A turbulent history, and impressive fortress, beautiful gardens...
The Dirleton Castle is a fascinating place to visit.
Below is my guide to help you plan your visit with map, tips and photos.
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Why visit the Dirleton Castle in Scotland?
Dirleton is one of my favorite castles in Scotland.
Despite being in ruins, you will still be impressed by the mightiness of the fortress.
Plus kids will love it, as the exploration feels a little like a labyrinth.
Below is a short video to show you what your visit could look like - get a virtual tour of Dirleton Castle!
More photos after the planning tips.
PLANNING TIPS & Map - Dirleton Castle, Scotland
How to get to Dirleton Castle Location
The GPS coordinates and location on a practical map (with all my best stops) are available in both my Travel Guide eBooks. They help you easily plan your Scotland itinerary:
- Dirleton Castle opening times - Apr to Sep: 9:30 to 5:30 - Winter: 10am to 4pm (last entry 30min before) - check out latest here
- Entry price - £6 per adult - is included in the Explorer Pass
- Toilets at the carpark
- Easy to walk around. Good paths. Not many stairs.
- Good Scottish castle to visit with kids - safe stairs and higher levels, a lot to explore
- You can make a day out of visiting the monuments in the region with Tantallon Castle, Seton Church, Crichton Castle and Craigmillar Castle
- Plan 1h30 to explore the fortress and enjoy the garden
- From the large parking area you cannot miss the entrance:
Where to stay nearby?
- You can easily visit the castle on a day trip from Edinburgh - Check out the best rated accommodations in Edinburgh
- But if you want to stay in a quieter area, the nearby coastal town is North Berwick - check out the best rated accommodations there
The Dirleton Gardens, Dovecot & Park
Gardens & watch tower
Once inside the walled area (wall from the 19th century), you first enter the gardens.
They are well-maintained and quite enjoyable with many trees around.
They were first created in the 16th century but have been modified many times.
Right by the entrance, I recommend you climb up the small watch tower for a good view of the garden.
As you explore the gardens, before approaching the ruins of the fortress, you will notice an old structure.
It is a pigeon house / dovecote from the 16th century. The Scots say doocot.
Its structure is:
- Circular base
- 4 tiers = 25 rows = around 1000 nesting boxes
- Single-cell beehive type
- Domed roof
- And is just under 8m tall (26ft)
It is one of the earliest and largest in the region.
On the way back from the fortress, you can continue the loop on the park side rather than the garden side.
You will discover another part of the park with magnificent old trees.
Dirleton Castle History
Below are a few Dirleton Castle facts to give you some context:
- The oldest parts were built in the 13th century
- It was abandoned in the 17th century
- It was in the middle of many wars, taken and retaken... It served 3 noble families over 400 years: the Vaux, the Haliburtons and the Ruthvens
- The dungeon is the most intact piece of the architecture from the 13th century. Most of the rest of the fortress is from later constructions
- The pigeon house (dovecot) dates back to the 16th century
- The gardens were started in the 16th century and the wall built in the 19th. The current gardens and plantations are however more recent
Here is a drawing of what the castle would have looked like:
Castle of Dirleton - Keep, Gate and Facade
The main facade of the fortress is what remains in better shape.
You can see how strong the building was.
Plus I find it very photogenic, in my opinion.
On the South-West part, the keep or dungeon is still in good condition (left of the picture below)
This section dates back from the 13th century.
- A large round tower
- Another round tower but smaller behind it
- And they are joined by a square tower
The gatehouse & gate
The East range and gatehouse were built in the 14th and 15th century (right of the keep).
It has a tall, pointed arch. It was protected by a drawbridge.
Exploring the ruins - prison, tunnels, kitchen, housing...
Entering the Dirleton Castle Scotland sets you in the mood, with the bridge, the arch and the stones.
There is a lot to explore, with explanatory signs in every area. Or you can just sit and relax, taking in the atmosphere.
Prison and underground Tunnels
Don't forget to go down in the prison and discover the underground tunnels.
I think this is one of the most impressive parts.
Part of the underground section was dedicated to the kitchen.
It is an impressive room. It has 2 wide fireplaces (13ft / 3m wide).
Vents were set up in the ceiling.
You can also climb a little bit (although not as much as in Tantallon Castle), to discover the upper levels and get new perspectives.
On the other side of the courtyard, there is a 3-storey building.
This was built in the 16th century by the Ruthvens. it was the residence of Lady Dorothea, wife of the Earl of Gowrie and their 15 children.
Other highlights of South Scotland to consider visiting:
- The fascinating triangular castle of Caerlaverock - read article
- The charming ruins of Sweetheart Abbey - read article
- The ancient site of Cairnholy - read article
- The Borders Abbeys including Melrose Abbey and the photogenic Jedburgh Abbey
- The inspiring Scott's view - read article
- And the impressive forts, East of Edinburgh: Dirleton Castle and Tantallon Castle
Planning a trip to Scotland? Check out my guide to help you plan your road trip:
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Want to see more of SCOTLAND?
Discover more things to do & places to see in my Travel Scotland Destination Guide.
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