Top historic sites in Scotland

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

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

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

Falkland Palace

Falkland Palace is a royal palace of the Scottish Kings. Before Falkland Palace was built a hunting lodge existed on the site in the 12th century. This lodge was expanded in the 13th century and became a castle which was owned by the Earls of Fife, the famous Clan MacDuff. Between 1501 and 1541 Kings James IV and James V transformed the old castle into a beautiful renaissance royal palace. Falkland was included in the &a ...
Founded: 1501-1541 | Location: Falkland, United Kingdom

Blair Castle

Blair Castle is the ancestral home of the Clan Murray, and was historically the seat of their chief, the Duke of Atholl. Blair Castle is said to have been started in 1269 by John I Comyn, Lord of Badenoch. John Murray, son of the second Earl of Tullibardine, was created Earl of Atholl in 1629, and the title has since remained in the Murray family. During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms of the 17th century, the Murrays su ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Blair Atholl, 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

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

Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle has been the Scottish home of the Royal Family since it was purchased for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852, having been first leased in 1848. The castle is an example of Scots Baronial architecture. King Robert II of Scotland (1316–1390) had a hunting lodge in the area. Historical records also indicate that a house at Balmoral was built by Sir William Drummond in 1390. A tower house was buil ...
Founded: 1852 | Location: Ballater, United Kingdom

Inchcolm Abbey

Inchcolm Abbey is a medieval abbey located on the island of Inchcolm in the Firth of Forth in Scotland. The Abbey, which is located at the centre of the island, was founded in the 12th century during the episcopate of Gregoir, Bishop of Dunkeld. Later tradition placed it even earlier, in the reign of King Alexander I of Scotland (1107–24), who probably had some involvement in the island; he was apparently ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Inchcolm, United Kingdom

Bothwell Castle

Bothwell Castle is a large medieval castle, sited on a high, steep bank, above a bend in the River Clyde. Construction of the castle was begun in the 13th century by the ancestors of Clan Murray, to guard a strategic crossing point of the Clyde. Bothwell played a key role in Scotland's Wars of Independence, changing hands several times. The huge cylindrical donjon was built in the 13th century, but before the rest of the ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Bothwell, United Kingdom

Jarlshof

Jarlshof is the best known prehistoric archaeological site in Shetland Islands. It lies near the southern tip of the Shetland Mainland and has been described as 'one of the most remarkable archaeological sites ever excavated in the British Isles'. It contains remains dating from 2500 BC up to the 17th century AD. The Bronze Age settlers left evidence of several small oval houses with thick stone walls and various artefact ...
Founded: 2500 BC | Location: Shetland, United Kingdom

Castle of Mey

The Castle of Mey (formerly Barrogill Castle) and surrounding lands belonged to the Bishops of Caithness. The castle of Mey was built between 1566 and 1572, possibly on the site of an earlier fortification, by George Sinclair, 4th Earl of Caithness. Originally a Z-plan tower house of three storeys, it had a projecting wing at the south-east, and a square tower at the north-west. The Castle passed to George Sinclair"s youn ...
Founded: 1566-1572 | Location: Caithness, United Kingdom

Duffus Castle

Duffus Castle, near Elgin, was a motte-and-bailey castle and was in use from c.1140 to 1705. During its occupation it underwent many alterations. Freskin (died before 1171) was a Flemish nobleman who settled in Scotland during the reign of King David I, becoming the progenitor of the Murray and Sutherland families, and possibly others. He built the great earthwork and timber motte-and-bailey castle in c. 1140 on boggy gr ...
Founded: c. 1140 | Location: Elgin, United Kingdom

Fortrose Cathedral Ruins

Fortrose Cathedral was the episcopal seat of the medieval Scottish diocese of Ross. It is probable that the original site of the diocese was at Rosemarkie (as early as AD 700), but by the 13th century the canons had relocated a short distance to the south-west to the site known as Fortrose or Chanonry. The first recorded bishop, from around 1130, was Macbeth. According to Gervase of Canterbury, in the early 13th century t ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Fortrose, United Kingdom

Forth Bridge

The Forth Bridge is a cantilever railway bridge over the Firth of Forth. It is considered an iconic structure and a symbol of Scotland, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was designed by the English engineers Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker. Construction of the bridge began in 1882 and it was opened on 4 March 1890 by the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII. The bridge spans the Forth between the villages ...
Founded: 1882-1890 | Location: Queensferry, United Kingdom

Craigievar Castle

Craigievar Castle was the seat of Clan Sempill and the Forbes family resided here for 350 years until 1963, when the property was given to the National Trust for Scotland. The setting is among scenic rolling foothills of the Grampian Mountains. The contrast of its massive lower storey structure to the finely sculpted multiple turrets, gargoyles and high corbelling work create a classic fairytale appearance. An e ...
Founded: 1626 | Location: Alford, United Kingdom

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Quimper Cathedral

From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.

The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.

At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.

The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.

The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.

Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).

The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.

At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».

The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.