In 2001, at the peak of my awkward middle school years, Princess Diaries was released. Although I was too old to dream about waking up and finding my prince charming I still wished that somebody would come and tell me that I was actually a princess of some long-lost land and that they would fix my frizzy hair. Unsurprisingly, I did not have a butler come and save me from the torture of middle school, but last week I did get to experience my princess dreams trekking through some of the most beautiful castles in Scotland.
For £30 we purchased an Explorer Pass which gains you admission to 77 different attractions and castles throughout Scotland for 3 different days. If you plan on visiting three or more of the attractions this pass is well worth it. We rented a car in Edinburgh and visited these castles on a four day road trip through Scotland. There were a ton of other sites we could have done as well around the Edinburgh/Stirling area included in the Explorer Pass, but we were on a pretty tight schedule with a day and a half spent in the Isle of Skye on our trip. It should also be noted that Eilean Donan Castle is not included in the Explorer Pass.
Standing on soil that was inhabited during the Iron Age (2nd century A.D.) is an eerie feeling. Edinburgh Castle is a very well-maintained, historical castle right in the center of Edinburgh city. Unlike many German and even Irish castles that I have visited, Edinburgh castle was more like a small city instead of just one singular castle. We spent about 2 and a half hours on the grounds and saw maybe 70% of it. The truly amazing part of this castle though is the absolutely stunning view of the city. Because it sits on top of a rock in the middle of the city, you get a 360 degree view of the city center.
I couldn’t get enough of this view. We were so lucky to be in Edinburgh on a sunny day to see this beautiful city from the top. If city views aren’t really your thing or if you are in Edinburgh on a typical cloudy, rainy, cold day don’t fret. There is plenty to do inside the buildings of this castle from viewing the crown jewels, to visiting the smallest chapel I have ever seen, and exploring the various prison bunkers which I might dare to say actually looked pretty comfy. Inside of the buildings there are fabulous reenactments of the various periods of history of the castle and at 1 p.m. every day except Sunday they fire the cannon on the very top of the castle.
If you are ever in Edinburgh and have a half-day to spend, I would highly recommend spending it at Edinburgh castle. Despite the mass of people, the vibe this castle gives off is indescribable.
I have been fortunate enough to have visited some of the most famous castles in the world including Neuschwanstein Castle. Stirling Castle is my favorite castle of them all. With beautiful German and French inspired sculptures throughout, breathtaking views of the Scottish Highlands and Stirling city, and gorgeous garden grounds this castle is the definition of perfection. As a plus, there were very few people during our visit and the weather was fantastic.
The Royal Palace was the first Renaissance palace in the British Isles and the work of King James V. Because of the beauty surrounding you when visiting this castle you might miss the sculptures initially, but make sure before you leave that you take a closer look at the unbelievable detail on the sculptures.
Most castles have gardens that are well-manicured and taken care of, but very few castles have gardens that transport you through a time when you walk in them. The garden in front of the Prince’s Tower makes you feel like you walked into the Secret Garden. With walls surrounding the garden and a breathtaking view of the Highlands, I could have spent hours “dilly-dallying” here. Additionally, there are large open spaces on the other side of the castle near the castle wall. There are so many purposeful green areas on these castle grounds – it’s unbelievable!
And now for the views from the castle grounds. Just like Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle is on top of a hill in Stirling City overlooking the Scottish Highlands and surrounding town. I’m such a sucker for bird’s eye views.
I could have spent weeks at this castle and been perfectly content. If you don’t do any other castle in Scotland, please visit Stirling Castle. It is well worth the trip 50 minutes outside of Edinburgh.
I have kind of a weird obsession with Nessie and Big Foot. When the hubby and I went camping in the Pacific Northwest a few years ago, I secretly was hoping we would stumble across Big Foot. Naturally, when my best friend said that she wanted to visit Scotland when she came to see us I immediately added Loch Ness to our itinerary. Unfortunately, while a beautiful Loch, it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and I was mildly disappointed that there weren’t any nice walks along the Loch. Thankfully, we had Urquhart Castle on our itinerary as well so we were able to kill two birds with one stone once I realized that Loch Ness was just that – one of the hundreds of Lochs throughout Scotland.
Urquhart Castle isn’t much of a castle anymore. In the late 1600s, the gatehouse was blown up to prevent the further occupation of the grounds and all that was left were the ruins from the explosion. Despite this fact, there are still many parts of the grounds that are well taken care of and the historical foundation has done a really good job of refurbishing much of the castle. Be warned though – it gets very cold with the winds coming off of the Loch so bring lots of warm clothing. There is no where really to take shelter once on the grounds.
If you are in this area of Scotland, I would highly recommend visiting Urquhart Castle. However, I would not suggest making a trip out here just for Urquhart Castle if you don’t have other plans in the area.
Eilean Donan Castle
Of the four castles, Eilean Donan Castle is the only one we didn’t actually go inside. However, the view from the viewpoint off of the main road passing the castle was enough for me. This castle is not a part of the Explorer Pass, but at only £7 if you have the time I have heard only good things about this castle.
Hopefully, this post instilled some castle wanderlust and you can now start planning your princess (or prince!) getaway to Scotland. Happy trekking!