Historic Sites in Scotland

If you’re looking to explore Historic Sites in Scotland and the surrounding area then you can explore our interactive map above or navigate further by using the links below.

There’s a fantastic selection of  Historic Sites in Scotland and you can plan some great things to see on your trips by browsing our selection. Once you’ve explored the  Historic Sites in Scotland you can use our itinerary planner tool to plan out your trip and then print off a free pocket guidebook.

Our database of historic sites is growing all the time, but we may not cover them all. Remember, if you know of other  Historic Sites in Scotland, you can always add them to Trip Historic now by visiting our Explore page.
 

Historical sites in Scotland: Regional Index

Scotland: Site Index

Ardoch Roman Fort

Braco Fort - A Roman Fort - fantastic 6 foot high ditches can still be seen although there is now no remaining wooden or stone at all. But this is one of my favourite Roman sites in Scotland

DID YOU KNOW?

Ardoch Roman Fort, also known as the Braco Fort or Alavna Veniconvm is a well preserved - many say exceptionally preserved - fort in Scotland. The earthworks include six foot high ditches although there are now no remaining wooden or stone structures at the site.

Photo by Bert Kaufmann (cc)

Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle has been the official Highlands home of the British royal family since the reign of Queen Victoria.

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Balmoral Castle has been the official Highlands home of the British royal family since the reign of Queen Victoria.

Having fallen in love with the Highlands after their first visit in 1842, it was in fact Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who built Balmoral Castle between 1853 and 1856.

Today, parts of Balmoral Castle and its grounds are open to the public, with audio guides available (included in the admission price) detailing the workings of the estate and its history. There are also a series of exhibitions at Balmoral Castle related to the royal family.

This site features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in the UK.

Photo by Shadowgate (cc)

Bannockburn Battlefield

Bannockburn Battlefield was the site where Scottish leader Robert the Bruce defeated the English, repelling their attempts to control Scotland and once again affirming its sovereignty.

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Bannockburn Battlefield was the site where Scottish leader Robert the Bruce defeated the English, repelling their attempts to control Scotland and once again affirming its sovereignty. The Battle of Bannockburn was a key clash in the Wars of Scottish Independence.

Robert the Bruce had been crowned king of the Scots in 1306 (Robert I), but later suffered several defeats at the hands of the English and was soon forced to flee. However, he came back to Scotland and waged a guerrilla war against the English, one that proved very successful.

In 1314, King Edward II of England was marching a large army towards Stirling Castle, a stronghold which had changed hands several times between the English and the Scottish. It was under English rule at the time, but also under siege. Determined to stop the king’s progress towards Stirling, Robert the Bruce positioned his army a Bannock Burn.

The Battle of Bannockburn began on 23 June 1314 and, despite having a much smaller army – roughly 5,000 Scots to 18,000 English – Robert the Bruce managed to repel the English by the next day. King Edward fled, whilst many of the English soldiers were killed or were taken prisoner.

Today, Bannockburn Battlefield is managed by the Scottish National Trust and offers a series of interesting attractions including a dramatic equestrian statue of Robert the Bruce, There is also a heritage centre, with information about the battle itself.

Photo by kenny barker (cc)

Bar Hill Fort

Bar Hill Fort was one of the Roman forts along The Antonine Wall.

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Bar Hill Fort was one of the forts along The Antonine Wall, a second century Roman defensive wall in Scotland.

Today, visitors can still discern parts of Bar Hill Fort - once this wall’s highest fort - including its bath complex. It is also a double treat for history buffs, as there is also a nearby Iron Age fort.

Battle of Drumclog

The Battle of Drumclog was fought on June 1st, 1679 at Drumclog in South Lanarkshire between the army of John Graham of Claverhouse and a group of Covenanters.

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A battle of the Scottish Covenanter Wars, Drumclog was fought between the army of John Graham of Claverhouse and a group of Covenanters. The Covenanters were Scots who signed the National Covenant in 1638 to confirm their opposition to the interference by the Stuart kings in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

Graham was a soldier and nobleman loyal to the King who, with his dragoons, stumbled upon a field conventicle – a secret or unlawful religious meeting – of Covenanters. Armed with a mission to disperse conventicles of this nature in south-west Scotland, battle ensued.

Around 200 Covenanters including 40 mounted men moved positions to the east, near the farm of Drumclog and after what seems like some sort of pincer movement trapping Graham’s dragoons, the Covenanters broke Graham’s line, killed at least 36 of his men and claimed a resounding victory.

A monument was erected in 1839 and there are small memorials in and around the local area.

Bearsden Bath House

The Bearsden Bath House was a Roman bath complex which would have served a fort of The Antonine Wall.

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The Bearsden Bath House was a second century Roman bath complex which would have served one of the forts of The Antonine Wall. Today, the remains of the Bearsden Bath House - located innocuously in the middle of a modern housing estate - represent some of the best of this Roman military structure.

The Antonine Wall was itself a defensive wall built almost two decades after Hadrian’s Wall and representing some of the further incursions made by the Romans in the UK.

Photo by Bert Kaufmann (cc)

Bothwell Castle

Bothwell Castle is a ruined medieval stronghold near Glasgow which played a role in the Wars of Independence.

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Bothwell Castle is a stunning ruined medieval stronghold near Glasgow and one of the most celebrated of its kind. Begun by the Morays, an important aristocratic family, in around 1242, Bothwell Castle was intended to be a large and imposing fort. The tower or "donjon" which remains there today offers a glimpse into the Morays’ vision.

Construction of Bothwell Castle had to be ceased, thought to be due to the fact that the Wars of Independence broke out in 1296. It was never completed. Yet, despite its unfinished state, Bothwell Castle did play a role in the Wars of Independence.

It was subjected to several sieges and being taken by each of the opposing sides several times. The most famous of these attacks occurred in 1301. At this time, Edward I laid siege to Bothwell and, with a force of almost seven thousand, the English eventually succeeded in taking the castle.

In 1362, Bothwell Castle passed to the aristocratic Black Douglas family by marriage and they rebuilt it. Whilst not adhering to the structure of the Morays, the new Bothwell Castle was still formidable and parts of it - notably its chapel - can still be seen.

Photo by Paul Stevenson (cc)

Caerlaverock Castle

Set in truly jaw-dropping Scottish countryside, Caerlaverock Castle was an important fortification, providing defence for the Scottish crown in a period of deep rooted rivalry with England.

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Caerlaverock Castle is an impressive a medieval fortress which stands out for its unique triangular design and picturesque location, ensuring it ranks among Scotland’s most remarkable castles.

First built in the late-13th century on the site of previous fortifications, Caerlaverock Castle has a long and fascinating history and still bares the wounds of many of its battles.

Standing strong on the Scottish border, the castle is in many ways a symbol of the divisions that for so many years tore England and Scotland apart. Due to its strategic location, Caerlaverock was often central to the on-going rivalry and warfare which took place between the two crowns.

Indeed in the early 14th century Caerlaverock Castle was besieged and captured by the English king Edward I, as he led his armies against Scotland. Despite holding off an initial assault, the small Scottish garrison could do little once Edward turned his siege machines against the fortress and it was captured within two days.

In the 17th century Caerlaverock was home to Robert Maxwell, the 1st Earl of Nithsdale, who remodelled the structure and based the living quarters on Linlithgow Palace. However, Caerlaverock retained its military significance and was the scene of a major siege in 1640 which damaged the castle’s exterior and left it partially ruined. The southern wall was largely destroyed in this siege but this damage does little to take away from the imposing might of the castle’s iconic and unique triangular structure.

Today Caerlaverock Castle stands in the centre of picturesque countryside and the surrounding land is even classed as a ‘National Scenic Area’; protected and celebrated for its natural beauty.

The imposing moat, once a fearsome deterrent to attackers and important strategic tool against the undermining of enemies, is now a highlight for visitors and a stunning site all year round – reflecting the glistening sunlight in summer or laced with ice and snow during the winter months.

A trip to Caerlaverock Castle itself offers a lesson in siege warfare and there are many interesting reconstructions of medieval siege engines; exciting educational tools that instantly transport visitors to the battlefield. For families, there’s even a castle-themed adventure park to provide extra entertainment for children, ensuring there always lots to see and do at Caerlaverock!

This site features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in the United Kingdom. Contributed by Rebecca Lewis

Photo by Colin Macdonald (cc)

Callanish Stones

The Callanish Stones are a collection of Neolothic standing stones on the west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

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The Callanish Stones are a collection of Neolothic standing stones on the west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

Probably built between 2900 and 2600 BC, the 13 primary stones form a circle 13m in diameter with a solitary monolith standing 5m high at its heart. Within the circle is a chambered tomb.

Between 1000 BC and 500 BC, the Callanish Stones were covered by peat, and it was not until the mid-nineteenth century that their true height was revealed.

Located on a low ridge with the waters of Loch Roag and the hills of Great Bernera in the background, the Callanish Stones are a scenic and imposing place to visit. There is a Visitor Centre, shop and tearoom on site.

Photo by conskeptical (cc)

Craigmillar Castle

Craigmillar Castle played host to Mary Queen of Scots.

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Craigmillar Castle was built from the fourteenth century and is now a pretty and well-preserved medieval ruin. The most famed aspect of Craigmillar Castle was that it played host to Mary Queen of Scots when she was recovering from an illness. It is also the namesake of a pact between several noblemen to murder her husband, Lord Darnley.

Today, several aspects of the fourteenth century structure of Craigmillar Castle remain, including an impressive tower. There is also a maze of medieval tunnels.

Photo by Hotfield (cc)

Crichton Castle

Crichton Castle is a distinctive fourteenth century castle.

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Crichton Castle is a distinctive medieval castle built as the residence of the aristocratic Crichton family in the fourteenth century. It would later pass to the Earls of Bothwell.

For visitors to Crichton Castle, there is its impressive tower house, unusual facade and fifteenth century great hall.

Croy Hill

Croy Hill was the site of one of the Roman forts of The Antonine Wall.

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Croy Hill was the site of one of the Roman forts of the Antonine Wall, a vast second century defensive barrier in Scotland which ran from West Kilpatrick to Carriden, along what is now Scotland’s central belt.

The wall was constructed to control trade and offer protection from the more aggressive of the Caledonian tribes; it was built in just two years. The Antonine Wall would continue to be occupied until the late 160s AD when the Romans began to retreat to its more famous counterpart, Hadrian's Wall.

Today, visitors to Croy Hill can still make out two beacon platforms and a defensive ditch which would have formed part of the original fortifications.

Photo by snigl3t (cc)

Culloden Battlefield

Culloden Battlefield was the site of the final battle of the Jacobite uprising and resulted in the defeat of the Jacobites by government forces.

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Culloden Battlefield was the site of the final battle of the Jacobite uprising and resulted in the defeat of the Jacobites by government forces. The Battle of Culloden was the culmination of years of fighting for succession to the British throne. Other factors, such as a war with France and issues of religious denomination also fuelled national divides at the time and were all interlinked.

The conflict raged between the supporters of the House of Stuart – known as the Jacobites – who wanted to reinstate the exiled King James Stuart, and the House of Hanover. The latter was supported by the British government, then led by the Whig party.

On 16 April 1746, the two sides met at Culloden Battlefield. The Jacobites, made up of around 5,000 Highlanders together with English and French units, were led by King James’ son Charles Edward Stuart (known as the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie). On the other hand, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, led a much larger force of those loyal to the British government.

The battle was fierce, bloody and over in less than an hour. The result was a defeat for the Jacobites, who fled from the battlefield. It would be their last attempt to reinstate the House of Stuart to the throne.

Today, Culloden Battlefield stands as a memorial to this important event. There is a visitor centre with plenty of information about the battle, a short film and tours of the battlefield. Along Culloden Battlefield there are many memorials, including graves of the clans showing where different clans were buried and The Memorial Cairn (pictured), both erected by Duncan Forbes in 1881.

Photo by PhillipC (cc)

Dirleton Castle

Dirleton Castle was an imposing medieval fortress and noble residence, which is now a picturesque ruin not far from Edinburgh.

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Dirleton Castle was an imposing medieval fortress and noble residence, which is now a picturesque ruin not far from Edinburgh.

First built in the thirteenth century by royal steward John de Vaux, Dirleton Castle became the home of the de Vauxes, under whose ownership it was severely damaged and captured on several occasions in the Wars of Independence.

Dirleton Castle would go on to become home to two further noble families, the Haliburtons (circa 1365) and the Ruthvens (circa 1510), each of whom made changes and additions. The Haliburtons left behind some fascinating ruins, including a chapel and an ominous dungeon.

The life of Dirleton Castle as a defensive structure ended in 1650, when it was devastated by the siege of Oliver Cromwell and it was abandoned altogether not long thereafter upon the demise of the Ruthven family.

Now on land owned by the Nisbet family, Dirleton Castle offers a great deal to see. Amongst its highlights are its several towers, some of which were built in the 1240s, making them amongst Scotland’s oldest castle remains. Dirleton Castle is also home to one of the country’s best preserved pigeon houses.

Photo by jgonzac (cc)

Doune Castle

Doune Castle in Perthshire, central Scotland is a 14th century military stronghold built by Robert Stewart, Regent Albany and includes one of the best-preserved great halls in the whole of Scotland.

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Close the Scotland’s geographical centre in the village of Doune in Perthshire, Doune Castle is a medieval castle with one of the best-preserved great halls in Scotland.

It was originally built in the 13th century, most likely damaged during the Scottish Wars of Independence (1296 – 1357) and rebuilt in its present form in the late 14th century.

It was constructed by Robert Stewart, Regent Albany and grandson of Robert the Bruce and has been used over the centuries as a strategic military stronghold seeing action during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the Jacobite Risings, a royal hunting lodge and a dower house, traditionally used by the widow of the estate owner.

Ruined by 1800, restoration works were undertaken in the late 19th century and the castle was passed into state care a century later. The striking 29-m high gatehouse includes the Lord’s Hall with domestic quarters, an intricately carved oak screen, musician’s gallery and double fireplace. It’s labyrinthine in nature with rooms connected by spiral staircases and low, narrow doorways. The castle was used extensively in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as well as in Game of Thrones as Winterfell.

Today, visitors to Doune Castle can re-tread the footsteps of kings, real and fictional, listen to the audio tour narrated by Python Terry Jones and marvel at the views from the battlements of the River Teith and out over the Monteith Hills on the edge of the Scottish Highlands. There’s a gift shop, toilets and parking available.

Photo by baaker2009 (cc)

Dumbarton Castle

Dumbarton Castle served as a wartime prison, a royal shelter and a defence against both foreign and local threats.

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Dumbarton Castle was a medieval stronghold which served as a wartime prison, a royal shelter and a defence against both foreign and national threats. Even the site upon which Dumbarton Castle sits -Dumbarton Rock - has an illustrious past. Little survives of the medieval castle - most of it is from the eighteenth century - but this is still a fascinating site to visit.

Mentions of Dumbarton Rock date back to the fifth century AD, when it was called the Rock of the Clyde or "Alt Clut". From this time until the early eleventh century, Dumbarton Rock was the centre of the capital of Strathclyde. There is thought to have been a castle there at the time, which would have defended this British kingdom from ongoing Viking attacks, although there are no visible remains of this.

The building of the medieval Dumbarton Castle began in the 1220, amidst the danger of attacks from Norway. It was constructed under Alexander II of Scotland and was intended to protect the border.

Once the Norwegian threat subsided, Dumbarton would go on to become a royal castle and to play a role in the Wars of Independence. In particular, it is believed that William Wallace was imprisoned here for a short time in 1305 before being taken to his execution in England.

With its slightly more remote location, one other important function of Dumbarton Castle was as a royal escape route. In the fourteenth century, David II sailed from Dumbarton and, in 1548, this was where a young Mary Queen of Scots sought refuge before travelling to France.

Unfortunately, most of what can be seen at Dumbarton today dates back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries - when it was renovated as a garrisoned fort - rather than from the medieval or dark ages.

Photo by andy muir (cc)

Dumfries House

Dumfries House is a beautiful Palladian stately home in Scotland, particularly noted for its collection of original 18th-century furniture.

DID YOU KNOW?

Dumfries House is a beautiful Palladian stately home in Scotland, particularly noted for its collection of original 18th-century furniture.

Although previous structures existed at the site, the house as we know it today was built in the 1750s for William Dalrymple, 5th Earl of Dumfries. It remained as a private residence until 2007 when the estate and its entire contents was purchased for £45m for the country by a consortium headed by Charles, Prince of Wales.

Recently restored, Dumfries House is now open to the public all year round and offers guided tours around the impressive interiors. These tours showcase both the architecture of the house as well as the collections of art, antiques and in particular the furniture of Thomas Chippendale, a leading 18th century Scottish cabinet maker.

The surrounding estate is open to walkers daily from dawn to dusk.

Photo by phault (cc)

Dunfermline Abbey and Palace

Dunfermline Abbey and Palace was a royal residence and the final resting place of many a Scottish monarch.

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Dunfermline Abbey and Palace have a royal connection dating back to the eleventh century, when a priory was established there under Queen Margaret (now known as St Margaret). This was elevated to being an abbey in around 1150 by her son, David I.

The picturesque remains of Dunfermline Abbey - now just its impressive Romanesque nave - can still be seen there today.

Over time, Dunfermline Abbey would host many important events. In particular, the cloister of Dunfermline Abbey would later become a royal palace and the birthplace of King Charles I.

Another fascinating aspect of Dunfermline Abbey is its church, which is the burial site of many famous Scottish monarchs, notably Queen Margaret and David I as well as King Robert Bruce.

Photo by gorriti (cc)

Dunstaffnage Castle

Dunstaffnage Castle is a medieval stronghold once captured by Robert the Bruce.

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Dunstaffnage Castle is a medieval stronghold built by the MacDougall clan at a time when Scotland was under constant threat from Norwegian attack. Begun in the 1220s, Dunstaffnage Castle was made of stone and its curtain wall remains a highly impressive and imposing sight.

In the Scottish Wars of Independence, Robert the Bruce laid siege to Dunstaffnage Castle, eventually taking it in 1309. As a result, it would remain in royal hands until the mid-fifteenth century, when it fell under the ownership of the aristocratic Campbell family.

One of the most famous aspects of Dunstaffnage Castle is the fact that it acted as a prison for Flora MacDonald in the eighteenth century. MacDonald was incarcerated there having tried to help the Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from the Red Coats by dressing him as a woman, although she would later be released. Visitors can see the place thought to have been where she was held.

Also visible at Dunstaffnage Castle are the remains of its 13th century chapel.

Photo by Bernt Rostad (cc)

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is a medieval fortress and royal castle turned national monument and World Heritage site.

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A royal residence, a vital stronghold and an iconic structure, Edinburgh Castle is one of the most famous castles in the world. Known by its English name since the invasion of the Angles in 638AD, the first mentions of Edinburgh Castle occurred in 600 AD during Roman Britain, when it was called “Din Eidyn” or “the fortress of Eidyn”.

Stronghold
However, even before the Angles and the Romans, Edinburgh Castle’s location had served as a vital stronghold for centuries. In fact, archaeologists have found evidence of human settlement on the rock on which the castle sits as early as 900 BC, the late Bronze Age. Over the following centuries, Edinburgh Castle continued to play its role as a crucial defensive structure as well as becoming an integral part of Scotland’s history.

Royal Castle
It initially became a royal castle in the Middle Ages and has since been the site of many significant events in royal and military history. As a royal residence, Edinburgh Castle was the site of the birth of King James VI, also James I of England from 1603, to Mary Queen of Scots in 1566. Visitors can still see the small room where this monarch was born. However, Edinburgh Castle’s main role was a military fortification.

Tug of War
From as early as the thirteenth century, Edinburgh Castle was a focal point of the war between England and Scotland. Captured by Edward I of England following a three-day siege, Edinburgh Castle was then the subject of a tug of war between the warring countries, swapping hands numerous times in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries until the Scots took it back again in 1341.

By this time, much of the original castle had been destroyed, to be rebuilt under the order of David II, who later died in Edinburgh Castle in 1371. However, the buildings of Edinburgh Castle were to suffer further destruction in battle and David’s Tower, which was built in honour of David II, was razed during the Lang Siege. The final siege at Edinburgh Castle would take place in 1745, carried out by the Jacobites.

Prison
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Edinburgh Castle found itself fulfilling a new role: as a prison. It housed prisoners from numerous wars, including the Seven Years War, the American War of Independence, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

Iconic Site
Today, visitors to Edinburgh Castle can explore the castle’s history through a series of guided tours and exhibitions.

Amongst its many attractions are the Scottish National War Memorial and National War Museum, the Mons Meg, a giant cannon gifted to James II in 1457 and the Great Hall, built by James VI in 1511. Royal exhibitions include The Honours of Scotland jewels which, along with Scotland’s coronation stone, the Stone of Destiny, can be found in the castle’s Crown Room. Edinburgh Castle is also home to the oldest building in the city, the 12th-century St Margaret’s Chapel.

Photo by beltzner (cc)

Falkland Palace

Falkland Palace was the country retreat and hunting lodge of the royal Stuart dynasty.

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Falkland Palace was the Renaissance country retreat and hunting lodge of the royal Stuart dynasty for around two centuries.

Begun in 1450 and completed in 1541, Falkland Palace was the work of kings James IV and James V and was very much a favourite of Mary Queen of Scots.

The highlights of Falkland Palace today are its gardens and portraits of the Stuarts.

Photo by Glen Bowman (cc)

Glamis Castle

A magnificent castle in Glamis, Scotland, the French chateau styling and the historic setting provides an excellent day out.

DID YOU KNOW?

A stunning medieval fortification set in the beautiful Scottish countryside, Glamis Castle has a fascinating history as well as a strong connection to the British royal family.

Though the area upon which it stands has been occupied from at least the 11th century, Glamis Castle itself traces its roots back to the 14th century, when it became the residence of the Lyon family, who would later become the Earls of Strathmore. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the castle was extensively renovated, taking on the trappings of a French chateau and leaving much of what can be seen by visitors today.

The castle is steeped in history, with a number of fascinating stories, myths and legends associated with it. It is said that Glamis provided inspiration for the setting in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and it is believed that Scottish King Malcolm II did indeed die here in 1034AD. There are many other tales and stories associated with the castle, such as the legend of the monster of Glamis and the legend of Lord Beardie; these tall tales are sure to keep the children entertained.

The connection with the current royal family is more recent, with Glamis being the childhood home of Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Indeed it was here that Princess Margaret was born in 1930.

Today, Glamis Castle is still the residence of the Earls of Strathmore but it is also open to the public at certain times. With magnificent furnishings and a mixture of 14th and 17th century architecture, the beauty of the castle is hard to rival. If this alone doesn’t whet your appetite, then there are plenty of objects, paintings and furnishings within the castle itself to discover.

As well as the castle itself, visitors can wander the scenic ornamental gardens. There’s even a nature trail within the grounds, providing an opportunity to see the true beauty of the Scottish countryside.

Contributed by Victoria Haughton

Photo by Anosmia (cc)

Glasgow Cathedral

Glasgow Cathedral is one of Scotland’s most impressive surviving medieval structures.

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Glasgow Cathedral is an impressive medieval creation, perhaps most remarkable for surviving the Protestant Reformation of 1560 in such an excellence state of preservation. After this event, Glasgow Cathedral was used to house several parish kirks.

One of the earliest mentions of Glasgow Cathedral relates to Saint Kentigern - often known as Mungo - who is said to have been buried on the site in the seventh century. Whilst most of Glasgow Cathedral dates to the thirteenth century, some of its earlier parts were built in the twelfth century.

Photo by SidewaysSarah (cc)

Hailes Castle

Hailes Castle was a medieval stronghold, the pretty ruins of which date back mostly to the fourteenth century.

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Hailes Castle was a medieval stronghold, the pretty ruins of which date back mostly to the fourteenth century. However, some of the stonework at Hailes Castle is thought to have been constructed as far back as the thirteenth century, making it some of the oldest of its kind in Scotland.

It is also said that Mary Queen of Scots stayed here a few times.

Free to enter at all reasonable times, it can be quite fun to explore Hailes Castle and, in particular, look out for its two vaulted pit-prisons.

Photo by ToniaYu (cc)

Holyroodhouse Palace

Holyroodhouse Palace is the Scottish royal residence famed as having been home to Mary Queen of Scots.

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Holyroodhouse Palace has a history stretching back to the twelfth century. Now the official Scottish residence of the Queen, the story of Holyroodhouse Palace is intertwined with that of the monarchy, particularly that of Mary Queen of Scots.

Holyroodhouse Palace is said to have been founded as an Augustinian monastery by David I in 1128, this abbey then being closed in the sixteenth century. At this time, James IV built a palace at Holyroodhouse. Successive monarchs would go on to add to and renovate this palace, especially Charles II in the seventeenth century.

However, perhaps the most famous chapter in the tale of Holyroodhouse Palace is the time spent there by Mary Queen of Scots. Not only was the palace Mary’s main home between 1561 and 1567, it was where she married two of her husbands. It was also at Holyroodhouse Palace that she was witness to the murder of her private secretary by her husband.

In 1745, the Bonnie Prince Charles used Holyroodhouse Palace as his seat, at the time of the uprising.

Today, visitors can see the ruins of the abbey of Holyroodhouse as well as touring the palace and the royal apartments. A visit to the site usually lasts around an hour to an hour and a half.

Photo by Andy Hawkins (cc)

Inchcolm Abbey

Inchcolm Abbey is a well-preserved twelfth century Augustinian monastery turned abbey located in an important defensive position.

DID YOU KNOW?

Inchcolm Abbey was established as an Augustinian monastery in the twelfth century by David I, becoming an abbey in 1235. During the wars between England and Scotland, the location of Inchcolm Abbey meant that it was constantly under attack.

The island of Inchcolm Abbey continued to play a defensive role in the Napoleonic Wars and up to the Second World War. Despite its turbulent history, Inchcolm Abbey remains remarkably intact. Its thirteenth century cloisters are celebrated as some of the most well-preserved of their kind and visitors can even see a rare funereal fresco from the same period.

Photo by arthurmoodyuk (cc)

Inchmahome Priory

Inchmahome Priory was a medieval monastery which once sheltered a young Mary Queen of Scots.

DID YOU KNOW?

Inchmahome Priory was first founded as an Augustinian monastery in approximately 1238 under the instructions of the Earl of Menteith. Over the centuries, Inchmahome Priory’s secluded location made it an ideal refuge.

Even royals saw Inchmahome Priory as a sanctuary, including King Robert Bruce. However, it is more famous for the time when a young Mary Queen of Scots sheltered there in 1547 following the Scottish defeat at the Battle of Pinkie.

Following the Protestant Reformation of 1560, Inchmahome Priory began to fall into decline and ceased being a working monastery. Today, its picturesque ruins are a major tourist attraction.

Photo by Historvius

Kinneil House and Museum

Kinneil Estate is a fantastic historic site, centred around the 15th century Kinneil House. Also at the site are a Roman fortlet, the ruins of a medieval church, a museum and the cottage of inventor James Watt.

DID YOU KNOW?

Kinneil House and Museum, part of the Kinneil Estate, has a rich history spanning almost 2,000 years.

The Kinneil Estate holds a wealth of historic sites, including a Roman fortlet - part of the Antonine Wall - the ruins of a medieval church, a cottage belonging to inventor James Watt and Kinneil House and Museum.

Kinneil Museum
The Kinneil Museum is a good place to start your visit to the Kinneil Estate. Housed in the stables of Kinneil House, the museum details the history of the site, hosts a number of artefacts from the estate – some dating back to Roman times – and also includes an audio visual show.

Kinneil Roman Fort
Forming part of the Antonine Wall, Kinneil Roman Fort was one of the mile-castles built to protect the borders of the Roman Empire. Visitors can view part of the roadway and a partial reconstruction of the line of the wall. A number of artefacts from the site can be viewed in Kinneil Museum. Kinneil Roman Fort is part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site. 

Kinneil House
Kinneil House itself dates back to the 15th century and is open on selected days throughout the year (check official website for dates or contact Kinneil Museum). This historic house was the home of the Dukes of Hamilton and contains a wealth of interesting sights, including a number of rare renaissance wall paintings.

Kinneil Church
Just a short walk from Kinneil House and Museum lie the ruins of the 12th century Kinneil Church. Abandoned in the 17th century, Kinneil Church was also partially destroyed by fire leaving just the western gable and historic graveyard. The church bell can be seen in Kinneil Museum.

James Watt’s Cottage
James Watt’s Cottage, at the rear of Kinneil House, is the site where famous inventor James Watt worked to develop the steam engine. Watt was under the patronage of industrialist John Roebuck who lived in Kinneil House.

A visit to Kinneil Estate is also not complete without taking the opportunity to explore the surrounding parks, woodlands and ponds. You'll find more information on the Kinneil website - www.kinneil.org.uk.

Liberton Tower

Liberton Tower is a 15th century tower in Edinburgh.

DID YOU KNOW?

Liberton Tower is a 15th century tower in Edinburgh built by the Dalmahoy family, who owned the estate of Upper Liberton from around 1453.

In 1587, Liberton Tower was sold it to William Little, a Burgess of Edinburgh and, within 20 years, he commenced the building of the more comfortable Liberton House. Since then, the tower has been used mainly as a farm building, possibly as accommodation for labourers and with a byre or a piggery in the basement.

Today, Liberton Tower is owned by the Castles of Scotland Preservation Trust.

Photo by DaGoaty (cc)

Linlithgow Palace

Linlithgow Palace was the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and host to most of the Stuart kings.

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Linlithgow Palace was built in the fifteenth century on a site with a history dating back thousands of years. Now a dramatic ruin, its royal connection makes it an enduring tourist attraction.

It was James I who began building Linlithgow Palace in 1424. With its location between Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle, it soon became a popular place for royals to visit, including most of the Stuart kings.

In 1542, Linlithgow Palace also became the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, although the room in which she was born no longer exists.

From 1603, Linlithgow Palace’s era as a royal pit stop began to deteriorate as the royal court moved to London under James VI. The palace’s decline was confirmed when it was destroyed by a fire in 1745.

Photo by kyz (cc)

Lochleven Castle

Lochleven Castle was a medieval stronghold most renowned for being the prison of Mary Queen of Scots.

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Lochleven Castle was a medieval island stronghold, the dramatic ruins of which can be reached by boat. Whilst being most well known for being the prison of Mary Queen of Scots, Lochleven Castle’s role within Scottish royal history extends far further.

Many royals were guests - as opposed to prisoners - at Lochleven Castle, including King Robert Bruce and even Mary herself. What’s more, other royals were imprisoned at Lochleven Castle other than Mary Queen of Scots, particularly the (then future) Robert II. Mary was imprisoned at Lochleven Castle by Sir William Douglas from 1567 and forced to abdicate her throne in favour of James VI, her own infant son. She would escape within a year.

Today, visitors go to see the fourteenth to fifteenth century tower where Mary was held. Inside, you can still see where the kitchen and other spaces would have been.

Photo by Shadowgate (cc)

National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland has a diverse collection of artefacts and pieces relating to the history and culture of Scotland.

DID YOU KNOW?

The National Museum of Scotland has a diverse collection of artefacts and pieces relating to the history and culture of Scotland.

From prehistoric and ancient pieces to Viking invasions and the story of Robert the Bruce, the National Museum of Scotland covers a wide range of themes and periods, chronicling its development. It even comes up to date, with modern exhibits such as the cloned Dolly the Sheep.

Highlights include the harp of Mary Queen of Scots, Viking jewellery and the medieval Lewis Chessmen.

The fully redeveloped National Museum of Scotland was reopened in 2011 following a major £46.4 million transformation. It is Scotland’s treasure house, where you can experience the whole world under one roof. Visit the museum and discover the wonders of life, the universe and everything in it – from science and art to nature and outer space.

Photo by dun_deagh (cc)

Rothesay Castle

Rothesay Castle is a distinctive medieval ruin with strong links to the royal Stewart dynasty.

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Rothesay Castle was originally built by Walter, 3rd High Steward and ancestor of the royal Stewart line, in the thirteenth century.

It was intended as a stronghold against the ongoing threat of Norwegian invasion and was taken by attackers from Norway in both 1230 and 1263.

In 1371, Rothesay Castle attained royal status as Robert II became the first king from the House of Stewart. It was renovated in the fifteenth century but then fell into disuse, eventually being restored in the nineteenth century.

One thing which makes Rothesay Castle so different is its distinctive - probably thirteenth century - circular curtain wall, the remains of which can be seen there today. There are also exhibits about the history of Rothesay Castle and of its successive owners.

Photo by HBarrison (cc)

Scone Palace

Scone Palace was once the coronation site of the Kings of Scotland and today operates as an historic house and garden.

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Scone Palace was once the coronation site of the Kings of Scotland and now operates as an historic house and garden.

Located on the banks of the Tay, and only a short distance from Perth, Scone Palace offers a unique insight into the lives of a millennia of Scottish Kings. Originally used as a religious location by the early Picts, the site of Scone Palace has both a Pagan and Christian history as well as a royal one and cannot be understated in the role it has played in Scottish (and English) history.

The country house you can see on the site today is a 19th century historic home built as the seat of the Earls of Mansfield. It was constructed in place of an earlier 16th century palace which itself replaced the famous Scone Abbey, site of Scottish coronations, which was destroyed by religious reformers in 1559.

The history of the Scone Palace site as the crowning place of Scottish kings dates back 1500 years, from Kenneth MacAlpin - the self-styled first king of the Scots in the 9th century - through to Charles II in 1651. Perhaps the most famous of Scottish kings, Macbeth, was also crowned at Scone, more precisely at Moot Hill, the traditional resting place of the Stone of Scone. What sits at Moot Hill today is not the original Stone, but rather a replica, marking the original location.

The stone, sometimes referred to as the Stone of Destiny, has a history as varied as the Palace itself, removed from Scotland by Edward I in 1296 it had been housed in Westminster Abbey until 1996, when it was finally returned to Scotland. Whilst the Stone of Scone no longer exists at Scone Palace but rather at Edinburgh Castle, its place in history is far from over, having been used in the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Visitors to Scone Palace today can view artefacts from a wide range of historic periods, including furniture, porcelain and carved ivories from all over Europe. The archives at Scone Palace include collections dating back to the 13th Century and are used in current scholarship and research.

The grounds at Scone Palace are worth a visit in their own right – 200 acres of Palace Grounds offer both landscaped gardens and woodlands and are scenic locations for both wildlife and plants.

Guided tours are available but must be booked in advance. Instead, a guidebook, at the cost of £4, is a good alternative.

Contributed by Ros Gammie

Photo by yellow book (cc)

Skara Brae

Skara Brae is Northern Europe’s best preserved Neolithic village and a UNESCO World Heritage site located in the Orkney Isles.

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Skara Brae is an incredibly well-preserved Neolithic village in the Orkney Isles off the coast of mainland Scotland.

Characterised by sturdy stone slab structures insulated and protected by the clay and household waste which holds them together, Skara Brae is a stunning example of the high quality of Neolithic workmanship.

Skara Brae was inhabited between 3200 and 2500 BC, although it was only discovered again in 1850 AD after a storm battered the Bay of Skaill on which it sits and unearthed the village. Subsequent excavation uncovered a series of organised houses, each containing what can only be described as “fitted furniture” including a dresser, a central hearth, box beds and a tank which is believed to have be used to house fishing bait.

The inhabitants of Skara Brae built their community on a dichotomy of community life and family privacy, as portrayed by the combination of closely built, homogenous homes compared with the strong doors behind which they conducted their private lives. This sense of a structured community, coupled with the fact that no weapons have been found at the site, sets Skara Brae apart from other Neolithic communities and suggests that this farming community was both tight-knit and peaceful.

Visitors to Skara Brae can tour these original magnificent homes as well as a reconstructed version which really conveys the realities of Neolithic life. The nearby visitor centre holds many of the artifacts found at Skara Brae and offers an insight into the site’s history through touch screen presentations.

Photo by Historvius

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle is an iconic royal palace, a medieval stronghold and a focal point for many of the most important events in Scotland’s history.

DID YOU KNOW?

Stirling Castle is an iconic royal palace and stronghold, seen to represent Scottish independence and a focal point for many of the most important events in Scotland’s history.

Famous Events at Stirling Castle

It was the site of royal deaths such as that of King Alexander I in 1124 and William I in 1214, the subject of a tug of war between the English and the Scottish during the Wars of Scottish Independence and even the scene of an assassination. This latter event, the murder of William the eighth Earl of Douglas, occurred when he was invited to dinner there in 1452. A skeleton found at the castle in the eighteenth century is believed to have been his.

During the Wars of Scottish Independence, Stirling Castle was fought over by some of the most famous figures in Scottish and English history, including William Wallace and Robert the Bruce.

Royal events at Stirling Castle included the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots (1543) and the baptism of her son, James VI (1566), both at the Chapel Royal.

Strategic Location

At least part of the reason for the prominence of Stirling Castle over the centuries must be attributed to its location. Situated atop the flat top of an ancient volcano, it forms an imposing sight and a formidable stronghold. Furthermore, it is located at a vital strategic point at the centre of various routes across Scotland.

Architecture

The first mention of Stirling Castle dates to 1110, when Alexander I endowed a chapel there, but many believe the site has been fortified since prehistoric times (although this is disputed).

The current grand incarnation of Stirling Castle mostly dates from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries onwards. Some of the highlights include the King’s Old Building, constructed in 1496 for James IV, the Great Hall, which was medieval Scotland’s largest banqueting hall built by James IV in the early sixteenth century and the Royal Palace, built by James V in around 1540.

One of the most well-known parts of Stirling Castle is its Forework Gate, a turreted stone fortification built by James IV in the early sixteenth century.

Visiting the castle

Today, Stirling Castle offers tours around its buildings and grounds. Visitors can tour with an audio guide or with a tour guide and there are a range of exhibitions to see. Not least of these is the Regimental Museum, a military museum dedicated to the Argyll

Photo by Sandy__R (cc)

Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle was the imposing medieval stronghold of an influential Scottish family.

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Tantallon Castle was the imposing medieval stronghold of the influential Douglas Earls of Angus for around three centuries.

Built in the fourteenth century by the first such earl, William Douglas, and later updated to deal with more modern warfare, Tantallon Castle would survive numerous sieges before being utterly devastated by the army of Oliver Cromwell in 1651.

Today, the dramatic cliff-top ruins of Tantallon Castle are quite a sight, particularly its remaining curtain wall.

Photo by starsrus (cc)

The Antonine Wall

The Antonine Wall was a Roman defensive wall, the remains of which can now be seen in Scotland.

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The Antonine Wall was a Roman defensive wall which ran from Old Kilpatrick to Carriden, along what is now Scotland’s central belt.

In 138AD, under the orders of Emperor Antoninus Pius, the Roman 6th and 20th legions began building The Antonine Wall. They would complete it a mere two years later, eighteen years after Hadrian’s Wall was built. The main function of The Antonine Wall was a defensive one - mostly to offer protection from Caledonian tribes - but it may also have served as a customs station.

The Antonine Wall would continue to be occupied until the late 160s AD when, under Marcus Aurelius, the Romans began to retreat to its more famous counterpart. Whilst far less well-known than Hadrian’s Wall, the Antonine Wall is still a marvel of Roman engineering and many parts of it - and some of its approximately twenty forts - can still be discerned today. Amongst them are Bar Hill Fort, Croy Hill and the Bearsden Bath House.

The map for this site is located at the former Roman fort of Rough Castle, the earthworks of which can still be seen. This is also considered one of the most intact sections of the Antonine Wall, with a ditch and rampart both visible.

Photo by John Wells (cc)

Torphichen Preceptory

Torphichen Preceptory was an important base in Scotland for the Knights Hospitaller.

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Torphichen Preceptory in Scotland was a compound built in the 12th century around an existing church and, in the 13th century, became an important northern base for the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. In fact, it is said that the only other such headquarters maintained by this religious military order in Britain was its base in Clerkenwell, London and would remain as such until the 16th century. In March 1298, William Wallace visited Torphichen Preceptory before the Battle of Falkirk and the only documents signed by Wallace to survive to this day was signed there.

Since that time, Torphichen Preceptory underwent further additions in the 15th century. Sadly, very little of the Torphichen Preceptory has survived intact, but visitors can see echoes of its pretty architecture. Amongst the best preserved elements are the church’s crossing tower and transepts as well as the wall decorations.

Photo by Eileen Henderson (cc)

Trimontium Museum

The Roman fort of Trimontium no longer stands, but the nearby museum uses artefacts and replicas to tell a story of a military power and the struggles that took place on the border with Scotland.

DID YOU KNOW?

Unfortunately no upstanding stones remain of the Roman fort at Newstead, but visitors to the Trimontium Museum in nearby Melrose can still get a tangible insight into life in the Roman frontiers through a wide variety of artefacts and reproductions.

A guided walk run by the Trimontium Museum also points out visible features in the landscape of Newstead, such as the ploughed-out rampart and the amphitheatre, to give visitors as much of a sense of the former structure as possible.

Derived from ‘trium montium’ (or ‘three mountains’), the fort of Trimontium took its name from its position nestled in between the three Eildon Hills. Its advantageous placing made it a perfect advance post for the Roman province, and its design was geared towards this purpose. Central earthen defences, crafted in the first century, were strengthened by four outer ditches at the end of the second century. The western annex was also given a series of wall and trenches for further protection. Supplies and men reached the fort from a series of roads that extended outwards from the fort, giving it a wheel-like appearance from an aerial perspective.

Trimontium is thought to have been occupied by the Romans three times, with a garrison that numbered between 2000 and 5000 at any given time. First between 80 and 105 AD, then in around 140 AD as a support centre when Hadrian's successor Antoninus Pius brought an army back into Scotland, and finally from the desertion of the Antonine Wall in the 160s AD until the withdrawal of the army in around 185 AD. After this, the fort was no longer an occupied stronghold, but may have been visited by troops inspecting the buffer zone north of Hadrian’s Wall.

Since the site was first excavated in 1905, a wealth of artefacts has been discovered charting the extensive use of the fort. Now housed in the museum, they include items ranging from shoes and tools to armour and arrowheads. As well as gaining an impression of the military prowess of the Roman army, visitors can see some of the finer details of daily life that help to bring the past to life.