Scotland is quickly becoming one of Europe’s top tourist destinations thanks to its breath taking countryside scenery, rich history and vibrant city life. Nestled within these cities and the countryside is some of Europe’s best preserved castles. These castles are synonymous with Scotland’s struggle to retain its national identity against the English. Steeped in medieval history, visiting these castles are a fun and educational way to spend a day in Scotland. Here is a list of my top 5 must see castles in Scotland:
Located in Scotland’s capital on top of volcanic rock, Edinburgh Castle is one of Scotland’s most important medieval fortresses. Previously the royal residence for the Scottish monarchy, the castle was involved in many conflicts including the Scottish Wars of Independence and the Jacobite Risings. Today, the castle is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist destinations. Painstakingly restored over the past 150 years, the castle is both a museum and a barracks. There are a wealth of attractions for visitors including touring: the Great Hall, St Margaret’s Chapel and the Royal Palace; admiring the Crown Jewels, Scottish National War Memorial or Mons Meg; or visiting the number of museums located within the castle including; the National War Museum and The Regimental Museums. Other unique attractions include the famous firing of the one o’clock gun.
Stirling Castle is one of Scotland’s largest and strategically important castles. Often described as the gateway to the Scottish Highland’s, Stirling Castle has a long and bloody history. There have been at least 8 sieges of Stirling Castle, including several during the Scottish Wars of Independence with the last unsuccessful siege by Bonnie Price Charlie during the Jacobite Risings in 1746. The castle is also located near William Wallace’s victory over Edward I at the Battle of Stirling Bridge and Robert the Bruce’s victory over Edward II at Bannockburn. Today the castle is a marvel of 15th and 16th century medieval fortress architecture. Areas open to the public today include the Royal Palace, Palace Vaults, the Great Hall, the Chapel Royal and the Great Kitchens. Museums housed within the castle include the Regimental Museum and the Stirling Heads Gallery.
Eilean Donan is one of Scotland’s most instantly recognisable castles thanks to its popularity with photographers and film makers. The castle was founded in the late 13th century as a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan Macrae. Destroyed by government ships in 1719 during the Jacobite Rebellions, the current castle is a 20th century reconstruction of the original castle by Lieutenant-Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap. Thanks to the work of Conchra Charitable trust, visitors to the castle can tour nearly all of the castle and visit the visitor centre, coffee shop and gift shop.
Childhood home to the late Queen Mother, Glamis Castle is an awe inspiring sight. Dominated by its original central drum tower, the castle is an excellent example of a castle developing and adapting to the inhabitants needs over the years. Beautifully preserved and still the home to the 18th Earl of Strathmore and Kinhorne, the castle and its grounds are open to the public from Spring until late Autumn. Visitors may also be treated to a glimpse of the castles own ghost, the fabled Grey Lady, who was burned at the stake for witchcraft in the 16th century.
Cawdor Castle is probably most famous for its literary connection to William Shakespeare’s “MacBeth,” in which the title character is made “Thane of Cawdor.” Dating from back to the late 14th century and built as a private fortress to the Thanes of Cawdor, the castle has evolved around the original tower house and legendary holly tree. Today, the castle is still home to the Cawdor family though is open to the public. Along with the well tended gardens and 9-hold golf course, visitors can tour the Cawdor’s ancestral home and view their collection of historic furniture, fine portraits and pictures, and outstanding tapestries collected over the past 600 years.
Callum Donaldson is an avid Scottish history fan and contributor to Lochs and Glens, Scotland’s leading high quality coach tour operator.