Explorer Pass: Castles of Scotland

In Scotland alone there are over 200 castles, places where the famous clansmen would defend their territories against attack. Some even serving as sacred sites where the royalty would live, love and die. Visiting all these castles would be impossible to accomplish in a 4-days-3-nights trip and, of course, it would be pretty expensive. However, I was able to find a way to save a few bucks during my castle hunting in Scotland: the Explorer Pass.

Explorer Pass Castles of Scotland

Explorer Pass

The Explorer Pass offers “free admission” to  Scotland’s top visitor attractions. The Explorer Pass has two types: one that is valid for 3 days and another is valid for 7 days. Having the pass makes it possible to visit as many properties under the care of Historic Environment Scotland as physically possible within this time for no additional cost.

A 3-day pass can be used on any 3 days within a 5-day period, while a 7-day pass is for any 7 days within a 14-day period. For example, if you are staying from January 1 to 5, with a 3-day pass, you could visit as many castles as possible on January 1, 2 and 3, or January 2, 3 and 4, and so forth. Me, I availed this pass but was only able to visit three castles during my trip. Still, I was able to save £15.50 in entrance fees. Which castles are these? Here they are:


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Stirling Castle

Going to Stirling, Scotland’s former capital was like being transported back to the medieval ages. Everything looked centuries old. Only the cars parked alongside every street served as garish reminders that it was already the 21st century.

The oldest building in Scotland’s former capital is the Stirling Castle. Its strategic position also made sure that both the English and the Scots would fight over it in their many wars. It was also home to Mary, Queen of Scots for most of her life. Lastly, the oldest surviving football, one that Mary, QoS might have played with, was discovered in the Palace.

St. John Street, Stirling, Scotland

St. John Street, Stirling

Church of the Holy Rude, Stirling, Scotland

Church of the Holy Rude: The only church still in active use – aside from the Westminster Abbey in London – to have hosted a king’s coronation, that of the infant King James VI of Scotland, later to be known worldwide for his version of the Holy Bible.

Old Town Cemetery of Stirling, Scotland

In Scotland, even the cemeteries have a romantic feel.

Statue of Robert the Bruce, Stirling Castle

The statue of Robert the Bruce welcomes visitors to the Stirling Castle.

Forework Gatehouse, Stirling Castle

The Forework Gatehouse of Stirling Castle is the grand entrance to James IV’s castle and was among the most magnificent in the British Isles.

Queen Anne Garden, Stirling Castle, Scotland

From the 1400s, the royal family could enjoy the Queen Anne Garden which is close to their chambers.

Unicorn Cafe, Stirling Caste, Scotland

The view of the castle grounds, including the Unicorn Cafe, from the Main Guard House.

Medieval Scottish streets of Stirling

Medieval Scottish streets of Stirling.


Entrance Fees*: £14.50 (Adult), £11.60 (Concessions); £8.70 (Children 5-15 y.o.)
Audio Guide Fees: £3.00 (Adult), £2.00 (Concessions); £1.00 (Children 5-15 y.o.)
Opening Hours: April to September – 9:30 am to 6:00 pm; October to March – 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
How to get to Stirling Castle from Edinburgh: Take the train from Edinburgh Waverly to Stirling Station. From the Stirling Station, follow the signs to the Stirling Castle. Walking time around: 20 minutes. Note: No bus passes by the castle.


Urquhart Castle

Though the Urquhart Castle has been in ruins for centuries, its romantic feels make it a much coveted venue for weddings. And because it sits on the bank of the fabled Loch Ness (and its resident monster, Nessie), it is the third most visited castle in Scotland.

Urquhart Castle from the Visitor Centre, Scotland

Urquhart Castle from the Visitor Centre

Medieval Trebuchet, Urquhart Castle, Highlands, Scotland

Replica of a trebuchet, a mighty siege machine.

Urquhart Castle, Highlands, Scotland

The Urquhart Castle sits on the banks of the Loch Ness in the Highlands of Scotland.

Urquhart Castle, Scotland

The Urquhart Castle is the largest medieval castle in Highland Scotland.

Grant Tower, Urquhart Castle, Highland, Scotland

The Grant Tower of Urquhart Castle offers a great view of the Loch Ness.

Urquhart Castle Ruins, Highland, Scotland

From the Grant Tower, the ruins of Urquhart Castle can be viewed in its entirety.

Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness, Highland, Scotland

The Urquhart Castle from the Loch Ness.

Entrance Fees*: £8.50 (Adult), £6.80 (Concession), £5.10 (Children 5-15 y.o.)
Opening Hours: April to September – 9:30 am to 6:00 pm; October – 9:30 am to 5:00 pm; October to March – 9:30 am to 4:30 pm
How to get to Urquhart Castle from Edinburgh: Take the train from Edinburgh Waverly to Inverness Station. Walk to the bus station at Farraline Park, take the #919 bus to Fort Willam. Get off at the Urquhart Castle carpark.


Edinburgh Castle

Getting off the train at the Edinburgh Waverley station, it is difficult to the avoid the magnificent sight of the Edinburgh castle as it dominates the city’s skyline. Rumored to have a resident ghost, it also houses the Honours of Scotland, or the Scottish Crown Jewels, which, as our tour guide so proudly pointed out, are even older than that of England. It is also Scotland’s most visited paid tourist attraction and at £16.50 for an entrance fee, visiting the Edinburgh Castle will already take you halfway to getting your money’s worth when you avail the Explorer Pass.

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Edinburgh view from the Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

View of Scotland’s capital from the Edinburgh Castle.

War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

War Memorial

St. Margaret's Chapel

St. Margaret’s Chapel

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland


Entrance Fees*: £16.50 (Adult), £13.20 (Concession), £9.90 (Children 5-15 y.o.)
Audio Guide Fees: £3.50 (Adult/Student), £2.50 (Concessions); £1.50 (Children 5-15 y.o.)
Opening Hours: April to September – 9:30 am to 6:00 pm; October to March – 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
Recommended Staying Time: 2 Hours


Now, you might be wondering how come I was able to save so much money with my Explorer Pass. Well, let me tell you a secret. It was only recently, when I started writing this post, that I found out I was given the wrong price for my Explorer Pass. Since I look sooo young (too young if you ask me), I was given the concession price** of £24 instead of the full adult price** of £30! I did not notice this when I was paying for the Explorer Pass at the Stirling Castle because the prices were not posted and the lady just asked me if I was visiting the Edinburgh Castle later on. I said yes, she asked me for £24, I handed it over and that was it.

In any case, by choosing to visit these three castles, I was able to make the most of my 3-day Explorer Pass, even if I used it during winter when opening times were shorter. Imagine how much savings it would be during summer!

 [stextbox id=”alert” caption=”Check for updates!” shadow=”false”]*Visit the Historic Environment Scotland website for updated castle entrance fees
**For updated Explorer Pass prices, visit: www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/explorer-passes[/stextbox]

December 29-31, 2016

***All photos were taken using iPhone 6 and GoPro Hero 4

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Explorer Pass: Castles of Scotland

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Jayce Cairo

Jayce is a linguaphile who speaks four languages and currently works as a translator to finance her various interests. Scoring very high on “Openness to Experience” on the Big Five Personality Test, she is an avid globetrotter who aspires to retire at 35 and travel for the rest of her life.


  1. Your photos look amazing! These castles are gorgeous as well! I think you just had a good time in Scotland 😀

  2. Omg i love your photos!!! The castles are amazing. Reminds me of game of thrones!
    Also love your blog name. i almost had the same name as yours, originally i thought chasing carla is cute, good thing i chose “catching carla” instead, or we would have been twinsies! Nice content. Keep it up

  3. Scotland is indeed a land of castles. Such amazing structures. I would love to visit the Urquhart Castle.

  4. Wow, 200 castles – I think there is a lot to see on my next trip to Scotland:) I have only been to Glasgow which I think has no castle at all. Maybe I could head to Edinburgh next time and visit the local castle also including the memorial you mentioned. Looks a bit spooky, but OK:)

    • It only looked spooky because it was already pretty dark when I went there… come to think of it, I’ve never seen the Edinburgh Castle in proper sunlight!

  5. I have visited the first and the third castle when I was in high school. It was a long time ago, but I loved being in Scotland and exploring these old castles.

  6. The Explorer Pass is definitely a great option! The entrance fee is pretty expensive for these castles. Luxembourg has a lot of castles too but the entrance fees are not like in Scotland. However, they are fascinating and beautiful. I would love to visit these castles too. They look massive and feature different things to see and do rather than the ones in Luxembourg.

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