At over 23 miles long, Loch Ness is the largest and perhaps best known fresh water loch in the Scottish Highlands.  With its dramatic mountain backdrops and depths of up to 750 feet, it’s no wonder that this majestic expanse of water has given way to myth and legend over the years.  Even as an adult, it’s hard not to find your mind wandering as you gaze into the murky depths below, wondering just what exactly lies beneath.  Could there really be some prehistoric monster below the surface?  Who’s to say there’s not a whole underwater kingdom of celtic beasties dwelling below the depths?   Whatever the truth, the loch is one of Scotland’s most visited sites, and with good cause.

There are numerous Scottish-based organisations which can offer great day trips to Loch Ness (Rabbies, Haggis Adventures and Jacobite Cruises all come highly recommended), but while it can be great to have a knowledgable guide on hand, it’s also the perfect location for a self-guided road trip, should you have access to a car.  Driving around the loch will take the best part of a day (and at least half a tank of fuel), but with so many great stops en route, it’ll also give you the flexibility to take things at your own pace, and to delve a little further into the history of the area.  Here’s my guide to exploring the loch by car:

Stop #1: Culloden

It’d be mad to be in the area and not delve into one of the darkest chapters of Scotland’s history.  Start the day early with a visit to the Culloden Battlefield and walk the hallowed grounds where in 1745, the Jacobites were defeated in battle by Scottish loyalist troops.  The on-site visitor centre has a great exhibition on the Jacobite rising, and you can take in everything from first-hand soldier accounts to firearms displays and even an interactive battle immersion room.  The 360 degree film gives you a real insight into how it must have felt to stand on that moor as the battle took hold, and will effectively shake you to the core before you step outside on the battlefield itself.  It’s a sobering experience, but one which will certainly give you lots to talk about as you make the thirty minute drive the Northern tip of Loch Ness.

Stop #2:  The Dores Inn

The sleepy village of Dores is the perfect place for starting your Loch Ness Adventure.  Dores Beach may be small, but it offers some of the best views of Loch Ness, with a straight view across the water and the misty mountains perfectly poised for photo ops.  It’s also home to the now legendary Nessie Hunter, Steve Feltham, a man who has dedicated his life to searching for the loch’s mythical monster since 1991.  Check out his caravan for more information on his monster-hunting pursuits, and you might even be lucky enough to get a quick hello.  When you’ve had your fill of fresh air, head to the Dores Inn (surely one of the world’s most scenic pubs) for a spot of lunch.  In the winter, you can snuggle up beside the fire; in the summer, you can sun yourself in the beer garden!

Stop #3: The Falls of Foyer

Carry on down the east side of the loch for about twenty minutes and you’ll come to the Falls of Foyer, a waterfall which cascades down over an impressive 165 feet.  It’s a lovely place to stop for a walk and stretch those legs!

Stop #4: Fort Augustus

The town of Fort Augustus sits at the southern end of Loch Ness and is one of the largest towns you’ll pass en route, so it’s a good place to stop if you’re in need of a caffeine fix or just want to hop out and see the loch from a different perspective.  It’s a popular place for walkers and cyclists to base themselves, with the start of the Great Glen Way on its doorstep, and you can also check out the start of the impressive Caledonian Canal.  A word of warning though: the road here is pretty treacherous!  You can choose to take an easier route from Dores which takes you more inland, but really if you’re visiting the loch, you’re going to want to stay loch-side.  This will mean some very windy bends though and narrow single track lanes.  Just take your time and keep an eye out for blind summits – there’s plenty of ’em.  The views are stunning though, so it more than makes up for the occasional white-knuckle moment.

Stop #5: Urquhart Castle

Time for the big guns now.  After spending a little time in Fort Augustus, it’s time to hit the road again with a 25 minute drive up the west side of the loch.  Don’t worry, the road is much better here, with two lanes and less twists and turns.  Thankfully, it’s still blessed with great views – the most impressive of which must be the ruins of Urquhart Castle.  Does it really get much more quintessentially Scottish than an ancient castle on the banks of a bonny loch?  I doubt it.  This is absolutely my favourite stop of the route; not only does it offer incredible views, it’s also rumoured to be the best place to spot Old Nessie herself, as it’s the deepest part of the loch!  There’s a wee visitor centre and entrance fee if you want to go down and explore the castle, but even if you just stop and take in the vista from the car park above, it’s hard to imagine a better view.

Stop #6: The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition

Want to know more about the country’s best-loved aquatic critter?  Head along to the town of Drumnadrochit, where you’ll find the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition, a museum which’ll tell you all about the history of the loch and its most famous inhabitant.  There’s a a detailed exhibition on past ‘sightings’ of Nessie, and plenty to keep the kids (both big and little) entertained.

Stop #7: Dochgarroch Loch (optional)

If time permits, you might want to catch one of the later Jacobite Cruises which depart from Dochgarroch Lock.  This is back up at the northern tip of the loch, so a perfect way to round off your road trip as the sun goes down.  Running times vary according to the season, so this might only be an option in the spring and summer, but you can read more about that by visiting their website here.

Stop #8: Inverness

After a long day behind the wheel it’s time to head into town and find the perfect spot to unwind.  Inverness is the nearest city, and full of great bars and restaurants where you can ruminate over the day.  Better still, why not support some homegrown talent at the Eden Court theatre?  Whatever you choose, it’s a great place to base yourself for a road trip around the loch.

And there you have it; the ultimate guide to exploring Loch Ness by car.  It might sound a little bonkers to drive the entire loch in one day, but having done it myself in the middle of winter, I can guarantee that not only is it complete doable, but so, so worth it!  Whatever your plans in Scotland, make this one top of the list.

About The Author

A twenty-something-year-old with a penchant for travel and a never-ending supply of terrible puns.

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