Top historic sites in Scotland

St Giles' Cathedral

A parish church was established in Edinburgh as early as 854. This first church, a modest affair, was probably in use for several centuries before a new one was founded in the 1120s. The 12th-century church was part of an effort of the Scottish royal family, especially David I (1124-1153), to spread Catholic worship throughout the Scottish lowlands. This church was probably quite small, Norman (Romanesque) in style, like ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

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

Edinburgh Old Town

Edinburgh Old Town has preserved much of its medieval street plan and many Reformation-era buildings. The 'Royal Mile' is a name coined in the early 20th-century for the main artery of the Old Town which runs on a downwards slope from Edinburgh Castle to both Holyrood Palace and the ruined Holyrood Abbey. Narrow closes (alleyways), often no more than a few feet wide, lead steeply downhill to both north and south ...
Founded: | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Calton Hill

Calton Hill in central Edinburgh is included in the city's UNESCO World Heritage Site. Views of, and from, the hill are often used in photographs and paintings of the city. Calton Hill is the headquarters of the Scottish Government, which is based at St Andrew's House, on the steep southern slope of the hill; with the Scottish Parliament Building, and other notable buildings, for example Holyrood Palace, lying near the f ...
Founded: | 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

Holyrood Palace

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. Located at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century, and is a setting for state occasions and official entertaining. Queen Elizabeth spends ...
Founded: 1671-1678 | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Holyrood Abbey Ruins

Holyrood Abbey was founded in 1128 by King David I. The original abbey church of Holyrood was largely reconstructed between 1195 and 1230. The completed building consisted of a six-bay aisled choir, three-bay transepts with a central tower above, and an eight-bay aisled nave with twin towers at its west front. During the 15th century, the abbey guesthouse was developed into a royal residence, and after the Scottish Reform ...
Founded: 1128 | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Edinburgh New Town

Inspired by the lofty ideals of the Scottish Enlightenment, the neat and ordered grid of the Edinburgh New Town provides an elegant contrast to the labyrinthine design of the Old Town. Its broad streets boast spectacular neoclassical and Georgian architecture, with a wealth of beautiful buildings perfectly preserved since their construction in the 18th and 19th centuries. Visitors are treated to a glimpse of how the city ...
Founded: 18th century | Location: Edinburgh, 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

Inverness Castle

Inverness Castle sits on a cliff overlooking the River Ness. The red sandstone structure evident today was built in 1836 by architect William Burn. It is built on the site of an 11th-century (c. 1057) defensive structure. Today, it houses Inverness Sheriff Court. The castle is said to have been built by Máel Coluim III of Scotland, after he had razed to the ground the castle in which Macbeth of Scotland according ...
Founded: 1836 | Location: Inverness, 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

Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn Chapel was founded on a small hill above Roslin Glen in the mid-15th century. The chapel was founded by William Sinclair, 1st Earl of Caithness of the Scoto-Norman Sinclair family. After the Scottish Reformation (1560), Roman Catholic worship in the chapel was brought to an end, although the Sinclair family continued to be Roman Catholics until the early 18th century. From that time the chapel was closed to ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Roslin, United Kingdom

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral is a historic ruin in Elgin, north-east Scotland. The cathedral, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, was established in 1224 on land granted by King Alexander II. It replaced the cathedral at Spynie, 3 kilometres to the north. The new and bigger cathedral was staffed with 18 canons in 1226 and then increased to 23 by 1242. After a damaging fire in 1270, a rebuilding programme greatly enlarged the building. It w ...
Founded: 1224 | Location: Elgin, United Kingdom

Callanish Stones

The Callanish Stones are an arrangement of standing stones placed in a cruciform pattern with a central stone circle. They were erected in the late Neolithic era, and were a focus for ritual activity during the Bronze Age. Archaeological excavation in the 1980s proved that the main circle was erected 4,500-5,000 years ago, and the chambered tomb a few generations later. The setting has a unique arrangement, with lines of ...
Founded: 3000-2500 BC | Location: Outer Hebrides, United Kingdom

Wallace Monument

The National Wallace Monument is which commemorates Sir William Wallace, a 13th-century Scottish hero. The tower was constructed following a fundraising campaign, which accompanied a resurgence of Scottish national identity in the 19th century. Completed in 1869 to the designs of architect John Thomas Rochead at a cost of £18,000, the monument is a 67-metre sandstone tower, built in the Victorian Gothic style. The ...
Founded: 1869 | Location: Stirling, 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

Skara Brae

Skara Brae is a stone-built Neolithic settlement which consists of eight clustered houses, and was occupied from roughly 3180 BCE–2500 BCE. Europe"s most complete Neolithic village, Skara Brae gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status. As older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids, it has been called the 'Scottish Pompeii' because of its excellent preservation. In the winter of 1850, a severe storm hit Scotland, c ...
Founded: | Location: Orkney, United Kingdom

Iona Abbey

Iona Abbey is one of the oldest and most important religious centres in Western Europe. The abbey was a focal point for the spread of Christianity throughout Scotland and marks the foundation of a monastic community by St. Columba, when Iona was part of the Kingdom of Dál Riata. In 563, Columba came to Iona from Ireland with twelve companions, and founded a monastery. It developed as an influential centre for the ...
Founded: 563 AD | Location: Isle of Iona, United Kingdom

Glamis Castle

Glamis Castle is one of the most impressive, romantic and reputedly haunted castles in Scotland, home to the Bowes Lyon Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne for hundreds of years and with a splendid interior, and set in beautiful gardens and grounds near Forfar in Angus. The vicinity of Glamis Castle has prehistoric traces; for example, a noted intricately carved Pictish stone known as the Eassie Stone was found in a creek- ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Forfar, United Kingdom

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Kisimul Castle

Dating from the 15th century, Kisimul is the only significant surviving medieval castle in the Outer Hebrides. It was the residence of the chief of the Macneils of Barra, who claimed descent from the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages. Tradition tells of the Macneils settling in Barra in the 11th century, but it was only in 1427 that Gilleonan Macneil comes on record as the first lord. He probably built the castle that dominates the rocky islet, and in its shadow a crew house for his personal galley and crew. The sea coursed through Macneil veins, and a descendant, Ruari ‘the Turbulent’, was arrested for piracy of an English ship during King James VI’s reign in the later 16th century.

Heavy debts eventually forced the Macneil chiefs to sell Barra in 1838. However, a descendant, Robert Lister Macneil, the 45th Chief, repurchased the estate in 1937, and set about restoring his ancestral seat. It passed into Historic Scotland’s care in 2000.

The castle dates essentially from the 15th century. It takes the form of a three-storey tower house. This formed the residence of the clan chief. An associated curtain wall fringed the small rock on which the castle stood, and enclosed a small courtyard in which there are ancillary buildings. These comprised a feasting hall, a chapel, a tanist’s house and a watchman’s house. Most were restored in the 20th century, the tanist’s house serving as the family home of the Macneils. A well near the postern gate is fed with fresh water from an underground seam. Outside the curtain wall, beside the original landing-place, are the foundations of the crew house, where the sailors manning their chief’s galley had their quarters.