Scotland has thousands of castles, so it’s impossible to see all of Scotland’s castles in one road trip. However, it also means that no matter what route you choose, there are sure to be a number of castles along it to visit. Our Scotland road trip itinerary took us from Edinburgh and north through the Highlands through Stirling, Perth, Cairngorms National Park, and Elgin. Part of this route is through Aberdeenshire, which has the most castles per acre than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, and is even home to Scotland’s Castle Trail. These are 10 of the best castles in Scotland we included in our road trip itinerary.
A road trip through Scotland will probably start in one of Scotland’s big cities, and ours started in Edinburgh. Edinburgh Castle is one of the most popular sites in Edinburgh. Edinburgh is built next to a volcano and Edinburgh Castle is built on one of the volcano’s vents, so it is perched high above the city. When Robert the Bruce captured the castle in the 1300s, he immediately proceeded to burn it down. The only original castle building remaining is St. Margaret’s Chapel, but many other buildings were added at a later date.
Edinburgh Castle is a large complex with many different things to see like Scotland’s crown jewels, the Great Hall, the National War Museum, the Royal Palace, and more.
Stirling Castle is one of Scotland’s largest and most important castles. The castle sits high on Castle Hill and was the site of many coronations including that of Mary, Queen of Scots. Its position was important because it guards the lowest crossing of the River Forth which links the Highlands and the Lowlands.
The castle was first built by James IV and was used by a long line of kings. In 1314, Stirling Castle was controlled by the English. Robert the Bruce conquered the castle and then dismantled it so the English could not occupy it later. The Great Hall is one of the castle’s oldest buildings, completed in 1503. The castle and its Great Hall went out of use from 1603 until 1964, when restoration began. Stirling Castle has been restored and decorated as it would have been. Costumed characters bring the castle’s history to life.
Highlights include the Palace, Regimental Museum, Chapel Royal, Great Hall, Great Kitchens, Tapestry Exhibition, and Queen Anne Garden. Did you know the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland? This mythical creature can be found throughout the castle.
Doune Castle was built in the 14th century and has one of the best-preserved Great Halls in Scotland. Doune Castle is a popular Scotland castle to visit because it has appeared in popular films such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Ivanhoe and on television in the Outlander series and Game of Thrones.
Blair Castle has been the home to the Dukes and Earls of Atholl for over 700 years. The castle was first built in 1269, but has gone through many upgrades and renovations. The oldest remaining part is Comyn’s Tower.
The current version of the castle has rich wood-paneled walls, antiques, artwork, and a monstrous collection of weapons.
There is also a beautiful walled garden, Hercules Garden, which has been restored to its original Georgian design.
Braemar Castle was built in 1628 as a hunting lodge for the Earls of Mar and was later acquired by the Farquharson family. Braemar Castle is built in the typical Scottish castle style, L-shaped with a central tower staircase and two wings. Braemar Castle has had many important visitors including Prince Charles Edward Stewart. A piece of tartan that was part of the plaid worn by Bonnie Prince Charlie is on display in the castle.
Braemar Castle is unique as it looks as it did when it was last inhabited in the 1950s, which means there is 20th century furniture and modern windows. Visitors can tour the castle either with a guide or an audio guide. The Braemar Castle grounds are also where the Braemar Gathering takes place every year.
Balmoral Castle is where Queen Elizabeth spends her summer holidays. Therefore, only the ballroom is open to the public. The castle was purchased by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria in 1848. The property is fully funded by the Queen and belongs to the royal family. Soon after purchasing the property, the original home was found to be too small, so the current Balmoral Castle was built. It was Queen Victoria’s favorite place to be and, looking at the surrounding view of snow-capped mountains, rolling green hills, and a rushing river, it’s easy to see why. Even though only the ballroom is open to the public, there is a lovely walk through the castle grounds and gardens guided by an audio tour which takes about an hour.
Kildrummy Castle is one of Scotland’s castle ruins. Kildrummy Castle was the home of the Earls of Mar, who later used Braemar Castle as a hunting lodge. Kildrummy Castle is located in a strategic location along the main routes north to Moray and Buchan. The castle played an important role in the Wars of Independence and came under siege twice. Kildrummy Castle also made a mark on history in 1715 when the Earl of Mar supported James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, and plotted an uprising. The Earl was defeated and fled to France. The castle fell into disrepair for 200 years and was used as a stone quarry, but there are still parts of the castle that remain somewhat intact.
Fyvie Castle was built in the 13th century and is decorated in fancy Edwardian style. It wasn’t a royal stronghold long before it became a private residence.
The castle grounds are extensive and there is a beautiful lake with a trail around it which visitors can walk.
Another Scotland castle in ruins is Balvenie Castle. Balvenie Castle was built in the 13th century as the stronghold of Alexander “Black” Comyn, Earl of Buchan. Balvenie Castle was a noble residence for 400 years. The Earl of Atholl changed the castle from a fortress to a stately mansion in 1550. While the castle is in ruins, it is in good enough shape that visitors can climb up to a higher level of the castle for an aerial view of both the interior of the castle and the surrounding landscape.
Urquhart Castle, another of Scotland’s castles in ruins, is the second most visited castle in Scotland. It is perched on a cliff above Scotland’s famous Loch Ness. Urquhart Castle has a bloody history as it was involved in many battles and was seized multiple times. Be sure to look out over Loch Ness to see if you can spot the Loch Ness Monster.
Bonus: Broomhall Castle
Broomhall Castle isn’t a tourist attraction, but rather is one of Scotland’s castle hotels. We wanted to stay in a castle in Scotland and found one on our route just outside of Stirling. Broomhall Castle is a mansion that was built in 1874 and was modeled after Balmoral Castle. The castle has been a home, a riding school, a prep school, and a nursing home. It was set on fire in 1941 and remained in ruins until 1985. The current owners took over the castle in 2003 and turned it into a fun castle hotel so travelers can feel like royalty.
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