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Scotland is home to some of the most stunning castles in the world. The castles in Scotland are an essential part of the country’s history and culture. However, there are just too many of them to see on one visit to this gorgeously scenic country! Which do you choose? Here is a list of the top 10 Scottish castles and what you need to know about them.
Top 10 Scottish Castles – What to Know
From Edinburgh, to Stirling, and Glasgow, Scotland has something to offer all types of travelers. And this includes an impressive array of castles. There are just so many of all sizes and types. A lot of the castles are open year-round for historic tours. And there are also many festivals that happen throughout the year.
So how do you decide which is the best one to visit? Here are our ten favourites, with a little about the history of each. Hopefully this will help you decide your favourite too.
1. Edinburgh Castle
One of the most famous Scottish castles is Edinburgh Castle. It has stood overlooking the city since the 1300s and was originally used as a fortress, prison, and even a royal residence.
Edinburgh Castle is one of the most popular attractions in Scotland. So it definitely makes heads the top 10 Scottish Castles list. And it is a rare, nearly complete medieval castle.
One of the defining features of Edinburgh Castle is that it has been continuously inhabited since its foundation in the 12th century. Which means it houses an amazing 1000 years of history. And makes it one of Europe’s oldest castles. Plus, it is the most complete surviving example of a medieval fortress anywhere in Scotland. As such, Edinburgh Castle provides a unique insight into Europe’s medieval military architecture, life, and society.
The castle sits atop an extinct volcano called Castle Rock and this strategic location meant that it was well-defended from potential invaders. In fact, castle designers ensured that there were few windows pointing outwards so that attackers would be unable to target those inside or light fires outside to smoke them out.
2. Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle is a historic castle in Stirling, Scotland. It was built in the 15th century by James IV of Scotland to replace the nearby Black Castle which had been destroyed by fire.
The castle has been used as a royal palace, an artillery barracks, a place of execution and as a military barracks. The Scottish Crown Jewels were hidden here from the 18th century until they were stolen in 1907.
Today it is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions and holds an important role in tourism for the area around Stirling. In fact, being visible for miles around makes it one of the most imposing Scottish castles on this list.
3. Dumbarton Castle
Dumbarton Castle is a ruinous medieval fortress in the town of Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland. It overlooks the junction of the River Leven and River Clyde, and is built on a glacial rock formation.
The castle was built as an Anglo-Norman stronghold in either 1072 or 1093, and remodelled by King Edward I after he captured it in 1306. There are no records to explain why or when construction began but it is generally thought that construction took place because of a fear of Viking invasion after the invasion of Wales by William I.
The castle was captured by King Edward I of England from its Scottish lord in 1306 as part of his first campaign against the Scots. It remained a ruin for more than 400 years until Robert Bruce VII, 6th Lord Blantyre bought the land and rebuilt. And with such an important defensive position on the Clyde it even saw some action as late as WWII.
4. Caerlaverock Castle
The 13th century Caerlaverock Castle is one of the oldest continuously inhabited castles in Scotland, located near Dumfries and Galloway. It was originally built by Philip de Caerlaverock, a knight who fought for Robert the Bruce during the Wars of Scottish Independence.
Although it is now pretty much a ruin, it is still very much in demand as a filming location. And its unique triangular structure make it an interesting addition to a castle visiting itinerary.
5. Doune Castle
Doune Castle is located near the town of Doune, Scotland. It is dated to the 13th century, but it has undergone a number of renovations since then. The castle is mostly famous for its role acting as a safe-house for Mary Queen of Scots and her son James VI.
The first mention of a fortress at Doune was in the 12th century when King David I constructed an earthen mound on top of which he built a wooden keep. This was subsequently rebuilt in stone by King Alexander II in 1221, and extended by successive monarchs during the 14th century.
Today, Doune has appeared in many film and TV productions. You may recognise it as Winterfell from “Game Of Thrones”, but it was also in “Monty Python’s Holy Grail” and Castle Leoch in “Outlander”.
6. Cawdor Castle
Cawdor Castle is a medieval stronghold in the Scottish Highlands, which was built by a branch of the Clan Gordon. It is located in Nairnshire, near Inverness. And the castle is often referred to as “the pride of the Highlands.”
Cawdor has some connections with Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, but again this castle never met the real king of the same name. In fact, the castle was built well after the death of the real Macbeth, who died in 1057. Surprisingly, the real Macbeth was never even the Thane of Cawdor!
Cawdor Castle’s construction dates back to 12th century and due to its location on a rock, it never fell under the control of the English after they invaded Scotland. The original castle was burned down in 1640 and it was rebuilt in 1791.
The Cawdor estate now consists of 1,750 acres, and the house and gardens are a stunning place to visit.
7. Balmoral Castle
Known primarily as being the Scottish residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Balmoral is a large estate near Royal Deeside in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It is located near the village of Crathie, 6.2 miles northwest of Ballater and 8.6 miles southwest of Braemar.
Balmoral Castle is a relatively new castle in historic terms. It was actually built on the instructions of Queen Victoria in 1855. She asked for a “home away from home” with the help of Sir James Clark Ross as the architect.
Consequently, the castle has had only four owners since it was built: Queen Victoria took ownership in 1852; she died in 1901 and ownership passed to Edward VII who died in 1910; it then passed to George V who died in 1936; and it finally passed to Elizabeth II who has owned it for over 60 years since her accession to the throne on 6 February 1952.
8. Glamis Castle
Glamis Castle is a Scottish castle situated near the village of Glamis in Angus. The old castle was built by King Malcolm III, and it has been updated over time to make it one of the most famous castles in Scotland.
It was the childhood home of King George VI’s wife Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. And was the birthplace of Princess Margaret. However, it is probably most famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’. In truth, the real King Macbeth had no ties to the castle, but it does make for a beautiful setting!
The architectural design is a fine example of Scottish Baronial Style. The original castle was completed around 1372. But it has been enlarged over time with towers being added at regular intervals as well as new sections and wings.
Thousands are attracted to this historical landmark each year, from local visitors to tourists who come from all over the world. It is open for public tours and provides an entertaining and informative experience for visitors.
9. Eilean Donan Castle
Although there was a castle on these lands from mediaeval times, it sadly lay ruined for many centuries. But in the late 1800’s, the Scottish physician and author John Sutherland Black rebuilt Eilean Donan Castle. It overlooks a narrow inlet, and is situated on a small island just off the coast of Scotland.
John Sutherland Black decided to build a castle as his new home, but he didn’t want it to be an ordinary place. He wanted it to represent his love for the land and all that Scotland had given him. The castle was built on what is now called “The Island”. It took four years for John Sutherland Black to complete it after he purchased the property in 1872.
Eileen Donan Castle is one of Scotland’s most famous landmarks. Not just because of its romantic history but also because of its beautiful design which includes turrets, battlements, and a drawbridge. It is a true fairytale castle, with Instagrammable features galore!
10. Urquhart Castle
Finally on pour list of top 10 Scottish castles is Urquhart. Urquhart Castle has been a pivotal site in the history of Scotland and has played a role in many significant battles. It is also one of Scotland’s most popular destinations, with over 700,000 visitors each year.
Situated on the banks of Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle is one of the most dramatic castles in Scotland. The castle has been partly destroyed by fire and it was abandoned for 100 years until it was restored to its current glory.
Today, Urquhart Castle is open to the public between April and September. Visitors can explore the medieval great hall, carved screens and galleries. As well as experience life of a medieval knight by dressing up with a helmet and chain-mail armour. Ultimately, It is a great place to discover the living history of the mediaeval times.
So which of these top 10 Scottish castles do you think will become your favourite? I’d love to know your thoughts. Comment below, or why not follow me on social media for more history and nostalgia?
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