Scotland has the most romantic landscapes, a feature heightened by some of Europe’s finest castles. Here are 21 impressive examples
Edinburgh Castle, Midlothian
Perched high above the capital, there has been a castle on a rock here for over 1,000 years. It was King Malcolm Canmore’s widow, Saint Margaret, who built the stone chapel here in the 11th century. Every occupant has made changes and additions culminating in today’s mix of military barracks, palace, fortress and war memorial. Visitors can inspect the Scottish Crown Jewels, known as The Honours of Scotland, Mons Meg, the great cannon employed at the siege of Norham in the 15th century, and the Stone of Destiny. The Scottish United Services Museum is housed in this great Scottish castle. One of the castle’s best-known features is the one o’clock gun fired from the ramparts every weekday.
Details: April to September 9.30am to 6pm. October to March 0930 to 1700. For further information and admission charges call +44 (0) 131 225 9846.
Stirling Castle, Stirlingshire
Overlooking two of Scotland’s most historic battlefields, Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn, the Royal Castle of Stirling has been at the centre of the nation’s history since it was built. The Great Hall has been recently refurbished to reflect its appearance at the end of the Middle Ages, the early Renaissance splendours, carved wooden roundels and Chapel Royal built for the baptism of Prince Henry in 1594. A major exhibition is taking place to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Treaty of Perpetual Peace. The treaty was the seal of peace between England and Scotland that culminated with the marriage of James IV of Scotland and Margaret Tudor, sister of England’s Henry VIII.
Details: Open Mon to Sun; November to March: 9.30am to 4.30pm. April to October: 9.30am to 6pm. For information and admission charges phone: +44 (0)1786 450 000.
Eilean Donan, Wester Ross
When illuminated at night this is one of the most stunning images in the world. Ancestral seat of the Clan Macrae, it contains a Pipers’ Gallery and items of military regalia. Situated on the banks of Loch Duich on the A87, 13km before Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye Bridge.
Details: Open April to October, 10am to 5.30pm.
Cawdor Castle, near Nairn
Steeped in romantic imagery with its Macbeth association, it was nevertheless built post-Macbeth. That does not mean, however, that it is any the less impressive. There are paintings from the Old Masters and a thorn tree growing in the basement.
Details: Open May until early October, seven days, 10am to 5.30pm. There is an admission charge.
Armadale Castle, Isle of Skye
This is the ancestral home of Clan Donald, once the most powerful family on the western seaboard of Scotland. For Scotland’s largest clan there is a visitor centre.
Details: For further information call +44 (0) 1471 844 389.
Inveraray Castle, Argyll
Ancestral seat of the Dukes of Argyll, chiefs of Clan Campbell. Situated on Loch Fyne, the town of Inveraray sprang up around it. There is a _spectacular entrance hall with clan armoury used as decoration, fine furniture and collections of family memorabilia including quaichs From the exterior, this spectacular castle resembles a French chateau.
Details: Open April to October. For admission charges and opening times call +44 (0) 1499 302 203.
READ MORE: Regional focus: Argyll
Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye
This is the island home of the Macleods of Macleod, a dramatic, castellated building with a formidable appearance. Treasures include the Fairy Flag, which wards off evil for the family. In July every year the chief of the Macleod clan holds a series of chamber music concerts, whereas his ancestors are rather more famous for bagpipe music.
Details: For information and opening times call +44 (0) 1470 521 206.
Duart Castle, Isle of Mull
The 13th century seat of Clan Maclean remains a formidable fortress overlooking the approach to the island of Mull. The walls are impressively thick and make you realise just how terrifying such places could be when you are obliged to attack them.
Details: Open May until October, 10.30am to 6pm. Call +44 (0) 1680 812 309.
Blair Castle, Perthshire
Great Scottish castles don’t get much better than this. Probably the most visited castle in Scotland since it sits so close to the main road leading north to the Highlands from Edinburgh. The rooms are full of treasures, and this was the last Scottish castle to be besieged. Following her visit in the 19th century, Queen Victoria granted the Duke of Atholl owners the right to raise their own private army which parades annually to this day.
Details: Open April until October, 10am to 6pm. For further information call +44 (0) 1796 481 207.
Glamis Castle, Angus
The childhood home of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, this picturesque castle north of Dundee is the ancestral seat of the Earls of Strathmore. Fascinating with lots of turrets and hidden rooms and without doubt worthy of inclusion in a round-up of great Scottish castles.
Details: Open mid-April until mid-October. For information on charges and admission call + 44 (0) 1307 840 242.
Floors Castle, Roxburghshire
The ancestral home of the Dukes of Roxburghe is where the Tarzan film Greystoke was filmed. Situated beside the River Tweed, it is imposingly grand and the interiors are packed with family treasures.
Details: For information and opening times call +44 (0) 1573 223 333.
Tantallon Castle, East Lothian
This is an extraordinary fortress located on cliffs overlooking the North Sea and Bass Rock and situated on the coast of East Lothian. It dates from 1350 and was built by the Red Douglases to fend off all their foes, which it did until it was dismembered by order of the King.
Details: For information and visiting times call +44 (0) 1620 892 727.
Dunrobin Castle Golspie, Sutherland
The ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland, at one stage the largest landowners in the United Kingdom. The statue of the first Duke, whose name is inextricably linked with the Highland Clearances, stands on Ben Bhraggie above the nearby town. The first Duke, however, was an English political reformer who just happened to marry the heiress to the Sutherland estates. The castle and separate museum are open mid-May until mid-October.
Details: For information and charges call +44 (0) 1408 633 177.
Thirlestane Castle, Lauder
The ancestral home of the Earls and Duke (there was only one) of Lauderdale, and home of the Maitland family. The interior plasterwork is impressive and to make a visit more inviting for those not necessarily interested in fine furnishings and paintings, the current owners have introduced an extensive toy collection.
Details: For information on charges and opening times call +44 (0) 1578 722 430.
Culzean Castle, near Maybole, Ayrshire
This is the jewel in the crown of the National Trust for Scotland. A grand cliff-top country house where you can actually book to stay the night, it was rebuilt by the architect Robert Adam for the Kennedy family who became Marquesses of Ailsa.
Surrounded by 560 acres of grounds, there is a visitor centre, café and shop. Following the Second World War, US President Eisenhower was gifted an apartment here for his personal use.
Details: Open April to October, 11am to 5.30pm. For further information call + 44 (0) 1655 760 615
Dunottar Castle, Kincardineshire
Impressive ruins on a cliff top overlooking the North Sea. Mary Queen of Scots and William Wallace passed this way, and the Hollywood actor Mel Gibson filmed Hamlet on the battlements. The crown jewels of Scotland were hidden here for safekeeping when Oliver Cromwell invaded in 1650.
Details: Open March to October, 9am to 6pm (Sunday 2pm to 5pm). November to March, weekdays only, 9am until dusk.
Kisimull Castle, Isle of Barra
The fortress home of the MacNeils of Barra dating from the 11th century. It sits dramatically on an outcrop of rock which you see as soon as you sail into the bay. Repeatedly destroyed over the centuries it was rebuilt in the last century.
Details: Run by Historic Scotland, it is open to the public, but visitors from the mainland should telephone +44 (0) 1871 810 313 for details.
Caerlavrock Castle, Dumfriesshire
Situated within a double moat, this has stood since 1270 when it was built by the Maxwells, Wardens of the West Marches. It was attacked by Robert the Bruce and besieged again in 1640. Close by is the wonderful Wetlands Reserve featuring remarkable colonies of bird life.
Details: Open April to September, Monday to Sunday, 9.30am to 6.30pm. October to March: Monday to Saturday, 9.30am to 4.30pm; Sunday, 2pm to 4.30pm. Web: www.historic-scotland.gov.uk
Brodie Castle, near Nairn
Essentially a Z-plan tower house dating from 1567 and although owned by the National Trust for Scotland, it is still lived in by the chief of the clan, Ninian Brodie of Brodie. Lavishly altered and extended in the Victorian era, the rooms are sumptuous with fine paintings and there is a glorious library.
Details: Open April to September, 11am to 5.30pm; Sunday, 1.30pm to 5.30pm. Weekends in October. For information call: +44 (0)1309 641 371.
Drum Castle, near Banchory
Originally gifted to the Irvine family by Robert the Bruce, the original keep has been supplemented by a Jacobean mansion and a Victorian extension. It is currently owned and operated by the National Trust for Scotland and contains many treasures.
Details: House open Easter until September, 1.30pm to 5.30pm. October, weekends only.
Craigievar Castle, near Banchory
A stylish tower house with classic appeal, this was the home of the Forbes and Sempill families until it was donated to the National Trust for Scotland.
Details: For visiting times and details it is advisable to contact the NTS on +44 (0) 131 243 9300