SCOTLAND is blessed with a wonderful array of magnificent stately homes and it's easy to spend a day wandering the gardens and rooms of these extraordinary legacies from a distant era. Any of these would be worth a visit at any time of the year.
1. Holyrood Palace
Holyrood Park, Edinburgh
It doesn’t get more stately than a Royal residence, and Holyrood – or The Palace of Holyrood House to give it its proper title – is the Queen’s official abode when she’s north of the border.
She spends a week there every summer carrying out engagements and hosting ceremonies, as does Prince Charles, but for the rest of the year it’s open to the public.
Unsurprisingly it’s one of the country’s top tourist attractions with visitors flocking to walk through its grand State Rooms with their collection of Brussels tapestries, the Throne Room which plays host to the Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Thistle, and the Great Gallery where portraits of real, and legendary, kings of Scotland hang.
The palace was originally built as an abbey in the 11 century by King David I, before it became a Royal home, and its history is as rich as its décor, Most famously, Mary Queen of Scots spend most of her turbulent life in the Palace, marrying two of her husbands there, one of whom murdered her private secretary in her private apartments.
Standing at the end of the Royal Mile, with Arthur’s Seat as its backdrop, it’s easy to walk to from the city centre, and if the weather’s kind there are four hectares of immaculate Palace gardens to stroll through.
2. Abbotsford House
Take a literary inspired pilgrimage to the home of one of Scotland’s most famous writers, Sir Walter Scott, author of Rob Roy, Ivanhoe and The Lady of the Lake, on the banks of the River Tweed in the Scottish Borders.
After a two year, multi million pound renovation, it re-opened in 2013 and is now one of the top tourist destinations in the Borders with a spanking new visitor centre and restaurant.
Built for Scott two hundred years ago, he was deeply passionate about Abbotsford, calling it the ‘Dalilah of his imagination’ and his ‘flibbertigibbet of a house’ that would ‘suit none but an antiquary’. What started as a villa, over time grew to become a grand mansion and he filled it with an extensive library, antique furniture, arms and armour and other relics.
Scott lived at Abbotsford until he died in 1832, when it was opened to the public and visitors today can see his library of over 9,000 rare volumes, The Armoury where he kept his vast collection of armour, swords and guns including Rob Roy’s gun (but not his sporran which was stolen from the house in 2014), and the ornately decorated Chinese Drawing Room where Scott’s wife Charlotte, and two daughters would retire after dinner to play instruments and do needlework.
A visit to Abbotsford is a must for lovers of Scottish literature.
3. Mount Stuart
Isle of Bute, Argyll & Bute
On the tiny Isle of Bute, which is just 15 miles long, stands the stunning Mount Stuart, a feat of Victorian gothic architecture.
The red-stoned mansion, which was built in the 1870s, was the vision of the 3 Marquess of Bute, John Crichton-Stuart, the richest man in Britain at the time. Money was no object and it’s a house of ‘firsts’; the first home in the world to have a heated indoor swimming pool, and the first in Scotland to have a passenger lift and a telephone system.
From the Marble Hall with its 80 feet of rare Italian and Sicilian marble and alabaster, to the celestial ceilings, with their zodiac inspired artwork, and the medieval inspired Family Bedroom complete with stained glass windows and Arts and Crafts furniture, Mount Stuart is beyond opulent.
Don’t be put off by the location, there are regular ferry crossings to the island from Wemyss Bay, just 50 mins drive from Glasgow. And if you fancy extending your stay, you can rent a self-catering eco home in the grounds of the house. Sadly they don’t come with a swimming pool though!
4. Glamis Castle
Whether you’re a Shakespeare buff, a ghost hunter or a Royalist, Glamis Castle is well worth a visit.
The setting for Macbeth, the childhood home of the Queen Mother and the birthplace of Princess Margaret, it’s steeped in history and legend, some of it pretty spine chilling including the burning of suspected witches at the stake, and the tale that a nobleman once played cards with the devil in a secret room in the castle. It’s reputedly home to several ghosts, and has a reputation as the most haunted castle in Scotland!
The castle has been the family home of the Earls of Strathmore since 1372, and its present owner is Simon Patrick Bowes Lyon, the 19 Earl. It combines a family home, albeit a very grand one, with being a living museum of Scottish history.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the castle, or enjoy the castle’s grounds including The Walled Garden and The Italian Garden.
5. Dunrobin Castle
Looking more like a French chateau than a traditional Scottish castle, Dunrobin is the most northerly of all the country’s great homes. It’s also one of Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited houses, with residents from the Sutherland family going all the way back to the early 1300s.
A fire in 1915 almost destroyed the castle, which was being used as a naval hospital at the time. Fortunately it was put out by hundreds of Royal Navy sailors from ships that were lying off the coast, desperate to save their shipmates.
Thanks to their heroics, you can visit the castle’s Breakfast Room, where only men were permitted to eat (women breakfasted in their bedroom), the Library which houses over 10,000 books and the Green and Gold Room where Queen Victoria once stayed.
It’s not just the castle’s architecture which has a French feel; its gardens are inspired by the Palace of Versailles. Parisian chic in the highlands!
6. Dumfries House
Chippendale fans (and we don’t mean the strippers before you get any ideas) will know that Dumfries House is home to a world-class and unrivalled collection of the famous furniture.
Just one of the many reasons it’s such a popular West Coast tourist destination. It was built in the 1750s and was home to William Dalrymple, the 5th Earl of Dumfries.
After being inherited by the 2nd Marquess of Bute in the 1800s, it stayed in his family until 2007 when it was bought for Scotland for £45 million by a consortium led by Prince Charles, amid fears the Chippendale collection would be sold off privately.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the house, through Lord Dumfries’s study, the Blue Drawing Room and The Pewter Corridor, which links the original part of the house to its 19th century extension.
Afterwards, enjoy afternoon tea in the café which was once the estate’s coach house, before letting the kids explore the woodland adventure playground in the grounds.
7. Drumlanrig Castle
Set in the 90,000 acre Queensberry Estate, you can’t miss the imposing Drumlanrig Castle thanks to its distinctive pink sandstone and seventeen turrets.
It’s the Dumfriesshire seat of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry, whose ancestors took ownership of the castle in 1810 and aside from its 120 rooms filled with antique furniture and opulent furnishings, it’s a haven for art lovers. It’s collection of works by Rembrandt, Da Vinci and Gainsborough would rival any top gallery, right on our doorstep.
Outside the castle’s walls, visitors can enjoy a spot of salmon fishing, take a spin round one of the championship mountain biking trails or go on a ranger led walk through the Estate.
8. Falkland Palace
As with Mount Stuart, we have John Crichton-Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute, to thank for Falkland Palace, as he rebuilt and restored much of it in the 19th century, after it had fallen into disrepair.
Today it’s cared for by the National Trust for Scotland, and is one of Scotland’s most captivating stately homes.
The palace has a strong Royal connection as it was the country residence of the Stuart monarchs for 200 years, they loved to visit to hunt deer and boar in the woods and park. It’s also home to the oldest Royal tennis court in Britain, built for King James V and played on by Mary Queen of Scots, Andy Murray eat your heart out!
Part of the palace remains in ruins but the reconstructed rooms are packed with 17th century Flemish tapestries, and have elaborate painted ceilings.
Gardening fanatics will love the grounds which feature The Pleasure Garden, an ancient fruit orchard, a labyrinth and a stunning wildflower meadow.
9. Blair Castle
Blair Atholl, Pitlochry
You’ll feel as if you’ve been transported back in time from the moment you arrive at the imposing and fairytale like Blair Castle, located at the gateway to the Cairngorms National Park.
A fortress and home to the Dukes of Atholl, it’s hosted royals, nobility, and thousands of visitors who can immerse themselves in 700 years of rich, Scottish history.
Must-sees in the castle include the Victorian Ballroom which is decorated with 175 pairs of antlers, the Entrance Hall in which hangs weapons used at the Battle of Culloden, and the Derby Suite where Queen Victoria stayed on her famous visit to the castle in 1844 when she gifted the Duke with Europe’s only remaining private army, the Atholl Highlanders.
10. The Hill House
Upper Colquhoun Street, Helensburgh
While it may be significantly younger, smaller and more modern than many of Scotland’s other stately homes, The Hill House more than holds its own in the history, design and grandeur stakes.
It’s achieved global fame as Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s finest domestic creation, and is a compelling mix of Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Scottish Baronial and Japonsime architecture and design.
Built between 1902 and 1904 for the publisher Walter Blackie, Mackintosh himself designed everything from the structure of the house to the furniture inside, while his wife Margaret was responsible for the textiles which furnish it.
Mackintosh even instructed what flowers should be used in the house to match the colour schemes he’d created.
Like any stately home worth its salt, the house is rumoured to have its very own ghost – a tall, slender figure dressed in black who appears from Mr Blackie’s Dressing Room.