There are a few images that are absolutely impossible not to conjure up when you think about Scotland: Bagpipes are one, a lone piper sending notes out over a foggy moor. Tartans are up there. Who thinks of Scotland without immediately bringing to mind those vibrant plaids of red and green and blue? But to me, one of the most iconic images of Scotland is that of a castle.
For castle aficionados, Scotland is simply heaven. At one time or another, there were over 2,000 castles in the country, and though some are known now only through historical records, most still exist in some form. A castle-lover in Scotland is simply spoiled for choice. One way to choose is by browsing pictures and picking the ones that excite you the most. If you have any Scottish ancestors, you can also research your Scottish clan and see which castles are closely associated with it.
Here are just a few of the most important and memorable castles from around Scotland, to whet your appetite for the feast that awaits you on your trip:
Creative Commons photo by Hec Tate
Walking through Edinburgh
, there is no question where all the power once resided. The castle overlooks the Scottish capital from the heights of the Castle Rock, visible from nearly everywhere in the city. For tips on visiting the castle, check out our Edinburgh Castle Q&A
with a local guide.
Eileen Donan, Creative Commons photo by Shiny Things.
The most photographed castle in Scotland, Eilean Donan is actually a reproduction, built in the 1920s. But it has become such a staple of Scottish castle tours and films (Highlander, The World is Not Enough, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) that it can’t be left off of a list of essentials.
Castle Fraser, Creative Commons photo by Graham Robertson.
An unusually elaborate castle design, Castle Fraser was completed in 1636. Once the seat of the Frasers of Muchalls, the castle is now owned and operated by the National Trust for Scotland.
Urquhart Castle, Creative Commons photo by Malcolm Manners.
There has been a castle at Urquhart on the shore of Loch Ness since at least 1296, but like many castles in Scotland, construction was ongoing over much of its history, and the present ruins date from the 13th to well into the 16th century. A ferry takes passengers across to the loch with ample time to wander the ruins, an essential tour for any Highlands vacation.
A rising star of television and film, Doune Castle may someday compete with Eilean Donan as the most familiar screen castle in Scotland. Doune has appeared in the TV shows Outlander and Game of Thrones, and throughout the classic “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. Before that, it served as a royal hunting lodge and home to several widowed Scottish queens.
Dumbarton Castle, Creative Commons photo by S McK.
Dumbarton Castle has the longest recorded history of any fortress, not only in Scotland, but in the whole of Britain. Saint Patrick (yes, that one) mentioned a castle at Dumbarton in the 5th century, and the castle was once the capital of its own nation, called the Kingdom of Alclud. Most of the current structures are 18th century additions. It also conveniently lies on one of the prettiest scenic drives in Scotland, the trip from Glasgow to Oban
This list barely scratches the surface, but if you can fit one of these castles into your first Scotland trip, you won’t be disappointed. Stay tuned to this site for more castle recommendations around this great country.