One of the most notable things about Scotland is that no matter where you are, a castle is never very far away. It is estimated that there are more than 2,000 castles in Scotland and these range from romantic ruins to fairytale turreted palaces to commanding fortresses, plus everything in between.
Last year we had Historic Scotland passes and although it wasn’t really the best year for visiting anywhere due to being in lockdown or stuck in almost castle-less Glasgow for much of it, we still managed to get out to use our passes and explore some of the rich history that Scotland has to offer.
Now I do know that the thought of kids hurtling around the rooms of a castle being shooshed by staff, and having priceless objects flying about the place in their wake doesn’t sound like a lovely, stress free day out. But I promise there are some really child friendly castles around; castles that both kids and adults will enjoy exploring.
The kids mostly just enjoy seeing what they can find when roaming around a castle, playing hide and seek or pirates or seeing if they fit inside huge old fireplaces or attempting to climb things they’re not allowed to climb… I tend to let them explore a bit while I read signs and occasionally impart some of my own newly acquired knowledge to them. Maybe one day they’ll be interested in reading the signs themselves, but for now I’m happy to feed them tidbits of info while they appreciate the magic that comes with these old wonderful spaces.
Here are some of our favourite properties we have managed to visit using our Historic Scotland family pass.
This moated fairytale castle, located just a few miles south of Dumfries, is truly spectacular. Caerlaverock Castle is shaped almost like a triangle, with towers at the corners and is situated in the middle of a nature reserve. The play area at Caerlaverock is really fun for kids, with wooden bridges and a big slide. If you visit the cafe I’d recommend grabbing a delicious high tea. The kids meals are great too.
Entry to the castle costs £6 for adults, £4.80 for concessions, £3.50 for kids and it’s free for under 5’s. Historic Scotland members get free entry with a valid pass.
St Andrews Castle
Dramatically situated on the edge of a cliff, St Andrews Castle is a ruin with a lot of history. Kids will love exploring the castle and heading down the mine. There’s a whole story behind the mine which is pretty interesting, involving the mine and a siege and a counter-mine. The visitor centre display is decent for older kids too.
Entry to the castle costs £9 for adults, £7.20 for concessions, £5.40 for kids and it’s free for under 5’s. Historic Scotland members get free entry with a valid pass.
Machrie Moor Standing Stones
This rich archaeological site of the Machrie Moor Standing Stones are perfect for families to explore. It’s not too strenuous for anyone and this is definitely one of my favourite walks on Arran for families. The Machrie Moor standing stones are beautiful and impressive and honestly, a little bit magical.
Entry to Machrie Moor is free.
Located near Linlithgow in West Lothian, Blackness Castle is a stunning castle, built in the 15th century by one of Scotland’s most powerful families. It is situated on the banks of the Firth of Forth and the views out across the water are quite beautiful. Since it was built, Blackness has been used as a royal castle, a prison, and more recently as a filming location for quite a few different TV and movie productions. Most recently Blackness has featured in Outlander, in the 2018 movie ‘Mary Queen of Scots’, and in the 2018 Netflix movie ‘Outlaw King’.
Entry to the castle costs £6 for adults, £4.80 for concessions, £3.60 for kids and it’s free for under 5’s. Historic Scotland members get free entry with a valid pass.
Sitting atop a volcanic plug on the edge of the River Clyde, Dumbarton Castle is an impressive feature, inaccessible on all sides. Take a walk along the castle walls, and head up the 500 steps to explore this stronghold that was the centre of the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde. Dumbarton Castle has stood in some form since 1220, and has served as a royal palace, fortress, military base and prison over its extensive history. The castle was sacked by the Vikings, sheltered Mary Queen of Scots, and is said to even have been visited by Merlin himself.
Entry to Dumbarton Castle costs £6 for adults, £4.80 for concessions, £3.60 for kids and it’s free for under 5’s. Historic Scotland members get free entry with a valid pass.
Explore the dramatic hills and crags of Edinburgh’s famous Holyrood Park. Climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat, the highest point in Edinburgh and the remains of an extinct volcano, where you will get 360º views over Scotland’s capital city, the Firth of Forth, and the Pentland hills to the south. Take a wander round Duddingston Loch and St Margarets Loch, and check out the ruins of Saint Anthony’s Chapel while you’re there. There are loads of walks and routes to take through the park, and the road is closed to traffic at weekends making it a great place for a wander with wheels. (Though you won’t be able to get up Arthur’s seat with a buggy or a scooter!)
Entry to Holyrood Park is free.
One of the most beautiful castles in Scotland, Castle Campbell is situated at the top of Dollar Glen in Clackmannanshire. This is a great castle to roam; it has lots of rooms and a few spiral staircases to explore. The terraced gardens are stunning in summertime and a great place just to sit and take in the beauty around you (though if your kids are anything like mine they will play tig and roll about on the grass instead.) The walk up through Dollar Glen itself is worth the trip!
Entry to Castle Campbell costs £6 for adults, £4.80 for concessions, £3.60 for kids and it’s free for under 5’s. Historic Scotland members get free entry with a valid pass.
Located between the town of Linlithgow to its South and Linlithgow Loch to its North, the beautiful roofless remains of Linlithgow Palace are well worth a visit for families. This palace was the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, and has a long, interesting history for those with the time to read the signs on your way around. Kids will really enjoy exploring Linlithgow Palace; there are lots of big open rooms and staircases all over the place. There are basement rooms, formerly used as kitchens and cellars, and you can see for miles from the top of Queen Margaret’s Bower. The fountain in the centre of the courtyard is a stunning feature with unicorns and lions and all sort of interesting things for kids to spot. One of our favourites for sure.
Entry to the palace costs £9 for adults, £7.20 for concessions, £5.40 for kids and it’s free for under 5’s. Historic Scotland members get free entry with a valid pass.
This is an ongoing list. It will be updated as we visit more Historic Scotland sites.