Any visitor to Scotland will surely come across a castle sooner or later! Our rich and turbulent past has left a legacy of fortresses and strongholds across the country, from ruined hilltop keeps to magnificent historic buildings such as Edinburgh and Stirling Castles.
Each has a story to tell, and if you are at all interested in the history of Scotland’s people you will find a wealth of information and a real insight into life in years gone by by visiting some of our most ancient sites. And it’s not just castles – there are ancient abbeys, cathedrals and churches to explore too!
For history buffs we can create a tailor made castle tour lasting anything from a day to a fortnight or even longer, or you might prefer just to include a few important sites on your Scottish vacation itinerary. As ever with Scottish Highland Trails, it is up to you to tell us what’s in and what’s out! To give you an idea of what a castle tour might look like, here are some sample itineraries:
Sample Itinerary: Edinburgh & the Lothians Castle Day Tour
Edinburgh Castle :: Rosslyn Chapel :: Dirleton Castle :: Tantallon Castle
Sample Itinerary: Southern Scotland Castle Tour
Edinburgh Castle :: Thirlestane Castle :: Floors Castle :: Drumlanrig Castle :: Caerlaverock Castle :: Threave Castle :: MacLellans Castle :: Cardoness Castle :: Dundonald Castle :: Newark Castle
Sample Itinerary: North East Scotland Castle Tour
Edinburgh Castle :: St Andrews Castle :: Glamis Castle :: Dunnottar Castle :: Tolquhon Castle :: Fyvie Castle :: Huntly Castle :: Kildrummy Castle :: Corgarff Castle :: Craigievar Castle :: Crathes Castle :: Braemar Castle :: Blair Castle :: Stirling Castle
Sample Itinerary: Highlands and Islands Castle Tour
Edinburgh Castle :: St Andrews Castle :: Glamis Castle :: Blair Castle :: Urquhart Castle :: Eilean Donan Castle :: Dunvegan Castle :: Duart Castle :: Dunstaffnage Castle :: Kilchurn Castle :: Inveraray Castle :: Doune Castle :: Stirling Castle
To whet your appetite here are just a few of our favourite Scottish castles:
Doune Castle is located in the Trossachs, a beautiful area of lochs and green hills just to the north west of Stirling. Doune is an impressive 14th century courtyard castle, with a 100ft high gatehouse. Built by the first Duke of Albany, younger brother of King Robert III. Robert was a weak king, the Duke effectivley ruled Scotland and the castle was practically a royal residence. In later times, it became a country retreat for Scottish monarchs who went hunting in the nearby Trossachs. Today you can see the cathedral like Great Hall which rises 11m to the roof and the views from the battlements over the surrounding countryside are superb.
Doune Castle’s other claim to fame is that it was used as the location for the Monty Python film “Monty Python & the Holy Grail”. Rumour has it staff keep coconut shells behind the desk at reception – ask to borrow them and you can re-create your own Python moment from the high on the castle ramparts!
Tantallon Castle has a spectacular setting high on a cliff top overlooking the Firth of Forth and the Bass Rock, a well known seabird colony. Located just outside North Berwick in the East Lothian area just south of Edinburgh, Tantallon was built in the 1350s by the powerful Douglas family, the Earls of Angus (the Red Douglas). Built of red sandstone and featuring a formidable curtain wall, the castle withstood several sieges over the centuries and was considered almost impregnable in medieval times. However in later years, with the invention of heavy artillery, the Castle was more vulnerable to attack and in 1651 the forces of Oliver Cromwell overcame Tantallon’s defences and the castle was overthrown. Try to visit on a clear day and climb to the top of the castle’s East Tower for beautiful views of the sea and the surrounding countryside.
Stirling Castle: it goes without saying that a visit to Edinburgh is not complete without a visit to Edinburgh Castle which is superb, but the other major historic site in Scotland would have to be Stirling Castle. Set high on a hill at the top of Stirling’s Old Town, this huge fortress dominates the landscape for miles around. The castle was first mentioned around 1110, and the present day castle is a mix of buildings dating variously from the 14th through to the 19th centuries. A potent symbol of Scottish independence, Stirling changed hands between the Scots and the English many times over the years and was an important seat of Scottish monarchs. Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here in 1543. Today visitors can tour the the Renaissance Palace and Royal Apartments, the Great Hall, the vast kitchens, and much more. The Castle is also home to the Regimental Museum of the Argyll & Southern Highlanders.
Eilean Donan Castle is surely one of Scotland’s most photographed castles. Situated on an island in Loch Duich in the Kintail area in the north west of Scotland and connected to the mainland by a footbridge, there has been a fortified structure on this site since the early 13th century. The castle was destroyed by anti-Jacobite troops in 1719 and lay abandoned for around 200 years, before being rebuilt by the Clan Chief of the Clan MacRae in the early 20th century. Today it is a fascinating site to visit, not least because of its beautiful setting in the heart of the West Highlands.