Blair Castle, located close to Blair Atholl in Perthshire, has been the ancestral home of Clan Murray since its construction in the 13th-century. The castle is privately-managed but is open to the public for tours.
Review of Blair Castle
Blair Castle, located close to Blair Atholl in Perthshire, is one of the grandest stately homes open to the public in Scotland.
Not only does this historic building have a rich history but it sits alongside some of the nicest gardens you’re ever likely to come across in this part of Scotland, and between the castle and the grounds there’s easily enough to keep visitors entertained for an entire day.
Throughout the thirty rooms that are open to public viewing you’ll discover a story that begins over seven hundred years ago with David Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl, who started building the castle in the late 1200s.
You’ll learn how for the last seven centuries Blair Castle has served as home to the Atholl family through wars, feuds and uprisings, and how it eventually became one of Scotland’s best-loved historic tourist attractions.
During your visit you can wander through the Scottish baronial-style building with its extravagantly decorated 18th-century furnishings and explore the walled garden, coniferous woodland, tranquil grove and sculpture trail as well as enjoying a children’s play park, a woodland adventure course and a superb café.
There’s also an excellent gift shop at the castle and if you’d rather learn about its history from a professional, guided tours are available for groups at no extra cost.
Things to do at Blair Castle
There’s so much to look at as you wander through the rooms of Blair Castle that you might end up missing sections out just so you’ve got enough time to enjoy the gardens, but before leaving make sure you’ve spent some time in what I believe are the castle’s highlights.
First, go and check out the Victorian Ballroom – which you can’t miss because it’s decorated all the way around the walls with 175 pairs of deer antlers.
If you’ve got kids then make sure you check out the clothes chest where you’ll find a huge selection of costumes to dress up in, and the ballroom is big enough that you can chase them up and down while playing whatever crazy games they come up with.
My second highlight is the entrance hall which most visitors seemed to rush through while I was there but if you stop to look up you’ll find a remarkable collection of weaponry mounted all over the walls, some of which was actually used at the ill-fated Battle of Culloden.
Finally, make sure you have a good look at the state dining room and the incredible silverware that was used during the castle’s grand banquets. They sure knew how to throw a party back then.
There’s plenty to keep you occupied in the castle grounds too.
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For starters, there’s one of the biggest Georgian walled gardens in Scotland which is just over nine acres in size and you can’t help but be impressed by the amount of work it must have taken to restore it.
Inside the walls you’ll find sculptures, a Chinese bridge, a gothic folly, over 100 fruit trees and more vegetable plots than you’re likely to see outside of a city allotment.
Outside the walled garden you’ll find a sculpture trail winding its way through the grounds into the castle, while a two-acre grove containing some of the tallest conifers in the country can be seen nearby. You might even see one of Scotland’s native but endangered red squirrels jumping between the branches of these enormous trees.
There are even the ruins of an ancient kirk in Blair Castle’s grounds, and the nearby fields are home to Highland cattle.
If you’re looking for somewhere more Scottish than this place I think you’ll have difficulty, and if you’re interested in history and love the great outdoors it should definitely be near the top of your list of Scottish attractions to visit.
The history of Blair Castle
Blair Castle has seen nineteen generations of the Atholl family over the years and there’s a huge amount of history crammed into every nook and cranny inside the main building.
There are plenty of information boards dotted about so you’ll quickly about learn about the Atholl family, while the helpful tour guides will be only too happy to fill you in on any other snippets of history that you might be curious about. And there’s enough history here that you’re bound to be asking questions.
The story of the castle takes you from its initial construction to visits by Mary Queen of Scots, to the Jacobite uprising and through to Queen Victoria who had a very special relationship with the place. It’s fascinating stuff.
One of the things I was most surprised to learn was how in 1839 the 6th Duke of Atholl formed his own private regiment to act as his personal bodyguards and these soldiers – the Atholl Highlanders – are still in operation today, thanks to Queen Victoria giving the regiment their own colours in recognition of their service during her stays at Blair Castle.
Today, the Atholl Highlanders are the only surviving private regiment in Europe and if you’re lucky you might even see them parading outside in the castle grounds in full Highland dress.
Discover more Scottish fortifications with my Guide to the Best Castles in Scotland.
- It’s a beautiful castle to explore and large enough to keep you busy for most of the afternoon.
- There’s a lot to do in the gardens after you’ve toured the castle interior, especially for kids.
- The ticket price is reasonable for an attraction of this size.
- The conifer grove offers a lovely walk – don’t miss it.
- The Atholl Gathering at the end of May is definitely worth experiencing.
- Blair Castle is located on the edge of Tay Forest Park which offers stunning walks on a spiders web of well-maintained paths. You’ll find more woodland walks in my Guide to the Best Forest Walks in Scotland.
Photo gallery and video
Things to do near Blair Castle
- Atholl Country Life Museum. Old School, Blair Atholl, Pitlochry PH18 5SP. 15-minute walk. A traditional museum that aims to preserve the heritage of the Blair Atholl community. There are galleries of photos and a reconstructed post office as well as video displays and reconstructions of a stable, a blackhouse and a smiddy.
- River Garry. 10-minute walk. A major tributary of the River Tummel. The river runs between the A9 and the B8079 near Blair Castle. There are partial walkways along the length of the river, some of which pass through forests. The main river footpath is signposted on the B847 heading towards Tummel Bridge.
- Hercules Garden. Pitlochry PH18 5TX. 20-minute walk. Landscaped country gardens that surround a large pond in the grounds of Blair Castle. There is a circular path that takes visitors around the site.
- Falls of Bruar. Bruar Water, Pitlochry PH18 5TW. 6-minute drive plus 30-minute walk. A natural gorge with spectacular waterfalls. The surrounding woodland was created by the Duke of Atholl after Robert Burns was inspired to write ‘The Humble Petition of Bruar Water’ when he visited in 1787. The waterfall viewing area is at the end of a relatively steep climb.
- House of Bruar. Pitagowan, Blair Atholl, Pitlochry PH18 5TW. 6-minute drive. A large upscale department store located in a scenic setting off the A9. There are a variety of shops that sell clothing, homewares and artisan foods. There is also a café and a gift shop on-site.
More places to visit in Central Scotland
- The Scottish Deer Centre – Fife: Complete Visitor GuideSet in 55 acres of lovely Fife countryside, The Scottish Deer Centre is an animal conservation park that looks after 14 species of deer from around the world as well as wolves, otters, wildcats, and birds of prey.
- Scone Palace – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideScone Palace is widely recognised as one of the top tourist attractions in central Scotland, not only because It’s a genuinely interesting place to visit but also because it’s absolutely steeped in history.
- The Crieff Hydro – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideThe Crieff Hydro is a popular resort in the Perthshire countryside that offers a range of health-based activities as well as large grounds for walking and relaxation. The hotel boasts over 200 bedrooms and over 50 self-catering properties, as well as restaurants, cafes and bars.
- The Kelpies – Stirlingshire: Complete Visitor GuideThese equine marvels are Scotland’s celebration of a bygone era of horse-drawn barges that kept the nation’s industry going for well over a hundred years, and although Clydesdale’s (the breed of horse) are no longer a sight on the canals you can at least enjoy the spectacle of the world’s biggest horse sculptures when you go to visit them at Helix Park.