Home Travel Guide How to Visit Eilean Donan Castle: Your Ultimate Guide (2024 update)

How to Visit Eilean Donan Castle: Your Ultimate Guide (2024 update)

by Mandy
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Visit Eilean Donan Castle - view from across the loch

Welcome to your ultimate guide for how to visit Eilean Donan Castle, one of Scotland’s most iconic fortifications. The castle has become a popular attraction in recent years and it’s easy to see why.

When you imagine a trip to Scotland what do you see? Deep blue lochs stretching for miles. The rugged green hills of the Scottish Highlands. And ancient castles steeped in history, myth and legend. Eilean Donan Castle embodies all of this and is the very essence of what makes Scotland so special. 

Eilean Donan Castle is a stunning medieval fortress, nestled among the dramatic Scottish Highlands, including the iconic mountains of the Isle of Skye. What sets this castle apart is its enchanting setting, perched upon a small tidal island where three lochs meet: Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh.

In this guide, we cover everything you need to know to visit Eilean Donan Castle, including the best time to visit, how to see inside Eilean Donan Castle, and other things we recommend to do in the area.

About Eilean Donan Castle

A trip to visit Eilean Donan Castle must be high on your bucket list of things to do in Scotland. The castle is a majestic symbol of resilience and pride, with a rich history, dating back to the 13th century. During its lifespan, the castle eventually became the stronghold of Clan Macrae. However, their loyalty to the Jacobite cause led to the castle’s destruction in the 18th century during the Jacobite uprising.

Eilean Donan Castle was left to lay in ruins for almost two centuries. The official Eilean Donan Castle website has a full timeline of the castle’s history if you’re interested. Eilean Donan was meticulously restored in the early 20th century and was rebuilt to its former glory, reopening to the public in 1932.

In more modern times, the castle has been featured in several films and TV shows, such as the 1986 movie, Highlander. People from all over the world visit Eilean Donan Castle to admire its stunning stone walls, learn of its rich history and experience all the true Scottish Highlands scenery surrounding it. With its distinctive features and battlements, Eilean Donan Castle is considered one of the most iconic symbols of Scotland, often depicted in photos, paintings and other forms of art.

Intrigued? If you’re looking to visit Eilean Donan Castle, you can book a guided tour to learn more about its historic role. There are lots of opportunities for seeing inside Eilean Donan Castle and it’s castle grounds, and nabbing some photo opportunities. Plus there are always exhibitions showcasing the castle’s history and artifacts.

Your Guide for How to Visit Eilean Donan Castle

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How to Visit Eilean Donan Castle

The castle in located in the north/west of Scotland, nestled in the dramatic Scottish Highlands. Proximity-wise it is about 1.5 hours drive from Inverness, 1.5 hours drive from Fort William and a 1 hour drive from Portree on the Isle of Skye. This makes visiting Eilean Donan Castle easily doable as a day trip. However, it is quite out the way from more major cities, such as Edinburgh or Glasgow (both roughly 4 hours drive away), so you’ll definitely want to be based somewhere further north.

We based ourselves just outside of Inverness during our trip around Scotland and found this was a great location for exploring not just Eilean Donan Castle, but the broader Scottish Highlands too.

By Car

Visiting Eilean Donan Castle by car is likely your best / quickest / most flexible option. The main route to the castle is via the A87, which you’ll take whether you’re travelling from the direction of Skye, Inverness or Fort William.

There is a car park onsite, which costs £3 for 2 hours. The car park is pay and display and is cash only (or it was when we visited. This may have changed, but it’s worth bringing cash with you just in case). Eilean Donan Castle is a very popular spot for tourists and visitors, so the car park does fill up quickly! We visited at 9:30am on a Monday in July, and the car park was already half full. There are also spaces set aside for coach tours and buses, so you will want to arrive early to avoid all the tour group crowds. We would say 9:30am (latest) is a comfortable time to visit. Any earlier is an added bonus!

Here is the full address to add to your satnav for visiting the castle:

Eilean Donan Castle
by Kyle of Lochalsh
IV40 8DX

The official Eilean Donan Castle website also has more details if needed.

A view towards Eilean Donan Castle

By train

Despite the castle being relatively remote, Scotland is surprisingly well connected. You can catch at least 1 method of public transport to the castle, which we were quite surprised at given its remote location. That said, Inverness will be your best bet if you’re planning to catch a train, as there are no direct trains from Fort William or Portree on the Isle of Skye.

From Inverness

Catch a train to Kyle of Lochalsh Railway Station. It’s a beautifully scenic journey, going past many of Scotland’s lochs and highland hills. The train journey takes about 2.5 hours, operated by ScotsRail. Once at Kyle of Lochalsh, you will need to take a 10 minute taxi to the castle. So although this route is doable, it is longer compared to driving.

Schedule’s change fairly frequently, so be sure to check ScotRail’s website first to plan your visit.

By Bus

Travelling to Eilean Donan Castle can be done via bus, however it does involve a couple of transfers, and it is not the quickest method, making this quite a long day if you’re planning to visit Eilean Donan Castle as a day trip. Your best options will be to take a bus from either Inverness or Portree on the Isle of Skye. There are no direct bus services from Fort William (to our knowledge).

From Inverness

Take a bus operated by Scottish Citylink to Kyle of Lochalsh. The journey takes about 2.5 to 3 hours, depending on the service. Be sure to plan your route carefully, checking the schedules on the Citylink website. Once at Kyle of Lochalsh, you will need to take a 10 minute taxi to the castle.

From Portree (Isle of Skye)

You can catch a bus operated by Scottish Citylink to Kyle of Lochalsh. The journey takes about 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on the service. Be sure to plan your route carefully, checking the schedules on Citylink’s website. Once at Kyle of Lochalsh, you will need to take a 10 minute taxi to the castle.

Tour Bus

As another alternative, there are also lots of bus tours which will take you directly to Eilean Donan Castle from Edinburgh. There are lots to choose from, but the castle’s official website lists quite a few to get you started.

How to Visit Eilean Donan Castle - view from across the lochs

Why is Eilean Donan Castle famous?

Location alone makes this one of the most famous and one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. Renowned for its beauty, natural surroundings and its iconic part in Scottish history. Its association with Scottish clans and its involvement with the Jacobite uprising adds to its historical significance and fame.

Eilean Donan Castle was also featured in the 1999 James Bond film, “The World is Not Enough” marking the castle as an iconic landmark in Scotland to a whole new generation. While social media has certainly helped to put Eilean Donan Castle on the map for many new visitors to Scotland, this castle has had people in awe of its stone built walls and dramatic surroundings for centuries.

When to visit Eilean Donan Castle?

As already covered, Eilean Donan Castle is a very popular attraction in the Scottish Highlands, and this little castle can get busy very quickly! The castle is open to visitors year-round, so the best time to visit largely depends on your own preferences.

Summer season

The summer months of June to August tend to be the busiest as you’re in the peak holiday months. With that comes big tour groups and busy crowds, more so if you visit on a weekend. However, the trade off is that you also get long daylight hours, milder temperatures and drier weather. Although this is never guaranteed in the UK. As you can see from some of our photos, we had a mixture of weathers! The castle grounds and surrounding hills are also luscious and green, making for some truly beautiful photo opportunities.

Winter season

The winter months of November to March offer something completely different to any other time of year. You will find you pretty much have the whole castle and its grounds all to yourself. The atmosphere is peaceful and you can explore the castle at your leisure, which is much more enjoyable. You may even be lucky enough to see snow to make your experience even more magical! The downside however is that you are much more limited in terms of daylight hours. You may need to plan your visit and travel time carefully with this in mind. If you’re planning to book with a tour group, it’s worth doing your research in advance, as some don’t run during the winter season. The weather can also be unpredictable, from stormy, windy and rainy, to snow or crisp sunny days. Who knows!

Shoulder season

Alternatively, there is the “Goldilocks” shoulder season, which is “just right”. If you want to avoid the busy crowds, we would suggest the best time to visit Eilean Donan Castle would be the shoulder periods of April to May or September to October. This time of year sits outside of the main holiday season, so you can expect fewer crowds compared to the summer. During the spring, the surrounding landscape starts to pop with colour, with heather and spring flowers. While in the autumn, the area starts to transform into beautiful golden tones. However, the weather can still be particularly unpredictable at this time of year.

Can you go inside the castle?

Yes, you can explore and go inside Eilean Donan Castle. You can either book through a guided tour, or you can buy admission tickets on the day to explore at your own pace. Tickets can be purchased from the on-site visitor centre and cannot be purchased online or in advance. Ticket prices for 2024 can be found below:

Adults: £11pp
60+: £10pp
Family: (2 adults, 3 children aged 5-15)
Children 5+: £6.50
Children under 5: Free!

Once inside Eilean Donan Castle, you can explore its historic rooms, from the Great Hall to the castle towers. The tower is worth a visit in particular. You can climb its spiral staircase to the very top for some breathtaking panoramic views of the lochs, highland hills and surrounding area.

Alternatively you don’t have to go inside Eilean Donan Castle to admire its beautiful stone walls and dreamy landscape. You can still explore the castle grounds and the surrounding area without purchasing a ticket.

Eilean Donan Castle Opening Hours

Opening hours to visit Eilean Donan Castle vary throughout the year. The castle is also a popular wedding venue and so on these days, the castle will be closed to members of the general public. For this reason, it’s best to check the official castle website directly, which has all the up to date opening dates and hours.

Generally speaking though, the castle is usually open from February to December, with opening hours ranging from 9am to 6pm depending on the time of year. It’s also worth noting that security wise they do operate a bag policy. So no large rucksacks or bags are allowed inside the castle. Security lockers are provided if you’d rather not leave valuables in your car.

Other Things to do in the Area

Take a boat tour: There are a number of boat tours which depart from the local area and explore the scenic lochs surrounding Eilean Donan Castle. From these boat tours you can see seals, otters, dolphins and porpoises! There’s also the opportunity to catch a ferry to the Isle of Skye if you don’t fancy driving it (more on that below). The Eilean Donan Castle website has more information on local boat tours.

Visit the Isle of Skye: Just under 1 hours drive away is the stunning Isle of Skye. If you thought Scotland was generally stunning, wait to until you’ve been to the Isle of Skye. Imagine rugged cliffs, untamed landscapes, dramatic mountains and mystical fairy pools. The landscapes here are other worldly. You will need more than a couple of hours here, but if you can fit a short stay at the Isle of Skye you won’t be disappointed. The main town, Portree, is charming, scenic, and also worth a visit.

Glenfinnan Viaduct: This one is for all you Harry Potter fans. Slightly further afield, just under 2 hours away, is the iconic Harry Potter Railway Bridge (aka Glenfinnan Bridge). Not only can you see the bridge, but if you’re lucky you can also witness the Hogwarts Express make the iconic crossing over the bridge. We have written a whole post about how to visit Glenfinnan Viaduct and your best chances for seeing the Hogwarts Express.

Just explore! Scotland is nature’s playground! You are surrounded by hiking trails – from woodland walks and loch circuits to mountainous hikes. One of the most popular hikes in the area is the Five Sisters of Kintail. You can also drive 1.5 hours away to Fort William which is home to the famous Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest peak.

Get in touch

We hope you enjoyed our post on how to visit Eilean Donan Castle and you found it useful! If you have any questions, or tips you’d like to share, please pop them in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

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