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Culloden/Loch Ness/Urquhart in one day

Hi, I am a first time poster but have been searching the boards for tips and info as I plan our family's Scotland vacation in late July 2015. (Some of the Q&As are dated as far back as 2008, so I thought I would ask some repeat questions.) We will have just moved to London from the U.S. and it will be our first visit to Scotland.

Home base is located on the north side of Fort William, and we will have a car.

My question is this: are there any concerns for attempting the following itinerary for one of our weekdays, and what are some ideas for the time between 1-3pm?

  • 7:30/8:00 am: Drive from Fort William to Culloden, est travel 1 hour 50 minutes
  • 9:30/10:00 until 1:00pm: Culloden (operating hours 9am-6pm)
  • 1:00pm: depart Culloden
  • ???? trying to figure out how this will look between 1 and 3pm - stop for lunch somewhere, have a quick picnic, or eat in the car as we dash from one place to another?
  • 3:00pm: board last cruise for 2 hour Loch Ness tour which includes 1 hour at Urhquart Castle
  • 5:00pm: touring complete, head back to Fort William


  • 3:00pm: board cruise for 1 hour Loch Ness tour
  • 4-5:00pm: drive to and enter Urquhart Castle (last entry at 5:15pm)
  • 6:00pm: touring complete, head back to Fort William

The Loch Ness cruise is a must for one of the family members. Is the Exhibition Centre also worth the visit? I am afraid we can't add it in unless we cut time from Culloden. Culloden is a "must" for me as I am a big Outlander fan (grins sheepishly) and I know I would really appreciate seeing it. Having my 4 kids (15, 13, 13, 7) I don't think they will want to spend as much time as I would reading a lot of detailed info about Culloden, so I am willing to do a 3 hour visit although many people say to give it a fair amount of time.

Do you drive through Inverness to travel from Culloden to catch the Jacobite Loch Ness tour? Google maps says 25 minutes. Is it feasible to stop in Inverness for lunch, or should we pack a picnic so we can eat more quickly?

I am just trying to figure out the best way to approach this. I also plan to buy a family membership in the UK for the National Trust sites, and I think it will apply to some of the sites in Scotland. This may also include Urquhart Castle. I am having trouble understanding what properties work with that membership, but if it does cover my family's entry into Urquhart, then the 1 hour boat cruise would make more sense by saving money.

I hope all of this makes sense. Thanks for any feedback, I am very excited about our trip!!


Posted by
749 posts

I did not do it this way so I cannot comment on the drive times etc. What I can tell you is that I really enjoyed the Culloden site. The visitor center was only a couple of years old when I was there, and it is very well done. Having said that, I still only spent a couple of hours so you may be able to save some time on this end of your trip so you have more time at Loch Ness? About Loch Ness....I can't comment as I drove right by based on the advise of many others I spoke to who had made the stop and found it overpriced and too touristy. But, if it's on someone's bucket list then I'm sure you will enjoy it. From what I have been told, though, you may be able to skip both the castle and the visitor center as I was advised that there are many better castles to see. Still, I'm sure others will have a different opinion. I loved the drive, though.

Posted by
6908 posts

Best wishes for your move to London and your Scotland visit! We also didn't do things in early August 2014 the way you're describing, but we did arrive in Inverness in a downpour, picked up our rental car, and drove down the west side of Loch Ness on our way to Skye. Traffic was jam-packed, including on-coming fellow tourists who weren't necessarily staying on their (left) side of the road, so we had to mind both not getting too close to the center line and not driving off the left shoulder, while viewing the scenery through heavy rain! We opted to not tour Urquhart Castle, as there were no spots left in the parking lot, taken up by cars, campers, and tour buses, and we determined that Culloden would be too soggy for our tastes that day - plus the weather and traffic made for a slower-than-anticipated drive to Skye. Ditto for more than a quick stop to look across Loch Ness that day. A few days later, after Skye, Fort William was a great base for a couple of days. Just note that the weather and other factors in Scotland may make for a much longer drive than Google maps might suggest!

Posted by
31513 posts


A National Trust membership can be really valuable in and around London - I have some real favourites but have a bit of a drive because I start 75 to 90 minutes north before I start to be close to most places - and our card always pays for itself.

There are basically three major groups of properties in England, with corresponding organisations in Scotland.

The HHA, Historic Houses Association, is an association of privately owned houses and they have a membership available.

English Heritage has a large number (over 400) of properties, many of which are ruins or empty. Many have great historical import.

The National Trust has most of the gardens and furnished country houses, many of which are exquisite. We visit about 15 National Trust properties a year, some repeats and some new visits, and our nearest NT property is over an hour away. They are very much worth a visit.

The corresponding organisation in Scotland is the National Trust for Scotland and National Trust for Scotland and the National Trust accept each other's memberships.

Urquhart Castle is Historic Scotland, I'm afraid.

Both English Heritage and National Trust have great apps.

I have sent you a PM

Posted by
1594 posts

As Nigel says the National Trust and National Trust for Scotland have reciprical arrangements for members admission, so being in one will get one in properties of the other free.

English Heritage, CADW and Historic Scotland have a similar one, it is free admission for renewal members after the first year.

The first year for a Historic Scotland member for example is free admission to HS properties, with 50% off admission for English Heritage and CADW sites in that first year. So membership of English Heritage will still save at a Historic Scotland site, just not as much as you might hope.

Posted by
1801 posts

Urquhart Castle is well worth visiting. Yes, it is a ruin but it is very extensive and has a beautiful situation on atmospheric Loch Ness. Everyone on these tourism boards makes fun of the "monster centers," but we think they are kitschy fun for a brief visit and they are a great place to pick up a few silly souvenirs for Christmas stockings or other holiday events. Maybe give each of the kids a couple of pounds and let them choose something small - everything doesn't always have to be serious! If you have a little extra time, you could visit Corrimony Cairns or take a detour down Glen Affric. A lunch picnic is a good idea.......I would skip Inverness, although I am afraid the roads will take you right there unless you take the longer way and drive the south shore of Loch Ness. Inverness isn't that big but it is the main shopping center for the people who live in the Highlands and it has a confusing lot of one-way streets. However, a walk along the river is pleasant if you have a bit of spare time and do visit Inverness......I love Scottish history and get all teary when we visit Culloden, but a two hour visit is probably plenty of time. I have zero admiration for Bonnie Prince Charlie - he shamelessly used the highlanders for his own aspirations, then left them to their fate, but all of those sad grave markers are overwhelming.....You probably will also have time to visit nearby Clava Cairns......If you do the Loch Ness sites in the morning, Culloden and Clava Cairns in the afternoon, you will have more flexibility in your schedule.....Up by Fort William you might enjoy taking the road north through Spean Bridge and up to the Cameron estates. There's a lovely waterfall there - the one featured in the Rob Roy movie.

Posted by
5677 posts

Have you played around with ViaMichelin at all? Here's an example that takes you from Fort William to Culloden to Urquhart Castle and back. You put in your starting point and ending point and then mess around with the intermediate stops. The caution I would advise is to add about 25% to the time. So, in the attached example, the round trip is 3 hours 48 minutes, so realistically, it will likely take close to 5 hours of driving time.

Both Urquhart Castle and Culloden have great visitor centers which provide wonderful context for the sites. Culloden was recently redone. I think I might pack a lunch or grab something at one of the visitor centers. Or if you do go to Clava Cairns, have your picnic there.

If you plan to come back to Scotland again--and you should!--think about a membership in Historic Scotland. If you visit Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and Urqhart, it will probably make monetary sense. You'll have to do the math. You do get a quarterly magazine. They also have lots of family activities.

And yes, you do drive through Inverness to get to Drumnadrochit and Urquhart. ViaMichelin says 48 minutes so I'm inclined to think that MapQuest is overly optimistic regarding traffic. Inverness is a very busy place. It is the "capital" of the highlands and handles both tourists and other business.


Posted by
5 posts

Ah, this forum is fabulous! Thanks to everyone for the replies.

Anita, thanks for the feedback. I am glad to hear you enjoyed the drives around Loch Ness as I think we will be doing a fair amount of driving during our week. Sounds much better than the long boring stretch of U.S. interstates that I am familiar with!

Thank you, Cyn! And thanks for the weather tips. It helps give some perspective to hear first hand, detailed experiences of the weather possibilities (and the impact of other tourists). I think I sometimes make the mistake in imagining that we will be traveling alone on country roads. Oops!

Thanks, Nigel and MC, for the explanations of the different organizations. Between your replies, I literally made a flow chart to better grasp the different groups and reciprocal entry fees. A big help.

Cynthia, thank you for the alternate tour of visiting these sites...I assumed that I should start with Culloden since it opens at 9am, while the first Loch Ness tour isn't until 10am. However, I see that Culloden is open until 6pm, so I will definitely map out a couple of options and see which one offers the best flexibility. I like your suggestion! And Spean Bridge is very close to where we are staying...will make a note of that. And yes, I majored in history through grad school and appreciate good scholarship and historically significant sites, but I also have kids and love pop culture, so the kitchsy side of Loch Ness is appealing to me as well. It's all good in my book!

Pam, thanks for plugging in my locales and linking the ViaMichelin site. I had not used it before but I am totally interested now! I had found, so had used that for another day's itinerary, but I like the detail that Michelin provides. I know you are a great resource and appreciate all of the suggestions you make in this forum. I definitely plan to return to Scotland as I MUST see Edinburgh. Hoping some of my American Outlander fanatics (friends) will make it over and I can go with them for an adult trip.

Off to tweak my plans!
- Beth

Posted by
1594 posts

One thing to add for the NT/NTS split. The National Trust operates in Northern Ireland and Wales as well as England.

If as a group of adults coming to Edinburgh later on, I would suggest looking at one of the ghost tours in the capital. Edinburgh has quite the reputation as one of the UK's most haunted cities.

Posted by
78 posts

Last August we did some of these same sights. We stayed in Ft. Augustus so were a bit closer so you would have to add travel time from Ft. William. On one day we drove from Ft. Augustus to Urquart Castle. Got there early so got a parking place (it was full when we left). We enjoyed the movie presentation and spent a short amount of time taking pictures of the castle from above (have been here before). We then drove to the Loch Ness Center and Exhibition. We thought this was an interesting tour which describes the "sightings" of the Loch Ness Monster as well as the history and the various research projects carried out on the loch. Next we drove to Inverness where we visited the kilt museum in the House of Fraser store. This is a small museum on the second floor of the store and was very informative about the history and traditions involving the making and wearing of kilts in Scotland. As it was approaching lunch time and we did not see anything appealing in the immediate vicinity, we drove out of Inverness toward Culloden. We stopped at the Culloden Moor Inn (good food at reasonable prices - lots of locals eating here). We spent about 2 hours at the Battlefield museum. The exhibits are exceptionally good. They also have historical interpreters giving shows and demonstrations periodically. All well worth seeing. We drove back to Ft. Augustus along the western shore, arriving in time for an early dinner (6 pm). This is just an example of what can be accomplished in one day. We are "active seniors", but don't push it hard. We did take the cruise of Loch Ness another day. We took the short (one hour) cruise from Ft. Augustus. We found the commentary interesting and the scenery beautiful ( These cruises run all day and even in the evening so it would be possible to stop in Ft. Augustus for dinner and then take and evening cruise if you wished. If you eat in Ft. Augustus, we recommend the Loch Inn Pub or the Boathouse Restaurant (reservations recommended). It is a lovely area and worth spending time there. As others have said, do not under estimate the driving time. Not only are the roads narrow and winding, but you will want to stop often to take pictures!

Posted by
78 posts

One more suggestion - One of our favorite stops in the highland area of Scotland was the Leault sheep dog demonstration near Kincraig ( They have these demonstrations at 4:00 pm every day except Saturday, May through October. Neil Ross and his wife have a 45-minute presentation of how these amazing dogs perform their work. We learned a lot about the training of the dogs and life on a sheep farm. After the demonstration, Neil shows how to hand shear a sheep and even allows anyone who wants to try a chance to do this. As you are traveling with children, this would be a great afternoon out for them. You are given a chance to interact with the puppies and bottle-feed the orphan lambs as well. The farm is about a one and one half hour drive from Ft. William - well worth it.

Posted by
5 posts

Bonnie, thanks for all of your suggestions! I didn't think about other Loch Ness tours, and the 8pm might be a good option to open our day up more.

I will send you a PM.... we lived in Acworth for almost 13 years!

Posted by
78 posts

Beth - Wow! Not many people have ever heard of Acworth! Please do send a PM. I will be glad to hear from you and will be happy to help with any advice about your trip.