Dunrobin Castle is one of the UK's finest large houses, familiar architecturally to fans of French châteaux and a jewel of the Northern Highlands. Come see.

Castles dot the Scottish landscape almost at every turn, but none sits as far north as Dunrobin Castle – also one of the finest great houses in the UK.

This fairytale castle – perhaps more at home on the Loire river or presiding over a French vineyard than on the Moray Firth – also ranks as the largest castle in the Northern Highlands. With 189 rooms in total, Dunrobin has offered some of the most consistent castle accommodation in Scotland – the Clan Sutherland has lived in the castle for over 700 years.

But as well as history and ambiance, Dunrobin is also about location and gardens. Visitors will discover supreme views and thriving flora that originates from South America and Africa.

Read on for your guide to Dunrobin Castle, a definitive must-visit when you’re next in the Scottish Highlands. 

Dunrobin Castle – a bit of history

Like most Scottish castles, Dunrobin started life as a square keep. It dates back to the 14th century and served, again like the majority of castles, as a defensive fortress. Its owners, the Clan Sutherland, go back even further and the first Earldom of Sutherland was created in 1235. The Clan has owned the castle ever since, although the fortress itself has seen huge changes. 

The first came in the 16th century when a staircase and high house were added to the square tower. The next major expansion took place in 1785 to accommodate the growing Sutherland family, but the biggest change came 60 years later. In 1845, Sir Charles Barry was commissioned to remodel the entire castle and his is the architectural signature behind Dunrobin’s unique French chateau style. By the time he completed his work in 1851, the castle was three times larger. 

The new Scottish Baronial style added conical spires and the five-storey tower over the entrance. Barry, whose work included the Houses of Parliament in London, also designed the Dunrobin Castle gardens. The French chateau influence continues here with the parterres and fountains taking their inspiration from those at Versailles. 

The final big change at Dunrobin happened in 1915 when a fire destroyed most of the interiors. The Earl of Sutherland called on Scottish architect, Sir Robert Lorimer, to redesign and build them. Visitors now see his Renaissance style within Barry’s Baronial exteriors. 

Dunrobin Castle fast facts

Dunrobin means ‘Robin’s Hill’ or ‘Robin’s Fort’ in Gaelic and is possibly named after Robert, the 6th Earl of Sutherland who died in 1427. 

Highlights at Dunrobin Castle

189 rooms plus extensive grounds offer plenty of scope for highlights and Dunrobin Castle is renowned as one of the best castles to visit in Scotland. On your visit, don’t miss: 

  • The dramatic entrance to Dunrobin Castle along a majestic avenue of trees. 
  • The stunning vistas of the gardens, Moray Firth and the Cairngorms on the horizon from many of the castle rooms.
  • The fine view of the castle in all its French chateau glory from the bottom of the steps into the garden.
  • The wood panelling in several of the rooms plus the no less than 10,000 volumes that make up the library. 
  • The museum, home to hunting trophies, African ethnographic items and a world class collection of archaeological relics that include Pictish stones dating back 1,500 years.
  • The formal gardens with their two parterres, fountains and plants that thrive in the sheltered sub-tropical conditions. 
  • The Gunnera manicata (a South American rhubarb) in the gardens whose leaves span nearly three metres. 
  • The avenue of Tuscan laurels. 

Dunrobin Castle fast facts

Dunrobin still conserves its original square keep that forms the central bastion to the castle today. Look out for the 14th century walls, visible only from the inner courtyard.

Why visit Dunrobin Castle

Perhaps the most compelling reason to visit Dunrobin lies in its location. Few Scottish castles can rival the position and views. The castle sits on an elevated spot, dominating the countryside and with expansive vistas across the Moray Firth and out to the North Sea. Dramatic mountains frame the views on almost all sides. You can also visit the wild coastline with its deserted beaches and coves.

This truly impressive castle gives you an insight into the life of Scottish nobility over the centuries. You can experience their sumptuous lifestyle through the portraits, furniture and memorabilia on show throughout the rooms. The elegant interiors show just why Dunrobin was one of the finest castle stays in Scotland.

Horticultural fans should include Dunrobin on their list of unmissable Scottish gardens. The Versailles-inspired layout remains almost identical to Barry’s original design. But it’s perhaps the plants that will surprise most. The castle enjoys a mild climate favouring tropical plants that thrive in the sheltered gardens. Shrubs and flowers native to Africa and South America greet you at every turn and you’ll catch the scent of orange blossom in spring.

Dunrobin Castle fast facts

In the early 1800s, the Sutherland estate totalled 1.5 million acres and ranked as the largest private estate in Europe. The First Duke of Sutherland, the owner at this time, was the main instigator behind the infamous Highland Clearances. 

Visitor information

Dunrobin Castle opens daily to visitors from 1 April to 31 October between 10.30am and 4.30pm (5pm June to September). The castle has a tearoom and shop. Visitors view around 20 rooms as well as the Castle Museum and Gardens. You can find out more via the website.

Dunrobin Castle fast facts

Dunrobin Castle is just one of the highlights on the Moray Firth Tourist Route, one of the most scenic roads trips in Scotland. Read about it here

Staying in a castle near Dunrobin

Not quite a stay in a castle, but with elegance and views to rival those at nearby Dunrobin Castle, this Victorian hunting lodge provides cosy and spacious accommodation for 12. Located on the water like Dunrobin, the lodge sits on Loch Shin on a private estate stretching over 13,000 acres. Yours to explore are birch woods, moorlands, loch-side shores and of course, the gardens, home to sub-tropical shrubs too. 

Open fires, comfy seating, antiques and modern comforts greet you at every turn at this idyllic Highland retreat. Relax in style indoors while outdoors you can enjoy the very best of Scottish landscapes as you fish, walk, climb, mountain bike or just relax.

Alternatively, take a look at all our castles you can stay in.

Enjoyed reading this? Read more in our Scottish Castles series:
1. Dunnottar Castle
2. Stirling Castle
3. Eilean Donan Castle
4. Urquhart Castle
5. Culzean Castle
6. Balmoral Castle
7. Glamis Castle
8. Crathes Castle
9. Floors Castle
10. Midhope Castle
11. 7 reasons to visit Stirling
12. Castles in Scotland – all you need to know
13. 14 Scottish castles with Royal connections
14. Fascinating facts about royal castles

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Dunrobin Castle is one of the UK's finest large houses, familiar architecturally to fans of French châteaux and a jewel of the Northern Highlands. Come see.