One of the most appealing things about Scotland is that no matter where you find yourself, a castle is never far away. As significant to the Scottish landscape as its pristine lochs and lofty mountains, the country’s castles rank amongst the most iconic in the world.
It is said there have been well over three thousand castles in Scotland, although many are known only through historical records. Scotland’s castles were primarily used defensively – to hold power, and to protect communities against invaders. As a result, most castles were built in the areas most at risk from invasion – such as in Galloway, which marked the southern borders between England and Scotland.
Besides her castles there are also a great number of castellated stately homes of which Culzean Castle below is a good example.
Unfortunately though many of Scotland’s castles fell to ruin, as their usefulness often exceeded the cost of their upkeep.
Gratefully, Scotland’s most famous castle (perhaps with the exception of much photographed Eilean Donan Castle) Edinburgh Castle, has a long and glorious history. The Son of Saint Margaret of Scotland, King David 1st, was the catalyst behind the imposing structure (which eventually stood at 443 feet – 135 metres above sea level) and some of the original construction stands to this day. It is set atop a craggy extinct volcano high above Scotland’s capital. This sprawling complex houses the Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny and Mons Meg. Get there in time for the firing of the One O’ Clock Gun. edinburgh castle tour
No visit to Scotland would be complete without venturing to at least a few of her beautiful castles, so we have picked out our favourites and to make it easy for you have included links to booking sites and tours wherever possible.
Meticulously restored to its original Renaissance glory, Stirling Castle was the favoured residence of the Stewart kings and queens. Take the kids along to meet costumed courtiers, bodyguards and servants and step into a rarefied world filled with decadence, plots and intrigue. Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond and Whisky Tour
Blackness Castle stands by the Firth of Forth . It was built in the 15th century as a stately home for the Crichton family and enjoyed later life as a garrison fortress, a state prison and in the late 19th century an ammunitions depot. It was revitalised in the 21st century following its appearance in a number of scenes in the popular “Outlander” series.
Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan has to be one of the most photographed castles in the world. Boasting a perfect picture-postcard setting on an island at the entrance of Loch Duich, Eilean Donan is steeped in Jacobite lore and a must see for Outlander fans. Among the rare artefacts on display is a sword said to have been wielded at Culloden. Eilean Donan Castle 2 day trip
Balmoral is still in use as a private home to the Royal Family and lovingly described by Queen Victoria as her ‘dear paradise in the Highlands’. When the Royal Family are not in residence, visitors can enjoy exhibitions in the Castle Ballroom, the largest room in the castle, and wander through the charming gardens and grounds.
Nestled amongst the majesty of the Cairngorms National Park, the 17th century fortress of Braemar Castle ticks all the boxes: castellated turrets, winding spiral staircases and a bottle-necked dungeon. Explore the grounds and find out more about Clan Farquharson. If you time it right you might be able to combine your trip with the Braemar Highland games, widely regarded as one of the best in Scotland.
The fictional home of the Thane of Cawdor in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Cawdor Castle ranks among Scotland’s most enchanting castles. Celebrated for its fairy-tale edifice, its dramatic history and romantic gardens, parts of which are over 300 years old, a visit here is like stepping into a bygone age.
The red sandstone walls of Glamis have been home to many colourful characters throughout the centuries, not least of them the late Queen Mother. It also famously features in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Crowned with battlements and pointed turrets, Glamis is the epitome of baronial grandeur
Dramatic doesn’t even begin to express the effect of this formidable cliff-top stronghold. Perched atop an immense rocky outcrop overlooking the north east coast, Dunnottar has witnessed many pivotal moments in Scotland’s history. The sight of it silhouetted against the setting sun is spellbinding. Dunnottar Castle day trip
The white-washed Blair Castle stands proudly against a backdrop of wooded hills rising above the River Garry. The ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl, it is also the home of Europe’s last remaining private army, the Atholl Highlanders. Explore its opulent rooms and its sprawling estate.
The austere façade of Inveraray Castle, the seat of the Dukes of Argyll, stands in direct contrast to its opulent interior which embodies the pinnacle of 18th century neoclassical elegance. Admire the priceless Beauvais tapestries in the Drawing Room and outstanding views of Loch Fyne.