Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle

23 Scottish Castles You Can Visit With Brightwater

Nestled among Scotland's wild and varied landscapes are some of the world's most iconic castles. If you're a lover of history and architecture there is, quite simply, no better place to visit. What's more, a holiday in Scotland means you're never too far from a castle! Throughout this year, our tours can take you to a grand total of 23 castles in this magnificent country, so read on to discover how you can experience them with Brightwater. 

1) Blair Castle

Home to Scotland's only private army, Blair Castle is well worth a visit. The rooms within its vast interior allow you to walk back through 700 years of Scottish history. Peacocks roam the gardens, quaint wooden footbridges cross streams and the grounds are simply stunning. The furniture and paintings within Blair Castle reflect the characters of the Dukes of Atholl – the family who has owned it for over seven centuries. Learn its story, from Mary, Queen of Scots through to the Civil War and more. 

Visit this castle on our Grand Tour of Scotland and Autumn Tints of Perthshire holidays. 

2) Cawdor Castle

Again, another castle that can be visited on our Grand Tour of Scotland holiday! Cawdor Castle is the setting that inspired the story of the mad Scottish king, Macbeth. The castle is, in fact, the much-loved family home of the Cawdor family, with over 600 years of history in the form of art, furniture and intriguing objects, which adorn the walls and fill its interior. 

Visit Cawdor Castle on both our Grand Tour of Scotland and Gardens of the Far North holidays.

3) Eilean Donan Castle

Perhaps one of the country's most photographed castles, Eilean Donan is truly breathtaking. During our drive south to Fort William on the Grand Tour of Scotland, we break our journey at the dramatic Eilean Donan Castle, located in an awe-inspiring setting where three lochs meet. The castle itself is built on a remote island with only a single lane bridge for access.

Visit it on our Grand Tour of Scotland, Scenic Scottish Railways and Lord of the Glens - Heart of the Highlands holidays. 

4) Stirling Castle

A visit here is a chance to step into the world of Scotland's Renaissance royalty. One of the largest castles in the country, it is located on a crag and surrounded by steep cliffs, which would have given it a fantastic defensive position. The castle was often the setting for grand celebrations held by Stewart royalty and its history can be explored today on a visit to both its grounds and interiors. 

Visit this castle on our Grand Tour of Scotland holiday. 

5) Duart Castle

The 13th century home of the Chief of Clan MacLean, Duart Castle is a striking building with a rich history. This castle sits broodingly on its headland, seemingly unmoved by the stunning views across the Firth of Lorne to Ben Cruachan. During visits here on the tours listed below, you can explore the dungeons, the state rooms and appreciate the strategic position of the castle from the top of the keep.

Visit Duart Castle on our Grand Tour of the Inner Hebrides, Mull, Staffa & Iona, Lord of the Glens - Highlands and Islands, and our Lord of the Highlands - Highlands and Islands holidays. 

6) Kisimul Castle

The only surviving medieval castle in the Western Isles and the seat of the Clan MacNeil, Kisimul Castle occupies a unique location and we board a boat for our visit. The castle features a great hall, kitchen, chapel, dungeon and 60-foot tower, together with a shop. 

Visit this castle as part of our Grand Tour of the Outer Hebrides 6-day holiday. 

7) Lews Castle

This Victorian era castle, located in Stornoway, was built between 1844 and 1851 as a country home for Sir James Matheson. Its grounds are stunning and were originally mapped out in the 1850s, but have been under community ownership since 1923. Explore Lews Castle on our Grand Tour of the Outer Hebrides 6-day and Stornoway, Skye & the Summer Isles holidays.

8) Dunnottar Castle

Used as a setting for the 1990 film version of Hamlet, starring Mel Gibson, Dunnottar Castle is truly breathtaking. This is a dramatic ruined clifftop fortress that can trace its origins to a 3rd century Pictish fortress and was once the home of the Earls Marischal, one of the most powerful families in Scotland. While we don't explore its interior, we do make a photo-stop here as part of our An Archaeologist's View of Orkney & Shetland holiday.

9) Noltland Castle

One of the most unusual castles in Scotland, Noltland Castle is a testament to a troubled period of Scottish history. It was built in the 1560s by Gilbert Balfour from Fife, who was up to his neck in the political intrigues common during the time of his sister-in-law, Mary, Queen of Scots, and as a result had made some powerful enemies. Using local grey sandstone, the castle follows a typical "Z" plan layout, and with 7 ft thick walls, Balfour's castle was a stronghold in every sense of the word. The lower floors have no accessible windows that could be exploited in an assault and are peppered with gunloops - 71 in total. The main block was designed to have three storeys but was never completed.

Undiscovered Orkney and the image is by © Otter, WikiCommons.

10) Brodick Castle

Brodick Castle occupies a splendid position, well protected from westerly winds and looking east across the Firth of Clyde. The present garden dates from 1932 when the Duchess of Montrose started an ambitious woodland garden with a collection of rhododendrons. From the castle, paths wind downhill towards the seashore, and in a shady place there is a fernery and a delightful Bavarian summer house embellished with rustic work and lovely inlaid panels of pinecones. A walled garden, dating from 1710, has been restored and mixed borders on three sides retain the gardener's interest throughout the year.

Visit this castle and its gardens as part of our Arran: Scotland in Miniature and Autumn Tints of Arran holidays.

11) Castle of Mey

The Castle of Mey is the lovingly restored former summer residence of the late Queen Mother. Originally Barrogill Castle, it was first seen by the late Queen Mother in 1952, while mourning the death of her husband King George VI. Falling for its ruined, isolated charm she declared she would save the castle. Having acquired the most northerly castle on the British mainland, she renovated it and for over half a century she spent her summers here, creating the beautiful gardens you see today.

Visit this castle on our Scotland's Northern Edge, Gardens of the Far North and Private Gardens of Caithness & Sutherland holidays.

12) Dunrobin Castle

This is a beautiful castle, whose spires were added by London’s Houses of Parliament designer, Sir Charles Barry. The château-style ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland, it is a wonderful early 19th-century fantasy castle with a touch of the Loire and a dash of Bavaria. Below the castle is a magnificent example of a formal 19th century garden. The gardens themselves are laid out on terraces, which descend to the sea.

Visit Dunrobin Castle on our Gardens of the Far North holiday.

13) Dunbeath Castle

Situated on Scotland's north-east coast, in an area of outstanding natural beauty, stands the 13th century Dunbeath Castle. The private gardens here, owned by of Sir Archibald and Lady Edmonstone, feature mature and new plantings, with a landscaped lake, water and bog gardens, a formal garden, rhododendrons, and even a woodland walk.

Explore this castle on our Gardens of the Far North and Private Gardens of Caithness & Sutherland holidays.

14) Drumlanrig Castle

Drumlanrig Castle is a stunning Renaissance building from the 17th century that has also been used as a filming location for the popular series, Outlander. Surrounded by the 120,000 acre Queensberry Estate, Country Park and grand Victorian gardens, it was completed in 1691 by William Douglas, 1st Duke of Queensberry. Drumlanrig hit the headlines in 2003, following the audacious theft of the Leonardo da Vinci painting Madonna with the Yarnwinder, and it was as a consequence of this that formal guided tours of the castle were introduced.

Explore it as part of our Gardens of Dumfries & Galloway holiday.

15) Kellie Castle

Home to the Earls of Kellie, Kellie Castle was restored by the Lorimer family in 1878. The oldest tower, dating back to 1360, is said to be haunted, but today the castle is a tranquil spot. Visit the old stables, now housing an exhibition on Hew Lorimer's life, or take a stroll in the magical Arts & Crafts garden. But spare a thought for the 5th Earl of Kellie, who hid in the garden for an entire summer in a burnt-out tree stump after the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Experience Kellie Castle on our Dundee – V&A Museum holiday. 

16) Glamis Castle

A stunning architectural treasure and childhood home of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Glamis Castle is – and has been – a royal residence since 1372, spanning more than 600 years of Scottish history. Stories of the Old Pretender, Mary, Queen of Scots, Shakespeare and James VI & I, right up to the 20th century with the childhood stories of the Queen Mother, make a visit to Glamis a magical experience 

Enjoy a guided tour here on our Dundee - V&A Museum holiday.

17) Floors Castle

Home of the Duke & Duchess of Roxburghe, Floors Castle is situated on a natural terrace overlooking the River Tweed and facing the Cheviot Hills. In 1721, William Adam was commissioned by the 1st Duke to make additions to the eastern end of an existing tower-house to create a plain, but symmetrical, Georgian country house. The 6th Duke invited the leading architect in Edinburgh, William Playfair, to remodel the castle between 1837 and 1847. He drew his inspiration for Floors from the highly ornamented picturesque style of Heriot's Hospital in Edinburgh. The result is a romantic fairytale castle with its roofscape of turrets, pinnacles and cupolas. In the park can be seen a holly tree marking the spot where King James II of Scotland was killed in 1460, when his own cannon exploded while laying siege to Roxburghe Castle.

Visit Floors Castle on our Historic Houses of the Scottish Borders holiday.

18) Thirlestane Castle

Thirlstane Castle, a magnificent 16th century castle, is set in a quiet meadow landscape. The family home of the Duke of Lauderdale, it is one of the oldest and finest castles in Scotland and dates back to at least the 12th century. The central part of the present castle was completed in 1590, remodelled in the 1670s and then enlarged in the 1840s. Throughout its long history, Thirlestane has belonged to the Maitland family, one of the most famous in Scotland. The Maitlands came to Britain in 1066 with William the Conqueror and settled in Northumberland. In about 1260, Sir Richard Maitland married Avicia daughter and sole heiress to Thomas du Thirlestane. It was this marriage that bought the lands of Thirlestane and others into the ownership of the Maitland family. Lunch is provided in the Victorian Kitchen here, a chance to discuss and compare the wonderful houses and castles we have seen here in the bonny Borders.

Visit is as part of our Historic Houses of the Scottish Borders holiday.

19) Urquhart Castle

Experience a glimpse of the Highlands at their most wild and dramatic as you sail past the ruins of Urquhart Castle. Offering amazing views over Loch Ness, the ruins of this castle are awe-inspiring, and there will be photo opportunities as part of our Lord of the Glens - Highlands and Islands 6-day and Lord of the Highlands – Highlands and Islands holidays.

20) Inveraray Castle

While we don't have any tours that visit this castle specifically, you'll get a chance to explore it if you book a place on our Highland and Island Gardens holiday, as the hotel you'll be staying at is a mere five minutes' walk from the site. 

21) Scalloway Castle

In Scalloway, the former capital of Shetland, you'll find Scalloway Castle – a ruined castle built in 1600 by the infamous Earl Patrick Stewart. Visit the ruins as part of our Highlights of Orkney & Shetland, Islands of the Simmer Dim holiday. 

22) Muness Castle

Situated in Unst's south-east corner is Muness Castle and a walk among its ruins is always memorable. Also considered to be the most northerly castle in Scotland, it is a ruined 16th century building constructed using a "Z-plan". 

Visit Muness Castle as part of our Shetland & its Outer Islands holiday. Image from © ThoWi, WikiCommons.

23) Edinburgh Castle

Considered an icon of Scotland as well as holding the title of being the most besieged place in Britain, Edinburgh Castle occupies a dramatic position atop Castle Hill. As you venture towards the structure, you'll trace the footsteps of royals and soldiers alike. To visit this castle with us, book a place on our Grand Tour of Scotland holiday and take the optional excursion offered on Day 1!

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23 Scottish Castles You Can Visit With Brightwater was published on 23 January 2020