchanged hands between the Scottish and English. Before the end of the 13th century, William Wallace captured the castle for the Scots.
It was during this turbulent time that many famous Scottish figures came to visit Lochleven Castle, including Robert the Bruce in 1313 and again in 1323. Once Robert the Bruce had passed away, the English attempted to siege the castle island by building a dam to flood the castle, although some historians have doubted this account. The siege failed, and the War of Scottish Independence drew to a close.
While some speculate that Lochleven Castle was built in the 13th century for King Alexander III of Scotland, there was undoubtedly a structure built on the island during the 15th century. This may have been a fortification of the 13th-century home or an entirely new structure, but what is certain is that the now five-storey tower house was granted to Sir Henry Douglas by King Robert II.
At its earliest inclinations, Lochleven Castle served as a state prison and housed notable prisoners like Robert II (before he became the monarch), Archibald Douglas, and Patrick Graham, the Archbishop of St Andrews. The most famous prisoner of Lochleven Castle would be kept within its walls until the 16th century.
Mary, Queen of Scots, Imprisoned
Before her imprisonment, Mary, Queen of Scots, had visited Lochleven Castle for a brief stay in May 1582. She recovered within the castle grounds after being injured from horse-riding at Falkland Palace. Two years later, she visited the castle once more as a guest of Sir William Douglas of Loch Leven, sometimes called Willie Douglas, to interview John Knox.
In May 1568, Mary returned as a prisoner for her third visit to Lochleven and was housed within the famous Glassin Tower. Mary’s time at Lochleven Castle is a highly notable period and has been the focus of many historical dramas and documentaries when discussing the Queen’s life. Mary experienced poisonings, miscarriages, and meagre service throughout her captivity but eventually began to convince George Douglas of her cause.
Throughout her year of captivity, Mary had made many bold but unsuccessful escape attempts from the castle island. With her new ally in George Douglas, however, Mary managed to dress up as a handmaid and cross the loch by rowboat. On the banks of the loch stood 200 and George Douglas, who took her to the Lothians.
To the Modern Day
As time progressed, the mighty curtain wall and tower house of Lochleven Castle slowly fell to ruin. By the 18th century, the castle surrounded by a loch was in a dismal state. Tourists throughout Scotland and England nevertheless still flocked to see the castle during the 18th century, hoping to see the place when Mary, Queen of Scots, had been captured.
The Castle was handed over to Historic Scotland in 1939 and is now managed by Historic Environment Scotland. Today, you can visit the castle from Kinross – it just requires a brief boat trip to reach.
How to Get There & Details to Know
Lochleven Castle is an experience to visit. Not only is it a stunning place to visit, but reaching it is pretty fun! Before you go, here are some essential details to know.
Lochleven Castle is only open during the summer months and is closed from 1 March – 1 November. From 1 April – 30 September, opening times are daily, 10:00 to 17:30 (last boat trip at 16:15). Between 1 October – 31 October, opening times are daily, 10:00 to 16:00 (last boat ride at 15:15).
Admission prices are subject to change, but generally, an adult ticket costs £10, a child ticket costs £6, and concession tickets cost £8. There are several family ticket options for more prominent families, costing between £20 – £34.
How to Get There by Car
Lochleven Castle is close to many of Scotland’s major cities, offering an easy-to-reach attraction to add to your to-do list whilst exploring the region.
Visitors travelling from Edinburgh by car should take the A90 out of Edinburgh and then the M90 across Queen Ferry Bridge. Follow the M90 until you begin to see signs for Kinross. Take the offramp to Kinross, and in the southeast corner of the town, you’ll find the Lochleven Castle Viewpoint and passage to the attraction.
If you plan to drive from Glasgow, head north east along the M80 and then the M76. Cross over the Clackmannanshire
Bridge onto the A876 and A977. The A977 takes you right into the town of Kinross. Follow the previous instructions to reach the Castle Viewpoint.
How to Get There by Transit
Transit is a cost-effective and picturesque way of traversing the Scottish landscape and a great way to reach the famous Lochleven Castle using Scotland’s public transportation.
From Edinburgh, travel to St Andrews, Stop to Park and Ride in Kinross. The journey along this bus should take about an hour, and the castle is within walking distance of Kinross’ town centre.
Visitors travelling from Glasgow take the Buchan Bus Station to Perth and then to the Kinross Park and Ride.
Attractions at Lochleven Castle
Lochleven is a fantastic tourist attraction in Scotland, but what interests does this island castle hold? Let’s find out!
Catch a Boat from Kinross Pier
Before adequately exploring Lochleven Castle, you’ll need to cross the loch to reach it. From Kinross Pier, there are a number of boat trips throughout the day to take you to and from the small island. The boat trip takes about 10 – 15 minutes to reach, with stunning views of the surrounding countryside as you reach the island.
Few attractions come with a free boat ride, so savour the magical moment!
Stay at Kinross House
If you’ve fallen in love with the magnificent views of Lochleven Castle like we have, then why not stay a little longer and enjoy them some more? Kinross House is a 17th-century private country house and estate heralded as an architectural jewel of Scotland.
Kinross House is a highly exclusive retreat that is very frequently booked up within the narrow timeframe that it’s open. The house offers incredible, luxurious amenities and is the height of cultural hotels in Kinross. Indulge in gastronomical flavours unknown, along with stunning views out to Lochleven Castle and the private estate.
The House is open to hire for special events, including weddings, corporate parties, family gatherings, or just about any celebration you’d want to have. There are even spas to book if you’re feeling the need to be pampered.
Explore Loch Leven Castle’s Interior
Although Lochleven Castle has remained in its ruined state for multiple centuries, much of the interior has remained for visitors to explore during their stop. One of the first sights is Glassin Tower, the famed tower that held Mary, Queen of Scots, for almost a year.
Before you reach the tower, thought, you’ll need to walk past the intimidating castle walls and explore the ground floor of the castle. Here, you’ll be able to see remains of the great hall where the Douglas family and the likes of Sir William Bruce spent their evenings speaking and entertaining guests.
From here, you can take a spiral stair up to the wall walk that shows the surrounding landscape from an unrivalled vantage point. If you plan to take pictures of the visit, here’s the spot!
The tower house can also be found on the ground floor, a bleak piece of stone that has remained largely untouched throughout the centuries of disuse. Finally,
Look out for the Ghosts of LochLeven
Budding ghost hunters will be happy to know that there have been reports of paranormal presences within Lochleven Castle. In fact, for the year that she spent imprisoned within Lochleven, there have been numerous claims that the restless spirit of Mary still resides here.
If you come to the castle towards the later afternoon and keep an eye out, you may find yourself in the presence of some incredibly spooky company!
Follow Mary, Queen of Scots, Escape Route
The Glassin Tower is likely the most famous part of Lochleven Castle, mainly due to the prisoners escaping it. Mary’s imprisonment and subsequent escape is one of the most thrilling tales in Scotland’s history, and while you’re at Lochleven Castle, you can relive the route she took out.
Although there is no historical record detailing which path Mary, Queen of Scots, took to escape her confines, it is known how she did it. Mary is said to have dressed as a handmaid and likely walked down Glassin Tower into the courtyard of Lochleven. Heart pounding, she may have made a quick detour into the Great Hall to sell her guise before navigating out the gate towards the water level.
From there, she rowed her boat across the loch to the firm ground, where 200 men and a smitten George Douglas awaited. The tale is filled with drama and intrigue, and you can follow in her footsteps during your visit to Lochleven Castle.
Enjoy Wooded Walks during the Summer
Between April and June, the woods surrounding Lochleven castle come alive with pink purslane, which makes for a tremendous wooded walk through the south and east corners of the castle island. If you’re lucky to visit the castle during this time, why not bring a picnic basket and blanket to soak in the sun with succulent purslane all around you?
Even during the autumnal months, exploring the island of Lochleven Castle is part of the experience, with many shaded and secluded parts of the woodlands around it providing an excellent place for adventure and photos. Walking along the edge also prompts beautiful views out to the loch and Kinross, with the stunning Kinross House not far in the distance.