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Last updated: 13 December, 2022
Expert travel writer: Lucy Gillmore

This fabulous fairytale castle was designed to resemble a fancy French chateau by Sir Charles Barry (who also designed the Houses of Parliament in London), with ornate formal gardens, modelled on those at Versailles, sloping down to the sea on Scotland’s north-east coast.

It’s the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Sutherland and with 189 rooms, it’s not on the bijou side. Continually inhabited since the beginning of the 14th century, it was used as a naval hospital during the First World War and boys’ boarding school in the 1960s.

The self-guided tour of the state rooms and older sections of the castle offers a wonderful insight into centuries of clan history.

The spellbinding daily falconry displays in the gardens – featuring peregrine, gyrfalcon as well as Harris hawks – are also well-worth hanging around for.

While you're there

The Loch Fleet Nature Reserve nearby is a tidal basin fringed by fragrant pinewoods threaded with walking trails and wildlife-watching hides. In spring you might see osprey diving for fish, in summer seals on the sandbanks with their pups.

After your visit, head to Golspie’s gourmet ice-cream parlour, Capaldi’s, for scoops of cherry ripple, coconut white chocolate, cinnamon latte and cappuccino choc mint to enjoy on the long sandy beach.

Price from: £14
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 8+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

The castle is half a mile north of the village of Golspie on the A9 – which is the main driving route up the east coast of Scotland. It is 50 miles north of Inverness. This section of the A9 is part of the now legendary North Coast 500.

There is a large car park if you’re driving here. There are also direct buses from Inverness to Golspie.

When to do it

The castle is only open daily from April to October each year. If you want to avoid the crowds avoid Easter and the peak summer months of July and August.

Falconry displays take place twice daily, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

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Links House at Royal Dornoch

Dornoch, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)[12.7 miles]

A sumptuous honey-hued manse dripping with antiques, overlooking world-class Dornoch golf course and a stunning, dune-backed beach.

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Boath House

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Elegant Georgian mansion, now gourmet hotel, with an extensive art collection and gorgeous gardens.

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Kylesku Hotel

Kylesku , Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)[69.8 miles]

A 19th-century coaching inn with creel-to-plate seafood, overlooking Loch Glendhu on the spectacular North Coast 500 route.

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Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Scottish Highlands

Scottish Highlands, United Kingdom (UK)

Magnificent mountain scenery slashed by silvery lochs and peppered with brooding castles: all laden with rich Scottish heritage, history and tradition.

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Our writer’s recommendations of other bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination, closest first

Culloden Battlefield

Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)[57.1 miles]

An atmospheric, historic battlefield with a state-of-the-art visitor centre that brings the bloody events of 1745 to life.

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Cruise the Scottish Highlands

Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)[58.9 miles]

Sail through Scotland’s mesmerising Highlands along the dramatic Caledonian Canal, taking in spectacular landscapes, craggy castles, whisky distilleries and glassy lochs, as well as the islands and waterways of the Inner Hebrides.

Best for ages: 13+ | Varies | 5-7 days

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Other worthwhile experiences near this experience if you have time or interest..

Royal Dornoch Golf Club

Sutherland, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)[12.7 miles]

Wild, isolated and spellbindingly beautiful, Royal Dornoch is the third oldest in the world, with turtleback greens creating some real challenges.

Best for ages: 13+ | £250

Fort George

Fort George

Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)[45.4 miles]

This 18th-century coastal fortress, still a working barracks, overlook the Moray Firth built after the Battle of Culloden to house the British army. You can wander around the complex, dipping into the regimental museum, checking out the historical tableaux depicting soldiers’ lives and climbing up onto the canon-peppered battlements.

Best for ages: 13+ | £10

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Cawdor Castle & Gardens

Cawdor Castle & Gardens

Cawdor, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)[51.3 miles]

A place of pilgrimage for Shakespeare scholars (Macbeth was the Thane of Cawdor), this ancient fortress complete with drawbridge, turrets and towers dates back to the 14th century and is furnished with rare Flemish tapestries, oil paintings and fine antiques. The walled gardens peppered with contemporary sculptures are also a highlight.

Best for ages: 8+ | £14

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