Urquhart Castle: Ruins of History on the Banks of Loch Ness

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Standing on the banks of Loch Ness, feeling the Highland breeze blow through your hair, is a special feeling you only get in Scotland. For me, it’s almost magical. Inverness, the heart of the Scottish Highlands, has always held a special place in my travel-loving heart.

During my most recent trip, this moment was made better only by the allure of Urquhart Castle on the horizon. A historic site filled with walkable castle ruins, Urquhart Castle is steeped in the legends and history that makes Scotland a land full of stories just waiting to be told.

This historic fortress is not just another tourist attraction; it’s a place where visitors can go to learn about the tumultuous past of the Scottish Highlands, a place where stories of bravery, conflict, and the pursuit of freedom have left their mark.

Whether you’re in the area for a few days or just passing through Inverness, you’ll want to make the time to learn about the intricate history of Urquhart!

The History of Urquhart Castle

The history of Urquhart Castle spans many centuries. Although there were people living on the site prior, the construction of the actual fortress did not begin until the 1230s under the reign of King Alexander II.

Fortress at Urquhart and Loch Ness in Backdrop.
Medieval fortress of Urquhart

Initially, the castle was built to allow a semblance of control over the Great Glen, an important and strategic trade route in Scotland. In the early days, the castle was wrought with violence, changing hands to the English and back during the Middle Ages.

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Highland Clan Battles & Scottish Independence

Courtyard and old fortress of Urquhart Castle.
Ruins of Urquhart Castle Loch Ness Inverness Scotland

Over time, Urquhart Castle frequently changed hands between leaders and rival Scottish clans. Most notably, Robert the Bruce conquered the castle in 1306 as he fought for Scottish independence.

Although control of Urquhart was retained from the English during this battle for independence, the Highland clans began to fight over its land, proving once again that Urquhart Castle was meant to continue its bloody history.

The Highland clan MacDonald and the Crown battled for control within its walls as each clan attempted to establish dominance in this portion of the Highland region.

As the 1500s came, the Grant Family was tasked with restoring the castle and built Grant Tower, which allowed for a viewpoint over the grounds and surrounding area.

By the 17th century, the castle was no longer a center of political or military importance. It fell into disrepair, with part of the magnificent Grant Tower quite literally toppling over.

Remains of Urquhart Castle.
Remains of Urquhart Castle

Then, in the 18th century, during the Jacobite Uprising of 1715, the castle was partially blown up by government forces to prevent it from being used by Jacobite rebels. This destruction left the castle in the ruined state that visitors see today.

Without a doubt, Urquhart Castle stands at some of the most forefront and turbulent moments in Scottish history. Now, as a piece of the Scottish Trust, it has risen to be one of the most visited castles in the country, finding its place as a magnificent tourist attraction well worth visiting.

Visiting Urquhart Castle

A visit to Urquhart Castle is a must if you are traveling through the Scottish Highlands or taking a quick stopover in Inverness.

Fortress wall and Tower at Urquhart Castle.
Remains of the Tower at Urquhart Castle

I spent hours learning about the history of the castle and climbing its ramparts. There are so many ruins to explore, and you can even climb up into what is left of Grant Tower to view the area from above.

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I particularly loved that you could climb down to the banks of Loch Ness, too! Don’t forget to check in with the visitor’s center and see the film, museum, and cafe!

Urquhart Castle & Loch Ness Tour

The best way to see Urquhart Castle is to combine it with a boat tour on the waters of Loch Ness. You can search for Nessie AND experience the fortress ruins!

View of Loch Ness in Scotland.
Clansman Harbour Loch Ness Inverness Scotland

Hop aboard a Jacobite boat tour at Clansmen Harbor, just about 15 minutes outside of Inverness. You’ll use the boat’s sonar to search the Loch Ness waters for Nessie as you enjoy views of the water and shore from the boat deck.

View from the cruise on Loch Ness.
Loch Ness Jacobite Cruise

Your boat will drop you off along the shores of Urquhart Castle. Climb up to the visitor’s center to catch an informational video, tour museum archives, and visit the gift shop. Then, climb around the ruins and explore to your heart’s content as you learn all about the medieval history of this stronghold.

Once you’re finished, your boat tour will pick you up and take you back across the loch for your return trip!

Entry to Urquhart Castle Without a Tour

You can absolutely visit the castle grounds without a tour. Drive to the town of Drumnadrochit, and there is ample parking and easy access to Urquhart.

You do need to pay for entry, but this will be a quicker way to visit if you’re not interested in combining with a Loch Ness tour.

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Historic Urquhart Castle in the Scottish Highlands

Today, Urquhart Castle is one of Scotland’s most visited historical sites. Its stunning location on the banks of Loch Ness and its rich history make it a popular destination for tourists and those interested in learning a bit more about the country’s morbid history or even grabbing some Scottish mementos on their way home.

Way from the castle to Loch Ness.
The rocky shoreline of Loch Ness near Urquhart Castle is easily accessible

Take a trip to explore the ruins, enjoy stunning views of Loch Ness, and learn about the castle’s fascinating past through exhibits and interactive displays on-site.

Bio: Taylor from Traverse with Taylor

By Taylor from Traverse with Taylor.
By Taylor from Traverse with Taylor

Taylor is owner and author of Traverse With Taylor, a travel blog that focuses on helping you experience Europe easily! She has been roaming all over Europe for more than a decade and loves great bookstores, amazing coffee shops, good beer, and exploring Amsterdam and Scotland, in particular. Follow Taylor from Traverse with Taylor on Instagram, Facebook and Tiktok.

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Pinterest images of Loch Ness and the ruins of Urquhart Castle.
Pinterest images of Urquhart fortress, ruins and way to Loch Ness from the castle.

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