Do you have a penchant for fairy tales? While the stark and rugged façades of many Scottish castles are a far cry from those that you see in fairy-tale movies, the sight of these seemingly impregnable fortresses will whet your imaginations of a valiant knight in shining armor. Primally built as defensive strongholds— hence their altitudinal or isolated locations— these magnificent stone structures have evolved into those that evoke grace, fortitude, and permanence. With that in mind, we have rounded up some of the famous castles in Scotland, which you might find worth including in your bucket list.
Overshadowing the skyline of the Scottish capital is a historic fortress that played a pivotal role in the country’s history: the Edinburgh Castle. It towers 443 ft above sea level, looking over the whole of Edinburgh from a volcanic precipice named Castle Rock, which has been a setting of human activity for about three millennia. Once a dwelling of Scottish royalty and now a museum, the castle is a customary receptacle of the Honours of Scotland, the longest existing set of crown jewels in the United Kingdom. Its poignant, violent building history and 360-degree sweeping view of the Scottish metropolis are just some of the reasons why it has been touted as the country’s top paid-for attraction and one of its most haunted places. It is divided into eight distinct sections, each of which houses a gamut of artifacts and memorabilia.
Right by the castle drawbridge is a vast expanse known as the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade. Every year, a grandstand seating is installed to hold summer concerts and the popular international military music festival. The stretch is also where a loud cannon firing takes place at exactly 1:00 p.m. six days every week.
Apart from the available steward-guided tours, you can also have an audio-guided tour around the Scottish castle, which lets you learn about its history and architecture in several languages. An elevator and several ramps will give you access to some important sections of the castle, such as the Stone of Destiny and Crown Jewels.
If you think of Scotland and Dunrobin Castle doesn’t cross your mind, you’re surely missing out on something essential in your trip. Situated in Sutherland, in a Highland area in Scotland, it flaunts manicured grounds, fairy-tale turrets, and a rather delicate touch, making it entirely different from the rest of the castles in this list. The façade of this quintessential romantic castle bears sheer resemblance to that of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Its conical turrets, round towers, and majestic location of this Scottish castle are believed to have inspired Disney artists. Its interior design and different sections best illustrate the life its resident nobles used to live.
Self-guided tours are available for visitors, starting from the state rooms on the ground floor, all the way to the smaller rooms in the older sections of Dunrobin, to the formal garden and Victorian Museum. Take note, however, that since the castle is a historic site, visitors with limited mobility (on wheelchairs) may not be allowed access to some areas within the premises.
Nestled on the Kyle of Lochalsh, bordered by three huge sea lochs from the Isle of Skye is Eilean Donan, the most photographed Scottish castle. You will see your fascination with it ever increasing as you learn of its long, tumultuous history: it lived through a series of sieges and raids. What you see of it today is only an approximate of what it used to be 500 years ago, way before it was bombarded, leaving only a roofless ruin. The creativity and ingenuity of architect Farquhar MacRae brought forth a gorgeous outline of what the castle is today, restoring it to its previous grandeur. Inside this Scotland medieval castle are cannonballs fired during the 16th century bombardment, furniture from Sheraton, and other artifacts and weaponry dating back even to the Jacobite Era.
The attraction has a lot to offer: you can go up the steps leading to the Keep Door; explore its Billeting Room; marvel at the timber ceiling beams of the Banqueting Hall; and shop for various mementos of your visit at the gift shop. Eilean Donan also has its Holiday Cottage, aimed to provide accommodation to its visitors who wish to enjoy more of its unparalleled views from almost every angle.
Since the castle is comprised of uneven steps and narrow corridors, making it impossible to access by the handicapped, the management has devised a computer-based virtual tour, which is free of charge and does provide glimpses of the sections within the premises.
Relish the sight of Kilchurn Castle, a disintegrated fortress perched on a rock-strewn peninsula at the northeastern tip of Loch Awe. While there’s nothing left to see of it apart from a ruin, its backdrop of snow- or heather-capped Ben Cruachan mountains and the loch is sure to sweep you off your feet. Its story of how it was struck and ravaged by lightning, paving the way to its abandonment back in the day, will convey a message to its onlookers of how beauty can still arise from destruction.
Part of the charm of this Scottish castle lies in the fact that accessing it is an utter challenge, as there is no vehicle that will take you to the castle grounds. Getting there by foot involves traversing a soggy, and often flooded, agricultural land. The best way to catch a glimpse of Kilchurn is to do it from a distance. The picturesque view is worth a detour especially if you’re on a tour in Argyll.
The fabled Loch Ness monster, Nessie, might have gravitated you to visit the Scottish Highlands, but there’s more to the place than what you might have heard. One of the most frequented Scotland medieval castles, Urquhart is where you can discover a millennium of drama, travel through time all the way to the dark Middle Ages, and catch breathtaking sights of the Loch Ness from its ruins. Speaking of drama, this Scottish castle witnessed a slew of miracles and struggles for power, making it enigmatic and all the more fascinating.
You will be ushered by a steep tarmac track all the way from the visitor center, to the structure, and into the keep through a bridge. You can see resin- or tarmac-bound gravel pathways strewn throughout the castle. Its visitor center provides photographic guide for people with mobility issues. You can access disability buggies upon request.