From imposing fortified strongholds to ghostly shells crowning sea-girt crags, pocket-sized keeps of Highland and Border lairds, and the fanciful 19th-century inventions of imaginative Victorians, each of Scotland’s many castles has its own secrets, legends, and often bloody history.
t Evocative Eilean Donan Castle on its tiny island in Loch Duich
On a tiny island in Loch Duich, Eilean Donan is surely Scotland’s most photogenic castle. Its owners, the MacRae chieftains, were notorious for mounting the severed heads of their foes along the ramparts. Their keep was demolished after the 1715 Jacobite rising and painstakingly rebuilt by John MacRae-Gilstrap between 1912 and 1932.
Ruined Dunnottar is a perfect natural fortress. Waves crash at the foot of its crag where a thin neck of rock links it to the land. Scotland’s crown jewels, kept here when Cromwell invaded, were smuggled out before Dunnottar fell to his Roundheads, and were hidden in a nearby church until the monarchy was restored.
Overlooking the capital, Edinburgh’s iconic castle has changed hands many times during its tumultuous, and at times gruesome, history. Its imposing position on the crags of Castle Rock has been of strategic military importance since the 12th century, and it remained the Scottish Royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. Many of the buildings within the castle walls date back to the 16th century, but its formidable ramparts were heavily reinforced in the 18th century against the very real threat of a Jacobite rebellion.
This romantic 19th-century re-creation of a French chateau in the Scottish Highlands is built around a 15th-century keep founded by the earls of Sutherland, whose descendants still live here.
DISCOVER Scotland Your Way
Dating back to the 12th century, Scotland’s first castles were simple towers of wood or stone surrounded by a ditch. By the 13th century, Scottish lairds and chieftains were building fortified tower houses designed to withstand raids. In the peaceful years of the 17th-century tower houses became more comfortable and decorative. The 18th and 19th centuries saw the appearance of aristocratic palaces like Dunrobin, influenced by Renaissance and Gothic revivals, while Victorian plutocrats opted for country retreats in Scottish Baronial style, replete with turrets and mock battlements.
The Historic Environment Scotland Explorer Pass gives unlimited access to castles and historic sites all over Scotland.