A Not-So-Definitive Ranking of Castles in Scotland

Marloes Krabbe University of Aberdeen, Scotland


December 17, 2019
Currently Studying at: University of Aberdeen, Scotland
Homeschool: The College of Wooster

If you know anything about me, or at least me in Scotland, it’s no surprise that I love castles. If I ever moved to Scotland and got my driver’s license, one of my main goals would be to try to see every single castle in Scotland. It’s safe to say that I am a little bit obsessed. It’s not that I want to be a princess, in fact, I really really don’t want to be a princess. I don’t like having my picture taken, nor do I like being the center of attention – therefore, a princess really isn’t the most appropriate career choice for me. However, I love castles. There’s something so magical about a cold giant old stone building (yes, that many adjectives were necessary). 

Over my semester abroad, I’ve been able to see a fair number of castles. As a girl who’d never seen a castle prior to this year, I still get giddy just thinking about them. Besides the castles in Scotland, I also got to Castle Rosendael in Arnhem, Netherlands and Dublin Castle in Ireland. I also got to see the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh, although it is not a castle, I still highly recommend a visit. As cheesy as it sounds, each castle I have visited holds a special place in my heart. But, like anything else, some were better than others – and so begins my not-so-definitive ranking of castles in Scotland. 

  1. New Slains Castle – I went to New Slains on a windy and rainy Saturday afternoon. New Slains is right on the coast with a beautiful view of the ocean. On this particular occasion, the ocean was going absolutely crazy. While speaking with a local, he said he’d never seen the ocean so active and intense. It’s safe to say I felt that intensity first hand as I ventured down closer to the ocean only to run away seconds later as a giant wave splashed the entire left side of my body. New Slains is a perfect example of the rugged beauty of Scotland. A ruin, with no admission fee, and barely any people looking about, it was everything I thought of when I imagined visiting a castle. Walking through the walls and various rooms, I could almost hear the voices and cries of days gone by. 
  2. Dunnottar Castle – Dunnottar was the first castle I visited with all the girls I would become friends with during my time abroad. It was our first adventure the week before classes began. Unlike at New Slains, the day was beautiful and warm (I even took my jacket off). The castle was the perfect combination of ruins and information. Each room had a small placard stating what it was during the castle’s use. After the castle, we walked to the town of Stonehaven. I was completely awestruck at the beauty of the walk.
  3. Doune Castle – If you’ve watched Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail, Outlander, or Game of Thrones, this castle is a must. And even if you haven’t seen any of them, it is still worth a visit. The castle is the perfect combination of manufactured castle made to visit, and nooks and crannies left to explore. Not to mention, the surrounding area is fun to walk around in. It is situated in a cute little town, with a bus to and from Stirling that runs every hour.
  4. Stirling Castle – This castle is like a smaller, less chaotic, and, in my opinion, a better version of Edinburgh Castle. It, like Doune, straddles the line between a museum-like atmosphere, and a fun place to explore, quite nicely. It is an easy castle to visit on the same day as Doune. However, you should definitely prepare for wind. Wowie!
  5. Balmoral Castle – Balmoral Castle is the royal family’s holiday estate. It is tucked deep within the Cairngorms National Park. Because of this, the two-hour bus ride from downtown Aberdeen to the estate is beyond gorgeous. If you’re from the States like me, think Colorado on steroids. However, be aware that it is much colder there than in Aberdeen. We went on the Winter Tours. Our tour guides were wonderful, we got tea and shortbread, and we even got to see a Prince Albert’s Pyramid Memorial from afar. Furthermore, our tour guides had met the royal family on numerous occasions, so basically, I met the royal family. 
  6. Craigievar Castle – Who doesn’t love a pink castle? Lived in until the mid-20th century, Craigievar isn’t a castle in ruins. Each year it is closed down for months to be cared for, and it shows. We went on a guided tour that was supposed to be 45 minutes but somehow turned into 2 hours. It was cold and long, but incredibly interesting – and we got to climb all the way to the roof, which was absolutely fantastic. If you ever need to feel like a million bucks, stand on top of a castle.
  7. Eilean Donan Castle – While going to the Isle of Skye, I was able to see this castle. Alas, there was a wedding about to begin (the bride was late). It was rainy, but the beauty of the castle shone through. 
  8. Urquhart Castle – While on the way back from the Isle of Skye, I was also able to see this castle. We weren’t able to go in because it was late in the evening; however, like Eilean Donan, I was able to admire it from afar.
  9. Edinburgh Castle – Okay, I must admit that I have a bone to pick with Edinburgh Castle. Don’t get me wrong, it’s visually stunning and there is so much to see. The overwhelming amount to see is part of the problem. Crammed between tourists, you are pushed from one place to another. If I counted correctly, there are three different war/military museums on the grounds. In all the things to see, Edinburgh Castle loses the parts of castles that I love the most – the just being. There’s a beauty to standing silently in a castle and just feeling the past. You can’t do that at Edinburgh Castle. There are too many people in the present for you to even be able to think about that past.