How to visit Clava Cairns, an ancient site and Outlander location

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Scotland just knows how to wow with atmospheric sites, history that goes way back and incredible vistas. This next site in the Highlands will wow you as well!

It has become so much more popular due to its connection with the Outlander books and TV series and as such it’s 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.

Clava Cairns is an ancient site near Inverness in the highlands of Scotland. It’s situated right next to the Culloden Battlefield site and so makes an ideal companion to a day out there as well.

When we first visited Clava Cairns we 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!

Clava Cairns ancient site

It’s an incredibly atmospheric place and a reminder of the ancient history that Scotland enjoys. It’s a great place to take your time and explore and enjoy 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 site is Bronze Age (going back to around 2000BC) and 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. 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. There were only found to be a couple of people in each cairn so this 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.

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.

standing stones at clava cairns

While it wasn’t used in the filming of the TV series it does still attract many fans and tour buses to the site and with it being so close to Culloden, another major Outlander draw, you can see why! You’ll find many tour buses stop by here throughout the day for a while.

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.

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.

Tours often include Clava Cairns so if you’d like to add this site on to some others and let someone else do the driving then you can do so.

Check out:

Inverness Outlander Day Trip

Glen Affric, Clava Cairns and Culloden Tour

Outlander 2 day tour (from Edinburgh)

Other information about visiting:

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.

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Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for 10 of those. She loves to explore the UK and Europe and has a particular penchant for historical sites.

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