Must See Scottish Castles – Part 1

Things to Do, Travel Tips — By Christina Maria Paschyn on August 18, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Hello dear readers! As you may have read in one of my tweets, your Edinburgh local experts are now “officially” engaged (ring and all)! And as you can image, we are already on the hunt for venues in Scotland. It’s always been a silly dream of mine to marry a guy in a kilt in a castle. Well, one down and one more to go.

So you all can revel in my wedding planning, I present to you a two-part guide of the best castles to visit in or near Edinburgh. Download the entire Castles guide for free at the Edinburgh page on!

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Information provided by Edinburgh Castle official website.

Clearly an absolute must to visit while you are in the city, Edinburgh Castle is a historic fortress with breathtaking views and opulent riches inside. First erected in the 12th century, the castle sits on top of an extinct volcano and is the most breathtaking part of the city’s skyline. Within the castle walls you see impressive views of most of the New Town, including the Princes Street Gardens, Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags, the famous Balmoral Hotel and more. You can also explore the various rooms, chapels and compartments of the fortress and through interactive displays discover what living and working there might have been like during the medieval era.

What to see at the castle:

The highlight of any tour of the castle is the Honours of Scotland (the crown jewels), on display in the Crown Room of the castle’s Royal Palace (built in 1617). These include the ancient crown, sword and scepter, which date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Here you can also see Scotland’s most prized treasure: The Stone of Destiny, otherwise known as the Coronation Stone. This has been used in the crowning of Scottish and English monarchs (much to dismay of many Scottish nationalists) for hundreds of years.

Be sure to arrive before lunch, so you can watch the master gunner fire the castle’s canon at 1pm (except Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day). It is a tradition that dates back to 1861 when the firing of the gun was used to signal for ships in the Firth of Forth and the port of Leith. If you’re in town now, buy tickets for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is performed throughout August on the floodlit esplanade of the castle. Check the castle website for more information.

Opening times :  9:30am – 6pm, 1 Apr – 30 Sept; 9:30am – 5pm, 1 Oct – 31 Mar.

Ticket prices: Adult: £13.00; Child: £7.00; Concession: £10.40 (aged 60 and over, unemployed); Child under 5: FREE

Holyroodhouse Palace

Holyroodhouse Palace

Information provided by the Official Website of the British Monarchy.

Founded as a monastery in 1128, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh is The Queen’s official residence in Scotland. Situated at the end of the Royal Mile, the palace is closely associated with Scotland’s turbulent past, including Mary, Queen of Scots, who lived here between 1561 and 1567. Successive kings and queens have made the Palace of Holyroodhouse the premier royal residence in Scotland. Today, the palace is the setting for state ceremonies and official entertaining. During The Queen’s Holyrood week, which usually runs from the end of June to the beginning of July, Her Majesty carries out a wide range of official engagements in Scotland.

What to see at the palace:

The Royal Apartments reflect the changing tastes of successive monarchs and are renowned for their fine plasterwork ceilings and magnificent furnishings, particularly the unrivalled collection of Brussels tapestries.  One of the most famous rooms in the Palace is the Great Gallery, hung with  Jacob de Wet’s portraits of the real and legendary kings of Scotland.

Included on the tour, a display focuses on the Order of the Thistle, the highest honour in Scotland.  The Order honours Scottish men and women who have held public office or who have contributed in a particular way to national life.

Shown alongside historic insignia is an example of the mantle worn at the Thistle ceremony at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, which The Queen attends during her visit to the Palace in July.

From 1 April to 31 October the gardens, which are today used for garden parties, can be included as part of a visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.  Visitors to the gardens must keep to the paths, which are about 400 yards long.

From 18 July to 30 September visitors to the Palace of Holyroodhouse can join a guided tour of the historic Abbey ruins, and discover the building’s fascinating history from its foundation in 1128 to the present day. Included in a day visit, tours last approximately 30 minutes and run every hour from 10:00 to 17:00, except midday.

1 November – 31 March, 9:30-4:30pm (last admission 3:30). 1 April to 31 October, 9:30-6:00 (last admission 5:00). 9 August 2010, 9:30-2:00 (last admission 1:00). The Palace is closed: 13-17 September 2010, 25-26 December 2010 and during Royal Visits. Visit the palace website for more details.

Ticket information:

Palace of Holyroodhouse
(includes an audio tour)

Adult £10.25
Over 60/Student (with valid ID) £9.30
Under 17  £6.20
Under 5 Free
Family (2 adults, 3 under 17s) £27.00

Joint Palace of Holyroodhouse and The Queen’s Gallery

Adult £14.30
Over 60/Student (with valid ID) £13.00
Under 17 £8.30
Under 5 Free
Family (2 adults, 3 under 17s) £38.50

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

Information provided by the Stirling Castle official website.

Stirling Castle, located about 40 miles northwest of Edinburgh, rivals the former’s castle in beauty and magnificence. It is is built high on a volcanic outcrop and the castle offers a fascinating tour of the Gatehouse, Chapel Royal and Great Hall – all built by the Stewart Kings.

Several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned at Stirling, including Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1543. There have been at least eight sieges of Stirling Castle, including several during the Wars of Scottish Independence, with the last being in 1746, when Bonnie Prince Charlie unsuccessfully tried to take the castle.

What the see at the castle:

The Great Hall – the largest banqueting hall in Scotland – is where kings, queens and nobles gathered to enjoy huge feasts and great celebrations. It was built in 1503 by James IV as part of a huge refurbishment of the castle designed to impress his new bride – Margaret Tudor, daughter of England’s Henry VII. Nowadays it is still full of majesty, with its magnificent hammer-beam roof and high oriel windows that shine sunlight onto the dais where the king and queen once sat. After being used as a soldiers’ barracks in the 19th century, the Great Hall was restored to its 16th century glory in a major project that was completed in 1999. Visitors can get a sense of the scale of the events which took place there, like the 1594 celebrations for the baptism of Prince Henry, when musicians played in upstairs galleries while a huge model ship full of fish was dragged through the hall.

The Chapel Royal was the last building erected in the castle by royalty. Within ten years of its completion in 1594 – the date is inscribed over the entrance portal – James VI, Mary Queen of Scots’ son, traveled to London to become James I of England also. That was effectively the last Scotland saw of its sovereigns for over 200 years. King James had the Chapel Royal built so that he and Queen Anna could celebrate in style the baptism of their firstborn, Prince Henry. The old chapel royal, where Mary Queen of Scots had been crowned in 1543, and James himself baptised in 1566‚ was demolished and the present one built. Itwas Scotland’s first Presbyterian kirk built after Scotland became Protestant in 1560. The rectangular building is entered from the Inner Close through a centrally placed and imposing doorway set within a triumphal arch. Three paired windows within semicircular arches are either side of the doorway.

Also, visit the Medieval Kitchen to get a taste for 16th -century life in the medieval kitchens. Head to the Tapestry Studio to view the work of the castle’s dedicated weavers, who are producing a series of seven tapestries. Lastly, peruse the Castle Exhibition to discover the fascinating history of Stirling Castle. Then relax after your exploration at the café or pick out a gift in the souvenir shop.

There are many free guided tours, plus an audio tour you can purchase. Both are highly recommendable. There is a lot to see at Stirling Castle – so set aside a whole morning or even an entire day!

The castle is open from 9:30am – 6pm, 1 April to 30 September. For winter times see the castle website.

Tickets Costs: Adult – £9.00; Concessions – £7.20; Child – £5.40 (under 5 – Free).

Wallace Monument

Wallace Monument

Information provided by the Wallace Monument official website.

Big fan of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart? Then add the Wallace Monument to your list of must-see sights. OK, so it’s not technically a castle. Still, since you will be in Stirling anyway, you might as well make a stop.

For over 140 years, this world-famous landmark has fascinated visitors with its exhibits and displays, telling the story of the famous Scottish nationalist hero Sir William Wallace. It stands on the Abbey Craig, a volcanic crag above Cambuskenneth Abbey, from which Wallace was said to have watched the gathering of the army of English king Edward I, just before the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

What to see at the monument:

Visitors can climb the 246 step spiral staircase to the viewing gallery inside the monument’s crown, which provides expansive views of the Ochil Hills and the Forth Valley. A number of artifacts believed to belong to Wallace are on display inside the monument, including the Wallace Sword, and a 1.68-metre (5 ft, 6 in) long claymore (Wikipedia).

Also stop in the Hall of Heroes, whose many busts commemorates generations of Scottish heroes from Robert the Bruce to Sir Walter Scott.

Lastly, at the bottom of the monument hill is a special statue that pays tribute to Mel Gibson’s epic film. Even though the film is known to be historically inaccurate, it clearly has left a mark on the

Could this really be William Wallace?!

Scottish psyche!

Opening times: Ranges from 10:00-6pm. Check monument website for exact seasonal times.

Admission: Adults £7.50; Children £4.50; Concessions £6.00.

Note: If you are planning to visit more than one castle during your trip, you might want to purchase an Explorer Pass.

The passes come in two flexible forms, to suit the length of your stay.
Three Day Pass (over a five day period)
Adult £22, child £12.00, concession £17.00, family £44
Seven Day Pass (over 14 day period)
Adult £31.50, child £17.50, concession £24.00, family £63

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Must See Scottish Castles tomorrow!

[Photo Credits: Edinburgh Castle by Christina Paschyn; Holyroodhouse courtesy of the Official Website of the British Monarchy; Stirling Castle courtesy of castle website; Wallace Monument by Brian Forbes; Braveheart statue by Geograph]

Tags: "Castles", "Holyroodhouse Palace", "Mel Gibson", "Scotland", "Stirling Castle", "Wallace Monument", Braveheart, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Castle, Holyroodhouse

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