Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle

History of Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle has a long and storied history as the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for over 800 years, making it the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. The castle is located on the Isle of Skye off the western coast of Scotland, perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking Loch Dunvegan. The origins of the MacLeod clan are somewhat shrouded in mystery, but it is believed they descended from a Norse-Gaelic chief named Leod in the 13th century. Leod's two sons, Tormod and Torquil, went on to establish the two main branches of the clan: the MacLeods of Harris and Dunvegan, and the MacLeods of Lewis. Over the centuries, the MacLeods played a significant role in Scottish history, participating in battles, forging alliances, and maintaining their grip on their ancestral lands. The castle was originally designed as a fortress to keep people out, but today visitors can explore the rich history and clan legends within its walls.


One of the most famous MacLeod chiefs was Alasdair Crotach, who lived in the 16th century. Alasdair was a fierce warrior who fought in several major battles. He is also credited with commissioning the famous Fairy Flag, a treasured MacLeod heirloom said to have magical powers. Another notable chief was Ruairi Mor in the 17th century, a skilled diplomat who navigated the complex politics of Scotland. He was a patron of the arts and commissioned the Dunvegan Cup, a unique drinking vessel made from a coconut shell and silver that is now on display in the castle. In the 18th century, the MacLeods were divided in their loyalties during the Jacobite Risings, with the Dunvegan branch ultimately siding with the British government. This ensured their survival after the defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The MacLeods continued to adapt to changing times over the following centuries while maintaining a strong clan identity. In the 1800s, many emigrated overseas in search of new opportunities, but Dunvegan Castle remains the spiritual home of MacLeod's descendants around the world today.

Clan Treasures

Dunvegan Castle houses many priceless artefacts and clan treasures that showcase the MacLeods' fascinating history:

  • The legendary Fairy Flag is the most famous, believed to have miraculous powers to defeat enemies in battle when unfurled

  • The Dunvegan Cup is a unique medieval wooden drinking vessel, or mazer, gifted by the O'Neils of Ulster to Chief Rory Mor in thanks for his support

  • Rory Mor's Drinking Horn is a large bull's horn that each new chief must fill with wine and drain in one draft as part of an ancient custom

  • Bonnie Prince Charlie's waistcoat, Jacobite 'Amen' glass, and lock of hair are also on display, highlighting the castle's links to that era

Dunvegan Castle

Exploring the Dunvegan Castle Grounds

The 42,000-acre MacLeod Estate encompasses a wide area of northwest Skye, with Dunvegan Castle at its heart. Visitors can delight in the beauty of the formal gardens, take a boat trip on Loch Dunvegan to spot seals and other wildlife and explore the surrounding moorlands and mountains.

The Dunvegan Castle Gardens

The five acres of formal gardens around Dunvegan Castle offer a hidden oasis of lush greenery in contrast to the rugged Skye landscape. Highlights of the eclectic and beautifully maintained gardens include:

  • The Walled Garden, formerly the castle's vegetable garden and now filled with diverse ornamental plantings, a lily pond, a larch pagoda, a glass house, and a garden museum

  • The Round Garden with its formal parterre beds, symmetrical design, and central monkey puzzle tree

  • The shaded tranquillity of the Water Garden, featuring ornate bridges, islands, and shimmering pools fed by waterfalls and streams

  • Vibrant seasonal displays of flowers like roses, lupines, and delphiniums

Seal Trips on Loch Dunvegan

One of the most popular activities for visitors to Dunvegan Castle is taking a boat trip on Loch Dunvegan to see the resident seal colony. These charming creatures have made their home on the rocky islets and shores of the loch for centuries, and a seal trip offers a unique opportunity to observe them up close in their natural habitat. The seal trips depart from the small jetty below Dunvegan Castle and last around 25 minutes. The boats are small traditional clinker vessels, each seating up to 12 passengers plus the skipper. Lifejackets are provided for all passengers.


As the boat sets out across the calm waters of Loch Dunvegan, the skipper will provide a live commentary, pointing out the seals and sharing fascinating facts about their biology and behaviour. The common seals (also known as harbour seals) are the most frequently spotted species, but if you're lucky you may also see some larger grey seals. The seals are often curious about the boats and may swim alongside to get a closer look at their visitors. They can be seen basking on the rocks, playing in the water or even nursing their pups during the breeding season in late summer. The skippers are experienced in approaching the seals without disturbing them, ensuring a respectful and sustainable wildlife encounter.


In addition to seals, the boat trips offer a chance to spot a variety of other wildlife that inhabits Loch Dunvegan. Seabirds like herons, oystercatchers and terns are commonly seen, and overhead you may catch a glimpse of a majestic white-tailed sea eagle soaring on the thermals. Otters, dolphins and even the occasional basking shark have also been known to make an appearance. The seal trips operate daily from April to September, weather permitting. Tickets can be purchased from the kiosk at the castle jetty on a first-come, first-served basis – booking is not available. The trips are very popular, so it's advisable to arrive early to secure your spot, especially during the peak summer months.


In case of inclement weather or rough seas, seal trips may be cancelled at short notice for safety reasons. The skippers will always put the well-being of passengers and wildlife first. If your trip is cancelled, you will be offered a full refund or the opportunity to rebook for a later time or date, subject to availability. A seal trip on Loch Dunvegan is a wonderful way to experience the natural wonders of the Dunvegan Castle estate and create lasting memories of your visit to Skye. The playful antics of the seals, the beauty of the loch and the knowledge of the expert skippers combine to create a truly unforgettable wildlife adventure.

Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle
Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle

Accommodations Near Dunvegan Castle

Visitors wishing to spend more time exploring Dunvegan Castle & Gardens and the surrounding area have several convenient accommodation options:

Holiday Cottages

The MacLeod Estate offers five delightful holiday cottages for rent, providing a unique opportunity to stay right on the historic grounds of Dunvegan Castle. Each cottage has its distinct character and charm, but all offer comfortable accommodations and modern amenities in a stunning setting. 

  • Laundry Cottage is a cosy one-bedroom cottage that sleeps two, perfect for a romantic getaway. Originally the castle laundry, this stone building has been fully renovated with a double bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living/dining area.

  • Sedge Cottage is a charming two-bedroom cottage that can accommodate up to four guests. Located just a short walk from the castle, this traditional stone cottage features a double and a twin bedroom, a family bathroom, a well-equipped kitchen and a spacious living/dining room with a wood-burning stove.

  • Warblers Cottage, sleeping six, is ideal for families or groups. This attractive two-story cottage has a double bedroom, a twin bedroom and a bunk room, along with a family bathroom, a large kitchen/diner and a comfortable living room.

  • Jura and Canna Cottages are both three-bedroom cottages located side by side, each accommodating up to six people in a double bedroom, a twin bedroom and a bunk room. These cottages also boast a family bathroom, kitchen/diner and living room with a cosy open fire.

All the holiday cottages are fully equipped with bedding, towels, kitchen essentials and WiFi. They provide an idyllic base for exploring the castle, gardens and wider estate at your leisure, with the freedom to self-cater or dine at the nearby Dunvegan Hotel. The cottages are available to rent year-round, with short breaks possible in the low season. Prices vary depending on the time of year and length of stay, with discounts for full-week bookings. Well-behaved dogs are welcome in the cottages for a small additional fee. Staying in one of these delightful holiday cottages allows you to immerse yourself in the rich history and natural beauty of the Dunvegan Castle estate. Wake up to stunning views, explore the gardens at dawn or dusk when the day visitors have gone home, and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this magical place.

Dunvegan Castle

The Dunvegan Hotel

The Dunvegan is a charming family-run hotel located in the heart of Dunvegan village, just a mile from Dunvegan Castle & Gardens. This former coaching inn has been welcoming guests since 1858 and offers comfortable accommodations, delicious food and warm Highland hospitality. The hotel has 32 en-suite bedrooms, each individually decorated and equipped with modern amenities like flat-screen TVs, tea/coffee-making facilities and free WiFi. Many rooms offer stunning views over Loch Dunvegan or the MacLeod Tables mountains. Family rooms and accessible ground-floor rooms are available. The Dunvegan is also home to the popular Cellar Bar, a cosy traditional pub serving local ales, whiskies and hearty meals. With its stone walls, open fire and live music sessions, the Cellar Bar is a great spot to unwind after a day exploring the castle and gardens.


The hotel's Marmalade Restaurant offers a delicious menu showcasing the best of Scottish produce, with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients. Guests can enjoy dishes like Isle of Skye scallops, Highland venison and Dunvegan crab, along with an extensive wine list and tempting desserts. Other amenities at The Dunvegan include a 24-hour front desk, luggage storage, laundry services and free parking. The hotel is also dog-friendly, with a limited number of pet-friendly rooms available on request. The Dunvegan is an ideal base for visiting Dunvegan Castle & Gardens, with the castle just a pleasant 20-30 minute walk or short drive away. The hotel can also help arrange activities like seal trips, fishing, hiking and whisky tastings, or provide packed lunches for days out exploring Skye.


The hotel is open year-round, with rates varying depending on the season and room type. Booking is recommended, especially during the busy summer months. The Dunvegan offers a range of packages and special offers, including castle visit deals and seasonal promotions. With its warm welcome, comfortable rooms and excellent food and drink, The Dunvegan Hotel is a wonderful place to stay when visiting Dunvegan Castle. Its convenient location, historic charm and modern comforts make it a top choice for travellers seeking an authentic taste of Highland hospitality.

Glenbrittle Campsite

For visitors who love the great outdoors, the Glenbrittle Campsite offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the stunning scenery of the Dunvegan Castle estate. Located at the foot of the majestic Cuillin mountains, about a 30-minute drive from the castle, this campsite is a paradise for nature lovers and adventure seekers. The campsite has two main areas: a serviced campsite with basic amenities, and a wilder camping area for those who prefer a more rustic experience. The serviced site has 25 pitches for tents, campervans and motorhomes, each with access to electric hookups, a water tap and a chemical waste disposal point. There are also toilets, showers and a dishwashing area available for campers' use.


For those who want to truly get away from it all, the wild camping area allows you to pitch your tent in a remote and beautiful location, surrounded by mountains, lochs and streams. There are no designated pitches or facilities in this area, so campers must be fully self-sufficient and follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Glenbrittle is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, with a wealth of activities and attractions right on the doorstep. The campsite is located at the trailhead for some of Skye's most iconic hiking routes, including the challenging Cuillin Ridge and the enchanting Fairy Pools. There are also plenty of gentler walks and nature trails suitable for all abilities. For climbers, the campsite is a mecca, with world-class climbing and bouldering routes on the nearby cliffs and crags. Other popular activities in the area include wild swimming, fishing, wildlife watching and stargazing – the lack of light pollution makes Glenbrittle an incredible spot for observing the night sky.


The campsite is open from April to September, with prices varying depending on the season and type of pitch. Booking is recommended, especially for the serviced pitches which can fill up quickly in peak season. Wild camping is free but requires no booking Glenbrittle Campsite offers a unique and unforgettable way to experience the rugged beauty of the Isle of Skye and the Dunvegan Castle estate. Falling asleep to the sound of a babbling brook and waking up to the sight of the Cuillin mountains is an experience that will stay with you long after your camping trip is over.

Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle
Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle

Visiting Dunvegan Castle

Hours and Admission

  • Dunvegan Castle & Gardens is open daily from April 1 to October 15, 10 am to 5:30 pm (last entry 5 pm)

  • The castle and gardens are closed for the winter from October 16 to March 31

  • Admission tickets can be purchased at the gate or online in advance

  • Ticket options include castle-only or combined castle and gardens passes; the gardens ticket is only £2 more and well worth it

  • Discounts are available for seniors, students, and children; Friends of Dunvegan, RHS Partner Gardens, Historic Houses Friends, BBC Gardeners World 2 for 1, and Blue Peter Badge holders receive complimentary tickets with their pass

Tours and Accessibility

  • Guided tours of the castle are available, or you can enjoy a self-guided tour at your own pace with a provided guidebook

  • Informational displays are located throughout the castle in multiple languages

  • Some parts of the castle like towers and dungeons have limited accessibility


  • The castle has a gift shop with Scottish goods, crafts, and books

  • The MacLeod Tables Cafe offers appetising meals made with local ingredients

  • Parking is free for visitors, with dedicated spots for coaches, minibuses and RVs; the overflow car park must be used by larger vehicles

  • Toilets are available in the car park during open hours

Tips for Visiting

  • Allow at least 2-3 hours to fully explore the castle and gardens

  • Be sure to read the informational displays to learn the fascinating stories behind the artifacts

  • Don't miss highlights like the Fairy Flag, Dunvegan Cup, and Rory Mor's Drinking Horn

  • The gardens are a must-see, especially the Walled Garden and Water Garden

  • Taking a seal trip is great fun for the whole family when in season

  • Dogs are allowed in the gardens on a lead, but only service animals can enter the castle. See here for more information

Related Articles

Let us know you agree to cookies

We use marketing, analytical and functional cookies as well as similar technologies to give you the best experience. Third parties, including social media platforms, often place tracking cookies on our site to show you personalised adverts outside of our website.


We store your cookie preferences for two years and you can edit your preferences via ‘manage cookies’ or through the cookie policy at the bottom of every page. For more information, please see our cookie policy.