Summer is here and for many of you that means finding ways to keep the kids entertained during the holidays. And where better to spend some quality family time than at one of Scotland’s spellbinding castles?
It might not be top of your list – especially if the thought of young, hyperactive children mixed with historic buildings conjures mortifying thoughts of priceless objects d’art being shattered, stuffy tours and stern sshh-ings from stewards.
But worry not. There are plenty of castles scattered across the land fit to beguile children and grown-ups alike. Take advantage of the extended opening hours this summer and let your imaginations take flight at these stunning attractions.
1. Kelburn Castle and Country Centre
Kelburn belongs to a new breed of stately home which is constantly thinking up quirky things to see and do for visiting families. Its colourful graffitied walls are just one of its unique draws.
Location: Near Fairlie, North Ayrshire
Admission: Entry to the grounds is free, but there is a vehicle parking charge of £5 per car.
Kids will love: Once the children’s areas re-open following winter maintenance, they will love exploring the Secret Forest, a network of winding woodland trails and elevated walkways with surprises waiting round every corner. Then there is the Adventure Course, an aerial playground of suspended walkways and rope swings, not to mention the Stockade, a fort with a 20 ft tower! Younger children can also get stuck in at the Playbarn, an exciting maze of slides, creepy caves, a ball pool, a climbing wall and a castle.
You will love: The chance to experience some of the best horse riding in Scotland. Whether you’re an experienced rider or a complete novice, Kelburn offers everything from gentle paddock rides to hacks around the extensive Kelburn Estate. The castle also hosts children’s birthday parties, wedding, functions and garden parties too.
2. Stirling Castle
Stirling has remained practically the same ever since James V had it built for his French queen in the mid-16th century. He wanted her to feel at home, so he built her this beautiful French Renaissance palace.
Location: Castle Esplanade, Stirling
Admission: Child – £9.60, Adult – £16, Concessions – £12.80
Kids will love: Meeting James V and Mary of Guise. Actors costumed in authentic period attire bring the glamorous world of the Royal Stewart Court vividly to life, while the palace kitchen and vaults offer chance to learn about the lives and work of their humble servants. Join them on the History Hunters Tour held every Saturday and Sunday for a fun but enriching insight into the history of place.
You will love: The architectural grandeur of one of Scotland’s greatest stone castles. The meticulously refurbished Royal Palace with its immense Great Hall, and magnificent views of King’s Knot and Royal Park, make Stirling a joy to explore. Savour the peace and quiet of the Queen Anne Garden as the kids make-believe at being knights and princesses.
3. Scone Palace
The historic crowning places of Scottish kings, Scone Palace may be one of the most hallowed historic sites in all of Scotland, but it is by no means short on child-friendly attractions.
Location: Two miles north of Perth on the A93
Admission: Child – £12, Adult – £16.50, Family – £50 (includes palace and grounds)
Kids will love: The 100 acres of beautifully kept grounds where they can run free, the adventure playground and the Murray Star Maze with its unique tartan inspired design. See who can find their way to the centre and back again the quickest. There are also plenty of resident animals to meet including June the Donkey, miniature Shetland ponies and Highland coos. A tour of the castle itself reveal plenty of surprising treasures that kids will adore from immense stuffed Siberian tigers, to a Hollywood replica of the Coronation Chair which they can take a seat in with the Stone of Destiny nestled beneath.
You will love: Feasting your eyes on all the rare and unusual objects Scone has amassed over the course of its 400-year history, the fascinating story behind the portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle, and the annual Rewind Scotland: The 80s Festival.
4. Blair Castle & Gardens
Every room at Blair Castle & Gardens has a tale to tell, from the grand ballroom to the opulent Derby Suite where Queen Victoria stayed as a guest. The history and splendour on display is breathtaking, but there is plenty to entertain the kids as well.
Location: Blair Atholl, Pitlochry, Perthshire
Admission: Child – £9.50, Adult – £16, Concessions – £13.60, Family – £48 (includes castle and grounds)
Kids will love: Running wild in the Woodland Adventure Playground set within Diana’s Grove beneath the shade of towering firs, or taking part in the Castle Detective Challenge and hunting down castle treasures with the help of picture clues and head-scratching puzzles. Ask at the castle entrance for details.
You will love: The special colouring-in area in the Treasure Room where the kids can keep out of mischief while you take in the marvellous exhibits.
5. Culzean Castle
Set in a 600 acre estate that includes Culzean Country Park, Culzean Castle offers endless possibilities for a jam-packed family day out.
Location: Near Maybole, Ayrshire
Admission: Adult – £17, One parent family – £33.25, Concessions – £12.65, Family – £42.25 (includes castle and grounds)
Kids will love: Visiting the deer and llamas at the Deer Park and the Swan Pond home to ducks, swans and the occasional otter. Many a happy hour can be spent at the fantastic playground, Adventure Cove, or down by the beach, where they can investigate rock pools, paddle about in the shallows or build a sand castle. Remember to pop into the Old Smiddy Toyshop which is crammed with toys, games, books and sweets.
You will love: The daily guided tour of the sumptuous interior which takes in the Round Drawing Room with its panoramic view of the Clyde, the Armoury, which contains one of the world’s largest collections of swords and pistols, and the majestic Oval Staircase. Follow the ‘Happy Valley’ woodland trail to the swan pond where you can sit in the café and admire the local wildlife.
6. Dunrobin Castle
The very French-looking Dunrobin Castle is the most northerly of Scotland’s grand houses and offers a tantalising taste of the aristocratic lifestyle.
Location: Half a mile north of Golspie, Sutherland
Admission: Child – £7.50, Adult – £12.50, Concessions – £10.50, Family – £36.50
Kids will love: Learning about the ancient and noble art of falconry. Join Dunrobin’s resident falconer Andy Hughes on the castle lawn for daily falconry demonstrations with birds of prey including golden eagles, owls and peregrine falcons. Witness these magnificent specimens as they glide, dive and summersault in unison to Andy’s whistles and vocal commands.
You will love: Picturing yourself as a gentlemen or lady of leisure while you wander the breathtakingly lovely formal gardens which lead all the way to the sea, and 22 of its sumptuous 187 rooms which are open to the public.
7. Portencross Castle
Portencross enjoys one of the loveliest settings of any castle in Scotland. Lovingly restored thanks to the efforts of the local community, this 14th century tower house is a true undiscovered gem.
Location: Portencross, West Kilbride, North Ayrshire
Admission: FREE (donations welcomed)
Kids will love: The guided tours led by enthusiastic volunteers, who paint a vivid picture of what it really was like to live in castle. What’s more, the compact size of Portencross – comparable to that of a large house – means its tour is the perfect length for those with restless young children in tow.
You will love: The spectacular view from the castle roof – you simply won’t find a better vantage point of the Firth Clyde.
8. Glamis Castle
Boasting over 600 years of history, Glamis Castle has something to satisfy the curiosity of visitors of all ages.
Location: Near Forfar, Angus
Admission: Child – £10, Adult – £15.50, Concessions – £12, Family – £50.00
Kids will love: Hearing all the supernatural lore and mysteries connected with the castle and exploring the grounds which include a playground and picnic area. Follow the nature trail that runs along the River Dean for the chance to spy heron, otters and kingfishers.
You will love: Taking a guided tour around the splendid childhood home of the late Queen Mother followed by lunch or afternoon tea in the Victorian Kitchen Restaurant.
9. Crathes Castle and Garden
Located just 15 miles from the city centre of Aberdeen, Crathes Castle serves as a storybook backdrop to a whole host of child-friendly activities.
Location: Banchory, Aberdeenshire
Admission: Adult – £14.50, Family – £33, One adult family – £27.50, Concessions – £11
Kids will love: The 240 hectares of formal garden to explore, the adventure playground and Go Ape (Scotland’s No.1 Treetop Adventure), not to mention the craft activities and soft play centre, Arting Around.
You will love: The turrets, ivy-clad walls and ancient yew topiaries echoing a bygone era. Head inside for a treasure trove of antique finery including original painted ceilings, paintings and furnishings.
10. Fyvie Castle
Whether you’re young or old, it’s impossible to resist the charms of Fyvie Castle.
Location: Near Turriff, Aberdeenshire
Admission: Adult – £14.50, Family – £33, One adult family – £27.50, Concessions – £11
Kids will love: The ghost stories and grim tales connected with this ancient building. Ask about the female skeleton uncovered behind a bedroom wall, the unerasable blood stain and the castle’s two curses.
You will love: The lavish Edwardian furnishings and exquisite portrait collection. Take the time to explore the expansive grounds including the 18th century walled garden and walk around the loch.
11. Lochleven Castle
Forever associated with Mary, Queen of Scots, the lonely ruin of Lochleven Castle is steeped in a colourful history filled with many legendary figures.
Location: Passenger boat departs from Mainland Pier, Pier Road, Kinross
Admission: Child – £5.40, Adult – £9, Concessions – £7.20, Under 5s – FREE
Kids will love: Getting to Lochleven which is almost as much fun as exploring the castle itself. Cross the loch by boat to reach the island – just like Mary Queen of Scots and Robert the Bruce!
You will love: Exploring this quiet island with its atmospheric ruins and stepping foot in the very rooms where the tragic Mary spent her lonely imprisonment from 1567–1568 before making her daring bid for freedom.
12. Craigmillar Castle
One of the best-preserved castles in Scotland, Craigmillar is ripe for exploration.
Location: Craigmillar Castle Road, Edinburgh
Admission: Child – £3.60, Adult – £6, Concessions – £4.80, Under 5s – FREE
Kids will love:
Discovering the innumerable nooks and crannies, passageways and concealed staircases. It’s perfect setting for a game of hide and seek.
You will love:
The views of Edinburgh from the top alone make it well worth a visit.