Things to do in Edinburgh – ten castles to visit in and around Edinburgh
Our guide to ten historic castles within easy reach of the city of Edinburgh.
1. Edinburgh Castle
One of the world’s most famous castles, Edinburgh Castle’s sublime location, atop an extinct volcano overlooking the city and beyond to the Firth of Forth, makes it one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations.
The castle site has been a fortress since the Bronze Age and today’s buildings date from between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries. Among the buildings to explore are the twelfth-century St Margaret’s Chapel, the Scottish National War Memorial, the Great Hall and the Royal Palace.
Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG; tel: 0131 225 9846.
2. Blackness Castle
A fifteenth-century fortress which was once the stronghold of the powerful Crichton family. The formidable building was never intended to be a family home, but instead helped to defend this coastline, particularly during the sixteenth century, when sea attacks from England were a threat.
Today’s visitors can enjoy fine views over the Firth of Forth, which the fortress once dominated, and view the mighty fortifications which allowed the castle to act as an artillery fortification, and later, a state prison.
Blackness Castle, near Linlithgow EH49 7NH; tel: 01506 834807.
3. Castle Campbell
A medieval castle which stands high above the town of Dollar and was once a stronghold of the Campbell earls of Argyll, who were at the height of their political power in the Middle Ages. The castle’s fifteenth-century tower house is one of the best preserved in Scotland, and visitors can also see the outdoor pulpit from which John Knox preached.
Castle Road, Dollar, Clackmannanshire FK14 7PP; tel: 0131 668 8000.
4. Craigmillar Castle
A ruined medieval castle cared for by Historic Scotland, which includes a fourteenth-century tower house, courtyard and gardens. The castle is known for its links with Mary Queen of Scots, who is said to have stayed at the castle as a guest of the wealthy Preston family.
The tower house is one of the oldest in Scotland and offers views across the city of Edinburgh. It stands seventeen metres high, with walls which are three metres thick in places. The rest of the castle developed around the ancient tower house, as new buildings were added, making this a fascinating complex to explore.
Craigmillar Castle, Edinburgh EH16 4SY; tel: 0131 661 4445.
5. Crichton Castle
A ruined castle at the head of the River Tyne, built for the Crichtons and later the home of the earls of Bothwell. The castle’s architecture is unique, and highlights include a diamond-faceted façade, unlike anything else in Scotland; a fifteenth-century Great Hall; and one of Scotland’s oldest tower houses, built in the fourteenth century.
Crichton, Pathhead, Midlothian EH37 5XA; tel: 01875 320017.
6. Dirleton Castle
Dirleton Castle is a medieval fortress which has protected three successive noble families from medieval times. The castle features the world’s longest herbaceous border, the de Vaux towers, built around 1240, and the Ruthven dovecot, which can house up to 1,000 doves.
Dirleton Road, North Berwick EH39 5ER; tel: 01620 850330.
7. Loch Leven Castle
A ruined castle situated on an island in Loch Leven. This fourteenth or fifteenth-century tower is famous for its association with Mary Queen of Scot, who was imprisoned here in 1567 and forced to abdicate. Visitors reach the castle by boat and can explore the island, including the castle rooms where Mary was imprisoned and the residential Glassin Tower, which dates to the sixteenth century.
Loch Leven Castle, Kinross & Angus KY13 8UF; tel: 01577 862670.
8. Stirling Castle
One of Scotland’s most important castles, with a spectacular position overlooking some of the country’s most important battle sites including Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn. The castle’s palace has recently been refurbished and now allows visitors to experience what life was like in the royal court of the Stewarts.
Castle Esplanade, Stirling FK8 1EJ; tel: 01786 450000.
9. Tantallon Castle
A semi-ruined coastal castle built in the fourteenth century as a fortress for the Douglas earls of Angus. The castle endured three sieges over three centuries and today’s visitors can view a fifteenth-century replica gun and the castle’s formidable curtain wall.
Tantallon Castle, North Berwick EH39 5PN; tel: 01620 892727.
10. Thirlestane Castle
An important castle in the Scottish borders which has its origins in the thirteenth century and was rebuilt in 1590 as the Maitland family home. The castle has been added to over the years, most notably in the nineteenth century, when architects David Bryce and William Burn designed two large wings which flank the central keep.
Lauder, Berwickshire TD2 6RU; tel: 01578 722430.
(Blackness castle image copyright James Denham; Stirling Castle copyright Finlay McWalter)