Scotland’s castles bring about images of thick and heavy walls, isolated locations, and tragic histories for many of them were originally built as fortresses, however, Scotland’s undeniable romantic landscapes also inspired a number of beautiful castles. Queen Victoria even referred to one of these bastions as the “paradise of the Highlands.” From the imposing Edinburgh Castle to the enchanting Cawdor Castle, have a look at some of these famous Scottish castles.
Famous Scottish Castles
Edinburgh Castle has an aura of romance despite its intimidating position high above an extinct volcano. Anyone who’s visited its sprawling complex can attest to the importance of the castle considering it houses the Scottish Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny, and Mons Meg just to name a few. Edinburgh Castle is also the city’s most iconic structure and one of its most visited attractions. In addition to the incredible city views, visitors can also take a peak into St. Margaret’s Chapel, the castle’s oldest surviving part, which was built in the 12th century or stop by and see the variety of impressive guns and swords at the Great Hall that James the IV commissioned to be built in the 16th century. Don’t miss the daily One O’ Clock Gun, a demonstration that involves the firing of a howitzer.
The Queen’s preferred holiday residence sits right in the midst of Cairngorms National Park, directly north of Edinburgh in Aberdeenshire. Balmoral Castle started out merely as a hunting lodge for King Robert II before it was transformed into an estate filled with charming gardens and Victorian glasshouses. The castle itself is an example of Scots Baronial architectural style and is open to the public on certain parts of the year when the monarch and her family are not in residence. Balmoral, unlike Edinburgh Castle or Buckingham Palace in London, is privately owned by the Royal Family and has been since the reigns of Queen Victoria.
There’s a good chance that you will recognize this famous Scottish castle, partly because it was featured in one of Downton Abbey’s Christmas special episodes. Inverary Castle, despite its grim outer façade, is actually a great example of neoclassical elegance, featuring priceless Beauvais tapestries in its Drawing Room and elaborate paintings done by French artists Girard and Guinard in the Dining Room. The castle remains the current seat of the Duke of Argyll but is also open to the public for tours and special events booking. It sits on the western Highlands, near the banks of the River Aray and overlooking Loch Fyne.
Located just 10 miles east of the Highlands capital Inverness, the medieval looking Cawdor Castle is considered to be one of, if not the most famous Scottish castle for literary buffs. Shakespeare referenced the name Cawdor in his tragedy Macbeth, forever associating the castle with the play, despite the conflicting timetables (the castle wasn’t built yet during Macbeth’s reign.) Cawdor Castle was originally built as a private fortress, designed to protect the nearby royal castle of Nairn. Today, it remains the home of the Cawdor family and welcomes guests to experience its lovely curated gardens, explore its stately rooms, and discover the intrigue that continues to surround this castle for over 600 years.
Eilean Donan Castle
Many will tend to agree that the ruins of the once formidable Eilean Donan Castle remains a picture perfect scenery. Built on an island at the entrance of Loch Duich sometime within the 12th and 13th centuries by King Alexander the II or III, it was meant to defend the area against invasion. The castle is a well-known Scottish icon, often seen in photographs representing the romantic side of Scotland. Visitors to the castle can enjoy the majestic sceneries that come naturally with the location as well learning about the Clan Macrae through the permanent exhibits. Those who want to explore the area a bit longer should consider booking a room at the Eilean Donan Cottage or at nearby Fort Augustus.
If you had to pick just one castle that’s most associated with Scottish history, it’s hard to argue against Dunnottar Castle. This 13th century castle located on the rocky cliffs near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire was the sight of many pivotal moments in Scotland’s history. The legendary William Wallace, Mary, Queen of Scots, and the future King Charles II all set foot in the castle, but it was the its role in saving the “Honours of Scotland” that ranked it among the most historic of famous Scottish castles. Getting to Dunnottar requires a bit of a hike but the views and the fact that you’re walking on the grounds that shaped Scotland’s history makes it all worth the effort.
How many have you been to? Which ones are your favorites? Let us know in the comments below.