A visit to Scotland will surely include a trip to a castle, or perhaps many castles. Scotland is home to hundreds of medieval structures, some still inhabited and maintained by generational families, others lying in ruins overlooking the colorful Highlands. Only a handful of castles are famous. Those are of course worth visiting, but trips to the lesser-known, hidden and hard-to-get-to castles can be equally, if not more, intriguing. Perhaps it’s the concealed location of the former that adds to their mysterious nature.
If you find yourself planning a trip to Scotland but want to stay off the tourist trail, don’t skip castles. Plenty of isolated architectural gems exist that will keep you free of the crowds.
Some of the castles can only be toured from the outside, while others offer guided, audio-assisted and self-led tours. Don’t forget to check out the gardens and trails! Spoil yourself with a cup of tea and a cranberry goat cheese sandwich in one of the castle cafes.
For those of you doing a fair amount of sight-seeing throughout Scotland’s historic districts, I recommend purchasing an Explorer Pass. You can choose one of two types depending on the length of your stay. It ended up saving me some pounds!
Undoubtedly the most famous castle in Scotland, this ancient landmark also lies in the capital. It is remarkable even from a distance, perched like a butterfly overlooking the city. Many of Edinburgh’s attractions are dog-eared as World Heritage sites and, not surprisingly, Edinburgh Castle is included in this list.
Inland to the west of Aberdeen city, Craigievar Castle lies in Alford within Aberdeenshire. The 17th-century pink turreted castle with Baronial architecture is reminiscent of fairytales. Rumor has it the castle is the inspiration for the famed Disney castle.
Balancing in partial ruins atop a cliff on the North Sea, Dunnottar Castle is a gorgeous juxtaposition of an ancient man-made edifice and Mother Nature. Manicured gardens comb the crumbled stone structures. If you’re patient, you might be lucky enough to spot seals in the waters below. You can even follow a steep and rickety path to the shore for a closer, sea level glimpse. This 13th-century building sits on the Stonehaven peninsula.
With shapely topiary and popping colors, the gardens of Crathes Castle transport you into the story of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Another turreted castle, this 16th-century construction lies nearby the River Dee outside of Banchory, Aberdeenshire.
In Drumoark near Banchory in Aberdeenshire, the inside of Drum Castle is exquisitely decorated along with a garden storage room showing the servants’ quarters. Original parts of the castle date back to the 13th century. Woodland trails surround the property for visitors to enjoy. When the garden is in bloom, it embraces a bright rainbow of colors including a section of historic roses.
Scotland is a beautiful country–one of my favorite destinations so far. Not only is the archictecture impressive but so is the landscape; add to that the delicious food and the friendly people and you can’t not fall in love with Scotland.