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  • Writer's pictureKrista the Explorer

Is Scotland's Explorer Pass Worth It?

Updated: Dec 23, 2021

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There are so many castles all across Scotland, it can be overwhelming when you're trying to figure out which ones to visit, especially if you're limited on time. Luckily, I stumbled across the Explorer Pass which saved a lot of time, and most importantly - money! Let's face it, castles are not cheap to get into, especially if they're top tourist destinations. The smaller, less popular castles may boast a cheaper entrance fee, but if you're planning on visiting numerous ones it'll quickly add up.

Scotland's Explorer Pass doesn't have every single castle on it, but it does have some of the best ones, and even better, some that I hadn't even thought of visiting before. There are different versions of the pass to buy, but I opted for the 7 day pass which you can use over a span of 14 days and it cost just £38. This was ideal because I didn't have to cram everything in, day after day, so I could really enjoy those 7 days I was actually castle hopping. There is also the option of a 3 days pass which you can use over 5 days for £29. There's a map online that shows you all of the 77 attractions, so you can easily plan your trips and see what castles are near one another.

Driving in Scotland is a lot of fun, so I would highly recommend planning a self-drive tour of all of the castles. I took an electric car all over Scotland, so I had to meticulously plan each castle stop, and had I been able to locate enough charging points, I would have been able to fit in a few more intriguing castles, especially around the Edinburgh area. Not convinced? Well, what if I told you that I ended up paying well under half of what I would have done had I bought tickets for each individual castle? Yes, the Explorer Pass is that amazing, and perfect if you're visiting Scotland on a budget.

Tip: Make sure you look up the entry fee's for the historic sites you want to visit beforehand and calculate if the pass will be worth it to you. Below are all of the sites I visited with the Explorer Pass, and I've included what their entry fees would have been had I not had the pass. Keep reading to find out if Scotland's Explorer Pass is really worth it.

1. Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle along Loch Ness in Scotland
Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle sits along the shore of Loch Ness, and was once one of Scotland's largest castles. Today it sits as a ruin, but it's in a very picturesque spot, and after your visit you can go on a boat tour to try and spot the Loch Ness monster. This is a great place to visit in Scotland by car, because the drive to it is just as beautiful as the castle's location.

Entry fee without Explorer Pass: £12

2. Stirling Castle

View of Stirling Castle from the gardens in Scotland
Stirling Castle

Despite visiting a lot of Scottish castles, Stirling Castle is still my favourite. It has been an important castle throughout Scottish history, and was a favourite residence of the Stewart kings and queens. There has been extensive restorations done in the interior, so it looks how it would have done hundreds of years ago. There is also a gorgeous unicorn tapestry hanging in one of the rooms which is a personal favourite of mine.

Entry fee without Explorer Pass: £17.50

3. Castle Campbell

Castle Campbell view of the landscape in Scotland
Castle Campbell

Situated in the town of Dollar, just outside of Stirling, sits Castle Campbell. This one isn't for the faint of heart. It's quite a trek through the woods and up an enormous hill, but the views from the top are worth it, even though the castle is a ruin. It dates back to the 15th century, and was home to the powerful Campbell earls. It also has connections to Mary Queen of Scots and John Knox.

Entry fee without Explorer Pass: £6

4. Doune Castle

Doune Castle from the entrance in Scotland
Doune Castle

Doune Castle is also in the Stirling area, and was famously used in Outlander as Castle Leoch as well as Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You may also recognize it from the pilot episode of Game of Thrones, where it was used as Winterfell. It dates back to the 14th century, and has one of the best preserved great halls in Scotland. One of the many reasons you should consider renting a car in Scotland is so that you can easily add castles such as this to your itinerary, without worrying about the time it will take on public transportation to get there.

Entry fee without Explorer Pass: £9

5. Lochleven Castle

Loch Leven boat ride in Scotland
Loch Leven

Lochleven Castle is actually on its own personal island, and you need to go on a short boat ride to get to it. It takes about 10 minutes to get to on the boat, but make sure you check the weather beforehand. We managed to get the last boat over to the island because there was a storm on its way.

View of Lochleven Castle from the inner courtyard in Scotland
Lochleven Castle

Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned at Lochleven Castle for a year towards the the end of her reign, where was forced to abdicate before making a daring escape to the mainland. The early 15th century tower still stands mostly intact, and offers stunning views of the mainland.

Entry fee without Explorer Pass: £9

6. Elcho Castle

Elcho Castle near Perth in Scotland
Elcho Castle

If you're driving around Perth, Elcho Castle is located very close to the city itself. It's a 16th century fortified mansion, which is incredibly well preserved. Don't be alarmed if you start driving through someone's farm, the castle is on the other side of it. This isn't an overly touristy castle, so you'll probably have it all to yourself.

Entry fee without Explorer Pass: £6

7. Huntingtower Castle

Huntingtower Castle from the outside in Scotland
Huntingtower Castle

You will also find Huntingtower Castle in the Perth area. It has a strange layout inside and if you look closely you can see paintwork dating back to the 16th century on the ceiling. This castle is very easy to add to your Scotland road trip itinerary, and takes almost no time at all to explore.

Entry fee without Explorer Pass: £6

8. Stanley Mills

Stanley Mills factory and museum in Scotland
Stanley Mills

Although it's not a castle, admission to Stanley Mills is still on the Explorer Pass. It's quite an interesting stop if you're in the Perth area visiting the last two castles I mentioned. These water-powered mills were used to produce cotton at the height of the Industrial Revolution, and eventually closed in 1989. It's now a museum which gives great insight into an important part of Scottish history.

Entry fee without Explorer Pass: £6

9. Threave Castle

Threave Castle bell to go over the water in Scotland
Threave Castle bell

One of the more interesting castles included in Scotland's Explorer Pass is Threave Castle. It's not a big castle by any means, but in order to get to it, you need to ring a bell, and a ferryman will appear to take you across the water to it.

View of Threave Castle across the water in Scotland
Threave Castle

Threave Castle dates back to the late 14th century, and became the stronghold of the Black Douglases. Before reaching the dock, you will need to walk around 10 minutes through a field and the forest, which is nice if the weather cooperates. Some of the castles on the Explorer Pass take a bit of walking to get to, so I find that the best time of the year to visit Scotland is in the summer months when the weather tends to be a little better.

Entry fee without Explorer Pass: £6

10. Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle from the outside gate in Scotland
Caerlaverock Castle

Located in the Dumfries and Galloway area of Scotland, Caerlaverock Castle is one place that I was really excited to visit. I won't bore you with historic facts or its architectural genius, because there's a lot to talk about, except to say that it still has a moat around it and dates back to the 13th century. It's considered one of Scotland's greatest medieval castles, and should definitely be added to any Scottish road trip.

Entry fee without Explorer Pass: £6

11. St Andrews Castle

St Andrews Castle view of the sea from the railings in Scotland
St Andrews Castle

This is a personal favourite of mine, since I went to university in St Andrews, but I promise I'm not being too biased. St Andrews Castle sits on top of a cliff overlooking the sea, and was once the main residence of the bishops and archbishops of the town. It dates back to the 13th century, and you can go underground and crawl through a 16th century siege mine too, which I would recommend doing as long as you don't mind confined spaces.

Entry fee without Explorer Pass: £9

12. St Rule's Tower

St Rule's Tower view of St Andrews from above in Scotland
St Rule's Tower

Located in the stunning ruins of St Andrews Cathedral, St Rule's Tower provides incredible views of the town and the Kingdom of Fife below. It was once part of the 12th century Augustinian church which was first built on this site. Only a few people can fit at the top, and you need to climb up a lot of steps to get to it, but the view is definitely worth it!

Entry fee without Explorer Pass: £6

13. Linlithgow Palace

Linlithgow Palace view from the top of the tower in Scotland
Linlithgow Palace

A lot of trips to Scotland include Edinburgh for obvious reasons ,but there are a large number of historic locations to visit in the surrounding area too. Linlithgow Palace for example, is quite a short drive from Edinburgh and should definitely be added to your list while you're planning a trip to Scotland. It's a very famous royal Scottish palace, and was the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots.

Entry fee without Explorer Pass: £7.20

14. Craigmillar Castle

Craigmillar Castle view from the walls in Scotland
Craigmillar Castle

If you're planning on visiting Edinburgh but are wondering what other castles the city has to offer, Craigmillar Castle is one of them. I had personally never heard of it before purchasing the Explorer Pass, and it was closed when we tried to visit, but it's one of the most perfectly preserved castles in Scotland and well worth stopping at, especially if you've rented a car. This 14th century castle is where Mary Queen of Scots fled to after the murder of her close friend Rizzio, and was where the plot to murder her husband, Lord Darnley, was hatched.

Entry fee without Explorer Pass: £6

15. Blackness Castle

Blackness Castle view from the pier in Scotland
Blackness Castle

There are a lot of castles near Edinburgh to explore, but Blackness Castle has to be one of the most unique ones. This boat shaped 15th century castle was used in Outlander as Fort William and in the movie Mary Queen of Scots as the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Throughout history it was mainly used as a garrison or state prison, and provides gorgeous views of the Firth of Forth and Fife. If you're looking for day trips in Scotland and are leaving from Edinburgh, you can easily see Blackness Castle and Linlithgow Palace in one trip.

Entry fee without Explorer Pass: £6

16. Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle view from the path leading up to the main gate in Scotland
Edinburgh Castle

You didn't think I was going to miss Edinburgh Castle did you? I was actually very surprised that it was included in the Explorer Pass because of its pricey entrance fee. This castle is one of the most famous castles in the world, and a key part of Edinburgh's World Heritage old town. It has been beautifully preserved, and its oldest part dates back to the 12th century. No driving tour of Scotland is complete without a stop here. Even if you've been in it before (like I had), you should still put your Explorer Pass to good use and visit it again.

Entry fee without Explorer Pass: £19.50

There are many more fantastic castles and historic sites to visit with the Explorer Pass, but these are the 16 that I managed to visit with my 7 day pass. So, the big question is how much did I save with the Explorer Pass? I spent just £38 for the pass, and had I paid for each individual ticket at the sites, I would have ended up spending £137.20. That is a huge savings of £99.20! And I'm sure I could have fit a few more castles into the mix as well. So, is the Explorer Pass really worth it? Definitely. Click here to buy the Explorer Pass, or you can purchase it on the day at any of the locations on the map.

Scotland is full of beautiful places to discover, but my ultimate favourite spot is St Andrews. There is so much more to this coastal town than its golf courses, so if you're thinking of visiting St Andrews, check out my recommendations here. And if you're wondering where to stay, I would recommend treating yourself to Rufflets Hotel. Scotland is also very well known for its stunning nature and landscapes, so if you're a fan of walking, you'll love walking along the Fife Coastal Path, which passes through St Andrews at one point. Don't forget to follow me on Instagram to keep up to date with my travels!


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