Scotland isn’t short of magnificent castles. Indeed, dotted throughout the Highlands are a wealth of charming, crumbling, history-filled keeps. Some are ruins, some are intact, but all are splendid in their own right. And one of Scotland’s most popular castles, often seen as part of the NC500 (North Coast 500) road trip, is Dunrobin Castle. Certainly, Dunrobin Castle in Scotland has a rich history, beautiful gardens, and a prime position overlooking the beautiful coastline of the Scottish Highlands. It’s an incredible fairytale-looking castle, and well worth a visit.
But, what if you’re short on time or simply don’t want to spend the dough to go inside? It seems a shame not to stop in at this grand chateau, doesn’t it? Well, don’t worry. We’re here to tell you how you can enjoy a visit to Dunrobin Castle, without spending a penny. And you won’t be left disappointed either.
Of course, we’ll throw in some quick information in regards to going inside, just in case the mood takes you when you rock up!
To see footage of the wider NC500 road trip, feel free to watch our NC500 Hikes production.
The NC500 is more than just historic castles. Read our 25 Epic Beaches To Visit On The NC500 and Complete Guide to Hikes Along the NC500 guides for information about other wonderful things to do on your road trip.
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About Dunrobin Castle
Dunrobin Castle is a fairytale-esque castle in the Highlands of Scotland. With its towering spires and grand facade, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled upon a French chateau. The 189 rooms the castle contains make it the largest castle in the Northern Highlands. Belonging to Clan Sutherland, the Earl of Sutherland calls the castle home.
Dunrobin Castle has, in some form or other, existed since the middle ages. But, the designer of the magnificent castle, as we see it today, was Sir Charles Barry. Barry also designed the Houses of Parliament in London.
Dunrobin Castle History
In 1235, the Earldom of Sutherland was created, and with it Dunrobin Castle. Although, the name ‘Dunrobin’ means ‘Robin’s Hill’ and may have come about from Robert, the 6th Earl of Sutherland. He died in 1427, so it’s possible the castle went by some other name before this time.
The early origins of the castle show it as a square keep and it wasn’t until the 16th century that Dunrobin Castle began to expand and change into the more Scottish Baronial style grand palace of today.
In 1915, the castle was used as a naval hospital when a fire damaged some of the newer sections of the castle. Sir Robert Lorimer, a Scottish architect, was hired to renovate after WW1 and between 1965 and 1972, Dunrobin Castle was used as a boarding school. The house opened to the public in 1973.
Where Is Dunrobin Castle?
Dunrobin Castle lies close to Golspie within the Sutherland region of the Scottish Highlands. The castle and gardens of Dunrobin overlook the wild waters of the North Sea, enjoying a prime position on this beguiling stretch of coastline. The castle is around a one hour drive from Inverness, making it a great day trip option for those not on the NC500 road trip.
Feel free to click on the interactive Google Map below to see where Dunrobin Castle is located.
How to Get to Dunrobin Castle in Scotland
The best way to get to Dunrobin Castle and Gardens in Scotland is with your own set of wheels. The postcode is Golspie, KW10 6SF. As you enter into the grounds of Dunrobin, you’ll find a large chunk of parking along the main driveway to the house. There is also additional parking in a spacious car park to the left of the driveway.
If you don’t have access to your own set of wheels, then we recommend hiring something. When hiring a car, we always get the ball rolling with a search on RentalCars.com. Booking a car with Rentalcars.com is easy and stress-free, plus they offer an unbeatable free cancellation policy too.
Of course, it’s possible to get to Dunrobin Castle and Gardens using public transport. From Inverness, you can take the train to Wick, which stops at Dunrobin Castle Station. We recommend using Trainline to check on the most up-to-date train times.
How to Explore Dunrobin Castle and Outer Gardens For Free
On the final day of our NC500 road trip, Dan and I knew we wanted to visit the prestigious Dunrobin Castle. But, we weren’t totally sure we were up for a packed-out castle tour and the price tag to go with it. Still, we rocked up anyway to assess our options. And, to our surprise, we discovered it was super easy to enjoy some of the splendour of Dunrobin Castle, without even needing to go in.
From the Dunrobin Castle parking area, you can enjoy wonderful views of the exterior of the castle, uninterrupted. You get a real sense of what it would have been like to arrive at such a grand home hundreds of years ago.
To the right of Dunrobin Castle, as you face it, you’ll see a path leading around the castle and garden walls. If you follow this, you’ll pass by a row of pretty little cottages, leading down to an expanse of grassy lawn adjacent to the seafront. As Dunrobin Castle enjoys a slightly elevated position above the coastline, the views of Dunrobin from the water’s edge are unimpeded and quite spectacular. You can happily follow the stone paths up to the iron gates guarding the Dunrobin Castle gardens. Indeed, it’s easy to peer inside and see quite extensively the beauty of the gardens and Dunrobin Castle itself.
Into the Woods…
Continuing along the beachfront brings you to a pretty woodland walk. It’s quaint, it’s quiet, and it provides some serenity at an attraction that is usually very busy with people. The walk through the woodland attached to the castle is utterly charming and full of wildlife.
Also, within these outer gardens of Dunrobin Castle is a beautiful stone arbour and manicured lawn area. So, you’ll get to enjoy a little slice of what’s going on on the other side of the castle walls. The trail swings out east, away from Dunrobin Castle, before curving back around to rejoin the car park. All in all, the walk around Dunrobin Castle takes around one hour, at a leisurely pace, and is no more than 2km in length.
Truly, if you’re short on time, want to avoid the crowds or simply want to save some cash, then this is a wonderful option to see Dunrobin Castle. We loved it.
Visiting Dunrobin Castle
Like us, you might be content with the outer gardens walk around Dunrobin Castle. Or, it might have whet the appetite to have a proper mooch inside. If so, we totally understand. Dunrobin is one of Scotland’s grandest and most impressive castles. Below, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about visiting inside the castle.
Dunrobin Castle Tickets, Prices and Opening Times
Dunrobin Castle is open from 10.30 am to 4.30 pm in April and October. From May to September, the opening hours change to 10.00 am to 5.00 pm. The last entry is 30 minutes before closing. The castle is closed from November to March. But, as we mentioned above, you can still walk around the outer gardens of Dunrobin Castle and still have a brilliant time.
Most recently, the price for entry is £14/adult, £9/child and £12/senior or student. Additionally, the castle offers family tickets (2 adults & up to 3 Children) for £42. The ticket price includes entry to Dunrobin Castle, the museum, gardens and falconry shows.
As always, you should check the official Dunrobin Castle website for the most up-to-date opening hours and prices. Also, if you notice any changes to prices, let us know in the comments for other visitors.
Inside Dunrobin Castle
All 189 rooms within the castle are preserved and decorated as extravagantly and lavishly as you would expect for such a grand home. Visitors are able to wander through around 20 of the rooms. You can opt for a group tour of the castle, or go self-guided. The castle windows provide perfectly framed pictures of the formal gardens below. Beyond is the rugged coastline which adds to the magic of Dunrobin Castle.
Please note, photos are not permitted inside Dunrobin Castle.
Dunrobin Castle Gardens
The gardens at Dunrobin were inspired by the formal gardens at the Palace of Versailles. So, you know you’re in for a treat. Especially if you spied a glimpse of them during the outer garden walk. We did! Designed by Sir Charles Barry, the Dunrobin Castle Gardens have changed very little in the last 150 years. They are a haven of colour and frame the castle perfectly.
Dunrobin Castle Falconry
One of the most popular attractions, aside from enjoying the fairytale facade of the castle, is to watch a falconry show. The Falconry shows at Dunrobin Castle are usually held daily at 11.30 am and 2.30 pm.
Dunrobin Castle Museum
Located in the castle gardens is the Dunrobin Museum, formally a stunning summer house. The museum houses many of the family’s collectables over the centuries, including Pictish symbol stones, some 1,500 years old. Also, you’ll find archaeological relics and stuffed heads of animals hunted and shot by the family.
The Dunrobin Castle Museum is open from 11 am to 4 pm every day.
Dunrobin Castle Tea Rooms
For some homemade soups, sandwiches and cakes, we hear the Dunrobin Castle Tea Rooms is the perfect spot to refuel. They also serve up local ice cream, which would go perfectly hand in hand with the woodland walk on a nice day.
Other Attractions Close to Dunrobin Castle
Dunrobin Castle and Gardens may be a major attraction around this section of the NC500 and Scottish Highlands, but it’s not the only thing to see. Let’s take a look at a few other exceptional things to do in the area.
- Golspie Beach: after enjoying a walk around (or in) Dunrobin Castle, Scotland, you could head to neighbouring Golspie and enjoy some downtime at the pretty beach here.
- Whaligoe Steps: take the famous steps down to this hidden natural harbour.
- Cairn Liath Broch: visit an iron age settlement.
- Golspie Burn Waterfall & Gorge: a beautiful cascade accessed via a short walk just north of the town of Golspie.
Other Castles on the NC500
If Scotland does one thing well, it’s castles. Below are some of the other epic castles you can explore along the NC500.
- Strome Castle: pretty ruins on the banks of the wonderful Loch Carron.
- Castle Varrich: a small castle ruin perched on an exposed hilltop overlooking the Kyle of Tongue.
- Old Keiss Castle: take a short walk along the rugged coastline to this castle, surely about to drop into the sea at any moment.
- Castle Sinclair Girnigoe: on the Noss Head headland, with views across Sinclair’s Bay, is a quick and easy walk to a history-filled Scottish castle.
- Ardvreck Castle: on the banks of Loch Assynt is this beguiling castle ruin.
- Castle of Mey: a perfectly positioned castle on the northern shores of Scotland with views to the Orkney Isles.
- Inverness Castle: a worthy stop as you begin or finish your NC500 road trip.
Nearest Accommodation to Dunrobin Castle
Below, we’ve handpicked some of the best budget, mid-range and luxury accommodation options close to Dunrobin Castle and Gardens in Scotland.
- Budget – Invicta House B&B: the Invicta House B&B is a popular place to stay in Golspie with guests enjoying the comfortable rooms and tasty breakfast. You can even rent bikes from Invicta House. Perhaps you’ll cycle to Dunrobin?
- Mid-range – Golspie Inn: the Golspie Inn is a lovely hotel offering comfortable rooms and a fantastic cooked breakfast. Guests love the location as well as the free parking and the friendly staff.
- Luxury– MacGregor’s at the Ben: the traditional cottage-style accommodation at MacGregor’s at the Ben is part of this hotel’s charm. Here, you’re just a stone’s throw from the castle.
Of course, wild camping is permitted in Scotland. However, campers need to follow a standard set of guidelines. These rules revolve around respecting the countryside and ultimately staying safe. Tents should also be out of view from the roadside, where possible. Also, if using a car park with your camper, don’t linger too long into the day or arrive too early in the evening.
The area around the castle is not as remote as other areas in the Highlands of Scotland, so wild camping may be a little trickier. It might be just as well to stay at an official site around these parts.
Is Dunrobin Castle Dog Friendly?
Only guide dogs are allowed within the grounds of Dunrobin Castle. But, if you just visit as we did, with a walk around the outer gardens and woodland area, then it’s perfectly fine to bring your pooch with you.
How Old Is Dunrobin Castle?
The beginnings of Dunrobin Castle date back to the middle ages. But, the castle and gardens as we see them today date back to around 1835–1845.
Is Dunrobin Castle National Trust?
No. Dunrobin Castle and Gardens is privately owned. For National Trust owned Scottish castles, you should visit Craigievar (the pink castle), Culzean Castle and Brodick Castle.
Who Owns Dunrobin Castle?
The castle is owned by the 25th Earl of Sutherland and is the seat of Clan Sutherland.
Travel Insurance For the NC500
Whether you’re from the UK or further afield, travel insurance is a necessary evil, especially if taking on a road trip like the NC500.
SafetyWing is an excellent budget-friendly travel insurance provider. Personally, Dan and I have used SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance many times to insure our trips. The Nomad Insurance is fantastic value for money with a smaller additional cost to add a partner. Unlike most other insurance companies, there’s an option to pay on a monthly basis, similar to having a prepaid phone plan. Better yet, there’s no lock-in contract. In addition, you can cancel at any time, which will take effect the month after.
For shorter trips, it’s also possible to use Nomad Insurance for trips lasting just days or just 2–3 weeks. Indeed, SafetyWing is cheaper than almost all other travel insurance policies and covers just as much and sometimes more.
SafetyWing is a modern travel insurance company that is certainly leading the way in terms of how travel insurance should work in the future.
These are our travel essentials for visiting Dunrobin Castle and Gardens in Scotland. For a more extensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Alternatively, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a trip to Scotland and the North Coast 500, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket, because you know, this is still Scotland after all.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for day trips, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm when the sun drops and you want to enjoy a sunset.
You should also pack water, snacks and sunscreen.
- Dunrobin Castle wedding: for a fairytale wedding, you can get married at the castle.
- Dunrobin Castle Outlander: Outlander was not filmed here. But, Doune Castle in Scotland was a filming location, so, if you’re a fan, head there instead.
- Tours and Activities: if you prefer the planning to be taken care of for your visit to Dunrobin Castle, GetYourGuide offers some pretty excellent trips.
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