The mighty Urquhart Castle overlooks the famous Loch Ness, with a fascinating history that offers you a taste of dramatic Highlands. Although Urquhart Castle is a shadow of its peak, the ruins on the shore of Loch Ness are more than enough to immerse you in the distinctly Highland heritage at Urquhart. From learning about Medieval life, perusing the remarkable collection of artefacts left over, and seeing how Urquhart changed throughout the nation’s history, this stellar attraction has a little something for everyone.
We’ll be covering the history of Urquhart Castle, how to get there & details to know, and attractions you should make time to see. As one of the most visited castles in Scotland, there’s no doubt that adding Urquhart Castle will be the highlight of your trip.
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History of Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle’s history is steeped in the very origins of Scotland, and it has been speculated that the site held a fortress belonging to a Pictish nobleman in the 7th century! No mere Pictish nobleman either, as the fort may have even belonged to a son of the King of Northern Picts. While carbon dating has there were structures to be present at the site, Urquhart Castle only became prominent in Scottish history during the early Middle Ages.
William the Lion is speculated to have built a castle at Urquhart sometime during the 12th century, but the first recorded document of Urquhart Castle was actually in 1296. Edward I of England captured the castle and started the War of Scottish Independence. While the war raged on, Edward I appointed Sir William Fitz Warn to hold the castle for the English, which he successfully did for a while.
For the duration of the War of Scottish Independence, the castle would frequently change hands between the two and notable English and Scottish heroes like Robert the Bruce and Alexander Comyn. Urquhart Castle had gained a reputation during this time as a royal castle, with several constables sitting within its halls.
Even after the War of Scottish Independence, Urquhart Castle was harassed by the MacDonald Lords of the Isles – an independent kingdom in Scotland. The Great Glen of Urquhart Castle witnessed a terrible fight that ended with Domhnall of Islay seizing the castle for over 15 years. The Donalds conquered the Earl of Ross from Urquhart, and James I recognised them as the first Earl of Ross – putting the crown back in control of Urquhart, although the castle passed to a different family.
The Grants of Urquhart Castle
The Earls of Ross wouldn’t maintain control of Urquhart Castle forever, as Scotland was a turbulent country filled with war and conspiracy. John, Earl of Ross, had agreed with England to turn against Scottish King James III, which the latter had discovered. James stripped John of his titles and granted the royal Urquhart Castle to the Early of Huntly instead.
But needing a major touch-up, the new Early of Huntly brought Sir Duncan Grant to restore the Castle’s grounds in a five-year lease. Seven years later, James IV gave the entire estate of the Castle and its grounds to John Grant, son of Duncan, on the condition that he repair and restore it. What was meant to be a period where Urquhart Castle could be restored turned into a series of conflicts during a period known as ‘The Great Raid’.
The MacDonalds of Clanranald and Camerons took thousands of cattle, furniture, and even the castle gates during this raid of the Urquhart Castle. Thankfully, the hard work of the Grants was not wasted, as they regained the castle and much of the Cameron’s lands. By the 16th century, the Grants of Urquhart Castle were a powerful force in the Highlands with a reinforced and experienced castle as their seat.
The final major battle the Urquhart Castle took part in was the Jacobite Risings when 500 Jacobite soldiers marched on Urquhart and sieged it in 1690. Although the garrisoned soldiers within the castle managed to outlast the Jacobites, they blew up the gatehouse so that no Jacobites could occupy it in their stead. The chunks of walls and gates can still be seen scattered throughout the Glen surrounding the castle.
Urquhart Castle Today
And so, by the late 1700s, Urquhart Castle became a romantic ruin used as a muse for painters and visitors to the Highlands rather than the royal seat it once was. And it has remained such an attraction since, with the most dramatic chapters of its life behind it and within the care of Historic Scotland.
Once one of Scotland’s largest castles, Urquhart today is a stellar attraction that continues to see over 500,000 visitors each year. After Edinburgh and Stirling, Urquhart is one of the most famous castles in Scotland for history buffs and travellers. And while we’ve told his fascinating story here, nothing beats the real thing.
How to Get to Urquhart Castle & Details to Know
Urquhart Castle is open to the public for you to visit when stopping by the attractions held within Loch Ness. You can visit Urquhart throughout the year – although the opening times may differ depending on when you’re choosing. The April – September entry is from 9.30AM to 6PM (last entry 5.15PM), May – August 9.30AM to 8PM (last entry 7.15PM) , and October – March Daily 9.30AM to 4.30PM.
Entry to Urquhart Castle costs £13 per adult, £7.80 per child, and £25.50 – £44.50 for a variety of family packages. You should purchase tickets online for the best price and guarantee entry. There is a car park and drop-off zone which you can use when you arrive.
How to reach Urquhart Castle by Car
The closest town to Urquhart Castle is Inverness, only half an hour from Urquhart Castle. If you’re planning to reach Urquhart Castle by car, take the A82 from Inverness south west towards Loch Ness. Follow it through Kilmore until you see signs for Urquhart Castle on the left. Turn left, and the car park and visitor centre should be accessible for you to visit.
How to reach Urquhart Castle by Transit
Travelling by transit is just as easy, although it will take just shy of an hour. From Inverness, take the 919 bus on King Street until you reach the 17th stop, which should drop you off right at the car park of Urquhart Castle.
Attractions at Urquhart Castle
Now that you know a little about Urquhart Castle and how to get there, let’s chat about the many unique attractions you can enjoy when visiting this castle’s iconic ruins.
Climb the Grant Tower
The centrepiece of Urquhart is undoubtedly Grant Tower — even though the south wall fell during a storm in 1715. You can ascend to the tower’s top after exploring Urquhart’s ruins, which grant stunning views of Loch Ness and the greater Inverness-shire region.
When James IV gave the lease to Urquhart to the Grant family, the Grant Tower was one of the most outstanding achievements of restoration completed. Don’t miss this premier part of the Grant Tower when visiting the attraction.
Keep an Eye Out for Nessie
Urquhart overlooks the great Loch Ness, which is synonymous with the Loch Ness Monster to many visiting Scotland. Although hotly contested, sightings of a long-necked dinosaur or an eel with humps have been seen throughout Loch Ness from Urquhart Castle.
Loch Ness is undoubtedly one of the most famous lochs in Scotland. So, while exploring the parts of Urquhart Castle from the highest vantage points of the rocky promontory, keep your eye out for the Loch Ness monster!
Explore Urquhart’s Interior
While lying in ruins since the 1700s, there are still parts of the Urquhart Castle that harken back to the royal interior it once held. While you explore the ruins, keep an eye out for these major parts of the castle:
The Great Hall
The mighty great hall of Urquhart was the centrepoint where many constables and royals of the castle made merry and discussed warplanes. As you wander through its ruins, it’s easy to imagine the splendid banquets staged within its high-ceilinged roof. You can also see the private chambers of the royals and the solar from the Great Hall.
The Prison Cell
We’ve mentioned the Great Raid of Urquhart, where thousands of livestock and pieces of the castle’s furnishings were stolen, but we elected not to note that the thief was locked up in Urquhart after the fact. Domhnall Donn (a legendary garlic bard) was said to have spent time in a miserable prison cell for their crimes.
You can see the gloomy prison cell where Domhnall was kept, and his defiance inspired many of his clan and his feat of stealing during the Great Raid, one of Urquhart’s stories that sticks with it to this day.
Urquhart Castle Trebuchet
Near Urquhart Castle is a full-sized trebuchet that will drop your jaw when you see it. These massive siege weapons were used to toss rocks, gunpowder, and dead animals to drive a garrisoned force from a castle over a prolonged period. During the Middle Ages, castle structures were the most incredible defence a king or queen could have, and this working trebuchet siege engine worked miracles to chip away at their stone walls.
This trebuchet is one of the many historic replicas to immerse visitors to Urquhart, and it’s worth grabbing a picture with this behemoth during your trip.
Check out the Urquhart Visitor Centre
All the information you need is easily accessible when you visit the Urquhart Visitor Centre. Within, you can get tips for local guides about Urquhart Castle, a collection of artefacts left over from multiple conquests, and many more fantastic options.
While you’re there, you should pick up some snacks to accompany you on your journey and learn as much as you can about the greatest castle in Scotland and the iconic loch next to it.
Walk the Great Glen Urquhart
Urquhart Castle is the guardian of the Great Glen and frequently was the location where the Lords of the Isles struggled to take this mighty castle. The Great Glen was one of the only natural routes that allowed Scots to traverse the Highlands and is a picturesque region.
Take a stroll and enjoy stunning views out to Loch Ness and this slice of the Highlands.