Scotland is famous worldwide for its castles, each one telling a different story of times gone by. Dominating city landmarks to mysterious, romantic ruins there is plenty of discovery and history to be found.
These castles are my ten most worthy of visiting. With over 2000 to choose from – each one unique, with some being very recognisable to some less discovered.
1. Dunnottar Castle
Atop a cliff overlooking the mighty North Sea, Dunnottar castle is an unforgettable experience. Accessible via a footpath and down steep steps, this medieval fortress still has ruins dating back to the 15th Century.
Today the buildings on top include The keep, barracks, kitchen and dungeons. Looking down to the surrounding beaches on either side of the castle, you can imagine the times of pirates and Viking Invasions of the 9th Century.
During the Viking invasion, the castle was destroyed, however over the many years the castle has had some very famous visitors including Mary Queen of Scots and William Wallace.
This castle also has similarities in my mind to something that you could see in Disney’s “Brave”, if you check out at least one castle outwith Edinburgh. Make it this one.
2. Craigievar Castle
This is the quintessential Scottish fairy-tale Castle. This baronial Castle holds Jacobean wood works and furniture, and it remains perfectly preserved as when it was lived in by the Forbes-Sempill Family for 350 years. From the outside you can see the rose coloured stone work and it is reputed to be the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Castle Logo.
The surroundings include a Victorian style garden and a typical Scottish Glen garden. During the springtime, the property is home to a lovingly cared for arboretum in the garden. Set in the middle of the Aberdeenshire countryside, Craigievar’s iconic tower house has been standing since 1626 and can be seen from afar.
3. Dunrobin Castle
One of the most Northerly Castles in Scotland. Dating back to the 1300’s. Dunrobin Castle has a resemblance of a classic French Chateau. The Castle is perched on a high terrace overlooking walled gardens. Entering the Castle is impressive and you will see the grand staircase which boasts a collection of hunting trophies, Dunrobin claimed to be one of the largest hunting lodges in Scotland.
Visitors can see where the Duke of Sunderland sat down for dinner in the dining room in 1850. The library room is also noteworthy, with a collection of over 10,000 books. Once you have explored the inside, the gardens are extensive and beautifully cared for.
There is also a museum in the castle grounds which provides visitors with the chance to view notable Pictish stones, taxidermy, and a collection of geological relics.
4. Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is undoubtedly the most famous Scottish icon. Recently, the castle has been voted the top tourist attraction outside of London.
The historic fortress stands upon an extinct volcano and dominates the city of Edinburgh.The site has been occupied since the late Bronze Age and many restoration programmes have been carried out. This Scottish Castle hosts the Crown Jewels of Scotland and the Stone of Destiny which was returned to Scotland in 1996 from Westminster. The Castle has been a military base since the 1600’s and many Kings and Queens of Scotland have resided there. (One being James 1st of England)
Make sure to plan your visit around 1 o’clock – everyday at exactly 1 o clock a gun fire is shot from a World War two cannon, which is located on the mount battery.
Another remarkable feature of the castle is The Vaults where they have been renovated to mimic early 19th Century prisons, make sure to look out for the American and French prisoners who have left their mark on the ancient wooden doors.
5. Urquhart Castle
Situated on the banks of Loch Ness, the impressive Urquhart Castle stands.
In 1306, the Castle came under the control of Robert The Bruce during the Scot’s struggle for independence. The castle rulers have changed many times from The Crown and the ruling Lords of the Isles. Urquhart was partially destroyed in 1692 during the Jacobite uprising and this castle has witnessed some bloody history. Since then the castle has fallen into decay and in 1913 it was passed into state care.
Nowadays, the castle’s history can be told in the audio visual exhibition and there are many artefacts of interest to view inside the museum. Three noble families who held the castle were the MacDonald’s, Grants and Duwards. Their family history can be heard in the visitor centre. During dusk, the castle is floodlit and budding photographers are welcome to take candid night time shots.
The location of the Castle, the views across the Loch Ness and the Great Glen are outstanding. The Loch waters are usually calm, unless a mysterious Loch Ness Monster chooses to appear…
6. Doune Castle
For Outlander Fans, Doune Castle is the home of the fictional “Castle Leoch” and has been used for filming some parts of Game of Thrones. The castle dates back to the 1260’s and was the seat of Robert Stewart who was the younger brother of King Robert III.
The grandest room in the castle is the great hall, which can be reached by a stone staircase. On top of the castle there is a rooftop walkway which provides good voews of the river Teith. The interconnecting rooms are positioned in a way which will inspire the visitor’s imagination. and since the filming of Outlander the relatively undiscovered castle has seen a significant increase in visitor numbers and speciality tours can be arranged for visits to the castle.
7. Slains Castle
Slains Castle is situated on the rocky Aberdeenshire coast near the town of Cruden Bay.
It is often said that the castle gave Bram Stoker the inspiration for Count Dracula’s castle. He stayed near the castle in 1895. Slains was originally built to replace “Old Slains Castle” after it was destroyed in 1594.
The castle lies along the cliff edge and is slightly different from other Scottish Castles. Slains has been left neglected to nature and unlike other castles it is not placed into a trust, this makes it a unique, eerie experience for visitors.
Interestingly, two Soldier Ghosts have been rumoured and witnessed within the storage rooms. It is free to enter the ruin and you can walk around each room, where you can view the old kitchens, library and great hall. There is breath-taking views from the cliff drops and remembering a pair of binoculars would be an advantage.
Entrance to the Castle is free and there are no available guided tours.
8. Brodie Castle
Brodie is a 16th Century castle located in Moray, North East Scotland. It is filled with antique furniture, paintings and the lasting legacy of Clan Brodie.
The turrets, passageways and rooms show what everyday life was like during the Baronial times. The Castle is very well preserved despite the fire of 1645.
Outside there are 71 hectares of estate to explore, including landscaped gardens, observation hides and woodland walks. Visit the Brodie tearoom and shop for a light snack.
What makes Brodie unique is the paranormal activity reported there…
Reportedly in 1889, the then Earl of Brodie was abroad in Switzerland, with his servants remaining in the castle. During the night the butler heard strange noises coming from the Earl’s study room, he heard papers rustling and groaning. Once the servants located the key to unlock the study, thinking there might be an intruder they could not find anyone or anything. However, in the morning the news that the Earl had passed away the previous night had reached the castle. The assumption is that the Earl returned to the Castle to deal with outstanding business…
9. Tantallon Castle
Tantallon stands proud overlooking the Firth of Forth. The mighty castle was built in the mid 1300’s and has been the seat of the Earls of Angus. However, Tantallon was besieged by both James V and James IV and was ultimately destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s troops in 1651.
Visitors can enjoy the rugged coastline from the high battlements and you can clearly see famous Bass Rock where you can see over 150,000 gannets residing on the rock. If you venture down to the cliff edge there are telescopes available to enhance your view.
In 2009, it was reported the presence of a Ghostly figure appearing behind railings in a wall opening. The “courtly figure” had been seen 30 years previously, Tantallon have confirmed that there had been no costumed guides present at the time.
10. Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan is such a recognisable Scottish castle. Situated on an island where three lochs meet: Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh. This western Highland castle attracts thousands of people annually, due to its romantic setting overlooking the Isle of Skye.
The Castle was established in the 13th Century as a way to protect the area from Viking invasions. Over the many centuries the Eilean Donan has witnessed the Jacobite uprisings in 1719 and when the British Government learnt the castle was occupied by the Jacobites, three armed warships moored and bombarded the castle with cannons. However, due to the five metre thick walls, these cannons made little impact. Subsequently, 343 barrels of gunpowder inside were discovered and orders were given to blow up the castle. Following this destruction, the castle lay in ruins for more than 200 years.
Today the castle has received extensive restoration and the footbridge over was an addition in the 1990’s. The entrance leads you onto the main keep, and a further three storeys to explore. The Banqueting hall is magnificent and the kitchens are recreated into a small museum.
Eilean Donan now incorporates a café, gift shop and interesting visitor centre which tell the story of this beautiful castle. During the night illuminations light up the castle and make for remarkable photographs.
Which castle would you visit?