Updated August 2019
When you visit Scotland you will no doubt want to visit castles such as Edinburgh Castle, Dunnotar Castle and Urquhart Castle. Whether you want to find out more about your ancestry, visit castles you have seen on postcards or online or even follow in the footsteps of a certain red haired man in a kilt (Outlander fan?) you’ll want to purchase a pass in order to save yourself some cash. Without a pass costs can really mount up, especially if you have a nice long wish list of “must sees”. If you want to visit castles in Scotland the best way to save money is by buying passes in advance. Some of the most popular castles in Scotland tend to be expensive to enter, even more so when you are paying for your family too. If you buy a pass there is often some other advantages too, such as getting to the front of the queue or a discount at the gift shop.
The monuments, brochs, battlegrounds and castles in Scotland are mostly covered by one of three organisations – Historic Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and the Historic Houses Association. Each offer their own passes and membership.
Historic Scotland look after 300 locations, 77 of which are paid for attractions such as Edinburgh Castle, Iona Abbey, Urquhart Castle and Stirling Castle. If you want to visit a few of their castles and other attractions I would highly recommend a pass. Depending on how long you plan to be visiting Scotland there are a couple of options.
If you plan on visiting Scotland for a week, or if you don’t have a huge list of properties you want to see there is a Historic Scotland Explorer Pass. You can buy it from their website or from the Visit Britain website.
5 day pass - Adult £35, Child (5-15) £21, Concession £28, Family (2 adults and up to 6 children) £70
The 5 day pass runs for 5 consecutive days. You can visit more than one site each day. You can print out your tickets when you receive your confirmation email and when you visit your first attraction bring your I.D.
14 day pass - Adults £45, Child (5-15) £27, Concession £36, Family (2 adults and up to 6 children) £90
Both include a guide book, brochures, locations map and also entry to daytime events. You get fast track entry to both Edinburgh and Stirling Castle.
If you are visiting only one region you can buy a regional explorer pass for the Islands, Orkney, the Scottish Borders or Dumfries and Galloway. More details for these can be found on the website.
If you plan on a longer trip and have loads of places you want to see you might want to consider a membership. For a one off payment you can visit the properties as often as you like for a year so no restrictions while you are here. Compare the prices and see which is cheaper for you. Membership includes entry to over 70 sites, 400 daytime events, a 20% in the gift shops, 10% discount in the cafes and a free magazine every three months.
Adult – One annual payment of £52.20 (direct debit) or £58.00 (credit card)
Adult + 6 children £56.70/£63.00
Concession (1 person over 60, full time students or in receipt of state benefits) £41.40/£46.00
There are a few other options so you should be able to find an option to suit your needs. When you visit your first site bring a copy of your confirmation email and you will be given a temporary pass which you can use for the duration of your stay.
National Trust for Scotland
The National trust for Scotland look after 129 properties in Scotland, 11,000 archeological sites, 76,000 hectares of countryside, 31 gardens, 300,000 artefacts and 46 munros. You can buy a membership which gives you entry to everything and gives you free parking, the magazine and also entry to properties in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Adult £60.00, Young (16-25) £30.00, Senior £48.00.
There are some popular castles that aren’t looked after by either of these and are instead managed by the Historic Houses Association. They have over 300 properties including some in England and Wales. There is a pass available for £54 for the year. Properties include Dunnotar, Dunvegan and Dunrobin.
One more Pass worth mention, especially if you fancy a wee dram while you are here, which is only really worth it if you are staying for a week, is the Heritage Pass from Visit Britain. Combining Historic Scotland properties, National Trust for Scotland properties and Discovering Distilleries you can visit 120 sites but only between April and October so not any good if you are travelling out with these times. It’s valid for 7 consecutive days and costs £49 per adult and £27 per child (5-15). You get a free brochure with maps and opening times and you receive an e-ticket that you exchange at your first property. It includes some amazing attractions such as Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, Culloden Battlefield, Glasgow Cathedral and Culzean Castle.
The list below shows you some of the savings you can make if you buy passes in advance. Let's say you want to travel to Scotland with your partner and two children. You fancy visiting Edinburgh and Stirling castle then going to some Outlander sites and ending up in Inverness. You can see clearly here, that you will save by buying an annual membership for both Historic Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland. Not only will you save £135 just on these attractions but there is another 127 places you can go to as well!
*A lot of the properties will close over the winter months so check the website when you are planning your trip.
*When you buy your passes you will get an e-voucher to print out. Bring this with you and redeem it for your pass at one of participating properties (check the list on the websites).
*There are a few places such as Balgonie Castle and Drummond Gardens which are independently owned and charge a small fee.
*Some castles may need to close at short notice, or close for events. Some will have restricted opening hours in the winter. Again, check the websites before you leave.