Scotland is a beautiful country with lots to offer, but one thing that we love the most about it is its castles. These castles are not only magnificent but also carry years of rich history embedded within their stones. The exact number of castles in Scotland is unknown but some say that the total number is around 3,000. If you are a history lover, you will definitely fall in love with Scotland.
Immerse yourself in historic Scotland by visiting the castles. Whether you pick a tower house, a royal residence, or a medieval fortress, you will find yourself engulfed by the country’s rich history and heritage. Let’s take a look at some of the most famous Scottish castles and see what history they carry.
Exotic Scottish Castles – A Quick Glance
5 Exotic Scottish Castles – An Overview
Given below are brief overviews of the five most exotic Scottish castles that will tale your breath away.
1. Edinburgh Castle – Most Formidable among the Scottish Castles
Edinburg Castle, which sits atop Castle Rock, is one of the oldest fortified castles in Europe, harboring a rich history as a military garrison, prison, royal residence, and fortress. The castle is alive with many exciting and exhilarating tales of kings, queens, wars, and so much more. It is also regarded as the most formidable castle among the Scottish castles.
Edinburg Castle has been around for centuries. Sitting upon a mighty rock, the castle presents a clear strategic advantage. In the Iron Age, the people saw the site’s military potential and built a hill fort on the rock. Early medieval poetry tells the tale of a war band that stayed there for a year before they rode out to their deaths in battle.
The castle has seen many sieges as well and changed hands countless times during the Wars of Independence. In the year 1314, during a night raid led by Thomas Randolph, nephew of Robert the Bruce, the Scots took back the castle from the English. As the years progressed, the castle’s defenses evolved. With Mons Meg and the Seven Sisters, the castle became a formidable fortress.
Apart from being an ancient stronghold, the castle was also home to kings and queens. Queen Margaret was among the residents of the Edinburg castle and took her last breath there in 1093. Her son King David I, built a chapel in her honor. Today that chapel is regarded as Edinburg’s oldest building and holds christenings and weddings to this very day.
Another prominent figure who was a resident there was Mary Queen of Scots and her second husband Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. The door to the Royal Palace still bears her initials MAH. Mary also gave birth to her son James VI in the castle in 1566.
When James VI became the king and united the crowns of England and Scotland, Edinburgh Castle became an empty shell, a place that was rarely visited by the reigning monarchs. However, in the 1650s, Edinburg Castle grew into a significant military base. Its defenses were rebuilt and enhanced to face the Jacobite Risings. New gun batteries were also constructed along with new barracks like Queen Anne Building to house the soldiers. The castle is still used by the military today and remains a formidable stronghold.
Visiting Edinburg Castle
Entry Fee – $22
Opening Hours – 9:30 am to 5 pm
Edinburg Castle is one of the most famous castles in Scotland that sits proudly atop the Castle Rock in the center of Edinburg Old Town. It is the second most visited attraction in the UK and the tickets tend to sell out pretty quickly, especially during peak seasons. Therefore, we advise you to visit the castle during the off-season to take in the full splendor that it has to offer. The castle also houses the honors of Scotland also known as the Scottish crown jewels.
2. Stirling Castle – Magnificent among the Scottish Castles
Dating back to the 12th century, the Stirling Castle has seen its fair share of highs and lows. It is another central building in Scottish history and was used as a royal residence and a stronghold. Its walls tell tales of betrayal, war, death, life, and happiness. Sitting atop a volcanic rock the Stirling Castle is an epitome of magnificence and power. It is also among the most historically rich Scottish castles.
The castle is regarded as a brooch as it sits between the Scottish Lowlands and Highlands, joining the two. The first known buildings on the site were built around the late 11th century during the reign of Malcolm III of Scotland. It became an annual meeting point for the leaders of Scotland. During the reign of Alexander I of Scotland and his successors, the castle became a major royal residence. Alexander I built a stone chapel in the castle and later a hunting park was added to the west of the castle by Alexander III.
The Late Medieval Castle
During the Wars of Independence, when the English Kings tried relentlessly to subdue Scotland and make it a part of their Kingdom, Stirling Castle played a very important role. In the year 1297 at Stirling Bridge which is located near the castle, William Wallace a Scottish hero led a famous victory against the English army. After Wallace’s victory, the Scots gained control of the castle but in 1298, it again fell into the hands of the English after the battle of Falkirk. The Scots took back the castle in 1200 and a North Gate was added to it.
The North Gate is the oldest structure in the castle today. In 1304 the castle was once again captured by the English and remained in their possession till Robert the Bruce removed the English from Scottish soil after a decade.
The siege at Stirling by Bruce’s army compelled Edward II of England to lead an army in person. The two forces came face to face at Bannockburn and the Scots won a resounding victory. After the battles, the castle was demolished by Robert to prevent the English from coming back and taking control for it again.
However, in the mid 1330s, Edward III of England recaptured the castle and rebuilt it, it was however taken back by the Scots after a six-month siege in 1342. After the siege, James I of Scotland and his successors took hold of the castle, however, misfortune followed them, and the castle witnessed more bloodshed and battles as the years went on.
The Early Modern Castle
During the reign of James IV of Scotland and his immediate successors, the Stirling Castle benefitted from a great refit. A new Great Hall was built in the castle along with new kitchens, an inner courtyard, Chapel Royal, and the general defenses were also improved. After the coronation of James V of Scotland, the new king fitted out royal apartments in the French Renaissance style. James V’s daughter Mary Queen of Scots was also coronated at Sterling Place and held her son’s baptism there.
When the time came for James VI to rule, he demolished the Chapel Royal due to his protestant beliefs and replaced it with a more suitable structure in 1594. When James VI was made the king of England in 1603, he moved to London and the days of Sterling Castle as a primary royal residence came to an end. In the 17th century, the castle witnessed extensive work, and an ornamental garden plus a canal known as the King’s Knot was added on its south side.
In 1951, the castle saw another siege led by General George Monck. The dents from the cannonballs fried during the attack can be seen on the main gate even today. The castle saw another siege during the Jacobite Rising and since then functioned primarily as an army barracks.
Visiting Stirling Castle
Entry Fee – $18
Opening Hours – 9:30 am to 5 pm
Despite its somber history, Stirling Castle is a family-friendly and fun tourist attraction. Visitors can also don period customs and chat with costumed character actors. Or can tour its battlegrounds and bask in its rich history. Even though the castle was a hub of conflict in the olden days, it has now become a merry place to visit on a trip to Scotland.
3. Dunnottar Castle – Oldest among the Scottish Castles
Located in the coastal town of Stonehaven, along Scotland’s east coast, the Dunnottar Castle sits on a 160-foot rock and carries 1000 years of history with it. This castle is believed to have been the first fortified castle and has seen the likes of William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots. Dating back to the Early Middle Ages, many parts of the castle were destroyed, and the surviving parts that we see today date back to the 16th century.
The earliest historic settlement recorded at Dunnottar comes from the 5th century. A Celtic saint Ninian established a crunch on the Rock of Dunnottar. This church is one of the earliest Christian sites in Pictland. Afterward, the church grew into a Pictish fort and small settlement. The fort was destroyed during a Viking invasion in the 9th century.
It was however later rebuilt with earth and timber. In 1276 a new church was constructed in Norman style atop the rock. Apart from the Viking invasion, the Dunnottar didn’t see another episode of violence until Edward I, when it became a pawn in the game of kings.
A Tale of Flames and Fire
During the War of Independence, English troops occupied Dunnottar. William Wallace however captured the castle and set its church ablaze with the English troops inside. Even to this very day, several windows of the burned church remain. In 1336 when Robert I died, Edward Baliol made a bid for the throne and occupied the castle, strengthening its defenses. The castle was however recaptured by the Scots and they burned it to the ground.
By the end of the 14th century, the Keith family owned Dunnottar and Sir William Keith built the castle’s first substantial stone defenses. The castle was visited by James IV and his granddaughter Mary Queen of Scots. Mary came to the castle in 1562 and again in 1564 with her son James VI. In 1580, James VI returned to the castle and spent 10 days there. In 1639 the castle was again set ablaze by Montrose.
The Honors of Scotland
When Oliver Cromwell seized Edinburg, the Honors of Scotland that were normally stored at Edinburg Castle were sent to Dunnottar Castle for safety. Cromwell was determined to destroy the Honors, so in 1651, English trips appeared at Dunnottar and settled down for a long siege. By May of 1652, Dunnottar Castle remained the only place in Scotland where the royal flag flew.
The English however started bombarding the castle with heavy guns and for 10 days the guns roared, and the castle’s defense fell. Finally, after an 8-month siege, the English took hold of the castle. But after searching long and hard they could not find the Honors of Scotland as they had been secreted away, right number the noses of the English. Upon not finding the Honors, the English were enraged and wreaked havoc upon the castle.
The Final Chapter
Even though the castle was in ruins, enough remained that it could be used as a barracks. In the year 1685, when religious turmoil was at its height and the authorities were repressing every vestige of Presbyterianism, 167 men and women who refused the kings supremacy and didn’t accept the new prayer books, were marched to Dunnottar and dumped in its damp dark cellar called Whig’s Vault. Afterward, the castle saw many tragedies, and deaths, was stripped bare, and changed hands numerous times until in 1925 a serious effort was made to arrest the decay of centuries.
Visiting Dunnottar Castle
Entry Fee – $11
Opening Hours – 10 am to 6 pm
Steeped in rich history, Dunnottar Castle has borne witness to much of the tragic and rich tapestry of Scottish history and is one of the oldest Scottish castles. The haunting ruin is a history lover’s dream, a paradise for photographers, and an iconic destination for tourists all around the world.
4. Glamis Castle – Most Beautiful among the Scottish Castles
One of the most beautiful among the Scottish castles is the medieval Glamis Castle. The castle carries with it 650 years of history and is also said to be the source of inspiration for Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. The ancestral owners of the castle are the Strathmore family, who have been a resident there since the year 1372. The castle even hosted Queen Mary of Scots and was the childhood of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.
In the year 1376, King Robert II bestowed the Glamis estate on John Lyon, Lord Glamis. John rebuilt the existing fortified house, as a simple, L-plan tower house. This 14th-century building still forms the core of the current castle. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the tower house was expanded and strengthened numerous times.
The castle has also seen some prominent historical figures like King Malcolm II who was murdered there in 1034, Mary Queen of Scots, and her father, James V. This Scottish castle is also the childhood home of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. Princess Margaret, the sister of Queen Elizabeth II was also born at Glamis in 1930. The first royal baby born in Scotland since the birth of Charles I in 1600.
Visiting Glamis Castle
Entry Fee – $9
Opening Hours – March to October, 10 am to 5 pm
The long links to royals make Glamis Castle a must-visit. The castle also features a Macbeth Trial, which brings the play to life. Therefore, if you are a Shakespeare fan visiting Glamis Castle should be on your bucket list.
5. Balmoral Castle – Most Entrancing among the Scottish Castles
Balmoral Castle is the royal residence and is part of the royal castles that belong to the British royal family. In 1852, Prince Albert bought the castle for Queen Victoria, and the castle is also known to be the favorite spot of Queen Elizabeth II. Another not widely known fact about the castle is that the original Balmoral Castle was deemed too small for the royal family and therefore Prince Albert commissioned a new castle to be built in 1856.
In 1842, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made their first visit to Scotland and began looking for a home in the country. The queen’s physician recommended the Balmoral estate. The castle was built between the years 1853 and 1856. Queen Victoria loved the place to such an extent that even after Prince Albert passed away in 1861 due to typhoid, she would visit the place annually.
After the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, generations of British royal family continued to frequent Balmoral. Much of the childhood of Queen Elizabeth II was spent in Scotland at Balmoral Estate and it was the place where she took her final breath.
Visiting Balmoral Castle
Entry Fees – $20
Opening Hours – April to July, 10 am to 5 pm
Balmoral Castle is ensconced in nature and is one of the most magnificent Scottish castles. It is a place where you can unwind and get in touch with mother nature. You can tour the castle and learn about the rich history of the British Royal family or just sit on its vast grounds and appreciate the beauty this world has to offer.
The Ultimate Guide to a Paris Honeymoon