Castles and gardens of Scotland itinerary

Year of Natural Scotland 2013 logo
Year of Natural Scotland ››

The country’s outstanding natural beauty was celebrated during the Year of Natural Scotland 2013.

The House of Dun and gardens near Montrose, Angus
Gardens and parks ››

Scotland boasts a wide range of stunning parks and gardens in the cities, countryside and castle grounds.

Craigievar Castle
Scotland's Castle Trail ››

Follow Scotland’s dedicated trail to discover dramatic stories behind 18 of Aberdeenshire’s castles.

Follow this nine day itinerary and discover a fantastic selection of Scottish castles and gardens across the country.

  • Looking across Loch Laich over to the ruins of Castle Stalker with the hills of Morvern in the distance, Argyll & The Isles
    A view of Loch Laich over to Castle Stalker with the hills of Morvern in the distance
  • Dawyck Botanic Garden, Scottish Borders
    Dawyck Botanic Garden, Scottish Borders
  • Looking up the drive to Drumlanrig Castle at sunset
    Drumlanrig Castle at sunset
  • Edinburgh Castle and the Ross Fountain, Princes Street Gardens
    Edinburgh Castle and the Ross Fountain, Princes Street Gardens
  • Looking along a garden path to a doorway into Inveraray Castle, Argyll & The Isles
    A garden path leading to a doorway into Inveraray Castle

Begin your quest for Scotland’s castles and gardens in the Scottish Borders. Spend a great historic day out exploring the region's castles and see what intriguing tales you can uncover amongst the centuries-old stone walls. Ponder what life was like for the people who lived here and take gentle strolls around beautiful gardens.

Departing from Edinburgh, head south for Lauder and visit one of the seven ‘Great Houses of Scotland’, Thirlestane Castle. Dating as far back as the 13th century, it boasts a beautiful fairytale-like exterior. Admire the splendour of its turreted roof and its elegant proportions, and take a lovely woodland walk through the small formal garden planted with roses. Although the castle is not open to visitors in 2013 due to remedial works, the grounds are open as usual.

Continue further south to the town of Kelso, the home of the stunning Floors Castle. Situated in the heart of the Scottish Borders and overlooking the River Tweed and Cheviot Hills, Floors Castle is the largest inhabited castle in Scotland and is home to the Duke and Duchess of Roxburgh and their family. Filled to the brim with fine works of art, timeless tapestries and a beautiful collection of antiques, Floors Castle is unique in that it still retains the comfortable, welcoming atmosphere of a family home.

Spend the afternoon exploring the gardens of Melrose. Harmony Garden, set around an early 19th century house, is a beautiful walled garden run by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS). Pop into its sister garden of Priorwood, Scotland’s only dedicated dried flower garden, which is overlooked by the impressive ruins of Melrose Abbey.

Time depending, you could follow the valley of the River Tweed westwards and visit Kailzie Gardens, situated on the south side of the river between Innerleithen and Peebles, close to Traquair House. Alternatively, take an extra day to explore the area. There is Neidpath Castle, an imposing 14th century L-plan tower house on a commanding riverside site just west of Peebles, while Dawyck Botanic Garden nearby offers great walks alongside rare plants and flowers.

Head west for Dumfries & Galloway, a region filled with unspoiled natural beauty, contrasting landscapes and a mesmerising history.

Explore the vast estate and enchanting interior of one of Scotland’s finest stately homes, the magnificent 17th century Drumlanrig Castle in Thornhill, or head for Castle Douglas which is where the wonderful Threave Gardens and Estate is. Situated on an island in the river, ring the bell and the boatman will take you across. Admire the beautiful daffodils in springtime, herbaceous beds ablaze with colour in summer and dense heather gardens in autumn.

Head west for Stranraer and visit the lavish gardens set in 75 acres of outstanding natural beauty at Castle Kennedy and Gardens. The garden is laid out around the castle ruins and is internationally famous for its wide varieties of rhododendron in addition to its vast collection of azaleas, magnolias and embrothriums.

Logan Botanic Garden is not to be missed. Situated at the southern tip of Scotland in Port Logan, it’s unrivalled as the country’s most exotic garden with a remarkable collection of unusual and beautiful plants from the southern hemisphere.

You may want to spend an extra day in Dumfries & Galloway to visit the region’s other imposing castles and gardens.

Visit Caerlaverock Castle, one of Scotland’s greatest medieval fortresses with its moat, twin towered gatehouse and imposing battlements, or head for Kirkcudbright, with its distinctive outline of MacLellan’s Castle on the town’s skyline. Smaller-scale planting schemes such as Ardwell House Gardens and Glenwhan Gardens offer plenty for garden enthusiasts too. Benefiting from the gentle climate and rich soil enjoyed by the region, a number of southern hemisphere plants can be seen flourishing here.

Start your day with a drive north to Ayrshire & Arran, a region characterised by striking contrasts of rolling green hills, dramatic coastline, picturesque beaches and secluded islands.

Culzean Castle and Country Park in Maybole is a perfect place for a day out. Standing on a dramatic clifftop overlooking the Firth of Clyde, you can admire gardens, great architecture or simply soak up some history.

Drive along the west coast, 7 miles north past Dunoon, until you reach Benmore Botanic Garden. This beautiful site is located within Argyll Forest Park in Argyll & The Isles, a region known for its rich culture. Discover dramatic mountainside settings covering approximately 120 acres, and one of the finest entrances to any botanic garden in the world.

Make Inveraray and the romantic Inveraray Castle your next stop. Situated on the shore of Loch Fyne, discover one of Scotland’s finest stately homes. The castle’s beautifully maintained garden and expansive estate offers fantastic stalking, fishing, shooting and walking while the ruggedness of the Highland scenery serves as a spectacular backdrop.

On the fourth day of this itinerary head north to the Highlands to explore castles built near to, and on, the Isle of Skye. Highlights on the way include Castle Stalker on its offshore islet and great views across the narrowing Loch Linnhe with the mountains of Ardgour in the distance. This inspiring region of ancient landscapes, fascinating history and an abundance of wildlife is home to great number of imposing castles and gardens.

Take a ferry from Mallaig across to Armadale on Skye and begin with a visit to Armadale Castle and Gardens, located near Ardvasar on the most southerly point of Skye. Built on the ancient lands of Clan Donald, the castle, museum and gardens offer a wide variety of activities for the whole family.

From there, continue driving west along the coast and visit Dunvegan Castle and Gardens. Built on a rock in an idyllic loch-side setting, Dunvegan is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years. Admire the many fine oil paintings on display, delight in the beauty of its formal garden, or why not take a boat trip to Loch Dunvegan?

Finally, bring the day to a close with a visit to Eilean Donan Castle, an iconic Scottish monument and one of the most photographed places in the country. Strategically located in Kyle of Lochalsh, on its own little island overlooking the Isle of Skye and surrounded by the majestic splendour of the forested mountains of Kintail, Eilean Donan’s setting is truly breathtaking.

Start your day with a drive north east along the famous Loch Ness, and once you reach Drumnadrochit, stop and explore the magnificent Urquhart Castle on the banks of the loch. The castle has a distinctly Highland heritage and has witnessed some of the most dramatic chapters in Scotland’s history.

From there take a short drive to Nairn and discover the romantic Cawdor Castle, the 14th century home of the Thanes of Cawdor, famed for its literary connection to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Full of history, mystery and legend, Cawdor Castle is a fascinating attraction.

In the afternoon pay a visit to Brodie Castle, the ancient seat of Clan Brodie. It’s also said to have literary connections with Shakespeare, located near the hill known as ‘Macbeth’s Hillock’ where Macbeth encountered the ‘Weird Sisters’.

If time is not an issue, you could extend your stay in this area for an extra day and from Inverness head north to explore the northern Highlands, a part of Scotland regularly referred to as one of Europe’s last remaining wildernesses. Follow day six of this itinerary to explore the northern tip of Scotland. Otherwise proceed to day seven.

Royal Family enthusiasts will enjoy a trip to the Castle and Gardens of Mey in Caithness, which was the favourite summer home of Her Majesty The Queen Mother. See the rooms used by the late Queen Mother including her bedroom, dining room and study, or just wander around the grounds and gardens, taking in magnificent scenery across the Pentland Firth to Hoy, the nearest of the Orkney Islands.

Around the coast near Dornoch, architecture lovers can marvel at the stunning French design of Dunrobin Castle. The most northerly of Scotland’s great houses and the largest in the northern Highlands with 189 rooms, Dunrobin Castle dates back to the early 1300s, home to the Earls and later, the Dukes of Sutherland.

Start the day by visiting the magnificent ruins of Huntly Castle. Sitting on the edge of the small town of Huntly, discover this motte-and-bailey style castle dating from the 12th century.

Continue driving south east to Inverurie where the stunning Castle Fraser, one of the grandest of the Scottish baronial tower houses, is located. Explore this elaborate Z-plan castle with its evocative rooms full of Fraser family portraits, antique carpets, curtains and bed hangings. Alternatively you could take a small detour to Fyvie Castle near Turriff. Admire its unique design features, some of which date as far back as the 13th century, stunning Edwardian interiors, and a superb collection of arms, armour and paintings.

If you wish to explore more of Aberdeenshire’s castles, follow Scotland’s Castle Trail, the country’s only dedicated Castle Trail which lets you discover the dramatic stories of 17 of Aberdeenshire’s most famous castles.

Ballater, a picturesque Victorian village surrounded by the glorious countryside, is home to Balmoral Castle, one of the residences of the Royal Family. Located in the heart of the Royal Deeside, Balmoral Castle was purchased by Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert, in 1848 and has been one of residences of the British Royal Family since 1852.

Explore the formal gardens, which were started under the supervision of Prince Albert, and which have been expanded and improved upon by successive members of the Royal Family. Covering some 3 acres, these include Victorian glasshouses and a conservatory. You can visit the gardens, grounds and exhibitions together with the largest room in the castle, the ballroom, between April and July.

Spend an afternoon exploring Glamis Castle by Forfar in Dundee & Angus, a living and breathing monument to Scottish heritage and the family home of the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne. This stunning architectural gem is the legendary setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth as well as the childhood home of HM Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother and the birthplace of Princess Margaret.

Visit in springtime when the mile-long avenue is lined with swathes of daffodils or in summer when you can see dazzling displays of flowering rhododendrons and azaleas. The castle’s grounds are also well worth visiting in autumn when its abundant trees are ablaze with autumnal colours.

On your last day, visit Stirling Castle in Loch Lomond, The Trossachs & The Forth Valley. This is one of Scotland’s most important historic sites where knights, nobles and foreign ambassadors once flocked to revel in its grandeur. With beautiful gardens to unwind in, costumed performers who bring history to life and welcoming staff, the award-winning Stirling Castle is a must-visit family attraction.

The itinerary would not be complete without a visit to Edinburgh Castle. Based right in the heart of Edinburgh & The Lothians and perched on its own volcanic rock at the top of the Royal Mile, this mighty fortification was the favoured residence of Scotland’s kings and queens. Look out for the Crown Room where the Scottish Crown Jewels are kept, the Stone of Destiny upon which Scotland’s monarchs were crowned throughout the ages, the carved lions – a symbol of royalty – and the impressive Great Hall with its Victorian stained-glass windows commemorating Scotland’s kings and queens.

If time permits, finish your day with a visit to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. See the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden which was opened in 2006 by The Queen as the Scottish National Memorial to the late Queen Mother. Featuring a Celtic labyrinth and four secret gardens with rare and unusual plants from around the globe, it is widely acknowledged as one of the finest gardens in the world.

Find more of Scotland’s greatest castles and gardens.