Dirleton Castle in East Lothian served three Scottish noble families for over 400 years. Today, Historic Environment Scotland is in charge of managing it as a popular tourist destination. Discover everything you need to know about visiting Dirleton Castle and Gardens with this guide, which features an overview and useful tourist information.
|1 April to 30 September:
Saturday to Wednesday, 9.30 am to 5 pm (last entry 4.15 pm)
1 October to 31 March:
Saturday to Monday, 10 am to 4 pm (last entry 3.15 pm)
Closed for lunch 12 noon to 1 pm
|Adult (16-64yrs) £3.50
Concession (65yrs+ and unemployed) £2.75
Child (5-15yrs) £2.00
Family (1 adult, 2 children) £7.00
Family (2 adults, 2 children) £10.00
Family (2 adults, 3 children) £12.00
|Free on-site parking
|01620 850 330
|Gift shop, picnic area, drinks machine, water refill
Dirleton Castle is a mediaeval fortress in East Lothian that offers a fascinating glimpse into Scotland’s past. Located in the pretty village of Dirleton, the castle has been the focal point of the surrounding area since its construction in the mid-13th century when it served as the family home to three different clans.
This is a historic site that’s definitely worth seeing, not only for the enormous entrance towers, which are some of the oldest of their type in Scotland, but also for the enormous gardens that house the world’s longest herbaceous border.
Your journey begins with a short walk through the Dirleton estate, where meandering paths take you through impeccably maintained flowerbeds and lawns to the castle which is perched on top of a huge rock outcrop. Although much of the fortress is in ruins it’s still an impressive place to walk around, and there are enough interesting features around the site that you’ll easily be able to spend a couple of hours there.
A visit to Dirleton Castle can be easily combined with many other attractions in East Lothian such as the picturesque Yellowcraig Beach which is located two miles to the north, as well as North Berwick (a 10-minute drive) which is famous for its artisan shops and cafés as well as the Scottish Seabird Centre. Alternatively, you can head a little further east to explore the dramatic Tantallon Castle and the golden sands of Seacliff Beach.
1: Dirleton Castle is steeped in history, making it a fascinating destination for history enthusiasts. The castle dates back to the 13th century and has witnessed numerous conflicts and sieges throughout its existence. Visitors can explore the castle’s well-preserved ruins, including its imposing tower and defensive walls.
2: One of the highlights of visiting Dirleton Castle is its stunning gardens. The castle’s grounds feature meticulously maintained gardens with vibrant flowerbeds and manicured lawns. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll through the gardens and take in the picturesque views of the castle from different angles.
3: Dirleton Castle offers an interactive and engaging visitor experience. The castle provides audio guides that bring the history and stories of the castle to life, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the past. Additionally, there are information boards and exhibits throughout the site that provide insights into the castle’s history and the people who lived there.
2: Alternatively, visit the National Museum of Flight which is about a 15-minute drive away (address: East Fortune Airfield, B1347, North Berwick, EH39 5LF).
3: If you’d like to visit more historic attractions in Scotland and save on entrance costs, buy a Historic Environment Scotland membership. Join via the website.
There’s a lot to see at this historic site, including the castle itself, which is an impressive 13th-century fort that features a great hall (now roofless and open to the elements) with a large dome-roofed vault. There are also two enormous defensive towers, an equally enormous dovecot that at one time housed over 1,000 pigeons, and one of the nicest landscaped gardens you’re likely to see at a historic site.
The gardens are a real highlight, especially on a summer’s day when the flowerbeds are in full bloom, and as it’s relatively tourist-free, it makes a great place to stop off for a picnic after a visit to nearby North Berwick.
As always with HES sites, there are lots of information boards so visitors can learn about the history of the castle, and there are plenty of nooks and crannies for children to explore. While there isn’t much to do in Dirleton Village, you’ll find several other attractions within a few minute’s drive, including the National Museum of Flight, North Berwick Law and Hailes Castle.
Dirleton Castle was built as the home of the de Vaux family in the early 1200s, and shortly after, the imposing towers that dominate the castle entrance were added.
Though originally from France, the de Vaux family were a favourite of King David I of Scotland, who gave them the barony of Dirleton along with a considerable amount of land. Unfortunately for them, their reign came to an abrupt end during the Wars of Scottish Independence when the English attacked Dirleton Castle, forcing the de Vaux family to give up their new home.
Over the years, Dirleton passed in and out of Scottish and English ownership several times before being handed to the Haliburton family, who became very powerful thanks to an act of bravery by Sir Walter Haliburton in the 1420s. Sir Walter offered to serve as a hostage in exchange for the release of King James I, whom the English had captured. The king promoted him to Treasurer of Scotland after his release as a reward.
The riches this role brought to the Haliburton family enabled them to extend Dirleton Castle extensively, with the original towers being heightened and a new gatehouse, hall, and tower house being added shortly after.
Although the Haliburtons were wealthy, their riches were slowly spread out amongst other families when Patrick Haliburton died in 1505 as there were no sons in the family to pass his inheritance to, only daughters. The eldest daughter, Janet, married the 2nd Lord Ruthven in 1515, and so Dirleton Castle, along with the lordship of Dirleton, passed over to the Ruthven family.
The Ruthvens were later embroiled in a conspiracy that led to the castle being forcibly given to yet another Scottish family in the early 1600s, when Patrick Ruthven joined the group that murdered the private secretary of Mary Queen of Scots. Although he was pardoned for his involvement with that murder, Patrick is believed to have been part of a later assassination attempt on King James VI by his sons, John and Alexander.
The assassination failed, and Dirleton Castle was yet again forcibly taken from its owners. For the next three hundred years, it passed in and out of the ownership of various wealthy Scots. During this time, the grounds were extensively landscaped, and the castle became more of a centrepiece for the gardens than a family home.
With the last private owner moving into the nearby Archerfield estate in the late 1600s, Dirleton Castle fell into ruin until it finally passed into state care in 1923.
Things to Do
Explore the Castle’s History: Dirleton Castle is a mediaeval fortress with a fascinating history. Explore the castle’s impressive ruins, including the 13th-century keep, the cavernous pit prison, and the guard house. Each room tells the story of the castle’s former residents, offering a window into Scotland’s past.
Stroll in the Gardens: The castle grounds are renowned for boasting one of the world’s longest herbaceous borders. These gardens are a horticultural treasure trove that provides a tranquil escape where visitors can enjoy vibrant colours and fragrances and take time to appreciate the traditional Victorian garden designs.
Attend a Reenactment: Immerse yourself in the castle’s history by attending one of the regular historical reenactments. These events bring Dirleton Castle’s past to life, so you can experience the sights, sounds, and excitement of mediaeval Scotland firsthand.
Photography Adventure: The picturesque castle and its surrounding gardens provide ample opportunities for photography. Capture the architectural details of the ruins and the diverse plant life on the grounds. Whether you’re an experienced photographer or an amateur with a mobile phone, you’ll find plenty of inspiring subjects at Dirleton Castle.
Eat at Archerfield: The castle is located close to Archerfield Walled Garden, which boasts a highly regarded cafe that serves traditional dishes made from locally sourced produce. There’s also a children’s fairy trail to keep youngsters occupied and a home furnishings shop that will appeal to adults.
Things to Do Nearby
North Berwick Law. North Berwick, EH39 5NX, is a 9-minute drive.
A large volcanic plug that rises 187 metres above the coastal town of North Berwick. Berwick Law has well-trodden paths that allow relatively easy access to the whalebone sculpture at the top. The summit is famed for its stunning views across East Lothian and the Firth of Forth.
Yellowcraig Beach. Ware Rd., North Berwick, EH39. 5-minute drive.
This is one of the top beaches in East Lothian. This beach features clean, golden sand and shallow water, so it is well suited to families with young children. The John Muir Way runs past the rear of the dunes. There is a large car park, a children’s play area, toilets, and a snack van on-site.
Gullane Beach. Marine Terrace, Gullane, EH31 2AZ. 7-minute drive.
A large beach is to the northeast of Aberlady Nature Reserve. The beach has paths through the sand dunes that link it to nearby Yellowcraig Beach. There is a car park on site. Gullane village includes a selection of pubs and restaurants.
North Berwick. East Rd., North Berwick, EH39 4LG. 8-minute drive.
A very popular historic former fishing village that is now a tourist destination thanks to its golden beaches and proximity to the Scottish Seabird Centre and Bass Rock. The village high street includes a collection of gift shops, restaurants, and cafés.
The Scottish Seabird Centre. The Harbour, North Berwick, EH39 4SS. 9-minute drive.
An environmental visitor centre that aims to educate and entertain visitors with displays and exhibitions about Scotland’s coastal marine wildlife. The centre features a viewing platform that overlooks the Bass Rock and it is the departure point for pleasure cruises around the rock.
Frequently Asked Questions
How old is Dirleton Castle?
The de Vaux family originally constructed Dirleton Castle around the 13th century, making it about 800 years old.
However, it’s worth noting that the castle as it stands today is not entirely from the 13th century. Over the years, it underwent several phases of construction and reconstruction, particularly in the 14th and 16th centuries, under the ownership of the Haliburton and Ruthven families, respectively.
Is Dirleton Castle free?
There is a fee to visit Dirleton Castle; however, the grounds are free. Visit the HES tickets page for the latest entry prices.
Who lived in Dirleton Castle?
Dirleton Castle was built in the 13th century and was home to three noble Scottish families: the de Vauxs, the Haliburtons, and the Ruthvens. Historic Environment Scotland is currently in charge of managing and owning it.
Can you take dogs to Dirleton Castle?
Visitors are allowed to take dogs to Dirleton Castle as long as they are kept on a lead at all times. Dogs are not permitted on rooftop areas.