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.
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.
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.
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 https://www.iloveedinburghtours.com/tours/i-love-edinburgh-castles-history-tour
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. https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/explorer-passes/