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Historic Landmarks, Heritage Sites & Buildings in Scotland

Tarbert Castle


Scotland's history is not recorded in books but written in stone. Scattered across the country are remnants of a turbulent and dramatic past; relics of eras in which clans reigned, armies clashed and Neolithic people erected stone shrines to forgotten gods. This is Scotland's heritage, preserved in ancient landmarks that still enthral today. With a combination of imagination and knowledge these sites come alive with echoes of bygone times allowing visitors to envisage what it was like when these grands buildings were in their heyday.

Many of these protected landmarks are dispersed across the west coast islands, thankfully CalMac's extensive network of routes and vessels makes visiting these famous sites a treat. Check out some of our top picks for historical landmarks.

The Blackhouse, Lewis

We start with the relatively recent, a 19th century thatched house on the Isle of Lewis The Blackhouse is a unique insight into the intricacies of island life, conserving an authentic Hebridean residence in which the residents included both people and animals. Preserved almost as it was left in the 1960s, this is a chance to envelop yourself in the lived history of hard-working islanders. Take a deep breath, smell the singular aroma of peat burning from the open heath and imagine yourself living this charming bucolic existence that feels very far away indeed from our current high-speed lives.


Mount Stuart House, Bute

Also built in the late 19th century but very different in style, appearance and application is the stately wonder that is  Mount Stuart House on the beautiful Isle of Bute. A gothic manor with sprawling gardens, it is the very definition of ornate. It is a glorious throwback to a time of prosperity and wealth (for some), where guests were entertained in grand sitting rooms and dined beneath chandeliers. Take a tour and discover the luxurious surrounds of the Marble Hall and the grand library before roaming the gloriously maintained gardens. A little slice of Victorian splendour, easily accessible from the central belt with CalMac.

Mount Stuart Marble Chapel

Iona Abbey, Iona

A further step back in time takes us to the remarkable Iona Abbey , on - well - Iona. With some parts of its architecture dating back to the early 13th century, this is a building that feels timeless and otherworldly. A place of spiritual worship, it was originally founded by St Columba in AD 563 - since then it has survived Viking attacks, religious reformations and the Scottish weather to remain standing as a destination for pilgrims. Said to be the birthplace of the world-famous Book of Kells, the abbey is also home to several intricately carved stone crosses that further take you back in time to an era of early Christianity.

Iona abbey

Dunvegan Castle, Skye

The imposing profile of  Dunvegan castle makes a huge impression on first sight, its fortified outline silhouetted against the rugged hills of Skye. A visit here is a true step back in time. As the longest continuously occupied castle in Scotland it has many tales to tell within its historic walls. A grand entrance hall gives way to a range of stately rooms, all filled with a cornucopia of historically significant objects harking back to the building's illustrious past. Chief amongst them is the famous Fairy Flag, a banner that when unfurled in battle would galvanise the MacLeod clan to victory - often amongst unfavourable odds.

Woman outside Dunvegan Castle

Giant's Graves, Arran

A somewhat overlooked historical gem, the Giant's Graves on the magical Isle of Arran are an enigmatic landmark overlooking Whiting Bay towards the South of the island. The graves are in fact the remains of two Neolithic chambered tombs. These cairns were constructed sometime between 4500-5500BC. Excavation of the sites returned pottery, flint blades, arrowheads and fragments of cremated bone - marking this as a place of significance to this early civilisation. You can visit the graves as part of a walk to nearby Glenashdale Falls.

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St Clement's Church, Harris

Often referred to as 'the grandest medieval building in the Western isles', St Clement's is a stunning example of living history in the Hebrides. Dating from around 1520, the church has seen many restorations over the centuries and is now in the hands of  Historic Environment Scotland who have conserved its rich heritage for future generations. Located at the Southern tip of Harris, the church is dramatically set against the sea. A sacred burial site for the chiefs of the MacLeod clan, the remarkable tomb of the church's founder Alasdair 'Crotach' MacLeod is built into the recess of the church itself - making him a permanent spectator to the travellers visiting this stunning landmark.

St Clements Church

Kinloch Castle, Rum

Very different from the medieval castles dotted around Scotland; Rum's Kinloch Castle is unique, quirky and often controversial. Built in 1900 as the luxurious retreat and hunting lodge of John Bullough, a textile-mill owner from Lancashire, the castle's ostentatious design has split opinions ever since. It's kitschy interior usually does the same - dazzling rugs, vivid tapestries and a museum's worth of curious artefacts populate the house.  Kinloch Castle remains a relic of a time of industrial entrepreneurship, unchecked ambition and questionable taste - everything you need for a great day out.

Kinloch Castle, Rum

Kilmartin Glen, near Oban

Located down the road from the main CalMac port in Oban, Kilmartin Glen is a true trip into Scotland's ancient past. With at least 5000 years of human history written into its soil, the glen is a treasure trove of monuments, many of them prehistoric. There are numerous cairns, standing stones, carved rock, stone circles, forts and castles spread across the geography; including five burial cairns comprising a 'linear cemetery'. The absolute highlights are the 23 sculpted stones that inhabit Kilmartin's church graveyard (dating from the 900s to the 1600s!) and the Temple Wood stone circle. A hotbed of Scottish history on the west coast.

Kisimul Castle, Barra

For sheer drama it's hard to beat  Kisimul Castle on Barra (or adjacent to Barra to be accurate). Located on a rocky islet off the island's coast, it is only accessible by boat. That doesn't stop it dominating the landscape, its hulking presence rising from the water. Known as the 'castle in the sea' it dates from around 1400 and was built by clan MacNeil as both a fortress and ancestral home. Since the days of clan conflict are (mostly) behind us, the current chief has leased the property to Historic Scotland for 1000 years. The rent? An annual sum of £1 and a bottle of whisky. A special deal for a special castle.

Kisimul Castle

Calanais Stones, Lewis

Not just locally renowned but internationally famous, the  Calanais Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis are a fascinating landmark of Neolithic history. Predating Stonehenge, these monolithic stones - arranged in a cross-shape - are shrouded in mystery. Thought to be a site of ritual activity or astronomical observation, the stones were erected some 5000 years ago and have weathered storms and modernisation to remain standing today. At 5 metres tall and made of three hundred million-year-old rock, these stones were deliberately placed by the Neolithic inhabitants of the island - a feat of natural engineering that still impresses to this day. Walking amongst the stones is a mystical trip into a past we still do not fully understand.

family walking through stones

This is just a sample of the amazing historic landmarks that Scotland has to offer. Each of the islands on the CalMac network contain their own unique heritage sites just waiting to be discovered. Bring the joy of history into your future by booking your own personal voyage into Scotland's illuminating past today.

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