Scotland has just been announced as ‘Rough Guides’ number 1 country in ‘"the 20 most beautiful countries in the world" for 2019 and to celebrate we thought we would compile one of our largest blog posts- all about Scotland’s stunning castles!
Scotland is famous for its castles, in fact it is estimated there once were over 2,000 castles in Scotland, now less remain, some have been carefully restored and others left in various states of ruins, all still well preserved. The thing is about these castles that remain- they are dotted around everywhere! They are nestled into the landscape, or perched on a cliff edge, or overlooking some of the most stunning lochs. And with Scotland so easy to travel around, make sure you add some of the world’s most famous castles to your itinerary.
We have visited so many amazing castles, that is was has tough for us to narrow down our favourites, but we have managed to find our top 30!
We have 4 castles outstanding on our list that we hope to complete by the end of 2019! These are also included as we don’t want you missing out on these ones!
Castles if departing from Edinburgh
Edinburgh Castle is the most important royal fortress in Scotland. The current castle has stood since the 12th century although there has been a castle here since 900BC. The castle was a royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. Edinburgh has been involved in many conflicts through the ages, from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century to the Jacobite Rising of 1745. The Castle is in the heart of Edinburgh, at the top of the Royal Mile and has view across Edinburgh. Today, the castle is the setting for Edinburgh’s famous Royal Military Tattoo and houses the crown jewels, be sure to time your visit for the one o’clock gun!
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Location Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG
Price *£17 (all prices for adults)
Craigmillar Castle is ‘Edinburgh’s other castle’ and it is the remains of medieval castle from the 14th century which was extended throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. Mary, Queen of Scots Mary visited Craigmillar in November 1566 to convalesce following the birth of her son, the future James I of England. Be sure to climb the winding staircases and explore this exceptional ruin which is one of the best-preserved examples of a medieval castle.
Craigmillar Castle is just a 15-minute drive from the centre of Edinburgh.
Tantallon Castle is a 14th century-built castle which with 5 storeys towers over the cliff edge in North Berwick, which is around a 50-minute drive from Edinburgh. This ruin is spectacular with a massive red sandstone curtain wall. The mighty stronghold was finally abandoned after more than 300 years, when it was besieged for a third time – by Oliver Cromwell’s army. (You will hear a lot about Cromwell throughout the castle trails)
Location North Berwick EH39 5PN
Tantallon Castle is around 50 minutes’ drive to the east of Edinburgh
Dirleton Castle was built in the 13th century although the large fortresses residence was badly damaged during the Wars of Scottish Independence, when it was twice taken by the English. Rebuilt and reinforced, the castle was again damaged during Cromwell’s siege of 1650; it was then left to decay, now the ruins stand magnificently, and you can get a great idea of the layout of the castle, there is also a bridge across the moat, be sure to check out the castle gardens too!
You can visit Dirleton Castle right after Tantallon Castle as they are only a 15-minute drive apart.
Blackness Castle is one of Scotland's most impressive strongholds, built in the 15th century by one of Scotland's most powerful families, the Crichtons, and was massively strengthened in the 16th century as an artillery fortress, Blackness Castle has been a royal castle, prison, armaments depot and film location for Outlander, Mary Queen of Scots and Outlaw King.
Location Blackness, Linlithgow EH49 7NH
Blackness Castle is located on the Firth of Forth and is just under a 45-minute journey west from Edinburgh.
St Andrews Castle
St Andrews Castle was built in the late 1100’s when St Andrews was the religious pilgrimage for the Church of Scotland in the years before the Protestant Reformation. During the Wars of Scottish Independence, the castle was destroyed and rebuilt several times as it changed hands between the Scots and the English. Most of what can be seen today dates from a rebuild completed around 1400. The castle sits on a rocky cliff edge on the North Sea. St Andrews Castle has been a bishop’s palace, a fortress and a state prison during its 450-year history. Explore the infamous castle prison with its ‘bottle neck dungeon’ and delve underground to the 16th-century siege mine and counter-mine.
>To find out some more about St Andrews Castle and the town- click here<
Location The Scores, St Andrews KY16 9AR
St Andrews and its Castle is in an hour and half drive North from Edinburgh.
Dunnottar Castle is one of the most iconic castles as it juts out from the lands’ end, the remains of this medieval fortress date from the 15th and 16th centuries, with the site believed to have been fortified from the early Middle Ages. Due to its strategic location, Dunnottar has played a prominent role throughout Scotland’s history, but is perhaps best known as the place where the Honours of Scotland, the Scottish crown jewels, were hidden from Oliver Cromwell’s invading army during the 17th century.
Dunnottar Castle is located near Aberdeen and is a 2 hour + drive from Edinburgh up the east coast. If leaving from St Andrews, the journey is just under 1 and half hours
Stirling Castle is one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland and it is set high on a rocky crag. The castle has survived at least eight sieges and several Scottish kings and queens have been crowned at Stirling, including Mary, Queen of Scots. The buildings range from the 12th century to the 16th century.
>Want to explore the town of Stirling?- then click here<
Location Castle Esplanade, Stirling FK8 1EJ
Stirling Castle can be reached from Edinburgh in one hour.
Doune Castle was originally built in the 13th century, then damaged during the Scottish Wars of Independence before being rebuilt in the late 14th century by Robert Stewart, the son of King Robert II of Scotland. This is a great castle to explore and do take note the impressive courtyard and one of the best-preserved great halls in Scotland.
Location Castle Hill, Doune FK16 6EA
From Stirling Castle, you can reach Doune Castle in just 15 minutes.
Balmoral Castle is the Scottish residence of the British Royal Family where the current Royal family reside each summer. A castle has stood on the grounds since the 15th century and when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert came they fell in love with the region and people during a visit to the Scottish Highlands, but it was considered too small so they purchased the estate and constructed a new castle in place of the now demolished old castle. The couple spent many weeks each year relaxing at their new home in Highlands, and after Albert’s death, Victoria spent up to 4 months each year at Balmoral.
Location Balmoral Estates, Ballater AB35 5TB
From Edinburgh the drive to Balmoral Castle takes you through the Cairngorms National Park and takes around 2 and a half hours, or if you are leaving from Aberdeen, having been to Dunnottar Castle, the drive will take you 1 hour and 15 minutes to the west. (We suggest you pop into the nearby village of Ballater and grab something to eat or drink. We glamped nearby at Torbeg and visited the butchers in Ballater for our BBQ)
The red sandstone building of Inverness Castle was built in 1836, and now houses the Sheriff Court however there has been a succession of castles which have stood on this site since 1057.
Location Inverness IV2 3EG
From Edinburgh the drive North to Inverness will take 3 and half hours, and if coming from Balmoral Castle the drive is around 1 hour 45.
Price £5 to climb the tower only.
Though built on the site of an early medieval fortress, the present ruins overlooking Loch Ness date from the 13th to the 16th centuries. Urquhart played a role in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century and was subsequently held as a royal castle. Largely abandoned by the middle of the 17th century, the castle was partially destroyed in 1692 to prevent its use by Jacobite forces, and subsequently fell into disrepair.
Location Drumnadrochit, Inverness IV63 6XJ
If driving from Inverness Castle, you will reach Urquhart Castle in 30 minutes.
Castles if departing from Glasgow
There has been an Inveraray Castle standing on the shores of Loch Fyne since the 15th century, although what we see today is from the 19th century following a fire, the style is a mix of modern, baroque, Palladian and Gothic-style, today Inveraray Castle is one of Scotland’s finest stately homes. Wander around the manicured gardens before exploring the stunning interior.
Location Inveraray PA32 8XE
From Glasgow going north west, it will take around 1 and half hours to reach Inveraray and its Castle. (Make time to pop into Inveraray too, we suggest grabbing a bite to eat in ‘the George’)
Kilchurn Castle is a ruined castle on a rocky peninsula at the north-eastern end of Loch Awe. It was first constructed in the mid-15th century as the base of the Campbells of Glenorchy, who extended both the castle and their territory in the area over the next 150 years
View from across the water or wander right around this gorgeous ruin.
Location Lochawe, Dalmally PA33 1AF
Kilchurn Castle is just a 21-minute drive from Inveraray
Price Free , open only in summer months , can be viewed all year round
Dunstaffnage Castle and Chapel
Dunstaffnage Castle and Chapel is one of Scotland’s oldest stone castles with a huge curtain wall, built in the 13th century and it is set on a huge rock overlooking the Firth of Lorn near Oban. The Castle was captured by Robert the Bruce in 1309 and remained in royal possession for some years after.
Leaving Kilchurn Castle and going west to Oban, you will reach Dunstaffnage Castle in 30 minutes.
Castle Stalker is a restored 15th century tower house which is built on the site of an earlier fortification. The four-storey tower house is the most picturesque castle which stands on a small island in Loch Laich. The castle is now privately owned by the Allward family
Location Appin PA38 4BL
Taking the coast road from Oban to Castle Stalker will take 30 minutes (Drive up the hill on the A828 and find a sign for ‘Castle Stalker View’ to your left, here is a car park, a walking trail and a lovely big café which overlooks Castle Stalker)
Price By guided tour only
Inverlochy Old Castle
Inverlochy Old Castle in Fort William is one of Scotland’s oldest stone fortresses from the 13th century, built by John the Black Comyn, chief of the Clan Comyn. When Robert the Bruce succeeded to the Scottish throne in 1306, the Comyns, his rivals for the crown, were dispossessed and the castle was left unoccupied for a short period. The site of two battles, the castle remains largely unchanged since its construction. Perhaps not the most exciting looking castle but it’s the history that makes this one.
Location Fort William PH33 6TF
The journey from Castle Stalker to Fort William will take 40 minutes.
Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle and its surroundings are spectacular, this 13th century castle is situated on an island connected by a causeway to the mainland at the head of Loch Duich. Built and re-built over the centuries following various raids and sieges, the castle was partially destroyed in a Jacobite uprising in 1719. Eilean Donan lay in ruins until being authentically reconstructed to its medieval state in the mid-1900s by Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap.
Location Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh IV40 8DX
Continuing from Fort William, you will reach Eilean Donan Castle by driving 1 and half hours north. If heading straight to Eilean Donan- say heading to the Isle of Skye then the journey will take 4 hours
Dumbarton Castle is set impressively at 240 feet high on a volcanic rock, giving it the name ‘Dumbarton Rock’ and overlooks the Firth of Clyde, with spectacular views across the water and over to the iconic Ben Lomond. Dumbarton was the centre of the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde from the 5th century. Most of the buildings here date from the 18th century with newer artillery fortifications. The young Mary Queen of Scots stayed here before fleeing to France in 1548.
Location Castle Road, Dumbarton G82 1JJ
Driving from Glasgow it is just a 30-minute drive. It is also an easy 30 minute train ride from Glasgow’s Queen Street station to Dumbarton East station
Price * £5
Bothwell Castle is one of Scotland’s largest and finest 13th century medieval castles, set on a high steep bank commanding the River Clyde
Location Castle Avenue, Uddingston G71 8BL
Bothwell Castle is located to the southeast of Glasgow and is just a short 20-minute drive
Price * £5
Rothesay Castle is a very well preserved early medieval castle from the 13th century, although earlier fortifications existed on the site. The current castle was built to an unusual circular design which comprises of a huge curtain wall with four round towers, all surrounded by a substantial moat. Set on the Isle of Bute in a busy stretch of Viking controlled waters, the castle survived several Norse attacks to become a royal residence of the Stewart Kings of Scotland.
Rothesay Castle is situated on the Isle of Bute, so leaving Glasgow you will head for Wemyss Bay which is where the ferry terminal is, this is around 50 minutes’ drive then take the boat with CalMac Ferries which is a 35-minute journey. You can also jump on a train from Glasgow Central Station to Wemyss Bay which arrives in time to board the ferry >Ferry timetable
Portencross Castle is the remains of a 14th century castle which stands on the banks of the Firth of Clyde on the west coast of Scotland. Portencross was the seat of the Boyds of Kilmarnock, who had been gifted the lands on which the castle stands by King Robert I as a reward for their support at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The castle was occupied until 1739, when a particularly nasty storm blew the roof off. This castle is in a gorgeous setting, it is also a special place for Pam’s family.
Taking the ‘back roads’ from Glasgow you can reach Portencross Castle in under 1 hour, or if travelling down the west coast from Wemyss Bay you will reach Portencross in 30 minutes (be sure to add in some time to wander around the seaside town of Largs on route from Wemyss Bay)
Culzean Castle is an 18th refurbished castle designed by Robert Adam and is perched on the Ayrshire cliffs and is the former home of the Marquess of Ailsa, the chief of the Clan Kennedy. In 1945 the family gifted the castle to the National Trust for Scotland, with a condition of the gift stipulated that the top floor apartment was made available to General Dwight D Eisenhower, in recognition of his role during World War Two. The general stayed at Culzean on four occasions, including once when President of the United States. The castle was built to impress and opulent to the extreme with planted trees, caves, pond and ice house, and a fruit-filled glasshouse.
Culzean Castle can be reached from Portencross by following the coast south for 1 hour. From Glasgow it is just over 1-hour drive. You can treat yourself to Afternoon tea inside the castle in the former kitchen, or there are cafes on the castle’s estate.
Threave Castle is a 14th century island fortress, built on an island in the River Dee by Archibald the Grim. Threave Castle has had a series of improvements over the years and withstood a two-month siege before the garrison, bribed and promised safe conduct, surrendered.
Threave Castle is located 2 hours drive south of Glasgow, if coming from Culzean Castle it is an hour and 20-minute journey
Caerlaverock Castle is located near the Scottish Borders and is an impressive and well preserved moated triangular castle which was built in the 13th century. Being in the borders, Caerlaverock was besieged several times by the English. This is a picture-perfect castle.
Location Caerlaverock, Dumfries DG1 4RU
Caerlaverock Castle is a 50-minute drive from Threave Castle, both can easily be visited in the same day
Blair Castle is a complete medieval castle remodelled in a Scottish Baronial style in the 19th century. The castle commands a strategic position on the main route through the central Scottish Highlands. It is the ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl and home to Europe's last remaining private army, the Atholl Highlanders. As supporters of the Royalist cause, the castle was attacked and taken by Oliver Cromwell’s Army in 1660 and attacked and besieged again during the Jacobite rising of 1745, the starving defenders were only relieved when the Jacobite forces withdrew to fight British Government forces at the Battle of Culloden.
From Glasgow it will take around 1 hour 40 to reach Blair Castle, located near Pitlochry, you can also reach here from Edinburgh in the same time scale. (Be sure to stop in Pitlochry for a bite to eat or drink, we suggest ‘Hettie’s Tea Rooms’)
Price £13 House and gardens / £7.70 gardens.
The 4 Castles that are high on our list to visit are;
Drummond Castle and Gardens
The castle is not open to the public, however the gardens are gorgeous and laid out in 1600s formal Renaissance style and reshaped by the Victorians, from the gardens you have spectacular views of the castle.
Location Crieff, PH7 4HZ
1 hour north from Glasgow, 1 and half hours from Edinburgh
This is the famous pink castle! The castle dates from the 17th century, with original Jacobean woodwork, plaster ceilings and portrait collection.
Location Craigievar, Alford AB33 8JF
3 hours’ drive from Edinburgh. You could visit this at the same time at Dunnottar Castle as they are just 50 minutes apart.
Glamis Castle was built in the 14th century and was the late Queen Mother's childhood home, complete with lavish interiors.
Location Angus DD8 1RJ
Under 2 hours from Edinburgh or visit here after St Andrews which is just a 50-minute drive away, and just 50 minutes to Dunnottar.
Price £9.50 to visit Castle and Gardens or £15.50 to include a tour
Dunrobin Castle is a gorgeous Castle and stunning gardens, dating from the 18th century.
Location Golspie KW10 6SF
Dunrobin Castle is over an hour drive from Inverness in the Scottish Highlands
Prices for passes:
(*) Historic Scotland- Adult £49.50 per annum or joint adult membership £86.40 per annum. Seniors and children prices also available
5-day explorer pass £35 per adult
14-day explorer pass £45
(**) National Trust for Scotland (NTS) -Adult £60 per annum or joint adult membership £102 per annum. Seniors and children prices also available
Have you visited any of these castles? - If so, what was your favourite?
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