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Scotland's Must See Historic Castles

Scotland is famous for its historic castles, from the famous Edinburgh Castle with remnants dating to the 11th century, the seat of clan MacLeod at Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye, and the legendary Dunnottar Castle sitting on the crags of the Aberdeenshire coast. Did you know there are said to be between 2000 and 4000 castles in Scotland? Some of these are ruins, sat predominantly at vantage points either on a hill or coastal setting. With so many castles how do you decide which ones to visit? Here are some of Scotland's must-see historic castles.

Edinburgh Castle direct entrance with guards at either side of drawbridge.
Edinburgh Castle ©MDHarding

Scotland's Must See Historic Castles

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is one of Scotland's most visited and popular. Attracting more than 2 million visitors in 2019! It has been a military fortress, royal residence and prison of war. Home to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (formally known as the Royal Scots Grey Guards between 1707 - 1971 due to the grey horses). The cavalry regiment is a hit each year at the Edinburgh Tattoo, which takes place in August at Edinburgh Castle Esplanade. When visiting don't miss the Scottish Royal Jewels, Stone of Destiny, the oldest building within the castle grounds - St Margaret's Chapel and the incredible military museum housed in the New Barracks building (built 1796 - 1799). Another highlight is the one o'clock gun, which has taken place since 1861 as a timely reminder for ships sailing into Edinburgh's Leith Port. The gunfire takes place every day except for a Sunday, Good Friday and Christmas Day. Don't get this confused with Mons Meg, a well-preserved medieval siege gun that dates back to the 1450s. In times gone by faithful Meg fought onboard King James V's navy.

Edinburgh castle is protected and maintained by Historic Environment Scotland. Please do book ahead to avoid disappointment. If visiting more than one, Historic Environment Scotland attraction you might like to consider becoming a member. As there could not only be a huge saving but also protect Scotland's historic buildings and monuments for future generations.

View across Edinburgh city skyline rooftops stands Edinburgh Castle.
View of Edinburgh Castle From National Museum of Scotland ©MDHarding

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle is another gem! Located in the lowlands of Scotland it was where Mary Queen of Scot's was crowned in the Chapel Royal, it is home to incredibly delicate tapestries and the beautiful Queen Anne Gardens. There are incredible views across the city of Stirling including Old Stirling Bridge and the Wallace Monument. Don't miss the Great Hall, Chapel Royal, Castle Exhibition and the Palace Vaults.

One of over 300 protected buildings and monuments by National Environment Scotland!

It is really easy to access too, with either bus or train from many central Scotland locations or you might like to do an organised bus trip with one of Edinburgh's bus tour companies.

The Queen Anne south facing garden filled with roses, lavender and colourful border perenials.
Queen Anne's Garden, Stirling Castle ©MDHarding

Eilean Donan Castle

When you think of Scotland's castles one that pops up and is photographed more than many others, is the 13th century Eilean Donan Castle. Located in the Scottish Highlands by the village of Dornie on the west coast of Scotland. It is surrounded by the breathtaking scenery of the mountains and three lochs (lakes). Highlights not to be missed include the secret chamber, spy holes and a magic shoe! A must-visit.

Include a stop when driving on to the Isle of Skye or why not stay the night in Dornie and see the castle both at sunset and sunrise. Breathtaking!

Eilean Donan Castle surrounded with autumn colours and reflection in the loch.
Eilean Donan Castle ©MDHarding

Dunvegan Castle

The seat of MacLeod's - Dunvegan Castle is firmly on the Isle of Skye with it's history dating back 800 years. One of the oldest inhabited castles by the same family, it holds a wealth of history, including that of a visit from Bonnie Prince Charlie and a fairy flag. Don't miss the beautiful gardens and you might also get to enjoy a boat trip on-board a traditional clinker boat around the loch. Look out for wildlife such as seals, birds of prey, herons and arctic terns.

Large banquet table with decorative silverware. In the background family MacLeod portraits.
Inside Dunvegan Castle ©MDHarding

Dunrobin Castle

Home to Clan Sutherland, Dunrobin Castle and Gardens are located in Golspie, Scottish Highlands. Overlooking the Dornach Firth, it is one of Scotland's largest homes with 189 rooms. Parts of the historic stately home date back to 1275. Discover its long history from being a naval hospital during World War I and a boys boarding school. The large Victorian landscaped formal gardens are incredible to wander around. If you can, plan to visit on a falconry display day. Lots of fun for the whole family!

When staying in the area watch out for dolphins in the Dornach Firth.

Black and white photograph taken at the back of Dunrobin Castle with the formal landscaped gardens.
Dunrobin Castle ©MDHarding

Dunnottar Castle

The dramatic cliff-top Dunnottar Castle is located by Stonehaven. One of my favourite takeaway stories was hearing about the lion that used to be kept there! Can you imagine? Stepped in history dating back to the Early Middle Ages, the buildings you can see today date to the 15th and 16th centuries. Attacked by Vikings, captured by William Wallace and visited by Mary Queen of Scots, It's not for the lighthearted with its many steep stairs. Pre-covid there was a snack van located by the car park but uncertain if still there. Great for coastal walks and a visit into Stonehaven. If you are keen, you could take the train from Edinburgh to Stonehaven and walk to the castle. It's said to take 15 minutes from the harbour car park.

Wild white flowers with the crags and Dunottar Castle.
Dunottar Castle ©MDHarding

Culzean Castle

Culzean Castle, home to clan Kennedy is located on the west coast of Scotland overlooking the River Clyde. It is a great day out for the whole family with a large park, woodland & beach walks, swan pond, deer park and an incredible Robert Adam oval staircase. We visited in April and the forest floor was covered in an abundance of wild garlic. The aroma was very powerful but one that I enjoy (still to make my own wild garlic pesto). While visiting don't miss the great eight!

Culzean Castle is protected and maintained by the National Trust for Scotland. Fulled by the desire to protect Scotland's nature and culture since 1931. There are over 130 properties to visit. Did you know you can also become a member? It's an invaluable way to visit more than one incredible place.

Large bay window with views looking out to the River Clyde.
Looking Out Of Culzean Castle ©MDHarding

I hope you have enjoyed reading and inspired to visit one or more of Scotland's must see historic castles. These are just a few, there are so many incredible Scottish castles including Fraser Castle, Inveraray Castle, Crathes Castle, Craigievar Castle, Floors Castle, Cawdor Castle and more! What is your favourite Scottish castle? Let me know in the comments below or drop me an email to:

Until next time, take care, Michelle x

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