The Best Castles in Scotland - Our Top 10 | Day Out With The Kids

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Sovereign Scots: Our top 10 best castles in Scotland

Jo Dorey

05 May 2018

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5 minutes
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Before we begin we all need to be properly attired. Go and hook out your crown - the really sparkly one! What about your velvet cloak? Yes, the one with the white, fluffy trim. Gold rings and jewels are a must, the plastic variety will do, and what do they call that fancy stick with a ball on top? Just grab it! Now that you’re decked out in all your finery and looking fabulous, it’s time to hear all about our favourite royal regions above the border.

From the tourist trail of Edinburgh to the deepest reaches of the Loch Ness, Scottish castles are some of the most impressive in the whole of the UK. Do you agree? Read on (Macduff!) and discover for yourselves with our guide to the best castles in Scotland.

Two kids with painted faces at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

  1. Kelburn Castle Country Centre, Fairlie

    Let’s begin with something totally out of the ordinary: Kelburn Castle Country Centre. With its bike park, horse trekking and guided Ranger walks, it’s certainly one of the most family-focused castles in Scotland and lovely if you want a wild round of eye spy; we’re talking Roe deer and funny otters. Also the Adventure Course - a thrill-filled trail of high walkways and rope swings - leave no room for getting bored, as does that Playbarn which is simply stuffed with soft play. What makes this Scottish castle a winner though? The entire side of one turret and part of the castle is splattered with crazy, colourful graffiti! Otherworldly characters look out into the forest and welcome weary travellers with a display which can surely be seen from space.

    Best for: Their Secret Forest. Raised walkways and complex paths cut through the forest leading families to over 100 curiosities. Expect a crocodile pool, the Gingerbread House and the mysterious Green Man and his Maze. It’s got to be seen to be believed...

  2. Stirling Castle, Stirling

    When you think castles, what comes to mind? A Great Hall, grand towers and the relics of Kings and Queens long past? You could very well be describing Stirling Castle which is perhaps one of the most classically grand castles in Scotland and is sat on an impressive rock outcrop for all to see. It was home to both James V and James IV, something you can explore in both the Palace and Gatehouse, that is before ducking into the medieval kitchens to imagine the great feasts that were whipped up in there. There’s plenty to keep kids entertained like costumed characters and quizzes which will lead you around the ancient corridors. You should also keep an eye out for the frequent events and musical performances that fill this archaic location with life.

    Best for: A slice of military history. European experts uncovered the artillery fortifications here and found that they dated back as far as the 1540s! They would have been used to weather heavy fire overhead during a siege - an image which is sure to intrigue your brood of history buffs.

    A family walking at Stirling Castle.

  3. Drumlanrig Castle, Thornhill

    Castles in Scotland are a mix of historic keeps and royal real estate, something your little Lords and Ladies could become accustomed to if you’re not careful - picture eggy soldiers served on a silver tray! Drumlanrig Castle fits in the latter category with its 120 rooms, 17 turrets and 4 immense towers. It’s also the seat of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry who, based on their titles, are truly the fanciest of folk but they’re happy to have visitors. We can’t imagine they’d have much use for the adventure playground but you certainly should. Kids can clamber up the climbing frame, throw themselves along aerial runways or into space nets, as well as taking the plunge down one of the speedy slides. Plus if you want to squeeze some culture in, this  Scottish castle is known for its incredible archive of work from the Dutch masters like Rembrandt and Gainsborough.

    Best for: Its enormous 90,000-acre estate! Castles aren’t all about the bricks and mortar - you could explore mile after mile of lovely country walks, as well as getting one of the Rangers to introduce you to the local wildlife or set up on a mountain bike.

  4. Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness

    First things first, Urquhart Castle is sat right next to the Loch Ness - what could be cooler?! Even in its ruinous state, it's an impressive stronghold and one of the largest castles in Scotland with over 1,000 years of daring history. As well as views of the loch and Great Glen, you’re given a window into the past at the visitor’s centre; stories are told with the help of a short film and through an incredible collection of artefacts, one of which is a full-sized, working trebuchet siege engine. We’ve said it once, we’ll say it again - how cool is that!? You and your brood can explore the Great Hall or the Grant Tower, but the must-not-miss room has got to be the gloomy prison cell. It’s been said that it held the legendary Gaelic bard, Domhnall Donn, so listen out for a poetic turn of phrase in the shadows...

    Best for: Monsters! As long as you’re in her backyard, you might as well search for Nessie. Keep an ear out for her abroad a Loch Ness by Jacobite tour with live onboard sonar or learn all about past expeditions at the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition. It’s really a great way to team three days out in one.

    A view of the Loch Ness.

  5. Crathes Castle Garden and Estate, Aberdeen

    Touted as one of the best-preserved castles in Scotland, Crathes Castle Garden and Estate is full of opulent decor, glorious greenery and intriguing tales. One such story tells of a family with 21 children that had to build an entirely new wing to accommodate them all - something to think about next time you worry about fitting all three kids and their clobber in the car! The Great Hall and Long Gallery are always worth a nosy but the 16th-century tower house (with all those secret turrets, tunnels and painted ceilings) is the proper showstopper. See the lot on one of the family trails or take a quiz to see who can remember the most fun facts. Throw in some hands-on activities and an afternoon swinging and sliding in their excellent adventure playground, and your day out is all sorted.

    Best for: The gorgeous gardens. The yew hedges were planted way back in 1702 and you can take a free tour of them or try a spot of twitching (aka bird watching) in the walled garden. Buzzards, herons and woodpeckers all live here so see if you can recognise them by their calls.

  6. Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh

    The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official Scottish residence of Her Majesty The Queen. Based on that fact alone, we’re already interested! It’s a lovely Baroque structure sat right in front of Arthur’s Seat (an ancient volcano) with a gallery full of Scottish monarchs; get to know them a little better with a free audio guide or involve even the tiniest of tots with family-focused activities like storytelling and face painting. Every Scottish castle on this list has a history, but this is of particular interest as Mary, Queen of Scots lived here during her short-lived reign. It was a turbulent time for the Queen so see how she spent her last days in her private quarters, including her bedchambers and Supper Room. Many a terrible tale was said to have taken place here but littluns can just focus on the fun bits like one of the crafty workshops.

    Best for: Rubbing shoulders with royalty. As it’s the official Scottish residence of Her Majesty The Queen, as well as giving a unique insight into the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, it’s kind of like a real-life episode of The Crown - just with more family-friendly activities!

    A family playing at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

  7. Castle Fraser, Aberdeen

    All the Scottish castles on this list have been specially selected to offer up something fun, but Castle Fraser is maybe the best of the bunch when it comes to catering to young kids. How so? Over 140 acres there are woodland trails, walled gardens and an incredible view from the top of one of the largest tower houses in Scotland. It’s not only humans who love the grounds - Daubenton’s bats can often be spied swooping across the lake. Then there’s the castle itself which has quirky features hidden around every corner, like the Laird’s Lug and its trap doors or secret spy holes. Aspiring artists can admire the many family portraits that adorn the walls, including a Raeburn, while the library has books of every description like a scene out of Beauty and the Beast. It’s as if the ancient structure was designed for days out!

    Best for: Their Woodland Secrets adventure playground. It’s packed with wooden sculptures, tepees, a bamboo snake walk and one enormous xylophone! Whack out a tune and get the whole gang to dance a jig.

  8. Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh

    This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Edinburgh Castle. It’s one of the most well-known Scottish castles and, perhaps, one of the most famous in the whole of the UK with over 1,000 years of history and a prize position sitting on top of Edinburgh Rock overlooking the city. It’s a favourite with tourists too with over a million visitors every year, but what makes it so special? It could be St Margaret's Chapel which is well over 900 years old or the cavernous stone vaults which were used to imprison people from all over the world. The dramatically titled, Stone of Destiny is held in the Crown Room and has been used in coronation ceremonies for most of the UK’s monarchs, while the iconic Mons Meg - a medieval cannon - is fired every day (besides Sunday) so be sure to cover your ears. We guess what we’re trying to say is, what’s not amazing about Edinburgh Castle? Down every nook and cranny, there’s something fantastic to see so start exploring!

    Best for: There are lively events held throughout the year but the most impressive might have to be the world-famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Held every August, the British Armed Forces and international military bands come together to put on a spectacular show.

    Costumed characters at Edinburgh Castle.

  9. Floors Castle, Kelso

    Sat on acres of rolling, green countryside, Floors Castle has been in the Roxburghe family since 1721 and they still own the place today. Given it’s a family joint, they understand what kids love to do on a day out i.e. an action-packed adventure play area with monkey bars, a flying fox and plenty more. Grown-ups can park up with a cream tea while their sprogs run wild or the whole unit can band together and go searching for great spotted woodpeckers or red squirrels. There’s also a riverside walk and a walled garden for when you want to stretch your legs; equally, if you want to imagine drawing swords and defending your family keep, investigate the military style fortifications. Each generation of Roxburghe has left their mark here so see if you can’t imprint a few of your memories.

    Best for: Snatching a catch of the day! We’ve heard on the grapevine that some of Scotland’s best salmon fishing can be found just upriver so, if you’re an outdoorsy bunch, it would be a wonderful way to immerse yourself in nature - especially if you can bring your grandparents along for the ride.

  10. Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven

    Dunnottar Castle might be the toughest to get to but of all the castles in Scotland, it’s the one you’ll never forget. Plonked down in the middle of nowhere, you’ll discover mysterious ruins sat on a cliff top overlooking the sea. It’s also famous for a number of its guests - some welcome, others not so much. Mary, Queen of Scots spent time here, as did the small garrison that held out against Thomas Cromwell and his cronies for a whole 8 months in an effort to save the Scottish crown jewels from being destroyed. Can you imagine sitting out in that wind and the wet waiting for enemies? Not our dream day out to say the least! With that in mind, we think it’s worth mentioning that there are lots of steps to climb to actually get up into the castle, and waterproofs would be well worth bringing along given the exposed location. Basically, it’s a trek but if you get to the top, it’s a true spectacle.

    Best for: Out of all the castles on our list, Dunnottar is the most dreamy. And by dreamy we mean you could imagine knights galloping up the winding path, or a medieval Queen staring out to sea. Throw in a dragon or three and you’ve got your very own episode of Game of Thrones.

    A view of Dunnottar Castle.

It’s time to take a bow and say farewell to our top 10 castles in Scotland. Thank you for exploring the highs and lows of the Scotch Isles with us, you pulled off the roles of royalty with aplomb! It doesn’t have to be goodbye though - why not take a peek at our other blogs on the subject like the best 10 castles in England or our favourite princess days out? Both are pretty legendary if we do say so ourselves. You could also explore the other castles in Scotland using the links below. Good day to you!

Castles in Edinburgh | Castles in Glasgow | Castles in Fairlie | Castles in Stirling | Castles in Nairn | Castles in Thornhill | Castles in Yett | Castles in Forres | Castles in Aberdeen | Castles in Perth

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Jo Dorey

05 May 2018

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Jo is a Copywriter at Day Out With The Kids. She’s lived all over the world in places like Pakistan, Hungary and Hong Kong - these days though she loves a good, long walk and hanging out with her cat, Fergus.

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