My Most Favourite Castles Near Edinburgh

My Most Favourite Castles Near Edinburgh

At I Love Edinburgh Tours, my aim is to get you off the beaten path and show you that places that you might not see should you stick to the ‘Top 10 List of Things To Do in Edinburgh’.  Yes, of course, Edinburgh Castle is great to see, but it attracts 1.7 million visitors a year, so there’s definitely no chance of you getting the place to yourself!

Let me be your Edinburgh tour guide, and with my three most favourite castles, you’re always likely to find a peaceful corner to revel in the splendour of the castle and get a glimpse of what it may have been like to live there many hundreds of years ago.

Craigmillar Castle

This castle is special to me for so many reasons, but first and foremost because this is where I got married!  On a cold and snowy March day quite a few years ago, my dad and I were escorted into the castle by my uncle and cousin playing the bagpipes.  My husband-to-be’s game of hide and seek with his best men was promptly brought to an end (they had found all the best neuks and crannies in the castle by that time!!) and we were married in front of the huge fireplace in the great hall.  It was amazing to start our journey in a place where so much history had been made before us.

The medieval castle was built in the 14th century, originally as a simple tower house residence for the Preston family and was expanded upon over the next 3 centuries.  It was abandoned in the 18th century by the second owners, the Gilmour family, and fell into ruin, however the bulk of the castle is still accessible.

Mary Queen of Scots stayed here twice, once in 1563 and again in 1566 following the birth of her son (the future King James VI).  The castle is best known for the ‘Craigmillar Bond’ signed here by Mary’s council which resulted in the murder of her husband Lord Darnley in Edinburgh just over two months later.

In recent years the castle has risen to fame as a filming location in big budget TV dramas and films.  It was used as the setting for Ardsmuir Prison in Outlander, where Jamie was kept captive, and also in the Outlaw King as the castle of Robert the Bruce. 

Tantallon Castle

As soon as you set eyes upon Tantallon Castle on your approach, you will understand the magic of this place.  The partially ruined castle is perked on the rocks at the edge of the Firth of Forth looking out to the North Sea and the Bass Rock.

It was built in the mid-1300s by the Earl of Douglas and the castle remained in the family for the next 300 years.  It was besieged on three occasions with the last being by Oliver Cromwell’s army in 1651, which unfortunately caused such destruction that the castle was abandoned afterwards.  However, you can still climb to the top of the curtain walls of the castle and get an insight to the phenomenal battles that took place here.  From the top of the castle you get the most stunning view up the coast and across the Firth of Forth towards Fife, whilst marvelling at all the birds that live within the castle walls!

If you are a bird lover, then make sure you bring your binoculars to look out to the Bass Rock which is home to a colony of gannets, giving it a distinctive white colour (no, the rock is not made of chalk as I was led to believe as a child!!) and has a constant halo of birds flying around it.

Blackness Castle

Compared to Craigmillar and Tantallon, Blackness Castle is just a baby having only been built in the mid-1400s!  It stands further west along the Firth of Forth and was built at the port which served the royal burgh of Linlithgow.  Although originally built as a family home for the Crichton family, it served many roles over the years from a royal castle and garrison fortress and later as an ammunition depot in the First World War.

The main draw of the castle in recent years was it’s extensive use in the filming of the first series of Outlander.  One of the keys scenes filmed here was the graphic depiction of Jamie receiving his lashes in the courtyard of the castle by Black Jack Randall.  As a result, Outlander fans flock here to see the castle, but it’s the location, structure and general atmosphere that make it a favourite of mine. 

Which one for you?

As all our private Edinburgh tours have itineraries tailored especially for you, I can easily incorporate a visit to any of these castles (or even all three if you’d like!) into a day trip from Edinburgh, or for Craigmillar Castle into a day tour in Edinburgh itself, as a stop on an Edinburgh hidden gems tour. Each castle has lots of other great places nearby, so it’s really easy to make a day of it.   You can find more details at

If you want to visit the castles yourself, they are all run by Historic Scotland and cost from £6 entry for an adult.  If you are planning on visiting a few castles, then I’d recommend you purchase an Explorer Pass for your stay, then the entry to all Historic Scotland sites will be included in your pass.

Family Friendly Tour Edinburgh – Our Top 5 Family Activities

My Top 5 Family Activities In and Around Edinburgh

The I Love Edinburgh Tours family love to get our hearts pumping and some adrenalin flowing when we’re on vacation, so we regularly seek out activities to include on our trips away.  Therefore, after a lot of careful thought, and a fair bit of family research (which was amazing fun!!), I’ve compiled our top 5 favourite family activities that you could include in a day trip from Edinburgh.

I Love Edinburgh Tours Family - Canyoning in France
Sea Kayaking

With the proper guide, sea kayaking as a family is a safe and fun activity.  It will enable you to explore the coastlines and habitats of Scotland.  Dunedin Sea Kayaking specialise in the Forth estuary which is rich in wildlife.  If you’re lucky, you may encounter seals or even dolphins and porpoises.  There is also a huge variety of coastal birds along the estuary.

Their kayaks are long, stable and easy to control, so whatever your ability, Dunedin Sea Kayaking will provide an unforgettable experience to suit your needs and requirements. Further details at

Dunedin Sea Kayaking

Outdoor Adventures

Be blown away with the activities on offer at Foxlake Adventures.  If you fancy putting on a wetsuit and making a splash, then the FoxFall ropes course, Ringos and Wakeboarding are the activities for you.  Or if you prefer to stay dry then you can take to the tree tops with the ZipTrail or explore the surrounding woodland at the edge of the John Muir Way by Segway.  However if you’re more of a spectator, then the Boardside café is a ideal place to kick back and relax whilst the more adventurous members of your group burn off some energy.

Foxlake Dunbar

Indoor Climbing

Alien Rock was Scotland’s first dedicated indoor climbing centre and is in a really unusual building – a converted church.  Their climbing is suitable for almost all ages and abilities from complete novice to experienced climbers. It has a large area for roped climbing and has recently built a bouldering centre with lower walls where ropes aren’t required.  My son had an absolutely blast here enjoying a taster session with one of their excellent instructors (see photo).  Please note, hanging upside down is not obligatory!

Rock Climbing at Alien Rock

Snowsports Centre

Although we don’t tend to get much snow in Edinburgh, you can ski, snowboard and go snow tubing all year round on the special all-weather artificial surface at Hillend.  Britain’s largest artificial ski slope is built on the stunning Pentland Hills and has something for every ability of skier.  And should skiing not be your thing, then why not throw yourself down the hill in one of their snow tubes instead – no skill required but lots of fun to be had!!

Snow Tubing at Hillend Snow Sports Centre

Scottish Seabird Centre

Blow away the cobwebs on a boat trip from the Scottish Seabird Centre.  For those with the need for speed there’s a RIB boat trip, and for those less adventurous, there’s their catamaran.  By either mode, you’ll travel around the island of Craigleith and the Bass Rock, which is home to the largest colony of Northern gannets amongst many other birds and also has puffins in certain seasons.   If you’re lucky you may also see seals and dolphins.

I Love Edinburgh Tours can incorporate these options into a day trip from Edinburgh, especially on our family-friendly Edinburgh Tours. For some further ideas on what to include, go to

I Love Edinburgh Tours – a family passion

I Love Edinburgh Tours (and beyond) is a small family business run predominately by me, Hazel.
I’m a mum of two and my passions in life are travelling, family time and good quality food and drink. I’ve lived in Edinburgh all my life and in my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The Scottish countryside and culture are just stunning.

So what better way to bring all my passions together than take visitors on a private Edinburgh tour, to show them not just the fantastic sights that the city itself has to offer, but to get out into the local countryside too.
I want to share my enthusiasm for Scotland by taking visitors to see the hidden gems of Edinburgh, to explore the flora, fauna and history, and artisan food and drink producers.
Since our children were born, my husband and I have not let that curtail our passion for seeing the world, so we’ve travelled extensively with them from a very young age. Some of our best family memories have been created on our trips abroad including Australia, South Africa and the United States, however travelling with children is both very challenging and utterly rewarding in equal measures. I have therefore taken that into consideration for I Love Edinburgh Tours to strike the balance to ensure that everyone from our very young guests to the young at heart are catered for.

When I’m not planning the bespoke itineraries for my tours, being an Edinburgh tour guide or being the company accountant or valeter – well I did say that the company was predominantly run by me!! – you’ll often find me exploring new locations in Scotland with my children. The abundance of stunning locations within a day trip from Edinburgh is astounding, and even if I was to do this for another 100 years, I don’t think I could visit everything.
We’re great fans of family activities and the recent highlights were paddle boarding on the fabulous Loch Tay and canyoning in the South of France, which certainly got the adrenalin going. Watch this space for my next blog on the great family activities that you can include in one of your tours.

As a family we love our holidays together and are looking forward to our trips this year to Geneva and Southern Italy.
The first year of I Love Edinburgh Tours was amazing, meeting so many lovely people from all over the world. I can’t wait to see what the 2019 summer season will bring and to meet more people with whom I can share my passion for Scotland.

For more information on our tours, you’ll find details at