Is the Loch Ness Monster real? How do you get from Loch Ness to Urquhart Castle? How long do you need in Loch Ness? Join us as we go searching for the Loch Ness monster with a Jacobite Loch Ness cruise tour and visit Urquhart Castle all in 1 day!
The sky is darkening, the wind is increasing, and the rain is starting to fall… just like something from a movie before the monster attacks!
But as we set off on the boat, we’re feeling excitement rather than fear, hoping to witness a centuries old Scottish folklore. And with cameras at the ready, if there is a monster to spot, we’re going to find it today!
Jacobite Loch Ness Cruise Tour
We’re taking a cruise on Loch Ness with Jacobite on their Freedom tour, taking a 1 hour cruise along Loch Ness and having a stop at Urquhart Castle where we can disembark and explore the castle ruins.
Onboard we have an audio guide telling us some of the fact’s and history about the Loch and Castle (Paul is amazed at the fact that Loch Ness holds more water than all of the lakes in England and Wales put together!!). And there is a sonar system showing the depth of the Loch as we cruise… hopefully going to show some abnormalities to suggest Nessie is swimming below!
The cruise leaves from the Clansman Harbour 9 miles from Inverness, and while there is free parking, it is limited so we recommend getting there early to make sure you have plenty of time to find a space and make your tour (we of course don’t do this and end up being pretty much the last people to board the boat!). And the boat has refreshments and toilets onboard.
Jacobite also offer other tours, all of which can be booked here… https://www.jacobite.co.uk/tours
Loch Ness to Urquhart Castle
The cruise from the harbour to Urquhart Castle takes around 25 minutes, giving us plenty of time to enjoy the breath-taking scenery of the Loch and surrounding Scottish Highlands.
We’re sat up on the top deck and manage to get good seats thanks to the worsening weather sending other passengers downstairs for some shelter! But having come prepared, a little bit of wind and rain isn’t going to stop us from spotting the Loch Ness monster!
We scrutinise every ripple on the water, every dark shadow, and every object we see. But it doesn't look like Nessie is going to say hello to us today! So instead we just sit back and enjoy the cruise... despite the weather not being the best (when is it in Scotland?!), there's something about being on a boat on water which gives us a peaceful and tranquil feeling!
After a while of cruising and still no signs on the water or beeps from the sonar, Urquhart Castle comes into view and everybody’s attention switches from the Loch to the shore.
The castle ruins are best seen from the water, with the Castle being at the very edge of the Loch and the Highland hills behind it. So if you want experience the dramatic setting of the long standing fort at the banks of Loch Ness, taking a cruise is definitely the best way!
Urquhart Castle Loch Ness
As well as offering great views over Loch Ness and the Highlands, Urquhart Castle holds more than 1,000 years of dramatic history which you can discover and explore during the Jacobite Freedom tour as the entrance ticket is included in the price.
We disembark from the boat at the small pier and make our way up to the Castle, but not before stopping at some cool straw artworks of a hairy cow and a wild boar! (the photos looking up at the castle are also pretty good!)
Crossing the bridge and passing the destroyed gatehouse, we explore the Grant Tower, which is the best preserved section of the castle, as well as seeing where the great hall would have been, the old keeper’s lodge (complete with toilet!), and a miserable prison cell said to have held the legendary Gaelic bard Domhnall Donn.
As we're exploring the Castle the Scottish weather decides to give us a true local experience, and the wind picks up and the rain starts to pour down! Everyone scrambles for their raincoats or to get to shelter, apart from Sneha who wants to stay in just her t-shirt and enjoy the weather!
As the other tours head towards the visitor centre for some respite from the rain, we climb up to the ruins of the early castle where the Scottish flag is flying, and see the dramatic views of the storm clouds rolling over the Loch towards us.
Some of the best views of the castle are from here... overlooking the Grant Tower we can see out to the Loch and it gives a good perspective amongst the Highlands surrounding us.
Another good view is from the on-site visitor centre and café, so be sure to head up there as well. You can also pick up an audio-guide for the castle here, so as you explore the ruins you can hear about the history with the help of numbered information boards.
Jacobite Cruise Facilities
With the rain showing no signs of letting up we head back to the boat early to get first in line to make sure we can get seats inside the boat! And we get to take advantage of the onboard bar too, warming up with a coffee (the bar is also licensed so alcohol is available too).
The tables inside the boat show a map of the Loch and the surrounding sights, so the journey back also gives us a chance to plan our afternoon… after we’ve stopped at the gift shop and had some lunch of course!
Where to eat at Loch Ness
Opposite the harbour is the Loch Ness Clansman Hotel. With a gift shop downstairs selling every Nessie souvenir you could ever imagine, plus lots of other ornaments, trinkets and whiskey, it’s a good place to stop to pick up some gifts and mementos. And upstairs is a café and restaurant.
So after some shopping we head up and have lunch… Sneha opting for Scottish style tapas ordering the Cullen Skink and Haggis Neaps & Tatty Bon-Bon, Paul goes for a Scottish Salmon sandwich, while the rest of our group opt for burgers plus some local gin and beer.
The food and drink are good, but the views from the restaurant are the highlight! The restaurant has large windows overlooking the Loch and it’s a great place to enjoy a relaxed lunch after the cruise. And don't miss the statue of Nessie in the car park!
At the Loch Ness Centre there is also The Drum Hotel Loch Ness café, offering the usual breakfasts, sandwiches and toasties, which made for a good breakfast spot.
Where to Shop for Souvenirs in Loch Ness?
The Loch Ness Clansman Hotel has a large gift shop with a great range Nessie souvenirs, other Scottish souvenirs like hairy cow ornaments, plus lots of other trinkets, toys and lots and lots of whiskey! And the prices are a lot lower than you'll find in places in Edinburgh, so if you're also heading there on your trip don't leave buying gifts until then!
There is also a shop at the Loch Ness Centre which has a similar collection, not quite as much choice but we found the prices were even lower there again!
If whiskey is not really your thing, then also next to the Loch Ness Centre is Great Glen Distillery... Scotland's Smallest Craft Gin Distillery. Sneha couldn't resist getting some gin made from Loch Ness water after seeing how the gin is made (and having tried all of the available flavours!).
The Loch Ness Centre
A few miles away from the Clansman Harbour is the newly refurbished Loch Ness Centre at the old Drumnadrochit Hotel.
It was here that the modern tales of the Loch Ness monster started when the then manager of the hotel Aldie MacKay reported seeing a 'whale-like fish' or 'water beast'… sparking a media frenzy and creating a global legend!
The centre is an interactive tour unearthing the truth about Nessie… with videos explaining the birth of the legend from the early sightings, through scientific research and evidence, and ending with a vote on whether you think the evidence points to the monster being real or not.
The tour is interesting and fun and lasts for about 1 hour, but we have to say it’s a little expensive at £16 for adults and £13 for children (discounts can be found online if you pre-book)
Is the Loch Ness Monster Real?
So, after touring the waters of Loch Ness, looking at them from above on the Grand Tower of Urquhart Castle, and learning the history and science of the legend and the Loch… is the Loch Ness monster real??
I won’t the spoil the result of the vote from the Loch Ness Centre tour… but for anyone in doubt, we’ll just leave this picture here and you can decide for yourself if Nessie is real…
Can you see Hairy Cows at Loch Ness?
If you can’t catch a glimpse of the Loch Ness Monster, then an excellent alternative is to see some hairy cows instead!
Highland Cattle are all over the Highlands of Scotland but can often be a little tricky to find (or stop near if you spot them while driving!)
But just on the edge of Drumnadrochit where the Loch Ness Centre is, is Drumbuie Farm B & B and Quila Cridhe Tearoom. And as we drive past, we spot some hairy cows in the meadow so pull over to see them!
Unfortunately the café is closed when we stop so we don’t get to try their local produce (it’s open Wed – Sun 12pm to 5pm), and some of the cows are hiding in the long grass, but we do get to spot a baby feeding from its mother cow!
The mother is quite interested in the strangers looking at them from the road, but the calf is a lot more interested in drinking milk!
After standing for ages waiting to try and get a good view, just as we’re about to leave the calf takes a breath and looks up, and Paul manages to snap the moment! The mother seems to have a body shave recently but the calf looks cute
We had a great day searching for the Loch Ness Monster with a Jacobite Loch Ness cruise tour! Our highlights were...
Searching for Nessie! We have heard tales of the Loch Ness monster for as long as we can remember, so being able to join the search and become part of the folklore is a great experience!
Admiring the breath-taking views of Loch Ness and the Great Glen as we cruise along the Loch aboard the Jacobite Freedom tour is a great way to see the best scenery of the area.
Exploring the ruins of Urquhart Castle and learning 1,000 years of dramatic history!
Here are our tips when searching for the Loch Ness Monster with a Jacobite Loch Ness cruise tour...
A boat tour gives the best photo opportunities of Urquhart Castle, as the views from the Loch are great but it can’t really be seen from the road.
Get there early to make sure you can get a parking space and to board the boat first to get the best seats!
Whatever the weather may look like when you set off, it can change in an instant so be prepared! A warm top and raincoat are recommended, and good sturdy shoes when exploring the castle.
Get your souvenirs while at Loch Ness, we found the selection was better and the prices lower than compared to Edinburgh!
Hotels at Loch Ness
We stayed at the Loch Ness Drumnadrochit Hotel in the village of Drumnadrochit on the shores of Loch Ness.
The hotel is on the same site as the Loch Ness Centre, along with a large gift shop, café, gin distillery and ice cream parlour… so made a very convenient place to stay for 1 night! The hotel was a little basic but offered good value, and we’d happily stay again if visiting in the future.