Dunvegan Castle and the Legend of the Fairy Flag

Dunvegan Castle on Isle of Skye Scotland
by Anisa // 50 Comments

When you think of Isle of Skye, Scotland, the main thing you think of is all the natural beauty.   We spent most of our time hiking and admiring the views, but I also knew I wanted to see Dunvegan Castle.   

Similar to Eilean Donan Castle, the setting of the castle is lovely, right on the water.  Unlike, Eilean Donan castle, it was not left abandoned for 200 years.   Instead, it has been continuously occupied by the MacLeod family for 800 years! Wouldn’t it be fascinating to go inside and learn more about Dunvegan Castle history? 

Let me tell you more about Dunvegan Castle and Gardens and what you can expect to see on your visit.

anisa in the gardens at Dunvegan Castle on Isle of Skye
You must visit the gardens as well as Dunvegan Castle.

About the MacLeod Clan

The MacLeods are believed to be descendants of Olaf the Black, the Norse King.  There are two branches of the MacLeod Clan – one in the Isle of Harris and then the one in Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye.  Over the centuries, the MacLeods have survived countless clan conflicts.  They also played a role in the Wars of Scottish Independence.

In more recent years, the MacLeod Chiefs have worked to bring together the worldwide clan.  Dunvegan Castle is the Clan seat and hosts the Clan MacLeod Parliament every four years.  Members of the Clan from all over the world attend.

In addition to Dunvegan Castle, the Clan has also owned a few other Scottish Castles over the years including Cadboll Castle, Knock Castle, Dunscaith Castle, and Duntulm Castle.  Many of these castles are now either in ruins or now owned by other clans.

The MacLeod Clan name is used on Highlander – although Connor MacLeod and others are fictional characters.

Inside the walled garden, so many beautiful flowers.
Inside the walled garden, so many beautiful flowers.

Exploring the Dunvegan Castle Gardens

In addition to the Isle of Skye castle, you must visit the magnificent Dunvegan gardens.  It had been raining but stopped when we arrived.  So we decided to see the gardens while it was still dry.  I guess I am not sure what I expected but these gardens rival many botanical gardens!  First, we visited the water garden, which had two large waterfalls and some cute bridges.

One of the waterfalls in the water garden at Dunvegan Castle.
One of the waterfalls in the water garden at Dunvegan Castle.

Next, we walked to the walled garden, which was my favorite.  This garden has several areas each with their own personality including a reflecting pool and a gazebo.  There were so many flowers of different types and colors, and everything was meticulously maintained.  

We also went inside the greenhouse where there were, even more, flowers and a wheelbarrow.  Then, we walked to the round garden, which was beautiful as well.  It gets its name from the flowers planted in a circle bed.

Russell in the gazebo in the garden.
Russell in the gazebo in the garden.

Then, it was time for a few pictures of the outside of the castle.  I love the green and oranges you see around the castle.  There were still ominous clouds but that just added to the ambiance for the photo.

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Inside Dunvegan Castle

After we took our Dunvegan Castle pictures, we headed inside.  You won’t believe that the Fairy Tower was built in 1500 because the castle has been so well maintained.  When you enter, you just feel like you are in a castle since it is beautifully decorated.  The grand staircase in the entrance hall reminded me of something from a southern plantation.

Throughout the Dunvegan Castle interior, you will find portraits of members of the MacLeod Clan, their family tree, and plenty of other historical pieces.  I would encourage you to read as much as you can of the displays because the Dunvegan Castle history is fascinating.  I thought I would highlight of few of the things items that stuck with me.

The entrance to Dunvegan Castle.
The entrance to Dunvegan Castle.

We also enjoyed looking through the impressive collection of books in the library.  You will definitely find some titles here that you recognize – for example, there was plenty of Shakespeare.  All the books are old and I imagine are some kind of 1st or special edition.

You can also go into the dungeon and learn about the dark side of the MacLeod clan history.  I have to admit this freaked me out a little bit especially after I read that one of the wives was put in there to die.  It was dark and pretty much everything you would expect from a dungeon in a medieval castle.  I went in and pretty much came right out!

One of the first things we came across were handwritten letters from Sir Walter Scott (author) and Dr. Samuel Johnson (inventor of the dictionary) who both stayed at the castle.  It seems like both guests really enjoyed their stays.  Queen Elizabeth II has also visited the castle.

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The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle

The Dunvegan Castle Fairy Flag may not look like much but it is one the MacLeod clan’s most prized possessions.  The story is that the MacCleod fairy flag was given to the family by fairies and it has sacred powers.  

Legend has it that if the fairy flag is shown during a battle, the clan can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  This Isle of Skye flag can only be used three times and it has already been used twice in MacLeod clan history!

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Dunvegan Boat Trips

Once you have seen the castle and the gardens it is time to explore the Loch.  The castle offers three different types of boat tours – seal watching, wildlife, and fishing expeditions.  Be sure to dress warmly though (yes, even in the summer), there is a chance you could get wet.

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Another view of Dunvegan Castle.
Another view of Dunvegan Castle.

The Dunvegan Castle Seal Boat trips are only 25 minutes and take you to see the Loch Dunvegan seal colony.  You may also see some interesting birds as well.  If you have purchased castle tickets, the price for a seal tour is £9.50 for adults and £6.50 for children.  These boats run daily (during the opening season) between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm as long as the sea conditions are good.  These boat rides operate on a first come first served basis, so no need to book in advance.

The Dunvegan fishing and wildlife trips give you two hours to explore the Loch.  If you choose to do the fishing tour, the gear is provided free of charge.  Tickets for these longer boat cruises are £70.00 for adults and £60.00 for children.  If you are interested in one of these boat tours, you need to call the Ticket Office on +44 (0) 1470521206 (ext. 214) to book.

Dunvegan Castle FAQs

Here is some key information to plan your visit to Dunvegan Castle.

How Do You Get to Dunvegan Castle?

Dunvegan Castle is located on the western part of the Isle of Skye.  From Portree, it is a little more than a 30-minute (22 miles) drive on the A850.  If those who prefer not to drive, it is possible to catch the 56 bus in Somerled Square in Portree to Dunvegan Castle.  The ride takes about 45-minutes.  Check the bus schedule here.

From other locations, use the postcode IV55 8WF to navigate to the castle.

What are the Dunvegan Castle Opening Hours?

Dunvegan Castle is open daily from 10:00 am – 5:30 pm from April 1st to October 15th, with the last entry being 5:00 pm.  Both the castle and gardens are closed during the winter which in this case is defined as October 16th to March 31st.

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How much does it cost to visit Dunvegan Castle?

You can purchase tickets that include both the castle and the garden or just the gardens.  The difference in price is minimal, so it is worth it to go ahead and get the combined ticket. 

As of May 21, 2021, it is £14 per adult for admission to both the castle and gardens or £12 for the gardens.  They have reduced the Dunvegan Castle admission fee for children and seniors.  Tickets can be bought online in advance here or upon arrival.

Can you take photographs at Dunvegan Castle?

Dunvegan Castle has changed their photography policy since my visit.  I was not able to take pictures inside the castle, but now they do allow non-commercial photography.  They do not allow flash,  tripods, or selfie-sticks.

Is Dunvegan Castle accessible?

Dunvegan Castle makes an effort to accommodate everyone, but the castle’s structure has some limitations.  The ground floor has 6 steps so it is accessible with assistance.  It’s 12 steps to the first floor so if you are unable to manage that, they will arrange an “armchair visit.”  A castle guide will provide video on a portable electronic device.

The castle gardens are fully accessible.

Is there anywhere to buy food at Dunvegan Castle?

If you get hungry, there is a small cafe, called the MacLeod Tables Cafe, in the parking lot.  They serve soup, salads, pasta, quiche, sausage rolls, baked potatoes, sandwiches, homemade scones, and cakes.  When possible the cafe uses ingredients from the Dunvegan Castle Garden.  They do have some gluten-free options too.  The cafe is open every day from April 1 to October 15 from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm.

The prices are reasonable, but those on a tight budget can bring their own food and find a spot to picnic in the gardens.

Is Dunvegan Castle Worth Visiting?

Yes, it is a beautiful castle inside and out.  The history is fascinating. To me, it is mind-boggling that this castle has been part of the MacLeod family for so long.  They have done a great job preserving the Dunvegan castle history.

The gardens rival some botanical gardens that I have been to.  I would happily return to explore more. Both the castle and gardens are well worth a visit.  

Have you visited Dunvegan castle? What things struck you?


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dunvegan castle with text overlay "Dunvegan Castle & the Fairy Flag"

Expert Tips for Visiting Dunvegan Castle & Gardens

  • I would recommend allocating 2-3 hours to see both the gardens and the castle.
  • It makes sense to get the combined tickets for both the castle and gardens since it is only £2 more.
  • Read the stories that go along with all the historical items, especially the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan.
  • Don’t plan on visiting Dunvegan Castle in the winter.  Both the castle and gardens are closed.

Disclosure: We received complimentary tickets to Dunvegan Castle and Gardens so that we could share the experience with our readers.  As always, opinions expressed here are my own.

Last Updated on April 28, 2023

About the Author

Anisa is an experienced international traveler with extra pages in her passport and stamps from 41 different countries across 5 continents (and counting). She was born and raised in Texas. After a 13 year stint in NYC, she moved to England to live with her husband.