Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city and its former industrial hub, is hardy by nature. The city’s got grit. And nothing shows off its rebellious core more than its iconic castles; these medieval fortresses have withstood wars, sieges and royal disputes for many a blood-soaked century. From Celtic creations to palatial keeps, we have the local scoop on Glasgow’s closest – and most momentous – castles.
Driving west of Glasgow takes you deep into the rugged moors of Clyde Muirshiel, where Kelburn Castle, built in 1143, still stands. While the interior is everything a castle should be – lavish staircases, four-poster beds, Victorian oil paintings and winding staircases – the exterior does things a little differently. In 2007, Patrick Boyle, the castle’s current owner, invited four Brazilian graffiti artists to cover the front facade in riotous, loud murals. The result? One very trippy castle – and one disgruntled government board. The Kelburn Castle grounds boast a pleasure garden, a secret waterfall and the famous weeping larch, a mutant tree that has been sprouting gravity-defying branches for more than 180 years. Recommended by local insider Austin Yuill
Built for the Duke of Albany in the 14th century, this medieval fortress sits on a strategic bend of the River Teith – just an hour’s drive from Glasgow. Doune Castle is a labyrinth of brick corridors and dark passages. If it rings a bell, that’s probably because you’ve seen it disguised as Winterfell in the Game of Thrones pilot episode. Other screen credits for this castle include Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and the Scottish drama series Outlander. It’s one of the most complete ruins still standing near Glasgow, which says a lot when you consider that Cromwell set his sights (and his troops) on it in 1654. Recommended by local insider Austin Yuill
This yellow stone chateau is stationed on the cliffs of Ayrshire, overlooking the turbulent seas of the Firth of Clyde. Culzean Castle smacks of money – and not just because it was featured on the back of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s five pound note. Rather, when the famous architect, Robert Adams, renovated it in the 1770s (per request of David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassillis), he was going for something gaudy. So you can see its splendour for yourself, a number of its trademark neo-classical Georgian rooms, including the famous Oval Staircase, are open to the public all year round. History buffs, take note: in 2018, archaeologists working on Culzean Castle beach uncovered a medieval door to a network of subterranean caves allegedly used by smugglers and fugitives. Recommended by local insider Austin Yuill
Today it’s roofless and ruined, but this renaissance castle was once (literally) fit for a king, with an opulent facade seemingly plucked from the pages of a Grimm’s fairytale. Many a royal babe were born here, including James V, Mary Queen of Scots and Princess Elizabeth. In its heyday, the palace was used as a touchpoint for travellers between Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle, though it fell into disrepair after bearing the brunt of a fire back in the 1400s. Linlithgow is Scottish for loch in the damp hollow. In summer, the lake is packed with sailing boats, kayakers and canoeists. And if all that boating makes you peckish, consider a hearty bowl of cullen skink in town, a local soup made from smoked haddock, a royal favourite from back in the day. Recommended by local insider Austin Yuill
This nautical fortress juts out to sea from the banks of the Firth of Forth in Linlithgow. It was originally built for the Crichton Clan, a powerful Scottish family – before James II decided he liked the look of it, and took it in the name of the crown. Nicknamed the ship that never sailed as it’s likened to a boat run aground, Blackness Castle was used as a lookout for invading ships, a state prison and an army garrison. Today, it’s managed by Historic Scotland, and visitors can enter its stark, rugged walls and tour the areas still standing. Recommended by local insider Austin Yuill
Six times besieged, Bothwell Castle was built in the Middle Ages to guard the River Clyde – and was a prominent base throughout the Wars of Independence. You’ll need a strong stomach to visit, as the castle features a medieval donjon (dungeon) and elaborate torture chamber used for unfortunate prisoners during battles. The castle grounds also feature a 18-hole flat golf course, where visitors and club members alike can enjoy a few rounds. (Tip: golf is a Scottish game, and don’t try telling locals otherwise, unless you want to enrage them). Recommended by local insider Austin Yuill