Scotland is home to more than 1000 castles from atmospheric ruins to immaculately preserved fortresses used as homes or hotels. Whether it's for their Shakespearean links, resplendent gardens or pulse-raising falconry displays, explore one of these six castles and discover a host of amazing moments that can only be found in Britain (and are a find alternative if you've already 'done' the magnificent Edinburgh Castle).
It's hard to top the drama of Stirling Castle's setting - it crowns an extinct volcano and straddles Scotland's historic Lowlands and scenic Highlands. It was the seat of Scottish royalty and a key military stronghold for hundreds of years. “Hold Stirling, and you control Scotland" was the maxim. Nowadays, tourists are free to roam the grounds and lofty ramparts as charismatic tartan-trousered guides share stories about the castle's enthralling history and eccentric former residents. Built by King James V to impress his second wife, the French noblewoman Mary of Guise, the castle's lavish Renaissance-style palace is a standout, while the Stirling Heads gallery showcases elaborate 16th century wooden carvings depicting kings and queens, courtiers and Roman gods and emperors.
Some tourists arrive thinking they're going to have a nose around the castle of Tony Blair, the ex-British prime minister. But, as you'll hear on the engaging guided tours of this whitewashed country pile, no Blair has never lived here. Perched amid the verdant wooded hills of Perthshire, in the southern Highlands, this is the historic seat of Clan Murray, one of Scotland's most esteemed families (though the current head of the family was born in South Africa). Decorated with an impressive range of medieval weaponry and boasting opulent bedrooms and lounges, the castle is set on a sprawling estate where you can enjoy walks around an enchanted forest, a deer park and a Georgian walled garden with landscaped ponds, a Chinese bridge and fruit orchard.
The late Queen Mother spent much of her childhood at this multi-turreted castle, which is pronounced 'Glams' and located 20km north of Dundee. Established in the 14th century, it claims to be the legendary setting for Shakespeare's Macbeth (the play's anti-hero is the Thane, or nobleman, of Glamis at the start of the story). You might find yourself whispering Shakespearean verses to yourself as you navigate the castle's atmospheric nooks and crannies, and on the guided tours, you'll probably hear a ghost story or two (the castle is touted as one of the most haunted properties in Britain). If you're after some fresh air, there's a host of walks on offer, fromvthe nature trails to the gardens.
A flurry of whimsical spires and turrets, Dunrobin Castle is the ancestral home of the Sutherlands, one of Scotland's hardiest clans. Visitors are welcome to explore this French chateau-style property and its floral gardens, and there's also the chance to watch live falconry displays that demonstrate the ancient art of hunting with birds of prey such as owls, hawks, eagles and falcons. Lording over the North Sea on the outskirts of Brora, Dunrobin Castle is one of the highlights of the North Coast 500 - a new 500-mile (805km) touring loop that begins in Inverness and showcases the beauty and heritage of the Highlands.
A short drive from Inverness, this mighty fortress mushroomed in the mid 18th century - just after the nearby Battle of Culloden (which saw the forces of King George II defeat the Jacobites, who were trying to restore the deposed Stuart dynasty to the British throne). One of Europe's biggest military complexes, Fort George is still an active base and you'll see uniformed troops as you wander the lawn-fringed artillery defences and barrack-lined streets. Actors clad in Georgian-era costumes reenact local history and if you're lucky, you'll spot dolphins swimming in the Moray Firth - a scenic body of water that the fort overlooks.
Billed as the most photographed castle in Scotland, and one of the country's most romantic wedding venues, Eilean Donan is a dazzling sight. Linked to the mainland via a stone-arched bridge, it's perched on a little island where three sea lochs meet in the north-western Highlands. Dating to the 13th century, the castle was heavily bombarded during the Jacobite Risings and for almost 200 years, it lay in ruins, abandoned and forgotten before being restored to its former glory in the early 1900s. You might recognise it from its appearance in Highlander, the epic 1986 fantasy movie starring Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert.
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