Scotland just knows how to wow with atmospheric sites, history that goes way back and incredible vistas. Clava Cairns will wow you as well!
The location has become so much more popular due to its connection with the Outlander books and TV series and as such it’s now on many people’s Scotland bucket list! If it’s on yours then here’s a guide on how to visit Clava Cairns and what you can see there.
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Clava Cairns is an ancient Scottish site near Inverness in the Highlands of Scotland. It’s situated right next to the Culloden Battlefield site and so makes an ideal addition to a day out there as well.
Our Top Pick
Visit Clava Cairns as part of a tour
Explore the Highlands with this tour from Inverness where you’ll see Clava Cairns, Culloden, Loch Ness and visit a whisky distillery!
When we first visited Clava Cairns I had no idea that it existed but stayed nearby in our camper van because we’d been advised that it would be ideal for us. What a treat we were in for when we explored and saw the site!
A note from the writer: Hey! I’m Kirsty and I’m a UK travel expert – while I grew up in Scotland, as an adult I now return to visit almost every year – there’s so much to see! Shout (or comment below) if you have any questions about your next trip and I’ll get back to you ASAP.
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It’s an incredibly atmospheric place and a reminder of the ancient history that Scotland is full of. It’s a great place to take your time and explore, perhaps with a picnic if the weather is on your side as well.
My tip for visiting Clava Cairns: since the site has gained popularity in recent years it can be disappointing to share the site with tour groups. If you can, aim to get there early or late in the day to hopefully enjoy it in peace.
What are the Clava Cairns?
The Clava Cairns site is Bronze Age which means it was built going back to around 2000BC. It consists of a stone circle, ring cairns and kerb cairns. These were burial cairns so this is essentially a Bronze Age cemetery.
The site is actually quite spread out but what you see directly by the car park is Balnuaran of Clava, the most well preserved and accessible ones. If you fancy a walk you can also head a short distance to the Milton of Clava which is another standing stone, cairn and remains of a much later church which was medieval.
Like many of the the ancient sites in the UK, we don’t know a great deal about the purpose of the cairns and there are a lot of guesses made.
There were only found to be a couple of people in each cairn so this clearly wasn’t a mass burial site. Possibly it was for important people of good standing. Excavations in the 1800s weren’t the best and ruined what could have been found at the site.
As you explore you can see some cup and ring markings on some of the stones that make up the cairn – a form of historic art perhaps?
The passages into the cairns also align with the sun at the winter solstice, not unlike Stonehenge and other stone circles. Clearly a lot of thought was put into the design at the time of building to bring light at the darkest moments of midwinter.
What is the Outlander connection? Is Clava Cairns Craigh-Na-Dun?
Many people long to see Clava Cairns since the rise in popularity of the Outlander TV series.
The stone circle that is the source of the time travel in the books and TV series is called Craigh Na Dun and it’s said that Clava Cairns was the original inspiration for it.
While it wasn’t used in the filming of the TV series (they made a fake stone circle for the film) it does still attract many fans and tour buses as an Outlander site to visit in Scotland.
With Clava Cairns being so close to Culloden, another major Outlander draw, you can see why it’s also added in. You’ll find many tour buses stop by here throughout the day for a while to get a photo.
How to get to Clava Cairns
It’s really easy to get to Clava Cairns from Inverness as it’s directly outside the city. A car journey takes just around 15 – 20 minutes and there’s plenty of parking at the site.
If you don’t have a car, it’s also possible to take a bus to the Culloden battlefield site and walk to the cairns. You’ll walk along a small road with no paths but it’s a very minor road. It’s around 1.5 miles walk. The bus you’ll need is the number 2 from the centre of Inverness.
It’s much easier to drive if you can – perhaps consider renting a car from Inverness and make the most of exploring the Highlands?
Another option to consider if you don’t have a car is to go as part of a tour.
These guided tours often explore larger areas of the Highlands and include Clava Cairns as part of the itinerary.
Many go from Inverness but you’ll also find some tours that will take you from Edinburgh too.
If you’d like to add this site on to some other iconic Scottish landmarks and let someone else do the driving then this is a great way to do it.
Other information about visiting Clava Cairns
Clava cairns is owned by Historic Scotland but it’s free to visit and the car park is also free.
It’s open year round and 24 hours a day.
Please remember that this is burial ground and to have respect when visiting. Don’t allow children to climb on the cairns.
FAQ about Clava Cairns in Scotland
Is Clava Cairns worth visiting?
Clava Cairns is a small but intriguing site which shows Scotland’s ancient past in all its glory. It’s a very moving and mystical place and very much worth visiting if you’re interested in history.
What is the story of Clava Cairns?
Clava Cairns is a complex of burial mounds that date back to the bronze age, around 4000 years ago.
The mounds have a connection with the midwinter sun as they seem to line up with that in mind, as does the stone circle.
Only one or two people were buried in each cairn, suggesting that the people they were built for were important figures at the time.
Was Outlander filmed at Clava Cairns?
No. While Clava Cairns is said to be one of the inspirations for Craigh-Na-Dun the tv series wasn’t filmed there.
Many Outlander fans do make the pilgrimage to the site to see the stone that looks like it was split (like in the books) and as it’s so close to Culloden, another Outlander site.
Is Clava Cairns free?
Yes. Clava Cairns is free to visit and look around. It’s open all year round.
How do I get from Culloden to Clava Cairns?
Clava Cairns is just a short drive from Culloden. Head east on the B9006 road until you see the Brown Signs advising you to turn right at the Culloden Moor Inn. The Clava Cairns site is just a mile from there.
Is there a real Craigh-na-Dun?
No. Craigh-Na-Dun was made up for the Outlander series of books by Diana Gabaldon. The real life stone circle at Clava Cairns is said to be one of the many inspirations for the magical ancient site in the books.
What does cairn mean in Scottish?
A cairn simple means a mound of stones that has been built for a specific purpose. Many times this is as a burial mount or simply a marker.
Cairn is a Scottish word and comes from the gaelic word càrn. In many Celtic areas such as Wales and Cornwall the word is similar.
How old are Clava Cairns?
We believe that the Clava Cairns are around 4000 years old. This means they were built in the Bronze Age.
Can you take dogs to Clava Cairns?
Yes dogs are able to go to the site at Clava Cairns. You may wish to keep them on a lead around the ancient site, especially if there are sheep in the nearby fields.
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🏴 Scotland Travel FAQ 🏴
Do I need insurance for traveling to Scotland?
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YES – If you’re wanting to explore Scotland fully then a car is worthwhile. It will get you to all the best sights and on your own timetable
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What to pack for Scotland
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See my post about what to pack for Scotland
Do I need midge spray for Scotland?
YES – if you’re traveling in the summer months to any of the west coast, highlands, islands or lochs it’s recommended.
Locals swear by Avon’s Skin So Soft!
If you’re sticking to the cities or traveling in winter, early spring or late fall then you likely won’t need it.
What’s the best guidebook for Scotland?
I really like the Lonely Planet Guidebooks
Where to get flights for Scotland
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Do I need a visa for Scotland?
Many countries don’t need a visa for visiting Scotland as tourists (USA, Canada, Aus, NZ and Europe) – it’s always best to check first though.