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13 Best Ruined Castles in Scotland

Your trip to Scotland would be in vain if you didn’t visit some magnificent castle ruins. While preserved castles have always been pleasant to the eyes, there’s something more appealing about castle ruins. 

Once a symbol of power and glory, today, they stand neglected in the dark, having failed the test of time.

With over 2000 castles dotted throughout the country, Scotland is home to some of the most ancient and enchanting castles in the world. From the well-renowned Edinburgh Castle to the lesser-known but equally fascinating St. Andrews Castle, there’s a castle for every history lover in Scotland. 

So let’s embark on a thrilling adventure through Scotland’s rich and fascinating history, as we explore the 13 best-ruined castles in Scotland.

Blackness Castle

Blackness Castle
Blackness Castle”, by Jeff Hitchcock, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Built in 1440 by Scotland’s Crichtons family, Blackness Castle is one of the most stunning Scottish castles. Overlooking the River Forth and situated near the Blackness Village, this castle used to serve as a port for the royal mansion and the nearby town of Linlithgow back in the Dark Ages.

From serving the purpose of a royal fortress and state prison in the 1400s to being used to hold the Covenanters and seafarers captive here during the war with Britain, the castle has had an impressive history of warfare, rises, and downfalls. Finally, the castle was taken under state preservation after World War I.

Under Sir James Hamilton of Finnart in the 16th century, one of the most technologically advanced ordnance fortifications was developed in Scotland. Further, in the 1870s, officers’ quarters were built.

In the late 1800s, significant changes were made in the castle’s structure, particularly the courtyard’s roofing was completely modified.

From 1926, a period of restoration of the castle was embarked upon, and all 19th-century additions were removed, and medieval-style was reintroduced. This resulted in losing the original look of much of the castle.

Trivia:- Blackness Castle is among those few ruins of Scotland which pride themselves on their unique appearance. The castle appears as a ship standing by the seashore, and for the same reason, it is known as “a ship that never sailed”.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle”, by Graeme Pow, is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Standing on Castle Rock, the history of this ruined castle in Scotland goes back to the 12th century. Edinburgh Castle served as a royal prison and a military garrison in the medieval ages and also preserves Scotland’s Crown Jewels. 

St. Margaret’s Chapel is a prominent tourist attraction and the castle’s oldest part. The chapel was built by King David I in memory of his mother, Queen Margaret.

The castle has a strategic military location, and likely, this was the reason the people of the Iron Age built a fort here, and ever since, the castle has grown to enormous military and royal potential.

There’s also a Scottish National War Memorial built here after World War I. The castle hosts wedding events presently at the St. Margaret’s Chapel.

The British Army still administers most of the castle; however, its task is mostly administrative. The castle also houses museums, contributing to its presentation as a tourist attraction.

You can also explore other castle ruins near Edinburgh.

Some of the best castles to stay in Scotland near Edinburgh are Craigmillar Castle, Lauriston Castle, Tantallon Castle, and Dirleton Castle.

Trivia: Edinburgh Castle is probably one of Edinburgh’s earliest human habitation sites.

Loch Leven Castle

Loch Leven Castle, Kinross
Loch Leven Castle, Kinross”, by Robert Cutts, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Loch Leven Castle was probably built by Alexander III in the mid-1200s and held strategic importance during the Wars of Scottish Independence. It underwent a series of hostile encounters between the English and Sir John Comyn IV.

In the 1950s, Queen Mary of Scots was held captive in the castle after losing against the Scottish lords in the Battle of Carberry Hill. She was said to have given birth to two children during the capture. Not much about the children is known, but many speculate that they died and were buried on the island. The Queen made a narrow escape from the castle and never visited it again.

Finally, after arriving at more pleasant times, the castle began to be used as a prison. Presently, the castle is under the preservation of the Historic Environment Scotland and can be visited during the summer.

Trivia:- Rumours say that Queen Mary’s ghost haunts the castle. The spirit apparently mourns the death of her two children and waits for them to come back to life.

Dunnottar Castle

Scotland Dunnottar Castle
Scotland Dunnottar Castle (2)”, by Brian Yap, is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

“Once seen, never forgotten” is what the tagline on its official website reads. Precisely so, Dunnottar Castle is one of the oldest and most famous castles in Scotland. It is located along Scotland’s northeastern shores. 

In the 5th century, St. Ninian built a church here, one of the earliest Christian sites in the Pictish Kingdom. The castle was invaded by the Vikings and witnessed several conflicts between the English and the Scots. Charles II also stayed here when he was attempting to seize the Crown from the Parliament.

After being crowned, Oliver Cromwell captured Edinburgh, and so the Honours of Scotland which included the court crown and some other valuables were sent to the Dunnottar for protection.

Today, most parts of the castle stand devastated except the tower house and a redeveloped drawing room, among others. However, the castle is most worth-the-visit for peaceful walks along the cliffs.

Trivia:- Benholm’s Lodging, a castle gatehouse, was cut out of the cliff’s rocks.

Slains Castle

New Slains Castle, Cruden Bay
New Slains Castle, Cruden Bay”, by spodzone, is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Situated near Cruden Bay, Slains Castle is one of the most visited castles in Scotland. It was built by Francis Hay, Earl of Erroll, in the late 1600s. 

However, in the early 1900s, the Hays saw financial misery and sold the castle to Sir John Ellerman who demolished quite many parts of the castle. 

By 1925 the roof had been removed. In the 1980s, an idea was brought up to transform the castle into a tourist stay spot. The plan, however, remains neglected. The Castle could have become one of the most exciting Scotland Castles to stay in.

Initially called Bowness Castle, the site is listed as a Category B building by Historic Environment Scotland. 

Enriched with intricate masonry, the castle has a classy Gothic appearance.

Trivia:- The castle is well-known to be used as an inspiration by Bram Stoker for his popular novel, Count Dracula (1897).

Huntly Castle

Huntly Castle
Huntly Castle-8106”, by Michael McCarthy, is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Built by the Earl of Fife, Duncan II, in the late 1100s, has seen many transformations since then. This Scottish castle ruin started as a motte construction with an artificial mound but in the later medieval ages, the castle served as a tower house.

In the 1500s, many modifications were made. For instance, the castle in the southern region constructed into a Palace was planned to replace the Tower House as a residence.

The 1600s saw the castle building into a splendid palace, but the civil war following the tranquillity turned the castle into a ruin. 

George Gordon, second Marquis of Huntly, undertook the final reformation of the castle. His death, however, left the task unfinished, and the castle was then, in 1923, put into state preservation.

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle”, by Stirling Council, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Stirling Castle’s earliest records go back to as early as around 1110, when Alexander I mentioned a chapel there. The castle stands by the River Forth on a rocky volcanic hill. It can be spotted in all directions to quite a lot of distance. 

Stirling Castle was a preferred choice of the Stewarts for holding huge celebrations in the castle. A key attraction of the castle is The Palace which was revamped in 2011. The plan was to make it look exactly how it did in the mid-16th century when it was built by James V.

The Great Hall and the Royal Chapel, James VI rebuilt the latter of which in the 1600s, and the King’s Old Building are worth a visit here. The castle is located between the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland. Thus, the castle is often called the ”brooch” as it connects the two parts of Scotland.

Trivia:- Almost all Scottish Monarchs have lived in the castle, coronated, or died here.

Ellon Castle Gardens

Ellon Castle
Ellon Castle”, by Astrid H, is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Situated in the town of Ellon in Aberdeenshire, Ellon Castle Gardens are a part of Ardigth Castle’s ruins. The motte of the castle dates back to the 13th century. It was a chief site for Alexander Comyn to carry out legal decisions.

The gardens consist of an outstanding sundial and the English yews, which are 500 years old. The gardens are presently managed by the Ellon Castle Gardens Trust. Plans are to develop the site into a tourism centre.

Trivia:- The English yew trees of the castle are considered to be the finest collection in the United Kingdom.

Tolquhon Castle

Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire
Scotland.2008 104”, by dvdbramhall, is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Built-in the 1580s, Tolquhon Castle was initially a tower. 

It is also referred to as “the most characteristic château of the Scots Renaissance”.

Sir William Forbes further brought changes to the site in the 16th century. A luxurious house, storage facilities, gallery, and servants’ quarters were added.

Tolquhon Castle was later sold to the Earl of Aberdeen to be used as a farmhouse, and by the 1900s, it was left neglected into a ruin. 

Historic Scotland now administers it.

Trivia:- There’s a hide-out place on the castle’s second floor where prized possessions were kept safely.

Kildrummy Castle

Kildrummy Castle
Kildrummy Castle”, by AJfromCO, is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Kildrummy Castle is a 13th-century ruin situated in Aberdeenshire. The castle was built by Gilbert de Moravia and is in the shape of a shield with many towers alongside it. The castle played a significant role in the Wars of Independence of the 1400s and the 1715 Jacobite Rising.

The castle also possessed the Snow Tower, which had a French style of architecture. In 1925, much evidence of battles, along with embellished stone flooring, was unearthed.

Kildrummy Castle is managed by Historic Environment Scotland and is open to tourists for visits.

Trivia:- In 1303, Edward I of England visited the castle with the builder of his magnificent North Wales castle, Master James. The ground plan of the two buildings is very similar, so it can be said that the construction of the gatehouse was carried out by Edward.

St. Andrews Castle

St Andrews Castle
St Andrews Castle”, by Son of Groucho, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Built in the 13th Century, St. Andrews Castle is one of Scotland’s most beautiful ruined castles. Located on a headland and towers over the North Sea, the castle underwent many destructions and resurrections during the Scottish Wars of Independence as the English, and the Scots took turns controlling it.

The castle’s dungeon also had many religious reformers captive; as John Knox rightly puts ‘Many of God’s Children were imprisoned here’. 

Not being much in use made the castle turn into ruin by 1656. The degeneration was to such an extent that its materials were ordered to be used in repairing the jetty.

Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle
Tantallon Castle, by PaulT, is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Located near North Berwick on the east coast of Scotland, Tantallon Castle was built on a cliff in the mid-14th century by Lord William Douglas. The castle comprises a curtain wall and a giant gatehouse as the primary defence point.

For several years, the Douglas family used it as a base for their resistance against the Scottish monarchy. But in the late 15th century, King James IV attacked the castle and took control of it, forcing out the Douglas family. 

As decades passed by, the castle was abandoned and fell into ruin. Today, the Tantallon Castle is a popular tourist attraction managed by Historic Scotland. 

You can tour the castle’s ruins and enjoy the picturesque views of the North Sea.

Linlithgow Palace

Linlithgow Palace
Linlithgow Palace, by Alistair McMillan, is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Located in the town of Linlithgow, the magnificent royal Linlithgow Palace was the residence of many monarchs during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Legend has it that it was the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was crowned Queen of Scotland when she was just 6 days old. 

Linlithgow Palace is the site of many such significant historical events. In 1503, James IV married Margaret Tudor here, eventually leading to the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

Linlithgow Palace has fallen into ruin over the centuries despite its significant past. However, the royal palace remains are still panoramic, and it is now a popular tourist spot in Scotland.

Can you buy a castle in Scotland?

Yes, you can find Castles for sale in Scotland that are often advertised in “Country Life” magazine or on other websites. Depending on the condition, location, land, etc., prices differ from slightly less than a million pounds to several million pounds.

How many castles are still standing in Scotland?

There are still more than 1500 castles standing in Scotland. Their beautiful architecture and history are worth visiting.

With their classic architecture and remarkable history, these ruined castles in Scotland are a must-visit. The impact of time on these castles leaves anyone knowing them with goosebumps. This reminds us of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s words in his famous work “Ozymandias.”

With their classic architecture and remarkable history, these ruined castles in Scotland are a must-visit. The impact of time on these castles leaves anyone knowing them with goosebumps. This reminds us of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s words in his famous work “Ozymandias.”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away

Percy Bysshe Shelley

As quoted above, everything is transient. Even the most colossal works are helpless in the hands of time. But the history of these castle ruins would keep generations to come spellbound.

“Can I stay in a castle in Scotland?” Do you have this question in your mind after reading about Scotland Castle ruins, and you are wondering how to stay in a castle in Scotland?

Well! There are some amazing Scotland Castles you can stay in and enjoy the beauty of Scotland. And if you want to get married in Scotland, check out these Top 7 Castle Wedding Venues in Scotland!

If you liked reading about ruined castles in Scotland, would you be interested to read about Ruined Castles in Ireland? Please let us know in the comments!

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