Medieval castles in Scotland

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is a historic fortress which dominates the skyline of the city of Edinburgh from its position on the Castle Rock. Archaeologists have established human occupation of the rock since at least the Iron Age (2nd century AD), although the nature of the early settlement is unclear. There has been a royal castle on the rock since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a r ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle is one of the largest and most important castles, both historically and architecturally, in Scotland. The castle is a great symbol of Scottish Independence and a source of enduring national pride. Its strategic location, guarding what was, until the 1890s, the farthest downstream crossing of the River Forth, has made it an important fortification from the earliest times. Stirling Castle is a Scheduled Anci ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Stirling, United Kingdom

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle dominates a rocky promontory jutting into Loch Ness. That promontory has hosted some famous names in its long history. Around AD 580 St Columba was making the long journey from his monastery on the island of Iona to the court of Bridei, king of the Picts, at Inverness. As he was passing up Loch Ness, he was called to the residence of an elderly Pictish nobleman at Airdchartdan (Urquhart). Emchath was close ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Highland, United Kingdom

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most recognised castles in Scotland. It is, without doubt, a Scottish icon and certainly one of the most popular visitor attractions in the Highlands. When you first set eyes on it, it is easy to understand why so many people flock to its stout doors year after year. Strategically located on its own little island, overlooking the Isle of Skye, at the point where three great sea-lochs meet ...
Founded: c. 1250 | Location: Highland, United Kingdom

St Andrews Castle

St Andrews Castle is a ruin located in the coastal Royal Burgh of St Andrews. The castle sits on a rocky promontory overlooking a small beach called Castle Sands. There has been a castle standing at the site since the times of Bishop Roger (1189-1202), son of the Earl of Leicester. It housed the burgh’s wealthy and powerful bishops while St Andrews served as the ecclesiastical centre of Scotland during the years before ...
Founded: 1400 | Location: St Andrews, United Kingdom

Bishop's Palace

The Bishop"s Palace, Kirkwall was built at the same time as the adjacent St Magnus Cathedral. It was built for the cathedral"s first bishop, William the Old of the Norwegian Catholic church who took his authority from the Archbishop of Nidaros (Trondheim). The ruined structure now looks like a small castle. Originally it is thought to have been like a typical Royal Norwegian Palace, with a large rectangular hal ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Kirkwall, United Kingdom

Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle is a ruined medieval fortress located upon a rocky headland on the north-east coast of Scotland. The surviving buildings are largely of the 15th and 16th centuries, but the site is believed to have been fortified in the Early Middle Ages. Dunnottar has played a prominent role in the history of Scotland through to the 18th-century Jacobite risings because of its strategic location and defensive st ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Stonehaven, United Kingdom

Doune Castle

Doune Castle was originally built in the thirteenth century, then probably damaged in the Scottish Wars of Independence, before being rebuilt in its present form in the late 14th century by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany (c. 1340–1420), the son of King Robert II of Scots, and Regent of Scotland from 1388 until his death. Duke Robert"s stronghold has survived relatively unchanged and complete, and the whole castle w ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Doune, United Kingdom

Craigmillar Castle

Craigmillar is one of Scotland’s most perfectly preserved castles. It began as a simple tower-house residence. Gradually, over time, it developed into a complex of structures and spaces, as subsequent owners attempted to improve its comfort and amenity. As a result, there are many nooks and crannies to explore. The surrounding gardens and parkland were also important. The present-day Craigmillar Castle Park has fascina ...
Founded: c. 1375-1425 | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Aberdour Castle

Aberdour Castle is located in the village of Easter Aberdour. Parts of the castle date from around 1200, making Aberdour one of the two oldest datable standing castles in Scotland, along with Castle Sween in Argyll, which was built at around the same time. The earliest part of the castle comprised a modest hall house, on a site overlooking the Dour Burn. Over the next 400 years, the castle was successively expanded accor ...
Founded: c. 1200 | Location: Aberdour, United Kingdom

Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle was the seat of Clan MacLeod chiefs. Dunvegan Castle is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the stronghold of the chiefs of the clan for 800 years. A curtain wall was built round the hill in the 13th century around a former Norse fort which was only accessible through a sea gate. A castle was constructed within the curtain wall by Malcolm MacLeod around 1350. Today Dunvegan c ...
Founded: c. 1350 | Location: Isle of Skye, United Kingdom

Dornoch Castle

Dornoch Castle was built around 1500 as the home of the bishops of Caithness. Bishop Robert Stewart gifted the castle to John Gordon, 11th Earl of Sutherland in 1557. In 1570 the castle was set alight in a feud between the McKays and Murrays. The rebuilding which followed included the addition of the upper part of the tower. The castle decayed during the 18th century, but was restored in 1813–1814 to serve as a scho ...
Founded: c. 1500 | Location: Dornoch, United Kingdom

Cawdor Castle

Cawdor Castle is built around a 15th-century tower house, with substantial additions in later centuries. Originally a property of the Clan Calder, it passed to the Campbells in the 16th century. It remains in Campbell ownership, and is now home to the Dowager Countess Cawdor, stepmother of Colin Campbell, 7th Earl Cawdor. The castle is perhaps best known for its literary connection to William Shakespeare"s tragedy M ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Cawdor, United Kingdom

Broughty Castle

Broughty Castle was erected in 1490 by the 2nd Lord Gray, on a charter from James IV, in response to increased English naval activity. It was taken without a shot fired by the English in 1547, and reclaimed by the Scots two and a half years later. The castle fell back into English hands in 1651. In 1860 the threat of French invasion prompted Broughty’s conversion from a ruin to a modern artillery defence. The castle wa ...
Founded: 1490 | Location: Dundee, United Kingdom

Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle is the most northerly of Scotland's great houses and the largest in the Northern Highlands with 189 rooms. It is also one of Britain's oldest continuously inhabited houses dating back to the early 1300s. Dunrobin Castle has been called home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland since the 13th century and was first mentioned as a stronghold of the family in 1401. The castle stands possibly on the site of an ...
Founded: 13th/19th century | Location: Highland, United Kingdom

Kilchurn Castle

Kilchurn Castle is a ruined 15th and 17th century structure on a rocky peninsula at the northeastern end of Loch Awe. It was the ancestral home of the Campbells of Glen Orchy, who later became the Earls of Breadalbane also known as the Breadalbane family branch, of the Clan Campbell. The earliest construction on the castle was the towerhouse and Laich Hall. Kilchurn Castle was built in about 1450 by Sir Colin Campbell, f ...
Founded: c. 1450 | Location: Argyll and Bute, United Kingdom

Dumbarton Castle

Dumbarton Castle has the longest recorded history of any stronghold in Scotland. It overlooks the Scottish town of Dumbarton and guards the point where the River Leven joins the River Clyde. Its recorded history reaches back 1,500 years. At that time the place was known as Alt Clut, ‘Rock of the Clyde’. Later it became known by the Gaelic name Dun Breatann, ‘Fortress of the Britons’, from which the ...
Founded: c. 1220 | Location: Dumbarton, United Kingdom

Dunstaffnage Castle

Dunstaffnage Castle is one of the oldest stone castles in Scotland. It guards the seaward approach from the Firth of Lorn to the Pass of Brander – and thereby the heart of Scotland. The castle was built around 1220, probably by Duncan MacDougall, son of Dubhgall, Lord of Lorn, and grandson of the great Somerled ‘King of the Isles’. These were stirring times in Argyll, because of the remarkable struggle b ...
Founded: c. 1220 | Location: Argyll and Bute, United Kingdom

Castle Campbell

Castle Campbell was the lowland seat of the earls and dukes of Argyll, chiefs of Clan Campbell, from the 15th to the 19th century. The naturally defended position may have been the site of a motte in the 12th century. The present tower was built in around 1430 for John Stewart, Lord Lorne (d.1463), or one of his kinsmen. About 1460, the property was acquired by Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll (d.1493), on his marriage ...
Founded: c. 1430 | Location: Dollar, United Kingdom

Rothesay Castle Ruins

Rothesay Castle ruins has been described as one of the most remarkable in Scotland for its long history dating back to the beginning of the 13th century, and its unusual circular plan. The castle comprises a huge curtain wall, strengthened by four round towers, together with a 16th-century forework, the whole surrounded by a broad moat. Built by the Stewart family, it survived Norse attacks to become a royal residence. Th ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Rothesay, United Kingdom

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Derbent Fortress

Derbent is the southernmost city in Russia, occupying the narrow gateway between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains connecting the Eurasian steppes to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south. Derbent claims to be the oldest city in Russia with historical documentation dating to the 8th century BCE. Due to its strategic location, over the course of history, the city changed ownership many times, particularly among the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms.

Derbent has archaeological structures over 5,000 years old. As a result of this geographic peculiarity, the city developed between two walls, stretching from the mountains to the sea. These fortifications were continuously employed for a millennium and a half, longer than any other extant fortress in the world.

A traditionally and historically Iranian city, the first intensive settlement in the Derbent area dates from the 8th century BC. The site was intermittently controlled by the Persian monarchs, starting from the 6th century BC. Until the 4th century AD, it was part of Caucasian Albania which was a satrap of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. In the 5th century Derbent functioned as a border fortress and the seat of Sassanid Persians. Because of its strategic position on the northern branch of the Silk Route, the fortress was contested by the Khazars in the course of the Khazar-Arab Wars. In 654, Derbent was captured by the Arabs.

The Sassanid fortress does not exist any more, as the famous Derbent fortress as it stands today was built from the 12th century onward. Derbent became a strong military outpost and harbour of the Sassanid empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries, Derbent also became an important center for spreading the Christian faith in the Caucasus.

The site continued to be of great strategic importance until the 19th century. Today the fortifications consist of two parallel defence walls and Naryn-Kala Citadel. The walls are 3.6km long, stretching from the sea up to the mountains. They were built from stone and had 73 defence towers. 9 out of the 14 original gates remain.

In Naryn-Kala Citadel most of the old buildings, including a palace and a church, are now in ruins. It also holds baths and one of the oldest mosques in the former USSR.

In 2003, UNESCO included the old part of Derbent with traditional buildings in the World Heritage List.