Scotland Part 1: Three Castles & A Palace

Castle Urquhart

Scotland has been on my list for a long time. It’s a country of great history, romance, and allure. And yes, I love Jamie from Outlander and therefore believe that Scotland must be a land full of Jamies’.

While I didn’t end up bringing home a Jamie of my own, I did have a wonderful time in Scotland. The country stole my heart, even with its cold rainy climate.

There was a lot to see, I was there for twelve days, so I’ll be splitting the trip into two separate posts. Part two, featuring the cities of Scotland, can be seen here.

Three Castles & A Palace

There are alot of Castles in Scotland. I don’t actually know how many. A quick internet search tells me that there have been over 2000 castles in the history of Scotland. Which I now regret googling, since it makes my trip seem less accomplished as I only managed to see four in my twelve days there. Well three castles, and a palace.

Inverness Castle

The Inverness Castle is lovely, especially at night. It can be seen from almost anywhere in Inverness due to its location high on a cliff overlooking the city. As I discovered with every castle in Scotland the entire building has been torn down and rebuilt many times. Seems to happen that when you build a huge castle as a defensive structure, other people are going to come try to knock it down or take it. I sort of had the same experience building legos as a kid. Yeah, exactly the same experience!

Scotland Castles

Inverness Castle during the day with the Flora McDonald statue

The current version of Inverness Castle was built in 1836 and has not yet been knocked down (are we becoming less warlike? Could I start playing with Legos again?) It is strangely being used as courthouse now. Well strange to me at least. Maybe its a European thing but I would feel very odd walking into a beautiful ancient castle to pay my speeding tickets. Because of its use as a government building I wasn’t able to go inside but walking up to the Castle was more than worth it, just for the view of Inverness it provides.

Scotland Castles

Inverness Castle at Night

Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the Queen’s official residence while she is in Scotland. Like most vacations homes, she only uses it for one week a year. Though when I asked about timeshare options, I was greeted with an un-amused blank stare.

Aside from that one week a year, the Palace is open for public tours, though many of the private rooms are off limits. You can’t go visit the Queen’s toilet for example, because the woman deserves some privacy after all. I took a limited edition night tour of the Palace which does include a view of rooms not open during the day. My tour guide was great and managed to cram tons of facts and trivia into a few short hours. Every single thing in this Palace, right down to the rugs and chairs, has a history and story attached to it. Which I found a bit intimidating. I can’t imagine that a chair with 300 years of history would be at all comfortable to sit on. Maybe best to stick with my $50 ikea chair…

There are no pictures allowed inside the Palace so all I can share with you is this one of the exterior.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Palace of Holyroodhouse at night

My favorite part of the Palace was the elaborate and detailed Christmas decorations (which were probably also 300 years old). I imagine that even in the normal season the Palace is lovely but there was something especially magical about seeing it all decked out for Christmas. As another treat, this tour also included Champagne and mince pies. So now I can officially say that I have had Champagne in the Queens Palace. Which I do like saying.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle sits on the cleverly named Castle Rock, and like the Inverness Castle has a great view of the entire city below. There has been some sort of structure on this point since the Iron Ages. The current structure is a collection of several buildings some as old as the 12th century and as new as the 17th.

Scotland Castles

Close up of Edinburgh Castle Entrance

I used the self-guided audio tour option and spent about three hours just wandering around all the different buildings. This castle holds the dubious honor and title of being the “most besieged castle in the UK”. And has played host to multiple Royal intrigues and soap operas.

Scotland Castles

Ominous and intimidating Edinburgh Castle, on a gloomy Scottish day!

This Castle also holds the title of the “most visited paid tourist attraction in Scotland”. So it has gone from being besieged by war, to being besieged by tourists. And I cant tell which version was harder on the castle! Many of the interiors are off limits, but that did not seem to impact the crowds at all. There were hundreds of people there, and tour buses lined the streets for miles. Fortunately due to the massive size of the castle, it didn’t feel crowded and by taking the audio tour I was largely able to avoid the humans.

Scotland Castles

Towers at Edinburgh Castles

In addition to the castle structure itself, there are a several great artifacts to see here. The Honors of Scotland (which are the Crown Jewels, yeah that’s a real thing), the Stone of Destiny (which is sort of just a normal looking stone but is cool because hundreds of Royal butts have set on it), and the medieval siege cannon which was important enough to get its own name, Mons Meg. You cant take pictures of any of those things. So here is a wall mural instead.

Scotland Castles

Wall mural of the Kings of Scotland in Edinburgh Castle

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle is more ruin than structure at this point, but it does sit on the most ideal location. Right on the banks of Loch Ness.

Scotland Castles

This is what remains of the Castle after its long violent history.

This poor Castle has had a rough time of it, surviving multiple take overs and sieges in its long history. It has earned its gentle retirement as a photo spot for tourists. Even on an overcast day (which lets be honest, you will have more often than not in Scotland) the area is pretty. The loch provides stunning views from every angle.

Scotland Castles

View of Loch Ness from the base of Urquhart Castle

In the end I didn’t make it to 2000 castles, but the few I saw were interesting enough. There is just something impactful about wandering through an ancient place, touching walls that are already older than you will ever be, and trying to imagine the life of someone living there.

How-To Guide

If you want to see the exact things I saw in this post, this is how to do it.

Book a flight to Scotland: I use a combination of Skyscanner, Kayak, Hopper, and various airline travel points to book my flights. For this particular trip I used American Airlines. They get a general rating of “Meh”. Though I did find the vegetarian in-flight meal to be pretty tasty and the price was reasonable. I found it far cheaper to fly into Edinburgh and use buses to reach the other parts of Scotland.

Have a place to sleep and shower in Edinburgh: I found a really lovely room on AirBnB for my stay and I can highly recommend it. The host Mhairi was wonderful and made my stay very comfortable.

Tour Edinburgh Castle: You can buy your tickets for entrance to the castle in advance, here. They are also available at the door, but the line is usually pretty long so you will save yourself some time by buying online. More details can be found here, including schedules for special events and shows. The audio tour costs less that $10 and can be purchased right inside the main gate.

Drink Champagne at the Palace of Holyroodhouse: I took the Private Guided Evening Tour, which you can find here.  Depending on the time of year there are exhibits and other special limited edition tours, so make sure you check out the whole list.

Take a bus to Inverness: Bus travel in Scotland is simple and easy, much better than what Americas are used to. I took a bus from Edinburgh to Inverness for about $13. I choose the MegaBus, there are multiple stations in Edinburgh and one right in the center of the city. Just make sure you know which station you want to use before you go to book the ticket.

Sleep and shower in Inverness: I stayed at the Columba Hotel in Inverness. A beautiful hotel with great details, it also has an attached restaurant for breakfast and a Pub next door for everything else.

Tour Inverness Castle: No passes or fees required! If you are in downtown Inverness, you can walk up a small hill to the castle. If you are further away, just take a cab.

Boat Trip on the Loch Ness: I took the Loch Ness Clansman Cruise, from  Jacobite Cruises. It includes a sail around the Loch after which you get dropped off at Urquhart Castle for a hour before a ride back home on the Loch. They have different cruises, with different lengths and locations visits, so you can customize based on the time you have available.

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