You’ve not completed a trip to Scotland without visiting at least one medieval castle. Edinburgh is home to one of the world’s most famous, but you might be surprised to find out just how many more castles are within easy reach of the city centre. Castles are an enormous part of Scotland’s national history and have been since the very first one was built in the 12th century. First and foremost, they were a form of defence against invaders, but they were also once home to the country’s most powerful families. You can just imagine the stories each and every castle has lived through, including these majestic fortresses just a stone’s throw away from Edinburgh. Check out these fascinating castles on a day trip or two from Edinburgh and scroll down to our map to see just how close they are to the city.
Looking for somewhere to stay in the heart of the city? Our two are right by Waverley station in the Old Town.
1. Edinburgh Castle
If there’s one castle you can’t miss when in the Scottish capital, it’s the iconic Edinburgh Castle. Sitting on the highest point in the Old Town (on top of an extinct volcano, no less), the historic medieval castle dominates Edinburgh’s skyline, but it isn’t just a great photo spot. On a visit inside Edinburgh Castle you’ll discover all the fascinating details of the city’s medieval past thought to date all the way back to the 12th century, including its royal residences, military history and its great many sieges. You can even wander around inside its prison which has held over 1,000 prisoners throughout its time. Make sure you book your tickets in advance of your trip, as Edinburgh Castle is one of the biggest attractions in the city and is sure to get fully booked.
2. Craigmillar Castle
Take the short journey to explore Craigmillar Castle and all its historic nooks and crannies. Edinburgh Castle might be the one getting most of the attention, but being so close to the city centre, Craigmillar Castle is definitely well worth the trip. It’s most famous for being the place of safety for Mary Queen of Scots back in 1566, before she was ironically imprisoned by Sir Simon Preston, the same man that owned the castle. Climb up to see the second oldest Tower House in Scotland from the 1300s, and take in the breathtaking views over Holyrood Park and Edinburgh Castle. Then walk around inside what they believe was once Queen Mary’s bedroom in 1566.
3. Lauriston Castle
You could call Lauriston Castle and Gardens a hidden gem in Edinburgh, being the perfect place to escape the crowds while keeping near to the city centre. This beautiful 16th century tower house was home to a wealthy local couple, Mr and Mrs W. R. Reid from the late 1800s until 1926 when it became the museum it is now. During their lives at Lauriston Castle, the family gave it the majestic makeover it’s so famous for - a stunning example of Edwardian interior design. While the castle itself is currently closed due to the pandemic, you can walk around the surrounding gardens for free, including an award-winning Japanese garden. Just keep an eye on their website for more information on when you can visit inside the castle.
4. Rosslyn Castle
While the only way to truly explore Rosslyn Castle is to rent it for the night, the village of Roslin is a tourist attraction in itself. Rosslyn Chapel is famous for being one of the most notable filming locations in Dan Brown’s film adaptation of the Da Vinci Code, and you can book tickets to look around inside. Walk around the surrounding Roslin Glen and you’ll stumble across the castle which is virtually unknown in comparison to the chapel. Walk along the bridge approaching the castle to its ruined walls for an awesome photo opportunity, and take in views of the castle from the outside. It’s a pretty spectacular sight and a real hidden gem of a castle in Scotland considering how close it is to Edinburgh.
5. Tantallon Castle
Sitting right on the edge of a cliff over in East Lothian, Tantallon Castle is like the setting of a great medieval film (and it is). Being by the sea means it’s been open to the elements, so it’s not too surprising to see that one of its main walls is no longer standing, but it still lasted pretty well considering the fortress was built back in the mid-1300s as home to the Red Douglas dynasty. Book your ticket and explore one of the greatest examples of a fortress in Scotland, marvelling at the enormous curtain wall and the incredible surrounding views.
6. Dirleton Castle
If you’re planning a trip to Tantellon, it’s well worth your time stopping at this majestic 13th century fortress on your way. Dirleton Castle is another East Lothian attraction, with its oldest sections - the towers - dating back to the 1200s. Over its 400 years in use, the castle was called home by three noble families and was declared unfit for military use after Oliver Cromwell’s siege in 1650. Dirleton was then taken over by new owners, who turned it into an architectural marvel and landscaped the beautiful surrounding gardens in the 1800s that you can wander through today. This incredible sight is among Scotland’s oldest surviving castle architecture, and it’s less than an hour outside Edinburgh.
7. Crichton Castle
Sitting above the River Tyne, the sweeping views all the way around Crichton Castle are breathtaking. Just a 30 minute drive outside Edinburgh, this castle has one of the oldest tower houses in Scotland from the late 14th century. There’s nothing quite like the peace and quiet you experience when you visit Crichton Castle, standing in total isolation in the Scottish countryside. You can explore inside, taking in what would once have been a working kitchen, a bakehouse, the bed chambers, the grand great hall and the castle’s dramatic diamond-patterned façade. Crichton has a rich history, starting with the Crichton family and involving Mary Queen of Scots, ending with the legacy of Francis Stewart who gave the castle the distinctive features it’s famous for today.
8. Blackness Castle
Blackness Castle was built in the 15th century by the Crichton family with the purpose of being their lordly residence, but it wasn’t long before the castle became grounds for more important purposes. Located right next to the Firth of Forth waterway, Blackness Castle became a royal castle in 1453, then a garrison fortress, then a state prison and finally an ammunition depot before being the visitor attraction it is now since after the First World War. Venture out of Edinburgh and explore ‘the ship that never sailed’, so called because it supposedly looks like a great stone ship from one side. Climb its tower for sweeping views, explore the different rooms and learn all about one of Scotland’s most powerful families of the past. This castle near Edinburgh is a hidden gem.
View all of these truly Scottish castles on our interactive map
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